Winter Stories: Polar Vortex, Snowshoeing Michigan, and Ramming the Car Directly into the Snowbank

If I’m being totally honest, I don’t like the winter. I pretend to. I drag myself out in snowshoes and watch the sun sparkle when it rises in the snow. I enjoy the look of snow thick on conifers and ice on the water.

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One of those rare, beautiful Winter mornings that make it worth dragging myself out of bed.

But I don’t like the winter. I’m never like “yay, it’s gonna be 10 below today! Let’s go outside and play!” That doesn’t happen.

There is a pile of winter gear standing between me and leaving the house, and I just can’t find the motivation to leave my hot coffee. When I do get out, my snot freezes in my nose and my cheeks are wind burned. Gross!

Last weekend, my friend Paulina and I went out snowshoeing along the North Country Trail near the Manistee River. (Shameless plug– Paulina is a phenomenal editor, and specializes in YA fiction, but she’s done a really great job with some of my creative nonfiction as well. Hit her up!)

Lucky for us, the trek began with me getting my car stuck in a surprise snow drift. Whooo! Happens to the best of us. We were un-stuck within the hour and off along the river. Did! I! Mention! I! Don’t! Love! Winter!???

My first post on this blog (2017!) was even about being outside in the Winter (and like, being ill-prepared and almost getting frostbite), and I’d like to think I learned more since then, but I still ended up in a snow bank, so who can really say?

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Footage of me, who forgot a shovel, putting all that snow fort building practice to good use.

Basically, from the driving angle this still looked like part of the road to me, and then we sunk in. A group of snowmobilers (or six) had a good laugh at my expense.

After freeing Betty (yes, the car has a name), we strapped on our snowshoes and headed out.

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The first cold water I learned to love was this river, when I was 12 or 14, tubing down in the early summer, and playing in the shallows. Painted turtles would lounge on rocks, little silver fish flickering in the eddies. 🌲 Later I would hike it in the spring, with the wildflowers poking through, and then again and again though the summer and fall, with the beautiful birch trees and red-tailed hawks. 🌲 There are windy bluffs, springs, and small waterfalls if you know where to look, bright reds in the fall. 🌲 My first time out in the winter was this weekend, on a balmy 3 degree snowshoe. I have such a hard time finding time to go outside in the winter, or the motivation, but I’m really glad I did. 🌲 It was in places like this that I learned about respecting water, and geologic science, and bird ID. 🌲 I hope I always remember to come back here. 📍Odawa land

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This particular stretch of trail (Manistee River, pictured above) is the South end of the Fife Lake Loop, and it’s about a mile out to the overlook from the State Forest Campground of Old US 131 between Manton and Fife Lake, Michigan. It is a beginner snowshoe.

We were warm in the woods, but once we got up to the overlook the wind was aggressive, especially since it was already 7 Fahrenheit (-14 Celsius) degree day. The white blur in the pictures is the snow being blown off trees and spat back in our faces. Nice.

Naturally, next up on the docket for the Midwest was a Polar Vortex, which basically meant that my younger siblings had a whole week off of school. Temperatures dropped to -15 F (-26 C) with a windchill of -37 F (-38 C) or something ungodly like that.

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I feel like it’s hard to articulate what that kind of cold feels like. It feels like the car not starting the first time. It feels like digging said car out of a snow bank, like your contacts are stiff in your eyes. The little bit of exposed skin where your mitten meets your coat burns. You’re cold, and you know you’re cold, but the shivering doesn’t start until you’re back inside.

There’s an eerie white haze over the highway, and the roads are mostly empty, save a few empty cars in ditches. Intersections are slick with black ice. We fling hot water in the air to watch it turn to steam, then run back inside, so thankful that we have a home, and one with heat.

Temperatures are supposed to climb to above freezing by Monday. It is sort of hard to conceptualize that level of temperature change, especially when you’re just trying to get the car to start so you can make it to work on time.

When I left home Friday (2/1) it was -10 F (-23.3 C), and by the time I was back home later in the day it was 20 F (-6.6 C), a swing of 30 degrees. If you’re having trouble understanding how the Polar Vortex (i.e., bitter freaking cold) relates to Climate Change, this article might be helpful!

Due to the road conditions, I did get a chance to spend a good portion of the week working on my next sweater. Knitting is one thing I do look forward to in winter. 

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Photo by @PaulinaMinnebo

This sweater (brown, with cables) took me a month to finish, and has around 150,000 stitches in it, but it’s something that I made, with my own two hands. There’s something really gratifying about being able to make something that becomes a part of your life, that will keep you warm and dry, especially when it can take the place of a coat on a 7 F ( -14 C) day.

Knitting is one of those hobbies that can sound super lame on paper, but think about the 150,000 stitches, the sketches of different pattern ideas, the actual hours that went into making a piece of clothing. What we wear is such a part of who we are, both in  protection and warmth, and in self-expression. Making something so personal doesn’t at all seem lame to me.

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Above is my next knitting project. I don’t have the patience for patterns, so I write down the geometry of what I want the sweater to look like, and then guess from there— hence not attempting any real fair isle pattern and instead going for dissolving (uneven) strikes. There’s just less math involved.

I hope everyone stayed safe and warm during the Polar Vortex, and I hope you have a good rest of your winter—even if you spend more time inside knitting than pretending you like being outside when it’s cold!

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