With all the snow we've been having in Boston, I wanted to get outdoors to enjoy the beauty and challenges of winter, before spring arrives. After checking winter courses offered by outdoor challenge schools, I signed up for a week-long snowshoeing course offered by Outdoor Fortitude. When I got there, however, the instructor, Tucker, told us that snowshoeing was canceled, and we were doing a different course.
The group, all from greater Boston, gathered round.
"What's the course?" asked George.
"Equipment review over here," said Tucker, studying his checklist.
The staff fitted us with boots, earmuffs, scarves and breathable gloves.
"These gloves are your best friends on this course," said Tucker. "They're high-tech triple-knit Iceguard hand insulators. Do not lose them, or get them wet!"
We took a solemn vow.
Then, Tucker took us to a large snowy campsite, except it looked like a Massachusetts town with houses clustered around.
"That looks like my house," said Nancy.
"Mine too," I said.
Tucker handed each of us a big shovel. "They're replicas of your houses," he said, "built especially for Outdoor Fortitude's 2015 Blizzards of Boston snow shoveling challenge."
The group buzzed with excitement at this novel outdoor activity. Tucker told us the Outdoor Fortitude credo, which was "Work. Then do it again," then assigned us our first challenge. "You're going to shovel your front walk, a path to your shed so you can throw out your trash, the end of your driveway where the town plow dumped new snow, and your mailbox."
It was snowing hard, so we ran eagerly towards our houses to shovel.
I shoveled the fluffy white snow for hours, occasionally taking a trail mix break with Nancy and Rick. It felt good to be working my muscles in the fresh winter air.
Later, over dinner around the campfire, Tucker led us in inspirational readings. Helen Keller, he said, taught that "You have set yourselves a difficult task, but you will succeed if you persevere." Then, we all went back to our houses to sleep.
The next day was a hearty blizzard. After Tucker announced the day's assignment, I started shoveling right away, but soon began to wonder.
"This looks familiar," I called over the snow to Nancy, who was shoveling in her yard. Sure enough, there was snow on my front walk, path to my shed, end of my driveway and mailbox.
"Me too," George called back.
"This is stupid," Rachel, in our group, complained.
Nevertheless, we kept shoveling, because as Tucker had quoted at lunch from Winston Churchill, "'Never, never, never give up.'"
On the third day, I had to pull my hat down over my eyes because a bitterly cold snowstorm was pounding hard. Tucker assigned the challenge of the day.
"Wait," said George. "Didn't we shovel that yesterday and the day before?"
"Life tells us to 'look under our feet,' and not 'despise our own place and hour,'" Tucker quoted, from John Burroughs.
It was hefty work, but the sky, landscape, trees and houses were a beautiful white. Falling asleep that night, I wondered excitedly what tomorrow would bring.
On day four, the walks were heaped with twelve inches of fresh snow, and we shoveled that. On day five, we had fourteen new inches.
"I'm sick of this," Rachel complained. I kept shoveling, though, because the next day, day six, would be our outdoor survival "solo." We wouldn't see the rest of the group or Tucker the whole day!
The day of our solo, Tucker had bad news. "Rachel handed in her shovel," he said. "She's going to a place where they don't have to shovel snow every day -- Canada."
We were sorry, but another blizzard had arrived, so we started our solos. It was an enormous task, because the snow was heaped so high around me from my previous shoveling that when I tossed a new shovelful up, the snow rolled back down at me. I could barely see over the heaps of snow. It was just me, my shovel, and the falling flakes. At last, I sat down on a snow stoop I made for myself. I was done! And my walkways were perfectly shoveled -- for now.
At a final campfire, we all agreed how fortunate we had been to participate in the 2015 Boston Blizzards snow shoveling challenge, which was beyond extreme.
Rick spoke most movingly. "It brought me back to my inner energies," he said. "No matter what monotonies life brings me, I know I'll meet the challenge!"
George congratulated Tucker on arranging the unusual course. "I could never," he said, "experience in real life the challenge of shoveling seven feet of snow off the same walkway, over and over, during such a short span of time."
We all agreed that when we got home, no one would believe that it had actually happened.