The grand, festive finale of our #EmbraceTheDark Series, we invite you to join us in celebrating the shortest solar day of the year through one, two, or all of these top experiences for making the most of the 2022 Winter Solstice in Detroit's outdoors.
Ladies and gentlemen, outdoor enthusiasts one and all, I've got good news: today is the best day of the year to get outside. Today is a weird day. A very, very short and cold day. The perfect day to carpe diem, because if you blink, well, you just might miss it.
Today is December 21st, 2022, a.k.a. the "Winter Solstice," that marks not only the official first day of winter in the northern hemisphere, but also the shortest solar day of the year. The sun will rise today at 7:57 a.m., which is exactly an hour after this article is scheduled to be published. The sun will set at 5:02 p.m., providing us with exactly 9 hours, 4 minutes, and 46 seconds of daylight. The perfect timeframe to make every moment count in Detroit's outdoors.
Before diving into our "Top Five Experiences," let's acknowledge one glaring contradiction: this #EmbraceTheDark article is not about the dark. If anything, it's about the fear of the dark - five ways to maximize the fleeting amount of daylight that greatly expands our ability to recreate uninhibited in the outdoors. So yes, we're breaking from the status quo a bit here - but given the natural human aversion to setting out for nocturnal expeditions, we figured most readers would appreciate ending this series on a brighter, sunnier note.
Here are the top five experiences for experiencing the Winter Solstice in Detroit's Outdoors.
1. Watch the Sunrise from "The Tip" at Point Pelee National Park
Spoiler alert: by the time that you are reading this article, a certain member of the Expedition Detroit team (who is also writing this article) will most likely be standing at the very tip of Point Pelee, recording a fleeting sunrise over the southeastern waves of Lake Erie.
That's right, my friends - the single best way to kick off the shortest solar day of the year is by venturing to the single location where you are most likely to witness its genesis. A quick glance at our Destinations map will prove our point: "The Tip" at Point Pelee National Park in Ontario wins out as the most dramatic location to experience a sunrise in the entire Detroit region.
Hiking out to Point Pelee, however, is just the tip of the ice burg (pun intended) for experiencing the national park. We've referenced Point Pelee numerous times throughout our articles - and plan on writing a feature soon - but Canada's second-smallest national park packs a massive recreational punch for outdoor enthusiasts of all genres. We're talking extensive marsh kayaking, beach hiking, pristine cycling, and world-class bird watching. Absolutely worth a full-day visit over the holidays if you're unable to make it out today to share the sunrise with me (and if you catch me while I'm visiting, don't be a stranger).
2. Opt Outside for your Morning Run
With Covid-era restrictions long in remission, most of us have probably settled back into something similar to our circa 2019 workweek habits. Alarm clocks set to conventional times, morning treadmill runs, and standard commutes...you know the drill. However, on today of all days - and especially if your schedule still permits for somewhat flexible mornings - we highly encourage you to swap the treadmill for a real deal, trail run tomorrow morning.
Why do we encourage you to hit the trail? Well, other than the immense physical benefits that trail running provides versus other forms of running, outdoor morning runs provide accentuated cognitive benefits like improved executive functions, memory, problem-solving, verbal fluency, decision making, inhibitory control, and sustained attention levels as the fatigue of the workday sets in. Just be sure to plan your base and mid-layers appropriately for temperatures projected for just above freezing.
3. Take Your Mid-Day Walk to a New Park
Unable to get that morning run in? Eh, walk it off - but figuratively and physically. Tomorrow's "mid-day" point will hit at exactly 12:30 p.m., right in the dead center of most American workers' lunch hour. Regardless of where you work, we strongly encourage you to seize this rapidly diminishing moment of daylight to log out of work, leave your phone at your desk, and bask in at least 30 minutes of a work-free escape to the outdoors.
Similar to a morning run, scientific studies have proven that recreating in the outdoors during the workday - even if such recreation comprises solely of a walk around a park near your office - immensely boosts productivity cognitive functions while decreasing hormones inducing stress, anxiety, and depression. These mental health benefits are further amplified when exploring new environments vs. familiar routes that you could probably sleepwalk. For your own sake, we challenge you to find a new park in your immediate vicinity that you can spend a "mental health walk" exploring today. Who knows, it may become your next go-to park for a mid-day walk...until next year's Winter Solstice prompts the discovery of another.
4. Bike the Trails Before the Storm
In case you missed the headlines from the last few days (no, not the ones about the Lions' playoff hopes, although we're stoked about those too), a Christmas snowstorm is looming on the horizon. The precipitation will start as rain on Thursday, but then evolve to snow sometime Thursday night or early Friday morning. Meteorologists are currently predicting around 4 inches or greater of snow.
If you're predominantly a skier or snowboarder, the 4+ inches of snow are a much-overdue blessing for building up the base snow levels needed to ride our region's backcountry lines (the resorts' snowblowers could also use a hand). For most mountain bikers (aside from fat tire riders), this news likely strikes as the final nail in the coffin for the 2022 MTB season. The frozen, grippy trails have been such a blessing over the last week, but alas, all good things must come to an end - especially with Thursday's rain forecast.
Well, not quite yet. Today's Winter Solstice provides the majority of our MTB community with one last, glorious ride into the proverbial sunset. Is there a trail on your 2022 wishlist that for one reason or another you just haven't been able to hit? Good - today's the day my friend. There are no excuses left in this year. The sun is likely setting as you're reading this. The storms of tomorrow are looming. The trail is perfect now - right this very second. In fact, we'll forgive you the usually unforgivable sin of not finishing an Expedition Detroit article to grab your bike, buckle your helmet, and hit that elusive trial.
5. Watch the Sunset from a Chairlift
When it comes to natural "mountains," Detroit's "Big Four" ski resorts only have so much terrain to work with. One of the very few natural drawbacks to recreating in the Great Lakes region vs. the Rocky Mountains or Appalachia. Regardless of that fact, there is one undeniable aspect of Detroit skiing that our resorts absolutely crush: night skiing.
I don't care how many times you've skied or snowboarded at the Big Four, there's a childlike instinct that comes out when the giant lamps start to glow around sunset. Your legs could be shaking a bit after carving up the slopes all day, but when those lights start to illuminate the hill, a surge of new life springs from the illuminated snow. I'm writing from personal experience here - the Expedition Detroit team dusted off our skis for some inaugural turns at Alpine Valley Ski Resort last weekend, and oh boy - skiing under the lights just hits different.
As we mentioned earlier, today's sunset is scheduled for 5:02 p.m. Fortunately for our resident night riders, each of the Big Four have special, discounted tickets that run from 3 p.m. until the resorts close. In other words, you should be on the slopes with plenty of time to maximize the Solstice's remaining daylight, caught a multi-colored #PureMichigan sunset, and burn the late-night oil churning turns under the lamps. Name a better way to close out the shortest day of the year - we'll wait.
Regardless of whether you've been with us for a few months now or if this is your first Expedition Detroit read, you've probably caught on to a general high-level theme: we love the aspects of our environment that the vast majority of the mainstream outdoor community either ignores or straight-up, outright rejects.
Major outdoor guide forums and retailers don't view Detroit as an international gateway to the outdoors? Fantastic - we're going to dig deep and highlight every park, trail, and retailer that provides access to world-class opportunities.
Casual outdoor recreationists emigrate from our region every year once the temperature drops into the 30s and daylight diminishes a bit? No worries - we'll double-down and launch a series titled #EmbraceTheDark aimed solely at outdoor opportunities best experienced in the darkest and coldest of conditions.
In a way, we're celebrating a Winter Solstice spent in the outdoors because this day encapsulates the values of this community. Making the most of every opportunity accessible to us. Not along any obstacles, whether those are man-made, environment-induced, or literally celestial like sunlight quantity, to affect your capacity for embracing and thriving in an outdoor lifestyle. Forcing us to face the reality that not all days are created equal, but that fact should motivate rather than discourage us from lacing up the running shoes, strapping on the helmet, or adding an extra layer before getting after it.
There's definitely a formal definition for the word "Expedition," but I'm not going to Google it for this article. Let's each invent our own definition today, starting with "the maximization of every outdoor experience presented to you today."
That's our expedition for this Winter Solstice - and we can't wait to see you on the trail.