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Sunday, June 16, 2013

A Tribute To My Father

My mom and dad were both instrumental in encouraging an appreciation of The Great Outdoors in me, each in their own way. And even though they divorced when I was two years old, I credit them equally for my love of nature.

Mom was famous for our weekend camping trips to Lake Kegonsa State Park, which was conveniently located just a mile down the road from our house. That park became a second home for me and my sisters. Mom would pack up the car with all the camping gear and head to a campsite to set up while my sisters and I followed behind, riding our bikes. The bikes took us back and forth between the beach and the campground where we made a lot of new friends who would later become pen pals after they returned to wherever they had traveled from. We took countless road trips to Parfrey's Glen, Devil's Lake State Park, and many more. That annual state park sticker was an affordable way for our family to get out and do things within our budget.

On the other hand, my dad would pick us up for his weekend visits and always wanted to take us on some nature trail somewhere. And even though we would have rather gone to the movies or rollerskating or some other activity that Mom could never afford to do with us, we obliged and went along with him. I may have resisted the walk at first, but as soon as I entered the woods, I inevitably became absorbed with the scenery around me. This is how I've always been - resistant at first and then happily surprised when I came to enjoy whatever it was I resisted in the first place. I guess you could call it stubbornness. My dad was always patient with us and never got angry when we were sullen or quiet with him. Instead he would point out bird species or types of trees and try to get us involved in our surroundings.

About six weeks ago my dad was diagnosed with esophageal cancer. He's 63 years old. This was a huge wake-up call for me and got me thinking about how short life really is. How can you live your whole life in pursuit of retirement and never actually get to enjoy it? I don't want to wait until I'm ready to retire to start enjoying life - my time is now.

Earlier this year I accidentally learned about the Ice Age Trail when I was looking at my Wisconsin Gazetteer for a new place to take my dog hiking. We ended up on the Grandfather Falls Segment in Lincoln County. I immediately fell in love with this segment and began to research more segments of the Ice Age Trail. And even though I was exhilarated at finding such beauty so close to home, I was also really pissed off at myself for not finding this place sooner. I began to question how many other natural beauties surrounded me that I had never seen.

Last month I purchased the Ice Age Trail Atlas containing maps to every segment of the trail and the Companion Guide which details the terrain and mileage of each segment. And since my dad is gradually weakening and not able to enjoy trail hiking like he used to, I've decided to hike the Ice Age Trail segments in his honor, with the help of my mom who will drop me off at the beginning of each segment head and pick me up at the other end. Each weekend my dog, Charlie, and I will head out to a different segment. I have no idea how long this will take. I know we will not accomplish hiking every segment since dogs are not allowed on some areas. What I do know is that we will do this.

Some people say the hardest thing is to start doing and I would agree with that. Charlie and I have hiked the Grandfather Falls and Dells of the Eau Claire segments, but yesterday we actually started something - we hiked the Plover River Segment as the true beginning of this project. It was challenging and adventurous and had both good and bad things about it, but we did it. And it felt great to actually start something. This project will be a great bonding experience for me and my dog, my mom will feel a special purpose in being able to help, and my dad will be able to live vicariously through my adventures. I hope my faithful readers will also enjoy the journey. It's never too late to start DOING.