Thursday, June 8th, 9:50 a.m. – Departed from the AmericInn Hotel in Ham Lake, MN.
Conditions – Temp – 73* / Winds – NW at 6, remaining northwesterly throughout the day, increasing to 15 mph by late afternoon. / Sky Conditions – Clear skies with spotty cumulus popping up towards afternoon/evening. Temperature reached 82* in the late afternoon.
9:15 p.m. – Arrived at the Emergency Operations Training Facility (EOTF) in Minneapolis, MN, 18.6 miles, 53,100 steps, 403 miles remaining.
It’s been discussed that, when moving into an urban area like Minneapolis/St. Paul, there are noticeable changes in pace and energy. In the case this of walk, the changes in physical environment require an adaptation of traveling style as well. Traffic lights are long; road crossings can be time consuming, and eat up a bigger part of the day. Motorists move quickly and are sometimes unforgiving as well. More care must taken to safeguard one’s self, and a raised awareness of surroundings becomes critical to survival. Temperatures become more of a factor too, as concrete and asphalt absorb the heat of the sun. By late afternoon, the heat radiating up from the pavement can easily exceed 100 degrees.
The morning’s walk began quite beautifully. I was refreshed from a night in a hotel room, skies were clear, winds were light and I was excited about moving deeper into the urban environment. The plan was to get as close as possible to downtown Minneapolis, but still find a place where I could put my tent down for the night. That proved to be an interesting challenge, and it weighed on my mind as the day progressed.
There was one thing I was really excited about: no more walking on Highway 65! From Ham Lake south, it was possible to move on surface streets, making the experience a far more pleasant one. As I began moving in the soft, late morning light, I couldn’t help but notice the beauty of my surroundings, although a different kind of beauty from what I ‘d been seeing. Meticulously cared for parks, parkways and green spaces seemed almost too neat and tidy, but were a great pleasure to walk through. Especially at first, I felt very much like a visitor, and took it all in as any tourist would. Its beauty, though, lulled me into a sort of false sense of security. It was too easy, and caused me to let my guard down.
Moving out of Ham Lake and into the suburb of Blaine, the landscape began to change. The rolling, tree-line parkway I’d been traveling on gave way to vast open spaces, grid-like street patterns and a more industrialized area. That change was accompanied by the disappearance of sidewalks, and finding a suitably safe route became more and more challenging. My initial destination was the Anoka County – Blaine Airport, and the roads I had chosen to travel on to get there left me with little choice but to move across grass boulevards, making the task of pulling the trailer a much more difficult one. By the time I ‘d covered the 7 miles to the airport, it was early afternoon, the day was heating up, and a break was definitely in order.
It was at this point – arriving at the the Anoka County – Blaine Airport – that I found myself really struggling to maintain an optimistic attitude. I was missing my home, my cat, and most of all, Jill and our two daughters. I began realizing how much I sometimes take for granted at our beautiful home in Duluth, and how much I was longing for its comforts. It was also the in between day. I knew that Friday – the next day – I would be seeing Jill, have a few days off to play in Minneapolis, and be able to recharge my personal batteries a bit. For the moment, though, things were looking pretty grim, and pulling myself up and out of it wasn’t an easy task. There’d been no uplifting moments in my day, and things I was trying accomplish just weren’t being realized. In the end, I did the only thing I really could: put one foot in front of another, and believe that things were going to improve in the very near future.
To get to the Anoka County – Blaine Airport, I had diverted somewhat to the east of the natural route into downtown Minneapolis. The next part of my journey was planned to follow the Mississippi River directly into the downtown area, so I began backtracking to the west to meet the river and the Mississippi River Regional Trail Corridor that follows it. Even though I’d made attempts to secure a place to be for the night, I’d had no luck, and that was definitely not helping my mood. Walking to the west also meant walking directly into the baking afternoon sun, and I could think of little else but to get into the shade of the beautiful, mature hardwood trees lining the Mississippi River and my route to the south. Reaching them helped me to smile, and as evening fell and the day cooled, my mood began to improve.
One of the best parts about summer is that, as daylight turns to twilight and the intensity of the day fades, the evening world begins coming alive. A sort of “second wind” in a summer day’s routine, it is especially noticeable in an urban environment. People come out to play and socialize, nightlife comes alive and a different type of electricity is in the air. Revitalized with that energy, my journey south along the river continued. Even though I was within 65 blocks or so of downtown Minneapolis, I still didn’t no where my landing spot for the night would be. Somehow, though, it mattered less. Enjoying the beautiful evening became the highest priority.
Taking a break around 7:00 p.m. at the Islands of Peace Regional Park just north of Hwy 694, I evaluated my options. There wasn’t going to be any sort of campground or legitimate place for me to set up a tent, so creativity was once again going to be in order. I knew there were places along the river where a tent could be “hidden” in the woods, but I wasn’t crazy about the implications of doing so. As the area along the river is relatively industrial, my hope was that I might find a business that would let me stay on a small patch of grass for the night. At the very least, it would be safe.
Occupying many blocks between the river and the paved trail I was walking on was Minneapolis Waterworks property. Peering through the fence that separated it from the trail, all kinds waterworks equipment and infrastructure could be seen. I couldn’t help but think that, if only there was a way to get on the other side of that fence, there may be the possibility of talking to someone about staying there. Then, without warning, the scene beyond the fence began to change. Waterworks equipment was replaced with fire fighting equipment, and almost immediately, I recognized what I was looking at.
As a truck driving instructor at Lake Superior College in Duluth, MN, I had worked out of the Emergency Response Training Center (ERTC) in Fond du Lac. What I was seeing through the fence was all too familiar. This was a firefighter training facility of some kind! A fenced and gated facility, I again thought to myself what a wonderfully safe place it would be to spend the night f I could just get through the gate and talk to someone. I learned a lot about the goodwill of firefighters working with them at the ERTC, and felt confident they would help me out once I explained what I was doing. My paced quickened in anticipation of what I might find when arriving at the entrance.
Turning the corner on 37th Street N.E., I saw it: an open gate at the entrance of the Emergency Operations Training Facility (EOTF). In the parking lot just inside the gate were several cars; the building was lit and looked open. Things were looking up. I shot across the parking lot to the main entrance and tried the front door. Open. All I needed to do was find someone to talk to in order to secure my lodging for the night. Therein lied the problem. There was no one to talk to. I walked the entire building and facility looking for any sign of life, and found none. The place was deserted…
I found myself with an interesting dilemma. It was already after 9:00 p.m. There wan’t going to be any better place around than the EOTF, and I was sure if they knew my story, staying there would be no problem. On the other hand, I didn’t want to put my tent down, only to have someone wake me in the middle of the night, or worse yet, come and close the gate, trapping me in the facility. After careful consideration, I decided to put down my tent in an out of sight place, in hopes that the gate would still be open in the morning. I set an alarm to wake up before sunrise, and slept a difficult and fitful sleep due to the large, loud railroad switching yard just across East River Road, and my worry about being able to get out in the morning.
At 6:00 a.m. the following morning, I walked back out of the open gate. To my knowledge, no one ever came to the facility, except for the young firefighter coming in through the gate as I was walking out. He had the most confused look on his face. Someday, I will explain… For the time being though, it will remain something of a mystery to both of us, and I will be adding the EOTF to my list of places and people to thank who have no idea that they’ve done so. It was an interesting end to a not so great day. Quite comical in a way. One can just never know what will happen next…