May 12

Transitioning Seasons and Attitudes

by in USA

I’ve watched enough Weather Channel over the years to know that Minnesota is notorious for its lengthy, frigid winters. I did not, however, expect to see icebergs on Lake Superior. Nor did I expect to push through the occasional snowdrift alongside Lake Bemidji, or be told we might not get to go canoeing at the Boundary Waters Canoe Area because most of the lakes were still frozen – in May! And the next time we arrive in a campground with running water will be the first. “We’re supposed to get a few more nights down below freezing so we decided to keep the water off“ is an explanation I’ve grown tired of hearing. Kristin is convinced I timed our departure and planned our route in order to chase winter, to skip spring entirely, then thrust us into the heat of summer. If that was my intent, it was a plan well-executed.

Our outfitter in Ely managed to find some open lakes for us to paddle after all.

Our outfitter in Ely managed to find some open lakes for us to paddle after all.

Despite the unseasonably-cold temperatures, signs of spring abound. We’ve spent the past few days riding along the scenic coast of Lake Superior’s northern shore and it seems as if we can’t go ten miles without crossing another thundering river overflowing its banks and hurtling itself over cliff and log into the Big Lake with reckless abandon. We can spot a river crossing from a half-mile way – the mouth of each river is marked by a slick of chocolate brown sediment and tannins – and then hear it moments later, well before we can see it. We stared in wonder at the volume and ferocity of the water gushing over Gooseberry Falls then, further up the coast, from the mouths of the Cross, Temperance, and Cascade Rivers, among numerous others. We saw the snow in the interior, we pedaled past dozens upon dozens of frozen lakes, and rolled alongside the endless sparkling reflections of white paper birch forests glistening in watery roadside ditches and bogs. Yet the mind still struggles to understand where all this water is coming from. Kayakers from all over the country reportedly flock to this area of Minnesota each spring to catch the melt-out. Sadly, we’ve only seen their creek boats strapped to the roofs of their Subarus. Perhaps the flow was even too much for the daring.

The amount of water flowing out of the MN interior was positively mind-boggling.

The amount of water flowing out of the MN interior was positively mind-boggling.

Spring is coming a little slower along the Big Lake's northern shore.

Spring is coming a little slower along the Big Lake’s northern shore.

The melting ice and swollen rivers isn’t the only change we’ve encountered as we make our way east. The attitudes about our trip are changing as well. Up until this past week we’ve never once been asked if we were doing this trip “for a cause.” Not once in all the years we spent planning and saving did our Seattle-area friends and acquaintances ever ask us that. Neither did any of the strangers we chatted with during our weeks spent cycling across Washington, Idaho, Montana, and North Dakota. It was understood that a trip of this sort doesn’t need justification. To do it was enough. But here in Minnesota we were asked about “a cause” a half-dozen times in two days. By people who knew us for less time than it takes to read this paragraph.

Not so mighty near its headwaters, but an important dividing line between East and West nonetheless.

Not so mighty near its headwaters, but an important dividing line between East and West nonetheless.

The question at first bothered me. A lot. But as the miles ticked by and I thought about it some more, I started to get depressed. I felt sorry for these people whose first inclination, rather than shared excitement or astonishment, was to seek justification. It wasn’t lost on me that these questions only started to come once we crossed the headwaters of the Mississippi River; Minnesota may not consider itself an Eastern state, but, to this former New Jerseyite, these observations suggest otherwise. I wonder about a place whose people (some, not all) instinctively seek to justify and assess the actions, even those of complete strangers, by first asking about a stack of dollars. Has the need to maximize productivity become so hardwired that the mere thought of the outrageous delivers a short-circuit to the conduits of politeness? Or is it a function of guilt or peer-pressure? These are two phenomena that I’ve striven hard to distance myself from as an adult — with some success — so there is the chance that I just don’t understand it.

Split Rock Lighthouse from a nearby beach.

Split Rock Lighthouse from a nearby beach.

But if the layman on the street is wondering about the “cause” for our our trip, then perhaps you are too?

Those who know us well know that we’re not the type to ask for money or donations to a charity. Whenever we’ve decided to do a charity bike ride or other such event, we’ve never done any fundraising. Doing so feels icky. We just wrote the modest checks ourselves to cover the fundraising requirements. I have two very personal thoughts about this. For starters, in my opinion, everyone is already inundated with options to donate and don’t need new suggestions. Bike rides like the Tour de Cure, for example, are great fun and generate a lot of money for diabetes research. People know about diabetes and don’t need me to educate them. If they want to donate, I believe they will on their own accord. Secondly, and perhaps more to the question at hand, I don’t believe in trying to disguise my own personal interests and hobbies as some sort of noble deed. I’m the type who believes in giving, and I do, but if I want to run a marathon or race a triathlon, I’ll just do it. If I wanted to climb Mt. Rainier or ride my bike around the world, I’d save up the money and do it. This isn’t to say that charity-based activities are bad and that everyone who does them are disingenuous, but I personally don’t believe in masking my own selfish interests in some sort of cloak of benevolence. Similarly, I didn’t seek any sponsorships for this trip for a similar reason: I didn’t want to contaminate this trip, a life’s dream, with the need to plug product.

Since that’s too much to explain to a stranger in the street, let me add my freshly-rehearsed response. I suspect I’ll use some form of it often as we venture further east. “The cause is to inspire others to not postpone their dreams for a retirement that isn’t guaranteed. The goal is to inspire others to travel more, slower, and further than their two weeks of vacation allows. The purpose is to encourage people to rethink the prescribed way of life.”

But the true cause for doing this trip is because I couldn’t think of a reason not to.

Shot directly below our campsite at Lake Tettegouche State Park.

Shot directly below our campsite at Lake Tettegouche State Park.

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15 Responses to “Transitioning Seasons and Attitudes”

  1. From Dad Walsh:

    Great discussion about “Why”. I guess some feel that what you and Kristin are doing is a burden, something that others would have to have a cause to be given the drive to attempt. This mindset also makes it easier to dismiss the fact that it is something they would never do, and don’t really understand why you’re doing it. Have their lives become so ‘cushy’ that the thought of not having the everyday conveniences is cause to question what you’re doing?

    Personally, I’m in awe regarding your adventure! To be honest, when it was in the talking stage 6 years ago, I had my doubts that the journey would come to fruition. Here we are in 2014, and I’m reading about the adventure of a lifetime, one I can only dream about and live it through you and Kristin. I’d like to think that I had a little to do with the instinct you have for the outdoor life. I had the same drive during my youth, but had to limit it to hunting, fishing, canoeing, and hiking. As the Family grew bigger and bigger, the window for such an opportunity got smaller and smaller. Much credit has to be given to the fact that you and Kristin are great partners! Partnerships like this don’t happen very often. You make me proud!

    Posted on 31 May, 2014 at 3:09 pm #
  2. From Ed:

    Very philosophical! I think as you move east and get into the more populated areas – the bigger cities – you’re going see more of that. I wouldn’t let it bother you. I just think that people have been conditioned to look for an ‘agenda’ as a means of survival. How do they respond when you tell them you just wanted to do it?

    Posted on 24 May, 2014 at 6:15 am #
    • From Doug Walsh:

      That’s a really good point about agenda, especially as we hit the east coast. The folks just sort of looked a little stunned or surprised and then usually said something like, “Oh, well, I guess that’s really great.” One guy, a kid working in an outdoors shop in Ely, pushed the issue a little, but I just chalk that up to him being young and ready to save the world.

      Haven’t heard it since. Then again, we’ve been in Canada for the past two weeks so all the conversation is about the weather and wildlife.

      Posted on 24 May, 2014 at 6:17 pm #
  3. From Eric Floyd:

    Great write !

    Posted on 15 May, 2014 at 4:10 pm #
  4. From Pamela:

    Great update!! Glad to know you are safe. Clearly you didn’t pack those boots in the paniers. You two are a great example of love, life and the pursuit of happiness. Happy trails!

    xo,
    Pamela

    Posted on 13 May, 2014 at 3:21 pm #
  5. From Lou:

    BTW, I want to see a 70’s porno stache before you go clean shaven. Just do it.

    Posted on 12 May, 2014 at 6:46 pm #
    • From Doug Walsh:

      Ha! Hadn’t considered that, but I’ll do it long enough for one photo to be taken.

      Posted on 13 May, 2014 at 5:38 am #
  6. From Lou:

    Not surprised at the idea that the further east you head the more you will be asked “why”. I would think that a simple “because we WANT to” is a good enough response. It takes balls to chase your dreams in a society where we are pressured to “contribute”. Inspiring others to chase their own dreams is as good a cause as any. Thanks for taking us along on your journey.

    Posted on 12 May, 2014 at 6:44 pm #
  7. From Judi Reeder:

    Doug,

    Love your discussion on cause. We were faced with a similar situation this year. For our 50th anniversary, we decided to do a mission trip in Estonia with Eastern European Mission Network. Initially, they encouraged us to ask our friends and family to support us on the trip. We responded that since this was instead of a big party, we were comfortable asking them for prayers, but not for money. They are comfortable with our decision.

    Posted on 12 May, 2014 at 10:28 am #
    • From Kristin Walsh:

      Happy Anniversary!! Wow, fifty years! Knowing you and Earl, a mission trip sounds like a perfect way to spend your anniversary. I’m so glad they understood and respected your decision. Have a wonderful trip!

      Posted on 12 May, 2014 at 3:03 pm #
  8. From Nate Lynch:

    Very interesting observations on “the cause”. Thanks for that… and yes, this is a good response in my opinion – “The cause is to inspire others to not postpone their dreams for a retirement that isn’t guaranteed. The goal is to inspire others to travel more, slower, and further than their two weeks of vacation allows. The purpose is to encourage people to rethink the prescribed way of life.”

    Your adventures certainly have had an effect on me as you describe.

    Posted on 12 May, 2014 at 8:40 am #
    • From Doug Walsh:

      Thanks for the nice words Nate. It means a lot coming from you.

      Posted on 12 May, 2014 at 2:50 pm #
  9. From Brian Crowley:

    Nicely written Doug. Happy that the trip is going well for both of you. Your looking quite stylish in that beard!

    Posted on 12 May, 2014 at 7:55 am #
    • From Doug Walsh:

      Thank you Brian. The beard has a lot of gray, required a stop at Great Clips in Fargo, and may not last past the first 80-degree day, but I’m digging it so far. Hope all is well back in Wooville!

      Posted on 12 May, 2014 at 8:02 am #
  10. From Noreen:

    Your last paragraph says it all, do it now while your able, their are no guarantees . Enjoy!

    Posted on 12 May, 2014 at 7:10 am #

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