Thursday, April 10, 2014

7. Go Cross Country Skiing under a Full Moon

One of my favorite things about the original year of 52 New Things was taking the opportunity to do things I'd done before in new ways.  The quintessential Vermont hike -- Camel's Hump -- became a New Thing when I did it, with various friends and family, in all four seasons.  A place I'd been to before, New York City, looked very different when it became the setting for 24 hours without sleeping there. So I was excited when Jon suggested the idea of doing something that had been on my original list - cross country skiing -- and add a new twist of doing it under a full moon.  Then friend and former student Michelle suggested that her current home would be a great spot.  It took a while for it to happen, but some things are so very worth the wait.

Jon and I on our first night-time cross country ski outing in Montpelier.

 The first chance to take advantage of some night-time cross country skiing (albeit not by the full moon) happened, ironically, because another New Thing we'd been planning got cancelled.  Jon and I and four friends -- Lynn, Ed, Sharon and Mark-- were signed up to learn how to cook with bugs.  Shockingly, though the six of us thought this would be a great way to spend an evening, our enthusiasm was not shared by the rest of Central Vermont and the bug cookout did not happen.  (We did manage to get a bug dinner in a few weeks later, though, and it is described here).

But since no bugs were in the offing, Lynn suggested we go to Plan B, a ski that took off from their backyard and went through nearby Hubbard Park.  Sharon and Mark bowed out, and our friend Kate joined in, but the real stars of the show were the two canine participants, Willow and Frank.  In fact, Frank was quite the hero, kindly swapping his awesome headlamp attached to his collar with the one with weak batteries I was wearing.  The swap occurred about 10 minutes into the ski, and suddenly things got a lot easier when I could actually see where I was going.
Kate, trying in vain to make Frank look at the camera for his spotlight moment.  Willow is rocking my all-time favorite dog fashion accessory -- her orange winter boots.

The family McNamara -- Willow, Ed and Lynn -- pause for a photo op.

A few weeks later, we got the chance to do the full-fledged full moon ski when Jon and I visited my friend and former student, Michelle, who now lives near the Sleepy Hollow Inn, Ski and Bike Center.  She had originally invited us out for the full moon on February 14, and when that hadn't worked out, I'd been worried whether there'd be good snow for the next one in March.  Of course, had I but realized that this was to be The (Almost) Neverending Winter, I'd have had no worries.  As it turned out, there was still plenty of snow when the next full moon came around on March 16.

Michelle had us over for a great chicken soup dinner, and an opportunity to ski straight out to a beautifully-groomed trail through the woods.  We skied the first half of it with our head lamps on, but then turned them off and navigated by the light of the moon.
Michelle and Jon about to hit the trail again, this time minus head lamp light.

Michelle and I first became friends when she was participated in a class trip to Tanzania that I co-led.  I am happy to see that the enthusiasm that endeared her to our Tanzanian hosts has only grown in the years since she graduated from Saint Mike's.

It was a pretty cold night, so we wore lots of layers, but it was amazing how fast you can warm up when skiing. I don't anticipate ever being a multimillionaire, but I definitely came to the conclusion that night that a personal, private cross country ski trail through the woods of Vermont wouldn't be such a bad thing.  Assuming that never happens, Michelle's invitation is probably as close as I'll get.  But it was awesome, and highlighted everything I love about my adopted state: the people who live here (and were skating beside me); the spectacular mountains and forests around us; the sparse population that allows for such unique experiences; and even the winter (though I don't often feel that in March and April), which blankets the state in a layer of snow that is both beautiful and fun to play in.  I think this year I've come to appreciate cross country skiing a lot more than I used to.  Compared to downhill it's much cheaper, can be done in many more places, and is more environmentally friendly.  But if you've never tried it under a full moon, do yourself a favor and put it on next winter's to-do list.  I promise, you won't regret it.

Friday, April 4, 2014

6. Try Nordic Skating

It seems like this winter has stretched on forever, which is my new official excuse for why it has taken me so long to write about the New Things I tackled during the winter of 2014.  But as the snow is rapidly disintegrating, so are my excuses, so here, with no further procrastination, is a report on something everyone needs to try -- Nordic skating.  I've spent most of the winter forcing all those who are close to me to hear, in minute detail, about my ever-so-incremental progress as a figure skater and ice dancer.  Lots of people have humored me, but they've been less enthusiastic about joining me, with a key issue being that it feels artificial: they want to skate outside. So my new answer to that one is Nordic skating.  Next year when I head up to Lake Morey everyone is coming with me. 

Next year, everyone's going.  This year it was Lynn, me, Jon and Liz.  My sweetie Jon and friend Lynn have been extraordinary good sports in this round of 52 thus far. My friend Liz is one of my figure skating role models, though on our day at Lake Morey she wore hockey skates.

So what's the deal with Nordic skating?  It's kind of a cross between ice skating and cross country skiing.  The skater wears a cross country ski boot and attaches a Nordic skating blade to the top binding, where a cross country ski would attach.  The skating blade is longer than a regular skating one, and is free on the heel end.
In case anyone was wondering, this is what a Nordic skate looks like, up close and personal.

 It just so happens that the longest outdoor track for ice skating sits on Lake Morey in the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont. And the only shop selling Nordic skates in the US rents equipment there.  And the horrible cold that dragged on and on in Vermont this year froze Lake Morey good and solid so that there was no danger in using all of the track around the lake. So on the first Saturday in March all the stars aligned and it was time to try it out. 
Jon, Lynn and Liz getting ready to head out onto the ice.

The cool thing about Nordic skates is that they can handle imperfect ice.  I wouldn't say they glide right over everything, but they definitely handle some cracks and bumps pretty well, and it's not hard to work up a bit of speed, especially when you're on a 4.5 mile loop.  Of course, one thing about being on a lake that is very frozen in winter in Vermont is that there are others who want to take advantage of that as well, mainly people ice fishing.  So what is considering a skating track by Nordic skaters in considered a road by ice fishers in pickup trucks, and it's not too hard to figure out who common sense dictates has the right of way.
Lynn demonstrating the share-the-crowded-road concept with one of the friendly neighborhood trucks that were also using the lengthy loop we were skating.

Everyone we talked to said that this was the perfect year for outdoor ice skating -- lots of consistent cold weather meant that the ice on Lake Morey, and Lake Champlain for that matter, was more solidly frozen than it had been in years.  It may not be as strong next year, but if it's frozen again enough for the ice fishermen, I definitely want to go again, and everyone else should come along too!
Contrary to the dire predictions of many, there were no dramatic spills on the ice, so Jon thoughtfully volunteered to do a dramatic interpretation for the record.