28 December 2011

Over The River And Through The Woods: A Christmas Urban Adventure!

If you look at my "About Me" page, you'll learn that I grew up in northern Minnesota...specifically Duluth. And despite the ridiculously cold winters this unassuming town can dish out, I love going back to visit for Christmas. This year's holiday was especially nice because my family had agreed upon "stockings only" policy for Christmas Day - no big presents, just little things for everyone's stockings. Since my brother is now out of college, we've all sort of reached the point where gift-giving is somewhat irrelevant because if there's something we want, we (luckily) have paychecks to pay for it. And more than likely it's a very specific item (me with bikes, my brother with cars) that our parents wouldn't really think of out of the blue. But Christmas isn't quite Christmas without some sort of anticipation, so we settled on the less-stressful realm of stocking stuffers. I HIGHLY suggest this to anyone, it made my Christmas shopping FUN, NON-STRESSFUL, and QUICK, giving me more time to hang out with my family and friends. Just what the holiday is about.

Photo #1: From the first part of my journey, overlooking Lake Superior (and the Aerial Lift Bridge) from Skyline Parkway.
On Christmas Eve, my mom, brother, and I went to church to rehearse for the evening service, and afterwards went out to lunch at a cafe near my house that serves the most delicious chicken chili. We didn't have plans for the afternoon so I decided to take a little urban adventure by hiking to my grandparent's house across town. I could have done this all on roads, but that wouldn't be very adventurous, so I made myself a map of a half-street, half-bushwhack route.

My very basic map for the route's second half.
The first half of my trip was simple, so I just wrote out the walking directions in the top left-hand corner of the map. The second half of my route would require some bushwhacking, and I didn't bring a compass home with me, so I tried to give myself lots of catching features (and bail routes) on the map in the form of labeled streets, and any features I could pick out from Google Maps (a few buildings, ponds, and cell phone towers). It was really tough to interpret any topography from the aerial photo but I decided to make do with what I had.
Photo #2: Just past the mid-point of my route.
Temperatures were in the 30s when I started. I brought about 1.5L of water in my CamelBak and a back-up chocolate bar. The first half of my walk was great. I stopped in a gas station to buy sunglasses because I forgot mine in St. Louis, whoops. The sidewalks were a little snowy but I was wearing my new hiking boots with Gore-Tex so it was a good chance to see how they performed. I got to the mid-point of my route with a good pace and soon it was time to strike off into the woods. To my surprise, I found a network of doubletrack trails which went exactly in my intended direction. Awesome!
Photo #3: The surprise doubletrack.
I had the woods to myself. I saw plenty of animal tracks, but no human bootprints and no residual people-noise. It was fantastic. I was continually reminding myself "I'm inside Duluth City Limits" because it felt like I was in the middle of a remote forest. In this section I crossed a frozen stream and realized I was literally traveling over the river and through the woods, to grandmother's house. Pretty cool to live out a Christmas carol on Christmas Eve!

Photo #4: Little bit of beauty in a horrible stretch of bog.
The worst part about the hike was a short section of dense, stubby trees. I don't know what species they were but if the ground wasn't frozen I'm pretty sure the ground would have been boggy or marshy. If this section was on an orienteering map, it would be dark green for sure - I was fighting to squeeze myself between branches every step of the way. I almost ran into an abandoned bird's nest because I was so busy stooping and weaving my way through the undergrowth. I looked up just in time and decided to take a picture, reminding myself that there are cool things to see even in thick woods.
My route. Red is on road, blue is through the woods. Green dashes are where I deviated from my intended route.
I went "off-course" a couple times but was able to correct both rather easily. The first time (between Photos #3 and #4) was a matter of just not going far enough north and I ran into some private property, but luckily I was able to skirt around the edge easily. The second error (after Photo #4) was bigger and was a result of not using a compass, I just traveled in the wrong direction and hit a road 90* from where I intended. It was fine because I soon came upon the marked intersection so re-routed myself easily.

Overall I spent 2 hours and 40-ish minutes traveling the 7.5 miles from my neighborhood to my grandparent's house. It was so fun, and soul-satisfying, to get into the woods in the middle of a city, and to add a little adventure to an already-beautiful day. My boots also felt great for the whole hike, which makes me happy about choosing them for Kilimanjaro. Pin It


  1. What a cool, fun idea! I love that you made your map...seems like that would help improve your orienteering doing it from the inside out. Not that your navigating is in need of help!

    Your family's Christmas idea sounds brilliant, too. We still have a bunch of kids running around, but I can definitely see doing that some day.

  2. Thanks, Kate! Making maps is a really great way to practice nav. Even if it's just street maps, the process of mentally transferring info on paper to 3d scenes takes practice.

    and stocking stuffers FTW!