Day 11 – Ruled by the Great Outdoors

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Monday, June 12th, 8:00 a.m. –  Departed from Minnehaha Falls in Minneapolis, MN.

Morning Conditions – Temp – 63* / Wind – Calm / Skies – Clear but hazy. increasing to 10-15 mph out of the SSE by late afternoon. / Skies – Clear, but hazy.

Afternoon/Evening Conditions – Temp – Reached 82* with high humidity / Wind – 10-15 mph out of the SSE by late afternoon / Skies – Thickening cirrus and stratocumulus clouds throughout the day, thunderstorms late afternoon.

10:15 p.m. – Arrived at the Pine Bend Bluffs Scientific and Natural Area in Inver Grove Heights, MN, 21.0 miles, 58,700 steps, 362 miles remaining.

Monday, Monday – One of things I looked forward to most about this walk was being outside in nature for long periods of time. I romanticized about being like an animal or a bird, totally dictated by the goings on of nature, and living by that set of rules. Being human, though, I am accustomed to shelter when it is needed, and also to be able to work around  the ways of nature if I choose to do so. It would seem that I’m having to make some adjustments out here, and I get the feeling that nature is having a good laugh at my expense. 

The day started out so beautifully. Jill and I had spent the weekend together in Minneapolis. There’d been time to recharge and recuperate, and even though I wasn’t crazy about the idea of getting back out there and walking 20 miles, there was a quickness in my step as I walked away from Minnehaha Park. Waving goodbye to Jill, I remember thinking, “What a wonderfully peaceful place!” The thought had no more than left my mind when they arrived. Coming out of the thick woods adjacent to the Mississippi River were thousands of small, skilled, hungry mosquitos. It will never fail to amaze me how they are able to find the tiniest patch of exposed skin! For the better part of an hour, the battle raged. It wasn’t until climbing out of the river bottom and up onto the Mendota Bridge that I was able to break free of them. Even though I’d been wearing a hat, my newly shaved head looked as if it had contracted a case of the measles. The breeze on the bridge was welcome, as was the spectacular view.

The next few hours of walking were quite relaxing. An overcast sky kept the temperature bearable, and the trails I was walking on were easy and nearly deserted. As noon approached, things began to change. The overcast gave way to hot sun and high humidity, and things started getting uncomfortable. From that moment forward, every piece of my clothing was sticking to my body in every place it could, making me feel a bit like I’d been wrapped in plastic. In an effort to ward off the bad attitude that seemed inevitable, I stopped at a Super America to take a break and get some food. I crouched down to cable my trailer to a “Car Wash” sign, and when standing back up, smacked my head hard on the bottom of the metal sign. I believe I said something like, “Oh golly, that stings.” My mood slipped another notch or two as well. I thought I might take a nice long break in the shade. That always helps, right? Then I looked at the weather radar on my phone. Giant red and pink blobs were rapidly approaching from the southwest. There would be no break in my immediate future…

I almost made it to the South St. Paul Airport in the nick of time; there were only two or three minutes of walking through giant, blowing raindrops. Walking through the door of the airport building, I remember thinking it was technically a win because I hadn’t been struck by lightning? Everything is relative, I suppose.

Happy to be inside the airport building, I made my way to the flight planning room to dry off and collect myself. There I found John Schmidt. A teacher of 31 years and a fellow pilot, he and I easily struck up an engaging conversation while waiting for the weather to pass. We talked about airplanes, airports, students, politics, and things in our personal lives. Best of all, we talked about what John is planning to do after he retires in 2027. I don’t feel as if I have the right to divulge his plans, but they involve Ireland, France, 48 states, drinking and flying (obviously not at the same time). It was truly a pleasure to meet John, and I really appreciated the engaging conversation. Sometime around 6:00, he left for a dinner date, and I set out to cover another 6 miles. 

The evening walk was actually quite beautiful. It was still steamy and hazy, but at lest the temperature had dropped. About 2 miles before reaching my destination, I was lucky enough to happen upon a paved regional trail that took me almost directly to where I wanted to end up. The sunset was beautiful, the day was pretty much in the bank, and I was already looking forward to some food and good night’s sleep. Just two tenths of a mile to go and…A giant mud hole. There was no way I could have known it would be there. It stood between me and the end of the day like a mote filled with alligators. To avoid it meant backtracking nearly 2 miles – not acceptable at the end of a long day. After inspecting it closely, I thought that maybe, just maybe, I had found a way to get through it. I took a step. Then another step. It was on the third step that my foot sunk into the mud up to my ankle. After that was nothing but swearing and a weird, sloshing running maneuaver that proved to be COMPLETELY ineffective. I’m almost positive I heard laughter from above. Or was that just my imagination?

To make things just a little worse, my planned destination fell through. I found an alternate, but it meant backtracking about a mile. Tired, sweaty and grumbling, I made my camp for the night. It was nearly 11:00 p.m. by the time I laid down to go to sleep. With heavy eyes, I looked outside the tent, and was rewarded with the most spectacular firefly display I’ve seen to this day. It appeared as if the stars had come down and were twinkiling amongst the tall grasses. I watched until I could no longer keep my eyes open. Perhaps nature felt some remorse for the challenging day it served up? I sure would like to think so…

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