Of course, we talk most of the morning after I take thirds on French Toast and sausage. Hiker Hunger strikes early on this hike.
A late start means it’s already hot and I’m already damp. It’s a stiff climb up rushing Kingsbury Creek. Right here next to the ski slopes are cascades tumbling over dark brown rock. The veery disappear but white throated sparrow fill the space with their descending pentatonic scale, TWEEE-twee-tweed’dee, d’dee, d’dee.
I’ve stuffed in so much food, I already need to go to the bathroom and find a nice off-trail spot where I somehow stir up a nest of ants, angrily crawling on my gear and my pants already at my ankles. I’m quick, though, and flick them off before any find bare skin.
Clouds move in and the sun disappears. I wouldn’t mind some shade, but the sky is a tease, turning robin’s egg blue as I break out of the trees.
I learn a new word: depauperate. It means an ecosystem lacking in numbers and variety. Ash, birch, aspen on repeat with a few balsam fir, black spruce, eastern hemlock and white pine. Will I lose my mind on this hike? Another white throated sings loudly, this time his melody ascending.
And I ascend too, up and around this creek, followed by creeklets and another biggie, Keene Creek. Duluth has thirty-seven named creeks, and, in this heat, I stop at nearly every one.
The trail parallels Interstate 35, trucks like dorsal fins suddenly appearing above the trees. It’s a big drop to the lake and many use engine breaks that rattle like jackhammers. Cheery orange and yellow hawkweed reach to the sun as I melt in an open area.
It strikes me as odd that from from woods, loud and wild, water crashing and ferns threatening to take over, I’m delivered to a road right under the freeway, then back under trees before another road and the Allyndale Motel. An SUV races out without stopping so as not to have to wait for me to pass.
Trail workers pass me on their way to replace a long boardwalk through a wetland.
“Are you walking to Canada?”
I’m hot and exhausted, so stop at a tiny stream with a view of the city, the river arriving at the lake and the iconic lift bridge. A couple arrives with s sweet dog and asks why walk the whole thing. “Because things happen on thru-hikes.”
They wish me luck with any ‘transcendental shit’ before moving on. I see them again near a group sitting right on trail in the shade. One is overcome by the heat and it’s a wakeup call to listen to my body.
And it’s water and more water as I continue – plus views, though hard to relax looking down at the serpentine Bong Bridge under this sun. It’s 89 degrees and I’m wilting. I see the rescue crew come straight up the hill and point towards the group. They thank me when I offered all my water.
It’s up and down, rocky and so steep the crew built stairs. I stop at a falls and douse my head and then at the next one, fill two more liters. My new friends Susie and Brian text me to call whenever I need a pickup. I’m starting to wonder if hiking in this heat is asking for trouble.
I come to a soft pine-needle carpet that leads up some more to Enger Park and its peaceful Zen garden. I strike the peace bell with a large log-as-clapper and its ring oscillates before dying.
Now it’s all down, easy trail but open to the sun. I pass remnants of an encampment, one still in place but abandoned. A pedestrian bridge takes me over the freeway then down to the lake, just as the sightseeing train disembarks.
It’s a paved bike trail I’ve ridden before bringing me to Duluth’s heart. The wind is up, but hot, a rootbeer colored chop complete with foamy crests lap at the wall.
The lift bridge comes into view and I ask a foursome of tourists which one is the paparazzi. There’s some fluster and confusion but one manages a reasonably well-framed snap just one of the others asks, “Who is she and why is she wearing s backpack?” <shrug>
I don’t bother enlightening them but offer thanks before searching out a soda. So many restaurants. So many tourists. I find a coke right near the bridge as an Amish family passes, the women in full-on gingham. Everyone says hello as I continue along the shore, no relief at all even with more liquid.
Just as I come to Leif Erickson park with its goofy stage bookended by medieval towers, a cool gust envelopes me. I tingle all over and thank the goddess before taking stairs to the rose garden (redolent of lilacs this early in summer) and follow the road towards Chester Creek.
Why am I still thirsty?! I stop again at a coffee truck serving lemonade, then decide I’m done. Just this wee hill into the park and two blocks to my friends, who have read me often enough to know to put beer in the fridge. Absolute bliss!
Both scientists, we speak about streams and trees and birds, then they offer to let me ‘slackpack’ tomorrow in more heat plus thunderstorms, though it appears those storms are building now and a huge streak of electricity followed by a crash send us indoors.