Part one of our 2021 winter adventure starts with Not Hot. I may be biased, but I highly recommend it.
An entirely different experience from traveling on the ice, was our regular stick baths. If Japanese forest bathing is like soothing caresses in a muscle relaxing bubble bath, our stick baths are like being aggressively scrubbed in a powerful car wash.
Became our rallying cry to ward off wild frustrations in bushwhacking. Because we didn’t sleep outside this year, we didn’t need to pull two heavily loaded pulks (aka sleds). Because we didn’t need to travel with so much stuff and we could travel until dusk. We could explore and create a special route just for us. It meant forging our own path through forest and swamp that would not normally be navigable in the summer.
It meant an extremely tactile experience with all the trees snagging on every possible part of our bodies. It could be infuriating to be constantly untangling yourself from the Velcro like forest. Back at the cabin (which had no running water) we’d strip off our layers and sticks, twigs, and pine needles would shower the floor.
It took three days to establish our 10 mile loop. The first day was mostly all stick bathing. The second day we attacked it from the other direction where there was more open water. We were within a mile from closing the loop when we came to a dead end. Cliff meets open water. Nope, nope, nope. Looking at the map Will said,
“About 500 feet that way,” pointing through some seriously thick forest, “and we’ll skip the open water, and one more portage, and we’ll be closer to closing the loop!”
Distance is relative. 500 feet on a paved path is nothing. 500 feet of unplanned stick bathing can be epic. And it was.
After fighting through and over logs while holding our skis, poles, and pulling the pulk, we came to a snow covered drop off. About 15 feet of cliff. Commence with irritated impatient problem solving…
Followed by another cliff…
Miraculously we made it! Will was ecstatic,
“I was like those guys jumping out of helicopters on skis! But with a pulk!” As he did a dramatic reenactment.
Not long after we found our track from the other day. After battling ungodly cold temperatures, open water, forests that wanted to eat us, and two cliffs, we had successfully closed our loop!
We did not toil for 20 hours in profound cold for nothing. The whole point was to make a course for a solo challenge. As part of my Arrowhead 135 goals, I needed to spend an extended time alone traveling in the cold to test gear, and more importantly test my mental fortitude. This particular method was not at all my original plan, yet it turned out to be way more awesome.
Will and I got up before dawn and would each set out to do two loops traveling in opposite directions.
Eating breakfast I watched the sheet of blackness give way to blue. In the first light of day we could just make out on the thermometer outside the cabin -40ºF, without windchill. I would have to be a very brave Neptune creature.
As I set out alone, the beauty of the morning was stunning. Extreme cold has a way with light (as does extreme heat). Yet even considering risking my fingers and phone to take a picture was laughable. You’ll have to make do with my descriptions and take my word for it.
Alone, I skied towards a cantaloupe horizon. On the expanse of blue lake snow, I was joined by fresh wolf prints leading me towards the forest. In the dark woods, the sky brightened to a golden whiteness. As I advanced to the high grasses and spindly tamarack of the marsh, the sun stretched high enough to reach my breath frosted googles. I got a fairy disco filter on this otherworldly cold morning.
In a couple hours, the sun was high in an aggressively blue sky. The mid morning temperature became a totally tolerable -30ºF. Will and I met around the half way mark both in boundlessly good spirits. Again we met back at the cabin for our mid-adventure refuel. Best aid-station ever.
We fire dried our frost soaked clothing, ate and drank our thermoses filled with chili and tea, and reloaded our packs with snacks and nalgenes with hot broth and warm maple syrup water. Then headed out for loop two.
By then it was downright balmy. It was the warmest weather we had experienced the whole trip. The high of the day was 1ºF, which get’s classified as “Well Above Zero!”
We both finished our 20 miles of solo adventure happily spent.
None of this vacation had gone to plan, and this had been part of a rework that became @#$%!!?, 3, 2z, 3, 2z, 4c, 3, 5, 1. Yet we managed a good balance of Type 1 and Type 2 Fun. We were quite satisfied.