An Enchanted Hike

Bike touring is great, but it does leave many “nearby” attractions undiscovered.  I can’t count the number of times I have looked longingly at a sign for a promising sight while Rich chides, “Molly, that little detour is 12 miles round trip!”  We cycle on by.

After two bike tours through Fredericksburg TX, this year we chose to arrive by car with our bicycles on the back.  Settling into a tiny cottage just off the historic Main Street, we suddenly have access to all those missed opportunities.  Nothing qualifies as too far to detour.

Today’s destination was my pick.  I got my first glimpse of Enchanted Rock while on a long bike ride.  Navigating the winding, hilly backroads, I turned a corner and there it was – the big pink granite dome.  That was enough to put it on my bucket list for our stay.

View of Enchanted Rock

Waiting out the misty morning, we timed our arrival perfectly – just as the sun came out.  We also deliberately missed last week’s spring break crowds.  No bikes for us today, the Enchanted Rock State Natural Area is for hiking.  Loading up with sunscreen, plenty of water and cameras we started off with the iconic Summit Trail.

Calling it a trail is a misnomer.  It’s a rock.  And you walk up it.  The big pink expanse beckoned and we meandered up the steep slope to the top.  Chatting with other trekkers made the journey far easier than we imagined it to be.  Wandering over the top of the dome, we admired the views, ogled strange rock formations and found wildflowers in the crevices.  The notion of hurry did not apply.

Molly atop Enchanted Rock

View of Moss Lake from Enchanted Rock

Rich on Enchanted RockMolly and rock formations on Enchanted RockWildflowers growing in crevasse in Enchanted Rock

Hiking back down an alternate swath of rock, we connected with the Echo Canyon Trail.  I quickly understood the Challenging classification, as I picked my way between boulders.  I was more at ease once it morphed into an easy walking trail.

Rich on Echo Canyon TrailMolly on Echo Canyon Trail

Skirting Moss Lake, we finished on the Loop Trail.  The highway width crushed rock path was impossible to miss, and the unshaded sun baked our northern bodies.  But it delivered on the wildflower scale and provided some fun rock monuments.

Wildflowers at Enchanted Rock 1 Wildflowers at Enchanted Rock 2 Enchanted Rock formations

Tomorrow we’re back on the bicycles for our favorite loop through the Texas bluebonnets.  But today I was glad Rich humored me for an enchanted day of hiking.

At Your Service

The boys thought they were asking a big favor.  But in fact it was a privilege.

I’m not sure where they got this adventure gene.  But our sons both inherited it.  Five years ago Carl and Erik climbed my great-grandfather’s mountain, Mount Brewer – 150 years after William Henry Brewer’s first ascent.  Together they have backpacked in the Porcupine Mountains and the trail above Pictured Rocks.  Last year they winter camped in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.  This year they upped the ante, planning a 40-mile trek following the border route in the BWCAW.  And they asked us to be their shuttle service.

Rich drove the boys up to Ely and beyond, to Moose Lake where he deposited them with all their gear.  After harnessing up their pulks, they set off across the frozen lake, Erik on backcountry skis and Carl on a new set of Altai Hok skis – a cross between a ski and a snowshoe.  Snowshoes were stowed within easy reach for portages and deep snow conditions.  The deep blue sky contrasted sharply with the pristine snow and pine woods border under the bright sunshine for a picturesque start.

Carl and Erik begin trek

They allowed themselves three days to make it to the end of the Gunflint Trail.  It would have been three days of waiting nervously to find out if they made it had it not been for Rich’s sleepless nights leading up to the trip.  To assuage his concerns, he diligently researched satellite tracking units, and ultimately insisted they carry one.  Or no deal on the shuttles.

Thanks to the generosity of a friend who lent them a Garmin inReach, they had the means of providing us with updates and more importantly, sending out a call for help if needed.  At the end of day 1, we received the following message at dusk, “Camp made on Knife [lake].  Great day.”  What followed was a link with their GPS coordinates.  With one click we could see exactly where they were.  Whew, peace of mind.

GPS location on the trek

While we drove up to a modern warm cabin on the Gunflint Trail overlooking Poplar Lake, the boys made their way along the border from lake to lake, slogging through snow drifts, skiing on hard windblown crust and plowing through waist deep snow on portages.  They trekked from sunup to sundown, made camp, ate and slept when darkness fell.  Although they saw plenty of open water, they were fortunate not to find slush between the layers of snow and ice.  Snowmobiles and dog sleds were allowed on some of the lakes, but alas, none created a packed path for them in the direction they were going.  They took turns breaking trail.

Carl trekking

Erik trekking

Of course, we knew none of this at the time.  We pondered the snow conditions, praised the good weather, hoped they were staying warm enough at night.  The daily updates were a godsend.

We were in position for pickup on the third day.  Mid-day we got word: “At Sag [Saganaga Lake] at American Point may finish late”  I settled in with a good book across from the cozy fire.  At 4pm we got the text we’d been awaiting.  “ETA 1 hourish on snowmobile trail.”  When we arrived at the designated boat launch, I couldn’t just stand there and wait.  Hiking out the narrow inlet, I searched the distant shore, footstep after footstep.  The two tiny figures that materialized on the horizon lifted my heart.

They arrived very sunburned and weather-beaten, but with the biggest smiles I’ve ever seen.  They had done it!  It was a lot harder and slower going than they had anticipated, due to the lack of packed snow, but they made it and were justifiably thrilled.  Carl summed it up, “This trip gets a big check on my To Do list.  I don’t need to do that again!”

Carl and Erik finish their trek

The accomplishment deserved celebrating with dinner at the iconic Trail Center Lodge.  Word leaked out about their adventure, and soon everyone around us wanted to know all the details.  The staff presented them with medals and even offered to be their food sponsor for the next adventure, with their locally made Camp Chow !  Nothing could top seeing the pure pleasure on the faces of my sons.

Celebration at Trail Center

I’m not likely to trek with a sled across frozen lakes through the Boundary Waters, go winter camping or even climb my great-grandfather’s mountain.  But I’m so glad to be a part of my sons’ lives watching them do it.  It fills my heart to know that they choose to pursue these dreams together.  Carl and Erik, I’ll be there, at your service, any time you plan another adventure.

Letting Go

Life is a balance.  A delicate one at that.  After decades of aiming high, how does one gracefully readjust one’s sights?

Just last June I was flying high.  I had qualified for the Boston Marathon, along with my son Erik, his wife Katie and her cousin Brendan.  Conditions at Grandma’s Marathon were nearly perfect, propelling each of us down the shore of Lake Superior to cross the finish line with good margins to secure us a spot in that most prestigious of marathons.  Swept away by the tide of our victory, our quartet vowed to run Boston.

Boston Bound foursome

Plans were made.  We found housing and received our confirmation emails for the race.  All looked good for a spring run.  Until it didn’t.  Pain, injury, arthritis and bad running habits all linked arms to throw a wrench into my training.  Weeks of rest and cross-training turned into months with no improvement.  Winter stepped in and obliterated the Lakewalk with snow while temperatures plummeted deep into the negative range.  I knew from experience that training for Boston in the midst of winter was a challenge, but this was ridiculous.

The ambiguity hung over my head for months.  One week I’d feel hopeful and set my sights on “just finishing” in Boston.  The next I was pragmatic and knew that the time to adequately prepare was waning.  On one hand I’d done it all before.  Twice in fact.  First on my own, to celebrate turning 50.  The second time I crossed the finish line hand-in-hand with my daughter, Karen.  On the other hand, this was a chance to run it with my son and his wife and share in their joy.  To prove I could still do it.

Boston finish 2005

Boston finish 2009

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In my journey, I sought plenty of advice.  Confiding in my daughter, I poured out my dilemma, that I was considering dropping out of the race.  “Oh Mom!” she sighed.  “That means admitting you’re getting old!”  It wasn’t what I expected at all.  But her uncensored sentiment revealed something else.  She perfectly mirrored my own mother’s unwavering belief in me.  I smiled to realize that the generations had flipped, and the void left by my mother eight years ago had just been filled.

Oddly enough, just as I felt I was turning the corner through physical therapy I also knew the answer.  This wasn’t about proving anything.  It wasn’t about getting old.  It was about the long run.  Literally.  It was about healing, gaining strength and building myself back up in order to continue to do the thing I love.  Running.  For years to come, not just one day.

It’s not easy conceding to reality.  Come Boston Marathon day I know my heart will twist as I follow Erik and Katie out there on the race course from a distance through text alerts.  I’ll wish I was there, doing it.  But if it means running with my grandchildren and staying active into my real old age, then I made the right decision.  It’s not giving up.  It’s letting go.  There’s a difference.

Sisu Initiation

What do nine women, including three sisters, three generations and a handful of close friends have in common?  Sisu!

Arriving at the National Forest Lodge near Isabella, I lugged my gear into the spacious log house that would be our home for three days.  As the newcomer to a group that has convened here annually for years, I wondered how I would fit in.  I needn’t have worried.  Gathering in the kitchen, one member had already laid out hand-made snowflake earrings (no two alike, of course) and lanyards emblazoned with “sisu,” its definition under our names: “Sisu begins where the perseverance and grit end.”  I knew it right then.  These were my soul-mates.  This was going to be a good weekend.

We made rapid work of choosing beds and dumping our bags.  The Flathorn-Gegoka cross-country ski trails awaited right outside the door.  As soon as we could strap on our skis, we set out to make the most of the remaining daylight.  Brilliant blue skies and warm sunshine offset the blustery wind, and soon we were sheltered by the deep forest.  With two-feet of newly fallen snow freshly groomed into narrow single classic tracks, we brushed shoulders with tall pines.  Branches laden with mounds of snowy fluff, sun peeping through, all sounds but the swish of our skis were muffled by the soft whiteness.Ready to ski at NFL

Morning brought sub-zero temperatures, but not a single Sisu sister hesitated.  Fueled by a healthy and hearty breakfast in the lodge, we donned all our layers and ventured forth on skis and snowshoes.  The pattern would repeat itself over the next two days.  Eat and ski.  Groups formed and reformed, venturing out until fingers and toes needed rejuvenating or the next meal beckoned.

Behind every Sisu sister, there is a lighter side.  Or a crazier one.  Some intrepid souls could not resist the lure of the sauna and polar plunge.  I readily admit to passing on this experience, but they didn’t hold it against me.
Snow Angels at NFL

Polar Plunge

There were no midnight sorties on the trail by headlamp.  Instead, fierce competitive streaks emerged.  Huddled around the dining table, we furiously shaped and reshaped crosswords playing Bananagrams, and drew artful clues for Pictionary.  This was serious business, perhaps enhanced by a sip or two of wine.

If sharing a passion for word games, skiing as many kilometers as daylight allows, nestling by the fire with a bit of wine, waking to the smell of brewing coffee and sneaking oatmeal cookies are any indication, I think I passed the Sisu initiation.  Thank you, sisters!

SISU Sisters 2019

On Location

Donning every possible layer of outdoor clothing I own, I pull on my mukluks, fling a camera around my neck and grab my notebook.  It’s time for the start of the Arrowhead 135!

At the 7am start, it’s -9 degrees with a touch of snow falling in International Falls MN.  Bikers, runners and skiers line up and head down the Arrowhead Trail as fireworks light up the inky sky.  The race takes its heritage seriously, ranked as one of 50 toughest races in the world.  The finish line is 135 miles away.Skier in Arrowhead 135

These intrepid athletes will endure up to three days on the trail, with temperatures predicted in the -22 degree range by morning.  My role is far easier.  And warmer.  I am here to cover the race for the Lake Country Journal, a beautiful glossy magazine that covers all things related to our northern lakes area.

Teaming up with Rich, we have created a new niche for ourselves – find fun events that interest us, sell the idea to a magazine, attend and experience them, then produce a story.  I write, he takes the photographs.

Today we leapfrog the trail, catching the racers at intervals along the way.  Rich looks for unique photo opps, I make mental notes of what I see – the steadfast determination in the racers’ eyes, the thick boots, the ice encrusted beards and fanciful antler hat.  We have time to warm up in the car.  The racers have only their energy to heat their bodies.

Biker in Arrowhead 135I would never be here if it weren’t for my writing.  Seeing folks pursue the impossible.  Following the Holiday Train.  Leaning the ins and outs of sled dog racing.  Attending a home grown radio show.  Then bring them to life for others.  New horizons, unique adventures, a break in my strict daily routine.  It’s a privilege to be able to write about topics of my own choosing.Runner in Arrowhead 135It wasn’t always this way.  Getting here has a been a seven year journey of my own.  I got my humble start in writing with Lake Superior Magazine, which accepted my first cold submission.  Editor Konnie went on to gently mentor me year after year, offering me more stories as my skills improved.  Just seeing my work come out in print was a big thrill.  And it remains one of my favorite magazines to write for.

As today’s racers doggedly push on toward the finish line I remain vigilant as we chase them down the trail, composing lines in my head, shaping the story to share with my readers.  It’s already been a memorable adventure, and we haven’t yet seen them press on through the dark of night.  But when they do, I’ll be there.  With my talented photographer husband at my side.  On Location.Molly and Rich at Arrowhead 135

The Rest of the Story

This time it was Sarah who granted me permission to use an image.  Following our amazing cyber connection forged by my photo of Crisp Point Lighthouse, her parish magazine is ready for distribution.

Crosstalk parish magazine with Crisp Point LighthouseThis weekend, Crosstalk – and Crisp Point Lighthouse – will be making its way into three Church of England parishes near Durham, England.  In addition to the usual church news, promotions for upcoming events, schedule of services and useful contact information, it carries a wealth of stories, trivia and well researched facts centered on the theme of “Light.”  This is more than your weekly church bulletin – it makes for great reading and even includes a recipe!  No wonder this publication has won awards.  As a writer for regional magazines, I am impressed and even more pleased to be a part of this issue.

Sarah and I continue to discover mutual connections – bell ringing, her brother-in-law who may in fact have been my Economics professor, cyclists in Scotland and bad memories of old fashioned “stockings.”

A return to Durham to meet Sarah just moved up my travel wish list.  I hope that will be part of the rest of this story.

Cyber Magic

Urging my laptop to life, there were no inklings of the magic it would soon dispense. No hint of the hidden connections that lay within. Nothing to reveal the memories it would unleash.

The usual plethora of overnight emails swarmed my inbox, parading up the screen as they entered. Sifting through the usual jungle of unwanted solicitations, the day’s local news headlines, and legitimate email exchanges lay an unassuming subject from a sender I didn’t recognize. “Using an Image” it said. Once I had dispensed with the known correspondences, I opened it. And smiled. Then smiled even more.

A five year old photo of mine had caught the attention of a stranger. It was part of a blog post from our first year as lighthouse keepers for Crisp Point Lighthouse, when each day brought new perspectives for photographing that magnificent structure. In this image the day’s lingering light illuminated the lighthouse against a gloomy background, behind it the arc of a rainbow stretched skyward. It was the light that attracted Sarah’s attention.

Crisp Point Lighthouse with rainbowI have no idea how she found the photo. I dug through blog posts from six stints of light keeping before I spotted the picture she described. I was tickled that she wanted to use it and immediately granted permission.

But the magic still lay within. Sarah’s email began, “Good morning from a rather gloomy north east England.” That was the first smile. She went on to describe her interest in the photograph, to use for a monthly parish magazine she produces called Crosstalk. The theme of the next issue was “Light,” and she felt it would make a fitting cover image. She described the magazine’s circulation as “around 300 copies across three parishes in and around the City of Durham.” That was the second, bigger smile.

I spent my junior year in college studying at the University of Durham. As one of only 40 Americans immersed in a university population of over 4,000, I relished the opportunity to live the life of a British student, embraced the unique college system and relished the beauty and culture of that historic city. The best feature of my dorm room was the prominent view of the majestic cathedral through its single window. I made lasting friendships and developed a love affair with Britain that I have sustained through frequent return visits, including another stint to do a master’s degree at the University of Bath. Fond memories came flooding back.Durham Cathedral

What are the chances? That Sarah would find my photo. That she would be from my favorite city in Britain. And that she could so easily reach out to me directly.

A rapid-fire email exchange ensued, in which we uncovered more connections and interests in common.  The warmth of the new bond filled my soul.

The internet often gets a bad wrap. But in this case it made my day. Through cyber magic.