Lake Maria State Park. Year Two.

The journey began with pizza, as all storied journeys do.

I just wanted to write that.

Anyways. We loaded up Subi (my Subaru) and headed west on I-94. Lake Maria State Park is about 45 minutes from Minneapolis. From downtown, take I-94 west until the second Monticello exit. The park is eight miles west of the freeway. Farm fields speckled by oak groves, rolling hills and kettle lakes surround the park, which is an oak grove itself.

Subi’s thermometer read 3F as we arrived. Good thing we had that pizza. With backpacks strapped on and headlamps lighting the way, we navigated the trail network around lakes and oak trees to the cabin. Hiking in boots would have done with the little snow on the trails, but we had our hearts set on skiing to the cabin from the car. Audra and I settled for a few scratches on our skis for the sake of the adventure. Skipacking sounds more adventurous than backpacking, after all.

We stayed in this same cabin last February. It was a Saturday. We arrived with the cabin already warm from the afternoon sun and a wood stove still radiating heat from the previous guests. This year was different. It was dark and cold. No even the moon pitched us any light. But what is an adventure without a bit of adversity in the form of being really fucking cold? The park provides wood to be used for heating cabins, though if you want to build a fire outdoors, you’ll need to pay for wood at the park HQ and haul it to the cabin. A few pieces of kindling wrapped in newspaper and a stock of dry firewood were waiting for us upon arrival. The fire began warming the 10×16 cabin within an hour. Our flask helped.

Inside each cabin is a journal and a pen. Each guest writes about their stay. The journal dated back to December of 2013. We paged back and found our entry from February of last year. We found an entry from a family who stayed there last April for a weekend; it was written by their 8-year-old daughter and included illustrations. Another entry was from a man who stayed in the cabin by himself for five days. He said he was there to find himself and write. We read through all of the entries to pass the time while the fire warmed the cabin. The most recent entry was from a couple who were staying in the cabin to mark their first anniversary. “We’re here to reflect on the past and plan for their future,” they wrote. A lacy black bra was found between a mattress and the cabin wall.

One of the simple joys of staying in a cabin with a wood stove is waking up every three hours to add more wood. I’m serious. I like this. Four logs would be added every time I woke up. With the flue at 25% open, the fire burned hot and slow.

At 5am when I woke to add more wood, I couldn’t fall back to sleep. This gave me time to read. I opened a curtain on the east-facing window and watched the sky turn from cobalt to fiery orange while I paged through “The Wild Trees” by Richard Preston. I ate a handful of donut holes as well. Before long, I was tired again and zipped myself into my sleeping bag for a couple more hours of rest.

Audra and I spent the morning reading and finishing the whiskey while the sun ascended its ladder of a sky and the fire burned slowly. At noon, we strapped on our packs and clipped into our skis to make the journey back to the car. No headlamps this time. The snow was warmer and allowed us to glide a bit more on our skis over the oak leaves and deer tracks scattered across the trails. Minneapolis would soon welcome us home from another weekend in the woods.

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