It took a 280-mile drive and a 50-degree swing in temperature, but I found both skiable snow and clarity of purpose along the Escanaba Trail earlier this week.
With a short window of opportunity on day two of 2012, I loaded my cross-country skis in the morning and drove north, to that area on the state map with a white covering. It’s a relatively small swath, mostly north of Wausau, where snow-starved Milwaukee-area skiers can satisfy their craving to kick and glide.
I stopped first at Minocqua Winter Park, and spent an hour under the wise tutelage of Dan Clausen.
Then, in the sub-zero cold on Tuesday morning, I set out on the Escanaba, ready to let my hips follow my elbows, round my shoulders, relax my neck and keep my upper body leaning forward over flexed ankles.
Despite a couple difficult outings - marital rules prohibit sharing those in greater detail – the Escanaba has long been one of my favorite classic ski locations. The narrow pathway twists and rolls among the red and white pine, and travels around Mystery, Spruce, Pallet and Escanaba lakes, four of the nearly 900 in the Northern Highland-American Legion State Forest.
Roughly a foot of lake-effect snow covered the trail, and the ski conditions matched my preference: fluffy powder over a solid base.
For a bit, I followed tracks set by another skier, then added my own to the prints left by rabbits and their predators along the eight-mile loop.
The sunlight sparkled on the snow that coated pine branches. The breeze blew puffs of glitter through the air.
I had the ski trail, and seemingly the entire forest, to myself.
Photo by Tom Held
As I glided, my focus easily wandered from the class technique I hoped to perfect to the beautiful winter landscape, a tapestry of lakes and meadows.
When I returned to the trailhead, my car stood alone in the cathedral of trees, and I paused to take in the crisp air and solitude.
The next exercise, stripping naked and changing clothes in the sub-zero temperature, brought about a clarity of purpose that I often find fleeting outside the snowy environment.
If you head out, you'll find the Escanaba Trail four miles south of Boulder Junction, on Nebish Lake Road. Trails in the Northern Highland-American Legion State Forest are groomed by the DNR.
This trailside shelter stirred visions of friends, a fire and a hot pot of cider.