As far as we could figure out, it had been over 20 years since I had planks on the bottom of my feet. I used to cross-country ski several times a week back in the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s. I have medals from the Birkebeiner and the Vasaloppet and lots of memories. Now I was with son Josh, with whom I had last skied when he was in high school and early college some 20 years ago.

We had a goal in mind. We were getting ready to “Book Across the Bay,” a cross-country ski event from Ashland to Washburn at night over a candlelit trail on land and frozen Lake Superior. A 10K, 6.2-mile course that I felt good about, doable, as I dug out the same old skis I used in 1982! My old Adidas ski shoes looked more like old running shoes with the three-pin toe clips. I even found my ’70s-era violet baggy windbreaker pants. Oh yeah, I looked pretty old, too!

I felt right at home thinking about the old trails I was familiar with at Willow River State Park. As I gingerly tied the laces of my ragged looking shoes, I was hoping they wouldn’t break. Josh, 30 years younger than I, was ready to attack the hills, but I wanted a more gradual approach on gently sloping long hills and flat trails to get my balance and technique back. The rust was there, but I actually made it down the first hills, albeit wobbly.

I wanted to cruise along the river trail to the waterfalls. As we approached the falls, I had to slam on the brakes as some novice snowshoers were on the lower multiuse trail going down to the falls. When I did, I felt a pop. Looking down, I could see my big toe sticking out of the side of my right shoe. Now — after laughing at my old gear, baggy pants and now broken shoe — Josh asked what he could do. I sent him off, saying I would just limp down the 1.5 miles back to the car.

He had just crested the hill when the rest of the sole broke off the shoe. I pulled out the shoelace and wrapped it around the ski, shoe and broken sole, and over the top of my foot, hoping to make it back. Folly is the best word I can use here. Wobbling, stumbling, beating up my feet on ski edges, I made it to a trail crossroad and of course took the wrong trail for another quarter mile until I realized it and turned around. Suddenly another skier swooped in beside me with a yell, sending my heart into my throat. Josh had caught up to me and we shared even heartier laughs.

I saw the road, took off the skis and walked out in waist-deep powder to the car. My wool socks and felt innersole of the old broken shoe kept me warm in 17-degree weather. After 10 days of foot massages, foot soakings, new cross-country ski shoes and new bindings, I think I’m ready to Book Across the Bay tomorrow. Wish me luck. I never did get in any more practice, but from what I remember, there are no hills on Lake Superior!

Jim Bennett is an outdoorsman who lives and worked in the St. Croix River Valley. He can be reached at

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