Cabin Life – #59

Tools of the trade
Like most people, I sometimes make decisions that I regret.  Last week I made one of those decisions, and I have been regretting it ever since.  The decision I made was to shave off my beard.  On the coldest day of the year.  It’s not that I’m worried about my ability to grow another beard, but it’s been, well, cold and for some reason I seemed to forget how much insulation I get on my face from the beard.  In hindsight, it was a horrible decision.

I made another decision recently which is turning out to be much better though.  I bought a double-bit axe for use around the property, and I could not be happier.

Amy doesn’t want me to cut down any live, healthy trees out here for fire wood, so I am relegated to cutting only trees that are already dead and/or down.  Luckily, we’ve had some pretty severe wind this winter and there has been no shortage of trees to buck up and drag out of the woods.  I use the chainsaw for almost all of this work.  But when I’m cutting what’s called a “widow-maker,” the chainsaw can get pinched in the tree if I misread how the tree will fall.  It doesn’t happen that often, but it’s good to know that I now have a nice axe to use to chop out the chainsaw.

I got a double-bit for two main reasons.  The first is that they have straight handles, so it’s a pretty accurate axe.  The other is that I can keep one blade sharp for chopping, and the other a little more dull for splitting.  After splitting several cords of wood by hand last year with an eight pound maul, swinging the three and a half pound axe is much, much easier.

I’ll still use the maul for knotty wood or the really big logs.  It’s heavy, unwieldy, and gets stuck a lot, but gets the job done.  I also have a ten pound mini-sledge to get the maul through the really nasty logs, but that’s a lot of weight to be swinging around all day.  The combination of the two pretty much guarantees that I can get any log split, but it might take a long time to get a few pieces of burnable fire wood.  Three and a half pounds versus eight is a pretty easy decision.

And speaking of decisions, there is an annual event that starts this week which always makes me happy that I’ve decided to make the northern Adirondacks home:  Winter Carnival.

Carnival is what makes a hard winter bearable.  Carnival is something that I think everyone who lives in the Saranac Lake region looks forward to.  It is like a winter break for everyone.  And as an adult, who doesn’t wish that they still got all the vacations that school kids get?

For those of you who don’t know, Winter Carnival is a weeklong celebration of surviving through the winter.  There is a Royal Court, concerts, contests, an Ice Palace, and the whole thing culminates in an unforgettable parade.  Outside.  In the middle of February.  Needless to say, there may be some alcohol involved in one or more of these events.

Back when I was in college, there was a standing rule that my parents were not allowed within fifty miles of Saranac Lake on parade weekend.  I’ve grown up a little bit since then, but they still honor the buffer.  The parade really brings the community together.  People travel from all over the country and world to attend Carnival, and I have yet to hear of anyone coming away disappointed.

It’s a boon to the town, as well as to everyone’s psyche.  You have to be pretty tough to survive the winters up here, and Carnival is a great reminder that we’re all in it together, no matter who you vote for or how much you make.  We’ve all decided to tough it out up here, and Winter Carnival is our reward.

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Cross Country Skiing

Well, it’s the beginning of a new year, and the snow is finally starting to fall.  There’s about six inches on the ground in Vermontville, NY and it’s coming down pretty good!  After five years in Florida, I really looked forward to how nice it is to witness the first part of winter when everything is fresh and clean, and the road sides don’t yet have that brown nastiness that they’re soon to take on.

And today was a big transition day for me, because I pulled out my trekking poles (or Geek Sticks as non-users call them) and switched the rubber tips for snow baskets!  I’ve always been a downhill skier and snowshoer but, a couple of years before I left for Florida, I bought a used pair of cross-country skis.  They were cheap and beat up and it was an impulse purchase, but, why not?  Forty bucks lighter I walked out of the store with my first set of cross country skis and boots (that’s a deal, right!?).

After contemplating what to do today to stave off cabin fever, I strapped on the skis and headed out the door.  I was never good at cross-country skiing, it was just a way to get outside and have another winter activity at my disposal (and I used to be a much worse gear hound, and just kind of wanted that stuff lying around).  I used to roll my ankles constantly and the only part I was actually good at was going down steep inclines.  So today was a test run, if you will.

The best thing about living in the woods is that when you want to head outdoors, all you do is go outside.  There is no need for a long (or even a short) drive to the trailhead.  The property I live on has several trails, and it’s bordered by state land, so if I want to keep going I can.  But today is a short one, more a way to check my gear and give Pico some exercise than a way for me to get a good workout in (Plus, I’d been sick all week and really needed to get out of the cabin).

Leaving the cabin in the dust and with Pico galloping ahead, I start gliding from the front door up the trail.  I was apprehensive and made sure that my phone and keys were safely secured in zippered pockets so I didn’t lose them in my inevitable first fall.  I was also waiting for the sharp but not serious pain that comes when I roll my ankle.  But after a few minutes, I’m still upright and Pico is desperately trying to figure out what the hell I’m sliding around on.  I forgot that this was his first time seeing anything like this.

The first little incline I hit posed no problem at all.  I always used to have to duck walk (legs splayed, toes pointing in opposite directions and heels together so that the skis

make a herringbone pattern in the snow) to get up any sort of hill.  But for some reason, I shortened my stride, leaned forward and didn’t have to slow down at all.  Those quick little kicks and pushes with the poles make it so much easier to ascend.  Holy crap, when, where and how I picked up this technique is beyond me, but I like it!

After reaching a good point to turn around and head back, I realized that I was having a lot of fun, and hadn’t fallen or rolled my ankle once.  It was overcast but warm, the snow is deep enough that I didn’t hit any rocks, and the quiet, quick swish on the skis was kind of entrancing.  In fact, it’s downright enjoyable.

I know that cross-country skis will never fully replace snowshoes for me, but I have to tell you, it’s not nearly as dorky or boring as I used to think.  I like the quiet movement that the skis afford, and there is a bit of excitement to be had coming down the steeper hills, especially if there is a turn or two along the way (or if your not-too-bright dog sits down right in front of you).  I’ll keep doing this all winter.  And the best part?  No $80 lift ticket!