My Patch Obsession

Two display cases filled with Minnesota State Park Patches
My patch Minnesota State Park obsession collection.

It’s true, I have a problem. It’s an obsession really. Patches. Or more specifically collecting them. I suppose the collection started innocently enough. I wanted a keepsake to remind me where I’d been on one of my first hiking trips. Some might say it’s gotten out of control.

Here’s the thing, each patch represents a memory. Each one has a story attached to it. I cherish the Blister “Merit Badge” that the Philmont crew gave me when we finished our backcountry adventure at the Philmont Scout Ranch. I’d struggled with blisters for months leading up to the hike. Thankfully I overcame them and many other obstacles to hike with them for 10 days in spectacular countryside. They found the patch in a shop in Cimmaron that was selling unofficial patches. It was perfect. It was thoughtful and it was funny.

Ruth wearing her Scouting uniform with the Phlimont Scout Ranch patch from her 2015 backcountry hike.

The Philmont patch itself is my prized possession. It can’t be purchased by just anyone. You only get it when you have completed your hike. It’s given on the last day of the trek at Basecamp. Wearing it defines you as part of a special group of adventurers in Scouting and hiking. It’s one of the few Scouting ones that I wear. It represents so much more than a backpacking adventure to me. It represents overcoming challenges – physical and mental. It represents the beginning of my hiking life. It ties my son and I to a place and experience that was life changing. There are tears and laughter that make up all it too to earn that piece of embroidered fabric.

It was likely also the true start to my patch obsession.

Close up photo of part of Ruth's Minnesota State Park patch collection.
Minnesota State Park patches are as unique as the parks themselves.

My Minnesota State Park patch collection represents the parks I’ve visited for hikes. It’s the physical presence of wonderful adventures and my goal to hike in all the Minnesota State Parks. I’ve definitely got favorites among them. Each is unique to the park in some way. Each one an accomplishment. I don’t have them all. Yet.

I’ve been lucky in getting the ones I have. Not every park has a staffed office. I learned quickly to look at nearby state parks or to call to see where I can pick one up. For instance, if you head to Big Bog you can (and need to) get the patches for Schoolcraft and Zipple Bay. There isn’t one for Franz Jevne (as of 2019) although the park office at Big Bog manages Franz Jevne. Every patch has also lead to wonderful conversations with rangers and park office staff about what makes their park unique.

Then there are the patches for National Parks I’ve visited. Those are fewer, but no less precious to me. And now I’m branching out into other states. When I plan my park visits I always check to see when the park ranger station or nature center is open so I can collect a patch.

The only rule that I follow is that a patch doesn’t get added to the collection until I hike the park. I’ve been gifted patches, and while I do treasure those, it’s not the same. There is something about putting my boots to the earth in that place that lends the true meaning to the patch. It might be a trip I’ve taken with my son or a hike where I accomplished a personal goal (Hello Isle Royale Patch!). I may have been joined by my fellow Women Who Hike or a close friend.

And then there are the two patches that are behind most of my current adventures – my Women Who Hike and 52 Hike Challenge patches. I joined Women Who Hike for a community of like-minded adventurers. Whether they are with me in person or not, I carry that community and all I’ve learned on every hike. And the 52 Hike Challenge patch is my reminder that heading out for a hike each week offers so much more than just a number in a list. That challenge has gotten me to places I’d never have considered before and brought me solitude, fellowship, health and healing.

No matter what the patch or the reason for it, I learn something about the place I hike. I learn something about myself. I learn about those that hike with me. The place where the learnings blend is the best of it all.

If you’re a hiker, do you collect patches? I’d love to hear about it. Leave me a note or send me a message on Facebook (Ruth’s Blue Marble) or Instagram (@ruthsbluemarble)

Copyright Ruth Wikoff-Jones, | No Use Permitted Without Prior Permission

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