The Brass Messengers

40 Miles: A Birthday Walk

Last year, I read the story of an “Extreme FitBit user” who celebrated her 40th birthday by stepping a total of 40 miles. I knew immediately that this is how I wanted to mark my milestone year. Since my birthday is in January, I had to have a belated walking celebration. I chose Saturday, May 21 because it was FitBit Goal Day 2016, a day when FitBit encourages people to beat their personal bests.

Walk Stats

Distance: 40.1 miles
Elapsed time: 16 hours and 14 minutes
Moving time: 11 hours and 54 minutes
FitBit Step Total for the day: 90,404 (new record and I received the Rocket Boot badge)

Walk Route

Walk locations: Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minnesota
I walked in or along the boundaries of  31 neighborhoods (25 in Minneapolis and 6 in St. Paul).

Walk route: I planned a route based on my desire to attend the Little Free Library Fest to watch the Tutu Challenge and listen to The Brass Messengers. I chose point of interest and started connecting them to form a route and in doing so, the theme “parks and education” emerged.  A perfect fit for me since I place a high value on both as investments in our community.

I knew I likely wouldn’t follow the route map precisely because of unanticipated circumstances and ignorance about specific streets’ walking conditions. That said, I followed it pretty closely. Here’s a map showing the difference between my plan (blue) and what actually happened (red).

Walk Recap

I documented my progress mile-by-mile on Twitter. By using the official FitBit hashtag #GoalDay2016, I knew I’d be able to show people what I love so much about walking in Minneapolis and St. Paul. In fact, I met a fellow FitBitter, James via Twitter last year during Goal Day and we’ve stayed in touch ever since. We even have plans of giving each other tours of our respective college campuses (University of Minnesota and Harvard University).

Starting Line

Start time: 5:06 a.m.

Janelle at the Bryant Avenue Pedestrian Bridge

Janelle at the Bryant Avenue Pedestrian Bridge

Miles 1 – 5

Minneapolis neighborhoods: Lynnhurst, Linden Hills, West Calhoun, Cedar-Isles-Dean

Mile 1: I was able to watch the sun rise over Lake Harriet. While walking along the western shore, I was greeted by a gaggle of geese and goslings.

Mile 2: Near Beard’s Plaisance in Linden Hills, I took a photo of a home I visited during a past Homes by Architects Tour.

Mile 3: As I walked along the western edge of Bde Maka Ska (Lake Calhoun), I noted how much I love early morning walks in Minneapolis. Living up to its tagline “A City by Nature,” the fish were flopping, birds chirping, and geese waddling.

Mile 4: A flowering tree caught my attention and I was grateful I have the ability to spend all day exploring cities I love on foot.

Mile 5: Minneapolis has several dedicated pedestrian and bike trails and at this point in the walk, I started using Kenilworth Trail. The trails were covered in a beautiful blanket of fog.

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Break #1: Cedar Lake East Beach
Always late (or early?) to the party, I visited the infamous “Hidden Beach” for the first time. It’s a pretty classic Janelle move to go to a place with a reputation for partying before 7 a.m. After walking around on the empty beach, I returned to the park entrance just as a bus with the phrase “Humans are Weird” rolled in. Maybe I should have followed it back?

Walking Partner: My weekly walking partner and friend of 10+ years, Lisa joined me at Cedar Lake East Beach. I wrote about our friendship in “Walk this Way: Lake Street and Marshall Avenue.”

Janelle and Lisa

Janelle and Lisa

Miles 6 – 10

Minneapolis neighborhoods: Kenwood, Bryn Mawr, Harrison, Summer-Glenwood, Near North, Jordan, and Hawthorne

Mile 6: We exited Kenilworth Trail to join Cedar Lake Trail.

Mile 7: We crossed the bridge over the BNSF tracks to Bryn Mawr Meadows Park.

Mile 8: Walking along Cedar Lake Road, I snapped a photo of the railroad tracks which led my eye to the Minneapolis skyline. We also stopped briefly to take a look at Basset Creek.

Mile 9: We spotted a duck on the roof of a home in the Summer-Glenwood neighborhood at the intersection of 8th Avenue N & Van White Memorial Blvd.

Mile 10: One of my favorite organizations in Minneapolis is Juxtaposition Arts and anytime I’m in the area, I walk by to admire the murals, mosaics, and garden. As they describe themselves on their website, “Juxtaposition Arts is a non-profit youth art education program + teen-staffed art and design enterprise + locally rooted cultural development center.”

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Break #2: Nellie Stone Johnson School & Farview Park

In planning the parks and education route, I was thrilled to discover Nellie Stone Johnson Community School. The name on the map jumped out at me because my family calls often shortens my name to Nellie. Even though I was simply walking by the school, taking time to know more about Nellie Stone Johnson was a small way to pay tribute to her significant contributions to labor and education, especially for people of color. The Nellie Stone Johnson Scholarship Program honors Nellie’s significant contributions to the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities Board of Trustees.

Our next stop was Farview Park which involved a climb up a hill. I’m thankful it was early in the day! The effort to climb the hill was worth it as it offers one of the best views of downtown Minneapolis in the city (a pretty good view of the Mississippi River, too). As I mentioned in “Walk this Way: Lyndale Avenue,” watching the sunrise from the bench at Farview Park is on my wish list.

Miles 11 – 15

Minneapolis neighborhoods: Harrison, Near North, North Loop, Downtown West, Loring Park, Stevens Square/Loring Heights, Whittier

Mile 11: We met a fun group on a “spring bike-a-bout.” Let me know if you recognize anyone from this photo. I regret not taking down their names so I could send them this recap. But to be fair, we were shouting at each other from opposite sides of a wide street.

Break #3: Befitting the walk theme, we made a quick pitstop at the Minneapolis Park & Recreation Board administrative office. I picked up a few Minneapolis trail maps and noted the Pop Up Park trailer outside.

Mile 12: We chose to walk along the Mississippi River on West River Parkway for our journey south (shout out to Nate for the route suggestion!).

Lisa and I parted ways at the Hennepin Avenue Bridge so I was back walking solo until I picked up my next walking partner.

Mile 13: Back to urban trails (as in downtown sidewalks), I met Marcia and Leland, constant companions who celebrate life everyday. Though I introduced myself, I forgot to exchange contact information with Marcia and Leland. If you happen to know them, please send a link to this blog post to them. Meeting them was one of the highlights of my day!

Mile 14: Because of my spontaneous route diversion, I added University of St. Thomas to the list of campuses I visited during this walk. The Minneapolis campus is home to the Law School which opened during my tenure as the University of Minnesota’s pre-law advisor and career counselor.

Mile 15: I’m so happy I happened upon the Stevens Square Community Organization Clean Sweep event right as a volunteer found a giant “Swipe Right” heart. This had to have won best trash treasure that day. It is an excellent capture of a moment in time. Will we remember what it’s referencing years from now? Do you know what it’s referencing now? I plan on sending a link to this post to the neighborhood association in hopes it will find its way to this cleanup crew.

[Mental] Break #4: I intended to rest at Washburn Fair Oaks Park, Minneapolis Institute of Art, and Minneapolis College of Art and Design but I was running late to meet my next walking partner. So, instead I walked a tad slower through the park, walked through the MIA entrance to its courtyard and through the MCAD campus.

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Miles 16- 20

Minneapolis neighborhoods: Phillips West, Powderhorn Park, Standish

Mile 16: The route I chose allowed me to see downtown Minneapolis from all sides.

Mile 17: Time for break #5 at Midtown Global Market with my husband, Scott, my next walking partner for the day.

Mile 18: Just as Scott stopped to pet a dog, its owner emerged from May Day Cafe, a great spot near Powderhorn Park.

Mile 19: The beautiful weather lured people of all ages outside to enjoy Sibley Park.

Mile 20: At Lake Hiawatha Park, I celebrated the halfway point. Of course this got stuck in my head:

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Miles 21 – 25

Minneapolis neighborhoods: Ericsson, Hiawatha
St. Paul neighborhoods: Highland, Macalester-Groveland

Mile 21: My heart always leads me back to Minnehaha Creek. Instead of walking along Hiawatha Avenue, we opted to take the Grand Rounds trail to Minnehaha Park.

Break #6: My route was planned around attending the Little Free Library Festival to cheer on the Tutu Mob (including fellow writer, Heidi) and dance to The Brass Messengers. Scott bought me a Surly Hell from Sea Salt Eatery and we each had a burger from Neato’s. While hanging out at Minnehaha Park, we bumped into our friend Brian and his son Dean. I met Brian a few years ago when he gave me a tour of the Hiawatha neighborhood for my Minneapolis 81 blog (currently on sabbatical).

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Walking partner: I was joined by Allie, one of the first friends I made when I moved to Minnesota 14 years ago. We were coworkers at the Career and Community Learning Center (now College of Liberal Arts Career Center) at the University of Minnesota.

Janelle and Allie

Janelle and Allie

Mile 22: Allie and I left Minnehaha Park and walked across the Intercity Bridge to St. Paul.

Mile 23: I hit my first wall. The sun was unrelenting and my lunchtime burger and beer were signaling my brain that it was naptime. So, it’s no surprise that this mile marker also has the worst photo capture of the day (blurry photos of someone’s front yard flower bed).

Mile 24: St. Catherine University, better known as St. Kate’s,  has campuses in both St. Paul and Minneapolis. This private Catholic liberal arts university has an enrollment just under 5,000 students.

Mile 25: We walked along W James Avenue toward University of St. Thomas. Their undergraduate commencement ceremony was in progress when we arrived on campus. We didn’t spend much time on their St. Paul campus and didn’t even cross Summit Avenue to join the celebration near Anderson Student Center (which is under surveillance). That’s the tough part about walking to meet a mileage goal – no time to stop and linger at any one place for too long.

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Miles 26 – 30

St. Paul neighborhoods: Macalester-Groveland, Union Park, Hamline-Midway

Mile 26.2: A milestone on a long distance walk crossing over the distance of a marathon and entering ultra-marathon status.

Break #7: Allie and I sat for a spell on the Macalester College campus where a little caterpillar wanted to hitch a ride on my leg for the rest of the walk.  [Side note: at the time of this writing, the Macalester College website was featuring a course called Cycling the Urban Landscape. Also, if I had walked by MCAD a week earlier I may have had a brush with fame.]

Mile 27: At this point I was hitting another wall. As I walked passed all the Summit Avenue mansions, all I could think/daydream/fantasize about was big plush sofas and chairs that they likely have inside.

In between mile 27 and 28, Allie and I went our separate ways. I originally planned to walk further east the intersection of Lincoln and Dale so I could walk past my first place I lived when I moved to Minnesota. For some reason I just couldn’t do it. It felt too far. Which is ridiculous since I was committed to walking 40 miles and I had 12 more to go.

Mile 28: The business node at Snelling and Selby Avenues have changed quite a bit since I lived in the area. I forgot how busy Snelling Avenue is, and the driver behavior while I was on that street was not nice. I took a couple photos of multiple vehicles completely blocking the intersection while the walk sign was on for me to cross Selby.

Mile 29: I walked along Charles Avenue since it is a Bikeway and generally speaking streets that are designated for bikes are often (but not always!) more pleasant for walkers. Now that I’m looking at the map, I’m actually not sure why I walked east on Charles Avenue since I was supposed to be walking to north to Hamline University. Oh well, it was a lovely stroll regardless.

Mile 30: Throughout the day I witnessed at least three commencement ceremonies, and when I reached Hamline University theirs was just ending. I spotted a graduate taking photos of her shiny new diploma and her decorated mortarboard. (It said, “I teach. What’s your Super Power?”). I introduced myself and learned her name is Jessica, and she agreed to be part of my mile 30 photo. I inquired about her degree and she graduated with a degree in education, and plans to continue onto graduate school for education administration. Talking with her actually gave me more energy (or “super power” as her cap suggests).

Fast forward to 10:30 p.m. and Nate Pentz tweeted me a photo of himself with Jessica at her graduation party. You may remember that Nate provided me with route advice and was already a part of my day. What a fun coincidence!

Walking Partner: Scott returned for the final 10 miles and could join me at the finish line celebration.

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Miles 31 – 35

St. Paul neighborhoods: Como, St. Anthony Park
Minneapolis neighborhood: Como
Falcon Heights neighborhood: University Grove

Mile 31: We had to cross Energy Park Drive and a bunch of railroad tracks so we had to walk along Snelling Avenue. At this point, I’ve come to expect that any long distance urban hike I take will involve at least one stretch of loud, busy streets with no sun protection. I don’t think it has to be this way and hope that future designs will consider people who are moving without the assistance of a motorized vehicle. In this case, it would be a good investment for the Minnesota State Fair because people would be able to get off the light rail at University Avenue and walk or bike two miles to stuff their faces with Sweet Martha’s cookies, pronto pups, and cheese curds.

Course Cheerleader: Amy’s schedule didn’t allow for her to join me for a segment of the 40 mile walk but that didn’t stop her from connecting with me between mile 31 and 32.

Janelle and Amy

Janelle and Amy

Mile 32: Speaking of the Minnesota State Fair, we decided to walk through the grounds on our way to the Saint Paul campus of the University of Minnesota. It’s weird walking around a place most often experienced with 100,000+ other people. I passed the Minnesota Public Radio booth and wished one of The Current DJs could join our walk to give me some motivation music. Another side note: I need to figure out a way to play music without causing more drain on my phone battery (I have to bring several chargers with me on these walks).

Mile 33: After walking by The Raptor Center (one of the centers I work with for my job at the University of Minnesota), we took break #8 at the St. Paul Student Center. We arrived just as Taal 2016 dance competition was wrapping up. Children with dance medals running around me was just what I needed to keep my energy level up. I regret not asking to get a photo with one of the medalists I met.

Mile 34: We walked from the Saint Paul campus to one of my favorite walking destinations in the Twin Cities – University Grove neighborhood. Read Andy Sturdevant’s Minnpost article for some background and reasons to put this neighborhood on your walking wish list. Unlike some neighborhoods, every time I’ve walked through University Grove, the owners have been outside making it difficult for this shy photographer to capture all of my favorites.

In between mile marker 34 and 35, we passed another educational institution – Luther Seminary. I like to walk around this campus during sunset as its hilltop provides a distant view of the downtown Minneapolis. Related to the interests of readers, Luther Seminary recently sold land to HealthPartners and there are plans for a senior housing development.  The Saint Anthony Park Community Council’s Land Use Committee is tracking the ongoing conversation.

Mile 35: The need to cross Hwy 280 led us to walk along Como Avenue. I wouldn’t designate this street as walkable but I was intrigued by a building plastered in solar panels which turned out to be home of Sunny Day Earth Solutions.

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Miles 36 – 40

Minneapolis neighborhoods: Como, Mid-City Industrial, Beltrami, Marcy Holmes, Downtown West, Downtown East

Mile 36: We walked by 1500 E. Hennepin Avenue which has Chank Diesel murals on two sides. I couldn’t tell if the paint in progress is going to cover the murals entirely?

Mile 37: I wanted to experience some of the art-a-whirl energy so we walked toward Bauhaus Brew Labs which was having an outdoor concert. En route, a comfy looking porch swing caught my eye, as did the cat on the roof.

Mile 38: After walking through a bustling Beltrami Park, we decided to walk south on Central Avenue instead of north. So, no Bauhaus for us. I am rarely on this part of Central Avenue and it was fun to see some nightlife at the intersection of Central and Hennepin. Can you believe I’ve never been to the Otter’s Saloon?

Mile 39: As we walked toward Mill Ruins Park, we stopped to take a photo of Hennepin Avenue Bridge at sunset. We also admired the Full Moon. It was gorgeous and there is no way my iPhone could capture it.

Mile 40: Though not planned, I am thrilled I ended my 40 mile adventure on the Stone Arch Bridge. It offers a spectacular view of downtown Minneapolis and is a gathering spot for people from all walks of life.

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Finish Line

Phew! I made it. And so did you. Scott took a photo of me at my “finish line” and it appears I did have some supernatural powers by my side all along.

Finish time: 9:18 p.m.

Janelle after walking 40 miles

Janelle after walking 40 miles

Janelle Nivens

About Janelle Nivens

Janelle is an urban explorer who likes to challenge herself to walk long distances (40 miles is her record). She lives in southwest Minneapolis with Scott and their adorable dog Stewie and works at the University of Minnesota. Janelle documents what catches her eye on long walks in hopes of inspiring others to discover hidden gems in their own communities. Walk with her on Instagram, Twitter (@Janellie23), and FitBit.