After spending more time than I’d care to admit just looking at them, I realized that I had been trying to put the snowshoes on backward.
For most of my life, my relationship with snowshoes might have been best described as ambivalent.
I felt a mix of emotions as I looked down at the black bag. Because of my long-standing apprehension, I don’t own a pair. A friend was letting me borrow his and had left them out on his back porch for me to pick up.
Snowshoes are really only helpful when walking over deep snow, which is not something I go out of my way to do.
A Good Place for a Snowshoe
I put the snowshoes in my passenger seat and headed out to County Rd. 550, otherwise known as the Big Bay Rd.
As I passed Sugarloaf Mountain, I noticed that the main parking lot was closed for the season. The rather ominous sign read: “Enter at Your Own Risk.”
Many of the parking areas along County Rd. 550 are only seasonally maintained. You might consider placing a shovel and a bag of kitty litter in your car for emergencies. I didn’t have either, but I probably should have.
I decided to explore the Songbird Trail loop at Little Presque Isle. Little Presque Isle requires a Recreation Passport, which is available for purchase from the DNR.
At the sign for Little Presque Isle Recreation Area, I turned right onto a snowy two-track. The closest parking lot to the Songbird Trail is the first left off this road. Little Presque Isle Recreation area requires a Recreation Passport.
I had the place entirely to myself. As I got out of my car, I concluded that this was probably because of the biting cold and approaching dusk.
Only when I placed the snowshoes on the ground in front of me did I realize that I didn’t know how to attach them to my feet. My freezing fingers fumbled with the bindings. I started contemplating putting the snowshoes back in my car and going for a regular walk.
After spending more time than I’d care to admit just looking at them, I realized that I had been trying to put the snowshoes on backward. There was even a helpful label that read, “Place Ball of Foot Here.”
In my defense, these snowshoes were nothing like the ones I had used before. Those (borrowed from my great aunt and uncle) had been made of wood and rawhide and, although they were still perfectly functional, probably should have been in a museum. The ones I was currently wearing, by contrast, were made of lightweight aluminum with nylon webbing and bindings.
The path was pretty well packed down, so the snowshoes didn’t seem to be doing much beyond comically altering my gate.
I crossed a snow-covered bridge over Harlow Creek. The dark, flowing water was visible through jagged windows in the snow-dusted surface of the ice.
When I crossed the bridge and ascended a slight incline, I noticed the shoes were helping me, though not necessarily in their weight distribution capacity. Like many modern designs, these were equipped with cleats that dug into the slippery surface of the trail, which made walking up it much more manageable.
The trail was empty. The only sounds were the crunching of the snow underfoot passing vehicles on County Rd. 550. There was a surprising amount of traffic—cars and large trucks came screaming down from the mine in Big Bay.
As I went deeper, the dull roar of the road was replaced by the crashing waves of Lake Superior. Winding my way among the snow-covered trees, I chose paths where the snow was less disturbed.
Mostly, it seemed to me, the snow wasn’t deep enough for my footwear to have made much of a difference.
There wasn’t going to be a spectacular sunset. Instead, the cold blue dusk would gradually fade to night.
When I got to the top of the dune overlooking the beach, I surveyed the territory. To my left, the shoreline disappeared into a haze of flying snow. To my right, the delta of Harlow Creek emptied into Lake Superior beneath a thick shell of ice.
All along the shore, dark, foam-capped waves rolled in and shattered against the ice. Little Presque Isle, the island from which the beach gets its name, looked soft and grey in the distance.
Before stepping down onto the beach, I removed my snowshoes, not wanting to damage them on the ice. The winds whipping off the lake had sculpted delicate ripples into the snow, the white marbled with dark swirls of sand.
I approached the old jack pine that marks the outlet of Harlow Creek but didn’t want to get too close. Because of the thick layer of ice, I couldn’t quite tell where the sand ended and the water began.
As I made my way back, a flash of red caught my eye amidst all the grey and white of the frozen wetlands.
It was the head of a pileated woodpecker that was making his way up a bare tree, knocking little bursts of snow off as he hopped from branch to branch. He pecked at the trunk wood for a little while before flying off towards the dark pine trees beyond.
The light was getting dim by the time I approached the parking area. I was feeling just about ready to get out of the cold, but an alleyway of snowy pine trees to my left demanded that I take a slight detour.
There was something meditative about the rhythmic crunch of the trail underfoot. Between the dense, snow-covered boughs, I finally found myself surrendering to the magic of the snowshoe.
A couple of weeks later, long after I’d returned my friend’s snowshoes, I found myself knee-deep in a snowy field near the Iron Ore Heritage Trail. This, I thought, would have been the ideal time for my new favorite footwear.