The wind whipped through the vibrant canopy, as leaves of all the shades of autumn rained down on the Cumberland Trail. A very early Arctic cold front had blown into the Southeast, with the first day of winter still an entire month away. This rare combination of welcome wintry cold and kaleidoscopic autumnal color left me no option but to head out for an early morning hike.
An empty parking lot at Signal Point, here on Signal Mountain, did not surprise me much, since it was the middle of the work week. The temperature hovered in the mid-30s, with the wind chill at least ten degrees colder — in other words, my favorite conditions to hike in. I slid on my Teton Sports daypack, grabbed my trekking pole, and headed down to the familiar trailhead, having first hiked here almost forty years ago.
Within a few minutes I reached the first spot I headed for, and was not disappointed by what lay before me. The entire 180° panorama of the Tennessee River Gorge was ablaze, even this late in November. The rich blessings of living in a part of the world where all four seasons are so evident in their various splendor filled my heart as surely as the cold air blowing up and over the rocky vista filled my lungs.
This outing not only provided me the chance to get outdoors in the preferred cold conditions, but also to further field test some new winter gear; it having been too warm to properly put through the courses. The I/O Merino long-sleeved base layers, paired up with the Rocky S2V PrimaLoft jacket, wool-blend socks, Rocky S2V Resection trail running shoes, and mid-weight fleece beanie, all worked efficiently in layered conjunction, leaving only the exposed part of my face cold. This may seem odd, since I had zipped the legs off of the Rocky S2V Dead Reckoning convertible pants, and was hiking in shorts.
The Shorts Make the Man
I grew up in the 60’s and 70’s, when there was still a strong emphasis on boys becoming men — Real Men — and I am still very much a product of that era. Even now, at 53, I push myself as hard as I did half a lifetime ago, whether outdoors, or in the gym. As a 1st Grader, my bus stop was a quarter-mile around a corner from my house, and I learned early on that “tough guys” didn’t wear winter coats while awaiting the bus, so mine came off as soon as I rounded the corner. That sort of seasoning was further amplified when I joined the Boy Scouts at age 11. Camping trips involved roughing it in apparel never intended to be worn in sub-freezing temperatures, e.g. a sleeping bag rated to 45°. But it was during my sophomore year in high school, when I first learned to be comfortable in shorts during winter in the South.
I was asked to play on the school soccer team, when only a few people outside of the prestigious private schools here in town even knew what soccer was…I didn’t. It only took me one practice to quickly determine that I would be a goalie, or not play at all. Running up and down an often frozen field — We played Winter Soccer, beginning in January, back then — held no interest whatsoever for me, so goalkeeper it was. My uniform consisted of a couple of layers of long-sleeved thermal cotton base layers, my team jersey, a toboggan — as we referred to our winter hats — two layers of long, cotton socks, cleats, and shorts. A few of my teammates — upperclassmen — wore track pants as they raced up and down the field, but, as the only underclassman on the team, there was no way I was going to do the same. I had an image to build, and build it I would that season.
Over the next almost-forty years, I became more and more acclimated to being outdoors in cold conditions in shorts and less apparel than most men. Of course, my decision to don shorts when most people are freezing has yielded, and continues to yield, a plethora of questions, both about “why” and about my sanity. Queries have ranged from authentic interest to inane suppositions. The answer has always been the same: I’m not cold, and prefer the freedom of movement that wearing shorts — especially for outdoor adventures — allows.
Yet the crux of this runs far deeper for me, as I have had, and continue to have, very frequent opportunities to lead men of all ages on a wide range of adventures, from simple hikes, to roaring whitewater rafting trips, thrilling mountain bike routes, and grueling team building outings where I pass along outdoor survival skills that can save lives in precarious emergency settings. Instilling a level of confidence that is often viewed in today’s world as arrogance/hubris involves teaching men to look past the negative viewpoints that abound and to seek their own swagger, as I have, for it is within that swagger that pride resides, and without pride in oneself we are mere shadows of the men were destined to be.
Choose Your Path
I titled this article Real Men Wear Shorts…During Winter, not as a challenge, but as a way of expressing a throw-back quality about myself that I hope might encourage you, the reader, to step up and proudly demonstrate your own healthy masculinity however you choose — within the parameters of the law — without fear of being ridiculed in today’s world, where people only expect to encounter a real man in a movie or in a Clive Cussler novel. Be yourself; be a Man’s Man.