Road Trippin’ : Day One

A dirt and rock trail heads upward from the bottom of the picture with stone steps heading off into the distance. The trail is bordered by lush green vegetation and trees.

#29 and #30 hikes of my 52 Hike Challenge

Trails/Parks: Greenleaf Lake State Recreation Area and Sibley State Park

I want to acknowledge these hikes took place on the traditional territory of the Wahpekute and Očeti Šakówiŋ.

The image is a panoramic photo of Greenleaf Lake. There is a wooden dock that is on the left and right side of the image. The sky is grey with thick clouds and the lake is grey green.

Greenleaf Lake State Recreation Area

#29 of my 52 Hike Challenge

Located about an hour and a half from the Minneapolis/St. Paul metro, Greenleaf State Recreation Area (SRA) is primarily used for fishing and boating. It has no park facilities other than a port-a-potty. The park’s lone trail is just under a mile in length and seemed like a good starting point for my road trip adventure. After almost four months of close-to-home hiking, I was hoping to gain a piece of my outdoor life back while staying as socially distanced as I could.

Arriving at the park the sky was cloudy and a bit grey for the early morning. I knew that rain was likely for part of the day. It’s always an interesting decision when preparing for rain. You debate whether to fully gear up with jacket and pants or just a jacket and know you’re going to potentially be really wet. I took a chance and left my rain pants behind. The moment my feet hit the dirt of the trail, the skies opened up reminding me of the hike at Philmont Scout Ranch in 2015. I was brought back to the exhilaration and fear I had felt as we stepped onto the trail in those beautiful mountains while the skies opened and torrents of rain fell.

The rain came in heavy and it wasn’t long before I was soaked to the core except for my rain jacket covered torso. Knowing I had just two miles to hike and a towel in the car, I kept moving along the trail. The trail itself is used by horses so the trail is uneven ground. It meanders through cedar and sumac toward a stand of oak before it ends at a red fence.

I love hiking the rain. It’s peaceful and was a wonderful and leisurely start to my solo trip. Returning after a slow hike that I stretched over an hour, the clouds began to disperse. I pulled out my beach towel, changed into my sandals to let my trail runners dry out and hoped that the rain was a cleansing sign for the rest of my trip. It had definitely felt like a cleansing way to start.

Sibley State Park

The photo has a dark brown sign with the words Sibley State Park. It is supported by posts of varying heights. The sign is in a filed with green leaved trees in the background. There is a small bit of blue sky and white clouds behind the trees.

#30 hike of my 52 Hike Challenge

After another hour drive, I arrived at Sibley State Park. This park was was established in 1919 and expanded over the years. Knowing that the Veteran Conservation Corp had been actively working in the park in the 1930s I knew I’d be seeing the stonework buildings that are hallmark of the time period. I was also looking forward to my first night of camping in a state park since last fall.

My routine on these kinds of trips where I’m hiking in two parks a day is to get to the second park and set up camp first before hitting the trail. It’s a luxury that I wouldn’t have backpacking. There is something quite lovely about getting done with a hike and having your tent (or hammock) waiting. I’d reserved what looked online to be a tree lined drive-up site in the Oakridge Campground and was excited to find trees that I could hang my hammock from in the impacted area of the site. I love sleeping in my hammock. After things were set up, I headed the short distance toward the Mt. Tom Trail.

From the campground, a small path headed toward the trail center and the start of my chosen trail. The trail went from prairie into a beautiful wooded section. I turned right toward the north end of the loop. The trail slowly ascends toward Mt. Tom. There are several overlooks that start to give an idea of the view to come. Hikers will want to be prepared for sunny sections which can get hot during the summer. Rounding toward Mt. Tom the trail descends again to the Mt. Tom overlook parking area.

As I approached the parking area a family (mom, dad, a middle school aged son and a younger son who was about five years old) were blocking the path. The dad said something and they cleared the path, but the youngest son smiled brightly and said hello. I thanked them for moving aside and headed to the overlook. The parking lot was rather full so I expected the overlook to be busy, but as I approached, I was pleasantly surprised to have it all to myself.

The base of the lookout tower is surrounded by panels that explain what you can see in the distance. It was a clear day so I had views that went for miles. I climbed the tower stairs past a “W” carved into one of the treads, stopping to consider it as yet another sign that I was where I was meant to be. The tower provides even more beautiful views in all directions as well as a shelter from the hot sun and a wonderful place to take in the breeze that was blowing from the west.

Descending back to the parking lot I hadn’t seen the family and assumed they had headed off on the trail I’d come from earlier. As I headed south I was surprised by the little boy running toward me with a bloom of a prairie onion in his hand. He smiled so broadly and was so excited. I though he was simply showing me what he’d found, but he stopped and solemnly handed me the small bloom. I took it and whispered “thank you” to him. It was all I could do to walk across what was becoming a busy parking lot to the next part of the trailhead before I burst into tears. I’ve always believed that the universe offers us indications of whether or not we are on the right path. This was yet another symbol of the day that made me feel that my choice to make this trip was good. All my worry and concern faded softly into the background. I tucked the bloom into the strap of my pack and continued on toward Little Mt. Tom.

The views weren’t quite as spectacular, but still worth the hike. The remainder of the trail from Little Mt. Tom slowly descends past an overlook at Badger Hill and offers views from a distance of Lake Andrew. On this section of trail I was again offered a small kindness. A woman hiking with her dog approached. I put my mask back on and she turned back in the direction she’d come. A little way down the trail she found a wider section where she stopped, held her dog and waited, maskless for me to pass. I thanked her and she apologized for not having a mask. We briefly chatted about how we both would have rather not have to feel the need for the significant distance. Her kindness of backtracking was appreciated and a reminder that there are those out on the trails that DO understand simple actions that make trails welcoming for all.

Back at camp I prepared the first of my backpacking meals, journaled about my day and settled into my hammock to enjoy the breeze. I was still finding comfort with my decision to road trip this summer, knowing just this good day wouldn’t just wipe my concerns away. It would take time and miles before I would be sure. At the same time I was finally starting to feel like I could breathe rather than holding my breath. The day’s reminders of how simple kindness impact people in ways we don’t realize stood out and I held onto them as I fell asleep.

Next Post Preview: As I continue my travels, the parks ahead begin to reveal the extent of prairie, oak and cottonwood that once covered the land as well as the history of our state and the plight of its indigenous peoples.

GEAR: Merrell Women’s Siren 3 Mid Waterproof, Columbia® Women’s Arcadia II Rain Jacket, Marmot Kompressor Pack, SPOT GEN3 Satellite GPS Messenger, Dueter Dirtbag, Kula Cloth, Leki Women’s Micro Vario Cor-Tec TA trekking poles, ENO DoubleNest Hammock with Atlas Straps, Guardian Bug Net and Pro Rainfly, Slumberjack 2-person tent with footprint, Paria Thermodown 30 down quilt, REI Flash 3-Season Sleeping Pad, Thermarest Z Seat™, Z Lite™ Sleeping Pad, Thermarest Z Seat™, MSR Pocket Rocket Stove, GSI Pinnacle Dualist Cookset, MSR® IsoPro™ Fuel. Want to know more about my gear selections? Head on over to Gear & Gadgets.


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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