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Uncharted: A hike, a speech and a loose-meat sandwich

As August drew to a close, I realized something--I never planned an intentional new experience for myself. At the risk of sounding annoying, life's been so busy and so much fun lately, the month marking my birth (I'm 32 now!) flew by. Upon furthe...

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The pinnacle of Sugar Loaf bluff, left behind by 19th-century quarrying, as seen in August in Winona. (click the image to see the entire photo.) Chelsey Perkins / Brainerd Dispatch

As August drew to a close, I realized something-I never planned an intentional new experience for myself.

At the risk of sounding annoying, life's been so busy and so much fun lately, the month marking my birth (I'm 32 now!) flew by. Upon further reflection, it was also perhaps my most active month of new experiences, just by virtue of living.

I followed the Mississippi River along a beautiful Highway 61 to visit a new place for me, Winona. While there, I navigated the city accidentally sans cellphone, learning just how hard that makes life these days, and hiked the iconic Sugar Loaf bluff to its pinnacle. I slept in a mansion at Linden Hill Historical Event Center in Little Falls and gave my first maid of honor speech at the wedding of two of my best friends. And although admitting this is risky-I ate at The Barn for the first time, of course opting for a Maid-Rite loose-meat sandwich and a slice of peach pie.

Each of these first-time moments for me brought joy in their own ways. The trail leading to the top of Sugar Loaf was peaceful and, on that day at least, nearly empty of other people. Set within a sun-speckled forest, the payoff comes when a sudden break in the foliage reveals a stunning view of Winona, St. Stanislaus Kostka Catholic Church a beacon dominating the vista. Just a bit farther along the trail, a giant rock juts another 85 feet into the air, the remnant of 19th-century quarrying. Trails weave all around the peak, offering varied sights of the surrounding rolling hills of the Driftless Area.

Two weeks later, I found myself standing in front of dozens of people, most of whom I'd only just met, about to lead a toast to the newly married Cori and Mandi Przybilla. I felt some pressure to knock it out of the park-my friends reminded me for months prior my profession as a writer set some high expectations.

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I'm not exactly a stranger to public speaking, and the nature of working at the Brainerd Dispatch means you become somewhat accustomed to putting yourself out there. But that didn't stop me from shaking uncontrollably and rather noticeably while I read from my notes. I think I managed to keep my voice from wavering, however, and I didn't faint-so we'll call it a win. I even got some laughs. What an honor to stand beside my friends on such an important day, sharing memories and making new ones.

Another important day was when, after nearly five years, I truly became a Brainerd resident. Up until the moment I walked through the doors of The Barn on Washington Street, I felt like an interloper-like maybe people could tell I'd never tasted the somewhat unappealingly named loose-meat sandwiches (Maid-Rite is much better) or squeezed onto a stool at the always-packed counter. The atmosphere was one of jovial familiarity. If you sit there long enough, or maybe not even that long at all, chances are pretty great you'll run into someone you know. It's just one of those things that gives me the warm fuzzies about living in a small city.

In the eighth month of my journey toward personal fulfillment, I realized sometimes it doesn't take a grand gesture like jumping into freezing cold water or soaring through the forest on a zipline. Sometimes, it's just savoring the new things life serves right to you.

Opinion by Chelsey Perkins
Chelsey Perkins is the community editor of the Brainerd Dispatch. A lakes area native, Perkins joined the Dispatch staff in 2014. She is the Crow Wing County government beat reporter and the producer and primary host of the "Brainerd Dispatch Minute" podcast.
Reach her at chelsey.perkins@brainerddispatch.com or at 218-855-5874 and find @DispatchChelsey on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
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