OK, I know, too damn far on a dangerously hot but, but just of those moments where I just started moving and didn’t stop for practically the entire day.
The minute there’s even a hint of light, the veery chorus starts up – slide-whistles in stereo. One barred owl joins in with a hoo-hoohoo-hoowhaaaaa. I sit up and turn on my phone. 4:30.
To be honest, a train woke me in a whoosh sometime when it was dark and absolutely silent. I never saw it but I felt as if on the tracks.
My bear hang stayed safe overnight and I grab a bar before packing and retracing my steps. After 100 or so, the bug net goes on. Trippin passes me for her final miles near the parking lot, and suggests I grab a gatorade from her truck. What a lovely person.
A short road walk deposits me in more woods, brilliant green and loud up a narrow esker. I feel the deep thumps in my chest from a ruffed grouse. A bridge trestle spans a chasm and I wonder if my midnight train goes that way.
From here, the views are of far off mountains above a deep valley, but only for a moment before I’m swallowed up in forest, a bit of mud and buzzy bugs desperately trying to get my blood but barred by mesh.
I enter Jay Cook State Park and the trail immediately gets wider. The geological makeup is slate and grawacke, which rises in rows of triangles like teeth from the St. Louis River, funneled into fast moving rapids, which I hear as a roar miles before seeing the water.
I run into Scott loaded up and moving slowly from his site within the park. Long gray hair and 73, he points out the rocking chair with shade cover he’s packed.
I cross the stunning suspension bridge with views to the magical rocks and make my way to the vintage 1930s all stone bathrooms – which are locked! A few expletives slip out and maybe a hand gesture before I head back into woods and make my own bathroom. Daisies and white throated sparrow cheer me up, as does a picnic table at a high point with absolutely no view, but it lets me rest.
I skirt a dam and meet Tom wearing a Superior Hiking Trail hat. He tells me to return on May 20th for trillium and July 4th for lady slippers before “guaranteeing” I’ll hate Gill Creek coming up.
I can’t imagine what could possibly be so bad as I slip back into the forest, noisy with birds and full of bright yellow lady slippers, the leaves twisted like carelessly untied laces. The trail briefly follows the paved Munger bike path before a sign announces Gill Creek.
I take a deep breath and head in – down mostly, on hand built stairs of logs pressed in the mud. It’s zigzags and steep, but I’m down in less than a minute to the creek, burbling and cool.
I fill up, realizing I’m parched, even in relatively easy walking and humid air. I wet my face, my hair, even dunk my hat luxuriating in cold freshness before heading back up. Nothing appears amiss and my only guess as to guaranteed hatred is the simple fact that to get to a stream within a ravine requires some serious work.
But this act is repeated all day – up and down and up some more. I follow the St. Louis again, now wide and placid. An azure sky and cottony cloud reflect in the stillness. Here I meet Tortoise and Bungee Cord, who is planning five weeks to walk the SHT. We cut our conversation short when the mosquitos find us.
It’s a trade off with these thick woods – shade means mosquitos, but as soon as I climb out into sun, they leave, and I cook. I drink all my water before cracking up exposed rock towards Ely Peak. The river changes color to a dark lapis from up here, winding through the valley on its way to the big lake. A train toots its horn and I yearn for shade.
But bright sun brings wild strawberries, tiny and succulent. A dark tunnel leads back into forest of ups and downs and obscured views. Perhaps better without leaves.
I reach a road with warnings of a shoulder leading to oblivion. A bridge festooned with pointy rocks spans a chasm. At the end is a grotto dedicated to Samuel Frisby Snively, mayor, road builder and lover of parks. All this land up here was his and he gave it to the city.
I’m beginning to run out of steam when a car comes by and Colin and Michelle hop out to load me up with cans of La Croix. I drank all day, liter after liter and I needed every drop.
After last night’s spot, there’s no camping in this entire 50-mile section, so I arrange to stay with friends. Wanting to make the pickup easy, I plan to stop at Grand Chalet near the road. Lori and Stephen pick me up and take me to Clyde Works where I drink some more.
All of this bit is new to me and I’m surprised how by much it rolls and works my body – but also surprised by how far I roam, listening to the birds sing and ratatat, the toads hop into the brush, some sort of crickets saw away and stream after stream call to me to dip in my head. All the while, I conversed with the spirit and sang, even exhausted and soaked through with sweat, joyous in this beautiful setting.
And now, a shower and a bed after a day this full is about as sweet as it gets.
It’s kinda fun to read about such a familiar trail. I’m sure you’ll be pointing out stuff I’ve missed over the years. Great pics as usual! I plan to tune in every morning as I did when you did NZ. Good luck with the weather and may an influx of dragon flies help with the bug problem. Sunny and dry here in CO.
Really enjoyed reading your comments about your beginning to traverse the SHT! Having lived in Duluth before Minneapolis I still feel it is home. A good friend Dale K., is the resident brewmeister at Clyde Iron. They are in the process of getting their in house brewing underway. I look forward to more of your adventures on the SHT! Safe journey and blessings! 🙂