ESCANABA - Some shoes are for dancing. Some shoes are for every-day. Some are for comfort. Others are for style. But only one shoe promises icy adventure with every mile.
The snowshoe, the official shoe of Upper Michigan, is the preferred footgear of many outdoor enthusiasts in the winter.
Skis and skates, Sorels, Uggs and Iceman boots all make fine winter walkers. But a good pair of snowshoes actually becomes like part of your lower body if you wear them long enough.
Karen Wils photos
Snowshoer makes tracks through the woods following a snowfall.
A favorite snowshoe leans against a camp door decorated with bunnies and hearts.
Properly fitting harnesses strung to a pair of tightly-laced, wooden-framed snowshoes are a pure pleasure to wear cruising through all types of snow.
I was in third grade when my dad let me use the "little" pair of snowshoes so that I could tag along behind him and my older brothers on our way into camp.
Our family's camp is about a half mile beyond the plowed country road. This was never a problem, but rather a fun challenge in the winter.
Nearly every weekend, we donned our snowshoes or cross-country skis, loaded our sleds, filled our backpacks and hit the trail. Sometimes as many as six kids, a few cousins, a dad or uncle or two, a tot in the sled and a few dogs joined in the journey to camp.
It wasn't long and I, too, was old enough to take my turn at breaking trail. (Being the first one to go through the snow). Back in the 1970s, we were blessed with lots of snow with drifts like giant swirls of vanilla ice cream. It was waist deep and a winter wonderland to a kid.
In the years that followed, I snowshoed in competition with the U.P. Winter Games. I snowshoed after beagles at field trials.
Every time you strap on the big shoes, some wild adventure is about to unfold. No two days of snow conditions are exactly alike. As you snowshoe into the solitude of the snowy north woods, the prettiest scenery is spread out before you.
Hundreds of years ago, a decent snowshoe trail between rivers, lakes, settlements, and camps meant survival. Dog sleds and snowshoers brought mail, supplies, medicine and news from the bigger cities.
Native peoples are credited with fashioning the first snowshoes out of wooden frames and sinew. These big shoes acted like the big fluffy paws on lynx and the hare. They helped to keep the wanderer from sinking in too deep into the snow.
The classic wooden snowshoe is a hard thing to beat if they are well taken care of. Upper Michigan is famous for its Iverson's snowshoes made in Shingleton, Mich.
My dad cared for all the snowshoes in our family. After each season, he would refinish them, restring any loose webbing and mend or replace harnesses.
The new, brightly colored aluminum shoes are nice, especially for young snowshoers. They are so durable, light-weight and easy to clamp on to any kind of boot. And they are a smaller, bear-paw style - easy to fit in the back of the car.
Over many winters of warmer temperatures and less snowfall, I've come to realize just how comforting a good pair of "shoes" can be. After battling a disease and a few injuries, I've come to know that being on snowshoes is one of the safest places to be.
With the world quilted in soft, white snow, and everything moving at a peaceful pace, snowshoe traveling is quite relaxing. Far from the icy sidewalks and busy roads, a snowshoe trail is a healthy and happy place to be.
If my old snowshoes could talk, they would reminisce about blizzards, bunny hunts, deer watching, following Dad through the deer yards, miles with babies carried on my back, and miles with a camera.
They say women have a pair of shoes for every occasion. OK, girls. Let's get our snowshoes on and gather our families to hit the trails.
Karen (Rose) Wils is a lifelong resident of north Escanaba. Her folksy columns are published each Friday in Lifestyles.