The Grand Duchess and I are back in Central Illinois after several days of skiing in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan and extreme northern Wisconsin, and it was as close to perfect skiing as you can find (See the photograph above!). Very cold with fresh snow, freshly groomed trails, not too much wind, and not too many other skiers. You can't really tell from the photograph here, but there were about three-four feet of snow on the ground. We purchased three-day passes to ski at ABR Trails in Ironwood, Michigan, a place that has 60 kilometers of groomed trails. It's not as big a ski area as some, but there was certainly enough varied terrain to keep us busy exploring it for the three days. Using a trail map, we worked out that we skied almost all of it from Saturday through Monday -- 46 kilometers for me and over 50 for the Grand Duchess. What a shame it's an eight hour drive north of us because I'm all ready to hit the trails again this coming weekend!
Arguably, one of the best parts of a day out skiing is afterwards! Here, we see the Grand Duchess Sonja enjoying a cup of hot cocoa midday before one of two wood stoves in the ski lodge at ABR Trails. It's not as fancy as downhill skiing, but Nordic skiing is much more accessible as far as cost goes, plus it's a quieter, more polite sport in general, and you meet some interesting people along the way. It's also something you can do at any age. I learned to do it at 33 with no prior skiing experience, and while there is always room to improve technique, little by little you can manage to move forward and get down most hills without planting your face in the snow. And yes, I did just that not once but twice on Day Two. Chalk it up fatigue at the end of the day!
Sonja wanted me to get a picture of her sitting in the special Adirondack chair, which was partially made from old skis. So, here's a second photo of the Grand Duchess gazing into the flames as we unwound following 10 kilometers on the morning of the first day. Incidentally, we managed another 10 kilometers on more difficult trails (climbing hills and navigating the inevitable descents) that afternoon.
Finally, here is a photo of yours truly at the door of the authentic Finnish sauna hut, to which the Grand Duchess treated us at the end of Day Two. It was glorious. About 180 degrees Fahrenheit thanks to a wood stove with rocks on top, accompanied by steam from water poured over the rocks. And the water was scented with a blend of spearmint and other oils, which made for a delightful experience. After an hour, we doused ourselves with ice-cold water from the shower in the hut, dried off, and dressed in clean clothes for dinner. I haven't done anything like this since I was about five years old, and it's unbelievable how clean and pleasantly fatigued one feels after a day of skiing, followed by a traditional steam sauna.
So, now we are home again. The Grand Duchess begins her sabbatical for the term this week officially. I have another week before classes begin for the spring, and it's time to get back to painting those 80 fusiliers and a return to the Action at Pickelhaubewicz with my partner in crime, Major von Hirschbiegel. Charge!