Day 3 – The Heart of the Matter

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Wednesday, May 31st, 10:45 AM- Departed from the Barnum City Campground in Barnum, MN.

Conditions: Temp – 54* / Wind – NW at 10 mph, gusting to 20 later in the day /  Sky Conditions – Clear skies with patchy clouds. Today was what we call in the aviation world a “severe clear” day. Winds became more gusty in the afternoon, but calmed down by evening. Blue sky’s and brilliant sunshine were a significant change from the past few days. Temperature reached 70* in the afternoon.

7:10 PM – Arrived Willow River, MN, 15.7 miles, 45,750 steps, 524 miles remaining.

It will never fail to amaze me how one day in northern Minnesota can vary so much from the day before it. On the first two days of this walk, my challenge was to stay warm and find places to get out of the wind. Today, my highest priority was to regularly get out of the sun and consume considerably more water than the previous two days. Much like our Midwest weather, the mood and events can vary significantly as well.

Today was slated to be lighter day for me. With only 15 miles of walking planned, I felt like I could get a slower start on the morning. I took the time to dry out my gear in the sunshine, rearrange the trailer’s pack and generally relax a bit before I departed. I also made time to have a really big breakfast at a local establishment called the Rustic Diner.

The Rustic is one of those places that exists in many smaller towns. It is where the locals go; prices are fair, portions are big, and the conversations are spirited and warm. It is the heart of the community. When I walked through the door, I knew I was a visitor. But in a place not much larger than many people’ living rooms, it didn’t take long to feel welcome.

Kathy – the only server in the place – had her hands full keeping up. She moved swiftly and efficiently about the place, calling everyone by first names and making sure that no cup of coffee went empty (she is the person standing in the upper right portion of the picture).

After finishing my breakfast, I took out my phone and keyboard and began to work. In doing so, I explained to Kathy what I was doing, and that I surely would appreciate being able to stay awhile and do some writing. Kathy obliged, and in fact offered me a place to plug in so I could keep my devices charged. Other customers began taking an interest in my story as well, asking questions about why I was doing this, where I was going, and the kinds of challenges I was facing. This group of people didn’t know me from Adam, but welcomed me into their home. I couldn’t help but think that this behavior – offering a complete stranger an inviting place to spend a few hours – is the essence of who we are. Yes, we are a country. But when it comes right down to it, we are people. As individuals, we get to make the choices of whether or not to be inquisitive, to get to know someone, or to lend a helping hand. Thank you Kathy, and everyone else at the Rustic, for making feel welcome as I continue to get farther from my home.

By 10:45 AM, I’d packed up my gear and was again working my way south. By midday, I’d reached the town of Moose Lake, MN, and the sun was beginning to take its toll on me. I stopped at the Holiday on the “main drag,” got myself some lunch and found a shady spot to enjoy. In spite of the fact that this was a shorter day mile-wise, it was already beginning to feel long. When I’d finished my lunch and was feeling sufficiently regenerated, I returned to the trail and continued south.

My next planned stop on the Willard Munger Trail was the Moose Lake Airport. By the time I arrived there, I really needed a break. After being in the midday sun for the better part of four hours, the shade and coolness of the airport building was most welcome. The airport was very quiet. Sometimes they’re like that. One day they might be a flurry of activity; another day, there isn’t a soul in sight. Today, things were pretty quiet, and I truly appreciated the fact that I could just sit and catch up on some “paperwork.”

By 4:00 PM, I made my way back out the trail. I can honestly say that I wasn’t too enthusiastic about it. I had eight miles remaining to reach my goal for the day, but would much preferred to have simply stayed where I was. There was a reason for me to move on, however. Jessica Langhorst – my partner Jill’s friend from high school – was planning to meet me down the trail a mile or two with her two boys. We had not met before, and I was looking forward to the human interaction.

After about 20 minutes of walking, I was able to see them in the distance. The three of them – Jess, Tristan and Ray – had biked out to the trail and were heading my way. Upon meeting, the boys were eager to bestow on me the gifts they had brought with them: and orange (devoured immediately), some granola bars, and – my favorite – a zip-lock bag filled with change as a donation to the walk. My heart just melted. It reminded me of one of my mother’s sayings: “True generosity is giving when you have almost nothing to give.”

Jess and her two young boys made my day, and that will never be forgotten. We walked and talked for a mile or so until we reached the turnoff for their house. As we said our goodbyes, I again felt the warmth that people can bring to one another. We all have busy schedules. But sometimes stepping out of those routines to help someone along the way can pay off in a big way. Jess’s kindness helped me a lot on Day 3, and I am filled with gratitude for it.

The last stop of the day was the Squirrel Cage motel in Willow River, MN. I’m trying to tent as much as I can, but what I really needed was a soft bed, a good meal and a hot shower. My beautiful partner Jill made the trip down from Duluth to help me exchange some items I wasn’t using for some items I was really in need of. With all my heart, thank you Jill, for your undying support. You are my Love…

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