Monday, October 26, 2020

A fall recharge in the Black River State Forest

Greetings, well after eight months or so the pandemic fatigue I had been warned about finally hit me.

I think a few things are to blame. There's the upcoming election which has likely been draining everyone's energy, the realization holidays won't be spent in the same households as our immediate families (a sacrifice worth taking however to avoid an ICU trip), and perhaps "social withdrawal" from seeing our best friends mostly over Zoom. 

But what really fueled my burnout was reading about the latest round of wildfires currently ravaging through most of Grand County, Colorado, a place I used to live when I worked a seasonal job at YMCA of the Rockies. I had some of the best and most memorable, life-changing times in Grand County. It's shattering, heartbreaking to me to see places like the west side of Rocky Mountain National Park, where I've solo backpacked and shared memories with my family, up in flames. I can't accept knowing that the Kawuneeche Valley area is being destroyed. Many friends of mine have had to evacuate, fleeing from their homes as the wildfires roared closer towards Granby and Grand Lake. It's been agonizing to see unfold and I've felt gutted this past week.

Acknowledging the need for fresh air, I took today off and dedicated my time for a solo adventure into the woods. I wanted to reconnect with the trees and recharge in the great outdoors. I planned a full day hike through the Black River State Forest, located in the northwestern central region of Wisconsin. I've never been to this 68,000-acre patch of wilderness and was super excited. To my surprise and delight, that part of the state had already welcomed in winter. Not so the case back home in Milwaukee. A nice blanket of snow overnight dusted the forest's floor of late fall's leaves and crowned the tops of the pines. It was dreamy nonetheless, as lingering crimson and copper colors still hung on to the trees.

Arriving at the Black River State Forest, the test car I had this week (a 2021 Toyota RAV4 Prime) showed 32 degrees on its thermometer, a nice chilly bit of weather to bundle up in a down jacket and knit hat then hit the trails for hours. Under gray skies, I followed the Norway Pines Trail northwest to link up with the Wildcat Trail which circles some of the state forest's highest points of elevation, and then end the day by returning to the trailhead on the Red Oak Trail. Judging from the map, I'd estimate my itinerary was about seven miles of hiking, alone, without coming across another soul. It was just the kind of solitude I was hoping for a late October.

This place was really special, a reminder to me of how important it is to get outdoors when you're feeling burnt out. A reminder too of how lucky we are to have such diverse terrain here in Wisconsin, a state on the map that often gets overlooked as a flat, uninspiring place filled with cows and cornfields. These woods pulled at the strings of my heart for how serene and quiet it was. I'd love to come backpacking here again during the winter months and kept a visual memory for open clearings where I could pitch my tent for a night or two. Thankfully, backcountry permits are free in the Black River State Forest and there's so much to explore. 

As October comes to a close, strive to make the best of this fall weather while we have it, and have an excellent Halloween. It's my favorite holiday so I'll be celebrating with a bunch of candy corn and scary movies on the couch. 

Cheers,
Robby