The Frozen Offseason
November usually marks the end of my portaging season, when I begin to dedicate my time more to indoor pursuits and, sadly, less about being out in the wilderness. Yep, this is the start of “The Frozen Offseason”. For one thing, I have a lot of writing to do. This year was a great one, and I’ll be telling you guys all about it. I’ve also got a few projects and changes coming up of the winter. Oh, and there’s still some fun activities to preoccupy the restless Portageur while the rivers are solid. Speaking of which, November also marks the most fun time of the year: Mo Paddles!
Once again, a group of Paddling and Outdoor companies have got together to raise funds and awareness for Men’s Health by growing some sweet, sweet mustaches. This is the second year in a row, so officially we can add the title “Annual” to Mo Paddles. That’s exciting! We had a lot of fun last year, so of course we were going to try to do it again.
Last year we put things together quite quickly. It was a relatively impromptu thing, an idea put together in only a few weeks. With extra time to plan, we got a few more participants, some even better prizes and we even have a website dedicated to the event. This year, 3 mustache sprouters have decided to compete their growing abilities against each other, and we’re letting people in on the fun by making them choose a winner. The best part is that every time you vote, your name gets entered into one of 4 prize draws. For more information on the contest, checkout the website: portaguer/mopaddles. Along with the prizes, we’ve added a bunch of fun jokes and features to the site. Vote, you’ll see what I mean.
Wait, what’s Movember?
If you’ve never heard of Movember, it’s a month long campaign to raise funds and awareness for Men’s Health. It’s a world-wide initiative where men grow mustaches for the entire month to raise funds and awareness for men’s health – in particular prostate and testicular cancer. The idea is to remind men to get themselves checked out. It’s not a fun experience to check for Men’s Health Issues – downright embarrassing and uncomfortable, really – but going through this will find these potentially fatal conditions early, when they can be perfectly preventable and treatable. Movember is fun, a celebration of being a man, and what better way to be silly and manly than to grow a mustache. And of course because of all the fun, it makes it much easier to talk about pretty serious issues that often we men shy away from.
This is my fifth mustache I’ve grown. In 2008 it was pretty tough. Not many people knew about Movember, and let’s just say the idea of sporting a mustache wasn’t a popular fashion choice. As I went about my day, I would run into people, some that I knew, some that I didn’t. I felt this strong need to explain that the weird decision to grow hair on my upper lip was for a good cause. I saw the look on the faces of friends you bump into, grocery store clerks, business contacts, family members… I wanted to tattoo my forehead with “I’m doing this for charity!” It was a challenge, to say the least. Every now and then, I’d hear “Nice mustache.” Never knowing whether they were being sarcastic – no safely assuming they were being sarcastic. Either way, I’d get a chance to explain what I was doing. Most of the feedback was the same. They thought it was an interesting idea to raise awareness. It certainly got people’s attention, to say the least. And it got us talking about Men’s Health issues. At the end of the month I happily shaved knowing I did my part.
The second time
After a successful first run, and based on the amount of support and expectations of those around me, I was up for another challenge. The “rules” for Movember state that you must shave on November 1st, starting with a “clean shaven face”, and grow and groom your mustache. This makes growing a mustache an overt, intentional act. If I’m being perfectly honest, the first year I did what a lot of people do, hiding behind an outrageously big, over the top, bushy mustache. It started out as a “handle-bar”, but it turned out to be just a short strip of skin away from a goatee (or more precisely a “Van Dyke”, which is the technical term for a goatee with a mustache – an example of specific knowledge you gain participating in Movember, but anyway…) This time I was going to make sure to grow something that would never be mistaken for anything other than a true mustache. In that sense, Year 2 was more of a challenge.
For Year 3, I decided that I’d have to take the next step. Here’s the thing: Growing a bushy or outrageous mustache is easy (or at least easier). It’s over-the-top, camp and quite clear that you’re joking around with your facial hair, like putting on a costume. What would be more brave, at least I thought, would be to grow an authentic mustache. With Movember becoming popular, I wanted something that people might think twice about whether or not I was growing it for charity, or it was my normal look. I’d shave it down to just my upper lip, and even trim the hair towards the end of the month if it got too bushy. Turns out I didn’t need to trim too often, just a few times on the last couple of days. But I was happy with the results. Not happy with the look of the mustche – oh no, it looked horribly creepy – but with the fact that I had been able to test my social resolve, walking around in public with this thing on my face: an intentional, groomed, I’ll even say “real”, mustache.
I should probably mention that I’m not big on rules necessarily, but they’re made to make Movember a bit more focused and challenging. Often people have consulted me on the rules, as I follow them relatively strictly, but I don’t hold other people to them. There’s no “Movember Police”, I tell them. I think it’s more important people participate than follow the rules. If you need to get a head start, or shave down mid-month, or grow something outrageous, you do what you have to do. You’re doing it, that’s what’s important. Way more important than some mustache rules.
After the success of the previous year, I was looking for a bigger challenge. Normally I receive a lot of input on the style I should grow. Some suggestions require an unrealistic amount of hair – most men can’t grow a Salvador Dali in only 30 days. Other suggestions are impractical. For example, I have, and never will, grow a “Hitler Mustache”. There’s always a few people would tell me to do that, giggling when they do. Yes, if I was looking for a challenge, sporting that would certainly be difficult, obviously. But because of the negative and even offensive nature of that look, I wouldn’t want it to detract from what I was doing. So I guess what I’m saying is please stop asking.
That said, I found the previous year a little challenging with all the grooming. I don’t like to shave every day, and have no styling or artistic talent. No, seriously. Year 4’s challenge would be to sport something that had to be maintained. I went with what I was calling a “Frank Zappa”. It would be bigger, and require much more precision with the razor, on a daily basis. According to the Movember rules, you’re allowed a “soul patch” – a slight bit of facial hair under the bottom lip, so long as it didn’t touch the chin – so I decided I’d indulge for this year, adding to the mustache complexity. It was a challenge. I know this because I loathed managing the mustache every morning. But it worked, and some even recognized what I was doing. I’d say it was a success.
Naturally, I decided to take it up another notch for Year 5. What was the creepiest, hard-to-maintain mustache I could grow? The “Pencil” mustache. Unlike the others, I’d have to keep it trimmed down regularly, require much more precise shaving, and I’d look like a complete idiot. Now this is an overt mustache. I have no idea how I’ve been able to walk around like this. It’s funny, because while it’s much smaller than all the other mustaches I’ve grown, it seems to stand out the most.
Why I do it
I took to Movember the way I take to most things, like I took to portaging. First, I needed to try it, to see if I could do it. Then I would challenge myself a bit more each time, but instead of going further or faster or to more exotic locations, for Movember I would find different ways to accept new challenges. Despite my public exposure, I’m actually a bit shy and anxious when it comes to standing out. You should see my wardrobe: everything is grey and black, t-shirts, jeans and shorts. The idea of walking around with a mustache a few years ago caused a lot of anxiety just thinking about it. That’s why I did it. You should do something that scares you every now and then. That, and I thought it would be funny.
But what really kept me going the next years were all the people who have since approached me and the feedback they’ve given. I am lucky enough not to have been affected by Prostate or Testicular Cancer or any other Men’s Health issues. Like most people, I didn’t know how many people were because sadly it’s not something we like to talk about – especially us men. The conversations I’ve had with a mustache on my face have been, to say the least, moving. They tell me about their father’s struggle or their grandfather’s preventable death, their uncle’s or brother’s or husband’s ordeal. Every now and then it’s their own story I hear. I’ve got to tell you, when someone thanks you for doing this, it’s a bit over-whelming. To find out that so many people around you have a story about Men’s Health Issues is shocking. The fact that it took some kooky facial hair to get us talking is a bit sad. But then again, it got us talking, and that’s really the point of all this.
So help me raise awareness. Talk about it, mention it to your friends, checkout my silly photos on Facebook and Twitter. I’d love to hear more comments on my progress – encouraging or funny, either/or. Checkout Movember Canada. Consider growing your own Mo, or supporting someone who does, or voting for the best mustache, and if you can spare it, donate.
Most importantly, get yourself checked out. Early detection makes for successful prevention.
… Now what should I grow for next year?
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