2017: A Year in Review

I started 2017 off a little rocky.

Two weeks into the new year, I got laid off from my first professional job outside of college.

I was working at a tech startup as a content writer. Only nine months into the gig, they decided to eliminate the junior position for something more senior.

Eh, that’s okay.

It happens.

But, man, being out of a job is not a good feeling.

Luckily, things started looking up almost immediately thereafter. Before I knew it, I started at a new company, where I currently work full-time as a content marketing specialist.

As I creep up on my one-year anniversary of starting at this absolutely awesome company, I can’t help but think about everything else that was packed into 2017 — at least, until my head starts hurting.

There was so much that went into this past year. I mean, so much. I wouldn’t even attempt to address it all here. Although, there are a few things I’d like to call out.

2017 Brought Love, Travel, and First-times

The ‘Love’ Part of 2017

Before going any further, I have to say the highlight of the year was getting engaged to Ashley Elizabeth Perron — a beautiful and strong woman, with whom I’ve already spent seven years of my life. Most of that time has been spent laughing, traveling, and figuring out this convoluted world.

We got engaged on the North Shore this past June, just after my 23 birthday. I had been telling her over and over that I had this plan.

Naturally, she didn’t believe a second of it. To humor me, she would say nod and look at me with a mix of disbelieve and cynicism. In most cases, that would be fair I’ll admit. But, this time was different.

I worked with the fine folks at Knox Jewelers to craft a ring that I thought would be worthy of a “yes.” For the record, it definitely was.

Overlooking Lake Superior on a sunny June day, I knelt down on that hard granite palisade and shakily proposed my question. Thankfully, she agreed to marry me.

We finished out the day walking along the shore before making it to Cascade River State Park, where we camped for the weekend.

The ‘Travel’ Part of 2017

Basically, any time we have time off and the money to go, Ashley and I are traveling. Sometimes it’s “locally” and other times it’s somewhere far, far away.

In 2017, our bigger trip this year was to Portugal, but we also visited about a dozen of Minnesota’s state parks, and I took a few trips on my own to bear witness to some of the spectacular views this Earth has to offer — along with one other-worldly sighting.

As for Portugal

Portugal is so underrated, it’s not even funny.

Before we got started planning a trip, we kicked ideas back and forth as to where we wanted to go. A lot of it came down to timing. We only had about 10 days to travel.

When you’re spending over eight hours of that time in an airplane each way, it goes fast. Too fast.

I talked to my older sister about Portugal. She had been a number of times with her husband who’s a native of Spain. (They met during her time studying abroad in college.)

With nothing but great things to say about the culture, the food and the sights and sounds, we booked our tickets. Only, we still didn’t really know what we were getting with Portugal.

Since we only had the 10-ish days, we decided to basecamp in Lisbon and day-trip elsewhere. That was the way to do it.

Getting around the city was a cinch. Public transit was easy to navigate and cheap too, especially if you had the Liboa Pass. But, for much of the city, we simply walked, which was time and energy well spent because it gave us the opportunity to see a lot more of the city and learn about its history.

Ashley is standing just outside of the main entrance to the Pena Palace in Sintra, Portugal. When you entered the palace, the fog — which was blown in from the Atlantic Ocean that morning — was so thick that you couldn’t see across the courtyards.

We also went to Sintra, which was magical (literally, I’m not even exaggerating), drove around the countryside and stopped at a fair number of towns, including Fatima, Nazaré, and Óbidos — all of which I would revisit in a heartbeat.

Portugal had some of the coolest museums I’ve had the pleasure of moseying through and some of the most amazing buildings from times long past.

I published a blog post about my time in Portugal. You can read more about it here.

As for Minnesota’s state parks

I’m working on visiting every one of these parks, and I covered a fair amount of ground this year. Let’s see, here’s a list of the parks I visited for the first time in 2017:

  • Cascade River State Park
  • Split Rock Lighthouse State Park
  • Tettegouche State Park
  • St. Croix State Park (<– A quick guide to the park)
  • Wild River State Park

(I also completed two new sections of the Superior Hiking Trail with my good friend Macklin Caruso. Cheers to that.)

I plan to post reviews and guides to these parks in 2018. But, for the time being, you can’t go wrong in any of these parks. Only, each one offers something better suited to what you’re after.

Cascade River State Park, for example, was excellent for car camping. The sites are spaced out and divided by a good deal of nature. On a quiet summer evening, sitting out by the fire, you’d think you were alone out there. That’s saying something for car camping.

But, the Superior Hiking Trail also runs through the park. And, there’s catch-and-release trout fishing too. So, anglers, backpackers, this park is for you.

The same could be said for Tettegouche and Splitrock Lighthouse. Although, full disclosure, we didn’t camp at either this year. We only visited for the day.

Split Rock Lighthouse State Park on the North Shore in Minnesota, USA.
The Splitrock Lighthouse on June 23, 2017

The main thing to take away from the North Shore is it’s an amazing place to be. People from all over fall in love with it and for good reason. You confront the beaches of the Lake Superior and feel each wave bring that calming sense of the outdoors to your presence.

Hiking through Superior National Forest is a magical place too, with big, gnarled trees, dense brush, and protruding granite. It’s an immersive experience, and it’s rejuvenating.

But, if you’re based in southern Minnesota or the Twin Cities, you might be looking for something closer to get your fix for the weekend.

Both Wild River and St. Croix State Parks are good for that. They are an hour to an hour and a half away. They both have campgrounds, many trails, and enough river to go around.

These parks might appeal more to kayakers or paddlers of some kind, anglers included in that bunch, and bigger groups.

St. Croix State Park had a wide open campground that catered to young families, with the option of tent or cabin camping. The sites weren’t so sharply divided, so you had a bunch of running around the room and a clear view of your surrounding.

And, in the likely case that it rains, there was a pretty cool nature center less than a mile away.

For me, all of these parks helped me hike off steam, reset my mind and find balance, and get closer to the outdoors. I had great memories of each park, and I’m looking forward to revisiting some of these this year.

The ‘First-Times’ Part of 2017


Forewarning, it’s going to sound corny.

When we moved into our current place in St. Louis Park, Minnesota, after college, my parents bought me these word magnets for the fridge. You’re supposed to make poems with them.

We’ve mainly used them to write out inappropriate sentence fragments and funny, almost incoherent prose. But, I made productive use out of the words. I spelled out: Climb a Mountain.

Mountains to me represent this mystique, this draw, this idealistic wild place that both welcomes and rejects us. Only, before this year, I’ve only seen a handful — none of which were like the snow-capped peaks in the Rocky Mountains.

Living in Minnesota and growing up in the Midwest, we’re deprived of mountains. Lakes, yep. Rivers, yep, got some of those. Forest, yes, thankfully. Corn fields, don’t get me started.

The Sawtooth Mountains of the North Shore are as close as I’ve really gotten to mountains in my adult life. (Although, the volcanoes in Costa Rica were unreal, no doubt about it.) And while there’s nothing bad about the Sawtooth Mountains — they’re really quite amazing during the fall — they’re not the snow-capped beauties often displayed in National Geographic.

Given this lack in high peaks, I’ve been craving them. For months I wouldn’t shut up about it, much to Ashley’s annoyance I’m sure.

Finally, I threw my hands up and marched over to my computer one late-summer morning.

“Wanna go to Colorado,” I said to Ashley.

“Um, sure,” she said. “When?”

“This fall,” I replied. “We can camp too!”

The rest of the conversation and my talking points didn’t quite convince Ashley that the fall was a good time to go — especially now that we have a wedding to plan.

So, we didn’t go in the fall. But, I didn’t manage to go in December.

My friend Macklin and I managed to get the time off and booked a very inexpensive flight out to Denver.

We had two goals in mind: Stand on a mountain and do it on a budget.

For the most part, we accomplished both of these goals. All in all, the trip set me back about $600, which included lodging, airfare, food and a bunch of other random stuff like an awesome hoodie from Rocky Mountain National Park.

And, most importantly, we stood on top of a mountain!

Win. Win. Win. Win.

Alec Kasper-Olson is on the summit of Deer Mountain in Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado, USA.
Me on my first mountain, ever. Deer Mountain, Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado, USA.

We humbly asked the Midwest-native park ranger which would be friendliest for low-elevation dwellers like ourselves, and she happily pointed us to Deer Mountain, a 10,000-foot mountain that offers a panoramic view of the park.

And what a view it was.

I’ll write more in another post.


I’ve been hunting in Lodi, Wis., since I was 15. In high school, as much as I dreaded — absolutely dreaded — getting up at the crack of dawn, it was all worth it as my boots crunched on dead leaves as I entered the woods.

Every year since has been something of a call of duty for my stepdad Brian and I. Our mission: Bring home dinner.

For those who go deer hunting in Wisconsin, you know that some years the woods crawl with them. Others, nothing.

I ended up missing a few years while I was in college. The timing just didn’t work out for one reason or another — midterms or whatever.

Last year, like many before it, I didn’t see anything — but I only went out a few times. This year was a similar story. I only had a short window to go, but I could just feel that I was going to get one this year.

Up long before the sun, I took my first post in the morning overlooking “The Big Hayfield.” We had it pretty good and covered.

We waited for hours. Nothing. Not until… damn, too quick.

A doe slipped into the field and out before I could blink.

They do that.

It was a missed opportunity, maybe. But, at least I knew they were around.

Well, that and the day before my stepdad shot a buck in a cornfield we sat in during the morning.

Eventually, the afternoon came on. Brian dosed off. I ended up taking a break by the truck before wandering around the farm.

The day grew on, and if it was going to happen, it was going to be soon. I woke Brian up. We decided on a change of scenery.

Into the swamp we go.

We posted up at the edge of the cornfield that hugged the swamp. Time dragged on and I was ready to pack it in, but I knew if I did I’d be mad for not sticking it out. Good thing.

Standing about 150 yards away, we saw a doe grazing. The sun seemed to buy me just enough time. I took the shot.

We were late for dinner that night.

Freelance Project

One of the things I loved most about working for the newspaper in college was running around like a maniac with 100 different assignments vying for priority in my mind, with six different bags attached to me somehow, with a notepad hanging out of every pocket and a clunky DSLR repeated hitting my chest as I went.

It was mad.

But, it was pretty fun.

In college, I was a reporter and editor for the University Chronicle, an independent newspaper ran solely by students (don’t let anybody tell you otherwise).

What I loved most was digging deep into a story. Talking to sources. Organizing my notes. Typing my story out. Slashing it with red ink. Typing some more. Taking photos, and dreaming of a killer video to pair with it all.

Reporting gave me the opportunity to learn about my community and about things I would’ve never run into otherwise.

For example, I would cover some of the culture nights at the university, like Pakistan Night or Japan Night. At those events, you learn about the culture through food, dance, dress, and insightful presentation.

I would also cover public affairs and environmental issues, which gave me a greater understanding of the solutions people are working on to better the lives of the greater community.

To me, it was always fascinating; there was never a dull day.

Street art in Uptown, Minneapolis
A mural in Uptown, a growing neighborhood in Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA.

This year, I had a chance to relive my days as a student report when I picked up my first freelance writing assignment for a blog aimed at restauranteurs. I wrote a story about Uptown’s (Minneapolis) competitive restaurant market and the impacts that come along with that.

You can read the whole story here.

Working on that story was great in so many ways. It gave me a taste of what it’s like reporting as a professional writer in a big city. More importantly, though, it gave me a greater understanding of what the local market is like, what struggles restaurant owners face when they enter a market like Uptown’s, and much, much more.

Hmm, what else?

Let’s see. Ah, right.

I tried sushi for the first time. Tried duck and pheasant for the first time too. I went to Boston, Mass., for my first Inbound. That was, wow — as in, a good ‘wow.’ I bought my first tent as a grown up, carved my first spoon, began work for a video game, and so much more.

This past year was definitely one to remember. A whole lot happened, as it often does in a year’s time. But, much of it felt like it was building me up for more adventure, more time on the road, more time learning and trying new things, more time with Ashley, and more confidence to embrace the future.

As 2017 was closing, I felt good and ready for the New Year. And now, a few weeks in, I’d say I’m off to a pretty good start.

Although, the trick is to keep the good going, right?


*Disclosure: The opinions expressed in this article are mine and mine only. Nobody else’s, including past and present employers, friends or family mentioned.