Sunday, February 26, 2012

up north

Wausau. Such an interesting place! One of the few small cities with a booming downtown, a wealth of historic architecture, a together city governance (so I'm told) that thinks ahead.

I pick a pizza place for our Saturday night dinner. Perhaps I’m wrong to describe it that way. It’s actually a brewery – Red Eye – but it has food – good food and great pizza, prepared in a wood burning oven. The place has... energy!



We choose a Bayou Pizza – with shrimp and crawfish and spicy peppers. (In the alternative, if you’re not into that kind of thing, you can have a burger, where they specify how the cows were treated before coming to you in the form of a patty).


Wausau has a terrific food scene.

We talk to the B&B owners about this – how is it that Wausau feels like a place where the downtown is still important?

They’ve got the architecture...


And the related history: lumber barons, insurance executives, railroad tracks linking (in the past... sigh...) freight and passengers with Chicago and beyond:


The food, yes, definitely that. Wausau. I don't know how it is to live here. Seems like spring comes really late and I already think it comes late enough down south where I am -- by Madison.  Still, you seem so... cool!  And a terrific getaway for those of us down there in Madison who want a little of the north flavor, but don’t quite want to drive all the way north.

You may say – Wausau’s not really north. Oh no? Then how do you explain the snow on the ski trails? (Actually, I’ll tell you how you might explain it – they are the southernmost tip of the snowbelt this year. In the county park where we ski, they groomed the trails well, pounding down the snow as it came down all season long. The cover has a longer life that way.)

There are three loops to choose from: the “6” the “10” and the “20.” The numbers refer to the length of the trail (in kilometers). Oh, heck let’s do a blow out ski run! It may be the very last time for us this year.

Off we go.  The “20.”


...and of course, we take a wrong turn. The trails are beautifully marked, but you have to get in the groove of it – know what you’re looking for. Okay, back we go to the beginning. So it will be a few more kilometers, so what. Day is young, we’re feeling energetic!

...and it is so beautiful in this northern forest!


Pines, birches, cedar, poplars – I’m not a good tree identifier, but you can follow along for a bit and admire it all with me.

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The hills are moderate. Not as tough as the ones in our own Indian Lake Park in Dane County. The ski trail is wider, to accommodate the preferred way of skiing these days (ski skating, which tempts us, if only because it’s a faster... next year maybe). Still, there are some fun hills...


...and there is the challenge of getting through the entire loop. Ed and I are, as in life, quite the opposite in our sporting talents. He is supremely fast on the bike. He does cycling loops around me as I struggle up a hill. But in skiing, our talents flip. On a trail, Ed is cautiously optimistic. I am on fire. He moves steadily, contemplating his surroundings. I speed in bursts, hesitating only if a photo offers itself up for me and even then, I barely slow down.

And still, we move along strangely well synchronized. As in the everyday, we adjust our style, just enough to be compatible with the other.


We’re on the trails a very long time. Five hours of skiing. With only one five minute rest stop. Too cold to sit for long. (The temps stay at around 28. Perfect for skiing, too cool for lingering.)

Toward the end we almost give up. Almost cut it short. Skip the last five kilometers. But we continue. Maybe it’s the joy of having a bright, clear day. Maybe it’s the wish to stay as long as possible outdoors. Most likely it’s that neither of us wants to appear too soft. So we push on – up one hill, down again, forward, forward, until the end of the trail.


And now it's Sunday. The weather forecast says blustery, with snow showers. They got the blustery part right! The wind is blowing what little snow there is across the rural roads. We’ve driving east  – a dozen miles away from Wausau, the Ice Age Trail has a nice long stretch, right alongside the Eau Claire River.

My, it’s cold! Icy, too.

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But, it’s always thrilling to walk a new segment of the Ice Age and this one, by the nearly frozen river, is especially pretty.


In the forest, there appears to be plenty of snow. It makes for a wintry walk. Not unpleasant though. We're here for winter. We have winter.



A few hours later, we’re done. It’s early afternoon – tempting to stay in Wausau a little bit longer. There are museums, mansions, too.

Not this time. We’ll surely return. It’s time to get back home. Work’s nagging at me already. Home. Where the snow has all but melted.


Tomorrow’s a long long day. Even as for these last few hours of the weekend, I have Wisconsin’s north woods on my mind.