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Brad Dokken column: Guarded optimism – and yes, a bit of pessimism – greet the new year

I’m approaching 2021 with lowered expectations and a realistic, though also somewhat pessimistic, outlook. I’m not counting on anything and will work to make the best of the cards I’m dealt. That's all any of us can do.

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Whether in the U.S. or on a remote lake in northwestern Ontario, the setting for this photo, time outdoors will continue to be time well-spent in 2021. (Photo/ Brad Dokken, Grand Forks Herald)

In hindsight, I should have seen it as a sign that 2020 was going to be a real dud.

And that’s putting it mildly.

New Year’s Day 2020, I was in the Minneapolis airport waiting to catch a flight to Thief River Falls when my phone beeped with a text alert that a charge of more than $600 had been made against my debit card.


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The charge was unauthorized, and my card had been hacked, but there was nothing I could do on a holiday but log into my account and freeze my card.
At least I had that option.


So began a stressful start to a year that has been a real kick in the teeth, at times, on just about every level imaginable, thanks in large part to a pandemic that continues to interrupt our lives nearly 10 months after its ugly arrival.

Traditionally, my first column of the new year is a look ahead with anticipation of what’s in store for the coming months. The column published Sunday, Jan. 5, 2020, was no exception and highlighted a July fly-in fishing trip some friends and I had been planning for months to a remote lake in northwestern Ontario.

That trip, of course, never happened. The U.S.-Canada border closed to nonessential travel in March and prospects for reopening are uncertain, at best.

We’re rebooked for the same July dates this year, but I’ll be very much surprised if the border is open by then. I hope I’m wrong, but realistically, I don’t think we’re far enough down the road to putting this pandemic in the rear-view mirror to look ahead with anything more than guarded optimism.

In that context, I’m approaching 2021 with lowered expectations and a realistic, though also somewhat pessimistic, outlook.

I’m not counting on anything and will work to make the best of the cards I’m dealt.

That’s all that any of us can do.

As it was in 2020, the outdoors will be a refuge, though not on the scale I came to enjoy – and often took for granted – before the pandemic descended. Instead of fly-in fishing trips to Canada and multiple excursions across the border, time outdoors in 2021 probably will continue to mean fewer gatherings with friends and staying closer to home.


That stinks, but in the vernacular of the day, it is what it is.

In recent months, for example, I’ve come to discover the beauty of the Greenway along the Red and Red Lake rivers and the piece of mind that comes from a hike along its miles of paved trails. I’ve carved out a route that takes me from my house to Lincoln Drive Park and over the walking bridge into Minnesota, and it’s a trek I’ve really come to enjoy. Now that we’re finally getting some snow, I’ll probably strap on the snowshoes and explore even more new spots in the Greenway.

There also will be trips to the getaway in northern Minnesota whenever time and weather conditions allow, whether it be for snowmobiling, ice fishing or just hanging out by the fire.

Sometime in the next few weeks, I’m hoping to travel the winter road that’s being developed on Lake of the Woods from Springsteel Resort north of Warroad, Minn., to the Northwest Angle. The road covers some 22 miles of ice before hitting land near Stony Point and following the cut in the trees along the Minnesota-Manitoba border for another 10 miles or so to the county road that leads to the Northwest Angle and the ice road to Oak and Flag islands.

As of the last update I saw from Sunday, Dec. 27, on the "NWA Guest Ice Road" Facebook page, the road was staked, and the ice was 10 to 14 inches thick in most areas, with a few trouble spots where ice was 6 to 8 inches thick. The road won't open until there's 15 inches of ice.

If all goes according to plan, the road, which carries a fee of $125 to the mainland and $145 to the islands – last I heard – should be open in the next couple of weeks, organizers say. No doubt resorts up there need the business after a summer in which the Angle was inaccessible by road to everyone but permanent residents and essential workers because of the Canadian border closure.

I look forward to my trips to the Angle and the good fishing I’ve enjoyed up there over the years, both summer and winter.

Stay tuned.


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So that’s where I’m at as 2021 begins. Here’s hoping family and friends stay safe and healthy, and that optimism returns for all of us.

As for 2020: Good riddance.

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Brad Dokken

Brad Dokken joined the Herald company in November 1985 as a copy editor for Agweek magazine and has been the Grand Forks Herald's outdoors editor since 1998.

Besides his role as an outdoors writer, Dokken has an extensive background in northwest Minnesota and Canadian border issues and provides occasional coverage on those topics.

Reach him at bdokken@gfherald.com, by phone at (701) 780-1148 or on Twitter at @gfhoutdoor.
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