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On a kicksled on a frozen lake.

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Jill Sill

In 2002, back when traveling was still commonplace, I was wandering the streets of Beijing with my family. We were looking for a place to eat and warm ourselves. In our search, we stumbled across a small, frozen lake. The ice was smooth and full of people, smiles, and laughter. It took a few moments to register the source of their joy.

We saw old wooden chairs had been fashioned with metal runners. People of all ages were sliding about on a bright but frigid day. Each chair had one person behind who pushed them along. After paying a few dollars, we were able to join the fun.

My mother, in particular, laughed and laughed as my husband pushed her around on the lake. We marveled at the simplicity of this creation. We were delighted to experience something that the people of all ages had come out to enjoy. It felt like we had discovered a local secret.

Fast forward 20 years. My dearest friend invited me to go kicksledding. I wasn’t sure what she meant, but I knew I was game for trying something new. When she presented the kicksled, I was taken back to that time in Beijing — I’ve done this! If chairs with metal runners are hard to imagine, imagine a dog sled without the dogs. I was ready to go!

My excitement outweighed my skill during our first outing and I soon found myself in a heap at the bottom of a hill. The tumble was a surprising reminder to temper my abandonment and proceeded with a tad more caution. But, I soon found kicking through the woods completely invigorating. The side-to-side action to propel oneself forward quickly became intuitive.

We often see transportation and recreation as separate activities. In Scandinavian countries, kicksledding is a brilliant example of where transportation and recreation intersect. In many places, kicksleds are straightforward tools for running errands. They are as helpful as bicycles are during the warmer months. And, their popularity, like bicycling, is increasing and spreading to the United States.

“Kick” translates to “spark” in Swedish, and thus kicksleds are often referred to as “sparks.” I purchased my own spark shortly after my introduction. I bought one online from a small company in Wisconsin. I have snow runners I can attach when traveling through snow. I remove them to reveal the metal runners for better traction on ice. I use Yaktrax to place over my boots for even better stability and control when pushing off the ice.

Typically, I set out alone on my spark, but I have convinced my teenagers to let me push them about on the frozen lake. Most kicksleds have a seat placed in front of the driver.

My sled fits into my car and can fold down if space is tight. I don’t need a lift ticket or to charge a battery to get moving.

Traveling by kicksled can be thrilling on the downhills and calm and rhythmic on the flats.

There is something powerful about moving through the winter landscape under my own power. It leaves me feeling strong, brave, and connected with my surroundings.

The sound of snow crunching underfoot, balanced with the sound of my breath, and the quiet of the winter is something to be experienced.

Kicksleds aren’t everywhere here in northern Michigan, but next time you go out for a walk or a ski, imagine it. And, then, think about having a kicksled adventure with me.

I’ll show you the basics, and get you kicking on your own. You’ll soon be in rhythm with crunching snow or scraping ice with each rise and fall of your breath.

We might not be traveling much these days, but that doesn’t mean we can’t have adventures and experience something new — let’s go!

Jill Sill is the interim executive director at Norte. To have a kick around the Civic Center on her spark, shoot her an email at jill@elgruponorte.org

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