An icy draft slipped under my collar moments after launching my bike onto the bike trail. I stopped, adjusted my fleece neck gaiter, tightened my parka hood and pedaled hard to catch up with my son who had gone on ahead.

It was New Year’s Eve day, the temperature was below zero and we were pedaling into a northwest wind, thus adding to an already substantial wind chill. It was, in a word, cold. Such are the challenges for those of us who like to be outside in winter, especially if a resolve to bike more is involved.

The unlikely bike ride shaped up this way: Our son, Jeff, visiting from Colorado with his family, was interested in learning about my lifestyle now that we’ve moved to the city. I had rented a bike for him and was eager to show him the ease of getting around on the bike trails. Jeff had said, “Well, I’m game if you are.” I was.

We did a loop and called our half-hour outing good enough. We used a map for the rest of the tour.

Now that the weather has moderated, biking again becomes a more comfortable option for getting around and exercise especially since a bike trail runs past the door of our condo’s bike room and many of the places I frequent are a short ride away — the library, for example, and the Kane Street Gardens where I sometimes drop off compostable waste such as coffee grounds and peelings. I pointed on the map to the streets with bike lanes that make the ride to Viterbo University so convenient that I arrived 15 minutes early to a meeting the first time I rode my bike to an appointment there.

Our conversations during his visit often turned to lamenting the lack of snow both here and, surprisingly, in the San Juan Mountains where he lives. Both of us depend on snow for our winter exercise. This week snow has returned to the San Juans and was in the forecast for here, but it might as well have come as rain or ice.

Sadly, with the climate warming, I fear we are stuck with winters without dependable snow.

Snow was actually part of our decision making when Gretchen and I and our business partner, Mike, moved here in 1990 from the Milwaukee area. We had looked at buying newspapers up north in part because they offered a place with snowy winters.

Instead we bought the fledgling paper Onalaska Community Life and, later, the Holmen Courier and moved to Onalaska.

The first winter here was snowy, so my snow anxiety was relieved. Now, not so much. I pace. I fret. I drive Gretchen nuts.

After our family visitors for the holidays departed I went in search of somewhere there might be snow. I found just enough for skate skiing, not so far up north, but on the bike trail south of Lytle’s Landing and on the frozen surface of Brown’s Marsh.

As I was leaving at sunset, the warm light was casting gold on the dried grasses and cattails at the edge of the marsh. A fisherman dragged his gear-filled sled onto the snow-covered ice. We talked about the bitter cold and how beautiful and quiet it was on the marsh. Soon the only sounds were his hand-operated auger grinding on the ice and the swish of my skis and the click of my poles. We were both warm with exertion and content, taking what the winter had offered us, ice, cold and very little snow.

Two events this weekend — the Winterfest at the Kickapoo Valley Reserve and the Mississippi Valley Conservancy’s snowshoe hike at the La Crosse River Conservancy (both starting Saturday at 10 a.m.) — would benefit from a big snow but will go on without it. The conservancy’s hike starts from the trailhead next to Stoney Creek Inn.

Dave Skoloda is an award-winning journalist and former owner and editor of the Onalaska Community Life and Holmen Courier.


Coulee Courier and Houston County News editor

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