Frozen Day 9: When The Streets Run Out

Temperature: -11.2 degrees Celsius

Feels Like: -19 degrees Celsius

Wind: N 17 km/hr

It feels like I’m going in circles. Oh wait. I am. There are a few things out there that feel unproductive – like washing your car in the rain or, you know, just generally being on facebook – but one thing that feels unproductive to me is backtracking. Why not see more than you already have? Go farther, see new things, explore? Sure, the distance and time will add up to the same thing, but the experience will be far different.

Unfortunately, in a small city, those loops are about to become redundant. I’ve already walked all over downtown with a few routes crossing into other parts of the city. Given that my starting points are always either home or the office, I’m taking some fairly regular routes already even without backtracking. The familiarity is lessening the initial excitement of spending so much time with the streets of Yellowknife.

This challenge isn’t about walking though. The walking is just something to do to pass the time and, already, boredom is seeping in. Not because there isn’t an abundance of outdoor activities, but because I am trying to snatch an hour here and an hour there each day as opposed to an afternoon of skiing or playing hockey.

This all leads me to this question: what is it like for the homeless?

When I spend time outside it’s usually because of an event or an activity – even if that activity is just going for a walk. For the homeless it’s because they have to. So when you take away the purpose of being outside, what are you left with?

As I’ve said before, I am not an authority on homelessness, so rather than offering up paltry explanations or attempts to answer these questions, I’m going to leave them open-ended for you to think about. Try going outside with no activity or event or even a book or anything and staying out there for a long while. That still isn’t comparable, but perhaps it will offer a new perspective.

When the streets run out and it is just you and all you have is time, can you imagine what that feels like?

Time: 1 pm – 2 pm and 5:16 pm – 6:15 pm

Today’s Minutes: 119

Total Challenge Minutes: 1038/3720

Ahead/Behind: -42 minutes

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Frozen Day 7: Seeing Louie

Temperature: -8.5 degrees Celsius (afternoon) and -16.3 (evening)

Feels Like: -14 degrees Celsius (afternoon) and -24 (evening)

Wind: WSW 13 km/hr (afternoon) and ESE 12 km/hr (evening)

In the darkness, you feel the cool air brushing your face. Initially, it’s refreshing, but after hours outside numbness seeps into your limbs. You hair frosts over and a perpetual drip runs from your nose. You wouldn’t say that you’re cold because the only way to realize that is to warm up. Only then, as your skin and muscles increase in temperature, do you feel the deep, bone-aching chill that you won’t be able to shake for some time. But then, that is only if you have the opportunity to warm up.

Tonight I met Louie. He stood on the periphery of a crowd, not quite breaching its edges. He moved with an uncertain gait as if he couldn’t make up his mind to be here or gone. Twice, he came up close to the crowd before disappearing. Eventually, he shuffled over to where I was and he began to talk. His first words were hard to hear.

“You only got one life. And mine is over,” he said while looking just above my head.

I didn’t have any life-changing words of inspiration; they would have felt disingenuous anyway. I couldn’t pretend to know him or his hardships. So I listened. When he spoke, it felt like he needed confirmation of his existence, as if he had been wandering on for too long amongst people who didn’t even see him.

His nose drizzled into the moustache above his lip and he finally looked into my eyes. “Nobody cares. When I’m gone, no one will even know. His eyes were serious and flat and I could feel the gap between us. “I don’t want it to be like that, ya know.”

I nodded. I still didn’t say much, but then I didn’t need to.

His snow pants were the overall type. A small label at his chest read -50. He wore a black baseball cap, leaving his ears exposed and carried a pair of dirty white gloves. He had just turned 39.

“I’m scared. I’m so scared,” he said and then began to cry. “I know what I need to do. I need to stop being drunk.”

I nodded again, but only because I didn’t really know what he needed. Perhaps it was a warm bed or a home or a program. Perhaps it was easy to say “I need to stop being drunk” but is harder to say what that really means.

I told him my name and I listened. He talked of the west coast of Hudson’s Bay where he was a fisherman and hunter. And he smiled. I could feel the air between us growing lighter. The tide is every 6 hours – high tide and low tide.

He leans over, his shoulders hunching as his hands mimic the size and shape of the fish. I could see it moving between his hands. He laughed. “I know everything about it,” he says. His eyes change as he stares into mine. He’s happy, caught in the memories and I don’t really believe that he’s here anymore. Rather, he is there with the arctic char and his family and his roots and his life.

But then it’s time to go and he says, “I get scared, too.”

He repeats it again and again.

“I need help.”

Time: 2:30 pm – 3:55 pm plus 32 minutes of miscellaneous walking time

Today’s Minutes: 117

Total Challenge Minutes: 760/3720

Ahead/Behind: -80 minutes

The Frozen 31 Reveal

There comes a time every year in the season of cold, snow and ice where that extra layer of clothing feels like it’s really weighing you down, your anxiety heightens with each block you walk without falling, and you just might lose it if your car refuses to start one more time. You’re ready for the end to say the least.

And though April really isn’t that far away, March can be a rough month in Yellowknife. Which, for those of you who don’t know, is in the Northwest Territories of Canada. The wind comes up and Mother Nature usually likes to slap you with one last reminder that she’ll be back in just a few short months – so don’t get too comfortable.

While we are generally an adventurous bunch up here – each of us adapting to the elements – some of us also find we’re more often cuddled up on the couch rather than outside. Office workers can be especially outdoors-deprived, spending their working hours hunched over a desk and their off hours kicking back at home, running errands or fulfilling commitments that keep them shielded from those precious rays that boost their vitamin D levels and that keep them from drinking in all that fresh air. Couple this with a diminished number of daylight hours in the deep of winter and many people’s moods start to plummet.

I’m an office dweller myself and I’m also one of those people that has spent more time indoors this winter than I’d care to admit. So, for the month of March, I will be spending the equivalent of 2 hours outside per day for 31 days. Take a gander at the Current Challenge page for all the rules and info.

I know, I know. For all of you who work outside (or far south) all day this seems like peanuts; however, the combo of a desk job, commitments, and what can be the blistering cold of Canada’s north make it a challenge to not just take on the cold, but to make the time to get out there.

Now, this isn’t all about just getting outside and reaping the benefits of fresh air, exploring and owning the cold. Nope, it goes a bit farther than that. You see, I can choose to stay indoors, protected from the elements. Others can’t. Due to the hours that homeless shelters have in Yellowknife, there is a gap where homeless men don’t have a warm place to be. In the evening, this gap is two hours; in the morning, it’s one hour. While the experience will be undeniably different as this is a reality of life for others and only a challenge for me, it’s an opportunity to put in the time to better understand what those two hours mean for those who have to endure them.

I hope this challenge will show the good that spending time outside does for a person, but even more so, I hope it will help put just one basic aspect of homelessness into perspective.

The Frozen 31 starts March 1st. Updates are posted the next day.