The VOR and I headed north Friday morning in what was supposed to be treacherous and icy road conditions. While this was true west of us, with I-94 shut down for a near record 4 days and a 100 car pile up west of Fargo on Thursday, we had clear sailing. We passed through St. Croix Falls, Cumberland, Spooner, Hayward (didn't even stop at the Angry Minnow brewpub, probably because I was napping), as well as many other Wisconsin burgs, and reached the friendly confines of the CampO 'bar that never closes' around Happy Hour. There the VOR schooled the KingOfIronwoodIsland on some sure fire wooing techniques over a bottle of Menage a Trois wine, while I thought about the wonderful weekend of cross country skiing that we had planned. Unfortunately, the weather decided that there would be minimal skiing when it turned from 20F and balmy to 0F with a 20mph northwest wind and a track that had frozen solid as a skating rink from the unseasonable rain on Wednesday. Fortunately Plan B had been considered early on in the planning. No, not sitting in the bar watching football, although the Badgers and Packers did need to be viewed. Plan B was to go for a nice snowshoe, a couple nice snowshoes actually.
The frozen crust actually helped the snowshoeing, although only the lightest member of the party with the lowest weight to snowshoe surface area managed to stay on top of the crust. The weather was tolerable in the woods and this was no rookie group when it came to staying warm in cold and nasty weather. Layers, lots of wool, Steger mukluks, and wind shirts were the hot ticket. In recognition of the continuing debate between traditional rawhide laced snowshoes and the new aluminum and plastic models, we were divided down the middle. The key is snowshoe surface area vs weight of the snowshoer and the only one that had that down perfectly was the BirdWomanOfGurney. The rest of us took turns breaking trail. When the lead person tires, they step out of the track and move to the back of the line and get that snow that's nicely packed by five other people. It was good exercise and a great way to get into the woods without necessarily being on a trail. The winter woods is great because there is a record of what has happened since the last snowfall imprinted on the snow. Deer had been traversing the area as had the wolves. Bobcat and Fisher tracks were spotted as were grouse, snowshoe hare, and various small rodents. Someone wound up as a meal as evidenced by blood and hair in a trampled area near the creek. It was a great alternative to skiing with a much lesser chance of falling at high speed and sliding along the hard ice for a few dozen yards. It was so much fun we did it again the next day.
Parks are great. From town and county parks all the way up to National Parks, they give us a designated area to enjoy, usually one with remarkable natural features and all sorts of marked trails, overlooks, and spectacular scenery. Remarkable scenery outside of a park can be a bit more elusive in the civilized lower 48, and its usually tougher to get to. The advantage is that there are no trails, signs, facilities, or people to contend with. Solitude is a rare commodity. Sundays snowshoe trek found us at one of those rare spots, an area that for secrecy's sake I'll refer to as the Rutabaga River basin. The river cuts through a forest of White and Red pine, Hemlock, White Spruce, hard Maple, Aspen, and a dozen other species of trees as it drops to its juncture with the Bad River and eventually Lake Superior. There are rapids pretty much every hundred yards or so and only the edges of the river were frozen, although in cold years brave souls can ski the river to the sound of water rushing underneath the ice (Kids, don't try this at home unless accompanied by a parent or guardian). The temp was about 10 degrees warmer, the wind 10mph lower, and the sun was shining very nicely. It was indeed the perfect afternoon to be out in the woods.
We still need to get on the skis but its fun to get out and bushwhack on the snowshoes from time to time. Those snowshoe muscles are screaming a bit this morning but that's just one more muscle group that needed the winter wake up call. There will be serious skiing this week, both cross country and downhill/telemark, but we enjoyed the snowshoeing with friends and will enjoy it a few more times before the snow melts. It's not every year that we have enough snow to even make it worthwhile and this is one of em. Get out and give it a try.