The late arrival of spring means waterways are still clogged with ice and trails are in soggy condition across southern Manitoba and northwestern Ontario.
If you own a drysuit and have superior paddling skills, you could find an open seam of water on the edge of Lake of the Woods. And if you don't care about erosion, you could take your bike and chew up the sandy soil at Spruce Woods, Grand Beach or some other quick-draining area.
The vast majority of us will wait another week to allow the shortest shoulder season in recent memory to get the hell out of the way. This is not because we're afraid of getting muddy (have you ever met a mountain-bike owner who cared about getting covered in goo?) or afraid of getting cold (it's supposed to be 15 C today). It's because we don't want to be freaking annoyed when we do the things we love.
Three years ago, on a relatively balmy March 19, I decided I couldn't wait for the shoulder season to end and headed out to Sandilands Provincial Forest to ride the multi-use trails.
Some sections were clear of snow and ice. Some were not. Within 20 minutes, the combination of stop-start riding and my lack of skill as a cyclist (this is not false modesty; I am awful) led me to break my chain.
So if you are, like me, a mortal human, here are some alternative activities for the brief shoulder season, however long it takes to end:
Block out those summer trips
Of course you know your own schedule. But you probably have no idea what responsibilities your spouse, friends and other potential tripmates have slapped into their iCalendars and Outlooks over the next few months. If you're mortally afraid of solo wilderness travel, now is the time to ensure someone else is going with you.
Check your gear
Did a mouse chew a hole in your ultra-light tent over the winter? Did some strange microbial growth clog your water filter? Does your camp stove still work? Wouldn't it be a great idea to check out this stuff well before you have to be anywhere? Doesn't it suck to scramble at the last minute? Isn't it way cheaper to repair gear instead of buying new stuff you don't really need, merely out of desperation? Don't you hate it when people ask questions they have no intention of allowing anyone else to answer?
Start getting back in shape
Yes, you hate the gym. I hate the gym, too. But Winnipeg's streets have been clear of ice for weeks now, so there's no excuse to not get your bike or feet out on the road. You actually didn't have an excuse in the depths of January, either but I'll spare you the hypocrisy -- I didn't ride this winter, more out of laziness than anything.
Reduce your food costs
Depending on how much trail food you precook and dry at home, you can spend very little or a tremendous amount of money on food for a longer wilderness trip. Getting the cost down depends on advance preparation that allows you to purchase fewer of those commercially produced trail meals that cost $7 a bag and taste like reconstituted cardboard bits, anyway. While dehydrators are great, an oven on low heat can approximate the same task, if you have the time and patience to ensure you are not burning trays of steamed veggies or pre-cooked lasagna bits instead of turning them into leather.
Upgrade your maps
Up until two years ago, I thought I was an orientation rock star simply because I marked up topographical maps with campsite info and threw a GPS in the daypack as a backup. Then I went on a river trip with a real rock star, who took photocopies of (legally purchased!) maps and guidebook entries, cut them into snippets and rearranged them into an annotated trail handbook, easily slipped inside a waterproof mapcase. Such a move takes time -- but then again, time is what you have right now. Your window of inactivity is about to close.