Category Archives: Adventures North of the Wall

2013 Year in Review: The 12 (More or Less) Best Things I Consumed This Year

I’d say the responses when I ask someone if they read my blog range anywhere from “I would have but it was waaaaay too long” or “I didn’t know you had a blog” to “No” and  “Sir, if you’re not going to buy anything, please leave.” So I’m gonna keep writing ’em and I tried to shorten this one; don’t be fooled by scrolling, the pictures take up most of the space. Since it’s the end of the year and everyone gets in the mood to dichotomize something about the last 365 days (and argue about the resulting lists), I thought I’d jump in the fray for once. This started because some good friends of mine have a habit of making a ’50 Favorite Songs of the Year’ list around this time; they’re ridiculously impressive, and since I can name about five albums total per year, I joked I was going to make a ‘Ten Best Things I Ate This Year’ list (with the cinnamon pop tart I found in the middle drawer of my desk at work a couple months ago looking like a VERY strong contender) but it ended up turning into something a little more fun. I cheated and changed it to things I “consumed” so I could widen the scope and then threw in some ties, some sketchy rankings and probably forgot like six crazy things that should all be included. Most things were released or happened this year, some weren’t, who cares!. Without further adieu, the twelve best things I consumed in 2013. Feel free to argue!


12. The Unfinished Swan (Video Game)

The other button throws black paint. It's surreal.

It’s surreal. And awesome.

So, this is a video game. Well, no, it isn’t really a video game; there are no villains or puzzles or points, so, maybe it’s more like an interactive piece of artwork (I think)? And I don’t know what’s weirder: that there are only two buttons that function and one of them is ‘jump’ which accomplishes you absolutely nothing at any point in the “game,” or that the plot follows a young boy chasing a swan that escaped a painting which is all in fact a grief-induced delusion brought on by his mother dying. Wow. How has this game’s marketing team not hired me by now? This would be worth your time and the five bucks it probably costs by now even if you gave up after the first “level.”

11. Cheese Curds, The Old Fashioned, Madison, WI (Food)
If you don’t know what cheese curds are, I didn’t either until this year. Midwesterners are mad scientists of delicious things, so just Wikipedia them; they’re like rubbery pre-cheese. A friend and Madison native insisted I eat these when in town in August, proclaiming them the finest curds in America, and they were ridiculous. They were barely battered, barely fried, served with a funky horseradish-y sauce and one of them was the size of a Red Lobster Cheddar Bay Biscuit (Red Lobster, have your people call my people). I consumed them with the house’s namesake, an Old Fashioned, which I highly recommend, but drink not required. Curds very required. Required curds.

10. Every Possible Piece of Information or Media of the San Francisco Bat Kid (News)

Boys Batman Wish
Alright, everyone already knows this one (if you don’t, here. And here’s video. The 2:04 mark will destroy every ounce of negativity in your body.), but seriously, let’s count it off: adult’s enabling childish BS and imagination to come to life for something genuine? Check. Little kid made impossibly happy? Check. Big middle finger to terminal illnesses and crushed dreams? Check. Mass selflessness? Like twenty thousand checks. Every human who contributed to this happening is now tied for my life hero.

9. A Portland Timbers Soccer Game from the Timbers Army Section (Event)
I already dropped four thousand words on this one a couple months ago; here’s the link. It has pictures and some jokes! Be my guest if you missed it, are extra bored or insanely hung over from New Years right now and aren’t making decision with a sound mind. If all three, you win!

8. The Lone Bellow at Mill City Nights (Performance)

Hey! I even took this one!

Hey! I even took this one!

This show was already off to a hot start for the fact it was free and my buddy and I somehow lucked into being “those people” right up against the stage railing. We were close enough to be nearly spit on by Zach Williams (he’s on the left) multiple times in what I can only describe as one of the most intense and passionate and crowd-friendly musical performances I’ve ever seen. They played hard and loud and when they did, Zach almost put a hole in the stage because he apparently super enjoys stomping his vintage distressed boot into the ground. They played soft and slow too, and when they did that, the three band members would intersperse total silence between harmonizing to let the melodies hit home, as shown above. See? No one’s singing! And the best part? Not a soul made a freaking peep when they would do it. Absolute silence. You don’t ever hear silence at a concert, even if the band is gunning for it, and regardless whether the show is great or garbage. It was silent. They earned it.

7. Tie – Seasons One of Orange is the New Black, Orphan Black (Television)
Crazy Eyes loses it on Alex
Yeah, the final season of Breaking Bad was awesome, no question, but I got a little bogged down with all the Nazis and Jesse having like twelve words of dialogue for the whole year. What WAS completely, holy crap, where-did-this-come-from type magnetically compelling were the premier seasons of these two shows. I think a lot of people have caught ‘Orange’ by now, which I hope is the case, as it’s hilarious and twisty and smarter than anything else I watched this year. I’m a sucker for big casts and flashbacks that completely subvert your assumptions (we miss you, Lost) and I changed which inmate I was rooting for the most about forty times. I think a lot less people have caught or heard of ‘Orphan’ but hopefully, all six people who read this will give it a shot! This show receives the ultimate compliment in that I devoured all ten episodes in one day, and I am the most vehement hater of binge-TV-watching on Earth. Good sci-fi (stay spoiler free!) and the bestest, ridiculousest high-wire-acting performance by a person I can think of; Tatiana Maslany plays almost every character on the show (and all three women above. Watch to find out why. This show’s super cool).

6. Jason Isbell’s ‘Southeastern’ (Music)

Please don’t let this be one of those pretentious and douchey times someone lists a musician no one’s ever heard of to seem cool and cultured; the Atlanta Braves beat writer loves this guy’s music and pimped the Atlanta native’s solo album like crazy so I gave it a shot. It was great, and then it somehow ended up on a bunch of these best of the year lists (how meta!), including #4 on Amazon’s best albums of the year and numero uno if you ask the American Songwriters. It’s kind of like reading a biography set to a melody, and even if I can’t sympathize with some of his drug and alcohol recovery confessions, I dare you to find another place where someone manages to successfully (and still melodiously) rhyme “benzodiazepine” or outdoes my favorite lyrics of the year, written to his wife in southern ink:

“Go leave your boots by the bed, we ain’t leavin’ this room;
‘til someone needs medical help or the magnolias bloom.”

5. Tie – The Dog Stars by Peter Heller, The Maid’s Version by Daniel Woodrell, The Fault In Our Stars by John Green (Books)
I know. Very indecisive. It’s only going to get worse if this annoyed you that badly. The first is a tale of exploration after a flu kills 99% of the country (no zombies here, just solitude) and an amazing love letter written to nature (Heller writes for Outdoors Magazine), man’s best friend and Andy Dufresne’s advice to “get busy living or get busy dying.” Stay for the wonderful ending. The second is a 180 page historical puzzle of Americana orchestrated around a 1920’s dance hall explosion that killed hundreds in a small town in the Ozarks. The author manipulates words that create entirely unexpected reactions in your brain, not unlike a chemist mixing chemicals. He can and does write single sentences with 20 words that shift your emotions three times, actually pull the wool over your eyes twice, fully characterize someone, stick with you enough to remember them vividly even 100 pages later and make grubby amateur blog writers feel like just throwing in the towel forever. Another amazing ending. The last one’s a, stick with me here, young adult romance novel about two high-school age kids with terminal cancer . . . and might be the funniest book I’ve ever read. It’s so honest and clever. Definitely no happy endings here, but like the book points out, that’s the fault in our stars. Movie adaptation is this summer, but don’t wait for that.

4.  Tie – The Views Behind Frozen Minnehaha Falls, Minneapolis, MN and Atop the Astoria Column, Astoria, OR (View)


Hey fun! I took this one too! Otherworldly.

For everyone that complains these blogs are too long, this will be the lengthy one, so hang in there if you haven’t bailed out yet. Behind Minnehaha Falls in southeast Minneapolis between January and April, you can slip behind the completely frozen waterfall into a cavern closed in by a temporary wall of ice. Seriously. A wall. Of ice. You can touch it, or lean against it, because it’s a freaking WALL OF ICE. Getting up there is something of a trick (apologies to my sister, as all we managed to do was injure ourselves) but once you do, holy crap. Wall of ice. The winning visit was a day in May with friends from back home when just a bit of the water had started to rush again over the outer-facing side of the ice wall, and the sunshine painted a kaleidoscopic rainbow on the interior. It was a highlight of my year to share this place with a few sets of wayward Florida friends. And where this view is an astonishing enclosed space, the view atop the Astoria Column is, well, less restrictive. You can see for fifty miles in every direction.

12:00 - 1:30 or so.

12:00 – 1:30 or so.

Picture a clock face. When you step out of the dizzying spiral staircase into the misty coastal air and look ahead, noon is the tiny home of the Goonies, picturesque Astoria, built onto a hill and falling down towards the Columbia river. Start walking clockwise and one o’clock is the massive Astoria-Megler Bridge, crossing into Washington state over the emptying mouth of the confluence of the Columbia and a few other rivers. Two o’clock is the busy Port of Astoria. Three o’clock on down through just after six runs the fat, blue ribbon of the mighty Columbia, cutting a deep gorge between the state lines and heading for Portland and beyond. Seven o’clock finds you mountains. Real snow-capped mountain peaks, just in case the river bed was misleading. Eight o’clock through nine are miles of interminable fields of Oregon timbers, undulating over unseen hills and ranges, a churning sea of pine. And the clock saves the best for the last: ten o’clock on back through the low-lying south side of Astoria are wetlands. Not like Florida swamps, but happy little towns and rolling greens buttressed up to the shores of and dotted in between three rivers that race to the Pacific alongside the Columbia with Astoria as the finish line, and even on a misty and dreary Oregon fall day, those rivers glowed orange. They glowed and they shone in the low autumn sun like they ran from unseen forges that emptied somewhere over the horizon, filling them with molten gold. I stared and stared and then I walked ten feet to see the mountain peaks again. Then a few more for the ships headed to the port. And then the Columbia. Then Astoria. The pines. Golden rivers. I got very dizzy, but it didn’t have much to do with my equilibrium.

3. Tie – Gravity and Frozen (Film)

It’s ironic how contradictory these movies are. One I may never watch again and one I may never stop watching again. One will make you feel like the happiest little kid ever and one will fray your nerves like a cut bungee tether, give you about thirty heart attacks. I loved Gravity because of the absolutely inimitable experience of watching in the theater, that two hours of hating every time I had to blink: superficially astonishing with a message and plot that don’t really matter, like the most colorful and massive firework to ever light up the very night sky it’s set in. I still say I would have paid $100 for that IMAX showing and not felt cheated in the slightest. I hope my eyes ever witness something like it again, as it’s always nice in the land of sequels, remakes and comic book franchising when something expands the scope of what we thought a medium was capable of. As for Frozen, there are certainly impressive visuals but the characters and the message are the real joys, and for the first time in forever I paid twice to see a movie in the theater, did so happily. I almost went a third time a couple days after viewing number two, and I can only assume this is how my four-year-old self felt about The Little Mermaid, how my eight-year-old self felt about The Sandlot. In now 2014, when political quagmire hell and weekly mass shootings are coming to be the norm, what’s it worth, what is it really worth to feel childlike giddy happiness again as a cynical adult? I realize a man in his late twenties waxing poetic about a Disney cartoon and your ‘inner child’ is pretty weird so for everyone reading this and thinking I’m nuts, I don’t blame you. I get it, I really do, but I’m sorry someone froze your heart somewhere along the line. I want to watch this movie right now.

2. Fish Sauce Wings and SOM Drinking Vinegars, Pok Pok, Portland, OR (Food)

Don't lick your screen. Fly to Portland.

Don’t lick your screen. Fly to Portland.

Holy. Crap. I’m not a food writer (or much of a regular one to be honest). Telling people how something tastes seems like an adventure in vanity to me, it’s entirely subjective. This was another impossibly successful recommendation from a buddy, as these wings had the most unique flavor I’ve ever tasted and are covered in caramelized sugar. Go eat them some time. Seriously. They’ll make them for you, I promise. The drinks I mentioned were a bit stranger; as some of my friends know, I’m a weird guy who likes balsamic vinegar so much I’m a little snooty about it and will drink it straight on occasion. Well guess what, JERKS: this place makes DRINKS OUT OF FLAVORED VINEGARS. VALIDATION TASTES SO SWEET. No, like, super sweet and equally delicious, or at least the two flavors I ordered were (grapefruit and Thai basil). And they sell the vinegars (just add soda water!). Does anyone remember that scene in the movie Zodiac where Downey Jr. pokes fun at Gyllenhaal’s neon blue Aqua Velva drink order and then it smash cuts to about a dozen empty blue glasses in front of Downey right after he tries the drink? That’s what happened. Our table was full of empty glasses because they were delicious.

Well, thanks for reading all these, whether you already knew them all, knew none of them or could give a crap either way. I hope 2014 brings your eyes, ears, mouth, fingertips and brain memorable things to consume greedily, and in spades. An original Christopher Nolan movie. The World Cup. It should be great. Number one will be the shortest entry by far but the one I most greedily hope I can consume again this year: the vacation days and frequent flyer miles of my family and friends. My god, I love you guys.

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Winter is Coming or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Snow

“Renewing one’s spirit through reading new books, taking up new hobbies, adopting new viewpoints, making new friends, traveling to new places; that is the art of adventure.”

-Wilferd Peterson

“Minnesota? Why?”

-Everyone else

So, last September, I up and moved from sunny Florida North of the Wall. (To be clear before anyone asks, this post’s title is a Dr. Strangelove ripoff and this ‘Wall’ is a fictional defensive stronghold from the fantasy/HBO/Tolkien-wannabe series Game of Thrones. It separates civilized land-developed Westeros from the snow-blanketed death, horror and ice-zombie-riddled barren wasteland North of it. No sane person ventures north of the Wall. I like to front-load these posts with nerdy references like these because, well, if you’re not on board with them you are going to hate everything that comes next and probably everything else on this blog. I’m really saving you time and energy. Onward!

A couple weeks ago when trying to brainstorm an interesting way to write about my first Winter in Minnesota ever, I thought it might be fun to detail all of the wintry things I did and compare them to something a Floridian would understand. I know plenty of people in Florida DO understand what a real Winter is like but I certainly didn’t, so I’m going to try to summarize the last seven plus months for myself, circa three years ago. Maybe then he/I could actually appreciate the Winter X-Games or Olympics or the first twenty minutes of Empire Strikes Back for once. Besides, some Winter activities are very obviously frozen versions of something familiar, like swapping Jet Skis for snowmobiles or building snowmen instead of sand castles. It seemed as good of an idea as any.

On a related note, I’ve been holding off on writing anything about my Winter exploits (let’s all just ignore and move past that I haven’t written on this blog for over a year) because the damn thing isn’t over yet. It snowed yesterday. It’s going to be in the ’30s for Cinco de Mayo.*** Depending on which hyperbolic local news telecast’s statistics you believe, this is the longest/soul-numbingest Minnesota Winter in 30 or 130 years. That wasn’t a joke; there was more snow in April this year where I just moved to than in any year dating nearly to the American Civil War. Everyone jokes it’s my fault, that I caused this, and that Minneapolis is either trying to tell me to go home or is thoroughly hazing me as some sort of Minnesota fraternity induction. Anyways, I was going to wait until Spring arrived but right now, this place is pulling some sort of Day After Tomorrow meets Groundhog Day voodoo and I’m not sure when that’s going to happen. So I’ll just write something now and hope it’s somehow so stupid it manages to drive the cold away (for a solid four months when it’s going to stroll right on back over).
***Editor’s Note: I wrote this paragraph two weeks ago (I get distracted and it takes me forever to write). It has since gotten much warmer and now the weather problems are flash floods and tornado watches complete with sirens going off. So let’s say it worked, I did it!

Some VERY loose rules: I tried to use activities exclusive to non-Snowbirds, the ones that take advantage of extreme weather. Nine degrees Minnesota Winter, 99 degrees Gulf Coast Summer. Also, I tried my best to toss out things you can do in both of those environments like kayaking (SNOWKAYAKINGAMAZING!!). That’s cheating. Lastly, an apology: some of these comparisons will be used in lieu of much more obvious choices and most if not all will be complete nonsense. Some will probably ignore/violate all of the rules I just laid out. That said, ladies and gentlemen, start your engines (and hope it actually started on the first try because it might somehow be -21 degrees outside and your steering wheel is like, whoa, ow!, totally stinging your hands and holy crap why isn’t the heat working faster and oh fun! I’m fishtailing through an intersecti . . . sorry).



Front row, thumbs up.

Front row, thumbs up.

Snow tubing consisted of exactly what it sounds like it would consist of: renting a tough rubber inner tube and riding it down a hill. An important distinction between this and sledding: this costs money, the hill usually undulates on the way down to avoid gathering up too much speed and your route is usually divided into lanes to keep you from bowling-pin-obliterating slower tubers, seven-year-olds or yourself on a pine tree. Bummer, right? Tubing was a blast and was a hundred times more fun going down in a linked-up pack of people/tubes, which never held the straight-line formation you start with but more so resembled a flying downhill chemical compound. Going by yourself was soooooo slow and infinitely less hilarious, although if in a group, the couple people at the back of the chain did get covered in a shower of ice shavings leaving you looking a little bit like diamond-form Emma Frost. It’s simple, you ride down the hill, you walk up ride a long, thirty-degree-incline people mover to the top, you wait in a line a bit, rinse, repeat.
Florida Comparison: No-brainer: Water Slides. There are even shorter, flatter, safer lanes and taller, more daredevilish ones, complete with matching long lines.



Just as fun as they look in movies, you pack snow and you throw it at stuff. What I did not know is that only certain kinds of snow work for snowbalWAIT THERE’S DIFFERENT KINDS OF SNOW? Apparently there are different kinds of snow. It wasn’t in the brochure. The kind you don’t want for snowballs comes down when the weather’s the coldest and the snow is devoid of any melty moisture. It resembles powdered sugar falling from the sky and if you try to pick it up, the mere action of reaching for it will send it flying. The GOOD stuff comes down when it warms up a bit, maybe when the air temps are in the 30s or so, and this stuff comes down like wet beach sand is heavy to shovel and magnificent for the pummeling of faces. It packs into a ball like cookie dough and holds its lethal shape flawlessly. It is extremely unwise to throw a single snowball unless you wish to be immediately revenge attacked tenfold; a better decision is to quietly build up an arsenal of snowballs and then absolutely demolish an unsuspecting person so they are unable to retaliate. This is also secretly extremely exhausting and an awesome workout and reloading freaking sucks because you’re totally exposed. Beware the occasional hybrid snow/dirt/mud snowball, a weapon favored by ex-convicts, Yankees fans and general classless reprobates.
Florida Comparison: Since wartime rules for both activities are either nonexistent or immediately ignored by the participants, and just like the light v. heavy snow issue, using salt water in your gun will corrode it immediately, Super Soaker battles.



Turning left, good. Turning right, separated shoulder.

Turning left, good. Turning right, separated shoulder.

Easily the most insane and insanely difficult thing I did this Winter, I took a stab three stabs at snowboarding. Keep in mind, I have never gone water-skiing, surfing or even skateboarding, which was made embarrassing public knowledge immediately when the Buck Hill board rental guy asked if I ride”normal” or “goofy” and I stared blankly at him for a full six seconds (Fun Fact! ‘Board rental guy’? Venice High School, Venice, Florida, Class of 1996. Second Fun Fact!! He could not have cared less I went to Lemon Bay. He really couldn’t have).  Turns out it was “normal” and Kyler and I went out to our beginner snowboard class, progressing pathetically by our standards but Shaun White-ishly by judging our classmates attempts. Somehow, this came to me just a little bit intuitively? I wish I was joking but I’m not when I say I think playing snowboarding video games like 1080 and SSX actually kinda helped, as I started leaning into turns or dipping and rising for momentum. Speaking of momentum, it is so so so weird to be moving extremely fast when NONE of your muscles are moving at all. Eventually, our instructors cleared us to go up to the top of the smallest run at Buck Hill and do our damnedest to not die on the way down, which we failed at beautifully. Speaking for myself, I can lean back on my heels and turn left or stop with ease. Transitioning from that lean-back left-turn to then being on your toes to turn right or managing your speed at ALL while on your toes? A complete impossibility. You either get going insanely fast with no hope of slowing other than strategically sitting down or you get stuck on a flat part of the hill with no momentum and have to stupidly wiggle yourself to the closest sloped portion. At one point while going what felt like 100 miles an hour (reality: maybe 15), I fell so hard and the impact was so fast I was absolutely certain that everything connecting my right shoulder to every other part of my body had just snapped clean through like rubber bands you didn’t realize were old and dried up, just pain-free, POOF, everything cleanly disconnected, like that *snaps fingers*. Luckily that wasn’t the case, shoulder was just a little sore, moving on. Kyler, who was much better at this, was also cruising down with ease when he caught the back lip of his board instead of the toe edge and just . . . vanished. Picture following someone down the hill and then in a tenth of a second, all you see is the design on the bottom of their board flash like a dolphin fin and then both it and the rest of them are just absolutely nowhere. Now, picture boarding right past them down the hill unable to help since you can’t stop! Fun! He seemed fine at the time so we went out on that all-day lift ticket and went down the hill for like six hours (later, we’re both fairly certain he had a mild concussion). I got to try the same thing with my sister a few weeks later and gave it a shot at a bigger ski resort in Wisconsin with some coworkers a couple weeks after that. The highlights from that one, other than me finally giving up and just watching the professionals come flying down the hill, included me going 0 for 5 in dismounting off the chairlift (not a joke), with one instance resulting in me wiping out not just myself but both of my passengers as well. The 40 or 50 bros standing around at the summit cheered and laughed at my incompetence.
Florida Comparison: People want to say wakeboarding but wakeboarding is too flat and my sister adamantly denies that comparison (and she’s quite good at wakeboarding). Instead, let’s say Surfing. Both are gravity-operated and only last as long as the hill or wave lets it last. Both require patience to swim out to catch a wave/ride the chairlift to the top of the run. Both make you look insanely cool even if you suck at them.



Gratefully, snowshoeing was one of the things I enjoyed the most this Winter because I didn’t instantly suck at it while everyone else got a good laugh in at the adorably incompetent Floridian. Zero learning curve and instant exploration of parts unknown? Perfect. We actually snowshoed around Giant’s Ridge ski resort while the rest of our cabinmates happily carved up the slopes, something I’d about had my fill of for the year since the only things I had carved up were my checking account and both of my shins when I fell off the chairlift onto Brady’s snowboard. Snowshoes were not at all like I imagined: I stupidly thought snowshoes ingenious design kept you perched perfectly atop the snow without sinking in so much as in inch. That was very wrong, as they sink like crazy, most of the time just as helplessly into the powdery abyss as regular shoes, but the important thing being at least in these you can lift your foot and keep walking with some effort. We trudged across some very fresh snow, sinking hilariously, up some hills, through some wooded areas, followed some deer tracks at one point. If given the choice, I don’t recommend the poles they offer you. They just become a nuisance and you won’t need them. This takes the cake for peaceful, outdoor excellence. It was essentially prolonged sightseeing with incredible views and was awesome exercise without crossing the line into exhaustion. I’m going to have to buy a pair for next Winter.
Florida Comparison: You’re out there for an eye-opening, fun adventure exploring remote landscapes and you’re using technology and equipment to be in an environment humans really have no place being. This must be Scuba diving.



Made sure to at least dress the part.

Made sure to at least dress the part.

This one I have regrets about and they’re mainly orchestrated around only having gotten to do it once. Similarly, this exact thing is what I’m clinging to whenever the prospect of this year’s Winter not being that many months off comes up; I look forward to doing this often and, don’t hold your breath, enough that I’m not abysmal at it. You’re outdoors. Stress is low. Nature high. It can be horribly taxing and then SUDDENLY EXHILARATING! I mostly sucked at it but could tell this is one of those things that’s worth sucking at for a while (things that are not worth sucking at for even a small while? First-person shooter video game, tolerating the two hottest wing flavors at Buffalo Wild Wings and the Insanity workout). As I’ve become someone who enjoys running quite a bit over the last couple years, this was both a dream and a nightmare and here’s why. It was a dream because it preserves all the extraneous benefits of running: minimal stress exercise that’s really just a disguised excuse to go watch animals do stuff and see plants that are awesome and sometimes find weird places you didn’t know existed. It was a complete and utter nightmare because I strapped my skis on and I wanted to run on them. And I kept stubbornly subconsciously trying to do exactly that, making life miserable for myself and hilarious for Steph and Marie, my comrades/instructors. This might be intuitive to people who skateboarded or ice skated with any regularity as kids but I never did. I just do not trust any kinetic movement unless my brain and my feet coordinated and approved it, one at a time, nice and slow and completely predictable. Snowboarding was terrifying, I barely rode a bike as a kid and people who get a running start on sidewalks and go sliding across ice make me think they’re insane. So that smooth, natural and necessary peaceful gliding motion is nowhere in my psyche; I was running on five foot long blades and falling on every available square foot of snow and that was just in the practice area. For like a half an hour. Eventually we mounted up and just hit the trails (it’s possible my guides lost patience watching me flounder around like a caught bass in the practice area and said screw it, it can’t get any worse. I wouldn’t blame them) and luckily, once your skis are set in the grooves that run the trails, it came to me much easier. I was still trying to run which was stupid and dysfunctional but now the walls of the trails kept your motion completely linear, forward and back only, like an elliptical. And then you zone out. Enjoy the sights of everyone out defying the cold or an awesome sunset like we lucked in to or you can try to push yourself to race around the course. Talk to fellow skiers if you want. The uphill portions you have to stagger your skis and kind of walk on the insides of your feet, using the blades to dig into the wall, which took me a while (it probably didn’t help I was clutching to trees as way points and slipping backwards in between), but the downhill portions were incredible. Some were fairly steep downhills where I pinched the front of my skis together in terror to slow down (aka “pizza-ing”) and some were long, easy slopes that let you coast down with your poles tucked and enjoy the ride. It had every mix of the good and the bad things I love of being outside, so here’s hoping I’m less terrible at it this Winter. Also, eNORmous thank you to Steph and Marie for putting up with my learning curve that day.
Florida Comparison: Golfing.  Subtly stressful while also peaceful. You cover long, tree-lined distances with repetitive strokes. One, you watch out for alligators and other players hitting in to you. The other, you watch out for deer and other people literally hitting in to you; when we were passing the Como Chalet, I awkwardly panic stopped as a small sledder went careening just in front of my skis. More proof the two are kindred spirits? The cross-country trails are laid out right on top of and along the snow-flooded and hibernating local courses.



This would be the one on the list that everyone just read and thought, wait, what? Seriously? Yes, seriously. I know nothing of sledding. However, I have since learned many quirks, like, even small hills are super fun. Like that sleds don’t have to look like Rosebud; they can look like Clark Griswold’s metal saucer (duh, I’m an idiot) or plastic surfboards with edging. Like that you can go down the hill sitting, standing or laying face down like Superman. Lastly, like I mentioned before, if you want to and are kind of a jerk, you can totally try your hand at skeet shooting cross-country skiing passersby. I look forward to finding some bigger hills next Winter.
Florida Comparison: Sledding is something everyone does or has done a million times here and the fact that it might be foreign to someone else is completely baffling. It is repetitive and requires little to no effort; I will say this must be Looking for Shark’s Teeth. Another common trait? If you’re doing either one of these things there are very good odds you can see tons of people in your immediate vicinity doing way more exciting stuff.



Ice-fishing Jedi Master and Padawan.

Ice-fishing Jedi Master and Padawan.

This would assumedly be the activity requiring the least description. This time, Steph’s wonderful friends (thank you Sara and Tyler!) provided every conceivable piece of equipment as well as their hangout time to go spend some peaceful hours on Pebble Lake in Fergus Falls, Minnesota. I think my perception of ice fishing, right up to the point we rolled down the SUV’s windows down before driving out onto the lake (P.S, there are like sixteen wtfs in that sentence alone. This thing’s going ON the water!? And we’re rolling the windows down WHY!?!?) was something like this: sitting on something next to a hole in the ice with a line and only avoiding hypothermia by virtue of the just, gallons of alcohol coursing through your blood. And I’m sure some would prefer that but in reality, what actually happened was a scaled down version of this: organized ice houses and little portable tents each choosing a shiny spot and panning for slippery gold. I also can’t describe the seeming violation of nature and everything that makes sense to a coastal Floridian that is driving out on a lake. There are entire acreages of just, new land that doesn’t exist half of the year, like some parallel universe! And right now, as I type this? Gone. Once again a lake, impassable save for human ingenuity. And if you skip ahead a bit to once we’d folded up shop, I grabbed one of our lanterns and tore out across the untrodden expanse of snow with my best labrador impersonation, jumping and kicking and faceplanting and laughing. That is so exhilarating, but I digress. Anyways, when we pulled up to our spot, I shoveled a 6 x 12 plot of flat ice and we hand-drilled our fishing holes as Tyler’s gas auger had broken. Even though it took me ten minutes of cartoonish pushing, pulling and weird-noise-making, drilling that hole by hand was totally worth the completely exhausted arm muscles. You have to earn your first one, right? We unfolded our tent, dropped some stakes, set some lines, had electronic depth finders, warming coils and even a boiling pot of water for hot dogs to accompany the truckload of cookies Sara made (delicious). We didn’t get too many bites but Tyler’s mongoose reactions did pull us one walleye (which he fileted and cooked for us that Sunday. Delicious again). I really suppose it’s just an excuse for most to go be outside with good company in the months that normally relegate to your couch, grumpy and claustrophobic. I was extremely grateful for exactly that.
Florida Comparison: Ok, stick with me on this one: Playing sports video games, especially EA’s Tiger Woods series. Keeping in mind I’m sticking with January Minnesota and July Florida activities, both are something most people would prefer to be doing in very different circumstances (fishing off a boat, playing ACTUAL golf) but the extreme temperatures forced us to get creative in order to get our fix. Both are literally 100% sitting and I’m sure many would vote they’d prefer to do these versions than their more common counterparts. Also, just as video games have lovingly incorporated fishing for decades, those electronic depth finders I mentioned are called ice flashers and they would light up like a SONAR when fish were nearby so we could adjust the length of our lines. If this doesn’t look like a piece of rejected concept art for a video game console, I don’t know what is.



An aerial view of the Saint Paul Cathedral with the course glowing blue.

An aerial view of the Saint Paul Cathedral with the course glowing blue.

OK, so, this is technically cheating since I didn’t participate but we did go watch the insanity. It is a massive international Olympics-style competition where heats of four lunatics take off down a huge ice cliff and then skate as fast as humanly possible through the ice obstacle course. They slip, they slide, they wipe out most heinously around hairpin turns. They go insanely fast, they beat the crap out of each other jockeying for position and then they all choose creative ways like baseball sliding to go careening across the finish line as fast as possible. It is completely insane. Also, for some reason Lil Jon was there, they played good music the whole night and a continuous light show played out on the cathedral facade which was awesome. It pleases me to no end that this exists, that it came to Saint Paul and that I got to watch it. If you want more, YouTube it. You won’t be disappointed.
Florida Comparison: Ummmmm, yeah. Absolutely none. This was complete lunacy, everyone should watch it in person sometime and when you are watching it, you can’t believe some wonderful psychopath even thought of such a thing . Hey, wait a minute . . . there is a comparison here! It must be THIS!


Well, I hope you got at least some enjoyment out of that; I certainly did. Thank you so so so much to all of the magnificent people who helped me do all these things or did them with me. I hope you’ll help me tolerate next Winter too when it arrives in like six weeks. And like I always do when finishing one of these, I will say I’ll write more but yeah . . . I can’t promise that. I get dumb ideas when I get dumb ideas . . . which is daily, so I have no idea what takes me so long. See you soon!

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