Skiing with two young bucks

IMG_9517 trimmedI’m not even sure why I tucked my little camera into the pocket of my ski jacket before heading out to the trails early this morning.  I already took pictures there yesterday, and it was a cloudy and dreary morning.  But I’m glad I did!

We are fortunate to live right across the street from some nice ski trails embedded in the woods. I was about 2/3 of the way around my first circuit when I spotted two deer standing on the trail a little ways in front of me.  That wasn’t so unusual, but I got my camera out anyway.  It was only then that I noticed their antlers.  And when they began to tangle with each other right in front of me, I knew I had something unique.  I enjoyed watching them sparring and playing in close proximity.

To be honest, the skiing wasn’t all that great this morning.  The snow was crusty and slick from yesterday’s warmup, and had lost the allure of soft new snow.  But it was worth being out there for the show.

Winter Returns

Big fat snowflakes falling in the floodlights outside our windows
Snow perched on top of the big rock in the yard
Shoveling snow off the walk – an onerous task made joyful
Snowplow thundering past the house
The dog snuffling in fresh powder, snow clinging to her nose
Boots caked in snow, dragged into the house – and not caring
Ski trails right across the street, made usable again
Gliding through fresh powder on the trails, soft and silent
Trees sporting white coats
Deer tracks visible throughout the yard
Sled tracks criss-crossing the neighbor’s big hill
Sounds of children, playing outside
All is right with the world again
Welcome back winter!IMG_9508

I let my husband drive the car

In almost 30 years of marriage, my husband, Rich, and I have shared everything.  Contrary to the popular trend at the time, we merged our bank accounts, bought our houses together, enjoyed each others’ bonuses, and shared our cars.  We never had his and hers cars.  We each drove whichever car was convenient or best suited the task.  That includes the leaky Volkswagen Beetle he brought into our marriage.

So when we brought home a new car last week, the assumption was that the same rules would hold.  What’s mine is yours and what’s yours is mine, right?  Well, sort of.  As it turns out, the new car has 1,000 miles on it already, and I’ve driven them all!  Rich has yet to sit in the driver’s seat.  (Okay, so I did take it on my ski trip last weekend – that contributed significantly to the miles.)

I rather like this new car – it’s zippy and a lot more fun to drive than that old minivan.  It has a manual transmission.  We’ve been without one for a few years, and I’m getting back into the groove again shifting gears.  I took it over to my daughter’s house, and the grandkids got to see “Grammy’s new car.”  I even picked the color – red.  It feels like mine.

But I’ve decided to let Rich drive it to work tomorrow.  I don’t want to press my luck.  We’ve done pretty well together for a long time, and I do hope to make our 30th anniversary in May.

Drive carefully, Rich.  I don’t want anything to happy to my new car!


Feeling the Love

All birthdays are not equal.  This just happened to be an exceptional one!

I started the day with my youngest son, having bagels at Brueggers.  I’ve been going there with my kids since before they were in school, and love spending that early morning time together.  This time we went before he headed off to work.  How times have changed – it used to be me going to work.

The remainder of the morning was spent at Elm Creek skiing.  I had a great time skating around the track, not even minding the repetition of the small man-made loop of snow.  The sun even came out and warmed the air out of the frigid temperatures we’ve been experiencing.  That was pure me-time, doing what I love to do – working out and being outside.

I made it home just in time to change into some nice clothes and meet a dear friend for lunch at a lovely restaurant.  We had delicious light salads and warming cups of tea while we visited.  As usual, we talked and talked and talked.  There is nothing better, and it was a special treat in the middle of my special day.

That was followed by a haircut.  While it sounds mundane, I find it to be a pampering experience.  Having someone wash my hair, massage my head and trim my hair back into submission is something I always enjoy.IMG_0446

IMG_0449The finale was dinner with the family.  Per our tradition, I got to pick the menu, so it was my kind of meal – pesto linguini with scallops.  And my favorite birthday dessert, brownies with peppermint bonbon ice cream.  What’s not to like about that?  While not quite everyone could be there, we had a quorum and it was a fun and lively evening.  How could it be anything else when entertained by a 10 month old chasing a 15 year old dog and a 2 1/2 year old cuddling on my lap and helping me blow out the candles?

On the virtual side, I enjoyed emails, texts, Facebook posts and phone calls throughout the day from family and friends flung far and wide.  Yes, technology is a good thing.

I’m feeling very fortunate.  And loved.

Finding Real Winter

My usual routine on our ski trips is to get up early and ski before breakfast.  I love being outdoors early and “earning” the big feast always served at a B&B.  But with the winds howling, snow covering the roads and temperatures dipping below zero, it seemed prudent to modify that plan!  The acres of woods surrounding the B&B presented the optimal alternative – snowshoeing.  Susan and I bundled up in our warmest clothes, strapped on our snowshoes and trundled off through the deep soft snow.  The conditions were perfect.  Untouched fluffy snow blanketed our path and clung to the tree branches all around us.  No IMG_9494matter that we lost the trail after while and meandered in a crooked route around bushes and over logs.  We were protected from the wind and enjoyed soaking up our surroundings.  Only our noses got cold, and by the time we returned to the warmth of the B&B, we were good and ready for that hearty breakfast.

By the time afternoon rolled around, the wind had moderated and temperatures rose to a balmy 4 degrees above zero.  For our final ski of the weekend, we headed back toward Bayfield and stopped at Mt. Ashwabay Ski Area.  Because it was so cold, we chose to ski separately so we could each chose our own pace and not have to linger in the cold waiting for each other.  I eagerly chose my skate skis while Susan stuck to classic skiing for this outing, but I soon regretted my decision.  Once again, the grooming reports were on the optimistic side.  We were told that the trails were all groomed, but we neglected to ask “when?”  It soon became apparent that the answer was “before the last snowfall.”  While the classic tracks were nicely packed by earlier skiers, the skate deck was marginally used and full of fresh cold (read slow) snow.  As Susan glided along the smooth tracks, I forced my skies through the deep snow, chagrined that I was barely keeping ahead of her.

IMG_9506I can’t really hold the conditions against the ski area.  After all, we’d been praying for new snow, and boy did we get it!  And they were doing their best with limited resources.  Putting that aside, the trails were very pretty and the scenery improved even more when the sun peeked out mid-afternoon.  It was the first we’d seen of the sun all weekend, and it was a welcome addition.  As we were once again skiing around a downhill ski area, it was no surprise to encounter hills – steep ones this time.  I labored up those hills, and had to skate down them to keep my momentum going.  At one point, I reached the top of the chairlift and had no choice but to snowplow down a ski hill to reach the next section of trail – an interesting twist to the route.  Nearing the end of the day, my mind must have been as numb as my body was tired when I read the sign that said “Chalet 12k.”  I knew I didn’t have it in me to go that much farther, much less beat the impending dark.  So it was with great relief that upon closer inspection I realized it actually read “Chalet 1.2k” – whew!  Enough skiing for one weekend.

Nordic Walking – on Skis

I have to remind myself that skiing with a friend is not the same as training for the Birkie. The trails we ski are not the highly groomed, fast and populous areas where I put in mega kilometers and really push myself for technique and speed. And today was a prime example.

We chose the Porcupine Mountain Wilderness Area for today’s skiing. It’s perched on the edge of Lake Superior, and in the last few years they haven’t had good snow for cross-country skiing. Since the recent snowfall blanketed the Porcupines, we decided we should take the opportunity to try their trails.

It soon became clear that we were in a wilderness area, not a ski resort. The ski chalet reminded me of ski trips in my youth – rustic fireplaces and simple tables surrounded by families picnicking from coolers. Their definition of trail grooming was a bit loose. Yes, they were packed, but despite the designation as a classic ski trails, there were no classic tracks. We had a firm surface for skiing, but missed the solid tracks to keep our skis from slipping sideways.

Skiing through the woods, we saw side trails off to rustic cabins. We encountered one couple hiking through deep snow in the woods, searching in vain for their cabin, and hoping we could direct them. We’d passed it earlier on, and were happy to help. Further up the trail we saw a tent – sure enough, winter campers. We didn’t see many people out on the trails, but the footprints told us we were sharing the trail with hikers and shoeshoers.

We first headed out on the trail that parallels Lake Superior near the shore. It was quiet and pretty. The closer we got to the lake, the more moisture in the snow, which made it sticky. Add that to the other trail conditions, and this was going to be a slow ski.

The winds were forecast to increase all day long, and it was blustery near the lake. The thick snow on the trees was whipped through the air and it felt like skiing through bouts of blizzard. The best part of that trail was the short section where we could see the lake. It was already stirred up, and waves were crashing in on the rocks.

The more extensive trails wind around and behind the ski hill. We assumed that meant steep inclines, but were pleasantly surprised to find the trails were nicely undulating. They wove through the woods and the snow coverage was deeper there than near the lake. It was beautiful skiing.

The afternoon slipped by quickly, but the kilometers did not. Forward movement was earnestly earned by the effort required to overcome the stickiness of the snow. It felt more like walking at times. Nordic Walking with poles. But on skis. It was not Birkie training. But it was definitely an endurance workout. In beautiful surroundings.

Lake Superior Delivers

The weather gods were certainly shining on us. We awoke this morning to a classic lake effect snowfall that blanketed Duluth, Wisconsin and the UP of Michigan – just what we asked for! We traipsed through several inches of new snow as we loaded the car, and left in the midst of big flakes plummeting down at a rapid pace. Real winter at last, and great start to our XC trip.

While the fresh snow erased the barren brown ground and covered the icy remnants of old snow crust, it also meant snowy slippery roads for our travels from Duluth to Ironwood. It felt like relearning winter driving again, especially as the snow plows appeared to be waiting for the snow to stop falling before clearing the roads. Lanes were impossible to see, snow billowed all around us each time a car passed by, and I had a sneaky suspicion it was slippery under all that white stuff. But we forged on, safely thankfully.

We made our requisite stop at a charming coffee shop en route, where we planned our day’s skiing over coffee and fresh muffins. The proprietor was an enthusiastic foodie, which delighted Susan no end, and on her lead we detoured to the local coop and bakery for hearty breads and baked goods. They would make a good supplement to our evening meal in front of the fire at the B&B, we reasoned.

We chose the ABR trails in Ironwood for our day’s ski, figuring they were most likely to be freshly groomed and had plenty of kilometers for us to explore. Groomed they were, but not everywhere. Skate skiers seemed to take precedence, with the classic-only trails yet to be addressed. But we decided that was a benefit, not a hindrance. Some classic trails were skier-tracked, which worked well yet still retained a feeling of remoteness. Classic-only also have the advantage of being narrower, closely lined by trees – our favorite type of trail.

Further out, we found trails that were still untouched. We could see the faint outline of the tracks set before the new snowfall, but they were otherwise blanketed in pristine new snow. It was too good to pass up! We broke trail and skied through the silent woods for several hours on those trails. No matter that it was slow going – this wasn’t about speed, it was about experience, and it was perfect. Even with 3-4″ fresh powder, there was still enough glide to make it easy going and enjoyable.

As each new section of trail beckoned to us, we ventured farther and farther out on the trail system. By the time we neared the trailhead, sunset was long behind us and the light was growing dim. The full parking lot was dotted by only a few remaining cars, and we were tired. But it was a good tired.

Thank you, Lake Superior, for another wonderful day of skiing.

Lake Effect Snow

Come on, Lake Superior, do your stuff! Tonight I head out for my 21st annual cross-country ski trip with my friend Susan. And we’re counting on lake effect snow to resurrect the ski trails after the abysmal winter conditions of late.

Over the years, we have covered all the trails on the North Shore, taking pride in checking them off and highlighting our maps to see our progress. We have made repeat trips up the Gunflint Trail, enjoying the large trail systems there that usually have good snow coverage. We’ve skied the Birkie trails near Hayward, and ventured East, to try Maplelag and its many kilometers of skiing right outside the door.

Map of US lake effect areas around the Great Lakes – from Wikipedia

This year we chose a different destination, thinking that we had a sure bet for snow by going to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. After all, for the last 30 years Ironwood has had an average of 188″ of snow a year, with snowfall on 79 days of the winter.  And most of that is lake effect snow. The westerly winds blowing cold air over Lake Superior gather and retain moisture over the relative warmth of the lake. But once the saturated clouds hit land, they dump that moisture and voila – snow! Lots of it. Hence the area’s reputation as a snow-belt. When Minnesota and the North Shore are short on snow, the UP normally delivers.

This isn’t the first time we’ve been snow challenged on our trip. A few years back we brought along our hiking boots, and used them more than our skis. Another year, the temperatures rose so high on our first day skiing that the trails turned to sheer ice for the remainder of the weekend.  We switched to snowshoeing in the woods.  Once we encountered yellow, slushy ice crossing while crossing a lake, even in mid-winter – we were glad to reach the other shore safely. And everyone remembers last year, the winter that wasn’t.

No matter what the snow conditions, the temperatures or the accommodations, we always manage to have a good time. I’m sure this year will be no exception. But having ample snow and well groomed trails sure goes a long way toward that end. No pressure, Lake Superior.  We have faith in you.

Entering a new era

For over 23 years we’ve driven a minivan. We’ve only had two in that time span, but they served us well, and were an integral part of our family life.

We succumbed to the trend shortly before our third child was born, and luxuriated in the spacious capacity of our new vehicle.  Shortly thereafter, we bought our cabin Up North, and the minivan was soon christened the “Northstar Navigator,” named for the lake where our cabin was situated.  As nature and outdoor lovers, we chose a cabin four hours north on a pristine lake surrounded mostly by forest land.  So we spent a great deal of quality family time together in the minivan going to and from our little haven.  That was before iPods and vans equipped with VCRs so conversation was encouraged.  Even singing.  As I sat up front, handing out sandwiches, coming up with entertainment ideas and mediating squabbles, I was queen of my brood.

It’s amazing what you can fit into a minivan.  As hard as I try to be abstemious about packing, the longer I’m at it, the more I find to bring.  And there was always room.  The minivan carried our gear to all sorts of destinations – camping equipment out to the Black Hills, canoe paraphernalia to the Boundary Waters, XC skis to the North Shore trails, accordions to competitions in Chicago, bikes just about everywhere.  In more recent years, it moved kids into college dorms, made numerous trips to the dump when we moved out of our home of 26 years, and hauled furniture to our new house in Duluth.

I loved the minivan’s seating capacity.  Even with a family of five, there was still room to bring Grandma and Grandpa along, or extra friends.  Cat and dog?  Sure, plenty of space.  That youngest child graduated from college last year, and we piled kids, grandkids and girlfriend in the minivan for the 10-hour journey to his graduation.  That was true togetherness!

But today we are moving on.  Now down to just the two of us, we decided to replace the minivan with a Subaru Outback and will soon donate our 13 year old minivan to a good cause.  The new vehicle’s all-wheel drive is great for Minnesota winters, and it has a decent capacity in the rear compartment.  There’s no doubt it was a practical choice.  But I’m going to miss the minivan.  Good thing my daughter and her husband bought one recently.  It’s my turn to jump in with the grandkids!

7 Bridges (or more) Road

IMG_0377You learn something every day.  And I learned quite a lot today!  It all started when I went out with my camera, taking advantage of the mild afternoon to practice taking photos.  We live just across from Amity Creek at the start of Seven Bridges Road.  I thought I’d follow the water upstream hoping to find some scenic wintry shots of ice and snow.  Rich recommended walking upstream – literally, on the ice.  But the gurgling sounds and tinkling melodies of flowing water under the ice made me feel queasy about that approach, so instead I chose to walk the road and periodically followed the deer tracks down to the creek’s banks.  As it turned out, the creek offered limited photo opps, so I turned my attention to the road and bridges.

IMG_0409Seven Bridges Road is a treasure.  I grew up taking family drives there, marveling that this winding, steep tree-lined road following Amity Creek could lie within the city of Duluth.   As its name implies, the road crosses the creek seven times in its short 1.5 miles.  Or so I thought.  Lesson number one for the day.  Since moving here, I have become intimately acquainted with this road, frequently running, cycling or walking up to its top and beyond.  So I know that there are in fact eight bridges.  But I always thought the bridge at the top of the road was the “extra” as it appears to be around the bend and on the start of Skyline Parkway, and therefore didn’t count.  Today I learned differently!  In fact, it is the legitimate seventh bridge, and the one at the bottom, just beyond our house is the imposter.  It was not built with the original bridges, but came many years later as part of Lester Park.

That leads to lesson two.  I was always under the impression that the marvelous stone bridges were built by the Works Progress Administration (WPA), but as it turns out, the bridges predated that project by two decades.  Samuel Snively built the original road and wooden bridges in 1899-1900, and it was he who engineered the route that continually criss-crosses Amity Creek.  But without proper maintenance it all deteriorated within ten years.  The road was handed over to the Duluth Park Commission in 1910, which turned out to be good news.  According to the History of Seven Bridges Road,  “During 1911, the roadway was regraded and graveled, and several first class stonemasons from the Duluth area were hired to build the bridges simultaneously.  Each bridge had a concrete and reinforcement bar arch structure, and was artistically faced wtih native basalt and bluestone rock collected from the creek bed or blasted from nearby outcrops.  The cap rocks consist of pink opal granite quarried in St. Cloud, Minnesota.”  Nine stone-arch bridges were built that year.

Nine?  Yes, there are two more bridges above what I thought was the top of the road.  Following what is now a hiking and snowmobile trail, sure enough I found them.  Lesson three.  These bridges apparently fell into disuse by automobiles in the 1930’s when the road was extended to Hawk Ridge.

And that rogue first bridge?  It was built in 1928, to replace an earlier bridge which connected carriage paths on either side of Lester Park.  It was only a poor replica of the other bridges, lacking much of their finer detail.

Just over a century after Snively first started his road and bridges, a restoration project was begun on the bridges.  From 1996-2007 each of the eight bridges was restored to its original condition – that included the Lester Park Bridge, which is now identical in construction to the seven others.

I may not have advanced my photography skills today, but I did learn what a wonderful heritage we have, right outside our doorstep.

Bridge 1 d

Lester Park Bridge

First Bridge

Second Bridge

Third Bridge

Fourth Bridge

Bridge 6 a

Fifth Bridge – most expensive to build

Sixth Bridge

Seventh Bridge – least expensive

ridge 9 c

Eighth Bridge – trail bridge

Ninth Bridge – trail bridge