Over the Christmas holidays in Montreal last year there was a record snow storm. Eighteen inches fell in one day. Immediately afterwards the temperature dropped to a pretty consistent -20 Celsius, give or take wind chill. The city, which usually recovers from winter storms in a single day of ploughing and shovelling, was buried for a week. Perfect weather for running.
From my apartment downtown to the top of Mount Royal is an elevation gain of 495 feet, over about three-and-a-half miles. It’s not an unchallenging hill run at the best of times, but I’d never actually been up it in deep snow, even at a walk. Coming down is pretty taxing on the knees if you do it consistently, but I had no idea about how it would be on snow and ice. A city, I reasoned, is to be experienced, and laced up.
I was not without appropriate equipment. Mrs. VB had sprung for the running crampons for Christmas for the very purpose, and strapping them on is the nearest a runner gets to the girding of loins. Layers of wicking clothing lay between me and the elements. The first part of the run is usually on sidewalks, but they were completely buried (as were the parked cars), so I struck out into the road, which at least had some tyre tracks to follow. The first half mile was maybe the hardest I’ve run. The snow was thigh deep in places, and getting the legs up and out of it soon started to burn. Meanwhile the feet were completely numb.
The main path up Parc Avenue was buried, but there was a clearing of sorts through the park to the west of the street, some of which had been ploughed for fire trucks. A mile or so in was the mountain trail – a smoothly ploughed path of crunchy ice. Near the bottom, the sledding community was in its element, but they soon petered out. After that there were skiers (winter’s cyclists, similarly annoying), snow shoers, and the hardy winter foot soldiers. One or two other runners were braving it. Thighs easing up; feet coming back to life.
Two thirds of the way up, the sun broke around the bend of the mountain path and lit up the winter like a torch. I’ve never seen a brighter light and the sheer beauty of the spectacle lulled me into a temporary forgetfulness of the lunacy of it all. Around the next bend, high up now, the wind could have cut a man in two, blowing snow sideways off the drifting piles like a sandstorm, and just as sharp, with the windchill factor now at around -30. The only people up here were other idiots.
Made it to the top. A glorious scene of shimmering metal and glass, surrounded by ice. Going down was quick, hard on the feet, and heavy on the thighs again once I reached those high drifts. Seven brutal miles later I was back, layered with ice and frost, ready to thaw, and eat.
Never again? Well, not until the next day.