The thermometer read -8.7º F (-22º C) when I came down for coffee this morning. The snow outside, blanketing the field out the window of the bedroom-turned-office I spend my days in, fell over a month ago. It doesn’t melt, it only deepens, compacts, and hardens. I had forgotten what winter felt like. Sure, we’d get occasional snowstorms and a couple days below freezing at our house in western Washington, but winter weather — real winter weather — was something we dealt with only by choice. It was tucked away in the mountains to our east, always there if you wanted to visit, but not something that you had to deal with on a daily basis.
It’s been 17 years since Kristin and I spent a winter in the northeastern United States, and even then it was only to bundle up for the dash across a Pennsylvania college campus. With no shoveling responsibilities of our own back then, it hardly counts. So, in reality, it’s been over two decades since we experienced winter life in New Jersey, dealing with the cold and the snow and wind-chill and the ever-changing road conditions and fretting about the lack of tire-tread on the car we’re driving.
This much I now know: Sub-freezing temperatures feel a lot warmer when you only experience them while strapped into a snowboard or snowshoeing through knee-deep powder with a pack on your back. Recreation makes everything better. Warmer. Running errands, going for a walk, and taking the garbage out, on the other hand, exposes you to a cold I had long since forgotten existed. We’ve been back in New Jersey for over a month and the daytime temperature has only risen above freezing a half-dozen times in that span. Too many days failed to exceed 26º F (-3º C). The layer of ice on the driveway and front walk has existed for over three weeks. An inch-thick slab with no signs of budging, it has stubbornly ignored the sprinklings of salt and chemical de-icer I apply.
There was a period last summer, during our ride through New England, when we began to think that settling in Vermont might be worth considering in order to be closer to family. As far as New England states go, Vermont’s geography and politics offers a close approximation to western Washington, its landlocked nature aside. But now? Hell no, screw that, not in a million years! The cold and snow we’ve been bemoaning for the past month in New Jersey is but a mere sample of a typical Vermont winter. No thank you. The inevitable drought that will plague the Pacific Northwest later this year could be severe, but those balmy spring-like conditions Seattle has been enjoying lately sure seem nice from this side of the country.
I wrote most of the preceding paragraphs yesterday morning: then the ambulance came.
Kristin’s father was in terrible pain throughout the weekend, pain that was suddenly manifesting in nausea and trembling. The comforts of home were no longer enough to keep him comfortable. Fortunately, he’s got a great team of doctors and was admitted into the hospital, assigned a cozy single-patient room, and is close enough to home for frequent family visits. It may or may not be directly related to the cancer, we’ll know more soon.
Life is a funny thing. We’ve been back in the United States for over six weeks now and, if we’re being honest, we really miss our bikes. We think about them daily, miss being on the move, and have even questioned the length of this unexpected trip home. Sure, we’ve gotten to spend more time visiting family this winter than we have in years, but it’s not our nature to sit idle. We’re restless people. We just want to get going again. But then something like yesterday happens and we’re so relieved that we happen to be here. Kristin’s mother was glad that Kristin was in the house to call her sisters as she dealt with the EMTs. Kristin, in turn, was happy to hand the phone to me when she began to sob. Our brothers-in-law were both available to accompany Kristin’s sisters to the hospital while we babysat our niece and nephew. The day went as well as it could, the strength of this family I’m happy to have married into fully on display. Back home after another visit, I cooked dinner so Kristin’s mother could pack a bag and get back to the hospital quickly. Kristin tended to her father’s pertinent email as her sisters called with updates from the hospital. Nobody needed us to be here, but we’re sure glad we were.
Kristin and her dad were supposed to have left for Washington D.C. yesterday morning for a three-night father-daughter getaway. They had even arranged for a tour of the White House with the local Congressman. That trip to D.C., the other Washington, isn’t going to happen. Or maybe it will. The one thing we’ve learned this past year is to not try and predict the future. We were supposed to be in Greece by now. We’re not. Instead, we’re headed to Japan in two weeks. Or maybe not. We’re flexible.
Future Travel: When we left Italy last month we did so planning to spend March and April in Japan before heading to Bhutan for an 11-day trek in the Himalaya. That trip was cancelled last week due to a shortage of signups (we declined the option to pay extra for a private tour, as it was already budget-bustingly expensive to begin with). Not wanting to head back to North America or Europe after just going to Japan, we decided to book the entire month of May in Bali, in a small house in Ubud that will serve as a perfect writer’s retreat and basecamp for exploring Bali, Lombok, and Komodo. I miss surfing. Kristin misses yoga.
Special Thanks: Kristin wanted me to once again thank you all for the wonderful comments and encouragement you left in response to our Detours Ahead post and to make sure we provided you, our faithful readers and friends, a short update. Those wanting a bit more information might be interested in this article about Kristin’s father, Eric, that was recently published in the local paper here in NJ. We’d also like to thank my mother for her generous contribution to our “cherry blossom party” and her sister Susan, my aunt, for a lovely Valentine’s Day gift. And to all of our family and friends who we’ve spent time with this past six weeks, letting us eat your food and drink your beers.