In the past couple weeks, Europe has been uncharacteristically cold while the Arctic has been far too warm for climate scientists’ comfort. At one point, Europe was actually colder than the Arctic. When I left Tennessee, it was in the mid-60s so I was not mentally prepared for the freezing temperatures of Copenhagen.
My body also reacts very poorly to long plane rides. The only remedy seems to be moving as much as humanly possible in following days to remind my blood that’s got a job to do. Plus, I love walking, especially in cities. One of my all-time favorite activities is walking the length of Manhattan, stopping periodically to try whatever food looks good. Nosh-walking my way down toward the Lower East Side and then back uptown on a different route.
Nothing makes me happier than walking 10+ miles in a day. Walking is how I orient myself to a new place. This love is how I found myself walking against a strong, snowy wind, a mile away from the University of Copenhagen, panicking about being late and, to a lesser extent, about the lack of feeling in my toes.
I am currently in Copenhagen as a visiting researcher. The morning after my arrival I was scheduled to meet with the department’s administrative assistant for an orientation. The forecast said snow but I’d been told that it usually doesn’t stick here. I wore my cute shoes with an extra pair of socks rather than snow shoes because it is easy to prioritize gender expression over function in a warm apartment. As gender non-conforming writer and performance artist Alok Vaid-Menon recently joked on Instagram (@alokvmenon) about NYC’s winter, “OMG! This [weather] is femme-phobic!” Bringing a solid, head-to-toe femme look is personally and philosophically important to me. It’s not my fault if the weather didn’t accommodate it, right? Right.
I gave myself a little more than hour for the three-mile walk in case I got lost and/or needed to stop at one of the many bakeries in the city. After a few minutes, it started snowing lightly. No big deal. The wind picked up. Not great. I got lost after about half a mile. The snow was coming down heavier, but I wasn’t about hop on the train. That afternoon’s weather might leave me stuck inside, and I needed to move. I asked someone for directions and when they realized I still had 2.5 miles to go, they looked at me wide-eyed like, “who is this wild ass American so committed to walking?!” I laughed, “It’s only another 4 kilometers!” This response probably didn’t help the stereotype that Americans are unreasonably cocksure.
Back on course, the wind-snow combo was getting much worse, but I was still lying to myself about the decision to walk. I was getting in much needed movement! (True.) Limited exposure to freezing conditions can be good for the body! (Research pending.) I was getting acclimated so I could run in this tomorrow! (Blatant lie.) It was so windy that my scarf wouldn’t stay wrapped around my face. My fingers ached from the cold when I’d remove my gloves to check the map on my phone, and my toes were not well insulated from the snow now accumulating on the ground.
At mile 2, I finally accepted that I should have taken the train. Visibility was now poor and my exposed face was getting covered in large snow flakes. My deep love walking and need for post-travel movement had clouded my judgment. I started kicking myself for prioritizing gender expression over maintaining a core body temperature. I am terrible at acknowledging that my body has limitations – especially in professional, fitness, and gender expression contexts – and this moment weirdly brought all three together. With a mile to go and no other way of getting there, I kept forward, chastising myself and mulling over every single choice in the past ten years that resulted in my present situation. I checked my watch, realizing that the cold had slowed me down. “Oh great,” I thought, “I am freezing, jet-lagged, and now about to be late.”
So, I did what I do best: I panicked and started running. I began sweating in my layers, getting deeper into my internal monologue about professionalism, gender identity and expression, and, of course, my choice to walk. What a sight I must have been: my scarf nearly flying off with the wind every 5 seconds, my oversized metal earrings banging loudly while I slipped around slightly in the snow as I ran –– and my sad expression of longing as I ran past a patisserie with no time to stop.
Finally, I arrived, covered in snow. Of course, the administrative assistant was also concerned about my choice to walk (and later took the time to kindly show me all my public transportation options). I’d barely been there two minutes when she excitedly stopped the tour, said, “The songs are about to start,” and began knocking on office doors to alert people.
I suddenly found myself in a sea of strangers, walking quickly across the long building into an atrium where others had already gathered for the mysterious songs. I was still flushed and wound-up. Someone handed me sheet music in Danish and another began on the piano. Within minutes, I was jolted from my hyper critical self-monologue and freezing walk (turned panicked run) into a warm atrium filled with people singing happily in Danish.
The contrast was so bizarrely stark, and I suppose this is where some people would engage in deep self-reflection on the self and walking, but I am too high-maintenance to be Thoreau-like about this. Instead, while I fake sang in Danish, I was praising my all-weather mascara and my durable femme body, and planning to walk back by that patisserie on my way to the train. My wild commitment to walking brought me to delicate rhubarb pastry that I wouldn’t have otherwise found. Sometimes questionable but usually worth it, especially if you wear the right shoes.
Christina Friedlaender is a PhD candidate in Philosophy at The University of Memphis. Outside of academic life, Christina’s hobbies include: fitness pursuits (running, weight-lifting, and walking), fashion, eating all the good foods, and listening to femme and queer centric podcasts.