People of the Parks: Wandering Pine

By: Alyssa Schauer

October 28, 2019

Category: People of the Parks

Jen Theisen, 47, also known as Wandering Pine in the social media world and one of Three Rivers Parks most loyal visitors, found her love of the outdoors by simply saying “YES.”

Yes to volunteering for Boy Scouts. Yes to going camping. Yes to leading a backpacking trip through Glacier National Park. Yes to being an ambassador for Women Who Hike. Yes. Yes. Yes! 

“Technically, I had no business saying ‘yes’ to any of those things based on my background or experience, but I was willing to learn and more importantly, I was invited,” Jen said.

Her friendliness and enthusiasm radiated from her kind, hazel eyes and big grin as she excitedly reflected on her journey into the outdoors.

A mom of two sons, a senior designer at Target, a Boy Scout leader, a violinist at her church, a brand ambassador for Women Who Hike, a Granite Gear Grounds Keeper and an avid blogger for her personal site, Wandering Pine, Jen shared what ignited her passion to get outside, how she believes in being an advocate for the outdoors, empowering women along the way, and what environmental stewardship means to her.

Getting Outside for the First Time

Jen started hiking and exploring the outdoors more about seven years ago when her sons joined Boy Scouts. She emphasized that she was not an “outdoorsy” person.

“As a mom of boys, my job was primarily to be the driver to Scouts. My husband was a leader and he was involved, but I was really the mom who just sat in the back of the room, waiting for the meeting to be over,” Jen said.

But after doing that for a while, she said their Scoutmaster approached her and invited her to be a volunteer.

“I felt completely unqualified to do something like that. I didn't really have an outdoorsy background, but after I got some training, I went to my first summer camp with the Scouts and I was exposed to all these outdoor opportunities that I had never been exposed to before!” 

A woman hugs a tree.
Jen finds her love of the outdoors. 

“It unlocked this desire to do all these fun things outside and ever since, I became this person who loves adventure, who loves being outside. I am extremely thankful to scouting for igniting a passion in me to do things I didn’t even know I love to do,” she said.

“When I look back, I think I was pretty courageous and maybe a little bit foolish to say ‘Oh I can lead the Scouts on a backpacking trip through Glacier, but if I didn’t try it, if I didn’t say ‘yes,’ I would not be who I am today. I value that experience.”

Jen in Three Rivers

From Boy Scout meetings at Eastman Nature Center to camping with her family at Baker Park Reserve, planning snowshoeing adventures at French Regional Park and paddling Twin Lakes in Robbinsdale, Jen has a wealth of experiences adventuring in Three Rivers.

“I will say it’s hard to pick a favorite park in Three Rivers, but my most frequented parks are French and Elm Creek,” Jen said.

“Honestly, I never even came to French park until I had a baby. And I lived maybe 10 minutes away from there for years.” She said a friend told her about its great playground, so she came to check it out with her oldest son who absolutely loved it.

“It’s like our backyard to us, now. My family has spent more time at that park than any other park in Three Rivers. We bring our kayaks and paddleboards there. We have picnics. We go snowshoeing. I tried cross-country skiing. Everything happens at French.”

Jen added that her “whole opinion of winter” changed at French, too.

“For real, I HATED winter for at least 20 years. I am a southern California native and for the two decades I lived in Minnesota, I was like ‘UGH, winter,’” she laughed.

“But then my one outdoorsy friend I had at the time told me I should borrow some snowshoes and I ran around in them in my yard and thought, ‘These are neat!’”

She said that she found the cardio and moving around in the winter kept her warm. “I’ve never been cold snowshoeing, and we come to French every January 1 for a New Year’s hike. It could be below zero, but we’re toasty.”

Three people in winter hats and coats stand around a red sign that says "beach closed."
Enjoying the first hike of the year at French Regional Park.

Jen is also a frequent visitor at Elm Creek Park Reserve, where she does more long-distance hiking. She noted that her son’s Eagle Scout Court of Honor ceremony was held at Eastman Nature Center.

“The people out there were super nice in helping us get everything coordinated. We love that nature center!”

On Hiking

Of all the adventures and activities Jen does outside, she said hiking is her favorite. And her recent completion of all 310 miles of the Superior Hiking Trail proves it.

“Hiking is definitely my hobby. My kids are getting older and I sort of thought, ‘What am I gonna do when they don’t need me hovering over them?’ So I started hiking and it just took off!”

In 2017, Jen joined the 52 Hike Challenge, a global movement inspiring people to discover the physical, mental, emotional and spiritual benefits gained through hiking once a week for an entire year.

She’s continued to participate in the challenge each year and finished her 52nd hike for 2019 in June! Since then, she has logged many, many more miles and recently finished her last section on the Superior Hiking Trail.

“It feels so good to have finished that trail, and I am blown away by the generosity, kindness, strength and friendship that has come out of that adventure. It changed me,” Jen said.

Get the detailed account of her Superior Hiking journey and see all her stunning photographs on her blog.

A woman hiker stands next to a superior trail hiking sign.
Jen completed the Superior Hiking Trail this summer.

Creating and Becoming Wandering Pine

Jen’s alias, Wandering Pine, is a fusion of her passion for exploring the outdoors and her nature-y namesake.

“It’s like returning to my childhood. ’Pine’ is actually my maiden name, so when I decided to write a blog, I wanted to capture some of that playfulness. I wanted to go back to the things I loved when I was a kid.”

“When I started my blog, I was doing it for myself and I thought if anyone gets anything positive out of it, then that’s a bonus.”

Jen said that being outside and hiking are very social activities for her, which is why she also wanted to begin sharing her outdoor adventures on Instagram, too.

“My Instagram account is about all the things I celebrate in the outdoors. I really promote micro-adventures because that’s the basis of most of my adventuring. I think you can absolutely get inspired by those hiking in the Alps or summiting Mount Kilimanjaro, but you know what? I haven’t even been to every Three Rivers park nor have I hiked every state park in Minnesota yet. There’s so much in our own backyard, and I really want to share that and show that.”

Since sharing her adventures on her blog and starting Wandering Pine social accounts on Facebook and Instagram, Jen has met so many friends in the outdoor community and beyond.

She applied and was accepted to be an ambassador for Women Who Hike, a worldwide organization that empowers women on and off the trail.

A collage of images of women hiking.
Having fun on the trail with Women Who Hike.

“I had a serious lacking of female friendships in my life. I’ve always been one of the guys and known as a tomboy for most of my life, but making friends with women has been so enriching in my life.”

As an ambassador for Women Who Hike, Jen regularly plans group hikes at parks and trails around the metro. She tries to consider all ability levels, lifestyles, mobility issues, etc.

“I really try to plan things that are inclusive. Something like a 6-mile hike on a 3-mile loop so people can peel off whenever they want. There are women in the group who have hiked the Appalachian Trail, women with mobility issues, women with babies, women with dog babies. The list goes on.”

Jen said by being an ambassador, she realized how much she loves bringing communities together. 

“It’s why I love the 52 Hike Challenge, Women Who Hike and the Boy Scouts so much —anything that helps get people outside.”

Learning and Living Environmental Stewardship

In addition to being an ambassador for Women Who Hike, Jen is a Granite Gear Grounds Keeper, which includes a diverse team of hikers and paddlers who leave trails and waterways better than they found them. The program involves picking up as much trash as possible while on trail.

“Just being in the outdoors, you start to be more in tune with nature and you begin to realize that we really need to take care of it. I think we’re so detached in our cars and our houses and cubicles, and just being out there, you realize how dire it really is to care for the environment,” Jen said.

“I don’t consider myself an environmentalist, but just doing the little things to show I care, like picking up trash while on a hike, will hopefully cause a ripple effect and inspire others to care, too.”

A woman in a trucker hat holds up a bag of trash collected from the trail.
Keeping the trail clean as a Granite Gear Grounds Keeper.

Continuing to Live a Life of Adventure

“I don’t see myself getting sick of nature,” Jen laughed. “I value all of these experiences in the outdoors, and without them, I would not be who I am today.”

“I feel younger. I feel happier. I feel fulfilled in my life — like I have more meaning. I feel like I’m maybe more connected to who I was really meant to be.” 

 

Photos courtesy of Jen Theisen.

About the Author

a smiling woman wearing a straw hat

Alyssa Schauer is part of the marketing team at Three Rivers. She earned her Bachelor's degree in poetry writing and communications at Winona State University and formerly worked as a journalist at a small-town newspaper. After college, she volunteered with the Minnesota Conservation Corps to clear and maintain trails in Superior National Forest and the Boundary Waters. Outside of work, she spends time in the woods looking at everything up close (especially ferns and spiders), writing poems about nature, canoeing with her husband, planning Halloween costumes year-round, playing Nintendo and raising a pride of four naughty (but cute!) cats.

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