What makes me qualified to write something like this? NOTHING but I'm going to do it anyway.
I grew up in a household where there wasn't really a priority made on the outdoors. This doesn't mean I didn't spend time outside, because I did, it means my parents didn't spend a lot of time in the great outdoors - we weren't the camping type.
I was lucky enough to grow up mostly in a Northern Suburb of the Twin Cities. I had a pond and a forest in my back yard - because of this I developed a passion for the outdoors but State Parks were mostly off of my radar. We had vacationed to Itasca once and to Duluth on many occasions mostly doing touristy things around the city but on rare occasions we would travel up to Gooseberry and once made it as far as Split Rock, but as most people seem to do, we would stop at the main attractions then leave not once stepping off of the beaten path to discover what else these parks might have to offer. The idea of hiking never struck anyones mind.
Fast forward to my teens... my best friend's family was pretty outdoorsy and would bring me along on a lot of their adventures. These are the people who inspired the adrenaline junkie in me. With them I've cliff jumped at Temperence State Park, I have downhill mountain biked the Sawtooth Mountains near Lutsen, watched many kayakers attempt the white water at Jay Cooke and discovered towns like Grand Marais and the gloriousness that is Sven and Ole's Pizza. I even took my first flight with them to San Francisco in 2000 - so to say they opened up new doors for me would be an understatement. But even at this point I hadn't really been hiking.
When it came time to go to college, I chose the University of Minnesota - Duluth. Why? Because they had a great art program? I wish that was the real answer (they did have a great program by the way). The real answer is because it was close to all these outdoorsy things that I was curious about. Jay Cooke and Gooseberry Falls quickly became frequented parks, Jay Cooke for rollerblading and Gooseberry for studying - I would hike up to fifth falls and sit and read my text books.
Still I hadn't seen much of what these park had to offer and though I went back a few times after graduating and moving back to the cities I never really veered away from the paths that I knew.
Things really changed in June of 2016 with a planned vacation of lifetime...