There is a trip I never talked about. It was the last time I camped in Minnesota. It was on Lake Superior, off my beloved Superior Hiking Trail. It was the 2016/2017 New Years trip. And nothing went according to plan.
This was during a time of upheaval and working all the time. We were taking this trip simply to welcome the new year, say goodbye to Minnesota and catch our breath from the beating we'd been taking in the "real world". We left for Tofte after work and arrived to a pitch black night. We snowshoed with our heavy backpacks for a few miles. With just our headlamps to light the way, the world we lived in was small. Aside from the gentle wind and tiny brushes of falling snow, our footsteps crushing deep snow were the only noises to be heard. When we got to where we were going, we pitched the tent, organized our things and went to sleep. While drifting off, I felt safe. Away from everything that made life difficult. Total peace. Snow was falling on the tent and the winds were playing off of tall trees and dead leaves.
When Jon and I woke up the next morning, it was still dark. We vacated the tent and were delighted by all the snowfall. About two or three inches of the heavy stuff. Perfect for our plans to snowshoe and play for the next couple days. We went back to our cozy sleeping bags and talked about life. All the things you can't really talk about calmly, when life is chaos. Those things you bring up outside. On a hike or in a tent. Somewhere far away from other humans. Those are the things we bonded over that morning.
The next time we left our home, we were greeted with a grey sky. Not a dark sky or a stormy sky. Not a snow sky or a dull sky. Bright and grey. Minnesota classic. I couldn't say how cold it was. I don't remember the number. But I know it was pretty chilly and I didn't really want to do anything other than warm up. I think it was in the single digits. So not terribly cold, but not particularly comfortable, either. Usually this is okay, but for some reason, with the stress of back home, my body was rejecting it. I had on: a complete wool base layer, thick wool socks x2, a light down jacket and a giant down jacket and snow pants. Along with the warmest mittens, a gator and a hat. When it comes right down to it, a lot of this keeping warm and winter backpacking stuff is mental. And my head wasn't in it. My heart wanted adventure and snow and woods. But my brain was not letting go. And letting go of what, I'm not really sure. There was so much at the time to let go of. Most things, really.
I force myself into photography when I am freezing. Something to change the topic playing in my mind. It also gets me to walk around and get moving. Which generally warms me right up!
I took eight photos and my camera died.
My camera, much like myself, had enough of the cold. My trusty camera has been in so many environments. Hot and cold. Both to the extremes. And it has never stopped working. It has never run out of batteries, because I carry extra. It has always been rad. But not that day. I tried all three of my spare batteries. I swapped out memory cards and tried to warm it up. Nothing. Somehow, some impossible way, like last New Years, I would not have high quality photos to share.
This upset me more than it should have. Not because of the photos, but because it was just one more thing. We had breakfast. We tooled around camp. We geared up and started our day of snowshoeing.
The trails were empty and the snow was fresh. For miles we were breaking trail. It was a nice, quiet day in the woods and my mood lifted considerably. Jon and I had many laughs and talked about so many things our future had in store. I was warm. We were alone. The trees were tall and the sky was bright. For that moment in time, life was back to how it should be: free.
That didn't last. As the day grew darker, the temperatures dropped quickly. I was not handling that, once again. And I found it very hard to get out of my sleeping bag. Before we fell asleep the inside of the tent began to frost. We talked about moving our camp to a different place in the morning, somewhere deeper in the woods. We slept long and hard that night and woke up hours later than usual. The deep sleep we'd both needed for so long.
It was another cold morning. And I had enough.
The sky was grey. The air was heavy. I think somewhere in my slumber, I must have thought about what was actually going on here. I knew it was the last time, for most likely years and years, that I would be here. Lake Superior. One of my favorite places. One of my safe places. And this was it. Grey. Cold. Stoic. I had romanticized what this trip was supposed to be. This was our last trip in Minnesota! Our last hurrah on our lake! Our first getaway in so long! I needed to clear my head here! I needed to say goodbye and take photos and surround myself in the beauty of everything the North Shore offers. And all of that had basically gone to shit.
Because it's Minnesota. It's grey there. It's always cold and wet and harsh. And I was filled to the brim with it. After 28 years of exploration and play, this was the anticlimactic ending to my Minnesota chapter. I told Jon that I didn't want to stay. It felt horrible, because we'd both wanted this so bad. But this was not what I wanted. I wanted the pretty stuff. I wanted the sunshine and crisp air. A big kiss goodbye. We packed up and hit the road before noon.
We stopped at The Duluth Grill for the last time. Our trusty warming house to refuel and reminisce on our tall adventures and close calls. Only this morning, it was to remember. To take everything in and keep it somewhere forever. So in 60 years we can think back on all our laughs there. All our cups of coffee and delicious bites of real food. We discussed the plan for our next 40 days. How in the world we could make it 40 more days in Minnesota. It was painful to think about. We finished eating and got back to driving.
Somewhere on the drive home, I stopped caring about the grey weather and the guilt of leaving early. The betrayal of my camera and of my stressed out mind for not warming me up. And those last few things keeping me in the north? I started letting go of those. Maybe I didn't need a big romantic kiss goodbye from the beloved wilderness of SNF. Maybe I needed just what we received. The gloomy stuff. Instead of falling in love and being torn away, I was reminded of why Minnesota is a challenge and left by choice. In the moment I decided to pack up early, I started letting go. And it was more than letting go of this state and the natural beauty in it; it was letting go of who I was and who I wanted to be here.
Over the next few weeks I continued to let go of many things. By the time we moved, I had gently closed the book on our lives in Minnesota. And note that I said gently. It is a process to let go. Saying goodbye is never the end. But it's the first step.