The idea of the Hyland Sole Mates began almost a year before we actually called ourselves that.
On Saturday, July 4, 2020, a few months into the COVID-19 pandemic, I had just finished leading a hike at Lebanon Hills Regional Park in Eagan, as a hiking leader for the Twin Cities Hiking Meetup. I was approached by two hikers, Teresa and Diane, who asked me if I led any organized hikes during the week. I told them I didn’t, but I hiked by myself at Hyland Lake Park Reserve in Bloomington a couple of mornings during the week. If they were interested in joining me, I’d post a Friday morning hike on the Meetup site — which provides opportunities for people to come together to share activities they enjoy — so others could join, too. Without a moment’s hesitation, they both said “Yes!”
That afternoon, I posted the hike, with a maximum of 10 participants per COVID guidelines. Within minutes, the hike was full.
That first hike at the Hyland Lake Park Reserve Visitor Center on Friday, July 10, was a huge success. Hyland offered everything a hiker could want: wide trails that allowed for six-foot social-distancing, wildlife like turkeys and deer, the beauty of the trees. On top of that, the trails were smooth — without roots, rocks or other hazards — and well-maintained, creating an environment for people of varying skill levels and abilities. There was plenty of parking in the nearby parking lots, and drinking water and bathrooms nearby. And the location was magical: we were in the middle of the city but felt like we were in the wilderness.
So I posted another hike for the next Friday. And then for the Friday after that. Within three weeks, we had “regulars” — hikers who made this Friday morning hike a part of their Friday routine. At this point, it was starting to become clear to me and the regular hikers that this Friday morning hike at Hyland was going to be something special. Birdie, one of the regulars and already a hiking friend of mine, agreed to share leadership responsibilities with me and became co-leader of the then-unnamed group.
Hiking Through the Seasons
In the early days of the group, so much was unknown about COVID, and the abundance of caution meant there weren’t many things that we could do safely. But hiking was one of them.
Even when we couldn’t see our co-workers or our families, we could see each other every week at our Friday hikes. We began to create strong bonds built off of our love of hiking. Hiking was one of the ways we could take care of ourselves and connect with other people. Through this mutual interest, we began a wonderful discovery of how big and beautiful Hyland Park Reserve is. We were constantly finding new trails while traveling on our favorites.
As state and local COVID restrictions eased, we added more spots to the weekly hike. We quickly filled as many as 18 spots each week. In November 2020, when our regular hiking trails became cross-country ski routes, we moved across the park to Richardson Nature Center. Even on the coldest days that winter, nearly all 18 regulars came to hike.
Our hikes returned to the Hyland Visitor Center in the spring of 2021. We began noticing that new hikers who hiked at a different pace lost their way in the sprawling trails. To mark the path, we left little red flags along the way to show the slower hikers where to go, but with limited success.
To guide newer hikers, what we really needed was better hiking trail signs. We contacted Three Rivers Park District in May of 2021 and connected with Boe Carlson, the superintendent of the park district. Boe walked part of the trail with Birdie and me. We explained the necessity of hiking trail signs to guide hikers through the trees and follow specific routes. We were thrilled that Boe agreed that hiking trail signs would help not only our hiking group but all hikers using the park.
The Friday morning hikers were energized by Boe’s approval and began raising money for the new signs. To donate the money as a group, we decided we needed a name. The hikers voted to become the Hyland Sole Mates. And in June, the Hyland Sole Mates submitted $640 to the Three Rivers Park District for new hiking signs: numbered signs that would show specific points on the trail and on the accompanying trail map.
After a delay because of supply-chain problems, we are hopeful that new hiking trail signs will be in place next year and the Hyland Sole Mates will be showing park visitors our favorite routes at Hyland and at Richardson Nature Center.
The Hike Continues
Back in 2020, we started with 4- to 5-mile hikes on the woodchip path around Hyland Lake, moving up to the hills by the Hyland Hills Ski Area at a moderate pace in our early weeks. But within six weeks we were up to 6 miles at a brisk pace with an optional trek down and back up a ski hill at the end. Two years later, we hike 7 to 7.5 miles every Friday and go at a 15- to 16-minute mile pace!
The Hyland Sole Mates continues to be a vital hiking club. Many of the hikers who started that July day in 2020 are still with the group and many more who have joined since are crucial to our success. Birdie and I are grateful to the Sole Mates who have stepped up to lead when we can't -- Pat, Kazem, Bion and Bob — and for all the Sole Mates who make this hiking club so special.
We’ve even expanded our reach beyond Friday morning hikes! The Hyland Sole Mates Hiking Club now offers full moon hikes with a campfire at Richardson Nature Center in the fall and spring months. We celebrate each other’s birthdays with donuts (and sometimes an adult beverage) once a month after a Friday morning hike. We hold gear swaps in the spring and fall to share hiking gear and other household belongings we no longer need. And four times a year, the Sole Mates come together to pack meals at Feed My Starving Children. We have morphed into something none of us could have imagined two years ago.
I have been hiking with Twin Cities Hiking Meetup for over eight years and leading hikes for seven years, but there is something special about this Friday morning group, the Hyland Sole Mates, that I’ve never seen before. They started acting like a family: listening to each other’s stories, taking care of each other and offering help when someone needs it. It's not me; it's not the other leaders. It's what happens when we all come together.
What caused this hiking group to be different than the others? Maybe it’s the awesome hikers, maybe it’s life in the time of COVID, or maybe there’s a little magic found in the wooded trails and paths of Hyland on a Friday morning. Like any magic, you can’t explain it, but you know it when you feel it.
I’m overwhelmed by the kindness and empathy the Sole Mates show each other, and their enthusiasm and willingness to follow Birdie and me on any trail we lead them. I believe many great and wonderful connections around the country, and even the world, came out of the tragedy of the COVID pandemic. The Hyland Sole Mates is just one of them.
From the Sole Mates
“It has been utmost pleasure of mine to be with this amazing group in last two years.” —Kazem M.
“Thanks Hyland Sole Mates for two years of amazing hiking and wonderful friendships.” —Elaine D.
“Two years ago, I gave this hike a shot as a weekly social outlet to combat the isolation of the COVID lockdown (while getting some exercise and fresh air). But it became so much more than that. Congratulations to everyone who has made this group what it is today... active, welcoming, engaging... amazing!” —John B., who came up with our name, Hyland Sole Mates
“This group is a window to the real world. Without any family or close friends in this country, my connection to the surrounding world is mainly through books and other media. This group provides me with a chance to observe how the real people live in the real world.” —Juno, an expatriate from South Korea
“Everyone in the group is so friendly, welcoming, cares about each other. And it’s an added bonus that they all love to be outside and active!” —Elaine R.
If you’re interested in joining the Hyland Sole Mates for a Friday morning hike, check out the Twin Cities Hiking Meetup for details and to sign up.
About the Author
Bev has been an avid hiker for over 30 years. She, and many of the members of the Hyland Sole Mates hiking group, have hiked in many parks around the Twin Cities area, Minnesota and Wisconsin state parks, and segments of Superior Hiking Trail. Bev’s European hiking adventures include hiking the Cleveland Way in Yorkshire England, the Dolomites in northern Italy and the Camino de Santiago in Spain. Bev has lived in Bloomington, Minn., for almost 25 years and her favorite park in the whole world is Hyland Lake Park Reserve.
Could you complete 52 hikes in one year? That's what one Three Rivers employee set out to do in 2019. Learn about her experience taking on the 52 Hike Challenge and why you might want to try it for yourself in 2020.