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I’m back from 4 revitalizing days in the woods with some new muscles and a full heart. This trip report covers a visit to Hayward Wisconsin with my friends at Thrive Women’s Outdoor Adventures, filled with skiing, snowshoeing, friendship and amazing food! I had the pleasure of enjoying a trip with this bunch in 2019 at Roam Basecamp, you can read all about that adventure here. Lets go!

TRIP DETAILS

LENGTH  various mileage on the Hospital & Birkebeiner ski and snowshoe trails
DIFFICULTY easy to moderate
DATE VISITED February 17-20, 2022
MAIN FEATURES  Hayward is located in North Western Wisconsin, on the ancestral lands of the Ojibwe Odaawaa-zaaga’iganiing, Lac Courte Oreilles Band of Lake Superior Chippewa. Learn more here.

In the Summer, the Hayward area is known for many recreational activities including fishing, mountain biking and resort tourism. In the Winter, it hosts the American Birkebeiner Ski race and draws winter enthusiasts with kilometers of wooded classic ski trails and fat tire bike routes. The area is surrounded with old growth forests and my camera is filled with photos of twisty old White Pines for future painting references.

Other Resources
Birkebeiner, Skinny Ski, New Moon Ski & Bike Shop Rentals, Haywardlakes.com

The American Birkebeiner Trail

The late Tony Wise who looked to his Norwegian heritage and patterned the ski marathon after the Birkebeiner Rennet, which had been held in Norway since 1932, founded the American Birkebeiner in 1973. Both events honor and re-create a historic Norwegian event when in 1206, two warrior soldiers, called “Birkebeiners” because of the birch-bark leggings they wore, skied infant Prince Haakon to safety during the Norwegian civil war. Prince Haakon subsequently became King of Norway, and the Birkebeiner soldiers became a Norwegian symbol of courage, perseverance and character in the face of adversity.

The American Birkebeiner Ski Foundation

I had heard of the Birkie as a premier Cross Country ski race that draws people from all over the region and the world. I didn’t learn about the history of the race until we skied into one of the warming houses located along the trail and saw a fascinating depiction of what looked like two vikings on skis, carrying a baby down a big hill in their coats! I was struck by this dramatic image and had to read the caption to learn more.

The Birkie’s beautiful and hilly trail draws beginners and olympians to its tracks. Its entire length is 43 km. We saw a lot of lycra wearing pros when we were out there, along with a couple of people like us that were just trucking along with their backpacks, enjoying the scenery. There is so much beauty on this trail, and it challenged me to learn how to navigate hills (up and down) and was the farthest I’ve ever traveled on skis. Here’s a link to the full Birkie event site – Good luck racers and recreators alike!

Thrive Women’s Outdoor Adventures

I’ve been in a bit of routine this Winter and wanted to get out and do something to challenge myself and connect with other like-minded adventure women. Thrive Women’s retreat to the rescue! I’ve been a member of this amazing group of women for about 5 years and am always encouraged and inspired by them. I call them my “iron sharpens iron” friends. I’ve met endurance runners, thru hikers, mountaineers, cross country cyclists, and learned about many new activities to try and grow in. I appreciate that these adventurous women are always willing to encourage and connect with all levels of experience.

Gettin’ my ski legs on hospital hill. I spy a Wandering Pine Kula Cloth!

My first event with Thrive was a triathlon that I didn’t train for. My sister and I finished strong, came in dead last, and had a blast! The Thrive gals also helped me get back on the trail after ending my Superior Hiking Trail thru hike early. I’m grateful for this amazing group of women and am stoked to announce that I will be a Thrive leader this year! I will be co-hosting a beginner backpacking clinic in April and more group events that I’ll link on my events page as they get a little closer. If you are looking for a Women’s outdoor adventure group in Minnesota or Wisconsin that encompasses a broad range of activities, check them out. For hiking buddies near you, I also recommend Women Who Hike where you can connect with the Facebook group in your state or province.

Trip Notes:

Day 1: Settling in

  • Picked up rental skis at REI, finally decided to to give my beautiful vintage skis a rest and test drive a brand new set of Rossignol EVOS. Big improvement and a nice, big kick area.
  • 2.5 hour drive from Minneapolis, MN to Hayward, WI. The closer you get to Hayward, the bigger the trees get. I have a little bit of a fascination with giant lopsided White Pines.
  • No camping on this trip, we stayed in a luxurious rental home with a view of Nelson Lake and 4 bathrooms! Fancy! The Thrive leaders handled even the tiniest details…Thank you!!
  • Packed for hiking, snowshoeing, biking, skiing, my field art kit and some extra art supplies to share with anyone else wanting to get creative.
  • Temps were forecasted in the single to low digits, so I got to bust out my full length insulated skirt, and extra warm gear in case I had the urge to paint outside.
  • Evening started with a delicious meal of homemade Wild Rice soup, comfy lounging around the fireplace and a full moon walk down to the frozen lake.

Day 2: The Hospital Trail and Snow Squall

  • Single digit temps, morning yoga and big healthy breakfast with plenty of fat and protein to fuel the day!
  • Hit the Ski Trail mid morning. First time cross country skiing on hills, great practice for the next day on the bigger trail.
  • Hayward Hospital trail has 7.5 mi of trails. Don’t let the name fool you. This was one of my favorite trails and is a real gem. There is no cost to use this trail system, but a little donation in the cash box at the trailhead is appreciated.
  • The hospital trail is a small forest preserve that has some of the tallest pines I’ve seen all together in a long time. The weather was moving in and they all swayed like graceful dancers.
  • Little to no cell reception back at the house. Fine with me, but was startled when all of the phones went off with a audible warning of an impending snow squall.
  • Stayed in, cozied up, painting the bending birches and a journal of my day, enjoying the weather as it rolled in.

Day 3: Birkebeiner!

  • Another morning of single digit temps, but the wind died down. Fueled up with a hearty breakfast of chia seed pudding, heavy cream, fruit and hard boiled eggs – breakfast of champions! Packed a hearty lunch and planned for a full day outside.
  • I cross country ski occasionally, but have never had a lesson and always feel like I’m hacking my way along. This trip was different, I think it was the skis, and having some really amazing trail conditions – and awesome friends to give me expert pointers.
  • Made it to the Hatchery Trailhead on the Birkebeiner or “Birkie” trail by mid morning and oriented ourselves with the trail map on the warming house. We decided to head the 5.7 km to Mosquito Creek, take a nice long break and shuffle back.
  • The Birkebeiner system has delightful Norwegian themed warming houses located intermittently on the trail. Many of them have a small stove, a picnic table and are decorated with history of the famous race and old skis as decorative artifacts.
  • We lingered in the warming house for a bit, drying damp layers, and I painted with a tiny bottle of 100% “Moonshine” I picked up in town specifically for painting in the extreme cold. The cheap vodka froze on my Campsgiving painting session, so it was fun to try something new – smells awful, messed up my colors. Not for drinking.
  • After a nice warm up and a cozy fire, we took a little Kula Cloth break behind the woodshed (no bathrooms FYI) and made our way back to the start.
  • Favorites: Mosquito Creek trail, fresh squeaky snow, bunny tracks along the ski trail and BIG BIG TREES!
  • Proudest moment: trucking up a gigantic hill known as “Big Bertha or B*tch Hill”, that earned it’s name by being the steepest climb of the race – making skiers huff and puff up it right before finishing.
  • We did it! 11.4km! We were so worn out, we had to put ourselves back together by walking a mile or so on the snowshoe trail back at the Hospital trail in our snow boots. I got to test out a pair of Steger Mukluks, and totally want a pair now!
  • Ended the day with an amazing evening of Scandinavian food, games and plenty of laughter.

Snow squall blowing in over Nelson Lake

Day 4: Tree Spotting

  • Our last morning started with a nice big breakfast again, followed by packing up and goodbyes. This is always the hard part, but we look forward to adventuring together again!
  • We reflected on the success of the trip and discussed plans for the upcoming year.
  • I’m so thankful for the women in this group and always leave inspired and filled when we spend time together.
  • I wasn’t ready to head back, but didn’t really feel like hanging out in town. I wish I had more intel to share about the things to see and do in Hayward, but I really just wanted to see more trees.
  • Headed back to the Hospital Trail to take some photos of those dang trees I love so much and found myself driving down country roads, checking out the Hayward Recreational Forest and the Kissick Swamp Wildlife Area before finally working my way towards home.

Final Thoughts

This winter has been a long one, with plenty of cold temperatures. It was great to get away and enjoy the beauty of the trail with friends and get a little boost during a time of the year when many Midwesterners are fed up with Winter and headed for warmer temps.

Up next: I’m in full trip planning mode for the summer and teaching another Art Class through the Kula Academy next week. I’m forming spring art classes and looking forward to co-leading a backpacking clinic in April with Thrive Women’s adventures.

I have a few more events up my sleeve that I’m looking forward to sharing with you. The best way to stay up to date on events and new art releases is to subscribe to my newsletter.

As always, I thank you for reading and your support, it means so much. Drop me a note below, I’d love to hear from you!

Happy trails!

~ WP


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