The sun was appearing over the sharp, snow-capped peaks in the east, coloring the nothern sky a kind of purple I had never seen. A mysterious mist was coming off the partly frozen sea was. The vast, empty landscape before me begged for a photo. So I stopped and took off one, two, three layers of gloves and mittens, and removed the iPhone from my pocket.
Well, I tried. Moving my hand was hardly possible. I dropped the phone on the icy ground.
Then I noticed my frozen eye lashes, my burning exposed nose, and racing heart, trying desperately to keep me warm as I had stopped for a moment to take in this overwelming view in Kenai, Alaska. I also realized I was alone at the water’s edge of Cook Inlet. It was -20 Fahrenheit (-29 Celcius) and windy when I left the hotel; the type of weather when most people tend to avoid being outside. I had encountered a coyote during a dark morning run in Anchorage, had seen a moose in Kenai, and had been warned about the bears, of course. Were something, anything to happen, no one would see or hear me. Being stuck in this cold was not a great idea, especially now that I had dropped the phone, unsure if it would still work at all.
So I made a quick executive decision. Screw the picture. Just see it and remember it. I struggled to get the gloves back on, and picked up the pace. I could feel the sweat coming through my two hats. It froze immediately.
A sense of adventure pushed me forward, past the frozen beach where countless fishermen catch their salmon in summer time. I watched the still-simmering vulcano Mount Redoubt in the distance, the tiny oil platforms, the fast-changing morning light while the moon was still in the sky. This is too beautiful, too vast and open and bright and gorgeous for any iPhone to capture, anyway, I realized.
Pushing back up a hill, past churches and modest homes, I resolved that runners are, indeed. nuts, as I and many others have known and written many times. Running in a windchill of something like -30 is, indeed, a little extreme.
But I like to run where I go, regardless of the weather. It was 110 degrees in Phoenix once, and I ran.
So I suffer a bit. I learn about a place, experiencing it in a way I would never otherwise. And I learn about the true meaning of ‘cold’, about breathing through a layer to warm the air you inhale, about the need to cover every bit of skin against the cold that feels, literally, biting.
Five miles felt like fifteen. I thought of the New York cold (25 degrees, maybe) and my own recent ruminations about it. In truth, that type of cold is a joke. I In Alaska they call that a heat wave.
The photos are from the Kenai Peninsula between Anchorage and Kenia, taken from the comfort of a well-heated car, or at least in the immediate vicitinity of it.