The nearly two feet of snow blanketing the top of the mountain had been plowed from the “main” road and compressed by several local snowmobilers on other roads. A fact that meant Piper could enjoy our mountain walk without additional provisions for battling Piper-deep snow. Combined with the mild 40-degree afternoon we found ourselves facing, we headed out the door towards an overlook on the other side of the mountain.
Piper made one thing clear on our walk – it’s been too long since I’ve taken her out for a proper adventure. Her energy never waned on the hour-long trek, even on our return trip, uphill climb to get back to the cabin. She used her leash as a tow-rope to drag my out-of-shape butt across the mountain, keeping her pretty warm even without a winter jacket. Her excitement to explore the mountain gave me a pang of guilt for not taking her out as often this year. But it also made me happy – this dog genuinely loves exploring the woods as much as I do.
Our little romp on the mountain left me wanting more snowy adventures. The next afternoon, my mom and I drove down the mountain and a few miles away to a local state park. We left the dogs at home this time, unsure of the condition of the trail and whether or not Piper would be able to manage. Among the hoards of snowmobile trailers, we found a parking space and set off on a trail mom had tried last fall. To start, the “trailhead” was hidden under a mass of snow piled high by a plow. Mom was adventurous and we decided over was better than around – waist-deep snow be damned.
Luckily, the rest of the trail only featured shin-deep snow and most of it had been trampled down by other users. We followed yellow blazes (and the footprints in the snow) the entire way, letting our minds wander from conversation topic to topic without questioning if we are off-trail. Mom, who is reading a book about the history and current state of public lands across the US, provided a quick lesson on the origin of the state and national parks systems. Meanwhile, I tested her knowledge of trail markings, preparing her for a spring backpacking trip we want to take together.
The hike abruptly paused when I spotted and sprinted towards an adjacent playground, including a small swing set and twisted slide. Ever since grade school, I’ve loved the swings – it’s like flying. I climbed aboard and started pumping. Once mom caught up, iPhone out recording her nearly 30-year-old daughter on the swings, I leaped forward off the swing and fell into the snow, landing on my hands and knees laughing at myself. I “dusted” off the clinging flakes and headed towards the slide. Luckily, this playground was closer to the car than I realized, as my trip down the slide left more snow under my jacket than one might like on a long trek in the winter.
Though the distance of our hike was short – less than 2 miles – it took us nearly an hour and depleted us of any excess energy we had. Trekking through shin-deep snow and navigating existing footprints and ski prints – winter trail “potholes” – takes a toll on the body. Short jaunts like this in the winter help me make lists of places to explore further in the spring and summer. And you can be sure that Raymond B. Winter State Park is on that list. There were other trails beckoning us this weekend that will have to wait for warmer days, and the lakefront beach will require a summer day to take full advantage of. And, of course, those summer trips will certainly include my adventurous canine pal, Piper. As if she would let me forget her.