Sunday, March 08, 2009

Snowshoeing on the back 40

Last weekend's storm that hit a week ago left a foot of powdery light snow, perfect for me to try out my new snowshoes. Other than getting a bit lost I had a great time.

I've had a hard time keeping my snowshoes strapped on, for some reason. Last winter I was using a pair of Dave's and they kept getting loose in the back and falling off, so I had to stop every 10 feet and strap them on again. This fall I got a pair of my own, upgrading to cloth straps, which seem to fasten easier. I also tighten them really tight, hooking them on a little lip on the back of my new Sorels, which we got this fall when a shoe store near my mother-in-law was going out of business (our family got like 10 pairs of shoes, sneakers, and boots for under $200! and my little clothes horse had a great time just trying on all the size 6 shoes and boots).

Last Tuesday, a beautiful day, a bit cold but sunny, with all the great new snow, I trekked into the back 40, the Fitzgerald Lake Conservation Land, behind our house. The place isn't huge, just 675+ acres, but it's the woods. And in case you forgot, I am a city girl.

When I first moved here a colleague told me of a local parent she knew who went for a little hike at Fitz Lake with her two little kids and ended up getting lost and spending the night out there. Ugh! They were rescued in the morning by a dogwalker. At the time I thought, how can that happen? But now I know. I really want to think otherwise, but days like Tuesday make me realize yet again that I am indeed a city girl and I don't really know my way around the country. And I gotta say, even my familiar woods look very different in the winter.

So I headed out my backdoor, taking the trail we made when we first moved in to get to the Laurel Park extension trail. When I hit that, the intersection of which we marked with a cairn so we don't overshoot it, I went up the hill past Fairy Rock and wound down and around to the bird blind. After that I wasn't ready to go home, so I kept on, heading toward the lake, but when I came to the Boggy Meadow Road turn-off I decided to take that toward the Moose Lodge entrance, but turn off before I got there to the parking area to take the loop trail back to the Marian Street trail. Boggy Meadow Road is mostly flat and broad enough for a car. Nice trail. But the loop didn't come and didn't come, and I figured I'd missed it and would have to walk the road back home from the Moose Lodge. But finally the turn-off came, and I took it.

Now this path is unofficial so there are no blazes on the trees, but skiiers like it and it was clearly well-used the day before. I was ready to be home, but had no idea how long this loop was. I figured it was a straight shot and what threw me were the cut-offs off the loop, each one a puzzle: Should I go left or right? I made educated guesses, each time thinking I had an idea which direction I was going, toward I-91 and my house, or back toward the lake. And I got more and more anxious.

Yes, the woods were lovely, dark and deep, but everything looked the same. It was all white and bare and no landmarks and nothing looked familier. No trail blazes. It was about 2:00 and the sun tended to stay behind me so I knew I was mostly going east, and I also knew I had several hours before dark. I kept thinking about that mother with her two little kids, and felt a lot more compassion this time. I was thirsty and kicked myself for not bringing the daypack, which also has a map of the place. I imagined being rescued. I imagined being home taking a shower and eating lunch, which I had neglected to do beforehand.

I did bring my cell, I take it everywhere, so eventually I called Dave and left him a message on his work voice mail just saying where I was and that I was a bit scared but going in the right direction, I thought. Finally, a skiier I'd passed on Boggy Meadow Road came breezing through, and he said I was almost at the Marian Street trail. And I was, although beginning snowshoe time is a bit slower than experienced skiier. There was another cut-off and I panicked a bit, but then just made a decision and went with it. I wasn't far from the trail and was home and showering within 15 minutes.

The lesson learned is, the woods are different from the city. What I am now learning is what it means to say that I am a city girl. All I need in the city is my metro pass and cell phone and I'm good. Maybe a little cash. I can eat anywhere in New York and I know it well enough to avoid the dicey areas, and for me, most areas aren't dicey. But here, I can't tell myself I'm just walking behind my house. I have to tell myself, I am going into the woods where I can get lost and there's no guarantee of passers-by to ask directions to the nearest subway--or rice and beans eatery.

So, note to self: Always bring the daypack when you are in the woods, in snow or not. Stock it with water, maps, a snack, a compass, and yes, the cell phone. Maybe extra socks. Eat lunch first, or else bring it. Keep in mind that when there's snow, there's no place to sit unless you don't mind getting wet, so you just have to keep moving. To that end, wear snowpants and gaiters. Thank goodness I had my long johns on. I was layered so I wasn't cold while I was moving, but when I got home my shirt was soaked through, and that's a no-no; if I had really been lost I would have gotten chilly the moment I stopped moving.

But it's a learning curve, right? I am learning to be more of an outdoors person, and I like it. The woods were lovely, quiet, serene, seemingly endless, even though I know they aren't. I was alone and while I didn't really appreciate my journey at the time, I have reached a new level where I think I can start to enjoy this more and more.

PS -- we're going to the lake with another family today, but it's been lovely and warm all week and the snow is melting, thank goodness! I am thrilled. I can't wait for spring!

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