Casket Quarry Hike (New Free Thing #1)

Usually, I’d say that hiking and other outdoor activities are the super easy Free Things to do in Duluth. They’re everywhere, and I’m sure some weeks I’ll count new trails among the New Free Things I’ll take in. But I knew this event wouldn’t be easy because of the social aspect and because of my insecurities about doing physical stuff with other people.

I pulled into the parking area by Quarry Park on time, as ready as I was going to be. Hike Duluth and Duluth Parks and Recreation partnered to do this series of Women Hike Duluth hikes. They meet monthly on trails around the city, but January had been cancelled on one of those days that everything was cancelled because it was the time of the Polar Vortex (read: windchills of -40F and below). All the parking lot spots were full, and cars were lining the street for a couple of blocks. The bigger the group, the easier to not talk to anyone – ha!

We’ve had a bit of snow lately.

A woman came confidently striding up to me with a smile on her face and said, “Are you here alone, too?” After answering affirmatively and talking about the fact that neither of us have been to one of these Women Hike Duluth events, we fell into a somewhat awkward smiling silence. The people around us were also having conversations about similar topics, but clearly almost all of them had shown up with at least one known entity.

Parking Lot
Photo credit: Sandi Larson (group leader)

After a couple more minutes of standing around, the group leader told us about the route (up to the top of the ridge, then past the ice climbers below, along the ridge, back down and into the woods before looping back to the parking lot), urging the snowshoers to go first to pack down the snow a bit.

As we started hiking, I was right behind this same woman, continuing a somewhat halting conversation. As we continued to talk a bit, we realized that we knew someone in common, a woman I haven’t been in much contact with since she left Duluth years ago. Funny small town where you are seven degrees of separation from just about everyone…


The hike itself was interesting enough. All 67 of us filed along, seeing ice climbers and artwork, and just being out in nature on a warm enough day. Here’s a video the hike leader took of us up near the top of the ridge.

20190223_13423120190223_134333After thanking the group leader and saying goodbye to the hikers who had already made it back to the parking lot area, I quickly scurried back to my car and drove down to Winter in the West where I saw a group of three women I’d been asked to take a picture of while out hiking. They assured me I had earned the free donut I was eating (do I seriously have to earn donuts??? especially free donuts????? hmmm…).

I figured I needed a rating scale for these events… I’m sure I’ll change it as I go along. Let’s go 1-10, shall we?

1: incredibly painful, either physically or emotionally,

3: it wasn’t great and I sure wouldn’t seek doing it again,

5: it was fine; had good and not-so-good aspects,

7: it was good for a variety of reasons and I’d likely try again if given the opportunity, and

10: one of my favorite events in Duluth, resulting in intense joy or satisfaction.

This would be about a 4. While I didn’t feel connected to the social aspect of it, I did like the hike and being outside on a relatively warm day (20 above!). And even though it was really a separate New Free Thing, I like donuts. So while I absolutely applaud the Women Hike Duluth idea, I think I’ll stick to primarily hiking alone or with very good friends.

One New Thing (Revisited)…

Maybe five years ago or so, I had that seven-year itch with this cute little city that I call home. I started a blog and did then wrote about One New Thing Each Week (and even wrote about it again last year).

Well, I’m finding myself in that same itchy place. I’m feeling a little stagnant here, even though I know it’s an absolutely lovely place for so many reasons. Maybe it’s having been through the Polar Vortex or through the almost snowiest February on record (it’s not over yet…). Really, there are likely a bunch of reasons about this year so far that are making it feel a little claustrophobic.

And all of last year likely isn’t helping either. While living in Cambodia, I’m certain I rewired (read: effed) my brain by having change and novelty flooding my neurons nonstop. New people, new experiences, new languages, new foods, new cultures… … …

And now I’m back where I’d been before.

It’s like I’ve strip-mined Duluth for all the things I like to do, and now I find myself in a place where I’ve got to invest much more to dig deeper to find something that is interesting and novel. I’ve tried the beginner’s mindset and, while I’ll continue to try to cultivate this level of curiosity, it’s just not doing it for me at this point.

I once had a friend tell me that “reheating the soup” is rarely a good idea, but I’m going back to New Things. It’s really an old concept, but it’s about doing new things (or at least that’s how I’m spinning it). I’ll aim for one a week, which shouldn’t be that hard, but I now have another issue. I’ve made some decisions lately in my life that mean that funds are a little low (still recuperating from last year’s unexpected year-long unemployment, took a reduction at work to create a more manageable workload, planning more travel this coming summer, etc.). So just to make things a bit more challenging, I’m going to do One New Free Thing each week. Or as close to that as I can (rules are bendy, right???).

Alright, I’m heading out the door to do my first New Free Thing, and it incorporates two elements of things that make me incredibly uncomfortable:

  1. Actually having to socialize directly with strangers in an unstructured way, and
  2. Being asked to perform a physical task in front of people or to “keep up” with others.

You (lucky, lucky you) will get to read about it next week.

(P.S. Please feel free to put suggestions in the comments!)