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.

February Goodness: Getting Outside!

After over two weeks of -20 degrees F. and even lower!!

Well, you know I live in northwestern Wisconsin where it’s cold and snowy. Many people wonder how we endure this long, frigid and dark season and the answer is, we get used to it. After the first month or so, we can go outside and have fun even when the temp is below zero. Actually, it’s not uncommon to see someone in shorts and flip flops, all it takes is a warm streak of 20 to 30 degrees F. And yes, it’s usually in Walmart that you see these people, but they are not the weirdest ones there by any means.

This is as close to taking a selfie as I can manage while on skis.

We dress for the weather. Today I went out to ski for my exercise. I have nine extra articles of protective clothing and shoes that I wear so it takes me a few minutes to get all geared up. Ski boots for my feet, snow pants and gaiters for my legs, head band for the ears and cap over that for the rest of my head, neck protector that I can pull up if my face gets cold, jacket of course, and gloves or mittens. I am usually sweating under all these layers.

I literally start at my side garage door and ski through the development to get out to the meadow where my paths are. It’s extremely convenient, although I am always hoping no one is watching as I ski past the other condos. There are many trails near by that are groomed regularly with machines and they get a lot of traffic. Those are nice if I have the time to drive but most of the time I stay at home and make my own trails.

Making my trails is something I’ve come to enjoy. There’s a lot of freedom in doing it that way. Skiing is a lot faster than walking in snowshoes and I can go anywhere I want to go. Breaking the trail is slow, but the second time over it’s much faster. I take the widest circle around our property and then do a lot of criss-crossing to add variety. I have no trouble getting in two or three miles that way.

Isn’t this snow so clean and beautiful?!

I’m still in beginner stages and spend a lot of time looking down at my skis to make sure I’m in the track (if there is one). Somehow, it is easier to keep my balance when I’m focusing on the ground in front of me. Unfortunately, that means I sometimes run into low hanging branches that I don’t see until it’s too late. Today I did that again. I felt the branch as it loosened my hat and knocked my glasses crooked and for a few seconds I thought maybe I could correct things and stay upright, but no. My skis were too far ahead of me.

Falling is not the hard part, and doesn’t even feel dangerous. Getting up again is hard. I have learned, the hard way, to take at least one ski off when trying to get up. It still doesn’t look graceful, but it cuts down on the failed attempts.

It is really an un-natural state, this being on skis. It’s like having shoes that are over five feet long, and having arms that reach down to the ground. The “shoes” are so narrow that any tilt to the track, or a sudden sticky patch of snow, creates a challenge to my balance (an alternate way of saying I might fall down…) And the long arms (poles) seem to be life savers during those frequent off balance moments, but not at all helpful in getting up after a fall. They are one more thing that has to be retrieved from the ground after I’m standing again.

The mess under this tree branch tells the story…

One day last week a rather large dog came silently loping out from between two trees. I looked over at it briefly to assess whether it was going to eat me or be friendly, and again got a balance challenge. I think we were both equally alarmed when I landed in the snow with my skis crossed. It took me so long to get up that the dog got bored and wandered back where he came from. He appeared again today and clearly remembered me – probably wanting me to get down on his level again.

Now that I am learning so much (the hard way) about skiing I will probably continue to share these insights until the snow is gone. This week, for the third year in a row, I will be volunteering for the Birkiebeiner Ski Event. I expect that will be an adventure. The Covid Birkie is going to be way different than it has ever been and I will tell all about it in the next post!?

Something Good in February

It’s 2021, it’s February, it’s still winter. I’m challenging myself to find something good to be celebrated every day this month, in the interest of mental health. I need help, and thinking on good, deserving things is going to do wonders. Yep.

A lot of my southern friends have felt sorry for me, having to live “up north” in the winter. I will be the first to admit that the winters are long and can get pretty cold, but there are bright spots to being here.

Entering Wisconsin from the southern border, most of what one sees are farms, lots of farms, and small cities and towns. About 2/3 of the way north, things change and when you finally reach Hayward, you find… trees, lots of trees. Real forests, that go on for a long ways.

Mosquito Brook runs through the forest. There were no mosquitoes. None.

Thirty years ago when I was living here, logging was a huge industry. I used to see the logging trucks, fully loaded, on the roads, and wonder how there could be any trees left in the forests. That was years ago and there are still as many, if not more, logs being hauled out. The forests are so well managed, and so BIG, that there is no apparent shortage of trees.

Back view of sweet machine

And now for the bright spot. Today I got to go out in the forest with my brother on his snowmobile. We rode tandem for two hours. On the way home we switched places and I got to drive. Miraculously, we did not fall off the trail. The experience is a cross between riding a boat in choppy water, riding a dirt bike on rough roads or maybe a bit like posting on a horse with a rough trot. All done out in the forest, at speeds between 0 and 30 (40) mph and at temperatures usually below freezing. We call it winter recreation.

Recreation is pretty big here in the Hayward area because there aren’t a lot of other ways to make a living. People take ice fishing, snowshoeing, skiing and snowmobiling very seriously. There are about eight snowmobile clubs in this northwest corner of Wisconsin that have found ways to get from here to there, mapped them, created apps and invited the “world” to get up here and have fun in the snow. On good weekends the motel parking lots are full of trucks and trailers from as far away as the Dakotas, and the sound of snow machines is in the air. The trails are groomed often. Some are like the “interstates” of the forest and some are “one laners” complete with mile markers and signage.

Not exactly crowded out there, but we weren’t alone either.

My brother’s new machine has heated seats, hand grips, and the throttle (for that cold thumb). Even the helmets plug in and stay warm. It’s a very comfortable, maybe even luxurious, ride. However, they haven’t yet learned how to make them quiet. We live close to a major trail into town and I hear the snow machines a lot. I can only imagine what the deer, bear, wolves and coyotes are thinking now that their forest homes have been invaded.

Groups of snowmobilers travel for hours, stopping for “refreshments” and fuel at designated resorts and bars, bringing a lot of business to our area. All this happy influx of business hinges on two requirements. There has to be snow, preferably quite a bit of snow, and it can’t be so cold that it’s no longer fun but dangerous. This winter has not been bad so far, but we have February to get through yet.

I did enjoy my ride today. The forest was wild, the trail was full of twists, turns, hills and ravines – just beautiful! Most of the time I had no idea where we were, but I was glad to be there anyway. Something good happened today, just sayin’…

Not Wasting Time

Time is a very strange commodity. I always think about this with birthdays and anniversaries, and of course with the turning of the year. When time is gone, it’s really gone and we have no control over its passing. It’s so impersonal. Yet we do have control over what we do with the present moment.

I was thinking about that over the last weekend when my brother posted a writing to all of us siblings. It was about not postponing the things we want to do thinking we will always have time to do them later. Being in your 50’s, 60’s, and yes (gulp) 70’s, we should begin realizing that there’s not a lot of “later” left.

I was especially considering that when I went outside on Friday, New Year’s Day, to take a walk in the snow. It was a perfect snow day. There were a couple of snowmobiles being noisy out in the wetlands. Seeing them zip around made me remember the days when I used to ski, and how much easier that was than plodding around in my boots. I wanted to ski again but wondered whether it was a bit too risky. If I fell and broke something it would really impact others in my life. Recent experience had made that pretty clear.

My skis, my boot, my thumb.

Talking it over with God, in my mind, drew my attention to fear and how it could keep joy away. I’m not sure it was all God’s doing, but I found myself bravely walking into New Moon Ski Shop. It conveniently adjoins our wetland property. More surprisingly I found myself walking out with skis, boots and poles. Three days of skiing have not only been very fun, but I also have not fallen even once. There are no hills to speak of, and the poles are there for balance. It is great exercise and will make my long winter much more bearable. I am so glad I did not leave this for a “later” time that probably wouldn’t have come.

Time is a construct that God understands much better than I do. I believe he wants me to respect and value the time he’s giving me, and he’s not against creative enjoyment of it. I’m so grateful for that. I love the line from the life story of Eric Liddell “I believe God made me for a purpose but he also made me fast. And when I run I feel his pleasure.” I’m not a world class skier, but I know what it is like to feel God’s pleasure when I’m out on my skis, in his world, being grateful. It is anything but wasted time.

I see beautiful things everywhere.