We were present for the exchange of presents and only narrowly avoided receiving one with pink pads and puppybreath. After an enormous breakfast and way too many pokes at the piles of baked goods distributed around the house, Jeny and I suited up for a ride.
When my parents retired they moved to a cabin near Gaylord. I spent one full summer and countless weekends at this cabin, such that I know the trails well enough to string together a number of rides. That is to say that I know where they go, what their character is, which are heavily trafficked and which not at all. But I've never really known names for any of them. We refer to them by what they are -- the gasline trail, the one past grandma's house, the one that goes around the lake, through the clearcut, out to the beaver dam, etc...
In other words, this is not a "trail system" per se. There is no parking lot, no kiosk, no dog poop bag dispenser. No crowds. The trails aren't on MTB Project. And I have no intention of changing any of that -- nor would it be my place to. We ride right out the door and in 100 yards we're in the woods, and usually have the trails to ourselves but for an occasional chance meeting with a neighbor.
Because I've spent so much time in these woods I have heaps of memories and stories from within them, triggered (as you'd expect) just by being here. Of particular note is this grove, with a few rolling undulations beneath the close canopy. It was here that I took my first tentative steps at learning to winter camp in an ultra-racing context. Carry enough gear and you can stay warm in any environment, indefinitely. But when covering ground as efficiently as possible is the goal, you have to severely limit what you can carry.
So I'd get up at midnight, wad bag and pad under my arm, and walk the ~10 minutes to this spot. And there I'd sleep. Or try to. The goal of these exercises was to sleep comfortably -- and safely -- for about 3 hours. Just enough to rejuvenate so that I could go for another 20 or so hours before doing it again. And again...
I didn't want to be warm enough to sleep longer as the races ran away from me. The effort was intended to learn not how much to take, but how little I could get away with. Recognizing and exploring that distinction consumes more time than you'd imagine when this is your chosen line of "work". As with any test there were bound to be "learning moments". It was the proximity of these woods to safety that allowed me to take risks and make mistakes, because if somehow I'd miscalculated I could just walk my shivering hiney home and park it next to the woodburner for a few.
Repeat that process for a few weeks around the negative temps of a northern Michigan solstice and you'll know a thing or two about winter camping. Then take the show on the road to Alaska, Colorado, or Minnesota -- learning yet more as you go -- and you can safely traverse lots of country with the confidence that comes from being able to sleep and wake as needed.
As we rode poor Jeny had to listen to me breathlessly recount the sundry highs and lows of these experiments. I don't think I crossed the line into mansplaining (she probably disagrees...), but I'm certain that I at least feathered that line and gave her more winter-camping-mistake-minutia than she'd ever have the bandwidth for or interest in.
As seen from the seats of our bikes, and viewed against the perspective of 21 years of living there, this winter seemed downright normal in the northern lower peninsula. Cold enough. Snow sufficient for the slednecks to get out and romp , but not so much that the deer couldn't find browse. Just the right amount for us, if we let almost all of the air out of our tires.
With the entire family back at the cabin our goal wasn't to go for an epic so much as just stretch our legs and get some fresh air before diving back into family time. So after a lap around the lake then out around grandma's house we returned on the gasline, stopping repeatedly to marvel at the honey winter light, listen to the LGB's flitting and twittering invisibly in the trees, and to simply feel the diamond dust infused air being pulled into our lungs.
After a week on the road we finally got to slow down and embrace one place, and sleep in the same bed for a few nights. And that place just happened to be home.
Thanks for checkin' in.