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Archive for the ‘snow’ Category

It’s winter in the Upper Midwest. And because December and January have delivered on their promises to bring snow and cold to Minnesota, many local friends and coworkers are now lamenting winter’s stranglehold on the Twin Cities.

I truly don’t mind that the mounds of snow at the end of the driveway are past my shoulder in height. And, I could care less that so far this year we’ve received an above average amount of snow from Mother Nature. Consider it her gift to those of us bold enough to live here.

Still, it’s amusing how weather conditions dominate so much of our day-to-day lives.

In the past 72 hours I’ve heard or seen a fistful of news packages about seasonal affective disorder (SAD) – a condition caused, primarily, by lack of natural sunlight exposure. Like many forms of depression, a person with SAD can wind up unable to perform normal daily activities, like brushing his or her teeth. It’s a for-real disorder and I’m not making fun of it. We’ve all experienced those blah/blues moments…they just seem to peak in mid-January and February for those in the northern hemisphere.

Commute times to and from work are another sore subject. Just this Monday/Tuesday, the Twin Cities metro received between 3 and 5 inches of fresh snow. Of course it all fell during morning and afternoon rush hour periods. The result? Spin out accidents and traffic slowed to a standstill for practically 36 hours. Now a normal, non-resident might think most Minneapolites and Saint Paulville people would become used to winter driving conditions once February rolled around.

Wrong-o.

During this morning’s slippery-road-condition-commute I was witness to Escalade drivers weaving in and out of traffic like it was a July 4 weekend trip to the north woods. Plus, I wound up behind two different cars with rear windows completely covered in a layer of snow driving up 35W in the fast lane. Hellooooo snow scraper/brush thingy?!?! Let’s be a little courteous and try fixing the visibility problem before taking the car onto the freeway. Oh, if you have a rear window wiper built into your Toyota Rav4, turn it on for chrissakes!

Fortunately, in another 58-88 days the bulk of winter’s blast will be over and Minnesotans can start bitching about the humidity and high winds blowing in from Canada or North Dakota.

Come August, though, I’ll be eyeing my cross country skis and pining for fresh snow.

-end-

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It took the 11 years and four treks, but I’ve made friends with the North Shore of Minnesota – a stretch of Lake Superior shoreline, highway, infamous landmarks, and seasonal resorts.

Up until now, my travels that direction epitomized the word miserable. Few other places in the country boast about bad weather to attract tourists, but for those in Duluth and points north along the treacherous northwest shore of Lake Superior, bad weather is a piece of nearly every historical moment worth noting. For me, one late summer trip several years ago featured horizontal rain and high winds for two straight days. A second venture resulted in a foot of snow and high winds. The third trip, a late April getaway, included some sun, but the wind blew so fierce it might as well have been the Antarctic. This pattern seems to be the norm.

The vistas and opportunities to hike, bike and relax in the Arrowhead Region of Minnesota are too numerous to ignore…and so away we went on Saturday to kick off Labor Day weekend 2010.

And brother, we hit the weather jackpot.

Two full days of “sunny and mid- to upper-60s farenheit” ruled our short getaway. On Day One, the lofty cotton-ball-esque dotted skies served as a personal tour guide as we hiked miles and miles of the Superior Hiking Trail – enough steps to make our feet, calves, knees and thighs tell us “enough.” If you haven’t stepped onto a piece of the 270-plus miles of this trail, add it to your bucket list. And while you’re at it, make sure to take the Lookout Mountain trail section for a scene unlike any other you’ll find in Minnesota.

That evening we ate and slept in Grand Marais. Our dinner bell rang at The Crooked Spoon, a crowded cafe on Wisconsin Street where the chef served up a wicked lamb tenderloin and the most beautiful leafy green salad I’ve ever seen. And while very much a tourist town, for a Saturday night, Grand Marais seemed very quaint and quiet overlooking a calm Lake Superior.

On a cloudless Day Two, Cheri and I biked the Pincushion Mountain trail, just a couple miles from Grand Marais off the Gunflint Trail highway. Leaving the town, this highway rises over 1,000 feet in just 2.5 miles or so. After completely wasting our legs peddling the mountain bike trail, I coasted back in to Grand Marais – nearing 40 mph on two wheels and barely turning the crank.

Another hike on the Superior Hiking Trail to take in Devil’s Kettle gave new meaning to late summer in Northern Minnesota. As we sat on the rocks of the Brule River watching the falls the color was unbelievable. From the rocks to the sharp dark walls of the river’s gorge to the green chlorophyl-laden shrubs and trees to a clear blue sky. Now that’s what being outdoors is suppose to be about.

Lesson learned. The North Shore may be unforgiving at times with its wind, driving rain and lake effect snows, but pick your moment and place and you can be pleasantly surprised by the gift of such a place. And you may, like me, make friends with a piece of America that you had for awhile given up on.

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It’s painful to watch. And sadly, if you drive, you’ve likely found yourself in a similar sitch. The video reminds us, when we’re behind the wheel of a two-ton automobile and freezing rain or snow come between the car and the road, we have no control.

Here in Minneapolis, the first real snow of the season brings out the crazy in residents. The Twin Cities received its first stay-for-the-season kind of snow fall on Friday. Three people died in weather-related car accidents that very evening after only an inch or so of snow covered the roads.

But as cooler temps worked their magic chilling the ground since mid-November, the snow no longer melts on contact. The tires pack it down, make it slippery and leave us all to our own creation…and demise, sadly.

It’s now Sunday morning and snowing again. Driving in snowy conditions requires expertise and attention.  Weather.com offers some suggestions for safe driving when it snows. Here are a few driving tips as a refresher:

  • Put away distractions. Cell phones, books, Big Macs and Big Gulps should not occupy your attention when driving in poor weather conditions.
  • Slow down. You’re driving a ton or two of metal making you the detonator of a gas-powered missile.
  • Triple the usual distance between you and the car in front of you. It could be driven by a 16-year-old numb skull with no winter weather driving expertise.
  • Don’t park along the street (note video above).
  • If the car you’re driving skids, steer into the skid. If the back of your car is skidding to the left, for example, turn the steering wheel to the left.
  • Apply brakes lightly when stopping. Don’t pump the brake and avoid pressing them until the wheels lock up.
  • Keep the headlights on, keep snow and ice off side view mirrors and refill windshield wiper fluid frequently.
  • Wear the seat belt.
  • Keep tires inflated to the recommended level.
  • Check tires for wear and tear. Replace tires before the snowy season, if needed.
  • Don’t assume the vehicle can handle any road conditions. A 4X4 on ice or hard-packed snow has no better traction than a tricycle.

Of course, the best advice of all: If you don’t have to drive…don’t. Why give the Grim Reaper your address and phone number?

-end-

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Spring. After waiting for weeks for its arrival, Spring blew into town this week. Finally. As noted previously, Minnesota experienced its first snowfall of the season on Dec. 1, 2007. Snow has blanketed the ground ever since. As I check the calendar it is now April 4 and the snow is gone from the ground – at last (except where it was piled up from plows and shoveling).

With Spring’s long-awaited arrival, outdoor activities become the rage among Minnesotans. Oh sure, there are many die hards who run outdoors all year long – even when the air temperature reaches negative degrees and the windchill makes it feel like double digits in the negative. But now people are out there with smiles on their faces. The long winter is over.

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NVGP

I volunteer my time to the Nature Valley Grand Prix, helping with media relations and PR to generate more awareness about the pro bike race. I’ve never raced, but I do bike (part of the tri thing I’m such a novice at). The pro teams that swing through Minnesota each June for the five-day, six-stage Nature Valley Grand Prix are amazing to watch. Motivating even. What’s most amazing are the women on the various teams that race in St. Paul, Cannon Falls, Minneapolis, Mankato, and finally, in Stillwater.

The women riders are a thing to behold. Many of them put in just as much time as the pro men riders, but they also have full-time jobs, children and a variety of other responsibilities beyond the bike and the week-long or weekend races they compete in. They race, crash, bleed, and tell their stories just as adeptly as any male rider – and their passion shows up tenfold in their eyes and their faces as they line up at the start line for each event.

If you haven’t seen a pro race, either mens or womens, I encourage you to look up the USA Cycling event closest to your hometown and make the journey to watch it live. It’s unlike any sport – and TV viewing (aka the Tour de France on Versus) just doesn’t do the race justice.

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Remember your first haircut?

As a kid, my parents were close friends with a very nice couple, Ernie and Evelyn. Ernie was a barber and he had the coolest set up in his basement in Spencer, Iowa (my hometown). Ernie’s basement came complete with pool table, color TV and a small alcove/room that included a barber chair, sink and all the hardware needed to get a haircut.

On Friday or Saturday nights from time to time, our family would go to Ernie and Evelyn’s, have a little dinner and while the women talked in the kitchen, the guys would adjourn to the basement for a) haircuts and b) a game or two of pool. This was considered high living for a kid of five or six years old. My dad and Ernie would talk about adult stuff. Sometimes they would (gasp) drink a beer. On one particularly interesting evening, Ernie attached a toupee to my Dad (who was naturally balding). We all got a major chuckle over that one!

Ernie always took great care in cutting hair. He also owned a salon downtown and he ran a good business serving many loyal customers. He was ahead of his time in many areas, including his ride. Yes, Ernie drove a Subaru back in the ’70s, which drew plenty of strange looks from the Chrysler/Ford/Chevy owners in town. But he didn’t care and his trend-setting days continued throughout his life. Well into his 80s, Ernie passed away in 2007. I trust he’s now perched in one of the most beautiful and comfiest of barber chairs available in Heaven.

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My part of the world witnessed its first-0f-the-year snow flurry this morning. On my drive to work, the tiniest of snow squalls blew through the north suburbs. At about 7:50 a.m., I sat at a red light waiting to turn left into the compound that is the campus of the world headquarters where I toil, and while stopped I stared down the small white flakes beating against the windshield. I watched them evaporate on the glass of the car window.  The finest of snowflakes consisting of less than a pinhead of water. Thus begins Winter in Minnesota, even though its still officially fall for another six weeks (the first day of winter is not until Dec. 22 – as if that makes a difference).

Most everyone is familiar with the well-known musical, “The Music Man.” My son is involved in the junior high production of this Broadway smash, and the firstmusic man performance went off without a hitch last night. His role may be tiny as a “townsperson” and “traveling salesman” who finds himself in the midst of River City, Iowa, but his Dad thought proud things about him as he sang and danced and said his one line. The seventh, eighth and ninth graders who put on the show and devoted the last two months of their lives getting ready for three performances all deserve a big parade of tipped hats and atta boys (and girls).

There’s a little drama in all of us, I believe. Even in real life, drama seems to ebb up and infiltrate regular goings on – if not daily than at least every now and then. Nothing wrong with a bit of drama as long as we recognize it for what it is and don’t let it steal us over from reality on a permanent basis.

Now and again I’m known to pick up a freelance writing gig. The assignments take me out of the normal routine and force me to write objective material versus the subjective pontifications that I leave on this venue. So on Sunday, Nov. 18, I’ll find myself at a benefit event raising money for survivors of Hurricane Katrina (yes there are still survivors and yes many still need financial support to rebuild the lives that were demolished more than two years ago). I’m anxious to get dressed up and report on the event, which will take me to the Dakota Jazz Club in downtown Minneapolis. There I’ll get to listen to some great Louisiana jazz and talk to various movers and shakers about why they do what they do to help others in need.

Not a bad way to end a weekend.

-end-

 

PS: When friends return to your life after absences, everything seems to make more sense.

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