My wife and I recently watched one of our favorite movies, The Wizard of Oz (1939). Throughout the movie, Dorothy, played by Judy Garland, makes friends along the way to see the Wizard…Scarecrow, Tin Man, and Lion. At a point on her journey as relationships develop, Dorothy says, “Oh, you’re the best friends anybody ever had.”
The Wizard of Oz is about friendships Dorothy makes along the yellow-brick road. My story is about friendships I make along the snowshoeing trail. Over the years, I have encountered many friends while snowshoeing and teaching snowshoeing courses at a university. And I have close friends who have made my snowshoeing experiences exceptionally worthwhile and most memorable.
“Walking with a friend in the dark is better than walking alone in the light.” -Helen Keller-
Steve was a considerable help to me over many years when I taught Introduction to Snowshoeing courses at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point’s (UWSP) 1400-acre natural resource education center called “Treehaven.” We taught a 1-credit weekend college course that 24 students attended. Steve was my co-instructor – teaching students to snowshoe, leading snowshoe hikes, and playing games on snowshoes. He organized and led students playing kickball and volleyball on snowshoes, where his coaching leadership helped make the course a success.
Most notable is a point in the course when Steve and I led students on a night snowshoe hike. Rather than traveling with artificial lighting, we went by the light of the moon. I led our students on a trail while Steve was the “sweep,” being the snowshoer at the end of the group to ensure everyone was safe and continuing on the hike.
With a crescent moon casting just enough light to follow a snow-packed trail through a conifer forest, our group would crest a wide-open hill. Here, stars illuminated the night sky, and silence awaited us for a mesmerizing view and visit. On our return, Steve ensured all students cleared the hill and arrived safely back at the facility. When snowshoeing back in the dark, Steve was a friend to me and every student on that trail.
“Good company in a journey makes the way seem shorter” -Izaak Walton-
Tom and I embarked on numerous snowshoeing adventures over many years. One of those adventures was a challenging trip in the Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park, located in western Upper Michigan along Lake Superior. We rented their Union River rustic cabin for a couple of days. The cabin was without electricity, running water, or indoor plumbing. It had only bunk beds, a kitchen table and chairs with counter space, a wood-burning stove with firewood, and an outhouse – a very cold outhouse.
The snowshoe hike to the cabin was approximately three miles (4.8 km). And the snow that trip was fresh and deep. With full backpacks and a Coleman lantern strapped to my pack, we snowshoed through snow-laden pines and hemlocks along River Trail and part-way along South Boundary Road. At a point on the trail, we crossed over a scenic footbridge resembling a Currier and Ives winter painting.
At the end of our adventure, the hike back along River Trail connected us with Union River. There, it presented us with a winter wonderland. Pine boughs bent and laden with snow, and flowing water in the river cascaded over rock and ice. Tom’s conversation and expressed appreciation of the snow world around us on our return made the three-mile journey back to our vehicle seemingly shorter. Tom is a friend who always appreciates a winter adventure.
Read More: Old Guys Surprise: Shoein’ in the Porkies
“In life, it’s not where you go – it’s who you travel with.” -Charles M. Schultz-
In my opinion, John is one of the best naturalists, teachers, and storytellers that I’ve had the pleasure of knowing. For a few years, John and I co-facilitated a children and parents weekend snowshoeing event. Kids and their parents or guardians learned not only snowshoeing skills from our instruction, but they were fully immersed in the natural winter world around them with John’s application of his naturalist skills.
I also learned a great deal from John’s informational hikes when he and I, or with a few other friends, embarked on a snowshoeing adventure. On one trip with a group of four, John led us on an exploration of the Black River. Here, both Gorge Falls and Potawatomi Falls flow, located in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan just north of Ironwood. He then led us to the mouth of the Black River, where it washes into Lake Superior. We snowshoed from a park area across a wooden footbridge and climbed a hill for a scenic view of the colossal lake below.
John used his naturalist skills to teach and entertain his three guests about the terrain, wildlife habitats, history, and much more about the area. When on a snowshoe adventure with John, it is not so important where we go. What is important is that we went there with John…as every snowshoe adventure was an invaluable learning experience for me and anyone with him.
“Many people will walk in and out of your life, but only true friends will leave footprints in your heart.” -Eleanor Roosevelt-
In the early through late 2000s, Sheryl headed up UWSP’s “Pathways to Point” program. This program provided new first-year students with a week-long backcountry adventure in summer involving canoeing, kayaking, backpacking, and camping. Sheryl and I worked together throughout those years. She was also the director of the campus outdoor adventure program, providing equipment, training, and outdoor adventure opportunities for university students.
Sheryl and I, with friends, went on hiking, backpacking, camping, and canoeing adventures. I also went snowshoeing with her. On a perfect winter afternoon, Sheryl and another friend joined me for a leisurely snowshoe hike. We went up and around 1,942-foot (592 m) Rib Mountain State Park, located near Wausau, Wisconsin.
The occasionally steep inclines and the presence of mammoth quartzite boulder outcrops presented us with challenges as we neared the summit. At the summit stood enormous rock formations called “The King’s Chair and Queen’s Chair.” Enjoying an overlook view of Wausau down below and hiking through a picturesque snow-topped conifer and deciduous forest was most exhilarating.
Sheryl’s dedication to providing outdoor enrichment for students, her love of nature, her kind and confident leadership, and her friendship definitely left an enriching footprint in my heart.
“Friendship…is not something you learn in school. But if you haven’t learned the meaning of friendship, you really haven’t learned anything.” -Mohammad Ali-
Learning about recreation is what Ed has been about all his adult life. As a recreation coordinator at UWSP for many years, Ed led students on numerous outdoor adventures. Activities from organizing intramural sports to leading student groups backpacking at Pictured Rocks along Lake Superior in Upper Michigan and much more make him an expert in recreation.
Ed and I co-taught Leave-No-Trace trainer backpacking courses. Together, we led UWSP students on a fall backpacking adventure at Sylvania Wilderness and Recreation Area in Upper Michigan. We also co-led a winter backpacking trip and snowshoe hikes for students at Treehaven. He creatively added softball to our snowshoeing games itinerary and introduced students to playing ball on snowshoes using an orange-painted softball and hula-hoops for bases.
Ed knows the meaning of friendship. He will go out of his way to be sure you are always welcomed and included. And Ed is a successful recreation educator, given he makes sure everyone he knows gets outside to play. Being a friend of Ed, you learn the meaning of friendship, and you learn the value of recreation.
“There is nothing on this earth more to be prized than true friendship.” -Thomas Aquinas-
True friendship indeed. It’s so true that I married my friend Liz nearly 37 years ago. Liz is my best friend. She is not an avid snowshoer like my other friends. But the snowshoeing we have done together makes me cherish her even more.
My most memorable snowshoe hike with Liz was our very first. In our early years of marriage, I introduced Liz to snowshoeing by taking her to Hixon Forest in La Crosse, Wisconsin. The snow was knee-deep, and the trek to our destination was quite a distance. The Recreation Center outfitted her with a pair of traditional snowshoes with flimsy rawhide bindings. I had on my aluminum-frame Tubbs snowshoes. Once I got Liz fitted with her rented pair, we headed out on an open stretch of deep snow. About 100 yards (91 m) out, Liz looked at me and said, “Is this your idea of fun?” She then turned around and returned to the center to return her snowshoes. That was it for snowshoeing that day.
One afternoon, many years later, we put on our aluminum-frame snowshoes and headed out our backdoor from our home near Mosinee, Wisconsin, onto the frozen Big Eau Pleine Flowage. Enjoying a leisurely hike along our lake with my wife holds a fond memory for me.
I contend that an excellent enrichment for couples is a day out on snowshoes together. Sharing the challenge, the scenery, and the enjoyment can make for a cupid moment. Except for some occasions when you encounter bottomless snow and poorly fitted snowshoes, as was our case. But, in our case, cupid struck later, as I had to take Liz out for dinner to make up for my snowshoeing faux pas.
Read Next: Snowshoeing: The Ultimate Bonding Experience
“A friend may well be reckoned the masterpiece of nature” – Ralph Waldo Emerson-
With friends, there is always safety in numbers. When snowshoeing with a friend or friends, you reduce the risk factor in the event of an injury or other safety hazard. Another person can be of assistance or go for help. On a winter backpacking trip, one of my students developed a flair-up of her Raynaud’s disease. I was able to walk with her back to a warm facility while my co-instructor friend stayed with the others.
In addition, sharing in a snowshoe hike with someone can enrich your adventure. Be it experiencing the sights and sounds of nature together or having someone to converse with along a trail, a friend can make the journey so much more enjoyable. Find a friend or friends and go on a snowshoeing hike. It will be that friendship or those friendships that make it a most meaningful and memorable event.
In essence, while snowshoeing along a snow-covered yellow-brick road, it’s all about the friendships we make along the way.