IT HAS BEEN said there is no fool like an old fool. I would say that saying is oftentimes true. I would say that the time I spent outdoors with a temperature reading well south of zero last weekend would prove I can be an old fool.

I was still young the first time I showed total contempt for a below-zero temperature reading. That was the day when I defied the elements and walked to Uncle Neal’s house to watch the Ice Bowl, won by the Green Bay Packers, of course.

Why did I walk a mile to Uncle Neal’s house with a reading of somewhere around 20 below, you ask? Well, he had a bigger and better TV than we had. Makes sense, don’t ya think? And then, I walked a mile home after the game when it was even colder.

The number of times I spent hours outdoors in my younger days with the temperature below zero are too many to count.

I am at an age now when I generally stay inside when the thermometer refuses to pass the zero mark, but there are more times than I care to remember that ice fishing, snowshoeing and, for the past 40 years, cross-country skiing has sent me foolishly out into Ice Age temperatures.

The coldest ski race I ever took part in was the first year of the Badger State Games at Nine Mile in Wausau. My event, a 20K race, was supposed to start late in the morning. At that time, it was still more than 20 below.

For a few hours, we all waited for the official word that the race was to be canceled. That word never came. In early afternoon, with everyone smearing their face with a mandatory coating of Vaseline, the race, shortened to 15K, began with the thermometer reading minus 17.

I raced in wool knickers, wearing wool socks, cotton-weave long johns and top, and a wool sweater. My ski gloves were replaced with leather choppers and wool liners.

Honestly, it wasn’t a bad race. Sure, it was cold, but they had spotters along the course in case anyone looked bad off. Personally, I had what I considered to be a good race, finishing just a couple minutes behind my good friend, the late Judy Swank, who was an excellent skier and one of the best high school ski coaches in Wisconsin.

The coldest 55K Birkebeiner I ever skied began with a thermometer reading about 5 below. The warmest it got that day, as I remember, was about 2 above. At that time, we skied from Hayward to Telemark Lodge outside of Cable.

It was fun starting in Hayward, skiing down Main Street for a long swoop before heading out onto Lake Hayward. Thousands of people lined the street cheering each wave of skiers as they passed and church bells rang continuously until all waves were on their way.

It was fun and exciting. Unfortunately, it was only fun until we hit the lake where a gusty wind hit us in the face. I darned near quit right there. But being a still-young fool in my 30s at the time, I continued on, as did all my several thousand fellow Birkebeiners.

Things went well until the Fire Tower Hill aid station. It was there that my sweat-soaked ski gloves caught up to me. After gobbling several banana chunks and orange slices, I pushed off for the final 14K. Any warmth in my hands disappeared. My fingers felt burning cold, strange as that may sound, and were getting mighty numb when I stopped, pulled off my gloves and stuck my hands inside my sweater all the way up under my armpits.

Slowly, feeling returned, but if a ski patroller hadn’t stopped and got latex surgical gloves on under my ski gloves, it would have been the end of the trail for me. Instead, always the fool, I disregarded the possible loss of multiple fingers and finished the race.

Fast forward to my 50s, when age and good sense should have been taking over my brain. I skied the pre-Birkie one year, when the temp never passed zero. Older and a little smarter, I was dressed for the occasion and had no problems finishing.

A young, male skier wasn’t as smart. Foolishly, he was dressed in a thin racing suit, no hat and thin racing gloves. At the 20K mark, I came around a corner and there he was. My good friend, Scott Joswiak, was bear hugging him from one side and a good Samaritan woman skier was bear hugging him from the other, trying to keep some body heat in him. A passing skier said he had an extra jacket on and draped it over the guy’s bare head before he skied on.

Fortunately for the totally hypothermic young man, the ski patrol with a rescue toboggan arrived a few minutes later. After the race, we learned he would be just fine, but that was a case where being a fool, young or old, could have killed.

Anyway, just to prove you can still be an old fool, I went out for mile-long walks twice with my young and foolish yellow lab last weekend. It was cold and each time, within the first half-mile, I admitted to myself I was still capable of being a fool. I think when we finished, Gordie was even happier than I was to be back in the warmth of home and hearth.

Maybe, just maybe, someday, I will learn not to be an old fool.