Gliding along on cross-country skis through a winter- wonderland glade of snow-covered pines the other day, I turned to my wife, Lisa.
“Doesn’t get any better than this,” I said.
She nodded. “Who needs Vermont?”
The trails we skied in fact were as picturesque as any groomed course in northern New England, but we didn’t have to drive five hours or pay for a pass because we were schussing for free on a path in Voluntown’s Pachaug State Forest, less than 20 minutes from home.
Only a week earlier, as I recounted in this forum, some friends and I had driven 250 miles to New Hampshire’s White Mountains for a two-day skiing and camping expedition. Not to take anything away from that glorious trip, but we wound up spending as much time in cars as we did on skis.
I wrestle with this dilemma every time I drive north for mountaineering, hiking or kayaking excursions.
To be sure southeastern Connecticut doesn’t have any 4,000-foot peaks, reliable snow or Class IV rivers, but in the right conditions we outdoor enthusiasts can enjoy challenging, satisfying adventure.
In this mostly snowless winter, as well as during other mostly snowless seasons, the rule of thumb, as always, is carpe diem.
As soon as flakes sufficiently cover the ground — often, even while they’re still flying — you must drop everything and grab your skis.
My buddy, Phil Plouffe, who had been on the New Hampshire outing, understands this rule and joined me on a quick trip to Pachaug the day after last week’s storm dumped about 10 inches of fresh powder. We had the trail pretty much to ourselves, except for one brief encounter with a snowmobiler. We also just missed a dozen or more dogsled racers that were packing up their gear and huskies as we slid by.
I know I have on occasion castigated snowmobiles as among the most wretched contraptions on earth, but I have to admit the one at Pachaug packed the trail perfectly for us.
The next day, Lisa and I covered the same ground, a six-mile-or-so loop near Mount Misery, including a short detour through the rhododendron sanctuary.
The temperature climbed and light drizzle fell as we finished in late morning, and by the end of the day heavy rain had wiped away most of the snow. We probably were the last ones to ski that day — who knows, the way the temperatures have been all season, maybe even this winter. Of course we’re now back to muddy, bare ground.
There are plenty of other places to ski in our neck of the woods on the increasingly rare occasions we get sufficient snow — Bluff Point and Haley Farm state parks in Groton, Barn Island in Stonington, Rocky Neck in East Lyme, and various golf courses.
I’d rather stick closer to home than waste time and gas, but at the same time am not quite prepared to give up cross-country if we don’t get any more snow this year. Odds are before long I’ll be back behind the wheel in the northbound lanes.
Here’s hoping, though, for a few more decent storms followed by extended cold stretches to keep snow on the ground here.
Hey, before you know it we’ll be putting our skis away and hopping in our white-water kayaks, ready to start the next season of fun and adventure.