With spring weather coming on, I keep remembering the day of a perfect winter hike. In mid-January on a Friday night, a heavy fog blanketed the entire area. Saturday morning, the fog still remained and the trees were heavy with frost. The day was calm so the frost wasn’t blowing off the trees. It was an ideal day for my regular morning walk.
The Pelican River flows out of the southwest side of frozen Little Detroit Lake. It is open (30-40 feet wide) as it flows. Alongside the river is a trail for hiking and biking. But there were no bikes as the trail was covered with snow. Nevertheless, there are signs warning bikers to watch for PEDS (pedestrians). But users of the trail have altered the signs to watch for FEDS (federal agents presumably). Accordingly, I exercised caution to make sure I didn’t hike over any FEDS.
The fog and frost were hanging on over the river and through the woods. While the fog is dangerous for highway travel, it is a hikers delight – postcard perfect.
The only sounds along the trail were my boots crunching in the snow and the sounds of a few birds. One crow flew straight overhead and gave me a loud single squawk. Crows are not songbirds. I felt this guy was giving me bird version of “good morning.”
But around a bend of the river I heard some honking. And then I saw close to a dozen beautiful, graceful trumpeter swans enjoying a good swim while ducking their heads under the water for morning snacks. A few were just sitting on the ice on the shore, comfortable in their insulated bottoms. The swans spent the entire winter on the river. I’m not sure where they went at mealtime. The honks of trumpeter swans don’t sound like trumpets at all. They sound like trombones. They don’t sound like Canada geese either – the geese sound like tenor saxophones.
Tracks in the snow. The trail is a highway of tracks. Big dog tracks. Little dog tracks. Squirrel tracks and deer tracks.
The deer tracks form paths into the woods. I expect a few deer were standing behind the trees and watching me walk by. I remember my boyhood friend Harvey, who was a hunter, tracker and trapper. Harvey was a solo explorer who had a trap line.
He trapped musket rats I think. It was a compliment to Harvey that a friend remembered his enthusiasm and talent after all these years. Along with the dog tracks were people tracks. The longer the distance between strides, the faster the hiker. Most were moving faster than me. But on a frosty morning, a leisurely pace was perfect for enjoying the scenery.
The dogs had masters. I saw two magnificent Hungarian wolfhounds and their proud owner who told me about them in perfect English. No Hungarian accent. Another time on the same trail, I met pre-teen Bailey and her little black lab named Coal (inspired by lignite no doubt) and a large spotted hound named Emma.
Conversations between the few hikers on the trail is limited to “good morning” and the names of dogs. Not having a dog, all I had to say was “good morning and what’s your dogs name.” I presume hikers are not interested in stopping to speculate whether some of the footprints could be foxes, wolves (there are wolves about 25 miles north) or bears (they should be hibernating in January, but occasionally do drop through our neck of the woods to eat from bird feeders).
Under the snow on the trail, sometimes there was ice. Once my heel hit a spot of ice and I almost hit the deck. When I regained my balance, I gave a short thanks for my balance, coordination, athleticism, and more realistically, for my good luck to still be on my feet and not recovering from a concussion.
After about a mile, the Pelican River flows into Muskrat Lake and blends with the ice. I suppose it flows beneath the surface. Then the trail winds around the shore of Muskrat until it comes to an outlet where it flows again over some big rocks and under a bridge and drops into Lake Sallie where it flows beneath the surface of the ice again. There is a fish hatchery on this spot in the spring.
And that’s just about the end of the trail. But standing on the bridge and watching the river cascade over the rocks and into Lake Sallie was only half the experience. The other half was the double pleasure of turning around and covering the same trail back to the point of beginning, continuing to enjoy the fog and frost, seeing the trumpeter swans again, seeing Bailey and Coal again, seeing the Hungarian wolfhounds again, following the footsteps and breathing the fresh winter air for another mile and a half or more. A perfect hike on a perfect January day.
There will probably not be another day as splendid until next winter.