Goodbye Skis, Hello Bicycle!

It’s not often one can ski and bicycle in the same day.  The abundance of great snow in Duluth has left the ski trails amply covered and still holding up well.  And the recent warm weather has cleared the shoulders on the North Shore Scenic Drive enough for good cycling.  I just couldn’t resist the opportunity.

IMG_9755 trimmedFirst the ski, late morning.  Spring skiing is tricky.  Timing is everything – too early and the snow is hard and crusty, with deep frozen ruts made by yesterday’s skiers who were out when the snow was soft and pliable.  Too late and the snow is like sticky mush, and very slow.  I went out somewhere in between, which is the scariest.  In the shadows, it was slick and fast.  But as soon as my skis hit sun-warmed snow, they came to a screeching halt.  My body wanted to keep going…  It was a challenge, all right, but the warm air, bright sunshine, and still-abundant snow made it worth the effort.  And to think it’s almost April!

IMG_0575 trimmedIn the afternoon, I headed out on my bike.  Again, timing is important – waiting for the temperatures to warm to a reasonable level is critical.  This afternoon the conditions were perfect – not a cloud in the sky, warm sunshine, and not an ounce of wind.  Cycling up the North Shore was like sailing along.  And the views were outstanding.  The ice formations along the shoreline provided such interest and variety as I traveled along, and the rare calm water produced beautiful reflections of the shore.  It felt great to be on my bike again.

Clearly this was transition day.  The exhilaration of riding my bike was just what I needed to let go of winter, say goodbye to skiing for now, and embrace the next season’s activities.  Hello bicycle – have I got plans for you!

Blue Ice

Not every day is perfect for taking photos.  And this afternoon certainly did not qualify as spectacular, being cloudy and blasé.  But I decided to head down to Brighton Beach with my camera anyway.  Who knows, perhaps there would be some interesting ice formations I reasoned.

IMG_0554The color was subtle but it was there – blue ice.  Out on the perimeter of the hard packed ice and snow, the lake ice had been pushed up to form an ice bank.  Thin sheets of recently formed ice were piled in haphazard formations.  There wasn’t anything too exceptional about them, except the color.  It was distinctly blue, bordering on aqua.  In the dreary light of the afternoon, it was as good as I was going to get for photo interest.IMG_0557

The blue seemed to modulate with the subtle changes in light through the clouds.  And it made for a nice change from the crusty melting snow turning dingy with spring dirt.  It was a worthwhile trip after all!IMG_0561IMG_0563

Sharing the Outdoors

If you’ve read anything on my blog, you’ve figured out that I love the outdoors.  And winter.  So I’ve been eager for my grandkids to reach an age when they too can come out and share some outdoor activities with me.  Who would have guessed that in late March we’d have better snow than the previous two Christmases?  Finally, I had my opportunity.  With a yard full of deep snow, mild temperatures and the grandkids visiting for the weekend, I laid my plans.IMG_9676 trimmed

Friends lent me some mini snowshoes, and I couldn’t wait to try them out with Ben.  He thought they were pretty cool when we strapped them on.  And standing on top of the snow with them he was all grins.  IMG_9679 editedWalking, however, turned out to be another matter.  Ben’s snowshoes kept trampling on each other.  How to explain to a toddler that he has to walk with his legs spread far apart?  Clearly I wasn’t quite getting my point across.  Not wanting IMG_9692 trimmedto put him off, we scratched that mission for the time being.  We’ll give it another try later.IMG_9688edited


On to the sliding hill!  By this time Mya was bundled into her snowsuit.  At a year old she’s already more adventurous than her cautious brother.  She rather enjoyed her plunge down the hill with her dad.  Ben and I followed, but it turns out my sled driving was a bit wild – fast, wobbly and snow in the face were not Ben’s idea of a good time.  Fortunately, his daddy was able to navigate a more sedate ride down the hill, and Ben never noticed that each successive trip down got faster and longer.  I guess I need to tone down my enthusiasm a bit to better match the tastes of a toddler.

I haven’t given up yet.  But I guess I’d better hold off getting those kiddie cross-country skies for a while.

This takes the cake

I’ve been outdone. But I loved it! It’s clear that my daughter has inherited many of my traits, including my perfectionist tendencies. We are both extremely organized, creators of lists extraordinaire, highly energetic and productive, and love coffee. So it should not surprise me that she took my themed birthday cake tradition to another level.

For our granddaughter’s first birthday, Karen decided on a rainbow theme. We arrived at the family party to find streamers, birthday banner, and hats in all colors of the rainbow. I knew she’d spent all week preparing the cake – each night after teaching school she ticked off one more step in completing the cake. And the night before the big birthday, I was informed not to expect any email responses as she IMG_0546would be “offline” decorating the cake.

So it was with great anticipation that I sought my first glimpse of the cake. True to form, it was artfully decorated. A classic layer cake with pristine decorator frosting, it was adorned with a rainbow made up of M&Ms – very colorful and of course, perfect. We were also informed that it was 100% from scratch. Yes, very impressive.

We admired it all evening, through dinner, IMG_9643opening presents, and blowing out the single candle. It seemed a shame to cut into it. Little did we know that was the denouement! The pretty outside was merely window dressing for the rainbow of colors inside. Cutting through the frosting exposed no less than six layers, each a vivid and different color, naturally arrayed in rainbow order.

The ooohs and aaaahs were audible, and there was a tangible aura of awe throughout the room. Karen beamed in response, the kudos well deserved. Her piece de resistance was a smash hit.

IMG_9659Mya, the birthday girl, may not have entirely appreciated the aesthetics, but she did enjoy the sweet flavors. And she wore it well.

I admit to stabs of nostalgia, as my own family members have gravitated away from cake in favor of other favorite desserts on their birthdays. I haven’t made a theme cake in a long time. But if I do, I’ll know where to get help.

Signs of Spring?

It was a bright sunny day, and the sky was that beautiful shade of blue.  Birds were singing, squirrels chattered away on our bird feeders and the 12 hours of sunlight proved this was the spring equinox.  But the signs of spring didn’t reach any further.

IMG_9626 In fact, March has been a far better winter than the months that preceded it.  With 12″ of snowfall in the last week, ski conditions on the local trails are the best I’ve ever seen.  It’s not often you can have winter snow for spring skiing.  So I’m plying the trails every chance I get.  My daughter says I am the only one happy about the lingering winter when I gush about the great skiing.

IMG_0504Maybe she’s not alone in her sentiments.  I suspect the mailman is not so thrilled about the lack of spring.  It must be a challenge to deliver to mailboxes that threaten to disappear beneath the mountainous snowbanks.

The neighborhood children may be similarly disappointed.  Last fall the old playground equipment in the nearbyIMG_0519 park was dismantled and removed with the promise of newer, better swings, slides and climbers.  The surface has been prepared, but who can find it under the snow?  It appears the playground is inevitably delayed.


“The Deeps” on Amity Creek has a long way to go before it resumes its attraction for area teenagers and thrill seekers anxious to jump into the pool below the waterfall.  A bit of melting is in order before we will even see flowing water again.  For now, it is picturesque in its own way, beneath the layers of snow.

Mesabi Miner

But there is one sign of spring that did not disappoint today.  I was lucky enough to catch sight of the first laker to leave the port of Duluth, marking the beginning of the 2013 shipping season.  Seeing Mesabi Miner out on Lake Superior was undeniably stirring.  And if ships are sailing again, truly spring can’t be far behind.

When it snows…

I headed out first thing this morning to go skiing.  After yesterday’s icy conditions, the new fallen snow was a welcome addition.  However, my first clue that all was not going to go well was stepping off the deck into about 6″ of new snow – much more than I thought.  Light and fluffy, I should be able to ski through it I figured.  Wrong!  Now only did the fresh powder swallow up my skis, but my boots also disappeared as I tried to ski.  Skate skiing was a joke, having to lift my skis up and over the snow after each glide.  So I decided, why fight it?

IMG_9605 IMG_9608 Deep snow just cries out for snowshoes.  So I traded my skis for snowshoes and off I went through the woods.  All started off just fine, as I followed the mountain bike trails which were barely traveled, and still pristine in the new snow.  Tree branches were laden with snow, and as I dipped under those in my path I tried to prevent dislodging that beautiful white blanket.IMG_9614  It was quiet and peaceful in the woods, with just the thumping of my sinking footsteps to break the silence.  This was much better than trying to tame the snow on the ski trails.

Navigating in the woods has never been my strong point.  So when I ended up at a bridge on the far side of the trail system, instead of where I’d intended to go, I was disappointed but not too surprised.  Altering my route, I headed up Lester River.  I’d seen this stretch of river many times, from the overlook on the ski trail.  It was different to travel the riverbed way down below with steep banks stretching high above me.  At one point I could hear the rushing of the river’s water well below the ice and snow – creepy and fascinating at the same time.

Tiring of the river, I returned to the woods following a deer trail.  I figured I couldn’t go too far wrong with ski trails and Amity Creek ahead of me – either one could lead me home.  I found the woods surprisingly easy to traverse, and soon discovered that if I paralleled the deer tracks, I could stay on top of the snow – an advantage to being small and light!  Sure enough, I crossed the ski trails twice, as expected, and continued on to follow a little used snowmobile trail.  On and on I went, with my confidence waning as rapidly as the distance growing behind me.  Perhaps I wasn’t going the direction I thought I was?  Just a little farther – maybe I can figure out my position around the next corner.  Nope.  Humiliated, and more than a little frustrated, I finally turned around and retraced my steps.  I eventually found my way back to Lester River.  By this time, the sun was trying to come out, and I actually used it to determine which way I should go.  And it worked!  What a novelty.  Trudging back down the river, I was relieved to see where I had diverted into the woods earlier – I was now on home territory.  I could breathe a bit easier, and began to enjoy my surroundings again.

IMG_9613 trimmedThe clouds quickly dispersed leaving a beautiful blue sky and even better scenery.  It was quickly turning into a sunny day.  And my mood escalated at the same pace.

By the time I returned home, although the temperatures were still in the low 20s, it was warm enough to sit out on our deck in the sunshine.  Sitting in my favorite Adirondack chair, all seemed right with the world.  Perhaps I will go back out again this afternoon in search of the trail I intended to take…




Brueggers Mornings

When my kids were little, a new Bruegger’s Bagel shop opened near our house.  It soon became a ritual for me to take my kids there for breakfast once a week before school.  At first I’d take Erik, our youngest, to Brueggers after dropping off the others at the bus stop on my day off.  How well I remember the day we discovered his brother’s lunch box still in the car, and made a mad dash to the next bus stop to deliver it to him!

IMG_0300 timmedAs time went on and school schedules changed, the other kids were able to join us.  Even when I went back to work full-time, we still managed to get to Brueggers.  I loved our special time together in the early morning, over a simple breakfast of bagels and cream cheese.  The staff knew us, and I invested in a Brueggers mug to get “refill” discounts on my coffee.  We were regulars.

High school was a challenge for Karen and Carl, with a 7:30 start time.  I’ll admit that they fell off during those years.  What high schooler wanted to get up earlier than that?  But Erik persisted – he wisely chose a different high school with a later start.  So we kept up the tradition.  College clearly intervened for all of them, but during breaks we’d still head off to Brueggers.

Erik is now working his first job, living in our Twin Cities townhouse.  When we’re there, he is still willing to get up extra early periodically to have bagels with his mom.  I feel so very honored!  These days the staff do a double-take when they see my mug.  It’s clearly vintage by now.  But I’m proud of it and my 2

And on to the new generation.  My grandson, Ben, is old enough for bagels now, so when we spend days together while his mom and dad are at work, guess where we head first?  He too loves his Brueggers 1

Touring Duluth on Skis

Tour-Duluth-2013It’s an annual event.  Hosted by the Duluth XC Ski Club, the idea is to ski all the trails in the city – in one day.  We loved the idea, but Old Man Winter hasn’t cooperated to keep the snow long enough in recent years.  This year that was hardly a problem.  In what seems to be a recurring theme for us, we skied the Tour pelted by heavy snowfall, wintry mix and rapidly accumulating wet snow.  And loved it.

The tour is a do-it-yourself affair and participants can ski any trails in any order.  But we chose to follow the suggested route, starting in the west at the Spirit Mountain / Magney-Snively trails and working our way east.

It won’t surprise anyone to learn that Rich and I were the first to arrive and blazed the trails for those to follow.  There was already a heavy accumulation of new snow and more continued to fall, pelting our faces and IMG_9597obscuring our vision.  No matter, the accompanying fog veiled the beautiful views of the harbor that normally grace these trails.  We had a quiet and mostly solitary ski around IMG_9598the connecting trail systems.  I was quickly reminded how narrow and hilly the Magney trails are, although I had no fear of the steep downhills this time as our speed was checked by the sticky new snow.

Returning to the Nordic Center, more skiers were gathering and heading out on the trails.  It was a festive atmosphere.  Inside, we helped ourselves to hot chocolate which tasted divine.  16k behind us, and we were off to a great start.

Our next stop was the Piedmont XC trails.  This one was completely new to us, and turned out to be a charming spot with a fascinating history.  The 5.5k of classic trails wend though aspen and birch.  But what made it unique were the signs.  About 45 hand crafted wooden signs provide humor, puns and inspiration to skiers all along the route.  It was in the parking lot following our enjoyable sojourn out on the trail, that by pure luck we met Jerry and Glen.  The youthful 88-year-olds originally carved the trails out of the woods in 1960 and maintained them until the city took them over in 1980.  And it is they who take great pride in posting the signs.  We thoroughly enjoyed their stories and marveled as they headed off for their daily ski.


I next skied at Snowflake Nordic Ski Center, while Rich took a break at home (he was, after all, only a week out of the hospital…).  I chose the 5k loop, which I navigated twice enjoying its gentle rolling terrain.  Visibility had improved, and the skate deck was snowy but firm – probably the best skiing of the day.

We skied our final kilometers on the Lester/Amity IMG_9600trails, in our own back yard.  By then the snow coming down had an icy edge, and what was on the ground turned soft and heavy.  It was harder going than before – or was it just that I was tired by the middle of the afternoon?  I managed a spectacular fall trying to ski a steep hill that I normally avoid.  What was I thinking?

There were two more trails on the agenda, but the pull of a warm house and hot shower were too strong to overcome.  For me, the fact that they were short and classic-only also may have contributed to my malaise.  Having topped 40k, we figured we’d done enough.  We could attend the evening ski club dinner without shame.  We’ll just leave those two for next year.

Just a friendly bet

It was a given that Rich would ignore the doctor’s orders.  We knew he would start skiing again before the prescribed recovery period was over following his surgery last Friday.  The only question was when?  He’s much too active to sit around and rest.  And going for long walks soon lost its appeal.  I just knew he was itching to be out on the ski trails, especially given the new snow.

So I went behind his back.  Early in the week I surreptitiously sent our kids an email titled “Taking Bets.”  I suggested we have a betting pool on precisely when Dad would head out to ski, and asked each to reply just to me with the day they expected him to break bail.  The only information we had to go on was the doctor’s suggestion that he take the week off work, not work out for a couple of weeks, and not lift more than 5 pounds.  I registered my vote for Thursday then waited for the other bets to come in.

Final tally:

  • Karen – Wednesday
  • Carl and me – Thursday
  • Erik and Matt – Friday

Clearly none of us thought he’d make it longer than a week.

The email responses had barely arrived when Rich started making his move.  “Where are my knickers?”  he asked Wednesday morning.  Uh oh, I was in trouble.  Sure enough, by 2pm he was outfitted in his ski clothes and waxing his skis.  Shortly thereafter, he was out the door.  So much for doctor’s orders.

Upon his triumphant return, Rich wasn’t exactly apologetic for his actions.  Far from it, the first thing he did was post his Garmin GPS data for the ski on Facebook.  I rather doubt that 10k at 5 min/k was what the doctor would consider an “easy ski.”  Rich ski 1 Rich ski 2

I decided it was time to break it to him.  So I commented on his Facebook post, informing him of our bet.  And about Karen being the winner.  As I expected, he was quite tickled that his audacious behavior was the center of family speculation.  And that he exceeded our expectations for the most part.

I’m just glad he’s feeling so good.  There’s a lot to being in good health to fuel a speedy recovery.  But I still hope he doesn’t overdo it.  I’d like to bet on a full recovery soon.