In my early years as an amateur cyclist, I used to do nothing in the winters. I couldn’t ride the bike, and the internet experts somehow convinced me that specificity was so important that I shouldn’t bother with anything that didn’t involve pedaling. Some of the blame was mine too — I took cycling way too seriously in those first few years.
Somehow, through the Thanksgiving Day 5k races, I managed to adopt running for some of those winter months, which paid off to some degree. But in 2008 (I think) I went to a used gear sale at my alma mater and found a pair of Crescent Moon snowshoes on sale for a mere $70. I say that with some sense of irony, because my wife thinks anything that costs more than $10 is incredibly expensive and an overwhelming burden on our family. (Hey, that frugal attitude has gotten us pretty far, so don’t knock it!)
I think I used my snowshoes first in Utah at a couple of different trails in Ogden and Park City. But then I learned we had a bunch of snowshoe trails in the mini-mountains around our local bunny hill, and I even found a map online, because that’s how resourceful I am. So I drove my car up to the bunny hill and found a trail named “Lower Cole’s Climb” …
Moments later, I was gasping as I marched up into the forest between the bushes and trees, the claws of my snowshoes digging in to the icy snow beneath me. The climb was narrow, serpentine, and brutal — taking me up the face of a mountain that I would later learn was completely inaccessible in the summer.
Each weekend after, I would come back, sometimes with my brother-in-law but often alone, and explore another part of the trail system. There were overwhelming and exposed quick climbs, eerily still and narrow forest routes, and unrelentingly steep long climbs, all of which were rendered significantly more difficult when they were covered by fresh powder.
I remember telling my coworker I’d become a snowshoer who cross-trains with cycling, rather than a cyclist who cross-trains with snowshoeing. I even made a low-quality YouTube video about it at one point:
My favorite was to come to the hills when it was really, really cold — like in the negatives on the fahrenheit scale. The snow would be soft and dusty — perfect snowshoe weather and often cold enough to keep everyone else at home. Sometimes, I’d show up just after a patch of fog had rolled through, coating branches and limbs with hoarfrost, and giving the forest an other-worldly appearance. I’d get up on top of the high climbs and see the distant snow-covered peaks and wonder about snowshoeing on them.
Then there was the wildlife. After an exhausting 950-foot climb up the Moose Rim trail one cold morning, I was startled to find myself standing perhaps 15 feet from, of course, a moose. It was a bit of an awkward meeting, so I tried to break the ice by talking to it … or her, I guess. As I walked away, passing a group of trees next to the moose, I asked, “There isn’t another one over here, is there?” And sure enough, there was. That year, I saw seven moose in perhaps four weekends of snowshoeing.
I’d finish every hike with snow plastered to my back and ice crystalized on my neck gaiter. I’d strip off my jacket before I even got in my car. And by the time I got home and pulled into the garage, I’d be shocked to find my legs so fatigued that I’d have to sit in the car for a moment before I could muster the energy to go inside — where I’d gobble everything I could find and then take a well-earned nap.
One Saturday night, my wife and I were watching some special on PBS about a woman who’s a river guide in Idaho. The woman told the camera, “I need to get cold and wet and miserable, and then I can be happy.” My wife turned to me and said, “She’s just like you.” And she’s absolutely correct.
I don’t know why I’m writing this all in past tense and with perfect aspect. Fact is, I went snowshoeing again this morning, saw a bull moose with a cow, tripped and fell on my face, came home with sore legs and wet clothes, and enjoyed it as much as I ever have. Guess I just wanted to share.