We moved back up north after 10 years in Georgia almost two years ago. It was June, so we had an era of good feelings, if you will. We had warm days (but not too warm for too many days in a row), cooler evenings, nice breezes…you get the drift. Our first autumn was nothing short of magical, and then winter came. At first we loved the snow, and it was fun to have little snow squaws and intermittent dustings throughout the season. But winter was longer than we were used to, and we were really glad when spring arrived, belated as it was.
Stupidly, I thought that first winter would be the worst of it, and that what we experienced was typical for a winter in northeast PA. I didn’t really know, since I had never lived in the area (I grew up in central NJ), and you can guess how well my assumption played out, or I wouldn’t be writing about it. But, I bought myself a nice treadmill as a consolation prize for being stuck inside most days, and called it a season.
Fast forward through our second spring, summer, and fall…I spent lots of time outside, and really started to enjoy our new weather patterns and seasons. As autumn progressed, I found myself actually looking forward to the winter season a bit. How. Stupid.
We got a few little snow storms, and we all enjoyed the white blanket for a few days until it melted. But then…the week of my birthday in mid December, the weather was forecasting a much bigger blanket. Like instead of a little lap blanket that you throw over yourself while you watch nighttime TV, we are talking a thick, king-size down comforter with a duvet cover, that makes you feel like you’re being suffocated. I didn’t really believe it, because I had never seen that much snow, but when we woke up in the morning, there it was. We were quite literally buried. After the initial shock and awe wore off, I remember feeling trapped, and could not wait to start digging out. In my naïveté, I assumed that the snow would melt relatively quickly. Cute thought, but thoroughly misguided. In fact, we had multiple other storms that added to the accumulations, and the weeks of sub-freezing temps didn’t help.
It is now MID MARCH…let me say that again in case you didn’t hear me the first time. MID. MARCH. We finally had some warmer temps last week, and the wall of white began to slowly recede, revealing the earth beneath. I had begun to think the snow might be permanent, and that the dirt and grass beneath were merely a myth I had imagined. I was giddy with the implications of the reversal of the snow fairies’ curse…it was time to run some TRAILS!!
I had ventured out on the trails one other time after the great snowpacalypse, and it was nothing short of demoralizing. I had no gear adequate for handling those conditions (like snowshoes or a sled…a snowmobile would have been best), and I slipped, slid, and trudged through my run with anger in my heart and curses on my lips. This would be different…this would be magical. I was sure of it.
My running buddy, Stacey, and I got to the park early and headed out onto the trails, unsure what we would encounter, since there were still some areas with quite a bit of snow, and despite the warmer temps earlier in the week, that morning it was in the low 20’s. We were hopeful, because as we started, the areas that had clearly been muddy the day before, were now frozen enough to prevent us from sinking into the mire. We were enveloped by the cover of the trees as we entered the woods, and it became obvious that the shade of the forest had impeded the recession of the snow. We were ascending, and our steps were reduced to finding crusty footholds in the snow which had partially melted and refrozen probably three or four times already over the past week. It wasn’t terrible on the way up, but we both knew the descent would be slow and sketchy.
We got lost in conversation, as we always do, and were trying to explore new-to-us trails that we hadn’t yet experienced, so as is often the case with trail running, we weren’t concerned with our pace. This was a good thing, because while some areas were easy to navigate, other trails had us stepping down into snow that was halfway up our shins. Needless to say, when Stacey called out, “I lost my shoe!” we knew it was time to find a different route!
We finally found a trail that was free of snow, but as we traveled down it, there seemed to be some overgrowth that made us question if this was still a trail that was used. Eventually, it ended completely, but looking at the map of our route on my watch, I knew we were just below the trail we came in on, so I suggested we just climb up the mountain…we both agreed it was the logical choice vs backtracking. So laughing and musing at our stupidity, we scaled the side of the ascent, but instead of reaching the ridge, we ended up on this sweet little section of singletrack just below the ridge. We cruised down that piece of heaven, marveling at our good fortune, and eventually popped out on the ridge line trail we had come up initially. That part of the run alone made navigating the tough stuff well worth it!
We headed back down the trail towards the parking area, but unfortunately, those last two miles of descent, which are usually my favorite, were brutal that day! Have you ever started to slip on ice, so you put your other foot down quickly to try and right yourself, but instead that foot slides out from under you as well (duh, it’s ice), and then you are just alternating back and forth between each skating foot, wondering when you’re going to hit the ground, since it is clearly inevitable? That was us. We laughed and slid, and enjoyed the company of the forest and each other, and didn’t break any bones in the process. So I guess it really WAS magical, after all.
The snow fairies are finally losing their battle with the spring sprites, and soon we will see buds peaking through, and green emerging. While I am ever so grateful for the changing of the guard, I do appreciate the beauty of the seasons, and winter is no exception. Blankets of white, and stillness that is so quiet it’s deafening, are among the most striking to my senses. However, one season must eventually and inevitably yield to the next, and the battle that ensues is often brutal, despite the predictable outcome. This war leads to a confused melding of natural states that often do not coexist peacefully. Spring’s time is upon us, but the in-between must be tolerated until the winter quits its ferocious fight, and decides to give up the ghost…for the time being.