Enjoying the Season

It’s that time of year again.  Not quite mud season.  Worse.  The piles of snow left on the ground have guaranteed this late winter phenomenon – thaw, puddle, refreeze, ice.  It wreaks havoc with sidewalks, creating skating rinks overnight.  It makes ski trails into luge runs in the morning, and slush in the afternoons.

This in-between season has forced me to modify my outdoor activities.  A creature of habit, I too often get in a rut, reluctant to vary my routine.  But Mother Nature is showing me that change has its rewards.

Lester River Trail

A hike on the Lester River Trail proved to be a viable option last week.  I found that rather than focusing on a workout on my skis, I could just meander and take in the snowy sights in the very same woods.  The trails were firmly packed by fat tire bikes and foot traffic, making travel easy.  It was an entirely different experience.  I was far more attuned to my surroundings.

At the Lester River overlooks, I wondered if I might have snowshoed up the riverbed.  But the sound of flowing water and open spots in the ice told me otherwise.  I was content to admire and follow my beaten path.  All was quiet on that weekday afternoon, making it a most peaceful venture.

One look at the puddles on the Lakewalk was enough to reroute my morning run.  Heading out before dawn, I have moved to the dry pavement of the Scenic Highway shoulders.  As a bonus, I have a perfect view of the sunrise over the lake.  One day a deep red line glows across the horizon.  The next a pale orange hue hangs above the low clouds.  The sun’s rays skitter across the lake.

By the time I turn around to head home, the low sun illuminates the snowy mounds that line the lakeshore.  Adjacent to the deep blue water, the face of the snowbanks reflects the sunlight. The backsides are bluey shadows.  It’s a color pattern that never grows old.  I watch it for miles.

Reaching via Brighton Beach, I find a new scene every day.  Over the weekend when the wind was calm, the water’s surface froze into a fine mirror.  Its thin veneer perfectly reflected the rocks, snow and ice.  The picture of calm.

Brighton Beach ice 1

I returned later in the day to see what sculptures the wind had made with the fragile ice.  Sure enough, ice shards lay stacked in random fashion on the shore, glinting in the sunlight.  As I walked the shore to take in Nature’s art work, I kept hearing an eerie whining sound.  I turned to see rocks skidding across the surface of the ice, as if they were miniature curling stones.  The resulting harmonics emanated from the rocks, changing pitch as they slowed and then stopped.  I wondered how the responsible adults figured out this musical phenomenon.

Brighton Beach ice 2

This morning brought an entirely different experience.  Once again traveling through Brighton Beach, I caught sight of Rich taking photographs.  Following the trajectory of his camera brought this image into view:

I don’t know what possessed these young men to ride their fat tire bikes off the ice bergs to plunge into Lake Superior, but it was enough to stop me mid-run to watch.  (To see Rich’s video, click here.)  I may have found new ways to enjoy the outdoors this season, but I will stop short of trying this one.

 

The Alternative to Skiing

The shuttle deposited us in a sea of deep white snow.  Just me, Susan and our snowshoes, and a big sign marking the entrance to the Superior Hiking Trail adjacent to Sugarloaf Road.  “It’s well marked,” the driver told us.  But once in the woods, the trail was just a vague indentation in the snow.

She promised us we’d need our snowshoes, as opposed to the other trails near the highway.  “Those are so well used, you can walk them in your boots.”  We went for virgin territory, and we got it.

Snowshoeing SHT

Ahead, tall tree trunks cast long shadows, crisscrossing the soft white snow.  Baby pines, the next generation of towering trees, added green décor complimenting the deep blue of the sky beyond.  The enticing scene beckoned.

This was a cross-country ski trip, but we had abandoned our skis for the day.  The day before, the cold temperatures and chilling wind tested our mettle skiing the frosty trails, speed whipping away our meager warmth faster than we could generate it.  So we decided on a day tromping through the woods instead.

We didn’t have to go far before we had tracks to follow.  Animal tracks.  Plenty of deer scampered around.  Rabbits left their signature imprint.  Some tiny critter stamped out a precise symmetrical trail, a perfect wintry zipper.  But it was the wolf imprints that held our gaze.  Impossibly large, they forged ahead on the trail.  Other padded feet came and went, but these tracks stayed with us for the duration of our hike.  I hoped our canine companion knew how to read the blue blazes to keep us on the right trail.

High in the sky, the bright sun delivered warmth whenever it reached us.  In the dark shadows of the trees, the temperature plummeted.  The deep silence of the woods was broken only by the plunge and shuffle of our snowshoes.  Gasps of delight, and “oh this is so beautiful” escaped our lips, confirming the choice we’d made for the day’s activity.

Susan snowshoeing SHT

Reaching the ridgeline, the trees thinned and we had the promised expansive views of the lake.  Traveling high above the shoreline we could see for miles, a full 180° or more.  Each creek we crossed had some form of a wooden bridge – a reassuring sign we were still on the trail.  Crossing Crystal Creek was the most challenging, scrambling down a deep ravine to reach the covered bridge at the bottom.  Climbing back up the other side proved to be easier.

Snowshoeing SHT 1

The sudden appearance of numerous snowshoe tracks marked our approach to the Caribou River.  The spur route down to the parking lot was impossible to miss.  Already missing our wilderness route, we followed the river and admired its icy formations as we returned to our car.

I’ve hiked bits and pieces of the Superior Hiking Trail through the years.  It’s a treasure that’s easily taken for granted.  This winter excursion reminded me how the seclusion of the trail works its magic.   During that trek the rest of the world fell away. My mind rambled as I paced.  I reveled in the nature surrounding me.  And I never regretted skipping skiing that day.

Molly snowshoeing SHT

 

October Lightkeeping

What a difference a year makes. Last October we occupied this same spot, performed the same lightkeeping duties and camped in the same tent. But the similarities end there.

Last year five days of mostly cloudy skies, a fair amount of rain and temperatures in the 40s left us shivering despite our winter jackets and long underwear. Our down sleeping bags were our saviors at night. Dark skies challenged the solar power system, which drained away from lack of sun and struggled to regain any power from dim bursts of sun. The challenges did not diminish our love for this gig, nor did it deter us from signing on for another year. But we felt rather foolish for choosing another stint in October.

Fortunately, history did not repeat itself. Far from it. We have enjoyed five days of sunshine, moderate temperatures on the 50s-60s and Lake Superior in her finest blue. I happily resumed my early morning writing sessions on the beach.Molly writing on beach Rich raising the flag Crisp Point wavesOur visitor count is up considerably over last year. We welcomed over 200 guests. All who come lend a new perspective. They hail from as far away as Wyoming and Beijing. Others have local ties and have been coming since before any restoration began in 1998. They know more of the lighthouse’s history than we do, and we love hearing their first-hand experiences. They especially appreciate all the work that the Crisp Point Light Historical Society has put into preserving and enhancing this site. Newcomers never fail to be impressed.
Lighthouse in setting sunWe marvel at the folks who come merely at the suggestion of a lighthouse on a new highway sign. Little do they know the conditions of the dirt road approach, but all agree it was worth the journey. They buy our best selling sticker, “I survived the drive to Crisp Point Lighthouse.”

Thinking that the week could not be more ideal, we are treated to a grand finale. We witness a deep pink sunset from the beach. We have the biggest blazing bonfire yet. Two classic ore boats parade by, illuminated stem to stern with white lights. We watch a glowing sunrise from the lighthouse tower. And the day is balmy and warm.
Lighthouse pink sunset Crisp Point bonfire Sunrise from lighthouseSuddenly October doesn’t feel like such a crazy choice. But just for kicks we signed up for August next year.
Lightkeepers

Lightkeeper’s Haven

Perched high above the shoreline I own the landscape. Lake Superior relinquished her pounding waves overnight leaving mere ripples on the surface and gentle pulses kissing the sand. Long shadows cross the beach and the neighboring trees are bathed in the glow of the low sun. The water’s sound competes only with the wind as it whistles through the open doors to the catwalk. Morning’s cool fresh air contrasts with the warmth of the sun on my back.
View from lighthouseIt is a rare privilege to claim a lighthouse for one’s own, even if only for five days. From 10am – 6pm we share this beauty with others seeking to explore her, acting as light keepers and welcoming visitors. But the early morning hours and evenings are ours.

My morning began while the stars still dominated the sky. Emerging from our tent, wet with an overnight ground fog, the intermittent beam from the lighthouse was the only source of illumination. I could barely make out the rocks on the beach as I picked my way down the waterfront while the eastern skies took on their first rosy glow. On my return the orange hues crept up around the lighthouse to meet the velvety dark blue above.
Lighthouse sunrise reflectionWalking the opposite side, I took in the handiwork of the lake, reconfiguring the shoreline even since last year. The high water level has eaten its way up into the dunes, carving off the front slope to reveal multi-colored sand strata in its new vertical edge.

Once more my return yielded new views of the lighthouse. The sun embraced its red cap and glass face, walking gently down its elongated white body. Soon only the shadows of the nearest trees remained and stubbornly lingered.
Sun on lighthouseThe morning’s light show complete, it is time for my final retreat. Ditching my usual spot on a driftwood seat on the beach, I climb the lighthouse, coffee mug in hand, writing tools at the ready. Here I sit, sheltered from the wind with the world at my feet. The moments are precious. I do not take my keeper’s privileges for granted. Soon I will relinquish my private haven – the public awaits.

Hello Again Crisp Point

The road is a test. On a good day its 18 miles of dirt merely dissuade the meek. The bumps and sand require patience and slow travel. No one reaches Crisp Point Lighthouse by happenstance. You have to really want to come here.

On this day the road challenges have been multiplied. Two days of heavy rain have transformed the sandy surface into mud and littered its length with water hazards. To call them puddles would be an injustice. Approaching each of these seas raises the same question, “How deep is it?” A certain technique evolves, starting with a prayer of thanks for all-wheel drive followed by a confident burst of speed through the most promising spot. With splashes and waves in our wake, another satisfied sigh, “Oh, pretty deep.”

It is our fourth time returning to Crisp Point Lighthouse on the far western end of Lake Superior as volunteer lighthouse keepers. Arriving early in the morning for our five days of duty, the lighthouse greets us bathed in early morning sunlight. It is like seeing an old friend. Rapidly, before visitor hours begin, we reacquaint ourselves with every inch of the site.Lighthouse on arrivalLighthouse close-upLake Superior churns against the sandy pebbly shore. Remnants of the recent winds, the waves curl in white foamy regularity, its thunderous noise filling my ears. Fall colors are peaking; yellows and reds pierce the more prevalent pine landscape against the shore. The sun lends a welcome warmth to the near freezing air.Waves from tower Boardwalk and beachOver it all towers the lighthouse. Freshly painted it stands determined against the shore, daring the waves that now crash at its base. Those waves have already eaten away 12 of the original 15 acres that once surrounded this light and buffered it from the greedy lake. A new layer of boulders has been added to the line of defense, a constant battle waged by the dedicated volunteers of the Crisp Point Light Historical Society.Lighthouse defensesOur campsite awaits, a single spot reserved for the keepers. Our home away from home with all the amenities – sandy soft tent site, fire ring, barbecue grill, picnic table and Lake Superior views.Campsite from lighthouseOnly the mud-caked car reminds us of our journey to get here. We aced that test and this is our reward.

Cycling, After the Rain

Sometimes it’s worth conceding to Mother Nature.  Life is a lot more pleasant if you work with her, rather than trying to bend her will to suit a preconceived plan.  Fortunately, I figured that out this week.

That plan was to cycle the Paul Bunyon Trail and do some hiking in the Walker area with my friend Myra.  But two solid days of rain in the forecast were enough to put us off.  We cancelled our motel reservation and instead took advantage of sunny days later in the week for some superb local cycling.

Our first outing took us across Duluth from end to end, traveling the full length of Skyline Parkway.  There was a definite chill in the air as we stretched our route by cycling inland to Pike Lake before heading to the far western end of the parkway.  We soon lost our fingers and toes to the frigid conditions, pressing into a brutal headwind.  But it still beat rain.  A warm-up with hot drinks at the Red Goose Coffee Shop restored feeling to our extremities and a change in direction eased the curse of the wind, boosting our spirits.

Myra on Skyline DriveFrom our perch high above the city, we had full view of the harbor below.  Despite the deep blue sky, the water was a distinct brown – no doubt the result of the runoff from the previous two days of heavy rain.  The nascent fall colors were far from peak, but isolated trees of brilliant hues punctuated the landscape.

At Skyline’s opposite end, we traveled along Hawk Ridge.  Flanked by birders peering through their binoculars, we took in the limitless view.  There Lake Superior shone in its full blue glory.  From our elevated perch it was a fast descent home down Seven Bridges Road, hardly requiring a single push on our pedals to complete our 50 mile ride.

Molly and Myra at Hawk's Ridge Myra cycling away from Hawk's RidgePausing for a gloomy day, we mounted our bikes again two days later.  This time we chose the Gitchi-Gami State Trail along the North Shore from Gooseberry Falls to Silver Bay.  Taking advantage of the longest stretch of completed trail, we cycled out and back to double the enjoyment of its pleasures.

It was quite a surprise to see water spouting out from the spring waterfall in the cliffs north of Gooseberry Falls.  Its unseasonal appearance was yet more evidence of the recent wet conditions.

I remembered the trail’s hilly dalliance through Split Rock Lighthouse State Park, as it wound down toward the water and back up again through the woods.  But I was surprised at just how much it undulated throughout the distance of our ride.  We actually preferred that to the flat sameness of the rails-to-trails cycle routes.

At Beaver Bay, we pioneered a brand new section of the Gitchi-Gumi trail.  Spying pristine new blacktop adjacent to road construction still in progress, we took our inaugural ride on a half mile of trail that veered up and inland away from the lake.  A half mile later we joined an existing portion of the trail which took us to Silver Bay.  We found that orphan bit of older trail rather mystifying, as it has been there for several years but apparently started in the middle of nowhere.  Now it serves as a useful connector, completing the three mile stretch between Beaver Bay and Silver Bay.

Myra cycling new trail Trail from Silver BaySince this day’s ride was a mere 32 miles, we chose to top it off with a hike to Gooseberry’s upper falls.  Once again the recent rains were in evidence, filling the river with turbulent rapids and rendering the trail muddy and slippery.  Progress was slow but enjoyable, even if we brought home much of the mud on our hiking shoes.If I wasn’t convinced before, our pleasant sunny bike rides contained ample evidence of the rainfall we avoided. For once, this ultra-planner is glad that she chose to abandon her plans and go with the flow.  Cycling after the rain.

I Just Couldn’t Do It

It’s high time I got back to writing.  After five weeks on the road and a family reunion week, I have finally carved out some time to pursue my craft.  And I’m headed to my favorite and most productive writing venue, Amity Coffee.  There I can escape the distractions of home and focus on the words assembling on my computer screen amidst the buzz of conversation and the cacophony of sounds involved in preparing elaborate coffee drinks.  I am anxious to get rolling.

But it feels all wrong.  Sunshine has replaced the earlier showers.  The fresh clean outdoor air contrasts with the closed atmosphere of my beloved coffee shop.  Most of all, the lake beckons.

The shop may not be for me this morning, but I’m not about to deny myself that latte.  “To go, please,” I append my order.  My joy in walking back outside affirms my choice.

Brighton Beach rocksI find just what I’m seeking a mere mile from home.  Rocks.  The Rocks, of Brighton Beach.  Big boulders where I can nestle into a chair-like cranny.  The morning’s wind has stirred up the lake, delivering endless waves bouncing off said rocks.  The sound alone is enough to envelope me.  I feel the solitude despite others clamoring among the rocks around me.  The wind on my face is refreshing, offsetting the warmth of the sun pouring down.  I was right to come here.

Writing at Bright BeachI forgot my sunglasses.  Neglected to bring my camera.  But I remain.  I procrastinate by trying to capture the splashes with my cell phone.  Pen and paper replace my usual keyboard and screen.  And it feels good.  The tactical exercise of forming words manually is in harmony with the natural elements that surround me.

It is yet to be seen what I can accomplish on my self-assigned writing task.  But I enjoy the moment.

I will return to my coffee shop another day. Today, I just couldn’t do it.