#50hike of my 52 Hike Challenge
Trail/Park: Prairie Loop Trail, Afton State Park, MN
One of the things I’ve embraced in life is that you can always learn something new. Even on a subject you might think you are pretty knowledgeable about. Every instructor and classmate lends something to your skill set because each has their own strength and passion they bring to sharing their abilities. And to do it for free or next to free? Well that’s a bonus.
When I saw a free knot tying class for women offered at Afton State Park, I added to my calendar immediately. The park is within an hour drive, the idea of having someone help me hone my rather lackluster knot skills and an opportunity to hike the park were all the right reasons to attend. I wasn’t disappointed.
Minnesota DNR Naturalist Linda R. was the session instructor. Her passion for helping the group of women who gathered was infectious. She started by telling us she’d teach us her five favorite knots: Square, Double Surgeon, Tautline and Trucker’s Hitch and Perfection Loop. As we stepped through each of the knots we discussed the applications for which they would be used. It was helpful and we were provided lots of opportunity to practice. At the end of the session, we all defended on a box of various thickness and colors of paracord with the goal of making a survival bracelet. I walked away with a nice bracelet and armed with another round of knot tying practice and hints.
Minnesota’s first snowfall came a bit too early for me, but it made for a beautiful and quiet hiking experience.
As the class dispersed, I checked my park map and decided, after consultation with Linda on trail conditions, that I would head to the north end of the park to take in the Prairie Loop. It’s been several years since I’d hiked in that part of the park. So as the wind picked up and the light snowfall swirled around me, I picked up the trail to the loop just across the parking lot from the Visitor Center. The trail depends almost immediately into a ravine which offered a respite from the wind.
The trail then takes a sharp right, following a path along the edge of the Afton Ski Hill recreation area for just under a mile. There are two or three options from that point to head west and up a rather long, steep hill to the Prairie Loop. I passed several people out running, but no hikers. I had the trail to myself for the most part which is one of my favorite things. The solitude gives me time to pay attention to how my body is handling the terrain and to slow the inner dialog that invariably accompanies me everywhere.
The Prairie Loop itself is about 2.2 miles long. The rolling landscape offers a sharp contrast to the rest of the park. I took my time, stopping to take pictures of the brilliant leaves against the grey skies and snowflakes. The contrast was striking, but my pictures didn’t seem to do it justice.
I took breaks at the park’s abundant and well placed benches – including a number that were an Eagle Scout project. It surprised me to learn that the Scout who’d made the benches was from Shakopee which is quite a distance from the park. I reflected as I read the signs on the benches on the conversation I’d had with Linda about the abundant buckthorn at the park and that Scouts always need service projects (Buckthorn busts make a great service project!). That’s when she shared that the original owner of the land the park occupies had planted buckthorn to line the driveway to the home. Over time the highly invasive plant has spread throughout the park’s wooded areas choking out the understory plants.
I also realized how important it is for each of us to do our part in helping the parks with maintenance of all kinds. It’s why I carry my 11th Essential (a garbage bag) on every hike. I pick up what I find, which is most often located under benches, in picnic areas and parking lots. But I’ve found baby wipes and other trash in places you wouldn’t expect. This hike was no different. The most interesting thing was the reminder for someone’s cat to get a nail trim this next week.
When I got back to my car after my hike, I discovered I’d covered almost two miles more than I’d anticipated and had even tackled a trail that reminded me of the Superior Hiking Trail. It was marked with a sign that due to environmental concerns it was only open to hikers. The trail parallels a wider one I’d taken to get to the prairie loop, following a deeper gorge that cuts a winding path toward the St. Croix River. It was one I’d rather have taken on my ascent, but I reminded myself that I needed to practice the decent on trails like this to keep on top of my fear of falling. It’s a trail that for most hikers would be a simple trek. But for me those ones always give me pause before I pick my way slowly down. I’ve learned to take my time and not worry about how anyone but me will hike it. Because all that matters is how I do it.
I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brace man is not the one who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.Nelson Mandela
GEAR: Patagonia Down Sweater, Vasque Talus Mid UltraDry Hiking Boots, Marmot Kompressor Pack, SPOT GEN3 Satellite GPS Messenger, Dueter Dirtbag, Kula Cloth, Leki Lhasa Lite AS trekking poles. Want to know more about my gear selections? Head on over to Gear & Gadgets
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