Category Archives: Adventures

North Shore Nostalgia

It is difficult to say what draws a person to a particular place.  I spent only four years of my life living in the north woods city of Duluth, Minnesota.  My house sat 8 blocks uphill from Lake Superior, the world’s largest fresh water lake by area.Four years is a small portion of a 63 year lifetime but I sometimes describe my time here in such warm detail that my listeners assume that I grew up in Minnesota.

It is a cold part of the world,partly because of the northern latitude but also a result of the frigid water mass nearby.  Yet I’m here with my easily chilled husband (Bill says this is an exageration) sleeping in a tent pitched in the Grand Marais Municipal Campground, a few steps from that giant body of water.

My love for this area can’t be explained by a yearning for a simpler time in my life,though perhaps for a more intense time.  My son was six months old the October that my first husband and I arrived in Duluth.  We bought a first home,excited and nervous.  I began that first year cold and lonely.  Within two years my marriage had failed and with it my image of what I thought my life would be.

But it was also a vivid four years.  Black bears sometimes ambled among the neighborhood swing sets.  Caring people welcomed us,and then me, unpartnered.  The air smelt of pine and flocks of birds migrated through town, funneled by the great lake they wouldn’t cross.  I learned to crosscountry ski by moonlight and heard wolves howling in the distance.

My son learned to talk and added the word “gall” to his toddler vocabulary as I patted the giant growth on our front yard tree.

So my generous husband, Bill and I started our gentle adventure by revisiting some of my old stomping grounds. First a night in St. Paul with my son. St. Paul is also the city where my grandfather changed trains on his homesteading adventure to Saskatchewan in 1906.  There will be more about Saskatchewan and grandpa later.

Next we spent two nights with old friends who baked bread and served wood fired pizza to a gathering of folks I hadn’t seen in years.  These friends have aged and changed a bit – but somehow seem not so different from all those years ago, kind and involved in their community.

And then we were on our own,driving up the North Shore of Lake Superior, visiting State Parks, which much like old friends, have matured and changed but remain essentially the same.  Gooseberry Falls has a fancy visitor center.  But the falls were essentially the same, perhaps more torrential than I remembered due to a recent two inch rain.

Tettegouche State Park has spruced up its trails but they still lead to cliff top views of Lake Superior.

Bill and I had been to Grand Marais to cross country ski and I had hoped to show him a warmer Minnesota.  It wasn’t as warm as I hoped.  The grays of the overcast skies met the steely gray water with highs that only reached the 50s.  Warm weather was yet to arrive.




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Filed under Adventures, Canada Camp Trip, Uncategorized

Why are we going on a two month camping trip to Canada?

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A lot of camping gear!

The stuff is piled in the dining room.  We’ve done a test pack to make sure it will all fit in the car – along with David, who we will pick up in Calgary to join us for a week.  Lawn mowing, house checking, and other preparations have been arranged.  And soon we are off.

Perhaps just a little meditation on why we’re doing this is called for before we head out.

The first answer is probably because we can – or maybe that should be because we still can.  At our age, we have lost friends who can no longer do these things.  Others have illnesses that limit their activities.  We have slowed ourselves, but a leisurely car camping trip is something that we can handle and enjoy.  We hope the memories will carry us into the future.

We love the outdoors. Listening to tree frogs as we settle down to sleep on our comfy camp cots sounds like a great way to spend the summer months.  Hikes and bike rides let us slow down and see things.  We love the grand beauty of the mountains, but also the vastness of prairies and tundra.

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How many bins will fit in a compact car?

We thought we’d tie several of those someday trips into one.  A trip to see where my grandfather homesteaded on the Saskatchewan prairie, a visit to the highly touted Canadian Rocky parks of Banff and Jasper, a tour up the north shore of Lake Superior, a visit with some old friends…  Putting these things off might have meant we wouldn’t do them.

We want to be able to explore.  When we were working, trips were often crammed into short periods of time.  We have the time now and relish the idea of seeing not just the big name sights but also the smaller things – interesting little towns that most people blow through, out of the way parks, and little museums.  Small city baseball teams. Birds that fly through our part of the country on their way to summer breeding grounds.  People and places that we haven’t heard of and that will surprise us.

So friends and family, come along and we’ll do our best to share our adventure with you.


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Filed under Adventures, Canada Camp Trip

I don’t do winter camping – well maybe in a heated yurt

A few of you may have read about the cold night I spent in Queen Wilhelmena State Park last March.  I have one rule when it comes to camping.  I don’t camp in the winter.  So how did I get from that firm stance to a yurtlet in Yellowstone National Park in February?

It started with Bill getting laid off.  That wasn’t in our plan.  Bill was going to work another year or two, partly for the money but mostly because he loved what he did and felt that he contributed to society by teaching math to teens.  But tax revenues for public schools were down. The possibility of a layoff hung over us for several months.  The day Bill got the word, he sent me an email, “Book that trip to cross country ski in Yellowstone.”

We thought this was cool!

Skiing in Colorado

Cross country skiing in Yellowstone is one of those things that I always thought would be really cool.  But it just never worked out.  Bill’s time off never fell during the right time for a winter trip to Yellowstone. The park roads are closed during spring break to clear the snow and we like to share Christmases with our kids.  We looked but it just didn’t happen.

Now, in the grand tradition of making lemonade from lemons, we began to plan our trip.  We did some research and found a Road Scholar program that was reasonably priced, included some education on the area’s ecology and geology and promised to take us to areas that we might not be able to get to on our own.  We signed up.  Unfortunately no one else did.  The program was cancelled.

Bill did some web searching and found a Yurt camp right in the park that is run by a small company, Yellowstone Expeditions.  Heated dining yurt, heated sleeping yurtlets, heated outhouses.  You see the problem here, don’t you?  Bill kept telling me how gorgeous the stars would be while walking to the outhouse.  I said, “No, I don’t do winter camping.” 

A naturalist friend suggested the Yellowstone Institute.  They have programs with great educational aspects, skiing, and snow shoeing and you get to stay in the lodges.  Check out the videos on their web pages!  I called to make a reservation.  This time everyone had signed up.  There were no openings!

We reviewed some other ideas.  Vermont would be fun but not the experience we had been planning.  A trip to Grand Teton National Park had a level of skiing that looked wimpy, even for us.  We thought about just getting some lodging and going on our own but knew that we wouldn’t have the same experience as with local guides.

I went back and looked at the program with the Yurts.  I looked at the pictures.  Wow.  How can you pass that up?  After some back and forth emails involving comfort minded questions and a review of how our modest skills would fit with their program, we were signed up!  Four nights in a heated yurtlet!  Five days of skiing!  Snow encrusted bison, trumpeter swans in thermal pools, stars in the pitch dark night, canyons, and sulfur springs!  We’re going in February.  So much for, “no winter camping”. 

What about you?  Has retirement freed you to do things that you dreamed of – or some you never dreamed of?   Have you let go of some limitations to try something new?


Filed under activities, Adventures, Natural History

Why I’ve decided to take fitness seriously – again

We’ve floated the Kaw River with a strong head wind.  We’ve floated the Kaw in the rain.  But a week ago we floated the Kaw with blue skies, 80 degree temperatures, lunch served on the bank and all kinds of fun and interesting people.  And while I much prefer gentle water on a blue skied September day, each time I’ve enjoyed myself immensely.  There is something in my body chemistry that feels in sync when I’m outdoors doing something physical.  

No clouds in sight.

Kaw River Flotilla


These kinds of activities require a certain level of fitness.  Until a couple of years ago, I felt that I was actually getting stronger every year.  I was a scrawny teen ager in an era that provided few athletic opportunities for girls.  Beginning in college, I decided to be more active.  I became involved in sports (swimming and a pitiful attempt at softball) and outdoor activities.  I did gain strength and found myself able to ride further and paddle longer as time went on.  Like many people, I gained a pound every year or two but I started so underweight that at first it seemed like a good thing. Those pounds helped to increase my endurance rather than slowing me down.  

Unfortunately you can’t gain a pound a year for decades without becoming a bit chubby.  As my weight crept up and my body aged, it has become more difficult to pop into a kayak and begin paddling.  In the last couple of years, squatting – to get into a kayak, take a book off a low shelf (I’m a librarian), get into a tent, reach some cobwebs in a corner  – has become increasingly difficult.  I’m not overweight based on the charts, but I’m just a few pounds short of it.  I decided it was time to do something about it.  I want to keep kayaking for quite awhile longer.   

So the end of July, I joined weight-watchers online and began exercising regularly – again.  

One way to encourage yourself to stick with an exercise plan is to have a fun goal to reach for.  Mine is cross country skiing in Yellowstone National Park.  Years ago some friends did this for their honeymoon.  I’ve wanted to go ever since.  This February we are planning to go and I want to be fit enough to enjoy the trip.  

The result so far: 

  •  Down 3 ½ pounds since mid-July.  Not much, but I’m moving in the right direction. My goal is only 10 pounds loss so this is good progress.
  •   Some form of aerobic exercise at least three days a week.
  •  Weights at least twice a week.  Got to keep those bones strong.
  • I’ve added some flexibility exercises as well.  I want to be able to look over my shoulder.

How are you handling fitness and exercise?  What do you do to remain strong and fit?  Do you have any great stories to tell about what has motivated you to begin and stick with a fitness regime?  What programs have worked for you? 

Some web links about exercise for those middle-aged and older: 

  • An article from Time Magazine:   Exercise to Protect Aging Bodies — and Brains
  • Who would have thought of linking weight loss to de-cluttering?  Here’s an article on just that from AARP.  While you are there, you can read some of their other material on exercise and fitness.
  • The National Institute on Aging has some great resources on exercise and activity.  NIH also has stories of older adults (60’s through 90’s) who remain fit.
  • The author of Strong Women Stay Young – a great book for women ages 40 and older beginning a weight program – has a website, Strong Women with more exercises. 
  • And to motivate you, the Road Scholar (formerly Elderhostel) Program has many enticing active adventures.  Search on activity levels 5,6, and 7 to find hiking, biking, and other active vacations.

    Filed under activities, Adventures

    Retirement Quests

    Our friend, Tom has a retirement quest.  He wants to ride his bicycle across the U.S.  Not all at once, but in installments.  And though he is riding from West to East, he isn’t riding the segments in order.  Three years ago, with us along, he rode across Minnesota and then down the Mississippi River into Iowa.  The next year he and Bill headed out to Washington and began the western leg of the trip, ending in Montana.  One year ago, surgery kept Tom off the bicycle.

    This year we joined Tom, picking up in northern Iowa, continuing down the Mississippi River, grown wide and deep compared to the trickle we first cris-crossed in Minnesota, and then headed into Illinois.  We stopped for a beer at a microbrewery in Potosi Wisconsin, learned that Abe Lincoln gave a speech in Galena Illinois, once a thriving river port,  and felt the scaleless skin of a sturgeon in the Mississippi River Museum in Dubuque.    We talked with a couple of past and current farmers about how farming has changed.  We ate in downtown diners and had the world’s best rootbeer floats while looking out over a river lock in Guttenburg Iowa. 

    A quest like Tom’s  is certainly one way of approaching the “what will I do?” question.  It also has the potential to start your retirement in a good direction.  A high school friend of Bill’s was overweight and out of shape when he retired.  He decided to walk the Appalachian Trail – all of it.  He dealt with the logistics, bought the equipment and began carrying a backpack on walks around the neighborhood.  He did walk the trail and had a great time.  He is now leaner and healthier than he’s been in years.   

    Quests take many directions.  Often they involve a passion which has been difficult to pursue during decades of full time work.  Our Missouri Master Naturalist group includes several retirees with a passion for nature.  They give many hours of work to local conservation groups and nature centers.  This past Thursday a couple of us helped teach canoeing to urban fourth graders.  Most of these kids had never been in a canoe. There was some chaos and a few tears while canoes spun in circles or girls and boys desperately paddled forward further lodging their aluminum boat into a marshy bank.  At the end of the day, we were exhausted and hoarse from yelling instructions across the water – “paddle on the left, no the other left!”.  It was incredibly gratifying.  Watching someone find delight in swooping dragonflies and croaking frogs for the first time is a hoot.   Sharing my love of the outdoors with a new generation of kids that are grateful for the experience is positive feedback that I generally don’t get from my paid job. 

    Downhill is nice

    Sometimes a quest just lasts a year.  I know a man who retired, thinking that he would hunt and fish every day for the rest of his life.  He did that for a year and had a great time.  But at that point he decided he wanted more structure.  He found a job with less stress than his former job and still hunts and fishes on vacations but chooses to combine that with work. 

    Perhaps that is the purpose of a quest, to give structure to your life.  It is possible that Tom will not finish his bicycle ride across the country.  But he’ll sure have some good stories to tell. 

    Like the one about the hill in the river bluffs that two of us walked up, pushing our bicycles.  And the woman in a big pickup truck at the top who told us that some days her truck can’t make it up that hill. 

    I’d love to hear from you.  Did you have a goal or quest for your retirement?  Have you been able to pursue it?  Did you change your mind? 

    Some additional resources on retirement passions and quests: 

    I love this series of Jane Pauley interviews with people reinventing themselves in later life. 

    Adventure Cycling has some great articles about bicycling quests.


    Filed under activities, Adventures, Natural History, retirement