One of my paddling buddies called the other day. He’d been talking to a couple or our other friends. He thinks we ought to hike the Kekekabic Trail this spring.

That’s when I knew we had turned the corner on winter. Happens every year about this time. We emerge from the cloistering dark of December and the too-much of the holidays, take a deep breath and allow ourselves to believe that the great weight of winter has been lifted. Yeah, I know. We have a long way to go, and theoretically we could get 50 inches of snow in April. But, heck, that hasn’t happened in Duluth since 2013.

The Kek Trail, as it’s called, is a classic. It winds for 41 miles from near Ely to near the tip of the Gunflint Trail. It is not a scenic trail. U.S. Forest Service rangers once used it to reach a remote cabin on Kekekabic Lake in what is now the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.

I know a few folks who have hiked the challenging trail. None of them talk about breathtaking vistas. What they talk about are detours around beaver ponds and trying to find the trail through blowdowns.

But I’m in. It’s January and the days are getting longer and I’m ready to entertain visions of summer.

I feel like the ermine I saw in a photo that someone posted from the Sax-Zim Bog the other day. The ermine, in its flawless white coat, was peering out from inside a hollow tree. Its eyes were bright and wide, full of wonder and curiosity. That’s how I feel in early January, when we’ve turned a corner on another winter.

I’m happy to keep skiing around in circles, but I’m thinking about the tug of a lake trout in open water. I’m satisfied flumping around the backcountry on a pair of snowshoes, but I’m thinking maybe we ought to do some hiking this summer in Switzerland, where we happen to know a nice young couple.

All of this January-induced dreaming happens to coincide with Phyllis’ birthday and our anniversary, which occur on the same day. A few days ago, I made her our traditional chocolate cake, a family favorite. I baked it the day before her birthday, and that evening, after supper, she kept staring at it.

“We could have some of my cake now,” she said. “It’s just us.”

So, she put the candles on, and we lit them, and we sang “Happy Birthday” to each other. We excised two modest squares from the cake. Phyl found some mint ice cream in the fridge left over from the holidays, and we finished it with our cake. Oh, it was a wild party. We must have gotten pretty carried away with the cake — we forgot to put the party hat on the yellow dog and send a photo to the kids overseas.

Maybe next year.

Meanwhile, I’m embracing this new year like the ermine. I poke my head out from the hollow log of winter, momentarily overwhelmed by the light, open to whatever lies ahead.

I need to find a good map of the Kek Trail.

Sam Cook is a freelance writer for the News Tribune. Reach him at or find his Facebook page at