Thursday, January 30, 2014

Guest Blogger: Cindy Evans Snowshoes at the Commons

Happy Polar Vortex Part II, everyone! Our guest blogger this week is Cindy Evans, who works at Grand Traverse Industries and lives in the Traverse City area with her husband and two children. Cindy took on winter (and a lot of hills) during her recent snowshoeing adventure at the Grand Traverse Commons. Read on for some advice about snowshoeing the Commons and a lot of pretty winter eye-candy that will encourage you to get out and explore this season! - Mo

I love Traverse City; I have always loved the area and its charm. This city has so much to offer in terms of opportunities to be active and ways to enjoy its unmatchable beauty in all seasons.

A few years ago I had found myself really disliking the winter season and the fact that I wasn’t out enjoying it either. I decided that I was going to find a way to get out there again and change my perspective because, moving was not an option that either my husband, myself, nor my family was going to consider. I looked on the community events page and thought, well what can I do? My children were young, my husband has a reconstructed knee so his activities are limited, I had suffered from Asthma as a result of contracting the H1N1 flu, and honestly, I was not in great shape after having two children and a few too many pounds I hadn’t done anything about. So needless to say, choices were limited.

One day someone at work told me about guided snowshoeing at the Sleeping Bear Dunes and that equipment was provided if you didn’t have your own. So I called my husband and asked him to sign us up: I wanted to give this a try. This was a great opportunity to see if I could do it before investing money into equipment of my own. That one trip was all it took, and I found this was the perfect activity for my family to be able to participate in together, while also being something I could do while not being in the best shape. I will say that after that first trip I was hooked, and it was the spark I needed to get back to enjoying our majestic winters. I was able to lose some that weight and start feeling better, in part, due to our many winter adventures snowshoeing.

One of my favorite areas to hike with my family in the fall is the trails in and around the GrandTraverse Commons. Since I hadn’t been snowshoeing there yet, I thought I would give it a try. I headed out this past Saturday after the big storm that dumped more than six inches of snow and left us in very low temperatures. I didn’t take my kids since it was so cold, but I am a diehard, right? I can do this, why not!

I was surprised to see that there was more activity on the trails than I had thought there would be, and once I got moving the cold was not a factor. The Village is nestled among 480 acres of preserved parkland, and has a vast array of trails. Thetrails are well marked and have maps at the access points. It’s a great place to get out and meet others along the trail. You will come across frozen creeks, old historic buildings, and see lots of wildlife. If you love to take photos of nature or unique settings, this is the place for you. There are moments to enjoy some solitude and quiet, and just to pause and listen to the wind in the trees. Some trails lead to some old abandoned historic buildings that are now the canvas for local graffiti artists. (Warning: if you are with children there is inappropriate language and images that come with this graffiti work, so just beware.)

I started out on the Tangle Wood trail, which is a fairly easy trail with some rolling hills and a moderately packed pathway from use. The trail meanders through the woods and past a creek. This would be a good place to start if you’re only looking for a short hike. I then headed over to the Cistern Spur trail because I wanted to get some pictures on the higher elevation and of the big round abandoned cistern that is hidden in the woods there. There is an easier path to get to the same area but I opted for the short cut, which includes going up the very steep hill to get there more directly. I don’t believe that was a great idea for snowshoeing but, I will claim frozen brain for that decision. I did slip a few times and needed to use the rail so I didn’t fall or slide down, but after much determination, I did make it to the top, a little….ok, a LOT…out of breath. But I made it, and the view was worth it.

In areas I could see down across the Village and the sights were just amazing. I could have opted to take the easy path down, but I decided I just wanted to see if I could ski down and not fall, knowing full-well this was not how snowshoes were meant to be used. Again, frozen brain mixed with a little stupidity. I do not recommend this because it could lead to injury. Matter of fact, it most likely will lead to injury. I did however have a blast skiing down the trail and, will boast I did not fall but I am sure if my chiropractor ever saw this blog it would make him cringe. I assure you my form was not good, and it was very dicey at moments.

Whether you like to snowshoe with a group or by yourself, the Commons is the ideal place to go. You can head directly out of the trail and over to Higher Grounds for a warm up with coffee or grab a bite to eat at the various eateries. You can adventure into the Mercato to warm up and enjoy some great shopping, or take a stroll and view the artwork along the walls. There is something for everybody here. Click here for a map of the trails.

Also worth mentioning is the Experience 231 app. This app has all the hiking, biking, bird watching, x-country skiing, paddling, and snowshoeing trails in the area. It allows you to enter search criteria such as distance, or experience level; it will pull up all the trails that meet that criteria. It also gives some information on the trail and its surroundings, along with distance from your location. I found some new places I didn’t know about and it’s worth checking out since it’s free. I hope to see some of you out on the trails, and happy snowshoeing!

Monday, January 20, 2014

Here:Say Storytelling at InsideOut Gallery

Last night, I went to the InsideOut Gallery to hear some awesome storytelling by Here:Say. I've never been to a Here:Say storytelling session before (they are fairly new; it was their fourth event), so I wasn't sure what to expect. Boy, was I glad I went, because it was AWESOME!

The Inside Out Gallery isn't a spot that I frequent, but after visiting for Here:Say I couldn't tell you why I've not been there. They have awesome artwork, a full bar (you can bring in food), and essentially 80% of the people listening in for Here:Say we're under the age of forty. How has this place snuck under my radar for so long? The vibe is modern and unique, full of bright colors with a hip edginess. Plus, it touts that bold industrial vibe that I love so much! I'll definitely be checking the InsideOut Facebook for more great events in the future.

Here:Say is a local oral-storytelling group. According to their Facebook page, Here:Say is "a monthly storytelling event at InsideOut Gallery where we can reconnect through the stories that tell us life’s many truths. What would happen if we started telling our stories again?"

The topic for this week was stories from the water cooler...or, essentially, workplace tales. Like I said, I wasn't sure what to expect. I've not spent much time at these kinds of "artsy" events, but I love hearing my friends tell stories and listening to different tales on the radio essentially every time I'm in my car. I figured, what did I have to lose?

As it turns out, I had nothing to lose and everything to gain. The stories shared at Here:Say were sad, happy, heartfelt, tragic, touching, laugh-out-loud hilarious...and above all, fantastic. Even with what seems like a narrow subject matter, no two stories were remotely similar. It was amazing to see how each artist interpreted the subject and told their stories with such detail and honesty. I loved every story I heard for different reasons, even the one that stayed with me the rest of the night about a police officer who witnessed the death of a 6-year-old he tried to save from a car accident. Each one resonated with a part of me, and I felt connected both to the storytellers and the other people in the room sharing the experience with me. 

My first experience with Here:Say will certainly not be my last. My favorite thing about Here:Say was how everyone turned away from their phones and completely focused on other human beings for two hours, listening to someone's story and connecting with the individuals around them instead of their technological devices. People were engaged, and we all tuned in to our fellow humans. We learned something about someone who was initially a total stranger but exited the stage as someone we felt we knew and understood. I feel that I rarely experience that so organically these day, and I was so honored to be a part of something so intimate. Each time someone approached the stage, I was excited to hear what they were going to share with the room and what part of their life we were going to have the privilege to learn about. How cool is that?

I'm already looking forward to hearing what stories will be told next month, and for visiting InsideOut again. If you're in the TC area complaining about there being nothing fun to do in the winter...come check it out!  The next Here:Say is Monday, February 17 from 7-9 p.m. Hope to see you there!

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Cross-Country Skiing at the VASA Trail

To follow up last week’s adventure downhill skiing, I thought I’d share one of the best place to cross-country ski for this week’s post: the VASA Trail. The VASA is no secret in this town, or the country. If you’re an avid XC-skier, you’re probably familiar with the North American VASA race that takes place in Traverse City every February. It’s quite a sight to see so many skiers in one place, and they come from all over the world to compete on this course. Pretty sweet!

When it isn’t being used as a racecourse for nearly 800 people (which is essentially every day except the day of the Great American VASA race), it is one of the best places to cross-country ski. They have groomed courses for both skate and classic style, and dedicated volunteers maintain both tracks.

My favorite thing about the VASA is its versatility. There are hills if you like hills and flat meadows if that’s more your style. You can also choose from either a shorter 3K or 5K route, or really work it out on the 10K or 25K loops. The farthest we’ve skied with our classic-style skis is the 10K loop, but maybe some day we’ll really bust it and brave all 25Ks. There’s still a lot of winter left to try it out!

We love XC-skiing because it’s a great workout in winter, but it’s also a fantastic way to see all the beauty this time of year offers. The woods and meadows at the VASA are quiet, serene, and truly breathtaking if you make it out after a heavy snow. It is rarely crowded on the longer loops, so it’s a great way to see how peaceful and soothing the woods are when buried in snow.  I’m always blown away by how mentally relaxed and stress-free I am after a ski.

I encourage you to check out the VASA trail yourself this winter if you’re in TC! It’s on the east side of town and easy to access. There’s a big parking lot, and even when it fills up on the weekends you’re still not likely to run into too many other skiers so it’s a great way to escape the world. Pick a day after some snow to get up and start your morning in the woods as the sun rises on a clear day…it’s incredible, and I believe everyone should experience it at least once every winter. Get out there and see it!

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Crystal Mountain Skiing

Hi, folks! Sorry for the hiatus here on the blog...the holiday season is busy for everyone, and us YPs are no exception. Thankfully, I've been busy doing nothing but awesome and fun wintery things.

We made it out to Crystal Mountain for a downhill skiing trip recently, and the snow was AWESOME. Rarely do we get powder up north, so when it starts snowing fluffy white flakes for a few days in a row, it's definitely time to hit the slopes. Crystal Mountain is the closest large resort to where we live, and if you buy lift tickets online you can usually nab a good deal.

One thing I love about Crystal is the variety of their slopes. As a somewhat experienced skier, I can ride the easy and medium slopes but also tackle the black diamonds if I’m feeling adventurous. They have plenty of lifts, too, so it’s easy to get away from the busier hills if you want to just take your time cruising down some slopes. Even on the busy weekends we can find a lift or some runs without too many other skiers.

They also have night skiing until 9 p.m. most nights, which makes it easy to get in a few runs after work or long days on the weekends. I personally love night skiing: it’s peaceful and presents a whole new challenge. Plus, with how early the sun sets in the winter, it’s vital to go to a ski resort that has bright lights on so many different runs!

The day we went to Crystal, we were lucky enough to have a TON of beautiful snowflakes fall at the end of the night. It totally set up the whole “wintery wonderland” mood that makes northern Michigan so enjoyable in these cold months. If it’s going to be freezing outside, I at least want it to be beautiful and snowy! Our ski trip definitely delivered that.

So, until next time, I hope you get out and enjoy the wintery weather! I promise that the north can be fun if you get out and explore it (though I admit that movie marathons with hot chocolate are equally tempting some days…)!