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Saturday, March 2, 2019

Turning 31 - Snowmobiling Weekend in New York

I have been lucky to spend some birthdays in some beautiful places around the world and in good company.

I turned 25 on the slopes of Killington, where Thatcher and I tried to navigate a "new to us" mountain.  26 was spent on a plane to Salt Lake City, where I spent a week running, skiing, sightseeing and falling in love with Salt Lake City and Park City.  By 27, I was living in Utah and spent the evening at one of my favorite restaurants in Salt Lake City, eating beef stroganoff from Copper Onion and devouring chocolate cake from Gourmandise.  I celebrated 28 on the beaches of Puerto Rico, scuba diving with turtles, swimming and sliding down natural waterslides, hiking through rain forests, and celebrating a friends wedding.  I spent 29 deep in the woods of Vermont, convincing 5 of my friends to spend the night in a yurt in northern Vermont (in February) and hiking Camels Hump - getting a little lost while trudging through waist deep snow.  I spent 30 in Banff, Canada - skiing, snowshoeing and dog sledding into a new decade of my life.  And here we are at 31, a birthday spent in the lower Adirondacks, snowmobiling and snowshoeing in the woods of New York.

Before I get into another birthday recap, understand a few things.

One - I love birthdays.  I think birthdays are worth all the pomp and circumstance, the nice dinners, trips away and fancy chocolate cake.  Growing old is a privilege denied to many and every birthday is worth the big to-do.

Two - I love active birthdays and making a weekend out of it.  Give me an adventure and some good company and I am a happy birthday girl.

Three -  there has to be chocolate cake.  This girl loves chocolate and a reason to splurge, need I say more?

31 isn't as exciting or as iconic of a birthday as turning 30 but no birthday should go wasted, even if it's on a Monday.  Life has been handing me some changes and I have been doing my best at going with the flow, trying to stop worrying about the future and most importantly, try to plan a little less for this constantly planning planner.   I left my birthday pretty open-ended and was excited to see that turning 31 coincided with the Brantingham Winter-Fest and good snow conditions up in the lower Adirondacks of New York.  Winter-Fest meant a weekend of outdoor festivities including a parade (we missed), outdoor drinking (we did not miss), bed races (stay tuned), cold games of corn hole (passed) and snowmobiling (many many miles).  Good snow conditions meant I was going to learn to ride snowmobiles and ride them far and fast, trying to keep up with some people whose winter revolves around time spent on sleds.  According to the experts, I did.

Bridges of New York

To start the birthday weekend, I made the almost 5-hour trek on Thursday where Valentines Day was spent as it should be, with a greasy pizza and stiff drinks at a dive bar.  On Friday, I got my first real taste of snowmobiling.  I was given a five-minute lesson and took one lap around the yard to make sure I could somewhat operate a sled before being trusted with an expensive machine belonging to someone else.  I must have passed the preliminary test because next thing I knew, we headed out from the cabin and we were riding sleds down the road, hopping on and off the banks before heading into the woods and onto some trails.  We spent some time on the sleds, speeding through winding wooded trails, flying across open fields, and driving down side roads covered in snow as I watched the speedometer creep up to surprising speeds.

Sleds ready for the day

Checking out the Map along the snowmobile trails 

Cutest signs along the trails 

We eventually stopped at a bar for lunch where I really started to see how engrained snowmobiling culture is in these towns.  The roads are mostly marked with yellow signs, warning you that you will likely be sharing the road with snowmobilers.  The trails are well maintained and well marked and various clubs throughout the area send groomers out in the night to maintain snowmobiling trails for all to use.  Maps are posted at local bars and intersections and signs point you in the right direction of the nearest town or the best watering holes.  You ride your sled around from town to town, barhopping via snowmobile if you will.  The bars all have large helmet shelves when you walk in the door and a place to hang your bulky outer layers.  It is quite common to see a line of sleds parked outside a restaurant, or a pair of snowmobiles fueling up at the gas station.  It was a world so unknown to me, a world I didn't know existed here in this part of New York, but one I was starting to appreciate and understand.  I learned a lot about snowmobiling (beginners tips coming soon), some verbal lessons through my expert instructor and some lessons learned the harder way (i.e. stuck).

Quick check-in as we make our way down the trails

Fueling up the sleds - normal occurrence here in New York

After about an 80-mile day which included a 20-minute break spent getting my sled unstuck from a very soft snowbank (read very very buried and unburied from an angry human) we called it a day.  Back at the cabin, my body was achy from sitting in the same hunched position all day, my thumb hurt from holding the throttle.  My hair smelled like old helmet sweat and fumes but I understood why people love this activity.  I was happy to be out in the woods with only the sound of whirring engines, seeing another part of the northeast on sleds getting a taste of another world, an activity that makes the winter in New England enjoyable.

Overlook in the Old Forge area

Abandoned railroad cars near the Thendara train station - New York

Abandoned railroad cars near the Thendara train station - New York

Abandoned railroad cars near the Thendara train station - New York

Abandoned railroad cars near the Thendara train station - New York

Saturday was much of the same except this time there were four of us riding in a line for long stretches of trails.  We left from the cabin and made our way to Old Forge, where we stopped to check out an old abandoned train, took a break at overlooks, and got back on the sleds to ride miles and miles (and miles) of trails.  Around noon we finally stopped at Brantingham Lake to have a pint at the Pine Tree where weekend festivities were unraveling for the weekend.  I was excited for the break from the sled and again, admired how lovely it was to leave the car back in the driveway and get around these sleepy towns on sleds.

Bed Races 

Sunday was a break from the snowmobiles and instead, a morning spent at the gym and the day spent at the lake.  I bundled up in my layers and filled our water bottles with vodka sodas before jumping in the truck and driving down to Brantingham.  I stood on the sidelines, watching various groups compete in the winterfest's famous "bed races".  I watched a group of fireman push a hunk of wood carrying one random child around a set of kegs and laughed at the character and charm of a strange little race at a funny winter fest in a charming little town.  After wintry drinks and bed races, we headed inside to enjoy the warmth and libations while listening to live music a before calling it another successful night.

Snowshoeing along the creek

Monday was my birthday and the final bookend of a fun weekend, the start of the reality that this 5-day vacation was over and I had to return back home to responsibilities, critters, and civilization.  I woke up in the woods of New York with Happy Birthday wishes, homemade blueberry waffles, and a quiet morning absorbing a new day, the start of a new year and a new chapter of Katie Arruda.   However, I wasn't leaving New York without one last adventure.  It was a quiet overcast Monday and the snow was flurrying as we strapped on snowshoes to stretch our legs and do some wandering before a long drive home.  We headed out the door for a snowshoe around the area, covering about 3 miles in the woods by the cabin with not a soul in sight, chatting about a simple life in the woods, outdoor activities, summer dreams and the best camping spots to be found.

Following an old logging road

I remember walking down this old logging road with feet of snow, a sort of winter wonderland where no one is around, not a sound to be heard, not a human to be found.  Just walking along in stride, snowshoes leaving wide tracks in the snow, chatting while trying to make sense of what critter left what track.  As I walked along in this company, on this birthday, in this state.... I thought to myself how simple yet how complex life can be.

First of several slips into the brook below 

We tracked our route through the woods while sometimes falling into the snow-covered icy brook beneath us.  One broken snowshoe and a very soggy leg later we found our way back to the house in time to pack up and begin the drive home.  It was just me and my thoughts as I drove home alone, thinking about the weekend behind me and the year ahead, what I felt, what I wanted, and what I hoped it would look like.  After one speeding ticket and nearly four hours of driving through scenic New York and the Berkshires of Massachusetts, I found myself at the Village in Litchfield, snacking on bruschetta and drinking wine.

My life is rich and wonderful, filled with lovely people and adventures.  This blog and these posts are a testament to that.  It's filled with so many high highs and a few of those low lows.  Sometimes my life looks like a day spent on snowmobiles and sometimes it looks like a girl with a sly and unknowing smile drinking wine at the bar on a Monday night in Litchfield.

31 was another fun birthday weekend, filled with winter wanderings and trying something new.  It was my way of celebrating and honoring another journey around the sun, another year older and another year so much wiser.  I have a feeling 31 is going to be my year and the next 365 days will challenge me and surprise me in ways I can't begin to imagine.

Cheers to 31 Years.

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