What a Weekend! A Day in the Kayak, a Day on the Skis!

Heading off toward Leffingwell Point on Saturday
Heading off toward Leffingwell Point on Saturday (Notice the ice forming on the water….)

By MIKE NORTON

After weeks of unseasonably warm and snow-free weather, Traverse City is finally getting some winter – and what a welcome surprise for those of us who love the outdoors!

Saturday was such a splendid, cold and sunny day that I decided to get the kayak out and do some touring on East Grand Traverse Bay. It turned out to be a great decision; it was the perfect weather for a scenic tour along the high bluffs on the east side of the Old Mission Peninsula. The water was as clear as glass, the cedars and firs on shore were frosted with cotton-candy snow, the boulders in the shallows were glazed with a thick coat of ice, and there were birds (including eagles) swooping all over the place.

We’ve never been shy about kayaking the Bay in winter. After all, Eskimos invented these cozy little boats for exactly these conditions. I prefer to go out early in the season before the ice starts to build up, when you can still find sandy beaches. The secret is to dress warmly, stay as dry as possible (using a good waterproof skirt and neoprene gloves) avoid rough water and stay fairly close to shore. And make sure you have that personal flotation device handy!

Believe me, winter kayaking is a treat – especially on open water. There’s a primeval feeling about steering among the icy rocks as the water churns to a slushy consistency around you, feeling the sun warming your back and counting to see how many seconds it takes for the wind to freeze the droplets on your paddle. I had Vaughn Williams’ Sinfonia Antarctica playing on the iPod for an appropriately chilly soundtrack, and it was perfect.

On  Sunday it seemed like a good idea to strap on the cross-country skis and check out the trail system was doing at the Old Mission Point Park. This huge upland plateau near the top of the Old Mission Peninsula belongs to the State of Michigan, but is operated by Peninsula Township and adjoins the township’s own Lighthouse Park – combined, they have over 700 acres of woods, meadows and shoreline and 12 miles of trails.

Winter on the Wetlands Boardwalks at Grass River
Winter on the Wetlands Boardwalks at Grass River

The skiing was surprisingly good, even though the snow was still a bit thin in spots, but I quickly realized that I’ve let myself get out of shape this year. Hitting the exercise bike is really no substitute for getting out into the back country and herringboning up a few hills. I think it’s time to start stashing the skis in the back of the car again!

There’s another excellent outdoor event coming up this coming weekend at another of my favorite places, the Grass River Natural Area between Alden and Bellaire. I like Grass River almost any time of year, but in winter its thick cover of evergreens makes it the perfect place to explore on skis or snowshoes. Saturday is their annual Grass River Shiver Snowshoe Race and Winterfest..

First the race: there are 5K and 10K courses, and prizes will be awarded for the fastest male and females runner in each. Registration is $15 in advance or $20 on the day of the race. (Racers 12 and under are free, and there’s also a free “family run.”) You don’t even have to have your own snowshoes – there’ll be someone on hand from Brick Wheels, ready to rent shoes to anyone who needs them.

Then, the festival: Winterfest, which starts around 11 a.m., is a free family event with games and crafts that lasts until 3 p.m. The highlight? A soup tasting featuring homemade soups from the Alden Bar, Blue Pelican, Java Jones, the Lunch Box, Shanty Creek, Short’s Brewing, Shirley’s Cafe and the Wild Onion.

To register for the race on-line, go to http://www.grassriver.org or call the Grass River office at (231) 533-8314.

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About mikelovestc

These days, I’m the media relations guy for the Traverse City Convention & Visitors Bureau, but before that I spent 25 years as a reporter and columnist at the Traverse City Record-Eagle, a job that frequently took me out into the most remote backroads, forests, beaches and islands of the beautiful Grand Traverse Region. My strategy was pretty simple — just drive, paddle, ski or walk until you’re certain you’re lost, and then find somebody to talk to. It was a great job! I never intended to live in Traverse City. I grew up in Grand Rapids, spent four years in the Coast Guard in places like Miami Beach, Monterey and San Francisco, and when I finally graduated from college I took a summer job at the Miami Herald. To my surprise, I discovered I didn’t like the tropics nearly as much as I thought I would — and when the Record-Eagle offered me a job I took it, figuring I’d put in a year or two and head off to someplace like Seattle or Portland. What I discovered very quickly is that this place gets to you in a variety of unexpected ways. The beaches here are as lovely as anyplace else I’ve ever been, the weather is mild all year round — warm enough for swimming in September and cold enough for skiing in December — and just about the time you’re getting tired of one season you get another one every bit as pleasant. The people are laid-back and friendly, the music and arts scene is awesome, and the place still hasn’t gotten so sophisticated that a guy like me feels out of place.
This entry was posted in Food & Drink, kayaking, Outdoor Sports, skiing, winter and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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