To celebrate the much-awaited end of February in Wyoming, locals and ex-locals convene in the very small town of Centennial one Saturday a year with cross-country skis, snowshoes, dogs without leashes, and backpacks full of beer for the Poker Run. This was the 25th year of the annual event and pretty much the only thing to look forward to during the yucky month of February (except skiing, of course). I am already researching what flowers to plant in front of the house post-defrost. Tulips? Daffodils? Zinnias later?
Centennial is about a half hour west of Laramie at the base of the Snowy Range mountains, so we drive through every time we go up to the Snowy Range Ski Area for some wintry recreation. The town consists of a church, an elementary school, a post office, a general store, a convenience store/bar, a couple other restaurants/bars, and a fire station.
Matt and I like to joke that the Beartree Tavern is the best restaurant in Laramie. Their pork green chili means business. Also, they’re not actually in Laramie, so there’s that. (Laramie isn’t exactly known for its fine cuisine.)
The Poker Run itself is just a crowded, slightly drunken adventure down a cross-country ski trail in Medicine Bow National Forest. Rowdy, outdoorsy Laramie folks dress up in wacky costumes and attempt to make their way down the trail from the mountains down to Centennial without tripping up on someone else’s skis or running into a tree. Also, there’s some part of the event that actually relates to the card game poker, but that escaped me entirely.
After indulging in some elk sausage-filled breakfast burritos, our group drove up to Centennial and went inside a restaurant to pay for a shuttle up the mountain. We then stood around in the light snow and played with dogs until an empty suburban stopped and invited us in. As it turns out, this guy wasn’t part of the organized shuttle experience for which we’d just paid; he was just a generous local. He said something like, “I can fit five of you.”
Someone promptly asked, “Can we sit in the trunk?” and soon there were twelve of us, plus two dogs, along with all our skis, poles, snowshoes, and backpacks. We slowly made our way up the mountain.
At the top of the mountain were snowmobilers, other Poker Run enthusiasts, and a couple of guys drawing their names in a prominent snowbank with their urine. All in all, a classy affair.
I strapped on my friend Amy’s extra pair of snowshoes and put on my integral mittens. Snowtime.
This was my first snowshoeing experience. As Amy (pictured above, on the right, with her gluten-free beer chilling in the snow at her feet) wisely put it, “It’s literally walking, but on snow. It’s just walking.” That said, the only technique recommendations I have are a) not to step on anyone and b) make sure your straps are tight enough that they don’t continually fall off your boots. Oh, and c) wear boots with faux fur for an extra dose of fun.
We ran into a lot of people I recognized, and many more I didn’t. I even came across Kyle and Tallie’s pal Ray, who graduated from the University of Wyoming but is now living in Utah. Halfway through the course a woman was selling beer off the back of her snowmobile to thirsty participants.
We passed by some snow-muffled cabins that were, incredibly, chugging out smoke from their chimneys. So much snow! It seemed like a scene out of Narnia.
It intermittently snowed and shone sun all afternoon. At one point, we came upon a dwindling bonfire just as they ran out of hotdogs. I’ve never before seen a fire in the midst of so much snow. Some of the surrounding snow was stained black from smoke and ash.
Upon returning to Centennial via hitchhiking, we ended up at the Beartree Tavern for a pizza and a rambunctious concert led by a band of rowdy old, gray men. Three of the five were guitarists, which was a little perplexing. A thirties-ish married couple from Denver sat at the bar, completely enamored with the scene. “This is so cool!” The husband said to me. “Is it normally like this? We’re from Denver.”
On Sunday we went skiing and I began to experiment with taking jumps which, as Matt pointed out after the fact, is not an activity commonly undertaken by skiers. I had my first good fall since the beginning of the season trying to land a jump that was way higher than I had anticipated. I had one of those cartoon moments where you begin to realize that you’re still airborne, so you start to uncontrollably flail your arms and say things like, “Woah.”
Now I know what my friend Kevin meant when, after I went skiing for the first time, he asked how much snow I’d gotten in my pants. Rolling around in powder after literally crashing into it will do that to you. Miraculously I didn’t lose any skis or poles or mittens (a “yard sale,” as the ski bums call it), but I am glad I wear a helmet, as always!
Fun & safe adventures to you all.