Winter here in North Eastern MN can be frustrating for a photographer. As the snow piles up and access to just get out and hike shrinks, we are limited more and more to just cruising back roads or tromping the same ground as every other photographer out there on a small handful of trails that remain open.
Now, I’ve been shooting seriously for a little over 10 years and only very casually before that. I have spent my whole life growing up in the outdoors as well and that is why when the idea occurred to me that I should check to see what kind of condition the local Sturgeon River Ski/Hiking trail was in, it was really one of those slap my forehead for my own stupidity sort of moments. See, the Sturgeon River Ski/Hiking trail is a total of 26 miles of trails winding through all sorts of wilderness and all of the access points to the trail are within just a few miles of where I grew up and where my parents still live. So to think that in 10 years I had never thought to go check if I could walk them in the winter reasonably comfortably is really a boneheaded move on my part.
…if truth be told, I was a pretty lazy photographer.
Some of this I really do attribute to the fact that up until the last 6 months to a year, if truth be told, I was a pretty lazy photographer. Especially in the winter time. I would spend hours behind the wheel of my car, covering miles and miles of back roads over and over, in pursuit of photographs that I could make without having to do much hiking. Don’t get me wrong, in the spring and fall I would spend a lot of time out in the woods hiking around and sometimes take a camera with me, but for the most part I was content to just drive around and explore. I don’t regret it because I’ve seen and discovered some really cool little spots I may have otherwise never known about. But it was still a lot of laziness on my part.
I retreated to my happy place, my quiet place where I could just try to process and deal with all of the emotion raging inside of me. That place was just getting outdoors and covering miles upon miles in the woods.
In the last year, though, I was at a perfect tipping point. On one hand I was getting really bored with the same old views from the same old roads, so I started finding little places that I could just go park and walk for a little bit…On the other hand, my Mom had gotten sick and been diagnosed with Stage 4 Lung Cancer that was spreading very rapidly and things didn’t look good. With that bad news I retreated to my happy place, my quiet place where I could just try to process and deal with all of the emotion raging inside of me. That place was just getting outdoors and covering miles upon miles in the woods.
“Hey, come along with me on an adventure while I explore and see if I can find some good photos along the way” type of video.
During that time I had decided to start taking some small videos and talking about what I was seeing while I was out. Why not, just a fun little experiment right? Those became the start of my YouTube channel and would turn quickly into a daily vlog that became a Monday through Friday vlog around 70ish episodes in and then when I hit episode 100 I realized that I really wanted to keep doing the video work, but trying to make a video every day was just too hard to get done even 5 days a week. Well, at least too hard to make a video I was proud of at least. I wanted to do less in the realm of a “How To” or “Standard Daily Vlogging” type of video and more of a “Hey, come along with me on an adventure while I explore and see if I can find some good photos along the way” type of video. Much like one of my big inspirations, Mr. Thomas Heaton. So I took a short break, in the same way a TV series will have an “Off Season Hiatus”, regrouped and changed my channel to a one episode per week schedule. The change has been great and I’m really enjoying it so much more now. It can be hard work hiking through the northland with a backpack full of camera gear, tripods, video gear and all of that, but I continue to be fascinated by the idea that my feet may be the best vehicle I have to just cover miles, explore and discover the northland in a much more intimate way than you’ll ever see from any back road.
By getting out, getting exercise, fresh air…creating something, it’s a way for me to keep myself in balance.
The thing about the YouTube video series I do is that in order to create the weekly videos, or at least create a weekly video that I would be interested to watch, driving back roads just wasn’t going to cut it. Sure there will be times when I just can’t get out in the woods due to weather or schedules, but I wanted, no I NEEDED, a place I could access without too much travel and that would allow me to just walk and talk, explore and look for interesting photos. See making the videos is equal parts creating interesting content and showing a little more of what I put into making my photographs – from the thought process to the physical effort – as well as a bit of therapy. By getting out, getting exercise, fresh air…creating something, it’s a way for me to keep myself in balance. To help me stay grounded and appreciate all of the cliche’ “little things” in life without getting too mired in the stress and negativity. A way to try to keep my eyes looking toward the positive and beauty in life rather than getting blinded by the stress and negativity that is so easily found today.
Enter the ski trails. This trail system is groomed all winter long for cross country skiers to use and that means that while the snow may be knee or even hip deep if I step off the trail into the woods, the trail itself was usually fairly packed. It’s still tough walking as there is typically a layer of around 2-4 inches of soft sugary snow and a lot of hills and other types of country, but it is still much easier than trying to trudge through snow that is literally hip deep in spots through the winter.
I’ve been absolutely having a blast while out exploring these trails over the last few weeks and I can’t wait until Spring and Fall when I can explore them in the different seasons as well. But a warning for you. Maybe a common sense item for some, but I’ve seen a few people out snowshoeing these trails while I’ve been out and they have been pretty disrespectful to the skiers out there. If you are out hiking on a trail groomed for skiing, please please please do your best to not walk in/on the actual ski path that has been grooved for the skiers. It makes it so much more difficult, if not impossible for them to actually enjoy the ski trail, so please be kind and mindful. There is plenty of room to walk without trampling over the ski grooves.
So all of that being said, join me as I go adventure once again on a loop of the ski trail. This time on a nice sunny day (not the ideal conditions for photography, I know!), but I was out treating this as more of a scouting adventure. Though in the end I would end up making a few photographs I’m happy with.
If you would be so very kind as to hit the subscribe button on my channel that would also be super awesome of you and very much appreciated. I’m really trying to build up my subscribers so that I can open and unlock some new doors and opportunities with the channel!