I Thought Slow Was Safe. Nope.

Snow looks so… soft, doesn’t it?

For someone who loves being outside as much as I do, winter in the north is challenging. Snow, sleet, and ice can be cold and uninviting. The words slipping and sliding also are also prominent in my winter vocabulary. My somewhat advanced physical (not mental) age would suggest that I avoid all opportunities to slip, slide and fall. So, why on earth would I choose to take up cross country skiing, where slipping and sliding is actually the whole game? I don’t know. I guess I thought it wouldn’t matter if I went slow.

My first clue that slow was not the answer came as I plodded along, breaking my own trail in deep snow – a definite slow process. As I passed a line of spruce trees separating my path from a row of houses, a large Husky came silently bounding out to meet me. I stopped forward motion, startled, and promptly fell over. I hadn’t yet learned how to get up with skis on, hands trapped in pole straps. After trying for 5 minutes, I took the skis off and managed to get upright. Even the dog was surprised, and did we ever leave a huge hole in that smooth blanket of deep snow. That was last year.

More recently I went on an afternoon ski with some good friends who ski anything but slow. They think slow is okay, but fast is fun. They would pass me on the skate track, turn around and come back and pass me again just to keep moving. I felt a slight hit on one of my poles as I was being passed and made the mistake of turning to look.

I have heard even good skiers say that keeping balanced is tricky when they look around them at scenery or behind them to see who is following. This has always been the case for me too. When everything around me is white (snow) I have a hard time finding a point of reference, so I keep my eyes fixed on the track ahead of me and my skis. Like I said, turning around to look was a mistake.

I had a few seconds when I thought I might be able to recover my balance. They were very brief and then I felt my knees hitting the ground and my nose plowing into hard, crusty snow. “Face plant” is what it’s called, and I think it happens because hands, which normally would reach out to protect the face are, once again, strapped to ski poles and unavailable. My glasses came off, losing one of the lenses. My friends rushed to see how hurt I was, but I was already practicing my advanced skill of getting up without taking off skis. I have learned how to do that this year. Progress.

I was not skiing fast, and was very glad to have been going slow, for things could have been much worse. I have to say that in this season of my life, when slowing down can be very important, it is not the only friend that I should consider. Right alongside it is balance, not only in skiing, but also in life. Gives me something to think on… just sayin’.

This is as close to a “selfie” on skis that I will ever take. Even taking pictures can make me lose balance.

Does My Heart Have Ears?

My heart has heard you say, “Come and talk with me.” And my heart responds, “Lord, I’m coming.” Psalm 27:8

I’m thinking about that question, “does my heart have ears?” I think it does.

I was walking one evening this week, feeling thankful for a chance to get out where it was quiet, feeling the rhythmic, somewhat stumbling way my feet were hitting the uneven ground, feeling like the open sky was listening. I was thinking (because it’s too hard not to think) about all the decisions of the day, all the possible responses to upcoming events, and processing, processing.

I felt like I heard in my spirit the suggestion that I talk about all those things – like, just speak them out. So I did that, and as I got into it more, it didn’t feel terribly weird. It felt like I was being listened to. It was easy to credit God with that – it had sounded like his voice, and no one else was around.

Birkie Hike: We Finish!

Just to clarify – I have two Gwens in my life. One is my mother and the other is the friend who has been hiking the Birkie with me. Some who know us have been asking…

November 3, 2021. North End TH to Timber TH, loop. 6.5 miles, 14,828 steps

I asked, “Do you think we really need to go down this hill and touch that road?”

“Yes, of course we do,” Gwen told me. And so we walked down that last hill which marked the completion of our 34 miles of Birkie trail, stuck our poles in the sand, took a picture and started back up the hill. We had walked on the skate side of the Birkie and were looping back to the car on the classic side.

Today was cloudy and cold enough for gloves and hats, but we did end up shedding our outer layer of jackets. At one point near the end, we saw several large white snowflakes falling in the forest so we knew it was in the low 30’s for temperature.

I had spent time studying the map of our remaining section and had printed it out. That meant we only had to question ourselves at a couple intersections where fresh logging roads had added to the confusion.

Rocks and trees are the main features of this forest trail and the subjects of most of my photos. I’ve also started a collection of “meaningful” rocks to mark different hikes I’ve done, so I was on the lookout for a rock. The one that caught my attention was a bit bigger than the pebbles I usually pick up, but it had a pattern to it, and I liked it. Gwen doesn’t stop me from doing stupid stuff, she even carried the rock for me when I needed a rest. We had guesses as to how much it weighed. She won. Thirty-five pounds.

Good job Gwen. This rock will show its pattern more after I wash it up a bit.

Our last stop before leaving Cable, Wisconsin and the Birkie Trail was the Brick House Cafe. It wasn’t that we were hungry, or needed the calories but more that I needed to see if the Chocolate Tower cake was as good as Gwen said it was. I figured we should mark our accomplishment with some kind of splurge, even if we ended up taking it home to put in the freezer (which, by the way, didn’t happen). This cafe is known for its lunches and desserts as attested to by the dozen hunters, and huntresses who trooped in shortly after we were seated.

What I really feel good about, in addition to feeling very exercised, is that I got to be a tourist in my own backyard. I would feel sad not to know what this internationally famous trail was like. Now I know where the trailheads are, how difficult and hilly the terrain can be, and how many more paths are there yet to be explored. I have that sense of ownership that comes with familiarity, and that feels good. The chances of me ever skiing this trail are almost nonexistent, well, they are nonexistent. Really nonexistent. But I have walked it. That’s good enough for me.

Hiking the Birkebeiner: Part 2

Most of the leaves are on the ground now and walking in them is fun and “autumn-ish”.

Tomorrow Gwen and I will finish the last section of the Birkie Trail, and it’s good timing because we are starting to get snow flurries and temps in the teens. Hiking this northern section of the trail has been quite different because we have used the actual Birkie trail rather than the single track bike trails. Another difference is that it’s about the busiest place “out in the woods” that I’ve ever seen. We are always crossing ATV trails, bike trails, logging trails and fire lanes and more than once we have been confused. Often we are telling ourselves to just enjoy the walk in the woods and see where we end up, because we have no clue where we are. Backing up, here are the finished sections.

September 12, 2021 Hatchery TH to Hwy 77 Bridge

I explored this short section myself one afternoon because I’ve been curious about the bridge ever since it went up. For years the Birkie ski race used to cross Hwy 77 near this spot and the road actually had to be covered with snow and closed while thousands of skiers crossed it. There was even talk of tunneling under the road, but the eventual decision was to put a bridge over it, making it much more convenient and safe. I’ve gone under this bridge countless times, and now I’ve also gone over it.

September 17, 2021. OO TH to Firetower TH. 5.53 miles, 12,410 steps

We had some logistical help when we hiked the section of OO to the Fire Tower trailhead. My brother dropped us off at the Fire Tower warming cabin and picked us up a couple hours later at the Johnson Center on OO. He rode mountain bike trails in the area while we hiked. In fact, there were quite a few bikers riding the trails that day. I guess some of them got hot and sweaty and had to change clothes, at least that’s the story we told ourselves as we passed the warming cabin at Boedecker Road where a guy was standing naked by his car. The things you see in the woods… I did not take a picture. It was a beautiful fall day in all respects!

September 30, 2021 Firetower TH to Timber Trail TH 6.9 miles, 15,484 steps

A couple weeks later we did the next section ourselves, doing a loop from the Fire Tower TH to Timber Trail warming cabin on the classic trail and back on the skate trail. It was another beautiful afternoon, but we had a later start. We didn’t make it back to the car until 6 pm and the sun was nearly down. Our days are getting noticeably shorter. This one got us a little tired. We did extra steps looking for trail signs and my real step count for that day was 19,172.

This map does not include logging roads and single track bike trails. We were often surprised to find out where we were. Thankful for the red arrows.

October 26, 2021. American Birkebeiner TH to North End TH. No idea

I could hardly believe we had taken almost a month off. It didn’t seem like that long a time because both Gwen and I started going to Ski and Tea. It’s a ladies ski group coached by some amazing, experienced cross country skiers. We’ve been getting together nearly every week for training on the Birkie. Since there’s no snow, we practice various ski techniques while hiking – it works. On the afternoon of the 26th we drove to the far end of the trail, the Birkebeiner TH in Cable and walked in some kind of a weird circle until we got back to the car a couple of hours later. Too many intersections, too many maps, too many trails. I think we set foot on enough of the Birkie to say we did a good section. My total step count for the day was 15,464, about 7 miles. Have I mentioned that there are lots of hills? There are LOTS OF HILLS.

No, not confusing at all…

And as I wrote, tomorrow we will hike our last section, Lord willing. I hope to post about our triumphant finish. Excited! Check in to see if we made it (and find out about our planned reward).

Fall Fun

I’ve just spent a considerable amount of time changing the header that you see on my blog from leafless, bare trees to beautiful fall colored leaves. I’m keeping this one up until the first snow because I want to remind myself of all the FUN I’ve had walking in the woods, taking drives, and photographing our beautiful autumn 2021.

Although I don’t have to go out any further than our parking lot to see some color, I do go out, taking Mom on drives in the car and hiking and biking on the trails. Things change daily. We’ve gone from mostly green with a few brilliant splashes to mostly bare with a few brilliant splashes. Even though the leaves are getting mostly on the ground now, they are just as beautiful. It’s like finding little gems all over the paths and lawns.

We’ve had an unseasonably long period of warm weather this October. Instead of being shocked by early snows, I’m still picking raspberries and working in the garden (in shorts and T-shirts). I know that will change and I can’t help it, I’m sad. Summer is too short, autumn is beautiful and winter is… long. Really long.

So here is a sampling of what I see and enjoy on a daily basis. It’s only a small percentage of the number of pictures I have on my phone and in the cloud. Finding things to photograph is definitely one of my “fall funs”.

Town of Hayward Recreational Forest
Out on the Birkie trail
A walk along the river
Driving the fire lanes with Mom
Even in the parking lot

Your Fun, My Fun

I think fun is necessary to life, so I chase it. There is some to be caught almost everywhere.

Fun is such an individual thing. Maybe your fun and my fun might be the same, but most likely not. For instance, I know a lot of people who don’t like shopping, but I do. I’m not meaning the mall, or downtown Chicago for a weekend – I’m talking Walmart.

They always have interesting, beautiful things outside the door. The fun starts before I even get inside.

There has been over a year of mostly staying at home during the pandemic, but I could never bring myself to give up that occasional trip to get groceries. It was reassurance that the world of real people was still out there. It was different wearing masks and following (sort of) the one way arrows down the aisles, but it was still fun. Rules are a little less restrictive now, and I can actually recognize some people. I always see someone I know at the store, and I always see someone entertaining even if I don’t know them.

Since Walmart is on the other side of my backyard fence, I often go there just to spend time, wind down, see what’s new or what the latest shortage is. Sometimes I check out all my favorite corners like the seed and garden section, or the camping and sports section. I don’t have to buy any of it, just looking is fun. It’s a way to get out of the house when it’s been too long…

You see, I’ve been shopping in a few other countries where it is a lot different. Shopping in the U.S., I am always amazed at how much is available, that there are so many choices, that there is an acceptable degree of cleanliness and safety. Perhaps people who have always lived here think it’s this way everywhere. It isn’t. We are blessed. Even with predicted shortages, we are blessed.

Yesterday I had fun at Walmart, just because I could. It was great.

Can you believe I got these cool pants in the clearance section for almost nothing! Perfect for the next time I go shopping at Walmart.

He Owed God a Baptism

There was a farmstead that I visited frequently when I was young. The farm was on Round Lake so the owners also had a resort, Meier’s Log Cabins. They had a daughter around my age and in summer, I was often at their home swimming in the lake, playing with their daughter, Barb, and often was invited to eat supper. In the winter we rode the same bus back and forth to school. Barb’s mom was a great cook, and had a large garden. They had a fish tank with guppies – funny the things that impress children… The father, Phil, was a skilled carpenter (as well as a farmer and resort owner!) He had built their house and it was full of features that were a bit special, like a real upstairs bathroom. I can’t tell you all the good memories associated with that family and that beautiful place.

But like many resorts on the lake, the cabins were sold off to private owners and so was the Meier farmhouse. I lost track of Barb when she went off to college a year before me. I think I might have seen or heard of her once since 1968. But I have often wondered about the house and what changes it might have undergone. I have wondered if I would ever see Barb again.

Oddly enough, I have another friend who now owns and lives in the Meier house. I see her at church quite often and our families have history, since our parents were friends and she and her husband know my brothers quite well. Just yesterday, my brother Bob suggested we go out to visit these friends. He had asked them if they would show me the house, for old time’s sake. We went.

There was a lot going on. They were preparing their RV for a two week trip west, and in addition they were preparing food for a special event. Jan and her sister were in the kitchen cutting up fruit and vegetables, food was everywhere. After giving me a tour of the house and sitting me down with some coffee, she explained that she and her sister were getting baptized, in the lake, the next day. She was excited and told me how it had come about.

Her sister had been wanting to be baptized and she knew Jan wanted to also. Could they do it together? That would be possible if they did it in Hayward before their upcoming trip. Although they didn’t need extra things to do before their trip, everything after that decision came together quickly. Jan had a minister friend who agreed to come, they invited their guests, and the ideas for “spiritual food” to serve after the baptism buzzed in her mind so adamantly that she KNEW how right it would all be. It had the feel of God’s blessing all over it.

Then she told a story about a phone conversation with her niece, Rachel. Rachel had been at a campground and had gone to an inspiring worship service with a Messianic Jewish rabbi. “Don’t be focusing on the bad, and the confusion in our world today” he had said. “We have reasons to celebrate!” He then told them about Rosh Hashana, the Feast of Trumpets, and about how everyone should have a shofar (ram’s horn that makes an awesome loud noise) to sound in the new year and days of celebration and hope. And the day chosen for their baptism was, of all things, the day that Rosh Hashana would start at sundown. How awesome was that?!

“Well,” she said to me, “I didn’t even know what a shofar was. Do you?”

“Yes, I have one at home. We actually observe the Feast of Trumpets for its Christian meaning and message.”

“No way!”

“Yes, would you like me to bring it to you?”

And that’s how it happened that we were invited to the baptism, along with 22 other friends and family. I packed up my shofar, got Mom in the car and we went out to the farmstead this afternoon. On the way we puzzled over how we might find my childhood friend Barb. Mom suggested Facebook but neither of us knew her married name, and checking out all the Barbs was not an option.

We arrived at Jan’s house and parked. Jan was in the driveway talking and came over right away. She had another story.

She and her sister had been walking out to the road to put up a “Baptism”sign up so people could find her place. They met a man on his way to the woods where he and his son had been cutting trees to use in their maple syrup business. The son had cut one more tree than planned and this man had decided to go out and get it. They lived in the Minneapolis area and were in Hayward for the weekend. They owned one of the cabins from the resort, and the woods nearby.

He saw Jan’s sign and asked what was going on. When he found out what they were planning, he said he had been wanting to be baptized too. They invited him to join them, not expecting that he really would.

But he did. He came with his married children, grandchildren, and his wife who, it turned out, was Barb Meier, my childhood buddy. I’m sure God had fun putting this little celebration together.

It was a beautiful time. Three precious people told what it meant to them to have come to this decision. The man, Don, said he had been baptized as an infant but as an adult, he had come to feel he “owed God a baptism”. They all demonstrated their love and commitment to their Savior and God and came up from the water smiling. And I got to blow the shofar, not an easy thing to do. Surprisingly, I did it quite well and counted it as just one more miracle in a long string of miraculous happenings.

Ceremonial words
Water baptism
A biblical feast – figs, honey, dried fish, olives, bread

This is just one of the ways that God demonstrates his reality to me. He does, crazy, awesome stuff and chooses to include me in his plans. He wants me to see him that way and be a part of what he does. In this I am not unique. I think he wants everyone to know him that way. Look for it, just sayin’…

Triathlon Time

I’ve said it before, summer is short and almost over here “up north”. I almost panic when I think about all the warm weather things I wanted to do and how few days are left to do them. One of the most significant adventures got crossed off the list last week – my own version of a triathlon. Don’t judge.

First, I don’t like to do this alone and was so glad to find a willing companion. She was a visitor to this area and clueless so I made it sound like a wonderful adventure. She not only wanted to do it but brought her dog along. The dog, of course, was also clueless.

Me and clueless friend, Bonnie, already hot and sweaty. Triathlons are hard.

The first leg of our triathlon was to get in the car and drive to Round Lake Linden Road boat landing. We all did well with this. The dog was especially good.

The road repair people tried to confuse us on the way there with these white strips on the pavement. It looked like toilet paper. Turned out, it was toilet paper. Who knew?

The second challenge was the peninsula walk of about 3 miles, maybe a bit more. The dog got a little tired and hot so we let her cool off in the lake at the Narrows. Round Lake Peninsula is so beautiful this time of year and we had so much to look at and talk about that this part of the triathlon went by quickly.

Wait, I’m supposed to do what? And do I have to drag my little poop bag along with me?

The third challenge, the wade/swim, gave the dog some confusion. She was used to swimming out to fetch a stick, and then swimming back to shore. But this was different. We waded out on the sand bar and kept going. And, of course, she had shorter legs than we did and had to swim a lot farther. My feet took a beating, since there were dangerous rocks everywhere and I had taken my sneakers off and put them in my waterproof bag. My phone also took a turn for the worse because of a hole in my supposedly waterproof phone pouch. Aside from that we did really well and after our exhausting walk that water felt so good! Completing the circular route, we were back at the boat landing and drying off in record time – probably about 90 minutes.

This Peninsula Walk/Swim is pretty much a family tradition, having been done most every summer since my girls could swim. Family and friends have joined us and most everyone has a super good time. I think the dog did too, but don’t ask her. Just sayin’…

Caught!

I think I have mentioned before that I’ve been online with Noom, learning about the psychology of eating, weight loss, and healthy lifestyle. Yesterday evening as I was finishing the day’s lesson, this came up and I knew immediately what it meant for me. I was caught.

Yeah, how did they know?

I have wondered quite a bit in the last three months “Why isn’t Shirley writing and staying in touch with the world of readers?” I guess she just didn’t feel like it. She is retired now and doesn’t do things she doesn’t feel like doing.

No, wait. That is so “not true”, on several levels. Does anyone ever get to stop doing anything they don’t feel like doing? I’m still doing some of those things, and I realize there are benefits involved. And it isn’t really that I don’t feel like writing – it’s more that it takes time to write well and to say something worth putting down. And strangely, for me, there is something sad and serious about introspective writing. I just haven’t wanted to add “sad and serious” to my life. I’m ignoring that. It’s difficult and challenging to write consistently.

But I am a writer, and writers need to make writing a habit. Noom has caught me and made me commit to a blog post this morning, knowing that I would feel better in the long run if I faced the challenge. There is science behind that, and more. Facing challenges is a matter of the spirit. Realizing that something is difficult, and then doing it anyway makes me more able to do it again in the future. Another good thing about Noom is that it asks me to find some affirmations and repeat them to myself regularly. Here are mine:

I will be blogging in August about a lot of random things, about Noom, about the end of summer, and about facing challenges. Would love to hear your comments.

Summer Excess

Yesterday evening I was tired. I didn’t want to exercise. I wanted to wind down and go to bed early. But, my exercise conscience was not quite dead yet and there were still two hours of daylight left.

It was a week ago today that I gave blood at the blood mobile, and my first time giving double reds. I had a couple days of feeling slightly oxygen deprived with activity, and then forgot about it. I felt fine going for a 9 mile bike ride over the weekend, and was really excited about joining the LCO Boys and Girls club for a canoe outing on Monday. After all, summer is short. Pour it on!

Yes, good question. Are you ready for the river? That’s what it asks on that sign.

The canoe outing was interesting, which is the word I use most of the time instead of “fun but hard”. There was wind, a helpful 9 year old with a paddle, and a middle rider who was afraid of spiders. I spent a lot of time going backwards down the river, when I wasn’t trying to steer out of the bushes on either side. It was a challenging paddle and my arms are a little sore, still. And I will probably go again. Summer is short here. I think I said that already.

On this tired evening I decided that I could probably go biking again, since I could then balance my tired arms with equally tired legs. You know, balance in life is important.

I live wonderfully close to some trails specifically made for biking through the woods. They are part of an extensive network of trails, making our area a destination for this kind of sport. I rode my bike there and got on the trail. I’m not an expert at this yet, and I suspect that CAMBA (Cable Area Mountain Bike Association) is kindly trying to discourage the inept, for their own good of course. The entrances to the trail always have two posts that seem awfully close together to me. My first rush of adrenaline comes with trying not to hit them. It’s a mind thing – the more you think about it, the more likely it is to happen.

The trails are built and maintained so bikers can go whizzing through the forest without looking at it. Sometimes that doesn’t make sense to me because I go to the forest for exactly that reason, to look at it. The trails are also designed to be as long as possible without really going anywhere far. My GPS gets so confused and keeps thinking I’m pausing when really I’m just going around tight turns and doubling back all the time. There’s sand, rocks, hills, creeks, grouse that explode out of the bushes, and scared deer that jump out in front of me. The forest is not flat here and there is a definite roller coaster ambience to the whole ride. My advice is, do this if you want a fun challenge. Maybe don’t do this if you want to relax. It’s not relaxing to me. I’m always thinking “thank you God that I didn’t wipe out on that corner”, and “thank you God that I was going slow when I hit that rock”.

Yeah, just shut your eyes and ride up the hill between those poles. Don’t think about it.

Last night’s ride was only six miles, but as I said, my GPS was confused so it may have been more. I did some street riding at the end just so I could relax and feel the breeze, and go straight, no bumps.

Do you see what I mean about summer excess? There are so many good opportunities to do active things, and quite a few more hours in which to do them. I love the north woods summer, even when it wears me out. I haven’t gone swimming in Round Lake yet, but that will be next. I have a plan, just sayin’…