Can sharing outdoor adventures help create a community of like-minded people? It can, believes Bret Alexander, who founded Mesabi Outdoor Adventures two years ago — with a mission to get people …
Can sharing outdoor adventures help create a community of like-minded people? It can, believes Bret Alexander, who founded Mesabi Outdoor Adventures two years ago — with a mission to get people together in the out-of-doors.
At first, Alexander was looking for a way to meet like-minded people. He led non-motorized outdoor trips for years but struggled to connect with new friends after moving to Virginia in 2014 with his wife, who grew up on the Iron Range.
“That’s what prompted me to create Mesabi Outdoor Adventures,” said Alexander, who initially spread the word about planned outings mostly through Facebook. But as the group has grown, thanks in part to funding from the Blandin Foundation and Essentia Health, the group has established a website at mesabioutdooradventures.org, where interested adventurers can find a schedule of upcoming trips and videos of recent adventures. You can also find information on how to reserve equipment if you’d like to try an activity but don’t have the gear. They’ve got fat bikes, trail bikes, helmets, snowshoes, and head lamps. They also expect to have canoes and kayaks available for events by later this summer.
While Alexander likes to keep the events loosely organized, he also likes to ensure that those who attend have a chance to get to know each other, usually with an introduction beforehand with follow-up conversation after an event. It’s about creating the opportunity for connection. “What happens after that just kind of happens organically,” said Alexander.
The group’s most recent outing, on Lost Lake near Tower, started with initial introductions, but most of the conversation was out on the water as nearly a dozen people, from as far away as Duluth, turned out for what was billed as a “moonrise paddle.”
The heat of the 90-degree day was still evident as the group shoved off from the lake’s one public access to circumnavigate the shoreline of this 750-acre lake, but the temperature moderated as the sun slowly slid to the western horizon and an impressive full moon emerged from a cloud bank to the east.
As the southerly breeze lightened, the light chop turned increasingly glassy, offering reflections of the moonrise and the lake’s often dramatic shoreline, which ranges from rocky, pine-covered bluffs on the east, to birch forest, to muskeg. As the wind died down, the sounds of hermit thrushes, herring gulls, and loons, echoed across the water.
The roughly two-thirds of the lakeshore dominated by muskeg is strewn with the bleached remains of trees, uprooted by windstorms over the years, each offering a unique and intricate sculpture. With muskeg dominating the shoreline and the lake’s high ground owned by the state’s Scientific and Natural Area program, the cabin-less lake serves as a remarkable contrast with nearby Lake Vermilion’s well-developed shoreline. Most of those in attendance had never been on Lost Lake before and all were impressed with the diversity and beauty of the shoreline.
“Lost Lake is one of my favorite places,” said Alexander, although he tries to schedule most of the group’s outings a bit closer to the core Mesabi Range to encourage more turnout. “I was actually surprised that we had as many people turn out as we did at Lost Lake,” he added.
For several people, the paddle was their first time taking part in a MOA-sponsored event, and as they paddled and chatted, this newly-assembled group made the kind of connections that Alexander has set as his organization’s goal. “It’s working really well,” said Alexander.
If you’d like to try a MOA- sponsored adventure, they’ll be meeting at the West Two Reservoir near Virginia on Friday, July 10, starting at 8 p.m. Next Monday, beginning at 5:30 p.m., the group is sponsoring a ride at the new Redhead mountain biking trails in Chisholm. Check their Facebook page or website for more details.