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A tale of two state forests

For our outdoors excursions, Ross and I decided to branch out into Minnesota’s state forests. The kicker is that the closest state forest to us is two-and-a-half hours away. But in our quest to try something different led us to two state forests in the past couple of Saturdays. Both of them are in north-central Minnesota, so we almost took the same route getting up there. The route changed as we got closer to our destinations.

The towns we went through were small and seemingly far apart from each other. The first state forest we selected was Pillsbury State Forest. It’s in Cass County and near Pillager. I didn’t realize how far we were going until I saw the sign announcing Cragun’s resort near Brainerd. That particular Saturday was a hot one, so we were enjoying the air-conditioned drive. We honestly didn’t know what to expect when we reached our destination. Ross mentioned something about going on an adventure.

And an adventure it was.

Because the forest is more than three hours away, we didn’t get there till late afternoon, around 4:30-ish. In following Google Maps, we ended up on this minimum maintenance road that contained a couple of huge mud puddles that Ross drove through twice (down the road and then back). We think that’s what led to his truck not running right for the drive home.

Since this was kind of a spontaneous trip, we weren’t all too familiar with the forest. We drove to the beginning of a trail, not knowing what we’d come across. The forest has a little more than a mile of hiking trails, along with 27 miles for horseback riding and three miles of cross-country skiing trails. According to the Minnesota DNR website, “Minnesota’s first forest reserve was established in 1900 when 1,000 acres of cutover pine lands in Cass County, donated to the state by Governor John S. Pillsbury, became Pillsbury State Forest.”

So we set off into the woods. We could tell where the trail was at the beginning, but eventually the lush greenery became overwhelming. Path, what path? There were prickly plants hidden under the ferns, which scratched my bare legs (yeah, I was wearing shorts; it was humid). I’m a wuss, so the pain was unbearable. Yet we soldiered on through the jungle. We kept trying to find a place where the trail would lead us to a snowmobile trail (with hopefully less prickly plants) and a distinguishable path. No such luck. We basically went back the way we came. Yay, more traversing through the prickly plants. It felt like my legs were burning.

We explored the area around Pillsbury a little more, by vehicle. We stopped at a gas station in Pillager so Ross could try and get his truck running right again, and to get gas. Our “adventure” was over, except when we were 20 miles down the road from Randall. We saw a large dark animal on the side of the road. We look at each other and silently say “is that what I think it is?” Sure enough, it was a bear. Not too surprising, considering the area we were in.

The following Saturday, we decided to give Huntersville State Forest a try. Huntersville is in northern Wadena County. According to the Minnesota DNR website, “This forest lies entirely within the coniferous forest biome. Topography contains a mix of glacial features such as hills and old outwash and till plains.” It also has ATV and off-highway motorcycle trails, and there were a few riders out enjoying the trails.

It was a nice day. The sun was out, it was cooler than the previous Saturday and there was a nice breeze. The trail we took was definitely easier to hike and I liked seeing the tall trees.

But then I got hit with a tachycardia episode I couldn’t get myself out of.

I tried doing a couple of the techniques I normally use when trying to stop my heart from racing to no avail. And I had left my medication in the truck (I was thinking, oh, I’ll be fine). We were still a ways from where we were parked, so I slowly made my way down the trail, stopping occasionally to sit on a tree stump to try some deep breathing. Unfortunately I did start to panic and hyperventilate. Ugh. And I was enjoying the hike.

We finally reach the truck and I got to try out my verapamil medication for the first time. It’s supposed to slow down your heart rate. It took a little while, but eventually my heart calmed down.

At least the forest was fun to visit.

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