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Surviving Xmas

Ahh, the holidays! The blizzards, the traffic, the warm glow of burning airliners.

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Well it’s time to dig the Denali expedition clothes back out of the closet. Parkas, face masks, snow shovels, mittens big as boxing gloves. And not because I’m going climbing anytime soon. No, it’s time for that annual journey to the Upper Midwest for Xmas with relatives in South Dakota, Iowa, and Wisconsin.

Now I love visiting my family but (no offense here) I hate the Midwest. Yeah, it’s a great place to raise your kids…until they flee at age 18, like I did, because there are no significant adventure opportunities.

Well, actually, that’s not quite true. There are plenty of adventure opportunities — Icy roads, fierce wind chills, hazardous lawn mowing, dodging traffic on my daily jogs — There just aren’t many recreational adventure opportunities, particularly in winter, when the canoeing gets kinda tough. Wisconsin’s OK, and South Dakota has its possibilities, especially the Black Hills, but last time I checked Iowa, my birthplace, ranked 50th out of the 50 states for undeveloped wildland. Endless corn rows do not count, although I will freely admit that the hogs are as big and badass as any grizzly who ever strolled tundra.

Back in the dim, distant prehistory of my teen years, I remember winter after winter of roller-skiing in -20F and blowing dust, trying to convince myself that mountain scenery loomed on the horizon. Fortunately, this year, there’s at least snow to go along with the cold. So I look forward to some Nordic track skiing, perhaps the best low-impact, high-aerobic sport one could possibly invent. It’s been almost a decade since I did much, and I can’t wait to get back in touch with my inner Norwegian.

In true holiday spirit, I’m looking at the bright side of this frozen asphalt epic, viewing it as an exercise in mental and physical toughness, trotting the local dog-walker trails in darkness and ground blizzard, working off the sugar buzz and grog hangovers, getting used to the sensory deprivation of a full face mask and the yellow glare of a headlamp. Actually, now that I think of it, that seems like a perfect training regimen for high altitude climbing – except for the near-total lack of vertical relief.

Since gas is cheap for the nonce, and airliners seem more flammable than Yule logs these days, Mistress Betty and I will do this the old fashioned way: Marathon drive. Across N-N-Nebraska. And for you fellow holiday road warriors, I’ll pass along the words of my brother in Eau Claire, Wisconsin, who said: “Don’t forget to pack cold weather emergency gear in case you get stuck overnight in a ditch somewhere.” Excellent advice for winter driving.

Party safe, fellow revelers. I’ll blog when I can.–Steve Howe

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