Smiles, sun and fun. What more could you ask for on the weekend, especially during the front end of a bleak and cold winter in the Washington/Idaho borderlands? The Palouse, so well-known for painted sunsets, has lately sorely lacked a sky-blue canvas. Each day seems lifeless and lackluster. So when Saturday morning came with a burst of “wake up!” sunrays, I forgot all about sleeping in.
The drive northeast of Pullman to Palouse Divide Nordic Ski Area is the same as any other route within an hour perimeter; lumpy, rolling farmland, creek bottoms, and pockets of pines. After passing through the logging towns of Potlach, Princeton and Harvard, the St. Joe National Forest transforms the setting. Logging roads at the summit provide parking and a gateway to the trails for skiers and dogs. Our company had three hounds, two veteran snow lovers and one urban rookie. Also in the mix was 9-month-old Callan, who was strapped to his uncle Eric’s back. An early start to a life destined to be full of outdoor adventures?
Leading the pack up the mountain I pushed through crusty snow, sliding over deep post holes a lone moose created. Angus, a Labrador/St. Bernard mix, was close at my heels, tearing up the fresh track behind my ski tails. We peeled off layers as steam billowed from our bodies. And when we reached the summit, we collapsed in the cold snow, drank water and snacked. On days like this, the sun is intoxicating. Life pulses with exhilaration — we couldn’t help but be happy.
If you haven’t tried Nordic skiing you’re missing out on a menacing chance to laugh and smile; trying to avoid catastrophe on steep descents. Attempting to stay in the bumpy, squirrely two-track on a pair of narrow skis with only your toes clipped in is a serious thrill. Even slight deviations from the track can result in violent body slams and a face spanked with snow.
Hungry and worn out, we made it back to the trailhead with no major spills. Seeking beer and other savories, we found our way to a small café in the nearby town of Harvard. The Hoodoo cafe’s roadside sign proudly advertised a one-pound beef monster, the Bigfoot Burger. Enticed by such a foe, I foolishly ordered the beast. Dressed with mushrooms, onions, cheese and an enormous bun, the pound of beef was perhaps only half of the total weight. Definitely bigger than I anticipated the burger was not a fair trade to my starved body. I would need to ski across Idaho and into Montana to wipe the caloric slate clean after finishing. Instead I took a casual ride home in the passenger seat.
As the morning’s blue sky promised, the evening horizon exploded with vibrant colors on the drive back. A perfect day in the Palouse.