At the end of my last post I ask about what we lose and find on the trail. Sometimes that means physical lost and found objects and sometimes it means losing and finding things that hold us back and things that move us forward. This story is about what was lost and found at Coon Rapids Dam in Minnesota.
If you have read other posts on this blog, you may remember a post about the trails on the east side and upriver from the East Visitor Center. I ran into an old friend and by the time we had finished our conversation, my hiking time was up and it was time to get back to the other aspects of my life. It was wonderful to find that friendship again.
On Tuesday last week, the thing I lost was my voice. Resting my voice and taking care of myself was needed. Walking metabolizes my stress and gets it out of my system. Have you ever needed a long hike with no time limit? Looking at Google maps I saw that Coon Rapids Dam is a good place for a long walk. It connects to the Mississippi River Trail which goes for hundreds of miles. I had zero expectations of how far to go. I listened to my body. I rested often. I walked until I felt like stopping. I was grateful that my illness was not too severe and I was able to walk. At forks in the trail I asked myself, “Do I want to walk further away from the car or closer to the car?” Eventually back at my car it was time to go home. My hiking app says I went 7 miles (11.3 km). This was most of my day.
The east parking lot requires a fee but the sign on the west side says free parking. Both visitor centers have restrooms. The West Visitor Center also has an outdoor nature play area.
Tuesday was a beautiful spring day. Warm enough to go without a coat and swap the knit hat of winter with a baseball cap. It was marvelous to walk easily in the sunshine, not slogging through snow or mud. Everything is brown, tan, and gray again. That is ok. It will all be green soon. I do not want it to go back to white!
First I explored the two miles of dirt trails downriver from the West Visitor Center. Lovely. I was struck by how much I enjoyed the open areas. Usually I prefer dense trees and shade. One tree with smooth white bark stood out against the perfect blue sky. It reminded me of a Georgia O’Keefe painting of bones.
A side trail was too wet to follow very far. I assume it connects to the Mississippi River Trail. In this section it is on both sides of the river. The roots of a tree exposed and then submerged in water seemed spooky and interesting to me. At the southern tip of the two mile loop is another patch of water and mud. A side trail seemed established to go around it and that is what I did.
Returning to the picnic area near the West Visitor Center, I photographed a patch of snow persisting under the shade of some evergreens. The needles on the ground and the dense canopy of branches created a space that was like a room. Green branches, red needles, and blue shadows on the snow provided color. I guess I was starved for color by this point in my walk.
As I made my way toward the dam to cross to the other side of the river, two men asked me about the section of trail I just described to you. There were lots of other people around. I did not think it dangerous to reply and it wasn’t. I was happy to let them know that yes, the picnic table is still there and yes, the far end is still too muddy to cross.
Then they asked if I knew where I was going to spend eternity.
Oh. I see now what this interaction is really about. I replied, “I am not sure that I want to have this conversation right now.” As I was saying those words, the thought, “Why not?” entered my head. So… I told them my thoughts about why we are here on earth, what happens when we die, and how it makes me sad when people assume things about me that are not true when they find out I am Christian. I heard “Amen” from them. I try not to judge others. I think our purpose here is to learn all we can, interact with each other, and leave this world better than we found it. We had a pleasant conversation and then I excused myself and went on my way and they went on their way. This was another thing found on the trail: an opportunity to think out loud about something important to me. I am grateful to those two gentlemen for that. Funny thing, my voice was just fine for that conversation. My first thought was to avoid them but I am glad I didn’t.
Walking across the dam I saw the root beer colored water tumbling into chaos on one side and calm stillness on the other. The calm side is misleading. A buoy almost submerged by the high water was an indicator of the strength of the current. Dams are marvels of human engineering. I find them fascinating.
On the west side of the river I walked and walked and walked. There was a trail closed sign just past highway 610. My guess is that it is due to flooding. There was another trail running east next to the highway, maybe that is a detour for the bike trail, but I had gone far enough and decided to take the path that would bring me closer to the car, not further away. There were no more conversations on that day, but since then an openness to other hikers allowed me to learn more about the history of the place and make connections to people in my community.
What I am curious about now is trail etiquette and safety. What to do when strangers start up a conversation? In which situations would you enter into a conversation and in which situations would you avoid, ignore, or otherwise not engage? I want all of us to be safe and respected. It would be a shame to miss out on interesting conversations. These two ideas seem to oppose each other. What do you think?