There are worse things to be addicted to than cross-country skiing, but such is my curse. Under the circumstances, i.e., living in Manitoba, I can feed my addiction to my heart's content.
I find there's structure to be found in ritual, and when it comes to skiing, I start with the task of researching possible destinations on the Manitoba Cross Country Ski Association's website (www.ccski.mb.ca). Once I've made the choice, I dig out my Manitoba Backroad Mapbook (published by Mussio Ventures Ltd.) and plot the most convoluted route I can find between point A and point B. From there, I start to investigate what surprises may be waiting in each little town or hamlet I'll be passing while en route to point B.
The morning of, I check the weather channel and wax my skis accordingly. My tough-guy pals often wax when they reach their destination, and the real rebels don't wax at all. But I'm a cold-blooded gal and I prefer tending to my skis' needs in the warmth and comfort of the basement. The next step is important -- put the skis, poles and boots in the car. Don't laugh; it can happen. I'm living proof. Finally, I make sure I have my winter-driving safety kit stowed in the vehicle, a few trip treats and some CDs for the mandatory singalong.
On this particular day, point B is a location west of Roseisle, where I plan to ski along the hilly banks of Pumpkin Creek. I've had a few conversations with members of the Pumpkin Creek Ski Club (Danielle Dumesnil, Don Benedictson, Francene Adelman and Jack Cram), and I'm anticipating an excellent adventure.
The Roseisle Community Co-op Store is a good pit stop for gas and such. The co-op is a treasure trove of local produce, with a great little coffee shop and eating area. I purchase a few bricks of Notre Dame Creamery butter and a deliciously wicked jar of maple butter made in McCreary.
Pumpkin Creek ski trails can be found four kilometres west and a little south of Roseisle. The ski club, which has been in existence since 1976, is comprised of a handful of volunteers, a trail-grooming machine and a lot of co-operation. The ski trails, 20 km in all, traverse the private property of 14 different landowners. This is a phenomenal example of individuals pulling together for the greater good, and I thank you.
At the trailhead, I find a cosy little clubhouse with all the fixings: a wood-burning stove, chairs, tables, an excellent view and a trail map. Oh, and out back there's an outhouse equipped with a simple yet totally wonderful Styrofoam seat -- warm in the winter, cool in the summer. Luxury.
Anyone can become a member of the Pumpkin Creek Ski Club, but as a visitor, I deposit my $3 in the donation box (families $5). Sorry, no dogs. Or snowmobiles. I'm going to consider becoming a member, though, as the club hosts many different functions throughout the year, including an annual mystery tour. Jack Cram, a level 2 Nordic ski instructor, and other club members give waxing clinics and classic-technique skiing classes. Lessons? Now there's a crazy idea.
The looped trails are rated easy to intermediate and I'm immediately suspicious about one called Roger's Pass. No mountain, as it turns out -- the trail just goes past Roger's house. Snowflakes casually fall and the well-groomed track is sparkling, which prompts a chorus or two from Paul Simon's Diamonds On The Soles of Her Shoes. Animal tracks and scats are everywhere, and the thought did fleetingly cross my mind that if we shut our gobs for a minute, we might actually see some wildlife.
We're travelling through your typical Manitoba river-bottom forest. There's some fairly substantial hills, but mostly we're between those and Pumpkin Creek. I would have liked to complete all three loops of the BlueMoon Trail, but time is a-tickin'. There are several switchbacks along the route, so it's easy to tailor the day's excursion to meet our time constraints. I vowed in the guest book back at the clubhouse that I'd be back later this winter to finish the BlueMoon trail.
Home is an easy 90-minute drive northeast, so, true to form, we head in the opposite direction following our noses. We take the "Road Past Altamont" (a small community, and a well-respected book by Gabrielle Roy) before grinding to a halt, uncertain as to where we are, and then I see it: a great blade reaching 120 metres into the air, high as the Richardson Building in downtown Winnipeg. We are near the Saint Leon wind farms.
Saint Leon is Manitoba's first wind-energy project. There are 63 turbines strategically installed over a 9,000- hectare area and they are all spinning in the wind. Their energy is sufficient to supply enough electricity to run a city the size of Brandon. The towers are otherworldly and a sure sign we have left the wilderness behind and re-entered the land of the mighty.
Feeling rather small and insignificant, we turn towards home, leaving the wind machines to do their turning and the sun to do its setting.
Jacquie Crone writes a blog for Travel Manitoba and you can read more of her stories and view her photographs at http://www.unexpectedmanitoba.com/author/jcrone.
Stay on PTH 245 about four kilometres west of Roseisle, turn south on the road that leads to the Birch Ski Area, turn west at the first road (look for the small Pumpkin Creek sign). Continue 2.5 km to the trailhead/parking area.