Monday, February 17, 2014

Day 281 - Snowshoeing!

I have never been snowshoeing. As someone that has spent the majority of my life in a state known for its cold, snowy winters, that fact may seem surprising to some. Although the sport has consistently evoked a state of awe in me when I encountered it on television or in films, I have never taken on the task due to the disdain I have felt toward cold weather throughout my life. Before my “I have never...” year I spent winters hiding in the warmth of my home whenever possible, only facing the cold when obligation required me to do so or when an extraordinary reason justified exposure to the conditions. As a result, winter was largely a prolonged, vacant period of waiting for change that bordered on a form of moderate hibernation for me. Although there were plenty of winter sports like snowshoeing that had some appeal to me, the draw of comfort always outweighed the idea of braving the cold for the sake of a new experience.

That perspective was a primary factor in setting a rough framework of goals for my “I have never...” year. Along with my objectives to learn from volunteering, broadening my appreciation for the arts, and becoming more cultured through culinary experiences, I decided early in my “I have never...” year I would make the most of this winter by getting out into the season and finding new, exciting ways to enjoy the season. As a part of that effort, winter events like cross-country skiing, dog sledding, and snowshoe all found a place on my list, which provided me the motivation to begin pinpointing dates I could make each experience work. Following my recent experience with a snowshoeing class, I finally had the knowledge I needed to make that event a reality. As a result, I started narrowing down a list of days that could potentially work for acting on the new experience.

Despite all my planning, a sudden, last-minute change in today’s “I have never...” plans left me turning to snowshoeing as an event to tackle this afternoon. This was the direct result of a pending snowstorm that spooked event planners into canceling my previously scheduled volunteer event for this afternoon, which left me scrambling to find some alternative experience that could keep my “I have never...” goals intact. My options few and far between in the face of the conditions, I quickly realized the falling snow provided a unique opportunity to experience the progression of winter in a way that was foreign to me. With plenty of time left in the afternoon, equipment readily available in town, and a fresh layer of snow falling, it became obvious everything was in place to gain my first experience snowshoeing. All I had to do was to set the pieces into motion and take to woods to make it happen.

My decision sent me into a flurry of activity preparing for my unexpected change of plans. As I raced around town looking for available snowshoe rentals, I contacted my friend, Allison, who I figured would be willing to join me this afternoon given her enthusiasm during our recent cross-country skiing trip. After agreeing to join me, I grabbed Allison a pair of snowshoes on my stop at a nearby sport shop and headed home to gear up for a few hours in the cold weather. As the snowstorm pressed into the mid-afternoon, I hurriedly layered myself in the warmest winter clothing I had and bolted for the door. At that time daylight was running short, and I knew we needed to hit the trails as soon as possible to gain a full experience.

At the ready, Allison loaded into my car within moments of me pulling up to her house. After weighing a few options for snowshoe locations, we promptly decided the nearby University of Wisconsin Arboretum offered the best alternative for the day’s excursion given its proximity and the weather conditions. In turn, I guided my car through the slush and snow until we found ourselves on the single, winding road leading into the aged forests of one of Madison’s most beautiful places. Amid the dense silence of a snow-covered landscape, Allison and I found a parking place near some designated trails and strapped into our snowshoes. For a few moments we stood quietly as we found our feet and looked over the space around us, doing our best to pinpoint the trail entrance resting beneath the fresh white powder. Eventually deciding to check the fence line along the nearby Longenecker Gardens, Allison and I awkwardly flopped our snowshoe-laden feet on the snow packed parking lot and turned to the south to begin our first snowshoeing trek. Although we didn’t know quite what to expect as we set our feet into motion, it was clear we both had every intent to make the most of the experience.

Ready to rock!

Tracing our way to the assumed location of the trailhead, Allsion and I shuffled our way over to the snowline on the opposite side of the arboretum’s main roadway. There we quickly found a marker for the start of the snowshoe trail, which prompted us to lift our feet high and plunge them into the waiting layer of powder. As our feet met the snow the effectiveness of the devices strapped to our feet caused both of us to stop in our tracks. Although we were standing on nearly two feet of accumulation that had fallen over the winter months we sunk only a few inches toward the ground, leaving us free to navigate across the surface of the snow largely uninhibited. The feeling was somewhat akin to walking on sand, but the suspended feeling of my feet hovering in the center of the snowshoes was unlike anything I had experienced before. Judging by Allison’s face, I could tell she felt the same. That first moment in the snow was equally odd and amazing, and it made us excited for what was yet to come.

Looking down the trail, Allison and I chatted briefly about our path before moving forward toward the tree line. As we walked, our growing comfort on the snowshoes drove our feet into a steady rhythm and guided us deep into the arboretum forest. The further we pressed into the woods the more apparent our isolation from the city around us became. Around us only infrequent bird calls accompanied the sounds of our feet whooshing along the forest floor, drenched in white from the flecks of snow slowly falling around us.

The stillness and beauty of it all were enough to cause Allison and I to stop inadvertently as we moved through the parts forest. The scenes around us simply offered too much to take in with passing glances, which made it apparent we had chosen a perfect opportunity to experience the winter arboretum by snowshoe. Of course, we both acknowledged the fact that our time in the woods was limited by the waning daylight, which made our pauses brief, but none-the-less meaningful.

Walking near the marsh

As to not find ourselves facing darkness on the trails, we continued on until our path turned toward the setting sun, left barely visible through the haze of the winter storm. With the light fading we trekked back to the north and the east along a part of the arboretum neither Allison nor I had ever encountered, which culminated in a series of streams feeding the nearby Lake Wingra. With puffs of white rolling along the banks of the waterways, the gentle flowing waters offered the perfect accent to already amazing afternoon and gave the two of us a view to remember. Although I was surrounded by the cold of winter against the coming of an even colder night, that view in that moment made the entire experience worth it, and it was one of many that we encountered today.

The fading light

Geting there...

In the final legs of our path around the arboretum, Allison and I worked hard to beat the coming darkness. Over hills and back through familiar tracks of woodland we worked ourselves into a rapid pace, which left me feeling the demands of the afternoon’s efforts by the time we closed in on the final path toward my car. With near perfect timing, we wrapped up our trek and loaded up as the last bit of the hazy sun fell beneath the tops of the trees and worked its way toward dusk. Tired from the several miles of ground we had covered, Allison and I made a quick trip to drop off our rental equipment before I dropped Allison off at her house and found my way home.

This... Just this.

Crossing through the threshold of my front door, I looked back at the piles of snow waiting to be cleared from my sidewalks and driveway. “Damn it,” I said grimacing at the realization of the chore waiting for me. Feeling annoyed for a split second, I suddenly realized the dichotomy inherent in my perspective. Standing in my doorway I was looking at the same snowfall that had brought me so much joy and beauty earlier in the afternoon with a sense of displeasure.  It was enough to make me grin and shake my head at the default response I had developed to the winter weather over the years. “You take the good with the bad,” I thought as I dropped my backpack to the floor and turned to head back outside. “The good with the bad,” I said, vocalizing my thoughts, “...The difference is today there was a lot more good.”

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