To their credit, the late arrivals are instantly quiet the minute I ask, and I sleep deeply. The birds wind up early and I join them through muddy bugginess and into a maple forest.
Years ago, when we first moved to Saint Paul, Richard and I walked for a half week at autumn’s climax. We could see the maple forests for miles from the ridges, their leaves a particularly vivid shade of yellow, the air glowed as if charged with golden particles.
Today, it’s green, but no less intense as if the freshest salad I’ve ever eaten.
I climb steeply up a hill and think how unique this trail is with its quick ups and downs. There’s nothing sustained for long, but overall, there’s a lot of gain and loss.
I grab water at the Baptism River where each drop will go over those big falls. Mist rises in the cool morning air as the sun hits the water.
I enter a section of forest where white throated sparrows sing in slightly different keys. I wonder what they’re saying to each other. Egge lake appears through the trees, a deep blue encircled by pines. A ruined building, maybe an ice fishing lodge, sits by the trail.
My first hiker of the day comes rushing past. Andy says he’s always in a hurry to crush miles. In fact, this stop to chat he considers a break.
I daren’t keep him another moment, so press on avoiding piles of moose poop. I’ve seen tracks, but no animals yet. A black throated green and a black throated blue warbler sing as I descend on steep rock.
Boys yell to each other when talking would work just as well at beautiful lake Sonju’s campsite. I scatter dragonflies sunning on the boardwalk and head to Lilly’s Island. It’s a taste of the Boundary Waters – exposed Canadian Shield, a few birch, cedar and pine giving me shade as I eat second breakfast.
I still hear the boys as I head on, passing a funny little homemade seat quite randomly placed in the big woods.
A grouse gives a thump-thump-thump-thumpthumpthumpthump-thumpumpumpumpump. It’s low pressure that I feel in my solar plexus more than I hear.
An expansively high bridge spans a trickle which most recently was a torrent as evidenced by a set of stairs grabbed violently and twisted. I test the main bridge tentatively and it appears strong. Nevertheless, I dart across.
These wetlands filled with green slime sprout a profusion of the most delicate yellow lilies. Bluebells also grow under trees fully leafed out, though their flowers are pale to the point of being translucent.
The trail at this section has come so far inland. I see no sign of the big lake, but I do join the east fork of the Baptism River. It’s lined with cedars, their gnarly roots exposed by flood. Several plastic cones house baby cedars just planted, protected now from browsing deer.
The water is heavenly falling over slabs of rock in a series of rapids followed by cool pools. I dip my hat and let the water drip down my head. One site sits in the triangle of land created by a creek joining the river. I plan to camp further on but take note.
More backpackers pass out for the long holiday weekend. Julie tells me she walked 450 miles of the PCT and is bringing some young girls out here. People come with dogs and a big YMCA group gets stuck at a blowdown until I show them the path around.
I pick up more water at a creek near Aspen Knob then walk on road to Crosby-Manitou State Park. George H. Crosby donated over 3,000 acres of land on the Manitou River and it was set up as Minnesota’s first backpacker only park. Richard and I came here one wild, windy November night. I found the place a bit bleak.
Of course it was November, what was I expecting? It’s verdant now under blue skies and a man blocks the road to offer me a beer from his cooler. Wow, the good stuff.
It’s a short walk on manicured trail – no bugs, no mud and a nashville warbler and northern parula for company. I remember quickly why I walk with trekking poles when I descend steeply, carefully controlling a fall to the rushing river and a debris-covered bridge.
There’d be no way across this without that bridge. I’m glad it’s still here. Everything so far today was pretty easy, but now what went down must go back up and it’s a long, up and down ridge walk.
My views are down into deep canyons covered in trees, mature white pine with long, graceful limbs, stick out above everything else. It’s so lovely, all day long. But I’m starting to fade and it’s still a long way down.
I get more water at Horseshoe Ridge as Eva bounces down, light and happy having handed her backpack to her parents. The trail flattens out, crosses the Bob Silver logging road then heads down and down to another bridge at Caribou Falls.
Eva’s nowhere to be found and I have just enough energy to get to the next site a mile away – the longest mile of the day. Views open through old, thick birch to the lake stretching to the horizon. That’s where I’ll camp!
I hear hysterical high pitched laughter and walk in on seven 14-year-olds and their college-aged leaders. They offer to make room, but there’s one tiny spot on the side of the trail where I drop my pack.
“Hey, do you want Mac-n-Cheese?”
Never has a question been so welcome. I’d rather not bother with food so I bring my spoon and dig into a glutinous glop of deliciousness for this tired walker, although one curious ‘chipmunk,’ as they named themselves, asks if I brought my own food. Yes, of course, just happy to let you feed me.
I love this age. The girls are curious, smart, fun and not yet hung up on looks or boys, as far as I can tell. We talk and laugh, wash up at the wee stream and I become the ‘expert’ they ask about backpacking.
But my energy is shot, so I set the alicoop and crawl in before dark, wishing them sweet dreams and to make as much noise as they want – which they joyfully go right ahead and do.