11. Dive Into Cold Sheets
By Leath Tonino
Picture falling snow, late January, a Saturday night. You’re in Montana, Maine, Hokkaido, Kamchatka—somewhere north, somewhere nippy. Maybe you skied powder all day, mushed sled dogs, climbed frozen cascades. Certainly you’ve had a hoot, as much hearty fun as a mortal body can tolerate, and now, exhausted, wonderfully spent, you’re finally ready to turn in. Teeth are brushed, coffee prepped for the morning. It’s a relief, really, the tank at last emptied of endorphins, no thrills left to chase, no objectives remaining besides sleeping well, dreaming of tomorrow, resting in anticipation of good times to come. You strip down to undies, throw back the quilt, and slip
Jiminy Effing Cricket! Spasm. Halle-friggin-lujah! Freak out. Ring them bells, giddyup hoss, bow chicka wow wow, ayeee!
The iciest, shiveriest, gnarliest sheets in the history of bedding, that’s what you slip between, and that’s what slips a knife into your circuitry, thereby inducing 30-odd seconds (an estimate, space-time having imploded) of furious, desperate writhing. You are cackling, cringing, grimacing, grinning. You are screaming gleeful curses in the silence of your skull. You are weeping in solidarity with the skinny squirrels and little fragile chickadees of the world. You are trapped by cryogenic jaws of cotton, chewed to death by thread count. You are gasping for breath, painfully, exuberantly alive.
You are me.
And I am you, of course. And we are legion—a Holarctic species, a latitudinal tribe. Who doesn’t know this commonplace of winter? (Floridians, stop reading here and go fiddle with your A/C, a palm tree, whatever.) Indeed, few highs are so easily attained, so consistently available, so climatically free of charge, so hidden in plain sight. It might indicate that I’m a dull guy in need of new exciting hobbies, but honestly, almost nothing yanks the puppet strings of my body and makes me dance the Crazy Happy Dance like hyperborean sheets.
Those brief sessions of thrashing and squirming and grinding my molars and wishing for a rubber lacrosse mouth guard—they’ve added up over the years. Do the math: 30 seconds times seven nights a week times five months a year times just shy of four decades equals about 2,500 minutes, fortyish hours. BASE jumping is awesome, no doubt, but try logging fortyish hours of airtime. Ditto getting barreled by a wave. Ditto riding a bronco.
I won’t lie and say that the cellular bliss-torture of cold sheets—of tactilely engaging a severity that feels as if it’s going to obliterate me (or at least snap my spine)—is my absolute favorite variety of fun, but it is definitely in the neighborhood. More than anything, what I love are the rowdy wilds, the vivifying contact that backcountry travel engenders, the buckle-up intensity of alpine ridges, desert wastes, whipping ocean spray. To my mind, cold sheets are the outdoors sneaking indoors, an example of how raw nature rejects human compartmentalization and runs through everything. They are a micro version of the frigid windblast that hits me on the summit, the glacier’s sprawling immensity, the slush that fills my boot, the bomb cyclone, the epic elemental brrrrr. What they offer is the ancient adventurous fun of blood and bones and flesh and environment—a deep somatic fun, a fight-to-survive mammalian fun, a naked-ape fun.
Naked ape. Ah, there’s an idea.
Picture a Saturday night, late January, falling snow. You’re in Minnesota, Manitoba, the Lyngen Alps, the Gulf of Ob. Yawning, you strip down to undies, then think better of it: Let’s up the ante. Let’s do this. You are me. I am you.
We throw back the quilt.
Buck-ass, birthday-suit nude, we take the plunge.