“Want to walk all the way to Rochester, stay in a hotel and then walk back to Pine Island?” my eleven-year-old daughter asked.
“Why not?” I replied.
So our idea for a mini Thru-Hike on the Douglas Trail from Pine Island to Rochester was born. I’ve always been a fan of giving my children big adventures so they can learn about their abilities. Nature is my go-to for helping them experience life. For those of you unfamiliar with a thru-hike, think of the memoir book made into a movie: Wild. The main character Cheryl (a.k.a. Reese Witherspoon) hikes thousands of miles along the great Pacific Crest trail. I would love to do what Cheryl did. Yet for most of us, being able to leave our responsibilities behind and head into nature for several weeks is impossible.
At the beginning of the year, I had made a big goal for myself to walk 1000 miles in a year. Though I didn’t end up succeeding, the goal did get me out walking more than ever on the many trail systems we have in Minnesota. I invited my children (ages 10 and 13), my husband, and our dog Jack to come with me when they were available.
My daughter first proposed the idea of a Pine Island to Rochester trip when we were on one of those long walks. The benefits of introducing her to unstructured outside time was apparent as partway through our walk that day she blurted out,
Walking makes you see things in such a different way.
Ah, yes. I thought.
Journeying on foot.
Soaking up nature.
The biggest challenge for us was finding a free weekend. A weekend in September finally opened up so we planned our trip for then. The Douglas Trail is thirteen miles from Pine Island to Rochester. One direction seemed too short so we decided on a round trip. Round trip = 26 miles. That’s the length of a marathon. Totally doable, right?
I chose a hotel within a short walking distance from the end of the trail. After thirteen miles, who wanted to walk another two miles to get to a hotel? And just to show you how NOT athletic I really am, I didn’t want to carry our gear; even for one night of sleeping. Maybe I don’t really want to be Cheryl. I talked my husband and my son into bringing our suitcase to the hotel.
We packed two small backpacks with supplies: water, high-calorie snacks like chocolate, protein bars, lunch, and fruit. I love hot drinks, so I put in a thermos of hot water for making hot chocolate and instant coffee. Unsure of the weather and wanting to be kind to our feet, we brought changes of socks and rain ponchos.
So one Saturday morning, we finally started out. Along the way, as the cool fall weather encircled us, and the yellow and brown leaves dropped from the branches of multiple trees, we picked up sticks. We threw what seemed a million black walnuts into the surrounding prairie grass. Came upon a tree hit by lightning. Pulled milkweed pods and scattered their seeds. We found walking sticks and shoved wet leaves along the side of the trail for what seemed like miles. When we discovered a crawling woolly caterpillar, I shared how I loved these little creatures when I was young. When we got bored of walking, we found a bench and made our hot drinks, devoured our pistachio nuts and Hershey’s chocolate. Later we had lunch in Douglas. As our legs grew tired, we sang songs I learned at Girl Scout camp, and I tried to remember jokes from years earlier.
Finally, we arrived at Staybridge Suites, showered, went swimming, and told our adventures to my son and husband. They didn’t seem like much, but we knew the truth. The journey had been a gift of open time where we laughed, talked about everything and about nothing. The next day, back on the Douglas Trail we repeated it, this time with my son joining us on the way home. Again, the whisper of the wind called us to unwind, embrace the drizzle of rain falling on us, and forget the busyness of life. The goal was just to get from point A to B by putting one foot in front of the other. In this simple task, I found what so often gets drowned out by our scheduled lives: connection.