Friday, July 20, 2018

Day 8: Getting lost on the SHT

June 7: In the morning, the bugs were already bad, and I slept in late hoping to wait them out. Most of the time, they usually settle down as the day warms up, right? But eventually I got tired of the waiting and finally gave up, packing up and hitting the trail by around 9:30 in the morning. Which probably doesn't sound particularly late to most of you, but keep in mind that sunrise was four hours earlier! I'd been awake for hours! 

The whole day the bugs were bad in some places, but I'm happy to report that other locations they were nearly non-existent and easy to escape--especially when we stopped for a break somewhere along the way such as by the creek along the Steward River. I passed Tidy at the Steward River campsite deciding that I'd rather hang out near the river, and Blueberry joined me a short while later. Tidy then came down for a visit--I assumed--at first, just to get water since I knew he'd been at the campsite for awhile resting already, but he sat down and joined our merry band for awhile longer. Tidy was suffering from blisters and seemed to be hurting pretty badly. Maybe he just needed the break.

After a lengthy break, Blueberry and I started up the trail again, following it through a clear-cut where we were intercepted by a couple of people, Bob and Brian, doing a story for the Star Tribune, paper I had never heard of before but later learned it's the largest paper in the state based out of Minneapolis, and they wanted to ask us a few questions about who we were and why were were out there hiking the trail. When it was my turn, they asked some tough questions, like how old I was.

"Uhhh...." I stammered. I wasn't sure. "Forty... three? Forty two? Umm... Forty... something..." I looked to Blueberry for help. Maybe I had told him how old I was and he remembered. I knew he was 23, after all, but Blueberry was no help at all. I started doing the math in my head. Born in 75.... so I'd have turned 25 in 2000, plus 18... carry the one.... 43! Oh, wait... I hadn't had my birthday yet. 42! I'm too old to care about this stuff anymore.

When we left, the photographer (Brian) wanted to send up a drone and get us hiking out of the clear-cut, so he got the drone flying and in place and Blueberry and I continued our hike, not looking in the sky for the eye in the sky that we knew was following us. I'd really like to see that drone footage. I've never seen me hiking from the viewpoint of a drone before!

It's an erratic!
We continued down the trail, following it through a few muddy areas before the trail came out and followed Highway 2 for a short ways. We followed the markings up the highway, then crossed the street where the arrow pointed to the other side. I figured the trail would turn onto a snowmobile road soon--they seem to mark the trails so hikers usually walk on busy roads on the side that we'd see opposing traffic. There was a road, but it was clearly marked with lots of 'no trespassing' signs and clearly wasn't the proper direction.

We followed the road for another 5 or 10 minutes, but didn't see anymore trail markings after that one to cross the street, nor any viable locations to turn into the woods. I pulled out my map of the trail and based on the curves in the road, we should have headed into the woods precisely where that 'no trespassing' road was located. That didn't feel right, but we had clearly passed the turning point, so Blueberry and I turned around and headed back.

Blueberry seemed convinced that the road was the correct direction, but I was more skeptical which is why I insisted we didn't go down it the first time around. It still didn't feel right to me, but it was located exactly where the turn off Highway 2 was located on our maps and we didn't see anything else that headed into the woods in that direction. With no other options, we started hiking down the road.

But it didn't feel like a snowmobile route to me--just a dirt road. And after about 10 minutes of walking, the road curved and we could see a house. Which I was a little nervous at the idea of walking by because the road curved in a way that was not listed on my trail map--and I was pretty sure that these people did not take kindly to trespassers given the extensive signage they had put up about "no trespassing." I finally convinced Blueberry to turn back and return to Highway 2 again--although I wasn't sure what we would do once we got there. We seemed to have trouble figuring out where the trail went!

'Twas very muddy in areas!

Once again we got back to Highway 2, and Blueberry went back across the street to find the last trail waymarker we had seen sending us across the street in the first place, but I decided to backtrack down the road looking for signs or possible snowmobile routes going into to the woods and found it in seconds. It was well-marked, looked like a snowmobile trail, and I shouted over to Blueberry that I had found it.

Our problem, as it turned out, was that the marker to turn--which I had thought merely meant to cross the street--had us cross the street just after the actual turn, so when we crossed the street, we weren't able to see the snowmobile route. We probably spent an extra half hour walking around in the wrong direction--not once, but twice!--because of the ineffective marking. We were both a little miffed over the incident.

As it turned out, the snowmobile route ran parallel to the dirt road we had just been walking, and we could actually see the dirt road in places along the trail. We never actually had to backtrack to Highway 2--we could have just walked through the trees for about 10 seconds and have been back on the trail! Argh! The dirt road was a lot easier to see through the trees than the snowmobile route had been from the dirt road!

In any case, we finally got ourselves back on track and shortly thereafter arrived at the Silver Creek Campsite. There we found a woman who introduced herself as Sasha, and when we introduced ourselves, she'd already heard of us--from Tidy who arrived into camp before us. Although she called him "Andrew."

She told us what she knew of us: That we were crazy. We didn't sleep in tents, we slept with our food bags, we had thru-hiked the Appalachian Trail, and that we were ultra-light backpackers.

I looked at her like she was crazy. "Did you see my pack?!" I said, pointing at the large, heavy backpack I'd been carrying. "Does that look ultra-light to you?!"

She agreed that it did not, but I admitted that Blueberry looked pretty ultra-light. He didn't carry a spare set of clothes to change into in camp like I did. He didn't carry any camp shoes so would walk around camp barefoot. He didn't carry any extra food like I preferred to do--just in case! Blueberry's pack was probably half the size of mine and half the weight.

Sasha was thru-hiking the Superior Hiking Trail as well, heading northbound in the same direction as us, so we decided that she needed a trail name as well. We told her that we started calling "Andrew" Tidy, but since he hadn't introduced himself to her as Tidy, it didn't seem to be sticking. We encouraged her to call him Tidy, though, saying if enough people start doing that, it'll stick. =)

Being a proud Minnesotan, Blueberry gave Sasha the moniker of the Hiking Viking, and we told her that it was our first visit to Minnesota. Blueberry told her what he knew about the state--that it was the "land of one thousand lakes."

I laughed and swatted him. "What are you trying to do? Insult everybody from Minnesota? They have ten thousand lakes!" The Hiking Viking laughed at our improvised skit.

Blueberry started getting lessons in talking like a native Minnesotan, including you betcha! among other words and phrases.

Stewart Creek

Blueberry worked on a campfire, and Tidy eventually came out of his tent to join us. Blueberry immediately said, "Hi, Tidy!" and Hiking Viking gasped in shock, but Tidy took it in stride. It's as if she thought we called that as a derogatory name behind his back, but his apparent lack of concern made her feel more comfortable to use the trailname later. "The ultimate goal," we told her, "is to use it so often that he forgets his real name."

Tidy went back to his tent well before dark, exhausted from his day's hike. Blueberry and I joked that we should start calling Tidy "Lightweight"--because, you know, he isn't. Not only is he a very tall man, but his pack was enormous! And we could call Hiking Viking "Supergirl." Then send Heavyweight and Superman a message saying that we've replaced them. =)

Hiking Viking thought we were crazy to sleep with our food bags. Blueberry liked to brag that he used his as a pillow, but I explained that I don't because I use a pillowcase stuffed with clothes as a pillow instead. I just sleep next to my food bag. "I'm not crazy like some people around here," I joked as I looked at Blueberry.

Hiking Viking seemed jealous of our... courage, I guess? She hated finding a tree to hang her food bag--it was such a hassle. "If you're sleeping with your food already, can I leave my food bag with you?" she asked.

I laughed--that was funny! "Sure! Not a problem!" I said. "Better me than Blueberry. He'd eat all of your food and leave you with nothing." As it was, Hiking Viking had too much food and already gave some of it to Blueberry who was happy for the extra snacks.

A little after sunset, we all hit the sack. And yes, Hiking Viking left her food bag with me during the night. I think I heard her mutter something about "You guys are crazy," as she was walking back to her tent after dropping off her food bag with me.

Those small turd-like things on the ground here are taconite pellets.
What kind of weird creature is this taconite? Their poop is hard as a rock! (That's a joke, people... I didn't know what taconite was before hiking this trail--we don't have taconite mines where I grew up!)
Tidy hikes under a railroad bridge. I have a theory that the taconite pellets had fallen off trains that pass overhead because the pellets were located only near this railroad bridge.

Blueberry does his best come-hither look in his skirt during a lunch break. He really wanted the jelly I had in my pack so he could make his peanut butter and jelly sandwich!

Reeves Falls

We entered onto Highway 2 here.... and would proceed to go in the wrong direction not once, but twice before figuring out where the trail actually went!
I felt pretty certain that this wasn't the correct direction, but it was the second wrong direction we walked in. They really should add another sign saying, "SHT--a hundred feet to the right" and a giant arrow pointing to the right.
Now that is a snowmobile trail! And it's even marked with an SHT logo!
(That's the whitish sign above the no ATV sign.)
Blueberry finds half an egg shell.

Silver Creek
Silver Creek campsite, our home for the night!

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Day 7: A miserable day on the trail....

June 6: The first drops of rain started at around 4:00 in the morning, and a light but steady rain continued until about 9:00. Having checked the weather forecast, we knew it would tapper off in the morning so Blueberry and I decided to wait it out finally leaving camp at about 10:30.

The day's hiking was generally not a very good one. It was miserable with the recent rain, the humidity and mud became a bigger problem, and the heat and bugs continued to drag down our moral. And there weren't much in the way of views to compensate for the otherwise difficult conditions.

As if to throw that fact in our face, my guidebook described the "12 Mile View" coming up where Lake Superior could be seen 12 miles away. It sounded like there would be a grand view from that point, but it would have been better named the "12 Foot View" since trees blocked views in all directions except for a tiny section which gave the smallest glimpse of Lake Superior. It was such a small glimpse, you could have covered the lake with a quarter at arm's length. It was as if the trail maintainers wanted to play a cruel practical joke on us--to get our hopes up before smashing us into the ground. I looked for the hidden cameras to capture our reactions but found none.

Late in the day we met a new hiker joining the trail, Andrew. His fiancee was dropping him off at a trail head and he had yet to take his first steps on the trail when we crossed paths. I stopped in the parking lot for a short break and Blueberry was already there a few minutes ahead of me making introductions.

We chatted a few minutes more, and Andrew's fiancee seemed worried about his well-being and we assured her he'd be fine--that you have to do something spectacularly stupid to get yourself killed out here like take a selfie with a bear or walk off a cliff while hiking with your eyes closed.

We chatted for a few minutes more, before Blueberry continued down the trail, and Andrew followed a few minutes after that, seemingly a bit wobbly under the staggering weight of his very large and heavy pack. He was clearly new to long-distance hiking, but he'll learn.

As he ducked into the woods in the trail, his fiancee said softly--so softly that I don't think Andrew could hear it--"I love you." Then paused before adding, "Don't die."

It was kind of comical the way she said it, but you could tell she meant it. I chatted with her a couple of more minutes before she drove away and I was left in the parking lot by myself.

I was still ready for a break, though, and sat down in a patch of nearby shade for another 10 minutes eating a snack. The bugs didn't seem as thick or as bad in the wide-open parking lots where more of a breeze could blow through.

After my break, I continued on and caught up with Blueberry and Andrew at the Ferguson Campsite for the evening. Blueberry had already started a small campfire and Andrew set up his tent.

In camp, I changed into my camp clothes and did a thorough tick check, finding a few more buggers on me bringing my total for the day to 11. Blueberry found about half that number--the first day on the trail that I had a larger tick count than Blueberry. That was 24 ticks I've pulled off me in the past two days! But Blueberry still led me in total ticks found.

Around the campfire, we tried to figure out a trail name for Andrew. He didn't think he needed or deserved one--he wasn't thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail or anything like we had done, but we told him that was nonsense! He was thru-hiking the trail--a traditional thru-hike of this trail rather than a total thru-hike, but he was still a thru-hiker (or at least making an attempt at it) and therefore deserved a hiker name.

"So tell us more about yourself" I implored. "Maybe that will help us figure out a name."

He did, but it was kind of a side comment later when he said something about wanting to keep everything tidy that Blueberry jumped on the word and said we could call him Tidy. I wasn't sure the name was a good match--I imagined someone named Tidy would be wearing an impeccable collared shirt without a spec of dust on it. And maybe a bow tie. Andrew didn't seem excited about the name, but he didn't really seem opposed it to either. He seemed like an easy-going kind of guy that would have happily agreed to just about any trail name that we suggested.

So, at least until we thought of something better, we'd call him Tidy. It was still early in the trail. His name could still evolve.

One of the rare, genuine views from the trail today! See Lake Superior on the horizon?! =)

Blueberry and Tidy share a laugh around the campfire.

Monday, July 16, 2018

Day 6: Sucker Creek is for Suckers....

June 5: We woke up relatively early for Amanda to throw us out on the trail and head to work. It was the end of our slackpacking days.

The drive to the trailhead we finished the day before took the better part of an hour--we really should have moved camp further up the trail a day or two earlier, but Blueberry and I arrived at the trailhead on Lismore Road and Amanda drove off into the proverbial sunset.

Right from the trailhead, the trail was muddy and wet!

The day didn't start well--immediately requiring us to tromp through mud and water following parallel to Lismore Road. It was a sign of what we would be going through almost all day--extremely muddy and wet trails! We followed snowmobile routes for much of the day, and the sun was hot and the air was humid.

We didn't see a single hiker the entire day, either! Clearly, they had a lot more sense than we did. =)

Near Heron Pond, I saw moose tracks on the trail and scanned the marshy areas for the elusive moose but spotted nothing.

We didn't stop for breaks very often and our stops were short due to the bugs. We took a short break in an area that had recently been clear cut, but finally got a real rest on the bridge over Sucker Creek. Away from the thick vegetation and with a slight breeze flowing downstream, the bugs weren't so bad and butterflies flitted about.

We napped, we read our books, we made peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Blueberry pulled off a few more ticks and I pulled off a couple myself.

We stopped for a couple of hours at the bridge before pushing on the rest of the way to the Fox Farm Pond campsite--our destination for the evening. Blueberry left first, and I followed maybe 10 minutes later.

When I arrived at the campsite, located next to a scenic beaver pond, Blueberry was already working on a campfire. We set up our tarps since rain was in the forecast for the night and performed very thorough tick checks on ourselves--the number of ticks we found on ourselves today was staggering! Blueberry's final count for the day was 18 ticks while I pulled off 13. I was glad for the long pants I wore--the vast majority of the ticks I pulled off never even reached my skin and none of them had drilled into me yet.

We chatted over the campfire for the rest of the evening, surprised at how late the sun set. At these high latitudes in June, it didn't get dark until after 10:00!

Heron Pond
Evidence of beaver! This tree was clearly felled by a beaver.

Not only is there a Sucker River, but the Sucker River Campsite is located by it as well. We weren't idiots, though. We knew that only suckers camp by the Sucker River! =)
Blueberry takes a break on the bridge over the Sucker River.
Blueberry tells us about his day...

This was the only wildlife I saw... and I only got his photo because he moved so slowly!

Beaver dam--it's amazing what those beavers can do!