Day 2 – Stronger, Lighter, Farther

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Tuesday, May 30th, 7:45 AM – Departed from a super-secret camping spot in Scanlon, MN. 

Conditions: Temp – 47* / Wind – WNW at 10 mph, gusting to 20 /  Sky – Low overcast, occasional drizzle. Again, morning weather conditions persisted throughout the day with light showers in the late afternoon. Sky’s began clearing in the late evening. 

8:25 PM – Arrived Barnum, MN. 24.7 miles, 68,212 steps, 540 miles remaining.

Sometimes when you least expect it – and in the middle of a very challenging day – the power of human nature can raise your spirits in a way that nothing else can. When I think of Day 2 on this walk, that is what I’m going to remember. 

Bleak is the word that comes to mind when I think of the start of this day. I was sore, disoriented and missing my home. I knew it was going to be a long, hard day, and that wasn’t helping my spirits any. At 7:45, I left the KwikTrip in Scanlon, MN and headed west. My first destination, the Cloquet-Carlton County Airport, was just five miles away. Something highly motivational waited for me there: a hot shower and a place to get out of the wind for a few minutes. As I plodded west on Higway 45, the kinks slowly began to work out of my body, and my mood started to improve. The weather felt more like a blustery autumn day, and that certainly wasn’t making things any easier.

The airport was pretty quiet when I arrived there. The low, scuddy clouds were keeping most pilots on the ground. Only a few pilot types were “hanger flying” in the FBO (Fixed Base Operator) building, and the environment was relaxed and conversational. 

After grabbing a hot shower to wash of the stink of the previous day, I got my gear packed into he trailer and made ready to depart for the long journey that still remained in front of me. As I did, and elderly gentleman wearing a “State Patrol, Aviation Sector” hat began asking me questions about what I was doing. We had a brief but pleasant conversation about airplanes, our flying roots, and of course, the state of our country and economy. In the short time we spoke, we were able to solve most of the world’s problems, and as we went our separate ways, he handed me a donation and wished me the best of luck on my adventure. Afterwards, I realized that I didn’t even get his name, and felt like a class A jerk. I resolved to get better at that, and departed with a lighter heart.

Just a couple of miles down the road, a pick-up truck pulling a small dump trailer slowed and pulled up beside me. Driving the pick-up was Elizabeth Kortie, and with a smile as big as Texas, she handed me a stack of small bills, saying, “It’s all that I have, but I wanted to donate to your walk.” If I liveto be a thousand years old, I will never forget that smile and how it warmed my heart for the remainder of the day. Thank you Elizabeth. My faith in the human condition has once again been restored. 

The rest of the day just sort of blurred by. I don’t mean to say that I didn’t see beautiful things. I did. But with the miles I still had in front of me, the day became more of a test of will. Arriving at the Willard Munger State Trail was a highlight. The break from walking on roadsides was welcome to say the least. TJ’s Country Store was also a welcome sight. A small town grocery store like those I’d known as a kid, the smells of a meat market and fresh produce almost made me weak in the knees as I walked through the door. I was like a kid in a candy store! No five-star restaurant could ever prepare a meal as delicious as the one I purchased and ate at the picnic table outside. 

I arrived at my destination – the Barnum City Campground – at 8:25 PM. I was exhausted and my body hurt everywhere, but had reached my goal! I pitched my tent, crawled inside, and slept eight hours without waking. 

Thanks to the amazing people who helped me along the way, Day 2 was a huge success. I will forever be indebted to the amazing folks at the Cloquet-Carlton County airport, the State Patrol gentleman who helped me to solve the world’s problems, Elizabeth Kortie and her “road donation,” and of course, all of you who followed along with me. Thanks to all! See you out there…

Day 1 – Slow and Steady

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Monday, May 29th, 6:40 AM – Departed from Monaco Air, Duluth International Airport, Duluth, MN.

Conditions: Temp – 57* / Wind – WNW at 10-20mph /  Sky – Low overcast, occasional drizzle and light rain. Morning weather conditions persisted throughout the day, with showers becoming more frequent throughout the afternoon.

4:10 PM – Arrived Scanlon, MN. 20.8 miles, 53,200 steps, 564 miles remaining.

Today was the big day! The first day of a 585-mile walk through Minnesota and Wisconsin. I don’t mind saying, I’m glad the day is over. This walk has been in the planning stages for several months now, and it was simply high time that it got underway. My neighbor Don used the word “trepidation” to describe the feelings experienced before departing on a trip of this magnitude. I don’t think I cold have come up with a better descriptive term. 

All in all, the day was a great success. I chose a slow and steady pace that enabled me to reach my destination, I don’t seem much worse for wear and I didn’t die! As an added bonus, I was also able to make a few observations throughout the course of the day that seem worth mentioning. While they may seem obvious, I believe it’s important to throw them out there for the benefit of anyone who might be planning a similar adventure.

  1. 21 miles is a really long way to walk! Again, some of these may seem obvious…
  2. When driving our personal vehicles, we may perceive the road we’re on to be relatively flat. Don’t fool yourself. Flat sections are indeed rare, and account for only a tiny percentage of a day’s walking.
  3. Walking in cold, blowing rain – regardless of how well prepared you are for it – is quite low on the fun-o-meter. It is best avoided.

Now that I’ve made mention of some of the less desirable parts of  the day, it seems only fair to spend some time talking about the things that made it amazing as well. 

When my partner Jill offered to walk a bit with me towards the very beginning of the day, I wasn’t sure it was what I wanted. But when she joined me after I had walked the first four miles alone, I was so thrilled to see her again! We got to say goodbye twice. That was a very good thing…

While the intermittent rain throughout the day was somewhat annoying, it brought something positive as well. Combined with new growth in the fields, forests and at the roadsides, its fragrance was intoxicating. The air was so heavy with the smells of an early summer rainy day, it appeared almost to have weight and texture. It is still in my senses as I write this, and will be carried with me for a very long time. 

Lastly, at the end of my long day of walking,  I had a surprise visit from my good friend Jeff. Out on his motorcycle, he stopped in to check on me and/or my condition. We got to chat for a bit while I inhaled some much needed food. Independence is a wonderful thing, and I look forward to spending time with my thoughts on this journey.  But it sure was nice to see a friendly face, even if I am only one day out. Thanks for checking on me, Jeff. It meant a lot…

Tomorrow promises to be another interesting day. In theory, I’ll move even more miles than I did today. We shall see. One way or another, I look forward to the challenges, the adventure and all of the events and occurrences that cannot be anticipated. A big thanks to everyone who waved at me through the course of the day, and who slid their vehicles over a bit to give me just a little more room on the side of the road. Very cool. See you out there…

T minus 1 Day: Time on The River

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Sunday, May 28th, 7:30 AM: Temp – 62*, Winds – Westerly/Light, Sky – Overcast, patches of blue, passing light rain and thundershowers.

The River. It has been my place of solitude for some years now. I have seen spectacular things there, and have spent many an hour gliding along its surface while taking in the breathtaking beauty it has to offer. I went there today quite intentionally, knowing that it would be some time before I would be able to return. I was not disappointed. In all of its simple splendor, The River helped fill me with the confidence and strength required to begin my journey.

While I was on the water, I did not think about the coming days much. I thought instead about the days that led me to this point in time. How many times have I come to The River, to sort out my thoughts and put things back into perspective? Too many times to count, I’m sure. Today, though, will remain in my memory for many years to come. On the eve of a great adventure, The River, too, knows that there’s something unusual in the air. As do the sky, the forest, the raindrops pattering on the surface and the distant thunder bouncing amongst the valleys. I have spent more beautiful days on the St. Louis, but none charged with quite the electricity of this one. 

I am leaving it all behind: The River, my home, my Love. Compared to the span of a lifetime, the time away will be little more than a lazy afternoon. But the sum of experiences had is bound to be great! Monumental, even.  Indeed, it may even be overwhelming at times. I welcome it all, or at least say that now…

The River’s solitude, tranquility and predictability will be missed. As will its striking images of soaring eagles against brilliant blue skies,  groups of graceful swans flying curiously overhead and beavers busily patrolling the shorelines. Somehow, though, I am convinced that The River and I will grow closer as I journey. It is with that same resolve that I leave my home, and walk away from my Love. In our hearts, we will not drift apart; we will grow closer and stronger with each purposeful step.

Our river, my Love. It knows us so well…