Hiking Opener

Traditionally in this state, when using the word Opener in reference to an activity outdoors, it is either fishing or hunting related.  To that end, we always re-open for spring/summer when the fishing season opens on the second Saturday in May.  There are several openers throughout the year, and they almost have a holiday-like feeling to them.  The excitement runs in the air, there is a scramble to get everything ready in preparation, and in the case of spring fishing, the perennial question that is asked is When Will the Ice Go Out?

But this isn’t a post about ice or fishing.  Instead, it is about hiking.  Last weekend, I made a plan to begin the North Country Trail’s challenge.  If you hike one-hundred miles on any portion of the North Country Trail, even if it is the same mile 100 times over, you can earn a patch.  In this area, we are blessed to have three parts of the North Country trail to access:  The Border Route Trail, the Kekakabic Trail, and a bit further-flung, the Superior Hiking Trail.  The first year that this challenge was issued was 2016.  I had to take it on.  I love hiking and patches, plain and simple.  


I hiked as often as I could, recorded my miles, put out pictures and notes on social media, and by early December, I was able to submit my miles.  A few weeks later, I received my reward.  The best part about it wasn’t the patch itself.  It was that I had set a goal that got me outside.  I remember how happy I felt when I was out on the trail, even when it was raining, which happened occasionally.  I found a wolf skull on one of those adventures.  I saw lots of wildflowers and other seasonal vegetation.  I watched a beaver swimming around near a shoreline.  He came really close to me when I stooped to observe.  I noticed how large he was in relation to his beady little eyes.  It was a close encounter for sure.  I never saw a moose, but I did see a bear across a lake on the Kek, noshing on the abundant blueberry crop.  Oh, and that was another bonus—blue treats along the way! By the time I finished in December, I was hiking through about six inches of snow, following fresh moose tracks.  My toes were pretty beat up by then, but I was satisfied.


Back to present times.  I decided my first hike would be to Magnetic Rock. This is a wonderful time to hike to the rock.  Because there are no leaves on the trees yet, the views are clear.  In particular, when approaching the rock, I can get a full and complete view of the silhouette, as the nearby birch tree isn’t covering any portion of it.  The trail had some residual snow in the shady spots, and there were muddy areas, too.  It’s been a colder spring, I guess.  (I recently returned from three weeks in Alaska, so I missed the first part of April, and don’t really know what the weather was doing then.). LIttle stories with no endings played out here and there, like the pile of moose droppings on the rocky slope (when had he passed by?  Where was he going? Did he get to all the way to the rock?). An explosion of fluff, which on closer examination appeared to be fur from a snowshoe hare.  (Who got him?  No visible tracks.  How long ago? Fur might take some time to disperse, even longer to decompose.). I enjoy contemplating some of these things as I go.

The stream that one encounters early in the hike was running at full bore, with all of the melted snow. I am not very graceful when crossing these things.  Especially since I have gotten older, and more mindful of where I want to place my feet, I took my time to gauge the path. On the return, I started to psych myself out over how I would get back.  How silly!  The obstacle to me was that the rock that I needed to reach was tilted at a steep enough angle, I wasn’t sure if my sole would stick or slip.  As a precaution, I put my camera into a zippered pocket (as if that would somehow help!), told myself out loud that this was ridiculous, and that I just had to go for it.  Which of course I did, with just a bit of a slip, and without getting wet.  Crazy!  But it’s the little things like this that I end up enjoying a lot when I am finished.



Other lucky souls were out there on the trail, too.  I started out alone, and encountered the first folks on my return trip.  We exchanged pleasantries, and it was from them that I got the title for this post.  The woman asked if this was my first hike of the season, too, and I said yes, that I had last been out on snowshoes about a month ago.  She said it was their first as well, and then she added, “The hiking opener!”  How perfect!   I also passed a family, and I alerted them to a pile of wolf scat up ahead on the trail, and asked if they had seen the moose droppings.  We also confirmed the bunny fluff, and remarked that there are so many things to see when out and about like this.


So now I am committed. The hiking has begun, and I am down three, with ninety-seven to go. How about you?  Are you up for the challenge?  If so, hop on over to the North Country Trail’s website (www.northcountrytrail.org) to learn more about it, and to sign up while you are there.  It’s a great way to spend time outside.  The way I see it, even if I don’t make it a full one-hundred miles, I will still have won, for the sake of getting out there and enjoying nature.  If you do decide to go for it, let me know so that I can cheer you on! 



Earth Day as a Way of Life

When I sat down to share some thoughts today, I wasn’t actually thinking about writing on the fact that today is Earth Day.  I was scrolling through my photos from yesterday, in which we held a picnic with extended family to celebrate Easter.  But then I thought that if I were to write from an Earth Day perspective, what might be worth stating?  And the first thing that came to my mind was, “Go outside!”  What better way to honor the earth and environment than by getting out there and enjoying it?  I decided to see if that happened to be on anyone’s list for Things to Do on Earth Day.


It took some looking and scrolling.  The obvious things were all listed first:  Turn off the lights, recycle, re-use.  Don’t get me wrong.  I am a firm, longtime believer in these things.  Thanks to my dad, I am still following other folks around and turning lights off in rooms that are not occupied.  We started to recycle way back when the county first introduced it, as a way to not only “be green” as it were, but to save money on our garbage bill.  We tend to use things up, as much as possible.  If we truly are done with something that still has possibilities, off it goes to the recycle center.  I won’t go so far as to say that we are stellar in the “green” world, as far as habits are concerned, but we do try hard on a daily basis to practice those things that will help the earth, even in small ways.  I think that it is better to practice Earth Day everyday as a way of life.  



Finally, I did find a listing for Take a Picnic as a suggestion for Earth Day.  On the website Inhabit.com, suggestion number six was to get outside.  What better time of the year than now, to take that advice?  Sure, it’s not super warm yet, and the trees still have to green-up.  But there are no bugs, you can see for a long way through the bare branches of the forest, and you might get to spot something that may not be of notice at home.  While on yesterday’s excursion, our six-year-old neighbor pointed to a low-flying flock of snow geese.  We also saw an eagle getting chased away by a raven.  Earlier in the day, Greg and I heard first, and then spotted a lone crane, high in the sky, yet very recognizable.  The weather was mostly cloudy and cool, but we all just bundled up a little more.  The best parts were being together and being outside.  



When we were done and ready to go, we took time to check the area, to make sure that we had left nothing behind, and that we were leaving a no-trace footprint.  That’s another thing that seems better on the “to do everyday” list, wouldn’t you agree?  I hope that you all have an opportunity to go outside soon, today if possible.  It’s pretty routine to wait for better weather to come, but if we prepare appropriately, better times are possible sooner rather than later.   


Lastly, I would like to share my favorite green-related cleaning tip.  Ever since a friend from Thunder Bay showed me this, I have been a convert and evangelist.  The best way for me to wash windows is with plain water, and micro-fiber cloths.  I know that these cloths are a product of the petroleum industry, but I am a strong proponent of them.  We do truly use them up until they are no longer usable.  I appreciate not having to use chemicals on a long term basis to clean the glass.  It’s impossible to determine which solution might be better overall for the earth, but I have to say that I don’t miss trying to wipe out streaks from my windows the way that I used to do.  Plain water, it’s the best for so many things. 


Happy Earth Day!

New Beginnings Once Again

While I am not quite ready to say that we are done with snow, I do believe that it is time to start a Spring Watch for 2019.  Greg dropped the plow off of his truck yesterday, so perhaps he is feeling more optimistic.  Of course, he still has another truck fully suited in Boss Plow armor, and maybe that is a talisman of sorts against any more winter events.  I just returned from some new adventures in Alaska, and I am ready to look for all the signs of new life, and to have you join me.


Gunflint Lake 4.16.19

Gunflint Lake 4.16.19

The number one question each spring is When Will the Ice Go Out?  There is no good way to predict this (we are always proven wrong if we try that), but one of the factors I watch is the color of the ice.  This was my first glimpse of the lake when I was returning.  That it is not a pure white is a good sign.  The ice goes from white to grey to black, and that represents various stages of decay.  To see the beginnings of grey tells me that we are moving in the right direction, but not too quickly.  On a side note, can one Ever grow tired of this iconic view??

The bay

The bay

Closer to home, I looked at the ice in the bay, and I marveled that just a few short months ago, people were ice skating on it.  In a few weeks, we will see docks and watercraft in this scene.  It repeats every year, but it is always enjoyable to see the transformation happening.  

Another sign of the change of season is the presence of the crows.  They do not spend the winter with us.  Each year, around the middle of March, they return in noisy flocks, descending to the ground to poke about.  If I dare to walk by the window or try to take their photo, they fly up in a flash, no matter how sneaky I am.  They don’t stay around all summer, either, for which I am glad.  We really enjoy the ravens, who tend to be a little bit quieter as neighbors go. 


Little bits of green are poking up, in this case the Blue Flag plants.  The rhubarb is showing red nubs, right on schedule, too.  We do still have some piles of snow, particularly where it had drifted over the winter.  With temps in the fifties due here for the rest of the week, those will start to decrease even more.  The bears did not find my can full of sunflower seeds out on the porch, but it can’t be long before they emerge hungry from their dens.  Those seeds are now in the building.  I don’t like being awakened in the night to the banging of the metal can on the side porch.  We’ve been down that road before! 

I never did hear an official snowfall total for this past winter.  In general, it seemed to be a good one, closer to what I would call normal for my thirty-some years here.  We are anticipating good lake levels once the ice does go.  

Keep an eye here for occasional posts, and on my Instagram account, for the latest peeks into the emergence of this new season.  Thank you for joining me! 

The Ups and the Downs

On a sunny, blue-sky day, when the temperature is warm at 24 degrees, it’s really easy to play hooky from work to go skiing.  I don’t know about your neighborhood, but we haven’t seen the sun this winter as much as in other years.  Of course, when it was lower-than-thirty-below, we had plenty of sun, but it’s a little difficult for me to get excited to go out on the trails.  And it makes my skis squeak.  Today was my kind of day, so I finished my morning chores and mapped a route. 


Headed up Wipe Out Hill on the Highlands Trail

Headed up Wipe Out Hill on the Highlands Trail

It had been a while since I did Wipe Out Hill, so I decided to head that way.  I parked on the Gunflint Trail near the Cross River, grabbed the skis and headed across the road to the trailhead.  At this stage in my skiing adventures, it’s much better if I take a hill like this one from the bottom up, even though it means a lot of herringbone.  It also means I am more in control.  (I hate the thought of helter-skelter madcap descents!) 


Better than halfway, but still a stretch to go

Better than halfway, but still a stretch to go

The snow was lovely today, a bit of powder on top of the groomed trail. Enough tooth to slow me a bit, which is just the way I like it.   The sunshine cast all sorts of patterned shadows on the snow.



About halfway through my route, I came to freshly groomed tracks.  I generally don’t take this trail in the direction I was going, so I was seeing it with a new perspective.


I finished out my run on Highlands when I reached the intersection with Ham Lake.  From there, I headed towards Rabbit Run.  I had planned this trek while keeping in mind that the best way to do Rabbit is from Highlands to Aspen Alley.  That way it is a manageable down, down, down almost the whole way.  Such a nice reward after the likes of Wipe Out.   


Past every climb there is a coast.  Good thing I can do a decent snowplow!

Past every climb there is a coast.  Good thing I can do a decent snowplow!

Rabbit Run did not disappoint!  It was a lovely run down the hill, with a bit of a breeze blowing through the trees.  I got to the bottom, and headed for Aspen Alley.  Aspen Alley is about a mile long, and it travels through a large pit that is used for brush disposal in the summertime.  Today, piles of brush were buried under a thick blanket of snow, as was the road leading out to the Trail.  It was a peaceful ski through that section.  Soon enough, I was done and back at my car. 

Word is that there is wonderful snow throughout the state right now. If you can, grab a moment and your skis and get out there to play in it.  It’s invigorating, inspiring, and, believe it or not, fleeting.  Already that sun is higher in the sky, notifying me that these trails won’t be ski-able forever.