Embrace your life journey with gratitude, so that how you travel your path is more important than reaching your ultimate destination.Rosalene Glickman
I wake as it gets light and wonder if I really need to get right up and walk. But I decide, yes, let’s see how it feels to mimic a thru-hike and get moving in the early hours.
There’s no sound from the other tent, so I quietly let the air out of my mattress and pillow and go through the routine of packing each piece in its place: sleeping bag, tent, mat, electronics, extra clothes and bear canister – with the rain gear nestled at the top since I expect it all day.
It’s misty now and humid as I push straight up towards the Lutsen ski area. Switchbacks and steep rock-strewn trail give me a workout first thing in the morning, but I feel strong, my breath even and my heart pounding loudly.
A huge flat rock bald opens out to a white out. I have breakfast here of pecan-fortified raisin bran and powdered whole milk. I’m carrying two liters of water not exactly certain where my first stream will be. Very light mist moistens my skin. I hear something crashing in the forest.
The trail is steep, rocky and rooty. I push myself hard and realize that it’s right here I’ll know if my hiking mojo can be rekindled. I think about some of the stories Julie and Felix tell me. They stopped at a campsite and a man was there with a growling dog. When Julie asked if he liked people, the man told her no adding, “There’s no room here”
The thing is sites have to be shared, but they moved on, put off by his manner. Felix tells me some people are very loud. He went to a Quaker school, learning how to be quiet and simply be. It would be useful if everyone had a bit of ‘how to be quiet’ training, but right now, I don’t see a soul.
I cross a bridge and enter the ‘Mystery Mountain’ ski trails. One orange tent is set at the campsite and I’m glad I didn’t push here last night because there is very little water in a creek far below and it appears not to be moving.
The path moves steeply up and down through dark green forest. Sometimes I get switchbacks, but oftentimes, the trail simply shoots straight up or down and I have to use my hands to keep from slipping. Raindrops patter the canopy, but never reach me. Nonetheless, I’m soaked in sweat as I cross Moose Mountain, high on a ridge without views.
I meet four backpackers, happily chatting and we snap each other’s pictures. They are the first people I’ve seen all day. Up and up I go, the trail never seeming to level off. The forest is quiet and dense, fungus crawls up the side of a tree and a woodpecker leaps from tree to tree, clinging upright to its side.
A sign indicates a spur to a view, but I skip it knowing everything’s in fog. Even at famous Oberg Mountain, I pass the loop and push on, waiting for sun to peak out and burn off the mist. I catch a glimpse of its massive cliffs through trees, solid and slightly menacing in the dim light.
I have a snack at the first campsite, so close to the parking lot, there’s a picnic table. I make a note to return here when fall’s at peak color and also in winter with snowshoes on a crystal blue day. There’s no sense to climb up on the Leveaux loop either, so I content myself flying fast through the forest, eating raspberries and talking to myself.
This is when I know I’m walking well, when I cover a lot of topics and laugh at myself over ‘interesting choices’ in my past.
I’ve walked all of the Superior Hiking Trail in sections, never with any planning, just grabbing parts here and there over the 14 years I’ve lived here. Some places I know well and others I forget about, finding new surprises when I return, like incredibly steep ascents I’d forgotten about, or dense forests that go on a bit too long.
But this section I remember because I brought my friend Debby years ago. We set up camp at a site only a mile from the road, then headed to Carlton Peak for the spectacular views and returned to the same spot.
There’s no water between that site and the peak, and I remember this when I overheard a group of backpackers unsure where to camp. I graciously offered to share our site which sits by a creek. They were good enough neighbors if a bit unwise storing garbage in a plastic bag within reach of the squirrels.
So I take note to stop here and fill up my water – as well as drink a lot, all that heavy breathing on steep ascents and profuse sweating in the humidity has made me very thirsty. I plan lunch on the peak, I place I’ve been dozens of times.
But that doesn’t mean I remember just how steep it is. In a little over a mile, the trail gains 600 feet and the path is strewn with boulders, more of a climb than a hike. By the time I reach the summit, I’m soaked through with sweat, and hungry. I find a shady spot and mix up a cheese dip with crackers plus a banana/chocolate shake.
The sun has burned off most of the fog up here and I can see deeply into the tree-covered Sawtooth Mountains like waves towards the horizon. There’s a few concrete pads with rusting pieces, all that’s left of a gondola from many years ago. I have the place to myself, except four guys who come to tell me they’re from Colorado, so this is no big deal. Why, I wonder, do these types bother coming here?
The fog still covers Superior and the men quickly leave. It’s pretty beautiful up here just as it is. Ancient volcanic rocks, crushed and moved by glaciers leaving spectacular formations like these cliffs as well all the steep mountains I’ve walked over all day.
It’s hot, and there’s nowhere to camp here, so I head down, taking a wrong turn which puts me on a ‘short cut’ I scoot on my butt, tossing my Lekis down first. This side is all steep on massive boulders, each step carefully calculated. I meet a man and his grandson, the elder sweating like me. His granddaughter sits at a picnic table below, too afraid of heights.
Years ago, I climbed up the rock, tied to another climber. It’s exhilarating up here with Gitchee Gumee 1000 feet below and views for miles. Much of it is on a slab, where friction and carefully placed feet and hands carry you up. Less brute force and more technique.
But now I’m headed down through thick raspberry bushes and wonky wooden platforms over dried up streams. One is high and bouncy and I hope it holds me. It’s a long way down to the Temperance River, low water exposing boulders. Boys throw rocks into mist-filled falls.
It’s spectacular looking into the tight shoot, where the water has carved deep, rounded tunnels, large rocks acting as drills spinning and digging holes. I cross a bridge which gives me a view straight in, but the low water is softer, without power.
I follow the river to a parking lot and spy a fly fisherman working a pool. From here, the trail heads straight up, never quite wanting to level off. I dig in, breathing hard but feeling my heart pumping well, no sign of it racing beyond where I control it.
I reach a ridge with views in fog, but it’s up some more and more before finally heading down to Cross River. I intend to camp past here at a creek, but I don’t trust that the water’s running, so I look for a place to fill up. I pass two sites and the trail takes on New Zealand proportions, heading straight up and down to avoid a cliff.
I’m often far from the river, and wonder if I made the right choice to keep moving, but eventually reach an access, and head in. It’s still moving, but obvious that only in the past few weeks it’s drying up, the smooth river rocks exposed. I sit on one and find a small falls to fill up with ‘dirty water’ that needs to be filtered.
I punched holes in my water bags and affixed a string so I can let gravity do the work, the water passing through the filter and into a bottle held on by a screw on joiner. I decide to make dinner here, soaking noodles for a cold pad thai.
My food is working well, but it’s a bit messy squeezing two packets of peanut butter into a bag of noodles, vegetables and spices. There’s almost no way to avoid spilling as I gobble up every last bit.
I’m full and happy with just two miles to go through forest. I pick a few raspberries before entering a cedar forest, the spindly branches like a curtain covering a massive meadow, a rich light green in the light.
I see the creek, mostly a dry bed, but there is a tiny bit gurgling under the sound of a raucous squirrel family in a dead tree. I have the place to myself and set alicoop 2, brush my teeth and crawl in, just as darkness falls and everything goes silent.
I went far today and it felt wonderful. I didn’t tire on the steep ascents, even as I hit the final one ten hours after the first. Yes, this is easier terrain – steep but for short periods. There’s no altitude and I may be sweaty but I’m not overheating. I’m stopping when I want to and going as far as I like. I’m eating a lot and drinking enough.
I don’t know what set my heart racing and caused me to become so weak I could hardly move. I’ll know more when I see the cardiologist again and hopefully I can do as much walking as I want to still.
What’s funny is that I’ve given myself an opportunity to push as hard as I do on a thru-hike, but only for a few days – and I can always take my foot off the gas at any time; I have an out, as long as I can meet a road which is usually only 5 miles or so away.
Perhaps this is all I need. A practice run to see if I can do it, not so much so I can run right back out on a four-month thru-hike, but to prove to myself that I am still strong and that I have options.
Just knowing that is empowering. And, blissful.
Exactly what I said about the last post! So familiar and great pics. Love the little girls. Sounds like you’re straightening up your thinking about these hikes. Life goes 0n to be enjoyed . . . you are NOT dead in the Bob!!
exactly!! just got back now from a little kayaking. SO good for the soul