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.

My White World (not a political post)

We get snow as a regular winter thing where I live. I realize others do not. But it’s interesting this year to see how many places are getting to experience the mixed blessings of fluffy, frozen rain. I’m watching a bit awe struck to see how it is dealt with (or not) from place to place. I’m actually glad that I live where snow hardly ever makes the news except when there’s not enough of it.

It’s Thursday. Motels and restaurants are gearing up for the weekend influx of snowmobilers, skiers, snowshoers, and fat bike enthusiasts. A snowmobile trail crosses our driveway and sometimes it looks like there is more traffic on it than on the road. We’ve had several snow days lately and there is a good covering on the ground. Yesterday it came down all day and the plows were running constantly, keeping the roads as clear as possible. I traveled out to do some snowshoeing with friends and my car was so covered with snow and ice that I had to give it a bath in the garage when I returned. This kind of thing is normal life in northern Wisconsin.

Normal life includes frequent shoveling.

I deal with a snowy winter in two ways. On below zero days I have trouble making myself go outside. Instead I sit inside and eat, drink tea and stare out the window. On days when temps are above zero I make myself go out. It’s still not easy because there is all that unusual dressing that has to be done. Lots of necessary activities cannot be done with two or three layers of clothing snapped and velcroed in place, so the prep to go outside is as important as having the right jackets, boots, mittens, caps, etc…. My pockets have to contain all the right stuff too – tissues, phone, mailbox key, car key, mask. That’s the short list.

But once I get all that done and am outside looking at this beautiful, frozen world, I am always glad to have put forth the effort. Snow is snow, and the pictures don’t change much from year to year, but I take them anyway. Here is my snowy world.

It takes about 20 minutes to get to this point of standing with skis on, ready to move out.
My outings are often around the greenspace where I live. My grandfather’s barn is one of my favorite landmarks.
The sun rises in the south(east), and sets in the south(west), rarely getting any higher than this. Makes for nice shadows.
This snowmobile track makes for easy going on new snow but I get to cut my own path fairly often.
Having trails through the forest like this are one of the benefits of living in Hayward, Wisconsin.
These are beautifully decorated trees.
The alternative to skis.
Because sometimes the forest is a hard place to ski. My friend Barb has on snowshoes, and Gwen has new skis that are more like snowshoes than not.

Heavy Box

Small stories about me make me think about you, because we all share some of the same weirdness.

It has been cold this week and I only had one day of meeting my 10,000 step goal. But today it warmed up to 43 degrees F and I could not resist going out for a late fall walk. It was also the first day of deer hunting season so I decided not to tempt fate by walking in the forest. I headed west into town, on the sidewalk.

I may actually have taken a bigger risk by walking in town, since there was so much to look at, so many curbs to step off, so many stores to get sucked into. My route took me up Main Street. My town is working on winning the title of “America’s Main Street” and so far has made it into the top 25 five different years, including this year. There is a lot of electric decorating that’s going to light the place up after Thanksgiving, and it really does make it a picture perfect, small town Main Street. (Please, please vote for Hayward, Wisconsin by going to this link, every day through December 12 http://mainstreetcontest.com/profile121 It’s a popularity contest – you don’t even have to go there to vote for it.)

After my halfway mark of 3,000 steps I headed home. On the way there was a big garage sale at my church, so I decided to walk through.I usually consider it safe to do that when I’m on foot because who wants to carry a bunch of stuff for a mile? Not me. My excuse for stopping was that I might find the perfect thing for Mom’s birthday. She loves garage sale treasures. Instead I found a whole box of really nice glassware – just the kind I’d been looking for at the thrift stores. They were heavy glasses, sixteen of them.

But they are pretty (heavy) aren’t they?

Leaving the sale with my box of glasses, I started looking for shortcuts home. I am always aware of the difference between “as the crow flies” and the distances I normally walk on the streets. Most of the time I’m trying to get more steps in and don’t mind, but the box wanted to get home, and there was kind of a path heading in the right direction. I took it.

Shadow of girl walking with heavy box

It turned out to be the way to the impenetrable urban woods, where the church lawn crew dumped all their leaves and pine needles. I say impenetrable, but really it wasn’t. I was able to put the box on the ground and push it under the downed pine tree and follow it out into the ditch. The road I wanted to be on was right there, where the crow was still flying, in the direction of home. I was glad there were no cars going by though.

One more shortcut remained between me and my destination. I was getting a little tired, maybe a tad clumsy as well. But the thought of tripping and ruining all my new glasses kept me going so, so carefully.

It feels a little odd walking in places I normally drive, cutting across parking lots and ditches. It feels odd and sneaky taking back alleys and roads that most people don’t travel or even know about. But honestly, at my age, there aren’t a lot of things more exciting than this to do, so I like doing this. Especially with a heavy box.

Girl and box wondering if this alley with icy potholes is a good idea

I crossed the last highway and made it home, all the glasses intact. And today, once again, I finished my 10,000 step goal. But I will say it’s going to be harder to do it very often this winter, and it’s definitely harder with a heavy box. Might not do that again, just sayin’…

Stop pretending – you’ve probably done something like this too. What was in your “heavy box”?

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).

Don’t Make Me Mad

A couple of weeks ago I went for a short hike on one of my favorite trails. It’s called a snowshoe trail because it is used primarily in the winter when walkers are asked to stay off groomed ski trails. Our northern summers are short but most of the vegetation that grows here has learned to grow fast and furiously, even in the forest.

The path through the mature woods was great – leafy, shady, very little undergrowth. Now and then there would be a tree down across the path from a storm, but nothing I couldn’t step over or go around. Since the path doesn’t show much wear from foot traffic in the summer, there are also plastic ribbons tied on trees and branches to mark the way.

But trouble started when I got to a section of forest that had been clear cut sometime in the past few years. Smaller trees, mostly birch and poplar, and all kinds of underbrush, stumps, and rotting logs made the path harder to find and harder to navigate.

Then I got to the blackberry thicket. Canes as thick as my thumb were bending over the path at eye level, lots of them, as well as smaller thorny new growth underneath them. I can’t be sure but I think the huge thorns actually moved out to grab me as I tried to lift them out of the way and pass through. It got worse the further I went, until I was too deep in to want to go back the way I had come, but could not see the end of it ahead either. Had it not been for the orange ties, I would have thought I had lost the path completely. My arms were bleeding. I was getting mad. I did eventually connect with a groomed bike path and made my way out.

I was thankful nothing was chasing me. If I had been a rabbit, that is where I would have gone to be safe from anything bigger. I vaguely remembered stories about Peter Rabbit and brambles, with new understanding.

That is when I began to plot revenge. I have a string trimmer but couldn’t see that being too effective on the thick, woody canes. I needed a machete, which I remembered from my days living in Florida. Machetes are everyday yard tools there. To my delight, my neighbor who is a retired surveyor had a machete and was nice enough to lend it to me.

Oh yeah, and a holster to go with it.

After my arms healed up, I returned to the woods. I was filled with energetic indignation. My resolve to clear that path was so strong I completely ignored the possibility of cutting my own leg open and bleeding to death. I approached the offending area, swinging right and left until I began to feel blisters coming where my hand gripped the knife. When I downed the biggest canes, I had to throw them aside and deal with the thorns again, but I won! The path got cleared. I tied new orange ribbon markers. I felt powerful.

I know this is a weird story, but it’s true, and it’s an example of how anger fuels resolve and can actually be a positive force. There’s a lot of anger out and about these days, and some of it can be used for good. But please notice that not once did I think about burning the forest down. I love the forest and I want to be in it. So do a lot of other people. Now others can go along that path safely with me.

However, if in the future, you’re out hiking in my part of the country, be careful of blackberry thickets which can be deadly. Also, if you see ahead of you an old, bloodied person with a machete, you might want to hang back a little.

Machete came with orange ribbon. I was pleased.

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

Hiking the Birkebeiner: Part 1

(Well, not exactly the Birkie, but right alongside it. Also, “TH” in this post stands for trailhead. All trailheads can be found on Google maps.)

Again, summer is short and almost over so I’m doing my best to section hike the 30 some miles from Hayward to Mt. Telemark. The Birkie Trail is quite wide and has some steep hills. The CAMBA bike trail, which goes over much of the same terrain, winds through the shady woods and is probably a little longer in length – but goes to the same endpoint. I prefer hiking in the woods where it’s cooler and more interesting and up close to nature.

Dot to dot shows the second and third sections we have hiked. The challenge is to do the loops above and below as well, which roughly follow the Birkie trail from Hayward to Mt. Telemark in the Cable area. Total about 40 miles.

I have a friend, Gwen, who hikes with me. I feel it’s an act of God that we found each other since she seems to be willing to do strange (read extreme) things and shares the same love of challenges. And yet, she is not terrifyingly weird. I feel blessed.

It takes two of us in order to have a car at both ends of each day’s hike. Today we were meeting at 7 am at the trailhead and it seemed very early. The sun was barely up and was red orange behind a screen of smoke blown in from Canadian forest fires. We left my car at Gravel Pit TH and I jumped in with her for the ride to County Road OO TH. So far the sections we’d finished had been around 5 miles each from trailhead to trailhead. That’s a very reasonable couple of hours of hiking plus the drive time. This was going to be the longest yet, 7.3 miles, and we thought it might seem a little strenuous going through wooded, hilly terrain. Strenuous meant we justified bringing food along.

Hills, trees, rocks, water, repeat.

It was a perfect morning for hiking. We warmed up but never got really sweaty. Normally we talk a lot while walking, but this trek was long enough that we actually had some silent stretches where we just enjoyed looking around at the beautiful woods and listening to… nothing. No road traffic noise, no motor boats, no ATVs. There were birds. Birds are okay.

Yes, after not hitting that rock, they ride bikes between those trees. Insane. I had to be careful walking there.

For those who are interested in hiking in our area, here is our schedule and times. Whenever the bike trail is one way, I like to walk against traffic so I can see who is coming. Often the bikes are so quiet that they surprise us. During the week, we may not see any bikers at all. On weekends the trails are busier.

Our first section was Hatchery TH to Mosquito Brook TH. 4.6 miles in just under 2 hours

Second section was Mosquito Brook TH to Gravel Pit TH. 5.16 miles in 2 hours 15 minutes.

Third section, which we did today was Gravel Pit TH to OO TH. 7.3 miles in about 3 hours.

This section puts us half way to our goal. All three sections are parts of the single track Makwa Trail. All the trailheads are accessible by roads that they cross. The roads closest to Hayward are all paved but as we get farther from town, we are having to use fire lanes in the woods and they are gravel, but well maintained.

You can see our gravel access road, and the smoke haze from the fires north of Lake Superior.

For me, hiking is like soul food. I get hungry for it. It’s necessary for my sanity and never feels like time wasted.

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’…

Pain of My Own Choosing

Today my hands hurt, pretty much all the time, but especially when I use them for anything more than typing. I can’t be certain of the reason, but am fairly sure it’s because of the bike ride I took yesterday.

It was a relaxed ride because I went by myself. I almost prefer going alone so I don’t have to be embarrassed by all the times I stop to take pictures or just look around the forest (or walk up a hill that simply requires too much of me).

The bike paths are well engineered but they are not meant to be smooth like pavement. There are rocks and roots, hairpin curves, sand traps, small ups and downs put there on purpose to make the ride interesting. It’s supposed to be different from road biking, and it is. On some of the hills I’m tempted to brake because I know there’s a curve at the bottom. But there’s also the reality that the “downs” help you when it’s time to go up again. There’s a rhythm established that it’s best not to break (or to brake). Steering is also complicated because it’s not as simple as just missing objects in your path. You also have to miss them without getting unbalanced. Often I can’t do both and have to decide to hit the rock and go over it. All this leads, without intention, to a death grip on the handle bars the whole time I’m riding. I choose to do this.

Pain tells me I’m alive (as long as it’s not too bad). Bike rides take me to places that I love to see and give me a sense of freedom. Bike rides give me lots of cool pictures in my phone. Bike rides give me an excuse to give my hands a rest on the following day. I hurt, but it’s pain of my own choosing and comes with its own weird satisfaction.

Here are some of my cool pics from yesterday – which, by the way, was an excellent day.

The path goes around this lovely marsh
This creek winds through the property
This bridge crosses the creek and goes back into the woods. Trails are on both sides of the creek.
A relatively smooth part of the trail. I’m too busy on the curves to take pictures of them.
Riding bike through the woods is a singular experience.
Trails like this are all over our north Wisconsin area making it a destination for fat tire biking. BTW, good thing there is a hospital nearby…

February Goodness: Volunteering

I can hardly believe February is nearly over! So many good things to report, and many I missed writing about because I was busy living them…

What an amazing event! And I have gotten to volunteer to help with it, in a very small way, for the third consecutive year. The American Birkiebeiner is the largest cross country ski race in North America and the third largest in the world, and it was created by a visionary man who lived right here in Hayward, my home town.

Part of my amazement is the way the race has adapted to pandemic times and become even more available to sports enthusiasts all over the world. The Birkie went virtual. There were still over 8,000 skiers participating this 47th year of the race but half of them were not here in person. Yesterday I got to watch some of them as they passed the Fire Tower Aid Station. Unlike other years, they had to bring their own water containers and food, but we dispensed water and electrolyte drink and watched out for those who might need medical attention.

Our cozy aid station with drink systems in place. Challenge was to keep the hoses from freezing.
Volunteer and Birkie employee, keeping the fire going.

It was a perfect skiing day with temperatures getting into the 30’s and barely any wind. Many skiers remarked about the snow being just right. What they complained about were all the hills. There are few places that have the kind of hilly, glacial terrain found in the 43 K forested trail of the Birkie, so skiers have a challenge to prepare for it. I talked to one man who thought he had prepared but was seriously considering cutting his distance in half after reaching our aid station.

Most skiers would expect to be skiing down hills like this, but not in the Birkie, no, no, no. Every “down” is partnered with an “up”.

What did I and the others on our team do? We set up the aid station with water hoses, touch-less dispensing systems for water and drink, got the fires burning for those needing to warm up (but seriously, there were people with shorts and T-shirts in this race and they still thought they were hot) and served as the cheering audience. No spectators were allowed this year. I mixed up several batches of Noom in the 10 gallon coolers, answered questions (like “how much farther do I have to go?”) and held ski poles while people filled their drink bottles.

It was a great day to be outside. We started at 7:30 am and were done by 2 pm when most of yesterday’s skate skiers had passed our station. As I watched some of the last stragglers wearily climbing Fire Tower Hill, I remembered my Grand Canyon experience, and was glad I was going home in my truck and not skiing another 12 K out in the forest wilderness of north Wisconsin.

These were the elite, early wave skiers. The later ones did not power up this hill with the same energy.

I will probably never ski the whole Birkie Trail – it’s not on my list – but I would like to hike the whole thing. Maybe this summer will be the right time to do it. Tell me if you want to come along. It will be epic, in one way or another, I promise.