The 5-Mile Hike

A month ago, with spring break approaching I booked a 3-night stay at a resort on Minnesota’s North Shore. At least once a year I go on retreat, alone. Usually I stay at a small cabin in the woods—rugged, no television or amenities. This year I wanted a bit more luxury. I wanted the option of staying in bed all day on a comfy, king size bed, with the fireplace on, watching satellite television. I also wanted the option of stepping into a whirlpool bath, full of bubbles and lit candles. I brought 4 books, 2 magazines, my laptop and iPad. I also brought my homework just in case and the notes of my memoir that I’ve been working on and thinking about for ten years. The difference with this retreat, I didn’t care if I even opened my backpack with all of those options inside. As I said, staying in bed was also an option.

room room2

However, yesterday I decided it would be nice to hike. I drove to mile marker 43.5 along the Superior Hiking Trail. I parked at a wayside. I wore my knee-length, down North Face jacket; my green, rubber, ankle-high rain boots and my cross-body leather purse. I also had a scarf and hat to match. On the brochure from the resort, the hike was listed as 5 miles. After, crossing the bridge at 2.5 miles, it read I would be led back to the wayside. How difficult can 5 miles be? That’s like walking Lake Nokomis two times around. It turns out 5 miles on a hiking trail is equivalent to about 20 miles on a paved trail around a lake, at least in my estimation.

Hike4

I was met with many obstacles upon the trail. The first being a couple on the path that I kept trying to avoid, which was difficult because they kept stopping. The first stop was to set down their backpacks and strip off their oversized coats, rolling them neatly into their backpacks and putting on a lighter coat. I decided to follow suit. But, I had no backpack so I folded up my bulky winter coat and hung it over my purse. Their second stop was to take a drink of water and eat a snack. I had no water. I had no snack so I sat on a tree stump and watched the waterfall. Their third stop was to tie their hiking shoes. I had rubber rain boots. Fourth stop—kiss on the bridge (that wasn’t the one to cross over to head back as I hoped it was). My husband hates to hike so we will never kiss on a bridge if it’s on a hiking trail. And finally, their last stop at the actual bridge, which was the half-way point, at a camping site, where I watched them unload their gear. This, is where I started to worry. Should I be camping out? Is the hike back not possible without an overnight stay? As much as I tried to avoid the couple I was now afraid to leave them behind.

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I checked my phone. Up until this point I had no signal, but now I had two bars. I sent my husband a text informing him of my location. You know, just in case I don’t make it. Because you see, prior to this I was really struggling. On the trail to the bridge was mud, lots of mud. And ice. My rubber boots are not made for ice. There were steep slopes up and down filled with ice and mud. I had to find other ways around, if possible. Sometimes this wasn’t possible because to my right was a ridge and then the river and to my left trees and brush and prickly branches. At one point, I took a tumble, and cursed loudly.

So I wrote: Ok so if you don’t hear from me I’m on the split rock superior hiking trail. First signal I’ve had and it’s full of mud and ice and I’m not prepared for that. Then another text to say, I am still only half way. I’m the stupidest person I know. He replies: Are you going forward? I say, Have to. It’s too bad to turn around. I’ve already fallen. Then he says, I wish you well with that. Better person than me.

Wish you well with that….? I could break a leg or twist my ankle next time I fall.  I’ve seen animal prints I hope are domestic dogs and not wolves or bears. I have no water or food. I don’t know how long it will take for me to get back. I don’t know if the trail back is full of mud and ice. I don’t even know if I am following the right trail. And, that couple I wished would go away are now behind me, camping for christ sake. And, I’m telling him my location in case any of this happens. And, he says, I wish you well with that.

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At this point, I never thought the trail would end. Four hours had gone by. There was no end in sight. All I wanted was to get back to the resort for my $5 smoothie before they stopped selling them at 4pm. I wanted the hot tub and the cozy bed. I cursed the path and then cursed myself for taking myself out on yet another stupid adventure where I don’t feel prepared. Where I get swindled by my own mind to have an experience, where all I do is realize I just want to be at home, relaxing. Where I understand I really don’t want to work so hard. I don’t want to be challenged by miles of mud and ice and rocks and tree roots and a husband that doesn’t get it. Then, I began to hear traffic from Highway 61. I was up high enough I could see glimpses of Lake Superior. Signs, I knew, I was going in the right direction.

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Did, I even feel relieved or heroic upon retuning to my car….? No. As soon as my tired, aging, aching body got into my car the experience was already becoming a distant memory. I was in the moment of now being in my car, in pain. I’ve gone most my life holding onto experiences and making them mean something. But, do they? I’ve also made sure I learned something. But did I with this experience? If I did, I learned I am not as tolerant or interested in being challenged as I think I should be. Or maybe I am just tired of being challenged and just want to relax and take it easy for a while. Maybe I just went for a damn hike- and as with most things it wasn’t what I thought it might be. End of story. And, I have the boots to prove it.

Hike

The Soul Reporter

The Shire in the Woods

theloft

My kids call me a hobbit. So it’s appropriate I’m spending a few of my days during spring break at a retreat center called, Shire in the Woods. It was once called The Dwelling in the Woods and from 2006 or so to 2010, I visited the “hobbit hole” called The Loft, once or twice a year. It is a small, cozy cabin complete with kitchen, wood stove, screened in porch, 1/2 bath, and a small spiral staircase up to the loft/bedroom—all surrounded by woods and trails. It’s intention: to get away from the hustle and bustle of our everyday lives.

staircase

In those years between 2006-2010, I would enter The Loft and sigh a relief of suddenly being alone with myself. It was a relief to be away from the needs and wants of my family. It was a relief to feel and know myself again. This time there was no relief. Although it was nice to see The Loft again after several years, I was somewhat dreading being with myself. It hasn’t happened since the last time I was here in 2010—and a lot has happened since then.

One thing is I no longer need to get away from my family like I once thought I did. I have worked through enough of my “stuff” and I love being with them—no longer feeling resentment that I can’t be myself with them. And so alone on a Thursday night, fire burning in the wood stove, a cup of hot tea next to me, I find myself texting them just to see what they are doing, almost wishing I was with them watching Parenthood on the couch. But, I’m here and although I feel a little foreign to myself after all these years, I’m hanging with me anyway.

So far I made myself lunch and dinner, using only the toaster oven provided. I took a two hour nap. I have written a a couple of articles, including this one. And, I went snowshoeing. Yes, I went snowshoeing in April on my spring break. I am in northern Minnesota and it still looks like February in these parts.

lunch

After lunch, I stood in The Loft over-thinking the possibility of snowshoeing—Is it cold? Will the snow hit my face? Will I get lost? Stranded? What if there are bears or wolves? Then, I just moved. Put on the snow pants I have never worn, that unfortunately were a bit too tight in the gut, wrapped a scarf around my neck three times, put on my pink hat, my green jacket, which quite frankly I am sick of wearing and ready to store away, and then my boots. I grabbed the orange vest provided by the staff so I wouldn’t get shot by hunters (even tho it is no longer hunting season) and a ring full of bells for that wolf or bear (as if that might scare them off). I went outside The Loft, struggled to put on my snowshoes with my tight snowpants and hit the trail.

snowshoeing

The snow was hitting my face and I wasn’t cold, but sweating. Not only were there no bears, wolves or hunters there wasn’t even a bird or a squirrel. I was the only one in these woods, which didn’t stop me from looking around for someone watching me when I kept falling in the snow.

You see, it was a bit deceiving out there. It seemed I was walking on solid ground, but then I would notice large, deep crevices in the snow. I soon discovered these were snowshoe prints from previous snowshoers sinking into the snow. I had joined their club and made my own prints in the snow. One of which I took a picture of, where not only did I sink into 2-3 feet of snow but fell hands and face first. That’s when I looked to see if anyone saw me because if they did I would be so embarrassed because obvioulsy I am perfect and I should never fail and fall.

falling

I even got so paranoid about someone seeing me I had the stupidest thought—what if there are cameras out here and someone is getting a real good laugh. Because not only did I continue to fall and my snowshoes kept getting stuck and coming off, I was shouting the F bomb all through the woods. At one point I sat down in the hole in which I sank and almost cried. I was becoming exhausted by this journey and it wasn’t even a long one—or that serious. It reminded me of the journey of the past few years, those years between 2010 and now. A journey I keep being exhausted by—but there was a song playing in my head that stopped those tears from falling down my snow covered cheeks. Shake it Out by Florence + The Machine. 

Shake it out Nikki. 

I got up, fell several more times but in place of exhaustion was determination to just get up, shake it out and keep going.

Tonight, 6-12 inches of new snow is going to fall and cover all traces of my falling and getting up. Such is life…

Goodnight Day One.

fire

 

Good Morning Day Two.

I wake up feeling happy, serene. I am relaxed with myself. This is a pleasant surprise. I made some cereal, eggs and toast. Cleaned up a bit and got dressed. My big outing—walking to the main lodge to pay my bill. After I paid though, I kept walking. Here she goes again….but this time with no snowshoes. At first I intended to take the longer way back to The Loft, but I had remembered a beaver pond off one of the trails I wanted to see in the winter time. I mean spring time.

destination

 

This (above) is what it looks like in winter time. I realized after the journey there it wasn’t about seeing this. That was just an idea in my mind that pushed me forward, like some conquest I had to conquer. Turns out I did more than my share to conquer this goal. I ended up walking much further down a path than I had to. Walking through the snow is similar to walking in sand—it’s a workout. At least for me who hasn’t moved much this long winter. I could not find the path that lead to the beaver pond, but then saw a map posted helpfully on one of the trees. I missed the turn off completely.

I headed back the way I came and found the path toward the beaver pond. And guess what, it was filled with those sink hole land mines again. At least this time I wasn’t losing my snow shoes, but I was soaking my sweatpants in the snow that went almost to my hips. Remember I am a hobbit so I am practically being swallowed by snow.

I was also getting exhausted—again. And this time there was no song in my head from Florence + The Machine—I cried. Hugged the birch tree beside me and cried. I bet no one has ever cried holding this birch tree before. Is anyone looking? My heart was beating so fast. I was standing at the beaver pond realizing some other force pushed me here because I knew it wasn’t for the view, even when I set forth toward it. It was about regaining my strength. Pushing my heart again against life and for life.

I am not sharing what the past few years of my life entailed, but I will share that I set out on another kind of journey and I expected not only the view, but the journey to be spectacular. It wasn’t. In fact many times it was horrifying. I have been exhausted, standing and sitting similar to what I have done on both of these days where I’ve ventured out on the snow packed trails, hesitating.  Should I go? Or should I stay? Should I go to that beaver pond? Or just head back? Even while on the trail, epseciallly at the birch tree I stood for a very long time—hesitating—not feeling like I could head back. I’ve been doing this with life. Do I dare venture out again and risk being disappointed, exhausted and scared out of my mind? Or could I have a new experience?

footsteps

In all this questioning and over-thinking, I just move. It just happens. Apparently, some inkling of hope there are new possibilities. That the past in in the past.

I stepped inside the same steps that got me to the pond. It made it easier in dealing with those sink holes. I continued on with my steps and my tears, allowing myself to cry out the disappointment and exhaustion of the past few years. It was all in place to gather strength, to transform my view, to shed me of what’s not needed—as are all my steps now.

Goodnight Day Two.

 

sunset

Good Morning Day Three.

Today I leave The Loft. Much of the snow that fell has melted in the sun that says, Spring! I look forward to seeing my family. My husband will have dinner made. We will all watch a movie and have good conversation.

Before I leave, sitting at the familiar round table in The Loft, eating buttery eggs, cottage cheese and raspberries I accept what I’ve made a significant flaw, a “flaw,” which has shown itself on this short retreat. My hesitation about life, my caution and slow way of moving forward—perhaps a stubbornness or fear or laziness. I accept how long it takes me to move. I accept it often takes a lot to get me to move. I get it. I accept it.

I have cleaned The Loft, leavning it fresh for the next guest. I am pressing publish on this post. Time to leave. Goodbye Shire in the Woods. Until we meet again….

The Soul Reporter.