I have cross-county skied for close to 50 years, starting with a pair of wooden skis and bushwhacking in a state park in northern Iowa. There were no groomed trails in that era; you made your own way, screaming down a narrow path hoping to avoid careening into big oak trees on either side of a walking path. I love the solitude of the woods with crisp cold air and exhilaration of a good hour of exercise. It sets things right. That was then, and this is now. All the good things that make a trip to the woods rewarding are still there, but the body isn’t what it used to be.
St. Patrick’s Day is in the rear-view mirror, the snow is getting serious about melting, and I think it's safe to put the cross-country skis away. As another winter fades, being of the boomer generation, I’ve started to consider maybe it’s time to can the skiing and take up biking in winter. This thinking has come about as a result of a skiing adventure I had in the last few months at Jay Cooke State Park.
On this day, there was a fresh snowfall, and since I had never skied the park, I thought I’d give it a try. Jay Cooke is stunning, no matter when you go. Park maintenance had just finished plowing the parking lot when I got there. There was no one else around. After crossing the bridge over the St. Louis River, I trudged up the hill to the trails above the water’s flow. The route I picked was not the most difficult one, so I anticipated an easy ski with maybe a few ups and downs, nothing too hairy.
The first few kilometers were great. It was quiet, with the sound of water tumbling over the rocks below filtering up from the river. Then came the hills. The first one was taken with relative ease, although it required some adjustments and snowplowing, which made me wonder what the rest would be like. Then farther down the trail, I came to a steeper and longer hill down.
Things started out well, but then I picked up speed, and control left in a hurry, along with my confidence not far behind. I knew I was in trouble. Balance was gone as I tried to stay upright. With the trees whipping by, I crashed. It felt like an NFL lineman had upended me. My glasses disappeared somewhere in the snow, and my skis were in a jumbled mess, but still attached to my feet. I lay there for a minute or two and started to test various body parts. Everything worked. I found my glasses in a pile of snow by the side of the trail.
I am no stranger to accidents while skiing. I’ve had multiple face-plants over the years with cuts, scrapes and bleeding. This thumping and an awareness of my age rattled me.
I always carry a cellphone and a Mylar bag tucked into a small fanny pack strapped around my waist. I figured if I got into trouble, I could get the lightweight silver blanket out and crawl inside to stay warm before I called for help. Tucked back in the valley that day, even if I wanted to, I would not be making a phone call — “no service available.” There was only way out — go forward. Fortunately, I could.
From here on out, I’ll ski where I know trails are flatter and more heavily traveled. I’ll need to give up solitary bliss. Another option for winter adventures is to invest in a fat tire bike to be able to get outdoors for exercise. Life changes, and trying to maintain an adequate physical self requires adjustments. I probably will get the bike, but the trendy clothes that go with it? I don’t think so.
Doug Lewandowski is a retired counselor, educator and psychologist. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.