Why Do the People of Western North Carolina Get So Befuddled by Shorts in Cold Weather?

Two years ago, my cousin was visiting, and we drove to Smoky Mountain National Park to hike Charlie’s Bunion.  It was the first weekend in March and a cold day, being the first weekend of March, but sunny and not offensively or bitterly cold. I remember that while I started the hike in my Eddie Bauer puffer coat (a coat that someone left—and never claimed— in my college house after a party sometime circa 2007, which I still wear often and has truly stood the test of time), but didn’t wear any base layer and took the coat off almost immediately after beginning the hike. My cousin Mikey, I believe, started with a puffer coat as well but paired that and a fleece alongside a pair of shorts. 

Was it exactly shorts weather that day? Not really, but it was sunny, not bitterly cold, and Charlie’s Bunion is vigorous enough that I wouldn’t have thought twice about seeing a fellow hiker less bundled up than I. But the fellow hikers we ran into? A constant stream of comments about Mikey’s bare leg, the majority being some version of, “what do you think this is, Florida?!?” 

I was thinking about that the other day. I was down at Second Gear in the River Arts District (as its name suggests, a really great second-hand outdoor store I stop in somewhat regularly now on the off chance there’s a good buy), looking to get microspikes and/or some hiking poles—I want to do more winter hiking this year. I didn’t find anything to purchase, but, exiting the shop, wearing a pair of sneakers, a hoodie, and a pair of shorts on a mild, 50-something-degree day, a man stopped, looked me up and down, and said, “Think you’re at the beach or something?”

What is it with that? Maybe it’s because I’m someone who grew up in the tundra North of the Wall who wears shorts till November and will trot them out anytime after Christmas it gets slightly warmer than the day before, but I just don’t think wearing shorts in somewhat cool weather is all that odd, especially if the rest of your outfit is weather appropriate. Like, had I been rocking flip flops and a tank top with my shorts in January, sure, comment, but it was shorts and a hoodie on a sunny winter degree that got into the high 50s! 

I’m thinking about this clearly very important subject now, and realize how many times I regularly get commented on when I wear shorts to and from the gym in winter, and if it were a quick “damn, I’m cold just looking at you,” I’d get it, but in inevitably goes the “damn, you think you’re in Florida” (or “the beach”) route, and like, no, sir, I’m literally walking into the gym to workout wrapped in a puffer coat with a hat on. I don’t think I’m going to the beach. I ran from my apartment, to my quickly-heating car, drove two minutes, then ran into a gym where I’ll work out in shorts, before changing into sweatpants for the drive home. I have no disillusions about what state and or part of the country I’m in. 

The wilder part is like, this is the south! Before coming down here, I was under the impression that people liked shorts and tried to stretch them as far into the winter as possible. I was thought fewer clothes were worn here in general than back home, but I’m learning that southerners are precious people when it comes to a little chill. It always amuses me how many puffer coats I’ll see on people as soon as Labor Day hits, even when it’s highs of 70s with nights in the 50s—I think I’ll need to start asking those people if they think they’re in Alaska. I’ll probably get a barrel full of laughs.

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