First Day Hike 2020

#1hike of my 52 Hike Challenge

Trail/Park: Clifton E. French Regional Park

First up – a First Day hike at Clifton E. French Regional Park (aka. French Park). As I watched the sunrise while getting ready to head to the park, I was greeted with the most beautiful array of pinks, oranges and a bit of purple. Watching those colors unfold reminded me that, while I’m not a morning person, that opening myself to possibility for the beauty in the day would be a fine way to start the year.

It’s a new year with new goals to accomplish. I’m trying to be more mindful as I move through my day. It feels like a rediscovery of myself. Stopping to take note of the beauty that unfolds each day in the natural world. Hiking has made me more reflective. Less reactionary. Or at least that’s how it feels most days.

As I drove to the park, I thought about when the last time I’d been to the park or if I’d been there at all. More than 20 years ago, I had lived not far from the park. When I arrived nothing looked familiar. I also know time changes everything. Including the changes it’s given me. Leaving myself open for whatever would come, I pulled in next to my friend Jen. We were both doing part of our morning ritual. I have a playlist that I’ve honed down to a half dozen songs that is my daily meditation served up to me by the voices of various artists. I sipped my coffee. There were still about 15 minutes before the stated time of our meet up hike so there was no rush.

A few minutes later I climbed into the warmth of Jen’s car so we could discuss the plan for the hike. A quick stop to the park building and we were ready to greet the ladies who were joining us for the First Day hike. I had brought my snowshoes, but the snow just wasn’t deep enough. So with some advice from Jen on how to do it, I decided I’d strap them to my pack to see how that felt. It was added weight, but not enough to slow me down.

One of my favorite things about hiking the Women Who Hike chapter meet ups is that you just never know who will show up. Sure we have an RSVP list, but plans can change. As the cars rolled in, familiar and new faces appeared. We did a round of introductions and then headed off to explore the park.

In winter the trails are shared in many places with groomed cross country ski trails. Two big loops provide options to hike along the north end of Medicine Lake and then enjoy a section of wooded trail. The park boasts a few hearty hills to get the blood pumping too.

The sky was slightly overcast with the sun peeking from behind the clouds while it left a brilliantly colored horizon. Hues of grey, yellow and orange painted the sky. We crossed a bridge over a small creek, delighting in the tracks made by river otters. They do a little trot and then a long belly flop, leaving a tell-tale trail on the snow.

Throughout the hike I chatted with several of the women attending, but kept finding myself distracted by the beautiful sky. It was magical. A reminder that even on the darkest and longest winter days that mother nature has these moments of spectacle for us.

I’ll also never tire of seeing the play of ice and running water in little creeks that dot the Minnesota landscape. This one flowing toward Medicine Lake stopped me at the back of the group. I never tire of streams in winter. Not everything is frozen in time.

Image of Ruth standing in a snow covered landscape facing the sun.
The magical wonderland of Elm Creek Park Reserve in 2018

After marveling at the beauty around the lake we headed into the woods. There we found more magic. Every branch and twig covered in a layer of snow. Jen and I were reminded of a hike we did with our friend Kari at Elm Creek after a final winter storm. The trees creating the feeling of having entered Narnia through the wardrobe.

The entire group was brought to a standstill marveling at the sight. Pictures can’t begin to capture what made the views so special. And if you were to go today to see it, I expect it would be gone. Snowfalls that cling to the trees this way are fleeting.

Group of women marveling at the snow covered trees while hiking.
The wonderland of Clifton E. French Regional Park in 2019

Our last mile or so was a series of increasingly challenging climbs and descents. Between the warm temperatures before the snowfall and the cold after it, there was a hidden layer of ice in many places that was compounded by the warmer temperatures during our hike. All of it made the climbs interesting to say the least and coming back down ultimately ended in my taking the last decent on my butt. I might have been embarrassed in the past of doing that, but I’ve learned that being silly and safe is better than breaking your neck. Besides its fun and I was alone as I made my way down. I felt like a kid.

Group photo of the hikers with Jen in front holding a Women Who Hike patch. Everyone is smiling or laughing.

Many of the group joined Jen and me in the Visitor Center to hang out and get to know each other a bit more. Sometimes that’s hard on the trails when you have to go single file or there isn’t the option of a gathering space after a hike that’s warm in the winter or bug-free in the summer. I think it might have been my favorite thing about the morning besides that spectacular sunrise. All I know is that I’ll be hiking again next weekend and hoping for more snow to be able to use my snowshoes!

GEAR: Oboz Women’s Bridger 7″ Insulated Waterproof, Yak Trax Diamond Grip Microspikes, Patagonia Womens Down Sweater Jacket, Marmot Kompressor Pack, SPOT GEN3 Satellite GPS Messenger, Dueter Dirtbag, Kula Cloth, Leki Lhasa Lite AS trekking poles. Strapped to my pack was my pair of Tubbs Xplore 25 Snowshoes. Want to know more about my gear selections? Head on over to Gear & Gadgets.

Next Post Preview: It’s been a long time coming. I’ll be sprinkling in a combination of look backs to the trips that started my love of hiking and backpacking along with reviews of the gear that’s in my arsenal.

I’ll look forward to hearing what you think (comments are welcome and encouraged) or if there is something I’ve touched on that you want to know more about. And please, if you like what you’re reading, share it!

Photo of a group of hikers on a sunny day in a field heading towards a wooded area. The photographer has taken the photo from behind the group.

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