A brisk winter walk is morebrisk than we bargained for

Where are you headin'? Did your car break down? Need a lift?"

Oh, for crying out loud. This was the third person who had pulled over since my sister and I, both California residents, had started our walk "downtown" just 10 minutes ago.

Visiting with relatives in North Dakota over the winter break from college, my sister, Shelley, and I had decided we'd had enough of being cooped up indoors. We decided to walk to "town" about four blocks away. When we first announced our intention, a look of alarm passed over my grandmother's face.

"You can't walk there!" she exclaimed. She gestured out the window to the snow- covered yard. "You'll freeze to death!"

"Sure we can," I assured her. "When we're skiing, we've been out in freezing weather. We have good coats and gloves. It's just a short walk. Quit worrying." Shelley and I exchanged a look - our family was a bunch of sissies. But we were tough college girls. We were from the city. We certainly had no intention of letting something like a little snow stop us.

Grandmother didn't look convinced, but she finally relented.

"Well, call us if you need a ride back," was the last thing we heard as the door slammed.

Shelley and I practically skipped down the street. What glorious snow! For a couple of southern California girls who had never so much as shoveled a driveway, this was pretty heady stuff. We had never listened for a blizzard warning or had to wake up in the middle of the night to start the car so the engine wouldn't freeze.

Our brief interludes with "weather" consisted of ski trips to resorts with a lodge nearby, so copious amounts of hot chocolate could be consumed when fingers and toes started to become numb. Our feelings of euphoria lasted about three blocks - right after the third car pulled away. We should have seen the warnings. These kind strangers - natives of North Dakota, after all - knew there was no good reason for people to be out walking in 20-below-zero F. weather - unless, of course, your car had broken down and you had no other choice but to walk. (This was before the advent of cellphones.) And we had one more block to go.

My sister also must have sensed our folly.

"Let's run!," she suggested.

And so we ran that last block, the snow crunching under our boots, our breath coming out in clouds of fog.

We reached the first store at the end of the street. We raced in, hurriedly pulled off our gloves, blew on our fingers until we could feel them again, and stamped our feet. We continued this little "ice dance" down the street. Running from store to store, repeating our routine until we ended up in the town's bowling alley.

"Let's sit down and have a cup of hot chocolate before we head back," I said.

Shelley quickly agreed.

As we held the steaming cups in our still-chilly hands, I looked at my sister. Her face was flushed, her hair wet around her face where the frost had melted. I knew I must look the same.

"How about if we call Grandpa to come get us?" I suggested. I received a nod of agreement. Swallowing my pride, I went to the pay phone and dialed the number.

"Hello there," my grandmother answered. "Where are you? How far did you get? We were making bets on how soon it would be before you called."

"We're at the bowling alley."

"Grandpa is on his way."

Within minutes, we saw the old pickup pull into the parking lot. We must have looked embarrassed. As we climbed into the cab, Grandpa reached over and patted my knee.

"Say there," he said with a smile. "At least you made it farther than we thought you would!"

Apparently news of our "walk" had spread fast through the town. During the course of the next week, we frequently ran into neighbors who nodded when we were introduced to them.

"Oh yes," they'd smile. "You two are the girls who went for a walk in the middle of winter."

(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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