Old Man Winter

“When I was your age, I walked five kilometres to school in the freezing cold…”

Well, I’m not a feeble, whistle-through-my-teeth grandparent, but recently I’ve been doing just that.

The OC Transpo, Ottawa’s transit system, has been on strike since Dec. 10, for 38 days and counting. I was lucky to have narrowly missed the start of the strike, as I escaped Ottawa on Dec. 4 to get a head start on my winter break and visit my brother in Montreal.

How cold weather makes me feel sometimes.

How cold weather makes me feel sometimes.

Since I returned to this beautiful, cold city in early January, I’ve been walking everywhere.

The first day of class, it wasn’t so bad. My roommate and I set off, Tim Hortons in hand, hopeful that the extra walking would seriously improve our respective silhouettes. I knew it would when I arrived in class, panting and sweaty.

But what was I thinking? Walking in pairs is fine – misery loves company – but when it came time to fly it solo later that week, I was devastated. It didn’t help that I’d contracted a bad case of the sniffles.

The -30°C weather didn’t help much either. As soon as I stepped outside, the hairs on the insides of my nostrils froze together – a novel feeling while walking to the bus stop, a painful annoyance when endured for an hour. I tried to bundle up accordingly.

My winter expedition look.

My winter expedition look.

The Trek – A Checklist:

  • Tank top, t-shirt, sweater
  • Leggings under pants
  • Double pair of socks (one cotton, one wool)
  • Sorel boots
  • Long down coat
  • Scarf wrapped securely around face
  • Rabbit-lined hunter’s hat, attached around face, under chin
  • Hot Paws mittens
  • Sunglasses (to prevent snow-blindness)

I looked ridiculous. But no matter, who cares about fashion on what feels like a life or death survival expedition? Not me.

My brother and I in the Arctic. Oh no wait, that's just Ottawa.

My brother and I in the Arctic. Oh no wait, that's just Ottawa.

This was all fine and good until the scarf-over-face bit backfired and my breathing fogged up my anti-snow-blindness goggles, rendering me, well, blind. The humidity from my breath caused my sunglasses to fog up and freeze solid. My breath also made my hair freeze together. Good thing I blow dried my hair.

As I coughed, horked and sputtered my lonely way up Bank St., I felt helpless. I’m a reasonably fit 20-something woman, with drive and determination, and I’m ready to collapse right into a snowbank. I couldn’t help but think about the elderly during this time and how they must be coping during the strike.

A brief side note: You may ask, “Why not take a cab?” Well my dears, due to the strike, there are extra cars on the road, traffic is terrible at best, and taxis are expensive. They are also hard to come by. I was flagging consistently, and in what I’d guesstimate to be a 1-km jaunt, not one cab came to my rescue.

The poor old people! They usually line the buses with their trundle-buggies, walkers and canes. They are the pulse, the lifeblood of the transit system. They sit up front in the reserved seating and talk to the bus driver about the weather. They travel three stops, not because they’re lazy, but because they actually can’t walk the three blocks comfortably.

Winter is a dangerous time for the elderly. Shoveling-induced heart attacks, slips on icy pavement, severe cold due to poor circulation – it’s a jungle out there.

The next time I see an old person out there in the snow, I’ll help them with their groceries or help them cross the slippery road. Anything to lend a hand.

The transit strike is no picnic, but at least I have a young, able body. As bad as it is, I still can walk the five km in the freezing cold.

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