Walks in the Woods (30 Days of Gratitude: Day 20)

Spending time in the woods does a soul good.

Especially when you have a faithful friend by your side …

~ Kat

Running the Trails at Sunset (30 Days of Gratitude: Day 1)

Hello, friends! After neglecting my blog for much too long, I have decided to hyper-extend as a return effort and try to blog a post-a-day for the month of November! (Nothing like going from zero to 60, eh?!) The whirling shit-show of the political world has sucked me in, following the news obsessively and losing hours to other activities each day, because it seems every time one takes an evening off, another bombshell drops! However, as Thanksgiving approaches, it is a good reminder that there is always …. always … something to be grateful for!

Kicking it off … one of my favorite stress release activities … trail running.  So, fair warning, you may see a few of these this month, reflecting back on my favorite time of year to enjoys the trails … Fall! (Seems particularly timely, as we are now facing an early visit by winter, with snow on the ground and snow flurrying as I write)!

Fall trail running in Duluth

Nature truly does bathe you in all her goodness, and helps your worries fade away. The golden rays breaking through increasingly bare branches, while the colorful rusts and golds crunch underfoot.

Hope you will join me this month!

So good to “talk” with you again!

~ Kat

Top 10 Reasons Duluth is the Best Place to Live

As the last week of voting takes place in Outside magazine’s “Best Place to Live” contest, with Provo, Utah and Duluth, Minnesota going head-to-head in the final round (vote daily at voteduluth.com!), I thought I would share my Top 10 reasons why Duluth, Minnesota is the Best Town and deserves your vote.  Let’s begin:

1.  The excitement of watching those 1,000-footers go through the canal and under Duluth’s Lift Bridge never gets old.

Ship Going Through Duluth's Canal

2.  You can experience the thrill of releasing a raptor from Hawk Ridge.  Visit with the Hawk Ridge Bird Observatory staff and volunteers during fall migration season and learn about raptors.  Make a donation, “adopt” a hawk or passerine, and help release the newly banded bird with the beauty of Lake Superior as your stage.

Raptor release
Kat’s father releasing a Northern Goshawk (Photo credit: Hawk Ridge Bird Observatory)

3.  As I shared on my Facebook page, where else can you get teens out the door and on the water by 8:00 a.m. every weekday for most of the summer?  The Duluth Rowing Club’s Juniors program makes it happen.

duluth regatta henry 8 7_14_12 (1280x1024)

4.  During the holidays, the outdoor fun continues with Bentleyville, the “Tour of Lights” at Bayfront Festival Park.

Holiday Lights in Duluth

5.  There’s enough room for everyone, and everyone tries to get along.

Dog and Deer on the Lakewalk      Dog and Deer on the Lakewalk

6.  Duluth supports a world-class marathon, Grandma’s Marathon:  Fresh Air, Fresh Water, Fresh Race.

Starting line of Duluth's Grandma's Marathon
The starting line area for Grandma’s Marathon
Grandma's Marathon racers
Some of the lead female runners from along Grandma’s Marathon race course in 2012

7.  Skiing at night under the lights at Lester Park is magical — the crisp, cold silence of the woods broken only by the hooting of an owl, or the swish of skis as they cut through the fresh snow.  Miles and miles of ski trails, just blocks from almost any neighborhood in the city.

Magical Night Skiing in Winter

8.  Do you like to run?  bike?  hike?  Have we got options for you!  The joy of the trails is found throughout Duluth, all year long.

9.  We know all sorts of ways to have fun when it’s a long winter.  You may recall my winter post on blowing frozen bubbles, tossing boiling water … over 70 days of sub-zero temps in one season?!   Bring it on!

Sub-Zero Boiling Water Toss
Boiling water toss in –14°F (-25.5°C) temperatures — just a few degrees off of our high temp that day.

10.  Because every sunrise is beautifully unique …

Sundog on Lake Superior

sunrise on Lake Superior

… and the moonrises aren’t bad, either.

Monnrise by Lester River

I could go on, but you need to vote …. voteduluth.com.  Spread the word and #VoteDuluth!

Ciao! ~ Kat B.

Embracing the Beauty of Winter

I am wistfully wishing for more snow, as the last layer retreats with temperatures pushing 50 degrees Fahrenheit — an unseasonably warm day for early December.  We are past the warm colors of autumn, and the green of spring is many months away.  Living in northern Minnesota, you learn to embrace winter, or face the risk that winter wears you down with gray days, early sunsets, and bitter cold temperatures.  Over the years, we have gone snowshoeing, downhill skiing, and cross-country skiing; froze our gizzards running a road race in International Falls in January (OK, that was just me while the rest of my family watched) . . . . and most magically of all, mushed our own dog sleds.  Every time I look at these images I captured last winter while dog sledding, I am reminded of the beauty of winter and why I love each of the four seasons.

On the trail with White Wilderness Sled Dog Adventures

Arriving at the wooded property near Ely, Minnesota, where White Wilderness Sled Dog Adventures is based, we were impressed with the obvious good care provided for the dogs.  (I admit, I am one of those “never took my kids to the circus” parents, due to feeling conflicted of how the animals were treated!  And, I admit to researching the reputation of this kennel of sled dogs before we went out on the trails with them, and was happy to read they had recently received recognition for “best cared for” team at races they ran).

We were invited to walk through the yard and greet the dogs as our sleds were set up for the day’s trip.  We were not passive spectators as the teams were selected for the day. The guides showed us how to harness the dogs and hook up our own team, which allowed us to bond with and learn how to handle the dogs before we hit the trails.  Each dog has their own distinct personality.  While one dog just wants to get out on the trail and run, begrudgingly accepting a pat on the head, others are happy to visit, give you a kiss, and get a tummy scrub.  I swear my youngest son can still remember the name and personality of each dog who pulled his sled that day!

White Wilderness Sled Dog Adventures -- ready to hit the trail
After helping to harness our dogs, my family is ready to hit the trails for the day. The dogs are barking excitedly and pulling at their harnesses at this point, eager to run.

Theo was our trusty lead guide, there to help us if we had troubles handling the team.  What I loved best about this experience, though, was enjoying the silent grace of the winter woods, as gaps would come and go between sleds, leaving us in solitude for periods of time.  One would hear the occasional shouted directions passed back to each sled, and we would comply with the proper commands to the dogs.  And there was that bit of shouting when I lost my sled while trying to manuever around a rock on the trail and repeatedly hollered “WHOA!” to no avail!  (No worries, the sled got hooked up on a small stump as I ran up the trail where the dogs waited patiently for me as I set the brake and got everything squared away again!)

Slicing through the snow-covered pines on a narrow trail, the magic of winter’s wonder enveloped me, and I experienced many moments of wanting to take it all in and etch it in my memory forever.  The scenery varied from endless seas of tall pines to close-knit clusters of snowy spruce.

Dog Sledding with White Wilderness Sled Dog Adventures

Mushing a dog sled can be somewhat physically demanding; it takes a reasonable level of fitness to enjoy, especially when cutting through fresh snow on the trails.  We ran alongside the sled to help the dogs up the hills (always more of an effort when bundled in heavy winter outdoor gear), but had plenty of stretches where we just glided through the trees and took in the view.

Pines line the trail  ~ White Wilderness Sled Dog Adventures

For lunch, the guides tied our sleds to trees along a wider section of trail.  We collected tinder and kindling for the fire that Theo set up at the edge of the trail where we roasted delicious locally made brats (similar to Polish or spicier hot dogs for those unfamiliar with a “brat”), and ate handfuls of hearty trail mix, topping the meal off with home-baked cookies dipped in hot chocolate.  Our teenagers took a granola bar for a trail snack, and we were off again after resting with the dogs for an hour or so.

Lunch break on the trail ~ White Wilderness Sled Dog Adventures

Praising the dogs for a nice morning run ~ White Wilderness Sled Dog Adventures
Praising the dogs for a nice morning run!

While any time would be picturesque in the Superior National Forest and Boundary Waters Wilderness areas, we were particularly fortunate that the weather was relatively mild (the dogs would have probably preferred it a little colder, in fact), and the fresh snow coating the trees turned every trail into a perfect winter postcard scene!   These dogs run through an amazing piece of wilderness, where we saw nothing more than wolf tracks, dog sled tracks, and mile after mile of pristine forest. Dog sledding is an incredible way to soak up the magnificence of the Northwoods.

Magnificent pines along the trail ~ White Wilderness Sled Dog  Adventures

On the trail with White Wilderness Sled Dog Adventures

Happy dogs! ~ White Wilderness Sled Dog Adventures
Happy dogs! From our day trip with White Wilderness Sled Dog Adventures.

I have promised myself that some day I will return for an overnight adventure, sleeping in a yurt, sledding at night under the stars, and perhaps even finding myself fortunate enough to catch the northern lights dancing in the night sky.  In the meantime, I leave you with this short video I pieced together from the snippets of film I took from the back of my sled (the dogs really do drive themselves on familiar trails!):


“Keep close to Nature’s heart… and break clear away, once in awhile, and climb a mountain or spend a week in the woods. Wash your spirit clean.” ~ John Muir

Ciao! ~ Kat