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Perhaps some streaks aren't meant to be broken.

Bob Naslund of Brooklyn Park has camped at least once a month since 1982, mostly in Minnesota.

In early February, he marked 42 years — his 504th consecutive outing — with an overnight near Monticello, proving again that no amount of rain, mud or snow will dissuade him. Fittingly, he pitched his two-person Big Agnes tent at backpack site No. 11 at Lake Maria State Park, one of his go-to spots for the majority of his streak.

You have to remember, at this point, Naslund has seen a bit of everything and chugged on. His bright eyes, healthful glow and easy manner were telltale: Any time on the ground is time well-spent and invigorating. And if a visitor is along, he is happy to oblige.

"There are 500 months of stories to tell," he said.

Naslund, 76, has spent more than half his lifetime committed to his camping odyssey and spent a majority of his years with a fascination in the outdoors. He grew up in Two Harbors and recalled quickly becoming acclimated to wandering the woods. His father bought property with a lake. He was a Boy Scout. His uncle was a mentor, too. Naslund remembers sitting in deer stands, body parts cold to freezing, and he wondered, what's going on here? The experiences made him want more.

Places such as Lake Maria, Afton, Itasca, Wild River, Savannah Portage in McGregor, George Crosby Manitou state parks — and even in the Mountain West in the early years — have been where he found more.

"It has to be where I can leave my car and be self-contained … I like that style," Naslund said. "But I don't consider myself a purist because I backpack. That is the type of experience I am looking for."

Outdoors in transition

Naslund wasn't always a solitary traveler. He was a music teacher in the Osseo Area Schools when he and a colleague, Jon Kuno, began sharing their camping stories and places they liked. They even got in several trips together. Then, in March 1982, they decided to commit to outings for the next year to see what weather conditions rolled through month by month.

The pair wasn't only getting an education in weather. They learned where to go — and not go — based on bug time, said Naslund, recounting a gnarly encounter with biting flies in July at Itasca State Park.

They also experienced the transition of outdoor gear, like clothing. Naslund recalled Patagonia introducing Capilene, a polyester, wicking fabric in the mid-'80s that is the standard in today's base layers, and the rise of moose-hide Mukluk boots and their Native origins that Patti Steger of Ely turned into iconic winter footwear. "Our clothing kept changing," he said.

Time is marked by other means, too. Naslund has seen five park managers come and go at Lake Maria over the past four-plus decades. He also is reminded of the exact length of his streak — year stacked upon year — because his daughter, Brittany, was born in March 1982.

The adventure hasn't been without obstacles. One year, Kuno had major back surgery after they camped in early March, and he was told not to travel by car for six weeks while he recovered. Nevertheless, the two made it work. Naslund hauled gear, and Kuno hobbled by hiking stick and cane to a Lake Maria park camper cabin that still was under construction — a kind gesture from the park manager.

"By hook or by crook, I'm going to get my monthly camp in," he added.

Bob Naslund hiked in the rain Feb. 8 to a backpack site at Lake Maria State Park near Monticello.
Bob Naslund hiked in the rain Feb. 8 to a backpack site at Lake Maria State Park near Monticello.

Anthony Souffle, Star Tribune

While they brought along champagne for their 100th night, the partnership was nearing its end. Kuno's health deteriorated in the 1990s. After about 15 years of camping, he was hurting and the outings became too difficult, Naslund said. Kuno died in 2000. With Kuno's wife's blessing, Naslund said he spread some of his friend's ashes at an undisclosed but meaningful spot. He said he never thought of discontinuing the monthly trips.

Wired for woods

The same internal wiring that keeps Naslund attached to his camping commitment manifests in other ways. While he retired from the Osseo district in 2005, he didn't ease off his musicianship. He is a longtime cornet player in the Lake Wobegon Brass Band, which performs around Minnesota and the Midwest. It also has a history of tours in the United Kingdom.

Naslund has dabbled in the fine detail of Japanese woodworking (or "Sashimono") and, this week, marked his 40th consecutive Birkie classic ski marathon — shortened by poor weather — in northwestern Wisconsin.

Gary Gerst has been friends with Naslund since the late '70s. They met at North View Junior High School, where Gerst was a biology teacher and Naslund taught music. He recalled Naslund's entertaining stories in the lunch room were an icebreaker.

"This is a guy I think I'd like to overlap with," said Gerst, 70, who said he became an "on-deck or substitute" camping companion. He has been on about 40 trips and credits Naslund's vitality to a sharp single-mindedness for, well, whatever interests him.

Jon Kuno, left, and Bob Naslund did some early outings together out West at places such as Glacier National Park in Montana.
Jon Kuno, left, and Bob Naslund did some early outings together out West at places such as Glacier National Park in Montana.


"One of the things with Bob is when he decides to do something, he is all in," added Gerst, of St. Anthony Park.

Part of the winning formula could be the foundation Naslund has built around the streak. He's learned by doing and, through the years, absorbing others' wisdom. He recalled devouring the long-distance backpacking ideas in "The Complete Walker" by Colin Fletcher.

For one, simplicity and structure are required. Lake Maria, for example, is a relatively short trip from his home in Brooklyn Park, and he tries to use only the same few backpacking sites. Despite a hulking pack on the February trip, Naslund doesn't bring much nourishment. He and a visitor shared some salty snacks and a few pieces of chocolate, and he had a leftover from home for dinner. Breakfast was a pouch of oatmeal and some instant coffee with a shot of Medaglia d'Oro instant espresso.

"I am going as simple as I can," he said. "I have no affection for cooking a big meal."

Naslund keeps dialed in, too, around his band-related and family travel, like wintering in March and April in Florida (Last year, he made sure to return to Minnesota so he could camp April 29). He intends to camp first thing next month before heading south.

Naslund said the woods, the solitude, the clacking and calling owls, and the campfires are but a few of the reasons to keep setting out each month.

"It went from 100 to 200 months to 300 to 400, and there became a point where it was, 'I got a string going here and it is something I like to do.'

"Having this string is an incentive for [me] to get out and do it. It is a good time and this is something I should keep doing. Make whatever excuse to get out every month and have this adventure."