Ely, Minnesota
Last week’s Wintergreen winter camping trip was an absolute joy – and a timely education in the hazards of cold weather camping. A mild case of frostbite (known as frostnip) threatened to halt my polar ambitions in their tracks.

The weather was relatively mild for January – even at its coldest a mere twenty degrees Fahrenheit below freezing – but my fingers and toes fell victim to a combination of factors – poor circulation, taking off my mittens to take photographs with just my liner gloves for protection, ski boots that were just tight enough to stop me wriggling my toes to generate heat, and spending a lot of time face-down in the snow when my sled dog’s strength and enthusiasm outstripped my skiing ability.

The upshot of all this was that, although I enjoyed a wonderful 4 nights of camping out under the stars and 5 days of spectacular snow-frosted scenery, I ended the trip with two blistered fingers, a few numb fingertips, and a couple of toes that the team had to tenderly nurse back to warmth and health (Chris, our wonderful Wintergreen guide, bravely cradling one foot between his hands, while Sari, an ER doctor from New York, warmed my other foot in her armpit). For someone who prides herself on her strength and independence, this was a humiliating experience.

But of greater concern than my wounded pride is the long-lasting effects of the tissue damage. My fingers and toes will now be more susceptible to future frostnip, and this is an issue that HAS to be addressed before I can venture back into the cold.

Yesterday, as I headed from Minnesota back towards the West Coast, I was listening to some inspirational podcasts by Jon Benson, from his M-Power series (highly recommended). There was a motto of his that really resonated with me: “I control nothing; I manage everything.”

The double entendre is deliberate: manage can mean either you cope with something, or that you influence events to steer them in a particular direction.

So what I took from this is that although I cannot control the cold, I can still manage to deal with it. I can take measures to improve my circulation through nutrition and maybe even acupuncture, and I can get myself some better cold-weather gear to protect my fragile extremities. There will be opportunities to do some rigorous field testing in Minnesota and elsewhere, and I am hopeful that I can come up with a winning cold weather strategy.

I have overcome bigger obstacles than this in the past, and am determined to overcome this one – hopefully without loss of digits.

[photo above: Mark dog-pulking in the beautiful Boundary Waters wilderness. The dog goes in front, then the pulk (sled), then the skier]

[photo below: the wounded finger]

P.S. Thank you for all the lovely comments welcoming me back to the blogosphere. Nice to know I’ve been missed! And yes, the Pacific row is definitely on track for a departure this year. I will be on standby from mid-May, and Rick my weather guy wants me gone by the end of June. Precise timing will depend, of course, on the weather.

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