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Saturday, January 6, 2018. Average temperature was only about 5 degrees. Wind chill at about negative 10 degrees. No snow falling, but a good 6-8 inches in depth on the ground. Sounds like northern Canadian weather? Nope. We’re in Southeastern Michigan, Metro Detroit. Yeah, I’d have to say it’s been a little chilly here, lately. Okay, maybe more than a little chilly. Nippy. Cold. Frosty. Bitter.
I think most people would stay indoors in the warmth and comfort of their own furnace-warmed homes, snuggled under thick blankets, with the thermostat pumping a stifling 75-plus. I say, “Let’s go outside and play!”
As long as you dress properly with correct layering and take consistent breaks to get out of the winter air for a quick warm-up session, you are pretty much left with the entire sledding hill to yourself. Shhh. Don’t tell anyone else. This is exactly what my six year old daughter and I did today.
I have to say that my wife was a bit leery allowing me to take Abby out sledding in this weather today. However, I remember the very mild winter we had last year, and I was extremely bummed out that we did not get a chance to go sledding last winter at all. This was the perfect weekend to get out on the hills, with the biting wind in our faces, putting a thrill in our bellies as we fly down the steep, powder covered slopes with nothing but a thin piece of plastic between the earth and our bums. Doesn’t that sound amazing?
I wanted to make sure that I found the perfect spot. A sweet hill, tucked away from the city. Quiet, peaceful, serene, but not too far of a drive. After a bit of research, I had hit on precisely what I was seeking out. Lost Lake Nature Park, located in Oakland Township, Michigan was less than a 40 minute drive from my house. I noticed that the website stated it had a warming shelter, and the sledding hill did not shut down at dusk on Friday and Saturday nights. They keep the hill open till 9pm with its numerous tree-top lamp towers.
I also stumbled upon a very interesting bonus about this location that sparked my interest. There is a hiking trail that makes for a great snowshoe adventure at this park. This could be my chance to try out my new snowshoes that my wonderful wife got me for Christmas, and a chance to get my daughter into snowshoeing with me. The only issue outstanding was to find a decent pair of youth snowshoes at a good price, since I know that she will most likely be growing out of these within the next few years (she’s growing like a weed, and they say she may grow taller than my six-foot stature). I stumbled upon a sweet deal on a pair of youth snowshoes and trekking poles for her at my local Play It Again Sports in Clawson, as I stopped to pick them up on my drive home from work on Friday night. I also thought that when she grew out of them, my little one will most likely be growing into them, so this will be a great two-for-one purchase, and a splendid surprise for my daughter.
As I arrived home after work and after the purchase, my wife continued to try and talk me out of taking her the following day due to the forecasted low temps, but I assured her that I would make sure we were dressed properly and would take the needed breaks to warm up, and reminded her of all the fun outdoors we had as kids, skiing, sledding, snowmobiling, building forts, snowball fights, etc. We had an amazing time reminiscing and telling stories of our own childhood winter adventures, and reassuring her of all the benefits of getting outside even during the brisk days of Michigan winters.
I began preparing our outfits for the following days’ escapades. Base layers, wool socks (2 pairs a piece), warm mid-layers, snow pants, waterproof boots, heavy winter jackets, scarf, hat or balaclava, warm gloves, extra hoodies and boots just in case, trekking poles, sleds, blankets for the ride home in the truck, water bottles to keep hydrated kept in my insulated lunch box so they don’t freeze, and of course, our snowshoes. I own a pair of Yukon Charlie’s Mountain Profile 930 shoes, and I got Abby a pair of fiveforty 16 inch shoes. I wanted to make sure that we were prepared.
Abby was staying the night with her cousin at my grandmother-in-law’s house, so I called to warn her that I was going to be picking Abby up before noon, and to make sure that Abby was all packed up and ready.
The day had arrived. The truck was packed up with everything we needed. I drove to grandma’s house, got Abby properly dressed, and surprised her with her new set of snowshoes. Her eyes gleamed bright and wide, as she had expressed an interest in snowshoeing with me when she saw the snowshoes I had received for Christmas, and now she had her own pair as well. She began to jump up and down, and asked me if we were going to try them out when we went to the sledding hill. I assured her that my plans would definitely include breaking them in that day. She climbing into the truck, enthusiastic and eager to get there.
We drove, getting more excited as all of the large buildings, shopping strip malls, and traffic seemed to disappear just a few miles before our destination. It felt as if we had crossed over the line from suburban to almost rural, with more trees, open spaces, and wilderness…even though we weren’t really that far from what we normally know of our hometown. We turned off of Rochester Road onto West Predmore Road, onto the snow covered dirt road where the trees towered over us from both sides. We were fired up as we turned into the park, and caught sight of the immenseness of the sledding hill. It was much larger than we had imagined, and that alone sparked an even greater fire for adventure in both of us.
As we pulled into the parking lot, not even one other vehicle was there before us. We had the run of the place to ourselves, besides the park employee that manned the warming shelter, of course. We prepared ourselves for the cold, bundling up with our snow pants, gloves, scarves, hats, and warm jackets. We hastily grabbed our sleds from the bed of the truck, and ran straight toward the sledding hill. Abby told me that we should start with the first run on the kiddie hill, just to get it out of the way and prepare us for the big hill. I noticed that the hill was freshly groomed, so it may cause for a bit of a bumpy ride, but that wasn’t going to scare us away.
The kiddie hill was not very steep and not very high, but it was a good starter run to prepare us. As we both got to the bottom, we swiftly grabbed the ropes to our sleds and bolted for the long walk up to the summit of the larger sledding hill. With all of the heavy gear we were bundled in, we had to stop to take a break once or twice on our way up as we began to lose our breath for a moment. However, the excitement of flying down the big hill pushed us to not break for too long and keep climbing.
As we reached the summit, dropped the ropes to our sleds, and peered down the hill, we could see the steep gradient was going to give us a good amount of speed, then halfway down, the hill flattened out a bit then dropped yet again with another precipitous drop that would take us to the terminus of the run. We prepared the longer toboggan for the first ride together. I climbed in and scooted toward the back with my feet hugging the sides so Abby could sit up front, between my feet. She grabbed the rope attached to the front and assured me that she was ready. As I pushed us off the summit, our speed quickly increased and we were breathless with vim and vigor. As we quickly reached the mid-way plateau, if felt a bit like my stomach dropped inside my belly, and we caught a bit of air as we hit the second drop, kind of like a roller coaster makes you fell. This was much better than the majority of other sledding hills I had experienced before. What a thrill! What a rush!
We were both laughing so hard at how exhilarating it was. The wind caused by the hill was bitter, and we were ready to check out the warming shelter. We grabbed the sleds and pulled them up on the patio area of the small, one-roomed structure. It was like a small VFW hall-type building, fully insulated and heated. There were long tables set up in the room with plenty of folding chairs that could easily hold about 35-40 people comfortably. We were warm enough inside to shed our jackets, hats, and gloves, and cozily warm ourselves in preparation for daring the cold for more excitement.
At this time, I noticed that the park employee was parked just on the side of the shelter, cleaning out his truck. I wanted to ask about the snowshoe trail I had read about online. So, we bundled up again and went outside to introduce ourselves and inquire. Alex willingly introduced himself and told us about the trailhead just beyond the orange fenced barriers at the top of the sledding hill. He stated that if we made our way around the small opening in the barrier, and kept climbing, that we would arrive at the summit of an old, run-down ski hill on the back side of the sledding hill.
Abby was elated, and told him that I had just purchased for her a new set of snowshoes, and that I had gotten my own pair of snowshoes for Christmas. She also told him that I have an outdoor blog where I would be writing my story of our adventure. A smile grew on Alex’s face as he inquired about the blog and shared his interest in reading my stories. I told him that I would be more than happy to give him some of my business cards for the blog with the web address so he could share them with his friends and family who would also enjoy my stories and outdoor adventures.
Abby and I made our way back up the hill for one more run, and to grab the other sled that we left up at the top during our last run together on the same sled. Abby went first this time, on the round saucer sled, where she got turned completely around and rode down the hill backwards. I followed not far behind her in the toboggan sled solo. By the time I reached the bottom, she was laughing so hard, asking if I had seen her go down backwards. She was laughing so hard that I could barely understand what she was saying. I just knew at that point that she was having the time of her life.
She told me that she was ready to take the sleds back to the truck and get equipped with our new snowshoes. As she sat down on the snow mound in front of where the truck was parked, I strapped her snowshoes on her boots and had her stand up so I could adjust the height of her trekking poles. She watched intently at each buckle and adjustment I made. I could tell that she was logging each movement in her brain so she could do it herself next time. She’s a smart little cookie, and I am a proud father in that aspect. Although, her intelligence causes her to be very independent, wanting to do everything on her own.
I then got strapped in to my snowshoes, adjusted my own poles, and we walked together back over to the sledding hill. Abby commented about how tough it was to get used to walking with such large feet. She wondered how Bigfoot got used to it. I almost fell over laughing. She began to comment on how easy it was to walk up the hill with the snowshoes due to the metal teeth on the bottom that dug into the hill. We finally made it to the top, where we normally would veer off to the left to sled down the hill. But instead, we made our way around the small opening in the orange barrier fence, and continued our snow trek up even further.
After a bit of wining and coaxing (completely expected from a six-year-old) we finally made it up to the very top. Good thing there was a wooden bench up there where we could sit to catch our breath, with a splendiferous view ahead of us. The overlook was impressive with the remnants of an old ski lift that allowed our imaginations to wander magnificently. Abby wondrously stated, “We should bring the sleds on this side to sled down.” She laughed, understanding how dangerous it would have been with all of the overgrown trees and the extremely steep drop that I wouldn’t have allowed it, but a kid can dream. We sat there for a few moments with our feet propped up by the snowshoes in front of us just taking in the view.
She then stood up and said, “Okay Dad. I’m ready to go explore.” My heart filled with warmth and my pride exploded, as I mused, “Yep, she’s definitely my kid.” I stood up and had to double time it, as she was already off up the trail ahead of me, and I had to shout for her to wait up. As I caught up to her, she had stopped for a moment and asked me which way the trail went from where we stood. I had to gain my bearings for a moment and look around for the yellow tags on the trees. As I noticed one up ahead, I pointed in the direction of the trail. She looked around and noticed some footprints going in multiple directions and asked me why they would be going off the trail. I advised her that they were most likely deer tracks.
It was at this point that she turned at me with a deep grin and adventurous look in her eyes and asked, “Do we have to stay on the trail?” My heart completely melted and excitement grew strong. I looked at her and didn’t say a word for a couple of moments as she batted her eyes and said, “Please?” As a tear swelled up in my left eye, I delightedly told her that she didn’t have to plead, and I was excited to hear that she wanted to go off and snowshoe her own trail. I noticed a little hop in her step as she turned and wandered down her own path.
She pointed out a downed tree that was hollowed out laying right next to its own hollowed out stump asking if I thought an animal lived in there. I told her that I wasn’t sure, but she should go and check it out. She reached out her hand for mine and said, “Come with me. I’m scared.” It’s moments like this where I am elated to be a father; when I feel needed to be the strength of my family. I don’t ever want that feeling to become lost. We didn’t end up finding any animals hiding inside the hollowed out tree, but it was a very exciting moment for us.
We continued on, finding different sized animal tracks on the path we were making. She stopped for a moment at one time and looked at me with a concerned look on her face as she posed, “Daddy, are there wolves out here?” I knew that wolves were not prominent in southeastern Michigan, but I allowed her imagination to saunter, stating, “It’s definitely possible.” As I could see the fear grow inside her, she grabbed my hand again, and I could feel it trembling slightly. She still wanted to go on, so we did.
There were points where we had to carefully watch where we stepped, as the brush grew thick and downed trees covered in snow were barely visible, but made it tough to step on with our snowshoes. Abby was smart though, and warned me of places not to step, warning me that we needed to step over the logs. She also laughed noticing small yellow spots in the snow as she chuckled and said, “Eeew, deer pee.” My cheeks were beginning to get sore due to how much I was smiling.
We made it through the thick of the roughage and came to clearing where we noticed an old red barn looking structure. This must be the shed at the caretaker’s residence. We were almost back to where we began our journey. To the north, just beyond the tree line was another clearing. I realized that this must be Lost Lake. I pointed it out to Abby and asked her if she wanted to check it out. She was excited and gleefully expressed her interest. We crossed the clearing and found a path through the tree line to come right up to the edge of the frozen over lake. It wasn’t a very big lake, but it was a very cool spectacle. She fell to her knees and began to wipe away the snow to catch a glimpse of the ice. “Daddy, I wonder how thick the ice is.” I told her I wasn’t sure, as I did not research how deep the lake was or how thick the ice was, but I recommended that we not venture out too far onto the ice, even though it was so frigid and most likely safe to walk on. She expressed that she didn’t want to try it either. So instead, we sat there together for a few moments just enjoying the view and our time together.
At this point, we both got up, followed our tracks back through the tree line, and continued east, hugging the tree line this time, making our way to the caretaker’s residence and the closed off dock jetting out onto the lake. We noticed where the original trail came in from down the hill. Abby then stated, “Wow! We really hiked out much further than the trail, didn’t we?” I smiled and shook my head, telling her that it was okay and told her how much fun I had adventuring with her. We sat down on the picnic benches after she had cleared one of the seats off, using one of her trekking poles. She asked me when we would be able to go on another snowshoe hike. I told her that hopefully this snowy winter will continue for a bit, and we can try and get out again very soon.
She said she was getting hungry, and we should go to McDonald’s. So, we made our way back over to the parking lot, unstrapped our snowshoes, and put them away inside the bags. When I began to take off my snow pants, she asked me if we could do one more run down the hill with the sled. I didn’t say a word and zipped the sides of my snow pants back closed, hopped off the tailgate, and grabbed the toboggan. She smiled wide and we began to run for the hill.
This was a legendary daddy-daughter moment that I will not forget; the day I took my daughter for her first snowshoeing adventure. This was also the first time I have been snowshoeing since I was her age, with my father and grandfather in the woods of my grandfather’s hunting cabin in Mesick, Michigan. Another first for my daughter that I can check off the list, and only the beginning of many more outdoor adventures to come.