Tuesday morning we packed up our bicycles, a credit card, and a change of clothing, drove northwest 180 miles to Akeley, Minnesota where we met a friend, and started riding the Heartland State Trail. This trail was one of the very first rail-to-trail projects in the United States. We had about 15 drops of rain as we began our ride east to the town of Walker. After a lunch stop we connected with the Paul Bunyan State Trail, turning northwest. And as luck would have it we were being pushed along by a southeast wind and accompanied by overcast skies to keep the summer heat at bay. After 42 miles of riding through fields, forests, and remnants of logging and railroad towns we arrived in Bemidji. Sleep came easily after the fresh-air, exercise, and a delightful dinner on a patio overlooking Lake Bemidji.
The next morning we woke to a dark-cloud sky, winds gusting from the south and southwest, and whitecaps rolling over the lake surface. There was no one along the beach except the gulls and geese. The sun would break through the clouds, but the wind continued to howl. We took our time before getting back on our bikes, waiting for the winds to shift again, which they did, now blowing from the northwest – perfect for pushing us the 42 miles back on the trails to where we started in Akeley.
It was a great two-day adventure. There were stories told and laughs shared amongst the three of us as the miles passed by under our bike tires. The scenery was beautiful, the trails were good, the bicycling was invigorating, and the people we met along the way were delightful — a perfect way to take in summer in northern Minnesota.
Here in the north we are still waiting for spring’s arrival. Our skies have been gray, our temperatures have been 10-20 degrees below normal, and we’ve even had continuing frosts and snow. It’s been hard to keep our spirits up thinking that spring will not arrive in April but is holding off until sometime in May.
But there’s a lovely “cure” at the McNeely Conservatory in Como Park and it seems like everyone is making a mental-health trip to the conservatory. Spring is in bloom, with bright and lovely colors – reds, yellows, whites, pinks, and blues – and the scents of these blossoms float in the air. Everyone is smiling, taking photos of the colors with their phones, inhaling deeply, and spending time in the gardens trying to soak up the indoor promise of warmer weather.
Spring will come, although by now it may be fleeting. We may instead jump from winter to summer. But I’m sure we will all welcome the long-anticipated warmer weather and it’s accompanying blossoms and blooms.
On December 19th I wrote that I had accepted a challenge for people to get outside for 30 minutes everyday for 101 days. In that post I said that I can walk about two miles in 30 minutes, and so I challenged myself to do that, and to reach 400 walking miles for the entire year of 2021. I’m happy to say that I did reach my 400-mile goal, before December 31st, and just today I’ve reached the goal of walking for 101 consecutive days, 2+ miles per day.
When I started the 101 days it was November 24, 2021 and we still had golden leaves on the ground, there was green lawns, and the sidewalks and paths were clear. Within ten days the temperatures had dropped and there was snow on the ground. Our winter continued into 2022, and today there is still snow covering the ground. But I have enjoyed so many experiences on my walks. I have walked during a light snowfall when the world seems magical and beautiful and the lights inside the houses are warm and glowing. I’ve trudged through an overnight snowfall of almost five inches with the wind instantly blowing and drifting the snow over my footprints. I’ve seen deer and I’ve heard wolves. I’ve listened to woodpeckers drilling and I’ve seen sparrows huddled in the brush trying to keep warm. I have been out on sun-warmed days when everyone was smiling and so happy for any bit of warmth, and I’ve bundled myself up in multiple layers to protect from the wind and the cold. I’ve watched the moon rise and the sun too.
I haven’t decided yet if I will continue to walk every day; I have already logged 143 miles this year. I’m sure I will walk for at least awhile as I know that being outside in nature is a balm to me amidst all the uncertainties and worries of today, tomorrow, and the future.
Neighborhood walks have become my thing. And I’m only now realizing how important, and fun, they are for me. On Thanksgiving I read of a challenge for people to get outside for 30 minutes everyday for 101 days. That intrigued me and I realized that with my walking I cover a little less than two miles in 30 minutes. So I decided to challenge myself to walk two miles everyday until the end of the year. And then I saw that if I walked three or four miles for a dozen or so of those days I could reach 400 miles for the year of 2021. The goal was set and the challenge was on.
I started walking more regularly after I broke my leg in February 2020. My physical therapy was to get motion and movement to my ankle after the bones were pinned and screwed back together. Around the block was a challenge in those first months, but I stayed with it and went more blocks every few days. And with that increasing distance I learned and observed new things. This was near the beginning of our COVID-19 lockdown. I saw window signs of thanks to our front-line workers and I saw sidewalk chalk drawings of rainbows and better days. I walked through the months of signs about George Floyd and then election signs, both local and national. And I observed the Halloween decorations morph into Christmas lights and blowup Santas and snowmen, followed by the spring flowers, the green grass of summer, and the brilliance of fall leaves.
I don’t wear earbuds or headphones when I’m walking — I prefer to be open to the sounds and sights around me. I’ve heard the happy squeals of children out on the playground during recess and the honking of geese flying high overhead. I’ve seen eagles above me, the first spring crocus emerging from the snow, a nest full of robin’s eggs, and deer crossing the path ahead of me. I’ve learned how to dress for the different weather – a baseball hat for summer’s sun and a tightly knit fleece-lined beanie for winter’s cold; waterproof boots for rain and thickly lined heavy boots for snow. And I’ve used the time to think — to process things that are bothering me, to think of lessons learned from the past, and to dream of future adventures.
Yesterday was a busy and full day with a long list of things to be done. I was up early, shoveled the light snow that had fallen overnight, then made a quick trip to the grocery store. Things to be tidied up at home, a visit to a loved one in the hospital, and quickly the daylight was passing by and I hadn’t gone for my walk. A half hour before sunset and feeling a bit stressed I put on my boots, hat, gloves, and heavy coat and headed out the door. With each step I got out of my head and started to look around me. The fresh snow was still lovely on the ground, and as the sun was starting its descent to the horizon it spread its light all around. In the distance I could hear the wolves at the Como zoo howling and the squeals of children riding their sleds down the hills. As I walked near the golf course at Como Park I looked to the east and was greeted with a pale full moon rising over the snow covered hills. I saw a group of skiers that had stopped to take in the sight too. These are the moments of delight that get me out of the house on my walk each day. I returned home with a new attitude.
So I have 12 days remaining before year end and 19.9 miles to go. Plenty of time for more delight and joy and to think of new challenges for 2022.
And just like that, Mother Nature has flipped a switch and we’re at the end of fall. It’s been a glorious and unusually long season this year in the upper Midwest but like all good things it has come to an end. Five days ago the wind was still, the sun was shining, and the only colors remaining were from the oaks with their remaining rusty leaves. Today the temperatures have fallen, the wind has removed any remaining leaves from the trees, and we have a forecast of snow.
Sometimes the change of seasons can be disconcerting to me, especially the ones where the days become shorter and the darkness becomes longer. But I’m reminded that just like the leaves that have fallen from the trees, it is all temporary. There will still be beauty in the coming season and days but it will be in a different palette – one of white – and the landscape will take on a new cloak of loveliness.