Reporter's Notebook

Be Like Ernest

Take a leaf out of the diary of Ernest Shackleton when faced with winter frigidity

By Micah Drew

Annoyed with three consecutive days of treadmill running last week, I made the reckless decision to go outside on Wednesday afternoon, about when the thermometer read -7 degrees Fahrenheit (-23 with windchill). 

I had spent the morning dreading a return to the gym and listening to my coworkers lament the outside temperatures every time someone braved the conditions to make a coffee run. I paged through some old training logs, trying to determine what the coldest run of my life had been. Without a clear answer, I figured if I had to brave a few minutes outside, I might as well get in my coldest bout of exercise. 

(My warmest run was undoubtably a lab experiment in college where I ran on a treadmill inside a sauna, ostensibly to study how wildland firefighters cope with exercising in extreme heat.)

Bundled up in layers of socks, tights, jackets, gloves, a buff and a beanie, I set out to run a single mile around Kalispell. I ended up doing two. 

It was just so dang nice to be outside under the sun. Other than my eyelids constantly freezing shut, the extremely poor footing, and stiff joints from all the layers, I wouldn’t have known the conditions were so extreme. 

While heading down an empty street I waved at a passing cyclist (now that’s crazy), and thought to myself, “this is some Shackleton-level stuff right here.”

Ernest Shackleton holds a special place in my soul. 

I was first introduced to the polar explorer by a high school cross country coach, a Shackleton devotee. A staple of the coach’s training program included a mid-winter “Shackleton Week” for his runners to jumpstart their off-season training for track. It routinely involved shoveling the track, cold laps, and snowball fights. 

In college, a few stupid teammates and I made our own “Shackleton Week” by trying to run to four Missoula peaks near campus the day before Thanksgiving. An overnight blizzard made our task more difficult and resulted in two minor cases of frostbite.

This year, Shackleton Week occurred for me in March, when it was announced that a team of adventurers had located the wreck of the Endurance. Shackleton’s famed three-masted ship that sank below the sea ice in 1915 was located 10,000 feet below the surface. 

I re-read one account of Shackleton’s journey on the Endurance that week, and among the classic takeaways — months spent camping on a moving ice flow, dramatic photography of a grand ship locked in ice illuminated against a black sky, the account of a harrowing transoceanic journey in a small skiff — was a little note Shackleton wrote in his diary about how his men acclimated to the extreme conditions in Antarctica. 

A photo from the expedition shows the crew playing a game of soccer on the ice, several in short sleeves. 

“We had lived long in temperatures that would have seemed distressingly low in civilized life, and now we were made uncomfortable by a degree of warmth that would have left the unaccustomed human being still shivering,” Shackleton wrote about a day that warmed above 20 degrees. 

This sticks in my mind as I consider this week’s forecast. Highs of 40 degrees. Lows staying above freezing. 

The 50-degree swing will feel like a tropical paradise. I might even have to break out the split shorts for my first run of the year on New Year’s Day. 

No matter what you’re doing outside this winter I urge you to be like Ernest and embrace the cold.  

At least you don’t have to eat a penguin to survive the winter.