Don't Give Me The Sporting Life

Carol Kloskowski

Copyright 2013 by Carol Kloskowski

Photo of two women on a cross country ski trip.
Don’t Give Me the Sporting Life is the entirely true story of my introduction to the world of Upper Michigan winter sports.

After raising seven children in the Chicago suburbs and becoming empty-nesters my husband and I decided to build a home on the shores of Lake Superior in Upper Michigan.
Unfortunately, I was totally unprepared for the unusual (to me) recreational activities that Upper Michigan residents, called Yoopers, enjoy.   Because we made our move in November the deer hunting season frenzy was my first shock.  I discovered that to most guys it’s at least as important as the Christmas and Hanukah holidays.  Off these hunters go with bags of rotten apples and cabbages, lots of beer, and a bunch of good old boys to sit in a blind all day no matter what the weather, and then at night, to whoop it up in “camp.”  (To me, camp is a place Boy and Girl Scouts go in the summer for a week and learn to tie knots, and build a fire by filling a teepee made out of twigs with dried leaves.)
The wives of these soon to be inebriated hunters get equally excited about deer season because they also go hunting, a bloodless hunt most of time—for bargains.  Instead of the “blind” these hunters head for Marquette or Green Bay and the malls.  In the evening they don’t go to “camp,” but to the hotel restaurant and pool.  Now that’s definitely my kind of hunting.
Deer hunting season is quickly followed by Snow (notice the capital letters).  Moving from where there is rarely more than six inches of snow on the ground at any time during the entire winter to the mountains of snow most Upper Michigan winters bring was quite a shock. Of course snow means freezing weather and the sudden appearance of little outhouses on the all lakes.  Why were there outhouses on the lake I wondered?  Yooper friends told me they weren’t outhouses at all.  They were fishing shacks.  I thought about that.  “Why would anyone want to sit in what looked like an outhouse in the middle of a frozen lake to fish through a hole drilled in the ice?” I asked.
The fish really are biting in the winter, so the ice fishing is great!” my new friends explain.  No way, I though.  Buying your fish at the nice warm market in the winter is what is great.  Call me suspicious, but I’ll bet the real reason guys actually spend time “ice fishing’ is to get out of the house.  They want to get away from spouses with the annoying habit of asking them to do a few of the “honey do,” chores that are on every wife’s list.  These chores might include replacing some ceramic tiles in the kitchen floor, or solving the major plumbing problem caused by little David who flushed several potatoes down the drain of the toilet.  But probably the most important reason men go ice fishing is that it’s another golden opportunity to do a little drinking.  After all, you do have to keep warm, don’t you?  And we can’t forget the male bonding that goes on when the drinking begins.  That’s what I think about ice fishing.
A lot of Yoopers and tourists think that down hill skiing is fun.  Sliding down a very steep hill or mountain with a pair of very long slippery sticks clamped to your shoes so that when you fall (notice I said when) you will turn your ankle or brake your leg for sure, will never be my idea of fun.
In spite of my distaste, (to put it mildly) for downhill skiing, I thought I might enjoy cross-country skiing.  Our home is within walking distance to a cross-country groomed ski trail.  At different times, two of my new Yooper friends offered to take me out and give me a lesson.  They even had skis I could use.  Both were very athletic women who really enjoyed the outdoors.  The first teacher was sure I would catch on real fast.  “I love to dance,” I told her, so I’m sure I’ll be good at gliding.  That was the most important thing to learn, she’d told me.  Because I exercise and do the Nordic Trak I was sure I would master cross-country skiing with very few problems.  Sadly, once I got on the trail, I didn’t glide once.  I was afraid to let the skis glide.  I didn’t want to lose control and fall, which I did, often.  My friend had to stop skiing herself and stay close to me.  She could tell I needed every bit of her attention.  My worst moments, during my first cross-country skiing lesson, were when we came to the HILL.  I was on the easiest trail, my friend assured me.  “But there are HILLS,” I screamed, doing little creeping hops up to the top of the giant three foot high hill, knowing that somehow I was going to have to slide down and LOSE CONTROL AND FALL ON MY LONG STICKS AND PROBABLY TURN MY ANKLE OR BREAK MY LEG.  Since that day, my first instructor has never suggested giving me anymore skiing lessons.  In fact, she never talks about cross-country skiing at all.
The second instructor was also sure that I would learn in no time.  (I guess she hadn’t talked to my first instructor.)  She also had to gave up her own skiing because she kept having to help me get up.  I didn’t break a leg or sprain an ankle, but I nearly had a heart attack when I saw the very long downhill slope, with CURVES that she expected me to glide down.  This hill was at least four feet high!  I actually did glide down this one.  I had no choice; gravity took over.  Was I happy?  Did I love it?  Was I going to buy skis?  No, No, No.  I was still shaking an hour after I was in this friend’s house and had drunk two cups of very hot coffee.  She also has never offered to give me another lesson.  With the money I was going to use for skis I bought a lovely leather jacket.  The state stopped grooming the cross-country trail by my house.  (Do you think one of my instructors told them about me?)
I haven’t tried sledding, except right outside my door.  It was fun even though I had to go down a little hill.  I don’t think I’ll ever take a sled up to a BIG hill though.  First, you have to walk up a slippery steep hill dragging a big sled.  Second, you have to slide down a STEEP HILL.
Ice skating in the U.P. mostly means hockey leagues.  These leagues keep the arena in our town on a very tight schedule with little time left for just regular skating folks.  This shouldn’t be a problem because there are lots of frozen lakes in Upper Michigan, but they don’t freeze smoothly, at least not any I’ve seen.  That takes care of ice-skating.
 I must admit I was thrilled when my husband and I were asked to be spotters for a dog sled race.  We just stood at a spot where the dog sled trail intersected another trail or road and made sure the dogs didn’t go the wrong way.   It was fun, in spite of the cold.  This was something city folks just don’t get to do.  What struck me most about the dog sled races though was that the dogs wore booties, booties that came off.  I must have picked up twelve.  I’m sure they lost lots more all along the trail.  I wondered why the dogs needed booties if they just came off.  You can see how sports minded I am.
I never had the opportunity to try snow shoeing in the Chicago area, so when several Yooper friends, who apparently had not spoken to my cross-country ski instructors, asked me to go I was delighted.  I actually had snowshoes (my husband’s) and didn’t have to borrow anyone’s.  These shoes, which look like tennis rackets, are attached, with laces, to your shoes.  Folks, I couldn’t believe it but there are even hills in snow shoeing.  I did manage to go down these hills, but with great difficulty and with as much grace as an elephant on a tightrope.  Being the great sports person I am, I also lost my balance many times.  However, I decided a couple of very important things because of my falls.  First, I was finally sure that snow shoeing and all skiing sports were the invention of orthopedic doctors with very large mortgages and/or alimony and child support payments to make.  Secondly, I realized you should NEVER GO SNOW SHOEING WITHOUT A FRIEND.  You need one to help you to get up when you fall.  It’s impossible to get up without help.  After while, my snowing friends suggested I take off the snow shoes and walk on the road while they continued down the trail.  That was fine with me.  It was a lot more fun and safer.  I met my friends later for coffee.
There can be no Yooper discussion of winter sports without the “S” word—snowmobiling.  My husband promised me I would love snowmobiling.  I believed him.  I climbed on the back of a two-man sled with him and put my life in his hands and my arms around his waist.  It was night, which meant it was dark.  The helmet that he had borrowed for me was too big.  No matter, off we went, engines roaring, with friends on other sleds, down some bumpy forest trail.  Of course snowmobiles have headlights to aid with visibility, but that didn’t help me because the helmet that was too big for me had flopped down over my eyes. 
As we bumped along, branches I couldn’t see whipped at me on every side.  Bumps I was not prepared for nearly bounced me off the machine, and not knowing when one was coming I was afraid to let go of my husband long enough to pull the helmet back so I could see.  This was my introduction to snowmobiling.  On our next trip my husband turned over our sled on a hill.  Since then I only snowmobile on nice sunny days.  I never ride on frozen lakes and I don’t go faster than twenty-five miles an hour.  Also, as you already know, I don’t do hills.
I’m sure you can tell none of these winter sports really did it for me.  But I’ve found one I have truly come to love.  It’s looking—yes, looking—looking at the serene beauty of winter in the majestic forests that surround us; looking at the sparkling, pristine, pure white snow while the sun beams down from the bluest sky I’ve ever seen; looking at patterns made by graceful waves of drifted snow in the open areas, looking at the marshmallow mounds of snow that act as fences along the roads, sidewalks and driveways and that coat practically everything else so that all is made anew, fresh, and clean.
Also, I love looking out the window from the safety of my home and watching the howling winds swirl blinding snow and whip Lake Superior so fiercely that huge angry waves crash down and are quickly turned to ice.  While “looking,” I have come to see, in a way not possible in any metropolitan area, man’s limitations and the raw power of nature.  Native Yoopers may take these things for granted, but I am Chicago transplant, and to me there is no winter sport that can compare with “looking,” at the winter beauty of my new home.

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