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What Makes You Happy? - Superior Hiking Trail

It was a Tuesday and I sat down with my journal and wrote, "What makes you happy?" My response came fast and easy- dirty feet, a sun-kissed face, and a happy heart. (Side note for writer geeks: sorry if the Oxford comma is annoying but it's a Chicago Style Manual habit I cannot break. Sincerely ~ editor em)

Back to the journal. I knew something had to change. You ever reached that point in your life? You know something needs to change. I didn't want to keep settling for just an "okay" life. Call me over-achieving, but I wanted a suck-the-marrow, jump-off-the-waterfall, climb-the-cliff, write-the-book, build-the-business kind of life. Daily mundane things just weren't cutting it for me.

And here's what I'm working with: My dream job, supportive family and friends, a healthy community, a partner who if I told him I wanted to move to Spain and teach Japanense-- he would say, "Great! I'll be here when you get back," and a hometown that literally feels like a family reunion every time I go anywhere.

Of course, there's a huge, massive, gaping, pulsating (literally pulsating) hole in my heart. The number one person in my life that I look up to is gone. He was one of the first faces my eyes saw when I came into this world. Tj. He used to squeeze my face because he couldn't stand how cute I was (later he told me that I looked like Chris Farley as a baby but that's a story for a different time).

I wanted to do something drastic - like move to Finland. That was a little too drastic, so I went to Finland, Minnesota, instead. I packed up my hiking gear and trekked along the Superior Hiking Trail through bogs, overhanging cliffs, and flat land that's so easy to hike you feel like you're flying. It amazes me that this trail has been here all along. I drove through Duluth, which always leaves a beautifully painful sting. So many happy memories existed here for Tj. So many happy memories existed here for me. But they were all gone now, gone with the wind.

Internally, I wanted to rewind time. Have you ever felt that way? So desperately wanting to just go back in time and change something? There were two things: It was the place of Tj and the place of another person who I had grown very close with and imagined would be in my life forever. Both of them, no longer around. The feeling, I can only describe it as sinking. Falling, like in a dream where you just keep falling and falling. My question to myself as I drove through Duluth was: will this pain ever fade?

Finland is about one hour north of Duluth. I made it to the trailhead and was the only vehicle. Perfect. And then it started to downpour rain. Thick bubbles of raindrops hit my windshield and splattered down the sides. I said a little prayer, "God, can I just have a little sunshine to finish packing?"

And then, no joke, the sun poked through the clouds and there was a perfect 5-minute break in the clouds where I stuffed the rest of my gear into my bulging yellow backpack and started up the trail. When the rain came back, I was covered and safe by a canopy of trees. I don't make lists often in my blog posts, but the miles of hiking after this point came to me in moments. Fragments of emotions placed in time. So, here's a few things I learned while hiking the Superior Hiking Trail in Finland:

  1. The Trail Provides. I kid you not, the first campsite I set up was actually not a real campsite (sorry, Rangers!) but it was late and the campsite just wasn't showing up like it did on the map. Turn after turn, the sun was setting, and I took my chances on a cliffside with the setting sun. Gorgeous views, but so much wind that I barely slept. Hiking out the next day I realized the actual campsite was 50 feet from where I camped... embarrassing.

  2. Wilderness Speaks. Sitting still in the wilderness is something I cannot give words to; all I know is that I need to do it more often. The dropping dance of the crows, the flight of the eagle, the break in the rock, the sun through the clouds, and the way I felt like if I sat there for one more hour-- I could see the entire group of trees turn from green to yellow and orange.

That's it for the deep-thoughtful ones. Here are the things I learned which made me giggle:

  1. Bring EXTRA Toilet Paper. This is just not a problem you want to have. I ran out of toilet paper, and hiked a mile off trail to a spur trail that went to an outhouse that had toilet paper-- you'd have thought I found gold in there I was so happy.

  2. Nobody in Finland is from Finland. When I finished the section of the trail that I wanted to complete, I decided to hike the road back (12 miles) to my car. Twelve miles is a long way to hike on a road. I walked by a few people at houses or parks and asked them if they know where Co. Rd. 6 is and if it's just up here at the Junction of HWY 1. They all responded, "Sorry, not from around here!"

  3. Hitchhiking Isn't a Thing Anymore. I have NEVER tried to hitchhike before but, come on, it was 12 miles on a road. Cars and trucks passed, I stuck my thumb out, and not one even slowed down. Thankfully a firefighter stopped along the road (to pee, not to help me) and then noticed me and said, "Oh! I didn't see you there! Sorry!" because he was peeing in the woods and I was walking on the road. We both laughed and then I said, "You headed that way?" He said, "Yeah! Need a ride?" He brought me the last 3 miles. THANK GOD.

  4. Pack Money. Even if you think you won't need it. One of the bystanders along the road said, "Sorry, I am not from around here but there's a pub up the road and at least you could get a beer and hang out there until the rain stops!" Yeah, Chuck, sounds nice. If I had money on me.

But the greatest lesson I learned while I was out there?

  1. The wilderness is my happiness.

Happy Labor Day Weekend, everyone! Thank you for following along in my writing journies! I am so grateful for everyone who stops by and reads my words. It is seriously my love language. While I was trekking along the trail, I had a new idea for a YA (young adult) book idea about wilderness therapy. From the kid's perspective. What do you think? I started the beginning of one of them for a short story collection that I'll be featured in coming this winter. The first collection sold quite well so we're all excited to put out a second Storyville Project.

Want to read my other works in magazines and such? Check out this page.

Looking to get creative and into a good mind-space to write, make art, edit photos, put a collection together, drive and think...? I created a new page called Space Mode. It takes me to a different universe.

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