Trading Dusty African Sandals For Canadian Snowshoes

I am looking forward to getting home to do some cooler weather, snowshoeing and hiking.

Here in Mali, West Africa, the last few trips into the bush have seen those hot northwest winds coming down off the Sahara, puffing quite lively in the mid afternoons. It is still relatively cool late at night, but that too is rapidly fading. The afternoon sun scorches my red head and freckle-peppered skin.  The sun and I have a tenuous relationship.

As I speed along on the motorcycle, I can feel the moisture being sucked from my body, and lips. They both dry out like raisins while speeding along. This dryness fools a westerner. We think we are not sweating, because our t-shirt is never damp, and no sweat is dripping down our brow.

However,  what is really happening is that as soon as the perspiration exits the pores of the skin, it is evaporated almost immediately. Over the course of an hour, I drank a liter and and a half of water on the way out to the bush. When I got home three hours later, I was guzzling down several more liters at the house.
There are times the afternoon wind is so hot you feel like someone is holding a hot hairdryer six inches in front of your face.  I swear there were a half dozen puffs of scorching wind that were so intense on my face, legs and arms, even through my clothing it felt like I had stood too close to a camp fire. You know that point you reach by a fire, as the heat finally penetrates through your clothes to the skin and you go, “Ouch, I need to step back.” That was how hot a few dozen puffs of wind were. If not close to 60 C degrees, I would eat my hat. If I had to stand out in that scorching sun right now, with no shirt or water, you would be saying words over my dead, sunburned body within three hours.  I can only take so much of it as a big Canadian.

They tell me that Mali is home to the hottest inhabited city in the world. I believe it. Why can’t I get called to work on a Pacific island where there is beach and water to cool off in? Why not to the coast of some African country where I can fish on my day off? Why not on a cool mountain, with snow on top?  They exist, on the continent of Africa, so they tell me.

I head back to Canada soon. I am excited to get outside into the snow when I get home. Africa sure gave me a different view of winter.  I realized a few years back that you simply have to embrace winter, by investing into it. How do I mean that exactly?

Invest into winter by purchasing good functional clothing, boots, pants, and snowshoes, so that cold is no longer a huge issue. You can contentedly be outside all day long without any issue. There is so much beauty to be seen in winter, why let that unique beauty pass by unnoticed?

I get it, quality functional clothing can be expensive, but the alternative is to hibernate through winter, cut off from the refreshing, healing aspects of nature. It gets depressing to go from the house to the car, and the car into work. It is like all our outdoor activity is limited to moving from one building to the next, cut off from nature’s offerings.

There were two purchases I made in the last few years that helped me cope with winter and that pesky bug season.

Firstly, I bought snowshoes- the new ultra-lite, streamlined, aluminium kind. They are not the old snowshoes we knew as kids, those awkward, painful, and exhausting ones that forced you walk too bowlegged. With these state-of-the-art  snowshoes, I am able to romp around the forest, even eight feet of snow, having a blast. That first snowshoe year we received fifteen feet of snow in six weeks, I was able to trek about in the woods without reservation. Without them I would have sink into a snow grave, really, it was impossible to go out there in such conditions. 

For years I never ventured out into the woods in winter, and I always missed it. With snowshoes I am able to walk wherever I wish in winter. They are the  best personal investment I have made in 20 years. Snowshoes enabled us to keep nature in the forefront, and opened up winter like never before. I can like winter now.

Secondly, I purchased a bug jacket. Really, eh!  As many Canadians on the east coast are all too familiar with, the mosquitoes and black flies in June and July can be fanatical. Evenings and early mornings in the wilderness are pure hell at times. I still have PTSD from my Confederation trail walk of 300 km over eight days in mid July. We suffered seriously for several days, wrapped up in nylon poncho’s for protection.  Bug spray did little to help us cope. I hate that burning feeling of  Deet on my skin also.

Well, what can one do about it then?

Swearing to never face that situation again, I marched to Canadian Tire last spring and bought a $45 bug jacket and head net. The material is thin, and the light top breathes very well. Mosquitoes cannot bite through the material, and it has mesh net panels on your sides, arms etc and a mesh hood to go over your head. Oh, my flipping word, the comfort that bug jacket gave me last spring.  Why didn’t I have one of these jackets twenty years ago?   A heads up- the bug jacket  I bought had grey net mesh. When the hood is pulled over your head, the grey fine mesh kind of blocks out your view like a fog, hampering your vision, and making you feel cut off from nature. So I bought the $5 black mesh head net beside it,  and I use that over my head, and I can see much more clearly. Strange indeed.

The only thing I would add to this bug kit is a thin pair of breathable gloves, with a very tight weave, to cover my hands as well. It is annoying when the insects try to bite your knuckles and back of your hands, and they do, especially if you use hiking poles. I’ll find a solution this spring.

Africa has been great, but I am ready for some good old Canadian snow. My fat carcass needs the exercise. In Mali, I am on the run often, but the heat does not motivate this Canadian to do much recreational physical activity in the sun.  I simply can’t take it.

I’ll make you a snow angel on the flip side in a few weeks.

Also, I have some exciting news to divulge.  Not about work, but about a personal bucket-list item I hope to check off my list this summer.  I am so flipping excited about it all, I would love to blurt it out now. However, I must wait. You will have to check back for that story near the end of February.

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