This weekend, I went to my second Becoming an Outdoors-woman (BOW) program.
My first BOW, this past summer in Southern Illinois, was a fun weekend full of new-to-me activities, the kinds of things I expected to try once or twice at most. That time, I went rock climbing, rappelling, and tried a high ropes course. This BOW, in the Northwoods of Wisconsin, was a different experience entirely. I was introduced to a number of activities I would love to continue as hobbies for years to come.
Wisconsin BOW in the Snow is held at Treehaven, the outdoor research and education center for the University of Wisconsin – Stevens Point. It is a winter wonderland with hiking, snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, and snowmobiling trails. When you’re cold and tired, you can retire to the main lodge for a great meal in the dining hall, or go back to the surprisingly nice dorms (where they provide pillows, linens, and towels.)
My first session of the weekend was ice fishing. This was only my second time fishing in general – the first was at Illinois BOW – and my first time ice fishing. I wasn’t even sure what it meant to ice fish, and I was worried that the unseasonably warm temps this weekend would make it impossible. Turns out, I had nothing to worry about. We traipsed onto a frozen lake with over a foot of ice! We drilled holes all over the ice with hand- and gas-powered augers, then set about catching the cutest little blue gills.
We had a lovely time out on the ice, chatting, drinking cider, and setting up different types of lines to catch fish. Next time, I hope to take a class on how to clean and cook the fish over a campfire.
In the late afternoon, we headed back to Treehaven for dinner and an evening lecture on animal extinction through the ages. I also snuck over to the dog kennels to help feed the huskies (and one malamute) from the dog sledding class. Hopefully I can take the dog sledding class next year.
Overall, it was a great first day.
The following morning, I got up at 5:40am for yoga with a few other ladies, before breakfast (amazing French toast, bacon, eggs, and abundant coffee) and the day’s classes. My first session was called “So You Got a Deer!” We spent the morning butchering a doe that had been harvested the night before from a nearby farm. It was one of the most fascinating experiences of my life.
We started by removing the internal organs, which causes the body temperature of the carcass to drop into a safer, less bacteria-friendly regime. We were warned that, since it was after hunting season and into the gestational period of deer, the doe might be carrying fawns. She was, and we were able to see a buck fetus.
Next, the animal was hung up and skinned down to the breast bone. From there, they showed us how to remove the head to be used for taxidermy (if this had been a real hunt), while the meat is removed from the bones and cut into usable pieces. Each of the students in the class took some steaks and tenderloin (backstrap) chops while the larger leg pieces were given to the canning and dehydrating meat class.
This class reaffirmed my belief that humans should eat meat sparingly, and we should remove degrees of separation between ourselves and the animals we consume. I hope to move towards only eating meat I hunt or fish myself. In the meanwhile, I’ll probably eat less meat and buy occasionally from small, local butchers.
After the deer butchering class, we had lunch and headed to our afternoon sessions. I went off to learn how to cross-country ski, something I’ve wanted to try since I moved out here because a lot of my running friends ski for cardio in the winter.
It was absolutely incredible. The instructors (Chad and MJ) were awesome. I had so much fun gliding along the little track in the woods. It felt like the physical benefits of running combined with ease and grace of ice skating, mixed with the beautiful forest views of a great hike. It probably helped that it was a perfect day with warm temps and a big blue sky. I can’t wait to go again. Jay and I are planning on find a place near Madison with groomed trails in the next few weeks.
The following morning was our last session before everyone headed home. I was fortunate to spend the morning snowshoeing through the Treehaven property with the center’s assistant director, John. He was incredibly knowledgeable, familiar with each tree and rock we passed. I learned a lot during our 2-hour walk, from the eating habits of wolves to the wing markings of golden eagles.
After I got home, I cooked up the venison from the Saturday morning class with a red wine pan sauce, spiced apples, warm Brussels sprout salad with cranberries and almonds, and some crispy roasted potatoes. A perfect end to a lovely weekend.
I am so glad I went on this trip. I felt depressed and claustrophobic all winter because I thought it was impossible to go out, have fun, and get a good workout during the winter. The ice and cold prevented one from doing anything interesting. Luckily, I was wrong. There are so many awesome things to do out in the snow!