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By Patti Morrow
“I am not running down that cliff!” I shouted down to Jeff my snowshoe guide, as I emerged out of the Deschutes National Forest onto the top of the awfully big… snowdrift.
Unbidden, visions of my flailing body tumbling headlong downhill until the inevitable face-plant brake in the snow flashed through my mind.
I could just barely make out Jeff’s snickering at the bottom of the precipice. Okay, it was really just a hill, but the rambling effervescent white view from the top was intimidating.
“You won’t get hurt,” he said. “There’s over a foot of powdery snow on the ground. Turn slightly sideways and come down at your own speed.”
Sure enough, he was right. Once I started out it was not as scary as I’d imagined. Suddenly I was sprinting down the fluffy knoll, plowing through knee-deep snow, laughing the whole way.
Just a few days before, I had been in Portland, Oregon at a business meeting. I’d thought to myself, “As long as I’m here, why not check out what else there is to do and see in this state?” I grabbed my laptop and it did not take me long to make my decision. Bend, a former mill town, sounded very appealing – an inviting mountain town that has it all, from outdoor activities, unique craft-beer microbreweries and Roman bath-style public spas, to the cosmopolitan appeal of gastronomically-acclaimed restaurants, a diverse but compact downtown shopping area and luxurious boutique hotels. The list of winter activities was astounding, including ice skating, alpine and cross country skiing, snowboarding, sledding, tubing, snowshoeing, dog sledding, spelunking and snowmobiling.
They say if you can walk you can snowshoe. But since this was my first attempt at snowshoeing I’d contacted Wanderlust Tours, an outfit that offers several types of snowshoe tours in the area. Unfortunately, they did not have any tours running for the time I was to be in Bend, but they called me back the next day to say they would have one of their guides take me on a one-hour tour at Mt. Bachelor, a dormant volcano that is now the sixth largest ski resort in the United States.
“We try to be very accommodating,” Jeff had said as we started out. “If we have a group of seniors we go slower, at a pace that’s comfortable for them. On the other hand, if we have teenage boys, they want to get some “air” by launching themselves off some of the hills into large snowdrifts. We do that, too.”
For me, staying upright on the snowshoes and a few “runs” was enough. I wanted none of the jumping or simulated “surfing.” I have a teenage boy. I know my limitations.
There were no paths; we blazed our own trail across the freshly fallen snow through a winter wonderland of soaring, snow-dusted hemlocks. Jeff described how to identify the Western hemlock evergreen by the drooping bit of new growth at the top. “It looks a little like Whoville!” he pointed out. Thanks to that creative but accurate depiction, I will always be able to identify the tree in the future.
Snowshoeing is a reasonably aerobic workout. I caught myself looking down fairly often as I labored along, so I was very appreciative as Jeff continued to point out various natural elements to look at, as well as Mt. Bachelor’s old school chair lift. The rudimentary lift is no longer operational, but still stands juxtaposed against the ski trail and bright sky as a kind of retro monument to days of lesser technology.
The deep snow was reminiscent of happy childhood days in New England, playing for hours on end with my brothers during every snowfall. The snow in New England is wetter, far less powdery than the snow in Bend, so I took advantage and dropped down to make a snow angel. I may or may not have been also taking advantage of a minute to catch my breath.
As we continued the last leg of the journey, huffing and puffing with the sun radiating at high noon, I scrambled to follow my guide up another incline and out of the wilderness. “What do you think of that?” he pointed.
As I slowly raised my head, the vista that sprawled out in front of me absorbed my last remaining breaths. Rolling hills caked with virgin snow, surrounded by a tangle of towering snow-capped hemlocks, and just beyond was the Cascade Mountain Range – the Three Sisters and Broken Top – all framed by the neon periwinkle-blue heavens.
“I came to Bend when I was in my early twenties,” said Jeff. “My plan was to stay for a year and play in the snow. That was eight years ago.”
I have to admit, I’m usually more of a beach-weather girl, but as I sat in Mt. Bachelor’s Sunrise Lodge, alternating between sipping on my steaming hot coffee and nibbling at my sourdough grilled cheese, enjoying the panoramic view of the Cascades, I could understand why one might want to stay in Bend, the “outdoor playground” of the West.
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Patti Morrow was born with incurable wanderlust, eventually leading her to a career as a freelance travel writer and photographer. She specializes in women’s adventure travel and has traveled throughout most of the United States and 35 countries abroad.
Patti has been published in numerous media, including International Living, Women’s Home Journal, Travel Post Monthly, MORE magazine, WAVEJourney.com, and Diva Toolbox and was featured on Tori Johnson (of Good Morning America) Spark and Hustle.
She is the editor of Luggage, Lipstick and Laptop, an online resource for women’s adventure travel, and is a member of ITWPA, AWAI, Intrepid Travel, Media Kitty, and TravelWriters.com.