The day is overall a bit boring, a lot maddening and designed to destroy a hiker’s soul. Still, I found things to love.
I leave Susie and Brian’s as early and quietly as I can, instantly locking myself out with my trekking poles still leaning next to the flag inside. So I have to wake them up to retrieve them, but I’m toast anymore without my sticks.
It’s funny that it was right here in the Superior Hiking Trail so many years ago that I first realized I needed walking sticks. The terrain is wet and steep with a slip that could plunge you down a rocky chute close at hand most of the time.
Yet today, at least after I leave the Duluth section, is described as ”relatively flat.” Funny how I never considered flat to mean swampy, but that was still hours away in my future.
Now, it’s on easy path sidling the rushing river on a ramp. I’m continually amazed by the number of streams – many bonafide trout streams – rushing through this city. It’s a deep green in here of cedar and hemlock. The birds are awake and loudly letting everyone know. It’s already hot.
At the lot, I lose the trail fascinated by the Chester Bowl mini ski hill. A sign asks us to text what the water height is today and I see the trail heading straight up into more woods on rough stairs to a road walk. Who is this woman and why is she carrying a backpack?
I share the Bagley Nature Area with mountain bikes and dog walkers. A trail runner smiles as I trudge past a campground, but I have a small ’mountain’ all to myself, up and over with a glimpse of Superior, gray in soupy air, the horizon hard to distinguish.
I use the bathroom and fill my water bottle at the Hartley Nature Center. Stacks of skis, snowshoes and boots await winter which feels entirely foreign as the humidity rises a few notches. I’m soaking wet and my right toe hurts.
A young woman with black hair to her waist talks to a group of children while holding a leaf. I follow the parking lot to one stretch of woods followed by a road walk.
A beautiful cemetery surrounds me giving me the creeps. I understand monuments to our deceased loved ones and all but I can’t help imagining all those bodies laid in rows as mine moves on, alive to what’s interesting and also what’s causing suffering. I guess I’d prefer my physical self part scattered around rather than taking up space.
The road changes from paved to gravel and a car speeds past, uninterested in the dust cloud I’ll have to walk through. I’d love to scatter his physical self, I mutter just as the trail leaves the road.
The SHT probably could simply deliver the hiker through this part on road. It’s faster, but defeats the purpose of a quasi ’wilderness’ experience, even if the road noise is an audible din.
Yet, my wee step away takes me on a ridge, the trail full of pink rock. My mood changes from a gotta-get-there thru hiker mentality to, ”what do we have here?” I can’t see the stream below, even as I’m even with treetops. A few boards are placed over wet bits exploding with pale blue stickseed.
I glance at my phone as I approach Martin Road where the next section officially starts. Cars give me plenty of room and I see a 70% chance of thunderstorms just as I join a wide trail. Identified a ’State Trail’ by a faded yellow sign, a tamped down portion pushes through weeds up to my knees, hidden puddles beneath.
It’s a snow mobile route, utterly unmaintained for hikers while easy to follow. Blowdowns cover my path end-to-end, here a long time as evidenced by herd trails in mud around their exposed roots. A few I climb over, and you know how I love that.
I swear the humidity has notched higher and I’m wet through from the water I slosh through, dewy plants acting as car wash, and stinking sweat. Now, mosquitos swarm in high pitched death squadrons. Not one gets my permethrined coverings, so I approach the whole awfulness with a lopsided curiosity.
bzzzzzzzzzz, slosh slosh, bzzzz, slosh, bzzzzzzzzzzz, slosh, bzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz
The birds must be punch drunk on the food supply and sing with a wild abandon. It’s New Zealand redux, but I can’t help comparing this particular nightmare as amateur hour since I’m really only wet and not muddy (much)
Needless to say, I don’t meet a soul in here and cackle all to myself. I stop for an early lunch near balsam fir, sweetly pungent and see my big toe is on its way to losing a nail. Aw, sh*t! My toes are deformed now, pushed on top of each other. La Sportiva discontinued my favorite shoes, but sent me another which must be exacerbating the crowding.
As I continue through the jungle, one lone bridge over the narrow deep chasm of the Lester River my only solace, I call a running store and purchase a pair of shoes with the biggest toe box on the market. It is a misery in here, even as I leave the wide shared track for a rolling one on pine needles, but I praise the goddess – and my friends – for a slackpacking day and the opportunity to return to Duluth, heal my toe and change out gear.
Drugs kill the pain and knowing I’ll be done with this soon. The narrow footpath heads up again to a hill clear cut five years ago. It’s regenerating and planted with spruce but feels so much in the middle of nowhere just 20 minutes from the city.
I’m surprised by the few, tidy campsites positioned near water with fire-ring, benches and flat tent spots along the way. One comes with a protective cock. But I’m cooked now and cut through private property for the road and call my friends to get me.
Two people stop to check on me as I sprawl on the median. Even the sheriff ensures I’m ok before telling me all about his favorite parts of trail, this not being one of them. There’s no mosquitos on the road.
My new shoes appear made for clowns, but my toes have room to expand. Thunderstorms are predicted and my friends invite me to zero and heal. I haven’t gotten very far, but I think back to major trails that all had hiccups at the start, events managed and utterly forgotten as I moved forward.
My toe’s been soaked, medicated, poulticed and elevated and darn it if the air just turns icy cold and I have to put on a sweater.