A Tale of Wanderlust in Minnesota

by | Feb 2023

Photos: Kerri Miller; Chris Emeott

Minnesota Public Radio host Kerri Miller offers guided adventure trips.

There is a saying that travel broadens the mind, but Kerri Miller takes that notion a step further. The Hudson resident and long-time Minnesota Public Radio (MPR) host offers a unique travel experience for women that combines small group tours of beautiful locales with a curated reading list tailored to each location.

“The goal is to align a sense of curiosity with book lists that elevate that,” Miller says.

Miller, an avid reader who has made a career out of interviewing authors and discussing books both on the radio and through the popular live discussion series, Talking Volumes, previously spent some time guiding custom travel experiences for listeners at MPR. “It was exciting,” she says. “We went to some fantastic places.” Those trips always included a reading list and book discussions, Miller says, but she dreamt of offering her own take on book-led trips. “I wanted to see how creative I could get with a reading list,” she says.

Miller launched Siren Sojourns in summer 2019, leading an all-female group at a lake house built for reflective retreats with room for 10 in northern Minnesota. They spent the weekend discussing two books Miller had selected for the occasion. “It was wonderful,” she says.

Kerri Miller canoeing with another woman.

“There was a remarkable amount of bonding,” Miller says. “People were telling their own stories, and there were all these impromptu conversations.”

Miller says that, although many of the women did not know each other, by the end of the weekend, they had formed friendships. “I could hear the women making plans to get together after,” she says. “It was all happening organically without me.”

Opening Up

Since that first trip, Miller has witnessed the same phenomenon occur in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area (BWCA), the Apostle Islands in Wisconsin and up near the Canadian border on Rainy Lake. “It’s so fulfilling,” she says. “It’s what living is all about for me.”

By day, Siren Sojourns groups are busy with activities that allow them to explore an area via hiking, canoeing, sightseeing, etc. “All trips have an adventure piece to them,” Miller says.

The end of the day is reserved for relaxation and reflection, as they gather to dine and talk about books.

Miller personally selects a specific reading list for each trip. In some cases, the books may be set in the same area, but in other instances, the books speak more broadly to a concept related to the location. When she took a group of women on a long weekend houseboat excursion through Minnesota’s Voyageurs National Park last fall, Miller chose a trio of books designed to give participants “a new lens with which to savor the beauty of the North,” she says. The reading list included The Voyageur’s Highway by Grace Lee Nute, The Mason House by T. Marie Bertineau and The Long Shining Waters by Danielle Sosin.

She also asked the women to read a 2017 New York Times essay by Pamela Paul entitled Why You Should Read Books You Hate. It turned out to be an excellent jumping off point for their nightly book discussion when half the group admitted that they didn’t like one of the books. “The conversation took on depths,” Miller says. It was everything she could have dreamt of for the trip, which had been delayed by several months due to flooding in the area.

“The book conversation is the doorway,” says Miller, explaining that it provides an entry point into the conversation and allows participants to feel comfortable opening up to the group.

“Through the dimension of the book, we are revealing ourselves, learning about values,” she says. “What is important to them? What do they love?”

Miller says the location only adds to the experience. “The routine is gone, the senses are alive and curiosity is on fire.” It all comes together to create a “circle of intimacy” that allows people to get to know each other in a very profound way and makes for an unforgettable trip.

Challenging Adventures

Heidi McClure had a front row seat to witness the magic unfold on the houseboat trip. A guide for the last decade, McClure has partnered with Miller on three trips and is planning two future trips with her to Iceland and Uganda. “Kerri has a great ability to make people feel comfortable,” McClure says. “It’s fun to see.”

McClure first worked with Miller on a September 2021 trip into the BWCA. “We had a phenomenal time,” she says. “It was nine ladies and a lot of fun challenges.”

McClure applauds the locations Miller has selected and the way in which she challenges people to get out of their comfort zones. “It helps that she’s not picking plush adventures,” she says. “She has a willingness to get dirty.”

That’s very useful when things don’t go as expected—which is almost a guarantee with this type of adventure travel. “Things never go exactly as planned,” McClure says.

Navigating mishaps and working together only serves to bring a group closer though. “When we work together, we bond together,” McClure says. “It’s a really sweet process of people coming together.”

Siren Sojourn Group Trip

The World Awaits

So far, Miller has targeted her Siren Sojourns trips toward women and couples. “It’s been half all women and half couples,” she says, noting that trips are not only for women, unless designated.

Most of the trips have been in the Midwest, but with the pandemic easing and international travel picking back up, Miller was finally able to take a group to Bhutan in south Asia in November. in November. It was the first international trip Miller had ever planned for Siren Sojourns, but the pandemic forced her to put the trip on hold since 2019. “I knew the first trip would be Bhutan,” she says. “It’s a place that people wouldn’t go on their own, but it’s also very spiritual.”

Now, Miller is preparing trips to Iceland in August, Uganda in November and a return to Bhutan, plus Greece and Turkey in 2024. That trip has a seven-book reading list that runs the gamut from a handbook on Greek mythology to a book discussing the power of myths to two different takes on Homer’s The Iliad.

Miller says she tries to be as creative as possible with her reading lists to not only generate good discussions, but also to hit different reader tastes. That’s another big goal for her trips. “You can love to read anything, and there’s a place for you,” she says.

With other trips in the works, Miller continues to fill out her wish list of fascinating places to take people. At the top of her list are trips to the Dolomites in Italy and the Galapagos Islands. “It would be a magical, magical trip,” she says. “And there are such good books to pair up with that.”

Hosting MPR

Miller has been in broadcast journalism for 30 years. She was the political reporter at KARE-11 until she joined MPR in 2004. Miller hosted the daily morning news program at MPR for 17 years, covering current events, science and literature. In September 2021, she debuted a new weekly book show for MPR called Big Books and Bold Ideas. It can be heard each Friday at 11 a.m. Miller also hosts Talking Volumes, a live literary discussion series held each fall at the Fitzgerald Theatre in St. Paul.

Miller’s Book Picks

Kerri Miller in her home.

Favorite childhood book

I loved all of the Laura Ingalls Wilder books as a kid

A book that affected you profoundly

Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese

The best book read last year

I can’t choose just one! So, Bewilderment by Richard Powers and The Marriage Portrait by Maggie O’Farrell

A book you recommend

Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell and The Round House by Louise Erdrich

A book you are looking forward to reading

Anything coming next by Ann Patchett and/or Louise Erdrich

Favorite book of all time

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë

Dream author interview (past or present)

Charlotte Brontë

Siren Sojourns
Instagram: @sirensojourns


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