The Taste of a NY Winter

Crunch. Crisp. Yum.


Long time! I wrote much of this sometime in April ’17, finished a little reflection in June, and then for some reason forgot to put it into the blog source code. In any event, here’s some thoughts on this past winter without a jacket.

Winter Recap

Had another awesome winter without a coat/jacket/gloves/hat/etc. It was a load of fun. Really enjoyed it. (I’ve worn a poncho in the rain with a suit/dress-shirt. And I’ve worn long sleeves outside in dress attire circumstances.)

There is this weird thing—and I thought I was making it up—where each year I have gotten more comfortable and have started to enjoy the cold. I figured I was just getting used to it and by the end my body felt accustomed and so I saw it in a more positive light. But I don’t think this is just about toleration, it’s actually become enjoyable in a way. I wonder if I lightly primed some fight-flight mechanism that has kept me more buoyant. Or perhaps this is the body’s psychological tool to deal with stressors.

Another difference from previous years is that unlike when I jumped in water for maybe a few seconds, this past winter I would stay in for a minimum of 5 minutes. Into November and in April it’s been around 15 minutes.

Maybe the dips in the ocean made going sans-jacket seem mild. But as of these words on April 24th, the thought of it being a 30 degree crisp day tomorrow sounds refreshing and great. I’ve been finding myself enjoying the 60 degree weather as well. Finding it to be real beautiful. But at the same time missing the cold weather.

To help consolidate a lot of the experiences, I thought to group them into three categories and give an example of each.

Low Intensity Moment

I remember walking out of the subway one morning and it was a sunny day, 30 degrees. I don’t know when this was in the winter, but I just remember being so elated and happy to take in the crisp air. Perhaps it was just a result of a good workout earlier that morning. But going from a dark crowded stuffy subway car to the open winter weather was beautiful. Bliss. The cool air tasted so good and substantive that I could have chewed on it all day.

I think if I was wearing a second layer beyond a short sleeve shirt I wouldn’t have been able to really feel the morning, feel the day, and feel the beauty.

The line between learning to get used to what is uncomfortable and finding rays of beauty in what is traditionally uncomfortable isn’t such a clear cut line. But the crisp air, the taste of the cold air—is just something else.

Medium Intensity Moment

There was a major snow/hailstorm when a lot of businesses and schools closed down. A few of us went into the office anyway, but beforehand in the morning I went running with my dad. I was wearing shorts/tshirt like usual. And it was epic beyond belief.

It was a shorter run, about 4 miles. And the cold wasn’t as much of an issue as was the bits of hail that felt like tiny bites/pricks on the skin.

It was a ton of fun, really exhilarating. Definitely one of the most memorable runs I've had in a long time.

Ocean Dip Interlude

I more regularly jumped into the ocean (by Coney Island) throughout this past fall/winter. Probably every other week on average. I’d go in for 5 minutes or over, and dunk every minute. Usually went in the middle of a Saturday run—it’s about 2 miles there, and 2 miles back.

When you first go into the ocean in the NY winter, the initial moment can be startling. My first goal was to get my breathing under control and stop the hyperventilation. At the same time, there is this feeling that my legs are constricting and getting progressively tighter. My hands are usually ok, but my natural hand grip movement in opening and closing a fist would get slower and slower. After about 3 minutes the acute pain would usually ease up into a more dull muted stress. And then at that point I would need to monitor core body temperature.

Then when I would get out, my lack of hand dexterity would make getting my shoes back on a major challenge. It’s kind of a fun game in some way, requiring a lot of mental focus to move my hands. It’s a reminder of how something like slipping on a shoe can involve really complex coordination and fine motor skill movement. Once I just used brute force to get my shoe on, using my hand as almost like a shoe horn—and I had a minor red-burn on my hand for a few days.

After coming out of the water, running back is probably the hardest part. Throughout, I would need to monitor my extremities in what is sometimes a bit of a delerious state.

Higher Intensity Moment

One of the days it must have been around 15-20 degrees (F), and colder with the wind chill. I went running towards the ocean in just shorts/tee as usual. By the time I got there my hands were already pretty cold. I then jumped into the ocean—which was as you might imagine really cold. Likely around low 40 degrees at that point, maybe colder.

After 5 minutes I got out, and the cold was bitter facing a headwind running on the way back.

(I have these moments thinking what I’m doing is really dumb, and that I’m entering more risky territory where if something out of my control happens, or something unknown, I’m in this fragile state.)

I cannot forget the pain that overwhelmed my extremities when I got back home. It’s the kind of pain that is felt after your hands are super cold and then you put hot water over them. It’s that burning expanding feeling. Except I was having this feeling from just entering 73 degree air temperature. And there wasn’t hot water I could pull my body from. So I just had to tolerate it and get things under control. And while my body was on fire, there’s this gratitude that at least I’m feeling something—the scary part would be returning and a part of my body is completely numbed and I can’t get any feeling back.

There were a lot of runs+ocean dips I came back in a messy shape, and there were probably other points that were colder or more painful. But this was just in a different class. The pain is usually something I control. Like if I go for a run in shorts/tees, I could always run indoors if something went wrong. Or if I jump in the ocean, I could always jump out. But what happens when the place of your destination—a warm home—becomes the place where the pain becomes most intense?

Reflection (written in June '17)

When I go out in the cold with a t-shirt, I definitely feel cold. I’d argue that I’m probably more sensitive to the varying degrees of cold even more so. But the difference is not trying to fight against it, but breathing into it and not being uncomfortable with it. I think I once heard from this mindfulness lecture series something like: pain X reaction to it = suffering. You can feel your hands stinging from the cold, but that doesn’t mean you have to be uncomfortable.

Entering June—I love the nice weather, and when it gets hot into the 80s and 90s runs become fun too. But I’ve been missing the 20-30 degree weather. Colder than that is nice as well—but workouts/ocean-dips become a bit more involved, especially with the windchill. In NY it has been manageable, but I think if I went to somewhere up north where it really gets cold, this whole no-coat, no-gloves no-hat thing in the winter might need to be reformulated.

Who knows what next winter will bring. Maybe I'll try to stay out longer but use gloves. Or maybe I'll continue. Or stop. It’s been fun thus far anyway.

Was trying to think of adjectives to describe how I look at the cold. Turned into some stream of consciousness typing:

The warmth crisp crackle from static on the radio
The chilled midnight dew from last night’s blue moon.
an effervescent glow from the open window

What’s special is that while there is still a lot to learn, and I’m sure another year will bring new insights, the appreciation for the cold is something that I think even if I wear a jacket next winter, I’d still—I hope—carry.

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