Skalbekken Park: A little piece of outdoor heaven, so close to home

Nature enthusiasts take note– sparkling streams, wooded trails, rustic campsites, abundant wildlife, and the winding Minnesota River are just a few of the perks that await you at a little  prairie oasis known as Skalbekken Park. Just a short drive south, Skalbekken is a little piece of outdoor heaven that you won’t believe is so close to home.

The park, located about six miles southwest of Sacred Heart on County Road 10, is one of the seven parks in the Renville County Parks System, most of which are situated along the Minnesota River. Although considered “rustic” (aka no electricity), the park is dotted with clean shelters, restrooms, and fire rings with ample space to pitch a tent for the night. At the main entrance to the park there is a horse camp that sits adjacent to the Minnesota River. The river runs along the south side of the park with fishing spots aplenty along its banks. On the east side of the park, the Limbo Creek rushes through a lush river forest and to the west, the Hawk Creek.

Although only 18 miles from my driveway to the park entrance, I had never heard of Skalbekken until the fall of 2009 when the newly paired MACCRAY/RCW cross country team spent a few early season practices running through the park. My son was on the team and talked excitedly about what a neat place it was- adding that we should go there sometime. Well sometime finally came in September 2010 when I made my first visit to Skalbekken. Instantly I fell in love with the beauty and serenity of this little oasis on the prairie.

The first couple of trips to the park we stuck to the main road that runs parallel to the Minnesota, venturing off on a few trails but not too far. It wasn’t until last spring when the Minnesota had flooded the main entrance that we discovered what we love the best in Skalbekken- its incredible forest trails.

The first time we ventured off the beaten path we were completely amazed with the rugged terrain- a hiker’s and trailrunner’s dream, at least in our neck of the woods. Steep hills pepper the landscape leading down to Limbo Creek on the north and east sides of the park, our favorite place to hike.
Several trails cross the creek that eventually lead to a  breathtakingly beautiful area of prairie grass covered rolling hills and if you are lucky enough to be there at the right time of the evening, a perfect view of the setting sun. The trails then lead back into the forest and eventually bring you back to the creek. There are also trails that run parallel to the creek. After several trips to the park, we have yet to hike the exact some route twice.

Adding a bit of excitement to the sheer beauty of the trails is the abundant wildlife present in the park. A bald eagle high atop the trees, a wild turkey clucking a few feet off the trail, the flash of a white tail as a deer bounds through the forest, a hawk soaring overhead, and the loud slap of a beaver’s tail are just a few of the experiences garnered while hiking through the forests. Every trip promises something exciting and new.

Popular with horse riding aficionados the park features a horse camp that is large enough for several trailers and campers. Nearly every time we have hiked the trails we find fresh horse tracks and we have ventured upon riders more than once in the main part of the park. The horse trails also link up with the Upper Sioux State Park, just a short jaunt to the southwest of Skalbekken.

Skalbekken even has a little something for history buffs. A feature in the park is the Odean Skalbeck log house. The house was originally built in 1868 and was home to Odean Skalbeck, a former Renville County Commissioner. The house is situated down the main road across from the river and is complete with a historical marker that tells the story of the park and the log house.

For our family, this serene place has become a haven of sorts. We bring the dogs (who start to whine as soon as we head south), fill our water bottles, and hit the trails for a work out that we can’t get anywhere else near by. It’s funny because exercise doesn’t seem like exercise when there is so much beauty surrounding you. We always exit the forest trails with the amazing, soul-refreshing feeling that comes when spending time in the great outdoors. 
No matter what your outdoor fancy, you’ll find it at Skalbekken Park.  A little piece of outdoor heaven so close to home, Skalbekken is definitely worth putting on your summer “to-do” list.

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The Warrior Dash!

Ahh, a cold malt beverage never tasted so good!

The Sunday noon warriors! Me, Chris, Page, Taylor and Londa!
“Slow and steady wins the race…” Well, it didn’t quite win me the race but it did get me across the finish line, alive, and earned me 18,956th place (out of nearly 19,500 finishers).
On Sunday, my boys and two of my friends competed in (or should I say completed) the Warrior Dash, the most physically and probably mentally challenging thing I have ever done in my 42 years (and that includes the three times I have given birth.)
The Warrior Dash is touted as “The ultimate event for thrill-seeking athletes. This 5k race is held on the most demanding and unique terrain from around the world. Participants will take on intense obstacles…”
The race is held at different locations around the country and world. Afton Alps Ski Resort in Hastings was the home of the 2011 Warrior Dash Minnesota, the first in the state.
We signed up back in January and watched as the time slots filled up. They were predicting 15,000 people to partake in the race over two days, up to 500 people per wave and the waves left every half hour. The 5k distance we all knew would be no problem (I can’t run that far at one time but can easily complete that distance walking and jogging) it was some of the obstacles that would be challenging. Boy, we had NO idea how challenging.
For starters, the course started off up hill. Not just a small hill, a ski hill, one that usually requires a chairlift to get up. 75% of the people walked the seemingly endless hill. Finally, reaching the top (or so I thought) I knew the obstacles would begin. I had studied the obstacles and knew that most of them would be more fun than anything so I wasn’t too worried. I had conquered “the hill,” the rest had to be downhill from here, right?
The first obstacle was called “Road Rage,” a series of junked cars and tires to run through. I crawled over them and went carefully through the tire mazes. No problem!
Shortly after that was the “Treacherous Typhoon.” No problem again I thought, I just had to run through water that was blasting at me. Shortly after entering the typhoon, I couldn’t see anything. Luckily everyone had left me in the dust so I knew I wouldn’t run into anyone. Suddenly I found myself gasping for air! Can’t see, can’t breath, water blasting at me, and I’m alone. I’d drown before the people I was ahead of (if you can believe it) got to me.
I survived only to find myself going downhill! Awesome! I can do this, then I glanced up to realize we were going downhill only to be heading back uphill. On my ascent, people coming down the other side assured me there was water at the top. “Thanks fellow warriors” I thought, and trudged up the hill. Ahh, water and level ground.
After that hill the course went through a series of up and downs before one of the most brutal obstacles (for me) stared me in the face- a series of nearly five foot walls alternated with wood and barbed wire walls that were to be crawled under. I hoisted  myself (and probably let out a primal grunt) onto wall one… Let’s just say it wasn’t pretty but I completed the series.
A cargo net crawl, a scramble through a scorching-hot, dark tent, and a 15’ cargo net climb followed. I steadily completed all of them while slowly navigating the steep hills. I was two-thirds of the way through the race before the leaders of the next wave caught me. The end was near. Then came the wall…
“The Warrior Wall,” a 12’ high wall with a rope to climb it- a rope and one inch foot holds every few feet. The only way over was to climb the rope.
Me! Leaping over fire!

I stopped and stared at the wall. There was NO way I could climb it, but I was NOT going to walk around it so I grabbed on and pulled with every fiber of my being. I think every muscle in my shoulders exploded. They had to wonder what the heck was going on. All I know is that it was one of the best feelings that I have ever had in my life when I heaved my wide load over the top of that wall…

The rest of the course we ran through mud, up one more hill before the final obstacles, the fun ones. We slid down a ginormous slip-n-slide, leaped over fire, and crawled through a very large mud pit under barbed wire. After that it was just a few feet to the finish line. I finished in 1:14.11, 8,752nd for the day.
For our efforts we got a tee-shirt, warrior helmet, medal, and a free beer. Definitely worth it.
Today, I am badly sunburned, have bruises appearing randomly, and am just a little sore but not what I expected. Maybe it’s because ibuprofen has become my new best friend?
I highly recommend this race for anybody that is looking for a challenge or just something different to do. It was a family day for us as my parents, brother, and son’s girlfriend were there to cheer us all on. They even took the chairlift to the top to catch some action up there.
Besides the race there were bands playing, turkey legs being eaten, and fun all-around.
Although the race was not hosted by a charity, the event company “hired” charity groups to staff the event and they also collected the muddy tennis shoes, if you wanted to leave yours, to recycle them into new shoes for persons around the world who don’t have shoes. A pretty good cause in my book.
Afterwards, we all agreed that we couldn’t wait until next year but this time we were going to find some super costumes (part of the race-fun if you want to dress up) and we were really going to train.
Call me a warrior! A tired, sunburned, sore- warrior!

P.S. The VERY best part of the day was coming down the final hill and hearing my family and friends cheering wildly for me! I love you all!

An ‘A’ for effort?

I apologize to any of my neighbors who may have nearly fainted at the sight of me behind the lawnmower Saturday afternoon. It’s a sight you’ve probably never witnessed before and probably won’t again any time soon.

I was just trying to be nice to the hub who plans his weeks around his mowing- literally. Saturday was “the day” but he got called to help a buddy shingle at the last minute. I thought, I’ll mow this one time, just to be nice.

Not that I’m fundamentally opposed to mowing, I’d do it regularly if my life depended on it, but thanks to the hub, it doesn’t.  It doesn’t because the hub “banned” me from mowing nearly two decades ago. That’s right B-A-N-N-E-D.

At the time we were living on the farm and I was brand-spanking new to farm life and to the lawn mowing scene, especially a riding lawn mower. Our yard had a very low spot that was in the shape of a circle, so I did the only logical thing to do- I mowed in a circle. Apparently in my hub’s book of mowing regulations, mowing in a circle is a  “mowing violation” and I had just offended in a big way. The hub was not pleased with my mowing strategy and in a rather harsh tone, banned me from the mowing. After all, what would people think?

“Seriously? Did you just ban me from mowing?” I said laughing hysterically. “Maybe if you would have informed me of the “mowing regulations” I would have never violated the rules in such a drastic way.” The hub didn’t find this quite as amusing as I did. Gosh, my mowing days were done before they even got started- sniff, sniff.

We eventually moved to town and I have actually “gotten” to mow a couple of times- but only when the situation was absolutely desperate. He never forgot the mowing violation from years prior choosing to hire youngsters to mow when he couldn’t fit it in. Our own kids even got “the chance” to mow occasionally. It’s probably been a decade since I last cut the grass.

So, I planned my mowing strategy, started the mower and began. Boy would the hub be surprised…

Things were progressing rather nicely until I shut the mower off to move the fire pit rocks. That’s when the mower decided not to start again. Really? Oops!

I tried everything I could think of (which wasn’t enough) before I broke down and called the hub. “Hey, guess what?” I said. “I was mowing…” 

In a rather surprised and concerned tone he said, “What, you were mowing? Mowing?” (As if he didn’t hear me the first time.)

To make a long story short, the mower is now residing in the repair shop. Thanks to our neighbors who let the hub borrow their mower to finish the lawn.

Although he appreciated the effort, we reminisced about our discussion from so long ago…

“There is a reason you don’t mow,” he said. There sure is honey, there sure is!