Through our living room window, I watched the snow whipping on a diagonal, northeast to southwest. Dense flakes came slanting past against the green backdrop of a spruce in our front yard.

This was winter’s first big snowfall — at least here on the shores of Lake Superior. Already, 8 inches lay on the ground, a little more where the snow had found protection in the lee of the house. The widespread November storm had grounded planes in some parts of the country, stranding Thanksgiving travelers.

I had volunteered to pick up some rolls at a bakery downtown for Thanksgiving dinner. I probably could have driven, but I thought it would be a bit of an adventure to hike the 6 miles from our upper Woodland neighborhood.

Frankly, I needed a little adventure.

We’re fortunate in Duluth: A person can travel from the hillside to the lakeshore — or from east to west across town — almost entirely on trails. I threw on a daypack and headed out. Off I plodded through the snowpack, down the street, into the woods.

I had the route planned — through sprawling Hartley Park, on to Bagley Nature Area near UMD, a jog over to Chester Park. From there, I’d drop down the Dan Proctor Trail along Chester Creek and emerge at Burrito Union. Theoretically, I’d bypass a pint of beer there and travel the last few blocks to the bakery.

I padded along in mukluks. The woods were silent. I saw nobody else on foot for the first hour. Only a couple sets of footprints pocked the snow ahead of me. Kindred spirits, the folks who left them.

In the spirit of Thanksgiving, I had been thinking about some things for which I was especially thankful. Phyllis, of course, with whom I’ve been in love since high school biology class. And the kids we brought into the world, from whom I continue to learn. The wisdom of elders. Forty-year friendships. Duluth, this amazing city of woods and waters and trails. And the yellow dog, whose nose opens my eyes to the world around me.

And I thought, as I walked, about other adventures — the kind far from home — paddling the Gods River to Hudson Bay with Phyllis, forging toward the Canadian Barrenlands on dog teams with a friend from the Northwest Territories, rafting a wild glacial river in Alaska.

Don’t get me wrong. I can lean back in a canoe and jig for walleyes on a soft summer day no problem. But something inside of me — inside a lot of us, I think — tells us that once in a while we need to get outside our comfort zone, put ourselves out there a bit, and just go. You learn things about yourself in those situations. And somehow, those experiences foster self-confidence when we’re confronted with tough situations back home.

This romp for the rolls was nothing in that category. Still, it took me almost two hours to reach the bakery. I fell on my backside only once — on a pesky sheet of sidewalk ice hidden beneath the snow. I acquired the rolls, inhaled a cinnamon bun and headed back up the hill.

By the time I had climbed to the university, I decided I’d had about all the urban adventure I needed for one day. I was bushed, and I had a driveway full of snow waiting to be cleared at home. I gave Phyllis a call and arranged a pick-up.

As we pulled into the driveway, we high-centered our all-wheel-drive rig on a drift that looked like a scalloped frosting on a cake.


Dug out. Blew snow for an hour. Went into the house limp and happy.

Sam Cook is a freelance writer for the News Tribune. Reach him at or find his Facebook page at