Tuesday, January 20, 2015

There always is

So, I just returned from my first winter camping experience, and I have to say, it was pretty awesome.

The anticipation was in some ways more "exciting" than the trip itself; it had been quite some time since I've looked forward to anything so very much...I was almost giddy in the days leading up to our departure.  My companion put a great deal of time and effort into preparations, including construction of two pulks--a very fine, expedition-worthy one for himself, and a cheaper yet perfectly adequate one for me. They performed beautifully, in my opinion, as did most of the rest of our gear. I had no prior frigid-weather experience upon which to draw, or with which to compare, but for a first/trial run, I'd say it was a success. No one lost any fingers or toes, there were no catastrophes (aside from a spilled meal which was more of an annoyance than a disaster) and, despite the numbingly cold temps on our first night out, the weather was good, the snow was nearly ideal , and the woods were wonderfully quiet, tranquil, and beautiful. I wish I'd had a camera, but the pictures in my mind, of tall pines and spruce draped in snow, and my dear intrepid friend leading our way across the frozen expanse of the southern edge of the Boundary Waters, will remain fixed in my memory.  I only wish we'd been able to stay a bit longer...I often attest that it takes three days to actually get to where you are, wherever that might be, and except for a few very brief moments of reflection between worrying about keeping going and changing layers, I feel I missed out on really being able to take it all in, and be fully present in the beauty through which we traveled.

We left rather late on Thursday morning, and arrived at our departure point on Sawbill Lake at mid-afternoon. The drive up had us both wondering about what conditions we might encounter--the temps were above freezing and there was little snow on the ground much of the way, but once we left the shore and drove up into the hills, any worries of warm weather and lack of adequate snow were left far behind us. I might go so far as to say that we entered a Winter Wonderland, but perhaps that perception was only due to the stark contrast with where we'd come from. Winter has been a bit of a dud here this year, so to encounter even a foot (or two) of pristine snow was a true delight.

Our first night out on Alton Lake was a cold one, much colder than either of us might have guessed, by the reading on the little zipper thermometer that hung on the vestibule... negative 10 degrees, by morning.  But we stayed warm, bundled in our sleeping bags and cuddled together in the pitch darkness, for more hours than anyone could wish to spend in a tent, except in order to escape such deep cold.  After traversing a wind-blown lake and crossing a relatively long portage through untracked powder, we spent another, considerably warmer night on the shore of Wonder Lake. Unfortunately, condensation got the better of us, or at least of our sleeping bags and the tent, and our fuel reserves were already running low, so we skied and snowshoed our way back on Saturday afternoon rather than go any further, or stay out for another night. My sled carried forty-five pounds, and his was easily fifteen pounds heavier, and pulling such weight was, although easier than I had been anticipating, a tiring endeavor. I was fairly thirsty, and he was pretty sore. Better to get out while the getting is good.

A few lessons learned: Isobutane doesn't perform well if at all in very cold temps. Water takes time and fuel to make from snow and readily returns to a frozen (i.e., undrinkable) state. Well-insulated xc ski boots would be a very good investment. Don't not bring your gaiters. Everything has the potential of getting wet even if it's well below zero. Zipping sleeping bags together is a better idea. Wool is excellent. Weight makes a difference in the long haul. Warmth and the potential for it is critical. Booties are helpful. Seeing wolf tracks is cool. Summer sausage may be aptly named. Snowshoeing isn't easy. Don't put your supper in your pocket and forget about it. Treats are nice. Silence is bliss.

On the way back we crossed paths with an otter, running and sliding its way across the lake out ahead of us--a big first for me. Is there any more delightful animal? A light snow fell in perfect crystalline form, and the air was pleasantly free of biting winds, as we skied the final stretch back to the car (that being my new one, the black Volvo, sweet machine that it is). We took the long back roads back down, stopped off at a little bar in the middle of nowhere, and enjoyed a beer or two before continuing the descent on the snow-covered gravel, back to the blacktop, to the highway, to the towns and cities and the busy interstate and finally, into the big city.

It was a somewhat sad return, for me, coming home to the responsibilities of house and home, the realities of city life and a job that I wish I could more easily abandon for a different life, at a different pace, in a different place... One day, perhaps, I'll have the courage to relocate further afield. For now, I am comfortable and secure, at least in some ways, if not fulfilled... but leaving the sweet peace of deep Winter and returning to the ugly noise of urban existence is not, by any stretch of the imagination, one of my favorite transitions. 

Tonight, there's a light snow falling here, big fluffy flakes drifting down slowly in the stillness, as if to soothe my wistful soul... I hope, I dearly do, that I will return to the white woods soon, sooner than later, at least once more before the snow begins to change, and give way to the next season. There's time yet for another adventure. There always is, isn't there?


Cosmic Monkey said...

That sounds magical. I wonder if I should head outside, I feel like I've lost something inside me, perhaps the wild?

fremenine said...

It would have been more magical, if I'd been more present. But it was a wonderful time.

I think it's almost always a good idea to head outside, especially when something seems lost, elusive, or missing... There is so much more of life to be found than we can remember, or imagine, that it makes magic seem mundane.