Winter sports look so graceful and effortless. The skater slides and spins across the ice; the skier pours over moguls, knees adjusting like well greased pistons; the snowboarder cuts from edge to edge with the most minute muscular adjustments, and the child squeals with joy as she flies down the side of a hill. Even something as exhausting as cross-country skiing appears relaxing. When I think of these sports, I always manage to forget the falls, the bruises, the toes gone numb with cold, the muscles shaking with exhaustion, the long trudge back up the hill pulling an unwieldy sled behind me. And so I was surprised, and then not so surprised to find that snowshoeing is much more of a work out than Grizzly Adams ever made it appear.
These are Yukon Charlie's, 825 series, and yes those are pajama bottoms I'm wearing. They were the warmest, dry pair of pants I had at the moment.
It wasn't until I had gotten outside that I realized I hadn't read anything about how to put on or adjust the snowshoes. Thankfully the toe straps worked just like the bindings on my snowboard, but I did manage to put them on the wrong feet (the straps should point to the outside of the foot). I felt some doubt as I looked at the wall of snow in front of me and considered stepping out onto it. Would I just sink down and get mired in the snow like a toddler?
That first experience was not all that I'd hoped it would be. I sunk about half way to the ground with each step. Somehow I'd imagined I would only sink and inch or two, not that I'd based this idea on any research of any kind. With each step I banged the rear end of the shoes together and there was a lag between when my foot started to lift and when the shoe followed it (my straps were too loose). I went in feeling tired and a bit let down.
After applying the H.A.L.T. rule to that first snowshoeing experience, I decided I better give it another try. The HALT rule says that you should never make any decisions or trust your impressions when you are Hungry, Angry, Lonely or Tired. I was certainly tired the night I tried out my snowshoes. So yesterday I gathered up my gear and headed to the closest place I could think of that would have open snowy areas, ideal for a newbie, and a plowed parking lot. That place was Willards Woods.
Willards Woods is one of the larger and better know conservation areas in Lexington. Long before I'd ever been there, I knew of its existence through seeing "Save Willards Woods" bumper stickers. I think those stickers may have been part of a debate over whether or not people should be allowed to let their dogs roam free over the 100 acres. In the end a compromise was reached, with leashes being optional on certain days of the week.
As I left the parking lot and entered the old orchard area, I was excited to see snowshoe tracks and pole marks running parallel to the trail walkers had packed into the snow. I looked out at the field of mainly unbroken snow, and thought this is what I'd imagined.
I roamed like a puppy, following whatever caught my eye.
A stump that looks like a heron wading in the shallows.
That morning I'd found a quote from Kurt Vonnegut on our refrigerator, placed there in the night by my partner Z. It said “I urge you to please notice when you are happy, and exclaim or murmur or think at some point, 'If this isn't nice, I don't know what is'."
After 40 minutes of snowshoeing I was sweaty and exhausted, but it had sure been nice.