Our world froze this week. It was spectacular — and yet another reminder that it’s time to travel again.
A powerful polar vortex brought record-low temperatures to much of the United States. Denver saw its coldest air in a generation on Thursday when temperatures plunged to minus 24 degrees, the coldest since 1990.
In Cheyenne, Wyoming, temperatures fell by 40 degrees in a half-hour, shattering the city’s record for its largest temperature drop.
To which I say: Pack your bags.
The “experts” will tell you to stay indoors. But what do they know? This is the perfect time to go out and explore, as long as you can do it safely. The world has been turned into a winter wonderland. You may not see anything like this in a generation — or ever.
Why I travel in the winter
I caught my first glimpse of a winter wilderness earlier this month when I was staying at the Tschuggen Grand Hotel in Arosa, Switzerland. It was the day before the ski resort opened and I found a way to get to the top of the mountain and look around.
Here’s what I saw.
I was alone in this desolate frozen landscape. A fresh blanket of snow covered the Alps. Shimmering icicles hung from the rooftops of the empty warming huts, waiting for the first skiers to arrive. There’s something deeply intriguing about this place — the way it glistens in the late morning sun and how the sound is muted by the new snow.
Winter snowscapes don’t stay deserted for long. Here’s the view from our house in Sedona, Ariz. — the last place we lived in the United States. When snow falls on the red rocks, it is like catnip for hikers. But if you have to get up at 4 a.m. to do TV interviews on the East Coast like I do, you’ll get a picture like this from your driveway.
The dead of winter allows us to see the world as never before. Snow reflecting in the sun and against the darkness of the winter sky. To see the contrasts between light and dark, like an Ansel Adams photo in a museum.
To experience true winter, you have to get away from everyone. This was the sub-zero wetlands at dusk in Gunnison National Forest near Crested Butte, Colo. We were cross-country skiing to a hut for dinner, and it was well below zero. I had good directions — getting lost would have been deadly.
But as is so often the case, where there is danger there is also beauty. Your breath condensing in the frozen air. The way the snow becomes almost almost blue in the twilight. And the early winter sun slowly crawling across the peaks of the San Juan Mountains, turning the edges pink for a few fleeting minutes. Try not to cry; your tears will freeze.
Life’s too short to stay home
I’ve been recovering from a serious ski injury for the last three weeks. My friends and family have been advising me to take it easy — rest up and recover — and many say not to take such risks in the future.
But I can’t do that.
A near-death experience in the Alps and sitting here for the last three weeks, healing from a shattered pelvis, has made me realize how little time we have on this planet. To stay home where it’s safe would be easy and convenient. But I would also miss the next big adventure.
I plan to limp on and continue my adventures. I’m particularly intrigued by traveling when no one else wants to — and to places no one else wants to go. I grew up reading the great science fiction authors of the 1940s and 50s, who imagined apocalyptic landscapes, often under snow and ice, and there is something inside me that wants to see the world even at its bleakest.
My media colleagues treat severe winter weather as something to be feared. When an airport closes because of snow or roads are iced over, they cover the event as if it is a catastrophe. But look closely and you will see beauty in the sub-zero temperatures. When everyone else is fleeing the scene, linger for a few moments to ponder the icy tundra. Our ancestors lived in these forbidding places, so don’t be surprised if you feel a connection to it at the DNA level. I do.
To travel is to explore. It is to see strange new places. And now, with the northern hemisphere in the firm grip of winter, you may see things as you never have before. I recoil when someone orders me to stop traveling, especially now. I am hardly able to walk and it is cold outside, but there’s a voice inside that tells me to go. No, I’m not going to curl up by the fire and watch Netflix all afternoon. I must go. The voice grows louder by the day.
Do you hear it, too?