Winter Camping Season Opener

I learned the hard way in past years that winter can be slow to get started here in Duluth. This year has been different. Or maybe I’m being different. I’ve gotten the winter season off to a great start this year. After opening skiing season with the girls on November 12th, we had fabulous luck to come upon more snow this weekend in Grand Marais – just right for some winter camping with Vanessa.

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We found snow! 

I had planned a trip for the whole family to see the “Winterer’s Gathering” up north, yet it was grey and brown with no snow on the ground in Duluth on Saturday morning as I packed up for the weekend. Right when I was about to finish loading up the car, I got a message from my friend Jim up north, letting me know that they had gotten 4 inches of sparkly, dry snow up at his cabin the previous evening. Talk about hitting the jackpot! I quickly added our skis and boots and poles to the rest of our gear, and 2 hours later we were in our glory.

 

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The route in (by sled) from Pike Lake Road. We weren’t going to risk getting the car stuck in the snow with such a great weekend ahead of us.

The first day in Grand Marais we attended some events at the Winterer’s Gathering at North House Folk School, then made sure to set up the tent while it was still light out. Of course, winter “camping” outside your friend’s cabin is a lot easier than winter camping in the Boundary Waters. But this was the perfect opportunity to get Vanessa in the game. And she was more than happy to sleep outside in her favorite warm sleeping bag.

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We arrived.

Setting up a tent in the snow is my idea of a fun time, and doing it with your kids is even better. Then we got a fire going in the cabin. The tent was to be only our sleep home, otherwise we cooked and ate and hung out with Jim and his son Andrew in the cabin. Inna and Adriana also slept in the cabin.

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My teammates for getting the tent set up. 

The tent is designed to repel snow and resist heavy winds. We got neither during the night. Still, sleeping outside when it’s +18 Fahrenheit takes some courage. You feel the soft snow under you, you feel the cold air coming in your lungs as you’re falling sleep, and you realize it could be a long night if you’re not warm enough. Vanessa and I wore some extra clothes to bed, we both have warm sleeping bags, and we threw a hot water bottle in Vanessa’s bag to warm it up when we went to sleep.

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Bedtime.

The weekend was not only about sleeping outside in the cold though. It was about meeting new people and discovering new things at the gathering. We certainly met cool people, and we had a great time with our friends. On Saturday night we all got to see the main speaker – Jon Turk. There was a lot of camaraderie at the Folk School, and we had a fabulous dinner there as well.

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At the Folk School.

On Sunday morning the sun was out, and Vanessa and I woke up with a good night’s sleep behind us. We had a massive breakfast of oatmeal and coffee and toast in Jim’s cabin to celebrate. The country life had soaked into us a little at this point.

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Running back inside from the outhouse.

Then we had perhaps the crown jewel of the weekend – another ski tour. Our second in as many Sundays. The girls had a great time once again, and I felt lucky that we had come north, and taken on another adventure, and succeeded. The skiing was perfect – not too cold out, sunshine all around, and perfect snow conditions. We had it all.

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Another Sunday on skis.

We’ve been fortunate two weekends in a row now. It’s been an unexpectedly great start to the ski season and winter camping season. And now I have five days off from work. Finally, a chance to rest a little, and of course try some new adventures.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Grand Times in Grand Marais

I have to go back to 2016 for this one. The day after Christmas we all drove up the North Shore of Lake Superior to Grand Marais, a picturesque harbor town 100 miles up the coast from Duluth. I had been through Grand Marais several times previously, but had never stayed overnight there. I had it in mind all fall to plan a family ski trip for a couple nights to Grand Marais during my Christmas Break. For one thing, I figured there would be plenty of snow up there for cross-country skiing. And for another, I figured we would all enjoy the pool, sauna, hot tub and water slide at the Grand Marais YMCA. After lots of careful planning we made it happen, and were not disappointed.

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Grand Marais was a slam dunk.

We had some very difficult driving up the shore of Lake Superior following the wicked ice storm on Christmas night. Nonetheless, we went for it, and made it to our destination of Anderson’s Cabins. We got cabin #5, and it was a sweet home for two nights with a kitchen, upstairs bedroom, and fireplace. Perhaps the most remarkable thing on our first night were the huge waves pounding against the shore just 30 feet from our door. The waves were so loud that we could even hear them crashing on the beach from inside the cabin.

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Our cabin on our first morning. The lake calmed down significantly by then.

There was definitely more snow in Grand Marais than in Duluth, so we headed out on our first morning to the Pincushion Ski Trails, located just two miles north of Grand Marais on the scenic and otherworldly Gunflint Trail. The Gunflint goes straight up from Grand Marais, and you definitely feel like you’re hanging over Lake Superior while on the Pincushion trails.

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We dedicated the morning to getting the kids out on the new cross-country skis they got from Santa two fays before.  The girls crushed it! They did the West Overlook trail twice, for a total of 3.2 km. It was hard work, with plenty of hills, and the girls were totally game for it.

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Cruising up some big hills! First time ever on real cross-country ski trails for the girls.

The morning showed that the girls are ready for great times on cross-country skis. But it was high time to eat, and Grand Marais has some really nice restaurants, including Dockside Fish Market, where we had some awesome chowder and fish and chips.

After lunch Inna and I went for a beautiful ski just the two of us, doing the East Overlook, West Overlook, Lower Snowman, Upper Snowman, and Lynn’s Loops. We skied hard for an hour and ten minutes, and it felt great. Our reward was a beautiful view of the sun setting over Lake Superior. It’s amazing how the sun sets practically in the south at this time of year.

Finally, it was time to hit the YMCA! We spent almost all day on skis, and we needed some hot whirlpool action badly. The Grand Marais YMCA is incredible. Tons of space, huge pool, beautiful facilities, and a wild and scary water slide. In fact the whole YMCA facility (and the whole Grand Marais experience) made us feel like we were back in Oppdal, Norway, which is definitely a big compliment.

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Relaxing in the beautiful YMCA pool.

We had such a good time at the Y that we came back again the next day too, before heading back to Duluth.

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Grand Marais is definitely our kind of place, and we look forward to many more ski/swimming trips there in future winters.

 

 

The Events Leading to Spring Break

Life has been really flying by ever since I started working full-time in January, and it has been a challenge to keep my sanity and my focus on the things I want to accomplish for myself and my family. January and February were both intense working months for me, going full strength at three different jobs. It can become too much too fast if you’re not careful. Thus I decided in late February that I had to take the month of March to prioritize the last vestiges of winter outdoor sports that seem to end earlier and earlier each year. For me, this means cross-country skiing, ice-fishing and downhill skiing. I took action and requested some weekend days off in March at Chester Bowl. Then the onrush of spring came like a shot out of the sky on the first weekend of March.

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Spring skiing with a view at Lutsen Mountains, MN.

We went skiing at beautiful Lutsen Mountains on Inna’s birthday to get the “family fun” month started. The weather was already springlike, and the view of Lake Superior was spectacular. The next day we had fabulous sunshine and 57 degrees, and the girls had an awesome last ski race of the season at Chester Bowl. I had arranged to take the day off, Thank God. It was heavenly to “go to work” without having to actually do any work.

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Last ski race of the year, and another second place trophy for Vanessa, and good times with her friend, Elliot.

The following weekend we went to Canada for two days, and I took another Sunday off to do so. The trip to Thunder Bay has become a spring tradition for us. This was another great trip, although there was less novelty the second time around. An ironic thing happened – we never went skiing. Instead, we made three stops on our way to Thunder Bay at Minnesota destinations – Tettegouche State Park, Grand Marais, and Grand Portage State Park.

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Giigoonh! Ojibwe for “fish”. An important word to me.

By the time we made it to Thunder Bay it was already 5 p.m (Thunder Bay is on Eastern Standard Time). We went out to supper, and then the kids wanted to swim in the hotel pool. It was actually a really nice change of pace. It was nice to relax in the hotel that night instead of skiing. The next day we explored the city without our skis on.

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Turtle tile floor at Grand Portage State Park.

We drove home on Sunday to continued warm temperatures in Duluth, and it felt like spring was coming on way too fast. There was still the question of how I would spend my long-awaited spring break (March 14-18.) This week came at a very needed time for me, and I wanted to make the most of it. In the end if was a quiet vacation though, spent mainly at home, taking care of the girls, cooking, and doing extra work translating and at Chester Bowl. All good.