PUMPING IRONY: A Workout Worth Its Weight in Snow

Want a killer workout that might actually kill you? Try roof-raking.

Winter in the North Country this year has been pretty brutal: heaps of snow, bone-chilling cold and the kind of icy terrain that generates nightmares involving broken hips for geezers like myself. That’s the downside. The upside, for those of us who refuse to hide from the Polar Vortex, is that we encounter occasional meteorological challenges that sometimes morph into awesome workouts.

Clearing your sidewalk, driveway, and steps of a half-foot of heavy snow, for example, will definitely ramp up your heart rate and strengthen your back, shoulders, upper arms, and core. But if you really want to push yourself to the limits, there’s nothing like roof-raking — yes, that’s scraping the snow off the roof of your house.

Minnesotans know this and appreciate it. That’s why so few roofs are raked. But sometimes circumstances demand it. On Friday, for instance, My Lovely Wife noticed that water was dripping from the wall above one of our bedroom windows.

There are a couple of ways you can respond to this:

• Get a bucket and collect the water and wait for the ice dam on the edge of the roof and all the snow piled up behind it to melt (which will happen sometime in April).

• Grab a ladder and your roof rake and climb up to the edge of the roof and drag all the snow off the roof, thus removing the offending liquid.

I may be overgeneralizing here, but I think I’m not alone when it comes to these sorts of choices. Most guys would want to get up on that ladder and do battle. So after a quick breakfast on Saturday morning I pulled on my jacket, work boots, and gloves and headed out into the 6-degree chill to survey the situation. I hoisted my 25-foot aluminum extension ladder into place, anchoring it securely in the 3 feet of snow on the back patio, and clambered slowly up to the roof. (I should note here, for those of you who want to try this at home, that you should exercise extreme caution when climbing a 25-foot extension ladder leaning against a large chunk of ice on your roof. It could easily slide to one side or the other, leaving you at the mercy of gravity.) There was, indeed, plenty of snow up there — maybe 2 feet deep — and it was seeping into the wall behind the substantial block of ice anchored to the gutters. This was going to be fun.

I repositioned the ladder on the north side of the house, planting it securely into a mound of snow in my neighbor’s yard, and went to the garage to grab my weapon. A roof rake is a remarkable invention — a rectangular piece of plastic about 18 inches long and 4 inches high attached to a 20-foot-long aluminum pole. The idea is that you stand on the ground and lift the rake onto the roof and pull the offending snow down onto the ground. And that’s maybe what most guys would do, but the way I see it, if you’re going to go to the trouble of bundling up against the February cold and dragging your 25-foot extension ladder out of the garage, you really want to get all of the snow off the roof.

So that’s why, two hours later, I was still up there, yanking at the glacial deposits at the peak of the roof, my shoulders and abs aching, calves cramping from standing on the slick rungs of the ladder. I don’t think of myself as a perfectionist, but I’ll admit that there was a pretty lively debate going on inside my sweat-soaked head about whether that small patch of snow just west of the chimney was worth reaching for with my shaky right arm.

I decided enough was enough and inched slowly back down to earth, where a mound of snow about 5 feet deep now held my ladder fast. It was as I was frantically trying to dislodge the ladder that my neighbor appeared on the sidewalk. She’s a retired nurse and a bit of a curmudgeon, but generally well-meaning. She’d been watching me, I guess, for some time. I figured she’d be impressed by the avalanche I’d triggered, but I was mistaken. “Go in the house,” she yelled. “You’re going to have a heart attack!”

I assured her that I was fine, as I yanked weakly at the snowbound ladder. And while I avoided cardiac arrest, I can’t remember a workout that left me feeling this sore. I’m not a “no-pain, no-gain” kind of guy, but I have to say that those aching muscles felt a little better when I noticed this morning that the wall above our bedroom window was dry.

, an Experience Life deputy editor, explores the joys and challenges of aging well.

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