• Jessica Stough

Adventuring Close to Home - Pinicon Ridge Park & the Iowa State Parks

Updated: Mar 5

“I like someone who embraces life; who wants to be on a long journey but has no particular plan or destination in mind. An adventurous man, open to the concept of living life in the moment.” -Jill Hennessy


I thought for sure with the long weekend, I would have had all the time in the world to write, read, workout, clean, and do all sorts of other things I typically have limited time for. Somehow, though, Sunday is already here, I’ll be back to work tomorrow, and I feel like I haven’t gotten a lot of “extra” stuff done this weekend.


This time last year, had this weekend gone the same way it did this year, I would probably be beating myself up for not being productive enough. I could let it bother me now, but I have decided to instead appreciate everything I was able to accomplish and do this weekend.


Thursday, I was able to get two of the dogs to the vet, bring breakfast pizza to Zac at work, and do some very last-minute Christmas shopping. I also brought a bunch of clothes to the thrift store to donate. Finally, I was able to make a few batches of Chex mix.


Both Christmas Eve and Christmas, we spent quality time with family. Being able to spend that time with family was the absolute most important thing to do over the holiday weekend, of course. For that reason alone, I wouldn't beat myself up for anything I maybe wanted to do but didn't. Christmas Eve, we got together with Zac’s side of the family. Christmas day, we got together with my side of the family. Both days were filled with fun, good food, games, laughter, gifts, and good company.

 

Before the Christmas festivities started, though, on Christmas Eve, I had the opportunity to join in on a group hike that I had actually found through TikTok. A good friend showed me the TikTok page, which led me to an Instagram page and a Facebook group. Before I knew it, I was posting in the Facebook group to see if anyone wanted to carpool from Des Moines out to Central City, Iowa for a Christmas Eve hike.


This entire situation was a great reminder that it truly is such a small world. That was made clear when I posted in the Facebook group and someone else who runs at Fleet Feet commented, saying she wanted to go as well. We decided to make the trek together, neither of us knowing what to expect out of the group or the hike. I am always open to trying new things on my own, but it is just so much more enjoyable with someone else.


We made our way to Pinicon Ridge Park for some hiking and hammocking. I actually thought it was a state park, but realized after the fact that it was not. Having no idea what to expect, it was definitely a hidden gem tucked away in a small section of Iowa.

We hiked just a bit into the woods, then set up our hammocks. The official group number for the day was thirteen people and four dogs, including Buzz. Not only was I uncertain what to expect of the park, but I was also unsure what to expect of the people. The group was so fun, and everyone made each and every participant feel welcome and included. A large portion of the group seemed to have gotten together multiple times already – so seeing that kind of group mentality and inclusiveness was incredible.

We lounged around in our hammocks for a while, hanging out and chatting with the group. Relaxing in hammocks, looking straight up at trees that seem to go forever, is such a fun experience. It was during our hammocking that I learned about forest bathing, which is “the practice of immersing yourself in nature in a mindful way, using your senses to derive a whole range of benefits for your physical, mental, emotional, and social health” (Healing Forest).


Although I had never heard of the term forest bathing before, I immediately resonated with the idea behind it. I always feel so refreshed and recharged after days of hiking and adventuring out in nature. I’ve had people tell me they think I’m crazy because “how could you possibly feel relaxed and recharged after hiking nonstop for days on end?!” but it truly does have that exact effect.

After a few hours of hiking and hammocking with the group, we made our way back to Des Moines. I got home with just enough time to change out of my hiking clothes for our Christmas Eve dinner with the family. It was such a fun way to spend the day, and I am so thankful for the seemingly random way that a simple TikTok could lead me to a new group of people (and hiking activities!).

 

To be honest, the group made me realize just how little I know about our state parks and the activities to do right here in my backyard. Although Pinicon Ridge was not a state park, it still got me exploring our state parks and recreation options. I quickly found an inclusive list of our Iowa State Parks.


I would love it if someone could reach out and share that they too had no idea we had over 70 state parks in Iowa. Embarrassingly enough, I believe I’ve only been to six. I mean, where have I been my entire life anyway? I call myself an adventurer and a hiker, but haven’t ever heard of over half of our state parks? Psh.

On top of our 70+ state parks, we also have over 40,000 acres of state forest. We have 95 state preserves too, along with even more things I am sure I have missed. I found an awesome map of the state parks online, only to realize the map is actually a bandana for sale! What a fun way to keep track of the state park adventures – maybe even using the bandana to mark them off as parks are visited. I linked the bandana both to share and because I might come back to it and purchase one for myself.

 

All in all, I am extremely glad that I found that group, met new people, made some new friendships, and opened the door for new adventures close to home. To add to everything else that was so awesome about the adventure, the weather for the day was absolutely beautiful. The day started with an eerie but magical fog over everything. Eventually, it got up to nearly 60 degrees, all in late December in Iowa! I will take advantage of that type of weather as often as I possibly can.


I imagine 2022 will be filled with some more exploration of our state, along with whatever adventures come along. I hope that my adventures close to home will continue throughout the year, proving just like this Christmas Eve hike did that Iowa can be exciting – we just have to know where to look.


I will continue to call this adventuring close to home, but did find that Alastair Humphreys, a well-known British adventurer and author, appropriately called these (and similar activities) ‘microadventures,’ meaning they are “… short, simple, local, cheap—yet still fun, exciting, challenging, refreshing and rewarding.”


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