This February some friends of ours rented a cabin near Mountain, Wisconsin settled in the southern part of the Nicolet National Forest. It was a great break from a fairly brown and dry winter here in central Illinois. It had been a while since I had been that far north in Wisconsin – 4 years maybe?
As a kid, every Winter I spent a week up in this area cross country skiing with my Scout Troop, exploring all the local groomed trails and jumping up into the Upper Peninsula for better snow or steeper hills. It is where I learned to ski (both XC and Downhill). With exception to the bigger trips to the National High Adventure Bases – Bahamas for sailing, New Mexico for Backpacking, Ontario and Manitoba for Canoeing – this was my favorite annual trip and still remains my favorite winter activity. I still try and ski once a year (even in town if I can).
We stayed at an old Civilian Conservation Corp Camp, turned conservation education camp, called Trees for Tomorrow. I highly recommend stopping by – it is farther north, in Eagle River, but in the same area and worth the trip. You can rent all the equipment to XC ski there. The local rangers used to put on education sessions, the last I can remember was on Raptors – he brought in an Great Horned Owl and a Hawk. Our Troop was given the run of the place, and were free to use the main auditorium to play movies on the big projector screens in the evening.
The timeline was kind of funky for many families – leave Illinois the day after Christmas, and returning on NYE. This annual pilgrimage to the Mountain area became a family tradition – my parents, sister, and eventually some of my sister’s friends would come up. We spent each day, all day skiing, drinking hot chocolate and having snowball fights at night. While in undergrad – I would go on this trip, and do a same day return to campus to spend NYE with friends. 10 hours total in car to be able to fit as much excitement in as I could.
These trips to Mountain and Eagle River became a defacto model for how we chose to plan and spend out time outdoors. Long drives book end the trip allowing us to get the hell out of central Illinois and into unfamiliar geography. Grocery stores for lunches, snacks, provisions, not restaurants. Spending 10 hours outside each day to max out the time off before we had to head home. I don’t think this is a unique way of doing things just for me or my troop, but the way to diehards in the middle of a state of mostly farm land do.
I think somehow Wisconsin is taken for granted as a State. Being from Illinois, I love going there, and I think it might be one of the Midwest’s best states. The farther north you go the better it gets for living, skiing, paddling and Mountain Biking. Devils Lake is perfect for climbing, and hiking. Kettle Moraine is beautiful, and has backpacking routes and killer MTB trails. The farther north you go the more plentiful the outdoor space becomes – Dairy’s and farm fields give way to hills, and valley’s carved out by the blades of indifferent Glacial Ice during it’s northern retreat. Walls of trees buffer everything and eventually you run into a natural moat, a giant sea of fresh water – Superior. Directly East is Lake Michigan, another inland titan. You can surf both apparently. What are we doing here? Funny how one word can trigger all these thoughts, memories, and information…