Satish C. Bhatnagar : Having lived almost all of my life in Bathinda and Las Vegas, where long summer months are very hot and arid, I know how to take a beneficial walk when the outside temperature is 110 F or 45 C. Also, I have read news reports and seen pictures of Russian and North European men, women and children taking snow baths and dipping into the icy waters of the holes cut out into the frozen lakes. There are reportedly benefits at the DNA level when human bodies are exposed to extreme cold conditions to a point before any sign of hypothermia sets in. However, the cautionary point is the same when one exposes the body to either extreme of hot or cold, that is, being fully aware of one’s physio-medical limits.
Today, I had the first experience in recent times of walking deliberately in a weather temperature of 18 F or Minus 7 C, which felt like 8 F or Minus 13 C due to the wind-chill factor. This cold weather was suddenly caused last night by the movement of an Arctic front. I am on a short visit to the Baltimore area for four days. My 45-year old nephew, 55-year old husband of my niece, and ladies of the house discouraged me from going out even at noon time.
Naturally, there was no question of their letting their young kids walk out with me. I always advocate in the toughening up of the Hindu kids from the urban middle class families, as they are are always raised in ultra-safe and soft lifestyles both in India and the US. No wonder, they are bullied in schools – no different from their ancestors who were subjugated by hundreds of invaders of India. That is enough of a sidebar on my child raising philosophy.
Coming back on the trail of my tundra walk: my winter protective gears were – a large cap over a tight head cap which covered the ears too, a neckwear and four layers of clothing on my upper torso; three layers over the groin area; and for my feet, a hand-woven thick alpaca wool socks (bought in Bolivia) and non-slippery walking shoes. I did not have any ski type mask on my face, as I wanted the cold temperature to ‘enter’ into my body through this facial portal only. My hands alone were in a single layer of leather gloves but padded from within. While walking, I do keep my hands in various motions for faster blood circulation.
As I stepped out of the house which is kept at 74F or 24C, the temperature differential hit hard on my face. I did, however, anticipate it. Lately, my walking has been leisurely, as longer time on the legs builds endurance better than a brisk walking does. Age has to be factored into the walking too.
In extreme temperatures, the heart and lungs take some time to adjust. Fortunately, there was no fresh snowfall last night, the sidewalks were clear. But banks of old snow were on the sideways. Yes, at my age of 80-, I can’t afford to slip or take a fall. So, my eyes were on the ground watching for even a tiny patch of ice. For sightseeing around, I would stop for a few seconds- but not for catching any breath. The freezing power of low temperatures is seen in the water turning into ice even at an incline! In other words, before the flowing water finds a horizontal level, it is frozen into ice in its tracks! I stayed away from icy patches – too slippery.
During this walk, I did not run into a single soul – be it that of a human, bird or animal. After 20 minutes, I was suddenly hit by a very cold draft, accentuated by wind blowing near a high-rise building, also called the Bernoulli Effect. The only places the coldness penetrated were into my hands. My terminal walking destination point was a WalMart, which was then 100 yards away. I entered through its one entrance, used its restroom, re-adjusted my gears, and walked out of the other exit. Nevertheless, in just 3-4 minutes, the feelings of coldness was gone.
I do not return by the same route that I take when I go out of the house – this habit has become second nature to me. But, today, my gut instinct told me not to walk an additional 500 yards for the sake of a different route. It was the right decision. Nearly 150 yards from the house, I took my left hand out of the glove to pick up a ‘homeless’ penny lying on the sidewalk. In a few seconds, I felt that the top tip of the middle finger of my right hand had become totally numb. Strange!
On entering the house, I quickly pulled off the gloves and rubbed my hands together for a while. I neither wanted to alarm anyone nor, wanted to apply any direct heat treatment to the finger-tip, which may have given a reverse shock – such was my common sense. Within 10 minutes, I felt that the tip was back to normal and so my confidence went up. Maybe, this finger tip escaped a frostbite, or I was alerted about its possible relative weakness.
Anyway, this was an adventurous exercise in severe cold conditions. It all took 40 minutes and I leant a good lesson too. The reason being that Manocha, my friend for nearly 60 years, and I have talked about spending a day in Fairbanks, Alaska on the solar equinox day of Dec 21, 22, or 23. After all, what is life, but a bouquet of experiences and memories!