Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Making tracks

The Book Across the Bay turned into the Book Along the Bay on Saturday night in Washburn. Warm weather earlier in the week had melted all the snow and the organizers worked like dogs to get 7k of 'snow cone' ice for an out and back course. Even though the course was icy, glare ice icy in some spots, I didn't hear any whining. They were unable to set classical track on the ground up snow but folks sucked it up and skied the course anyway. Classical, skating, snowshoes, runners, and walkers. Everyone had a good time and rolled with the punches. A guy planted his pole and I ran the tip of my ski right through the basket. Rather than getting pissed we just stopped, yanked the pole off my ski, told each other, "I've never seen that happen before", and wished each other a good race. I think the folks up in the northland are a bit more adaptable than we 'sophisticated urbanites'.

When skiing the Twin Cities metro area at the Three Rivers Parks or even the golf courses, I hear constant whimpering about the condition of the track. I suppose when paying between $4 and $7 to ski the area a person has the right to gripe about conditions. They do have the conditions prominently posted however so if a person looks at 'fair' conditions and chooses not to pay to ski, that is an option. I think part of the issue, and we're talking classical here, is that the skis are so skinny now that they can only function on perfect tracks but attitude is another, more important, factor. On Saturday morning the Podman, YewGuruJim, and I bushwhacked along a beautiful ridge to scout out a possible new ski trail. We ran through blackberry patches with their accompanying thorns, got whipped in the face by balsam branches, got our skis stuck in the underbrush, and had a great time exploring the terrain and enjoying the view. On Sunday, we broke trail up to beautiful Sparrow Falls on Mud Creek (note: NOT the real name of the venue; native brook trout exist in catchable/sustainable numbers on this stream and the name must not be divulged publicly). Once again we had a great ski as well as the one thing you absolutely can't get at the Three Rivers Parks; solitude.

When a person gets off the perfectly groomed, predetermined, and often government subsidized trail loops, there is a whole new world of skiing to discover. Sure, there are pitfalls and you may scratch your skis or your face, but there is a certain joy in going wherever one wishes to go. It's easy to come upon an insurmoutable hill or gorge, be forced to backtrack, or fall over when you hit deep snow or patches of ice. Thats what makes skiing as well as life, interesting. Is this sounding like social commentary? OK, I plead guilty. I have had a ton of fun this year on those tracked, groomed, subsidized, and well used trail loops. A lot of time and effort goes into them and they provide a great place to ski for a lot of people as well as being an asset to improve public health. I ski on them most of the time and enjoy the hell out of them, especially Vasaloppet practice loops north of Mora. It don't get any better! But every so often I would suggest grabbing the trusty compass and a couple friends, and heading off into the woods. The rewards that can be found there will be surprising. Get off the track and see how good it feels and how much fun it can be to ski a bit of 'freestyle'.

We all hope that next years Book Across the Bay will have lots of snow and run the normal course from Ashland to Washburn. But I'll remember this one as well, as the race that was pulled off even though conditions were nearly impossible and where skiers took it in stride, adapted, and just had fun anyway. If people had that attitude with more endeavors, the world would be a much better place.

1 comment:

Aras said...

I remember night skiing at Michigan Tech. After doing homework until 9 or so, my roomate and I would don our XC skis and head up to the woods. If the moonlight was strong enough, we would go off-trail, cutting thru woods and across fields. It's a very different experience - I still remember it clearly 25 years later. Nothing like scaring up a grouse 3 feet away at 1am to wake you up!