Winter has given us a couple little tastes but in the Twin Cities area it has not gotten serious yet. The VoiceOfReason and I headed north this weekend to try to find some winter, among other things, and discovered that it really had only taken hold in the snow belt, which begins on the top of Birch Hill, a long hill on US 2 between Ashland, WI and Ironwood, MI. That's where we wound up on Sunday and I actually got out on the skis for the first time this year, albeit briefly. The quiet and exclusive PodRong Loops were tracked for classical and the no wax skis were perfect for the warmish and sunny day. The VOR, because she is the VOR, passed on the opportunity because of the T Zone deer hunting in the area, a scheme where the DNR encourages people to reduce the herd by shooting anterless deer. I saw plenty of deer sign but no deer or hunters were spotted.
Duluth has very little snow other than the fake stuff at Spirit Mountain, and the port is still wide open. Two 'salties' the Lake Ontario (Antigua flagged) and the Zelada Desgagnes (Marshall Islands flagged) were anchored off the harbor entrance in the big lake, waiting to load grain. I asked a couple people why they were anchored off the harbor when the harbor didn't seem that busy, after asking them what they did for a living of course, but no one seemed to have the answer. Maybe there was a jam up at the grain terminal, where midwestern grain begins it's trip around the world. There is skim ice in the harbor but no fishermen or ice boaters, which means it isn't safe. Ice fishermen will sneak out on 2" of ice if they think the fish are biting. The Old Man used to put on the Stearns life vest and have two dowels with cement nails embedded in the end of them on a string around his neck. He would shuffle out on big Alaskan snowshoes, secure in the knowledge that if he went through he could both float and pull himself out. I don't recall ever seeing a change of clothes in the car but then he never went through, or at least if he did I (nor my mother) never heard about it.
We passed one of our favorite ski trails, After Hours, near Brule, WI but no snow there. Ashland also had skim ice but no ice fishermen and the big swans (Mute swans is the popular guess as to their species) have moved on. Open water is visible past the edge of the ice across the bay toward Washburn. It was only when we had reached Birch Hill that there was steady snow cover on the ground. It felt good to see the snow and good to get out on the skis. I'm not in as miserable shape as I thought I was, but am far from ski shape. Having my legs atrophy in a kayak all summer does not make for a smooth start to the ski season but I'm sure things will work themselves out. I just hope the forecast of a snowy cold winter comes through, at least the snowy part. The 'gerbil wheel', the 1k fake snow loop at Elm Creek Park Reserve, is open but every nordic ski team in the area is there now and I get bored after going around it 10 or 12 times anyhow. Nope, I think we will wait for the real thing. We just hope it shows up in manageable doses.