Leaving Betsy and Karen's on Sunday morning brought about tears of joy.
It was hard saying goodbye, but we all knew my journey North awaited.
The weather had turned a corner, and I had to capitalize on clear blue skies.
Before my 10 a.m. departure, Betsy and Karen loaded me up with warmth: a down jacket, a scarf, and a knit cap.
Trust me -- all items were put to good use that evening.
For my route, I took East River Road which turned into 1.
During that drive, I stopped into Hans Bakery for a maple-almond donut. Then, I followed 1 which I believe turned into 10.
Here's where things got messy.
I ended up in a town called Staples.
My intuition was right.
I had gone too far -- by about 40 miles.
The headwinds whipped around my head and neck; hence, my stamina took a hit from this unexpected detour.
My plan was to drive into Crow Wing State Park, but somehow I missed my exit onto 371.
I turned around and headed back on 10 going in the other direction and bumped into Little Falls and the Charles Lindbergh State Park.
I altered plans and opted for tenting it there rather than driving the 30+ miles to Crow Wing.
Frankly, I needed rest.
I had been driving for some five-hours, and I could barely think. It did not help that I had not stopped for something to eat and/or drink.
Finding the Lindbergh Park was quick and painless once I discovered the correct Little Falls exit.
I walked into the ranger office and booked a stay for one night. As soon as I put up my tent, I drove into town for sustenance and adventure.
I had two salads and two liters of club soda at the local grocery store.
While in its dining area, I met Linda, an older woman with special needs. She asked me many questions, so I entertained her as much as I could.
Later, I drove to the city's downtown park area along the Mississippi River.
Across the street I could hear water gushing down from where I was, so I went to see what was making all that racket.
A hydro power plant had been installed to use the water's force as an electricity generator. Although small in scale (to other power plants), watching that water flow was mesmerizing.
I imagined it was probably like hearing Niagara Falls for the first time. I have never been, but I am confident those Great River sounds could serve as possible competition.
When I had my fill, I drove back to the state park to try my luck at starting a fire.
Over the past couple of nights Minnesota's weather had become chilly, and I needed to stay warm.
With some help from Karen's fire starters, I made a serious blaze using it and plenty of firewood left by other campers in the campground.
It was either go hunt for free wood, or pay six dollars for it.
At its height, the fire looked like what you see (pictured below).
I only wish my tent could have been placed close enough to it to feel its warmth.
Once the fire started to lose its stamina, I called it a night and headed for my tent. I layered and layered and layered to stay warm. Remember, I opted not to bring a sleeping bag to save precious cargo space.
Although I had about three layers covering my chest and legs (thanks in great part to Betsy and Karen), I shivered throughout the night.
It did not help that I heard wild felines fighting and men snoring -- even with earplugs!
Let's face it, I am not exactly a camper.
I camp because it saves money, and it makes for more interesting story-telling.
With nightly rents of $21, the cost is hard to beat.
I keep trying to find ways to fall fast asleep in the heart of nature; however, I have yet to uncover the secrets for pleasant, solo camping.
Instead what happens is that I toss and turn all night.
Finally, when the sun rises, I fall asleep for several hours.
On Monday, it was just after 10 a.m.
I showered in low-pressure water with a 90-second timer, and I packed.
Later, I drove to a nearby bakery and had a toasted coconut maple donut before blogging at the Little Falls Carnegie Library.
From there, I gassed up and took off on 371 North for a short 30-mile or so drive up to Crow Wing State Park.
The drive was more pleasant thanks to very little headwind.
At the park, a woman named Alyssa picked out her favorite, secluded camp site: #19.
Repeating the same process from yesterday, I had less luck finding firewood.
Fortunately, the weather was warmer, and I had not yet ventured out to find thermal underwear.
Once my tent was ready, I drove into the town of Baxter to have a "BLD."
My new term for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
I purchased two hearty salads and club soda at Walmart; I also had a pounding headache, so I ordered some coffee (at the indoor McDonald's) to stifle my brain's caffeine cry.
Then, I walked around Wally World looking for thermal underwear.
I found a men's sturdy thermal shirt, and opted for a boy's pair of compression pants.
As it was getting close to sundown, I drove back to Crow Wing to enjoy views of the Mississippi before retiring.
The picture below required some heavy mosquito battles.
When I returned to my tent, I determined I was ready.
Not only would I be warm, I would be able to fall asleep.
Yet, no sleep.
Despite seeing all the cute chipmunks around my tent, I still had trouble falling into a deep sleep.
Instead, more of the same: toss and turn and turn and toss.
I heard animals urinating (as they should).
I heard strange bearish-sounding grunt noises.
I heard the wind stir the trees yet not my tent. (A beautiful sound -- like waves crashing on the shore.)
I know that I drifted because I would startle myself up from sleep.
Oh well, better luck next time.
Today (Tuesday) I awoke around 9 a.m.
Rather than showering, I simply washed my face, brushed my teeth and packed my bag.
I even bumped into Alyssa (in the restroom) one final time before leaving the campground.
On my way out, I stopped at the rest-stop located across from the park.
I could not resist a picture featuring an artist's rendition of the legendary Paul Bunyan.
Look, he's waving good-bye to me.
Good-bye, Mr. Bunyan!
I headed back on 371 North.
Next stop: Bemidj, Minnesota.
Until we meet again, my friend.