Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Learning to Ski

Today ends the Keweenaw's six-day stretch of sunshine. Six days of sunshine? I feel like I've been in another state or another season for the past week because gray is the color of winter here. Not blue and white and yellow and gold with shiny sparkles. But it was uplifting for a while.

And what a better way to end it than with dumping snow. Snow. The perfect thing to see blocking the view from my window. Now let's get piling up... it's almost March and we've got at least 150 inches to go before reaching the average. If it doesn't come now, it will come when we least desire it.

On sunshiny yesterday I was convinced, by my friends who are skiers, to try skiing at the Porcupine Mountains in the Western U.P. I am a snowboarder. I didn't realize so much mental rivalry existed between the two sports until I tried skiing with skiers.

Remember I am an awful classic cross country skier. Me and long sticks on my feet with poles attached to my hands usually end up in a tangled mess. How can a person really control all that equipment?

I stood at the top of the easiest run at the Porkies. Not nervous. Not afraid. Not knowing how to control my speed. Rachel was coaching me, and giving me the rundown. But I wasn't really paying attention. I just wanted to go down the hill. So I went. Often times laying on my skis, my belly, upside down on my back or a sequential combination of those and other positions. "I'm going to have bruises."

After a couple runs like that, I decided to listen to some pointers from my skier friends. Blah blah this and blah blah that. I gradually progressed throughout the day with no major crashes except for my ski falling off my boot while I was on the chair lift. Luckily it turned and got stuck in the trees so I didn't have to walk the whole way down the mountain to find a runaway ski. Thank you to the man who pulled it out of the snow for me.

I did pretty well, though. I felt like a skier by the end of the day, when at the beginning I just felt like a snowboarder who really didn't know what they were doing and looking like a total idiot on the hill. I could see people laugh at me, and I wanted to shout, "I'm a snowboarder! Really! I'm just learning this sport!"

But I did feel like a skier for a little bit there, and at the end of the day, my skier friends asked me if I was ready to burn my snowboard and buy some ski boots. No, I'm not. Skiing is all right. It got fun after I was done feeling like I wanted to give up. So just let me be a snowboarder, and I will try not to make fun of you for being a skier.

So to all my skier friends, I can see why you like to go down the hill on two sticks, but I prefer to shoot down on a plank without holding on to two poles that I don't use anyway. Let it snow.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Variety Pack of Adventure

I guess I can give you a sample of each! The last few days, I got out for a snowshoe, snowboard, bike ride and cross country ski. One each day.

The snowboard day was amazing. We got a foot of snow over two days, and I was out ripping it up at Mt. Bohemia. I found fresh snow on all of my favorite runs. Every time I ride down the hill in untouched powder, not even having to turn my board, I feel like I'm flying. Even though I am not air born, the friction under my feet is so minimal, that I get a sensation of gliding through the air. Kind of like biting into a York Peppermint Patty.

The snowshoe day made me remember how quickly the shoreline changes in the winter. Remember the ice volcanoes I saw a couple weeks ago? When I went to the shore on Saturday, they were all gone. Not a trace of them. The water came right up to the ice-caged rocks on the shoreline. I thanked my lucky stars that I got to play in one on February 6th. Otherwise, I would have felt cheated out of curiousity.

The bike ride was sweaty, yet enjoyable. Really, the best part is to see people's reactions to a girl riding her bike the day after it snows a foot. Yes. I am that girl.

As for my ski, well, I am not a good skier. I'm just not. Not now. But I do get to take off my skis and wander to the middle of Lake Fanny Hooe (see, she gets me every time) where I can be in the middle of a snow desert. Today I took in the serenity of being right between East Bluff and Brockway Mountain. What a cool place to be... it's like being sandwiched in a ridge line!

So there's my piece of da Harbor for ya. And I think everyone here would agree that today's sunshine makes da whole Harbor quite delightful.

By the way, my Splake was delicious. Fried and mighty.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Splake Fest

It's Free Fishing Weekend in Michigan. I didn't even know that existed, but all the ice fishermen on the Harbor sure do!

Last February I posted "Men on Ice," which shared my bewilderment about the men who can sit out on the frozen lake for hours, sometimes hardly moving, and say that they enjoy it. But I was told that's what men do. Fine. I'll keep the fire warm and go to work -- where it is also warm.

But last year's fishing brigade captured 3 Splake between about 12 men. Today, a group of 10 hearty souls just caught their limit of 30 fine-finned creatures. No time for them to sit around this weekend, when they had to run from this pole to that one to reel one up. I had a few good laughs watching them awkwardly scamper over the bumpy ice to their nodding poles. Ha ha. Ha. Ha.

Aaron and a friend are taking advantage of this plentiful weekend, and that tickles me pink. Why? Because four fresh Splake are in a cooler outside my front door, and I have the batter all ready for them. Finally, my fresh fish are here. I'll let you know how tasty they were.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Crossing Lakes

I don't know what's wrong with me. Or maybe it's what's right. Remember how I love to walk to the middle of the lake to feel the unjaded sun and, well, just to be there? The last two days I crossed two new bodies of water for the winter.

I crossed Copper Harbor on Saturday. But I will tell you about that one next.

Today I hoofed it to the neighbor's house, through the uneven snow, carrying a small gas heater and two mini propane tanks with no snowshoes on. Mostly uphill (of course). I sweated and swore as I remembered my questions to myself just before I left: "Snowshoes or no snowshoes? Snowshoes or no snowshoes? Eh, it's a short walk. No snowshoes." Dumb, dumb, dumb. All I could think was how I wish I had my snowshoes, so that walk -- as short as it was supposed to be -- didn't make me so angry with myself.

With that said, I decided to take Lake Lily back home. The snow was nice and even on her, and I saw snowshoe tracks going across it the day before. I would be safe and not so ornery as I was on land. Plus, I hadn't crossed her yet this year.

She was a beauty. Smooth, calm and white. It really was a treat to be out there. It didn't look like much else had been there except the coyotes. Because the shore by where the creek runs in to the Harbor wasn't frozen, I stayed north like the other tracks did, and made it safely to land.

Saturday's experience wasn't just new for this winter, it was new to my life. Please swallow any food you may be chewing.

I had to cross the Harbor. I just had to! There was my shortcut to the lighthouse calm before me, and my curiosity just ached to take me there. Straight there. The big lake had been calm for at least four days before that, so I knew the ice had to be solid. No creaking sounds on my end!

I skipped along over the butting ice peaks and slippery knobs that made up the frozen harbor. It was in no way smooth sailing. I almost tripped a couple times. And every time I was unsure about the conditions below my feet, I would scratch the snow off the surface and check the ice thickness. Looks good, I'd tell myself, and carry on.

I would look over at my neighbor Sharon's and wonder if she could see me out there. I actually wished I would have told her I was traversing the harbor just in case I, um, was suddenly not above the ice. But, nope. Just Duce knew I was out there, and he lead the way full force: sniffing, scratching and eating the ice.

Then I stopped in my tracks when I heard the wind. There it was again. And again. Completely rhythmic. Only, it wasn't the wind. Oh, no. It was the lake. Undulating under my feet. Under my feet? At that moment I actually thought how I have admired this sound as the ice knocks into each other while I am on the shore, but I have never heard that sound while I was on that ice. I felt my pulse in my neck. My temperature must have risen 2 degrees.

Oh. My. God. Don't panic. You're almost to the shore. It can't be that deep here. You're still standing on solid ice. You can't see through it. Take that line straight across. Yes, that one. Straight to the shore. Quick and light. Quick and light. Go, go, go!!!

Twenty yards later I was at the shore. On solid rocks. Wooooooooooooo hooooooooooooo! I shouted, grateful to be alive. We made it! We made it indeed.

Good thing we crossed at that spot because thirty yards from where I was standing, closer to the lighthouse dock, the ice was, well, um, to put it quite bluntly, the ice was not there at all. And today it has receded even closer to the east with more open water in between. So I won't be going out there until it fills back in. Maybe a good, solid week after it fills back in. Yes. That would be the smart thing to do.

As for the rest of my adventure on that February 6th, 2010, well, that's going in my Copper Harbor book. I'm sure you don't want to hear about another risk I took out on Lake Superior right now. I'll let you float on that one for a while.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Covered Stretch

I just started bartending at the Bear Belly Bar and Grill in Lac La Belle (6 local microbrews on tap and a great atmosphere) which is 17 miles from my house. 17 miles!? That means I have to do something that I really don't like to do: drive.

I've had to commute to work in Wisconsin before (yes, I'm from Wisconsin), but this is my first job that I won't be biking to in da U.P. Now 17 miles may not sound like a big deal, but 11 of this 17 miles is on the "Covered Stretch" of Hwy. 41. It is "covered" with tree branches like a canopy over the top. It zigs and zags with only on legal passing zone. Unless a person takes M-26 (the Lakeshore Drive) to da Harbor, they are taking 41.

This stretch is a narrow stretch, and since you are reading this, you've probably driven it before. You know it's quick to shift and is always at least a little snow covered in the winter. You know that most visitors drive between 25 and 35 miles an hour down this stretch that we can cruise at 50-60 (I know, I'm being modest).

It is a beautiful drive, though, and if hit at the right time, I won't see a car the whole way. Crossing paths on this road is one thing, which is why it is sooooo important to stay in your stinkin lane, but getting behind one of those visitors can turn a normal human being into a road rage roughneck. Getting stuck behind someone going half my speed is one of the biggest trials of my patience up here. And I know I am not the only one who feels this way.

So yesterday I had an interesting combination of behinds. On my way south, I made it almost to Lake Medora (5 miles into the stretch) before spotting tail lights. Oh, bugger. Down shift. But in front of those tail lights, I saw the culprit... going 30 mph.

This could usually anger me, but I gave myself plenty of time to get to work before my shift started. Plus, I had one of my favorite CDs in, so I just turned it up and jammed. But, luckily, soon enough, the truck in front of me passed the slow car, and I soon had my chance. Now I did say that there is only one legal passing zone, and that is at the end of the stretch, but if someone is going 25-30 mph, even the curves become a passing zone. Don't tell my mom.

No problem. Made it to work. Then I had the way home to go, which was midnight on a Friday. In the dark with light flurries.

As I got to the stop sign before turning north onto the the stretch, I saw headlights. Oh, boy. What now? Two pickups pulling four snowmobiles each lead the way to da Harbor. Now, since it was midnight on a Friday, I assumed the worst with these trucks: testosterone and booze (okay, there are worse things in the world), and I vowed to stay so far behind them that I couldn't even see their tail lights.

So this time I was going 35 mph by choice. I didn't want to be on their tail when they took one of those corners too fast. No, I did not. I stayed behind and wished them the best.

I just thought that the two situations that had me in 3rd gear that day were ironic. One was borderline maddening and one was scaredy-cat voluntary. I'm sure all the locals have at least one covered stretch story, since that is the most popular way to get to da Harbor.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Gotta Wear Shades

The sun has been shining in the clear blue sky lately. It was out early in the day the last two days, and all day today. This usually doesn't happen in February. In fact, it doesn't happen to such an extent that I wrote a song two years ago about how the sky has been "gray for days" and how "my head is gonna break unless I see the sun."

Not now. Today I had to wear sunglasses on my trip to Houghton. Most everybody else I saw driving was wearing them too.

One thing I am always tempted to do in the sun is do get to the sunniest spot possible. Yesterday it was on the harbor. With no trees or building on the ice, the sun fills every speck of air. I even laid down on the frozen bay to relish in the seasonal view and ultravioletness of the moment.

The wind has also been calm. And though it pairs well with the sunshine, it is also sort of unusual for now. It makes me wonder what that lake is up to out there....