Day 12 – Reaching the Limit

Tuesday, July 13th, 9:30 a.m. –  Departed from the Pine Bend Bluffs Scientific and Natural Area/Pilot Truck Stop in Inver Grove Heights, MN.

Morning Conditions – Temp – 73* / Wind – SE at 8 mph/ Skies – Hazy, high overcast. 

Afternoon/Evening Conditions – Temp – Reached 89* with very high humidity / Wind – 10-15 mph out of the SSE, gusting to 25 mph by late afternoon / Skies – Hazy with scattered to broken cumulus, heavy thunderstorms approaching from the west.

5:00 p.m. – Arrived at Little Oscars Restaurant in Hampton, MN, 18.0 miles, 52,300 steps, 344 miles remaining.

Measure of the Man – Long after this walk is completed, this day will stand out in my memory as a challenging test of my will, and an experience that defined my personal limits with physical exertion under intensely hot and humid conditions. There’s a certain satisfaction that comes with reaching those limits, but also a frustration in knowing and having to admit that they exist. German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche once said, “That which does not kill us, makes us stronger.” I got a little bit stronger today.

I didn’t wake up as early as I’d planned this morning. There had been an alarm set, but shutting it off to get some much needed sleep seemed a better use of my time by far. When finally rolling out of the tent, I was sluggish, slow to get moving and already being affected by the morning heat and humidity. 

The tent was near a regional trail, but in what I thought was a relatively remote area, so I didn’t expect to get any company at 6:15 a.m. Imagine my surprise when, while standing in my underwear by the tent, a cyclist sped by on trail, looking my way as he did so. Just a few minutes later, a construction vehicle with four workers in it – presumably heading to the backside of the same mud hole that had caused my so much grief on the previous night – rolled by on the trail as well, all four heads turning to witness or admire the spectacle before them. My brain wasn’t in what I’d call “high function mode” at the moment, but it was still able to come to a logical conclusion: time to get moving.

Once motivated to do so, it didn’t take me long to pack up and hit the road. About a mile down the road was a Pilot Truck Stop, and the idea of a hot meal and a shower sounded pretty darn good to me. As I arrived there, memories of my 1-year career as an over-the-road truck driver came swimming back into my brain. It struck me that this walk isn’t all that different from driving a truck over the road. Unpredictable sleep and eating schedule, never quite knowing where I’ll spend the night and pressing onward when it’s the last thing I want to do are the standards of over-the-road trucking driving. Much like this walk, the life can’t really be described. It must be lived to truly understand it. I was grateful for the shower, the food and the air conditioning, but wasted no time in moving along. There was a big day of walking in front of me.

The first couple of hours of the morning were spent circumventing the Pine Bend Refinery and the landfill adjacent to it. The air was foul, the roadsides were strewn with garbage and the truck traffic was almost unbearable. Dump trucks, garbage trucks and tanker trucks of all shapes and sizes came and went in an almost constant steam, bringing with them the smells of garbage, hot diesel and petroleum products. I kept thinking, “This is where the garbage goes, this is where the fuel comes from. It seems ironic that the two are side by side.” Walking down this particular 2-mile stretch of road was an eye opener, and I could not help but reevaluate my personal consumption, as well as my “reduce and reuse” habits. I would hope that anyone would. It was not at all a pleasant place to spend time. 

By late morning, the temperature had climbed well in the 80s, and the humidity was climbing right along with it. The only thing that was making the day tolerable was a strong southeast wind, but even that felt much like opening an oven door for a sustained period of time. The area I was walking through was largely farm country, and for the most part, there were no good places to take breaks for any amount of time. I had learned back in Isanti County that sitting down wherever I  pleased was not necessarily a great plan of action. 

The hours of the afternoon blurred on by, with my intital destination of Hampton, Minnesota inching ever closer. Water was my biggest concern. With 4 miles left until Hampton, supply was running low, and finding a place to restock was becoming imperative. While descending into a wide, partially forested valley, I notice on the left what appeared to be a small park area. Arriving there, I realized that it was actually a horse farm, and there was a young man just pulling out of the stable with a tractor and manure spreader. This was going to be my best chance! I asked if there might be any chance of refilling my water bottles there. His name was Louise, and he quickly obliged by leading me to small restroom in the stable. While he swept the stable, I wasted no time filling up. As I hooked the trailer up and was turning to leave, I handed him a business card for the walk, saying, “Muchas gracias, Amigo!” With a wide smile, he wished me the best of luck on my journey.

By around 4:00 p.m., I was finally approaching Hampton from the northwest. With less than a mile to go, the outskirts of the town could already be seen. There were problems, however. I was walking straight into a 15 or 20 mph wind on the bumpy, gravel shoulder of busy Highway 50. Those conditions were quickly sapping what little energy I had left after walking 15 miles in the heat and humidity. When I saw the pictured statue, I truly began to wonder if the heat had taken taken its toll. After assuring myself that it was in fact real, I pushed on as best I could. 

About a quarter mile from town, I stopped. I knew I had to, and it didn’t matter where. I was lucky enough to find a gun club (obviously wouldn’t be my first choice…) right next to the road. I didn’t see where I had much choice. What I was feeling was something a little like claustrophobia. In spite of the oppressive heat, I was beginning to get chills, and even in the shade, it was really difficult for me to cool down. I took off as many clothes as I realistically could, not wanting to make the local news with a headline of, “Naked Man Found Trespassing at Hampton Gun Club.” I drank more water, ate more food, and eventually returned to a normal enough state to continue into town. The episode scared me though, and helped me to define and recognize my limits on the really bad days.

Decision Time – After collecting myself, I walked into Hampton and to the other side of Highway 52 to Little Oscars Restaurant. In the process of doing so, I noticed the Siver Bell motel right next to the restaurant. While my initial plan for the day had been to continue another 9 miles to the Stanton Airport, I decided to attempt getting a room there. I wasn’t able to, but considering the heat, my exhausted condition and the severe weather that I knew to be approaching, finding a room became my highest priority. 

While having dinner at Little Oscars, I searced for anything that might be available. The closest I could find was in Canon Fall, Minnesota – 13 miles to the south. I knew there was no way I could walk there, but booked it immediately just the same, believing that I would be able to find a ride. I explained my dilemma to my server who immediately asked one of the other servers in the restaurant if she could help me out. She said it would be no problem at all, and within half an hour, I was in an air conditioned room at the Caravan Motel in Canon Falls. Thank you so much, Faith and Aaron, for the lift. It wasn’t a matter of life and death, but it was beginning to feel like it…

Another day behind me, another important lesson learned. Respect the heat and humidity, and pay attention to the warning. I am not indestructible. I am human, and suffer from that condition like all other humans. On the upside, I survived the day, and believe myself to be better for the experience! See you out there…

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