By now, many of you are probably wondering, “Good grief, Girl, y’all live in one of the most beautiful places in the world. Don’t you ever get off your property?!” Well, yes, we do, and here is the first of some of our adventures:
Montana’s Department of Fish, Wildlife, and Parks (equivalent of the DNR, Department of Natural Resources in most Southern States), participates in a Nationwide program called BOW, or “Becoming an Outdoors Woman.” The purpose of the program is to provide opportunities for women to try outdoor activities in the company of other women and skilled, enthusiastic instructors.
In January of 2017, I took a BOW class on ice fishing, and it was a blast! Friday night was classroom instruction, going over safety on the ice, how to tie hooks on lines and bait a hook, “need to have” versus “nice to have” gear, etc. Fun with lots of prizes!
Saturday morning we fished. The instructors had set up ice houses, we used various augers to drill holes in the ice, we used fish finders, and the instructors made sure that everyone caught at least one fish.
So when they sent out info on a weekend workshop, I was eager to attend. They had me at “Sewing with Fur.” I love to sew, and I am very tactile, so three hours of sewing beaver fur into a headband? Yes, please!
The roster of classes also included “Ice Fishing,” “Snowshoeing,” “Nordic (Cross Country) Skiing,” “Avalanche Awareness,” and “Prepping Hides.”
My friend Sandy, and her husband Eric moved here in April of 2017. Since this was her first winter here, and since I wanted to get to know her better, I invited her to come with me. We signed up, found accommodations via Airbnb, and off we went!
Friday afternoon, January 26, we hopped into Sandy’s Subaru and drove to the small town of Seeley Lake, about two hours from Kalispell. For most of the way, the drive looked like this:
And then it started snowing:
And by the time we arrived in Seely Lake, it looked like this:
Roads like this are no big deal for Montanans. This is why Subarus with their all wheel drive are so popular here. The snowy roads were also fortunate for Seeley Lake, because the town was hosting a snowmobile event, so people were driving snowmobiles all over town. We got a kick out of seeing snowmobiles on the streets. I suppose it’s like a winter version of a motorcycle.
We arrived in town a bit early, so we stopped for coffee.
Our jaws dropped at our first view of our accommodations. Wow! Were we even in the right place? Yes, we were!
Our hostess, Ginger, and her husband were delightful. Here is the link to their place.
We had an entire downstairs apartment, complete with a stocked fridge, microwave, and toaster oven.
After settling into our apartment, we ate dinner out, and then drove to the elementary school, which was “headquarters” for our events.
Each participant received a knit cap, and they had BOW hoodies for sale. Sandy and I each bought one. Free snacks–bottled water, trail mix, and tangerines, which they kept stocked all weekend, and they kept hot coffee in the pot!
After a welcome, orientation, and introductions, Sandy went to the ice fishing classroom instruction, and I attended a session on outdoor survival in the wintertime. It was reassuring to learn that John and I already keep a lot of the recommended equipment in our day packs. Lesson learned: pack a lightweight, collapsible shovel and candles. If we ever have to make an overnight shelter, the shovel can be used to dig a tiny snow cave, and when dug correctly, the candle can actually warm the cave to 40 degrees. Wow!
Saturday morning Sandy went ice fishing and I participated in the highly anticipated “Sewing With Fur” class. It did not disappoint. Jessy, our instructor, is a wildlife biologist with FWP in the Kalispell office. Turns out we live near each other! She is just darling.
She and her husband lived for many years in Alaska, so she brought with her various fur garments hand sewn by natives- mittens, moccasins, and a “ruff,” which is the fur edging that is sewn into a parka hood. They were all gorgeous, and were created from multiple pelts- beaver, otter, if I remember correctly, and maybe wolf? Cannot believe that I did not take pictures! Sorry!
Lunch was brought in by a local sandwich shop, and, oh, joy, they had sandwiches made with gluten free bread!
After lunch, Sandy went snowshoeing, and I participated in the “prepping hides” workshop, which, ahem, requires a bit of explanation.
John wants to hunt wolves, and their hides fetch a pretty price. I figured that I could help clean and prep the hides before sending than to a tannery; you know, do my part, right? Well. Somehow, I missed the part of the title of this class. It was actually SKINNING and prepping hides. Oh, dear.
We were meeting in the cafeteria of the school. The instructors pushed tables and chairs aside and laid tarps on the floor. Then y’all, they started hauling in carcasses–wolf, mountain lion, and otters.
Did I mention that darling Jessy was one of the instructors? If she can do this, I can do this! Besides, I have watched John skin many a deer, and it did not look hard.
I took a deep breath and decided to go all in. Go big or go home, right? But someone beat me to the wolf and I had to settle for an otter. Which turned out to be a blessing. These carcasses had all been confiscated by FWP for various reasons and stored in a freezer. For over a year, I suppose as evidence in prosecuting poachers or some such. Anyway, they were no longer needed and were donated to the workshop, thank you.
You know how food gets dried out when it’s not properly sealed before freezing?
Well, I am here to tell you that the same thing happens to a carcass. The good news is that they don’t bleed (much). The bad news is that the skins don’t.want.to.come.off. *Sigh* It was a long afternoon, and I met the limits of my interest in outdoor skills. I will spare you the pictures of the skinning process, but here is the unfortunate otter:
After all that, it was time for a glass (or two) of wine! Our catered barbeque dinner was held at the community center, no doubt so that we could bring alcohol, and conveniently, the liquor store was on the way. One bottle of red wine, please.
While we were waiting for dinner to arrive, Jim, the ice fishing instructor, set up a station for us to make fire starting kits. Did you know that duct tape burns like nobody’s business? And that a cotton ball with wax melted on it makes excellent tinder? Neither did I.
We used waterproof containers that float, designed for storing keys while boating, wrapped duct tape around them, and stuffed them with “burn anywhere” matches, a strip of sandpaper for striking, and those waxy cotton balls, which we made ourselves. They even gave us a fire starter for making sparks to start a fire. Don’t you know that when I got home, I attached the kit to my day pack, John and I went snowshoeing, and we tested the kit. It works!
After dinner, Jessy led us in a game of wildlife trivia. She’d gone through a lot of trouble to make a good PowerPoint presentation with challenging questions and accompanying pictures.
Sunday morning, back to the school– it was time to try something that I have wanted to do for many years–Cross Country Skiing!!
Get this- the elementary school has a Nordic ski team! How cool is that?! They store their gear in one corner of the cafeteria, and they let us use it for the morning. One of the parent coaches met us at the school, outfitted us with gear, and off we went!
Seeley Lake has a Nordic ski park with several trails of various skill levels. Fortunately, one trail is the equivalent of a “bunny slope.” Most of the women had skied before, but there were three of us that had not. One of the ladies and I paired up together, the other skied with the instructor.
Like downhill ski runs, Nordic trails get groomed but with smaller equipment. Since it was a weekend day, members of the local nordic ski club were out grooming the trails, using a snowmobile with a drag behind it, outfitted with a piece that leaves a pair of grooves in the snow. For a new skier, those grooves are a huge help, because they keep your skis in a straight line. Experienced skiers travel in or out of the grooves.
Of course, it is not as easy as it looks, but after a few laps on the beginner trail, we decided we were ready to hit a big trail.
One trip around a real loop told me what I wanted to know: Nordic skiing is not for me. Because: HILLS. I have arthritis in my lower back and have already had back surgery as a result. The surgeon advised me to avoid jarring activities, because if I need surgery again, they will fuse my spine.
While the hills are tiny, you still end up going very fast, and all I could think was, “What if I fall and hurt my back?”
This fear was not helped by the fact that a more experienced skier in our group did fall and broke her leg!
Another lesson learned: always, always wear my day pack! I did not put it on since we were in the park, and our vehicle was nearby. I keep a reflective emergency blanket in it, and we sure could have used it for the downed skier! Another woman had a sleeping bag in her car, which she skied back and retrieved, but if I’d had my pack with me, we could’ve warmed her up about fifteen minutes sooner.
The up side of this story is that we got to see the emergency services in action. We were stunned at how quickly the volunteer rescue team showed up. They were knowledgeable, efficient, and well prepared. They used a sled of sorts pulled by a snow mobile to transport her from the trail to the ambulance. They whisked her off to the hospital in Missoula, an hour or so away. (I really wanted a picture of the sled, but did not want the injured skier to feel more self conscious than she already was.)
The warming hut for the park is a yurt! Here is an explanation and photos of the outside. (Present day Yurts are wrapped in canvas.) I haf nevernever in a yurt before, and I was surprised by how warm it was!
After a morning full of skiing, we returned to our apartment, packed, ate a light lunch, said “goodby” to our hosts, and drove home.
This weekend was so much fun! I am thankful that I had the opportunity to try three new activities in a fun environment with good instructors–this is what BOW is all about!
BOW is an international program, and it is offered in a number of US States. Click here to see if it is offered near you.
Thanks to Montana FWP, the BOW program, and its awesome instructors, most of whom volunteered their time. I will be back for more fun!