The Ice Age National Scenic Trail: A boost of fun at the end of a dreary winter stretch

by Keith Uhlig

My dog, Henry the Adventure Trail Hound, and I have been slogging through a northern winter as best we can.

February was a beast of a month to contend with, dark, cold and for the last couple of weeks, so icy as to make even the most simple walk around the block a risk to limbs and skull. I like to embrace all of Nature’s personalities, but this is my most unfavorite-ist time of the year. Even the snow is gritty and dirty, an affront to winter aesthetics.

I have been diagnosed with a type of low-grade depression, and with the help of a small dose of medication, regular exercise and a lot of fresh air, I generally keep it at bay. But February. Ugh. February is a beast of a bridge to cross sometimes.

However, I’m lucky to live in Wausau, Wisconsin, a medium-sized town in center of the state. It’s not far from the Ice Age National Scenic Trail. This nearly 1,200-mile footpath bisects the state, tracing the edge of the glaciers that last retreated from the area around 15,000 years ago.

 Henry waiting

Henry waiting

When I get antsy or blue or start questioning the purpose of humanity itself, I head out to the Ice Age Trail. One of my favorite sections is called the Plover River Segment which runs about 2.5 miles from State 52 northeast to Langlade County HH.

There are terrific stretches of boardwalk hiking that takes one through a wetland area where you can tell yourself you are in Alaska.

There is a line of rocks paralleling the trail called a boulder train, left by the glaciers as they receded back to Lake Superior. I take comfort from the boulder train. It makes me feel both important and insignificant at the same time.

There also is remnant of the Cold War near the trail, although it has nothing to do with glaciers. It is a radar installation put in place to detect a commie attack from the north. The old base gives me this tingly feeling that part creepiness and part excitement. I tell myself that I should take comfort from the fact that it is now just an empty relic. But I don’t.

 Henry leaping the Plove River

Henry leaping the Plove River

Earlier in the month, I took Henry out to the Plover River Segment thinking I could do some trail running to the radar base and back. It was a fiercely cold day, but I figured I could bull through it.

Henry was with me, and despite the cold, he bounded through the snow with this terrific grin on his face.

Henry doesn’t care about the weather. He is not depressive at all. He jumps for joy at the very thought of going outside, and his happiness is infectious. I couldn’t help but be happy myself.

But it was 10 below zero and happiness doesn’t prevent frostbite. I turned back well short of my goal.  Still, it felt good to be out on the trail and in the woods. But that quick cold trip just left me wanting more.

 Henry goofing off

Henry goofing off

So Henry was with me again a week later when the temperatures were 40 degrees warmer. This time I decided to go south of Highway 52, into a section I never explored before because the boulder train always pulled me north.

It still was tough going for a run. The snow was covered with crust and as I plodded through it crunched under my feet. Henry floated on top, and he ran ahead, stopping every 30 yards to check on me.

The trail here was a lot different that it is just a mile to the north. There it is rocky, hilly with trees thick like a jungle. Here the trail had more gentle slopes, and while wooded, the trees had more space between them. The Plover River burbles alongside the trail here, which was terrific for me.

Henry did not particularly like the stream because this trail segment includes two crossings. I discovered that, although he is an energetic and tough trail dog, he does not enjoy getting wet. He leaped over one stream crossing, and unhappily waded through another. On the way back he balked at getting his feet wet. He paced and cried as I tried to coax him across.

 Henry did not like this crossing

Henry did not like this crossing

There is a kind of stepping stone bridge at that particular place, and I had to cross back, put a leash on Henry, and gently pull him from rock to rock as he crossed. When we got to the other side, he jumped with a sense of victory.

It didn’t take us long to get back to the car. Henry sighed when he got in the back seat, and his head was down and his eyes were closed before I could start the engine.

I sat there for a minute, listening to the dog breathing heavily and my own breath coming to me nice and easy. It was only an hour-long jaunt on the trail, but it was a such a boost of spirit.  Man, it was good.

Keith Uhlig is a reporter for USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin. He writes regularly about running, biking, the Ice Age Trail and generally goofing off with Henry at https://www.wausaudailyherald.com/blog/wanderingcentralwisconsin/.