Monday, September 3, 2018

Day 27: The end of another trail....

June 26: I'd like to say that Blueberry woke up at the crack of dawn, but he was stirring long before then. The stars were still shining when he hit the trail at 4:30 in the morning, but there was the tiniest hint of the sunrise already. I knew Blueberry was anxious to finish the trail, but that was way too early in the morning for me! And anyhow, I needed to take photos for Walking 4 Fun and I needed daylight to get the job done.

Somewhat remarkably, Blueberry's phone actually worked out here in the middle of nowhere. My phone, by comparison, was as useful as a paperweight, and had been so the last couple of days. Late in the night after we went to sleep, he was doing some texting and talking and I overheard a little a problem with his cat, and that his friend who was taking care of it might have to euthanize it. Something about a spider bite and it's face melting off?

So besides just being tired of the trail in general, he wanted to get back home and take care of his cat--if it lived long enough. His plan was to get an early start--and 4:30 is definitely early!--finish the trail, hitch rides back to Duluth and, if everything went really well, fly home that evening. It seemed optimistic at best. We were only eight miles from the end of the trail so finishing the trail would only take a few hours--that was the easy part. Trying to hitch a ride out of this remote wilderness area might take a bit longer.... Then he still had to hitch all the way back to Duluth which was a good three hour drive in itself, although I suspected that might actually be faster and easier than trying to get out from this remote location back to Highway 61. And to make it to the airport in time to fly out this evening? Technically, it was possible, but it didn't seem very likely without some serious Blueberry Magic working its charm.

My goals were a little less lofty: I hoped to get back to Duluth by nightfall. I didn't have any deadlines and wasn't in a rush, although if I could get back into Duluth before the post office closed, I could pick up my laptop which would be useful, but whatever happens happens... *shrug*

So Blueberry left camp, essentially ditching me the last day on the trail. Although if he was stuck at the trailhead for several hours trying to get a ride out, I might run into him again. =)

I, on the other hand, went back to sleep for a couple of more hours before hitting the trail myself. Almost immediately out of camp, the bugs came out in full force. I walked quickly to discourage them, but there were just too many of them. I pulled out my head net and put it on--it was the first time of the entire trail that I actually hiked with the head net on. I hate hiking with a head net on. It's hot and stuffy and only to be used as a last, desperate resort.

The high point of the trail, I knew, was located just a few miles from the campsite, and my guidebook warned to keep your eyes open for a sign marking the high point of the trail in a wooded area with no views that could be easy to miss, and every time the trail climbed, I'd look for a sign marking the high point when I felt the trail leveling off. Especially if it were in an area surrounded by trees and with no views! But I never did find the sign marking the high point (although I did later see photos of it that Hiking Viking took just the day before, so I know it exists). I guess it really is an any sign to miss because I missed it even though I was deliberately looking for it! Or maybe I couldn't see it through the stupid head net.

The only part of my body not protected from the bugs were my hands, but even those I put on thin, white 'gloves.' Strictly speaking, they aren't gloves at all, but I picked them up in the medical aisle of a CVS. I guess they're meant to be used to cover cream or lotion that are on your hands so the liquid doesn't spread onto everything you touch. I liked them because they're really thin and I'll cut off the fingers to turn them into "glovelets" that I'll use keep the sun off the back of my hands so they won't burn. On this trail, mostly in the shade, it hasn't been a problem so I didn't cut off the fingers, and now I used them as a form of mosquito protection instead. But they weren't very effective because they were so thin. I still wore them thinking it made things harder for mosquitoes, but it didn't stop them.

The trail came out onto a dirt road, which I followed a ways to a small parking area where I found a register. On the roads, even dirt roads like this one, the bugs usually aren't as bad since they have fewer places to hide and there's often a small breeze blowing along the road to discourage them, but they were still bad and swarmed as soon as I stopped to sign the register. I wound up picking up the register and walking around in circles in the parking lot while simultaneously trying to sign the book. It was awful! I didn't even bother to take my signature stamp out of my backpack to stamp it properly. The bugs were just too bad.

I quickly moved on, soon passing over Swamp River--there's a not-so-cheerful and appropriate name for the creek. I thought about stopping to fill up my water bottle. I had about half a liter, which is less than I usually prefer to carry, but I figured I'd be done in maybe two hours and I could live with half a liter for the next two hours. Normally I'd have preferred to guzzle down as much as I could possibly drink then top off my 1-liter bottle for the trail, but stopping for that would just give those mosquitoes another chance to swarm. I'll live with a half liter. It was a decision I'd later regret....

I reached the trailhead for the Border Route Trail (BRT), which overlaps the last mile or so of the Superior Hiking Trail. I saw no sign of Blueberry, but he should have finished the trail by this point. It was a mile to the end of the trail, and a mile back to the trailhead, and he had a solid two-hour head start on me. I wondered if that meant he actually managed to get a ride... or if he was walking down the road trying to get a little bit closer to town for a better place to hitch?

The march continued, and I finally arrived at the end of the trail at about 9:30 in the morning. The trail officially ends at the 270 Degree Overlook, which overlooks the Canadian province of Ontario. I looked for the "no touching" line that marked the boundary of the United States with Canada but couldn't see it. Every time I've been at the Canadian border you can see a deforested line maybe 30 feet wide marking the border, but I couldn't see that here. I wasn't sure if that was because I just couldn't see it through the trees or if the border followed a river and the river actually was the boundary. I did see a river down below, though. That might have been the border. In any case, according to my maps, the Canadian border wasn't more than maybe a quarter-mile away.

It's official! The end of the Superior Hiking Trail!
At the open overlook, the mosquitoes weren't an issue so I finally had a rest from those blood-suckers. I was almost more excited about that than the view or the end of the trail! =)

There was another register at the overlook, so I signed that as well--and did pull out my signature stamp to mark my entry.

View from 270 Degree Overlook into Canada. Is the river the border?! (Looking at a map later, I think it was.)

I wasn't done hiking, though. Not yet, at least.... I still needed to get back to a trailhead. The closest trailhead was the one I came out from about a mile away, but I liked the idea of not retracing my steps and realized that I could continue down the Border Route Trail to another trailhead maybe four or five miles away. The distance was a little fuzzy for me because I didn't have any maps for the Border Route Trail, but the trailhead I passed had a map showing several scenic overlooks along the way and given that it was only 9:30 in the morning, I had plenty of time to hike a couple of hours to the next trailhead. Even better, the next trailhead was closer to where the Arrowhead Trail crossed a couple of other dirt roads, and I figured if I reached that intersection of roads, my chances of finding a ride would be greatly improved. I could get a ride from people heading to town from three separate dirt roads where they all intersected!

So I picked up my pack and pushed onward, following the trail west roughly along the US-Canadian border. Within about 10 minutes, however, I started having second thoughts about this decision. The trail, as it turned out, was severely overgrown and not well-marked in places. I had to scramble over and around fallen trees. After another half hour, I lost the trail completely. I knew it had to go generally westward, so I scouted in that direction for some sign of the trail when I saw a cut log. It didn't look like a trail, but the cut log was a sign that I was still on the right track. Maybe the trail was overgrown, but it was supposed to go through here which was why the fallen log had been cut.

I picked up the trail again, but at this point thought about turning back and going out the way I came. I hated the idea of backtracking, but this trail was turning out to be a lot more difficult than I imagined. And I had very limited water--it might take longer to reach the trailhead than I expected, especially if I got lost along the way. My half-liter of water was a growing concern. It didn't help that the temperatures were continuing to climb and I was sweating quite hard at this point.

On the plus side, however, the mosquitoes didn't seem as bad out here and I finally stopped wearing my head net. I suspect the lack of mosquitoes had more to do with the lack of water on this stretch of the trail, though.

But the thing that worried me the most was the possibility of a severe injury. If I twisted my ankle on an uneven lump on the ground I couldn't see through all the grass or broke a leg or something, I could really be screwed. It didn't look like anyone had hiked this trail in years--I'd be on my own with a phone that didn't get a signal. At least on the SHT, even if I hadn't been hiking with Blueberry, I knew that someone would eventually show up before too long. I really wished that Blueberry was here on this section of the trail with me. The one day that I really needed a hiking partner, and he wasn't around anymore.

So I went slowly, thoughtfully, keeping my eyes open for the faint traces of the trail and stepping carefully to not twist an ankle or otherwise injure myself. I also started rationing my water, swearing not to drink more than one gulp of water every 15 minutes.

That should get me to the trailhead, where I knew there was a large lake and I could fill up with water. Assuming, of course, I didn't get lost or injured before I reached it.

I passed a few scenic overlooks, but the view didn't look much different than it had from the 270 Degree Overlook so I found them a little disappointing.

When I first started down this path, I was taking photos regularly thinking it might make a nice "extra credit" segment for the SHT on Walking 4 Fun--kind of like I did with Buckskin Gulch on the Arizona Trail or the PCT when it continued about seven miles into Canada to the trailhead. But I was finding the trail less than scenic and decided it wasn't interesting enough to include. And anyhow, I was more concerned about my safety and well-being at this point. So I stopped taking photos--except for the overlooks. One less thing for me to worry about.

After a few miles, the trail was supposed to reach a junction to a spur trail that would lead another mile to the trailhead, and I was absolutely paranoid that I wouldn't see the spur trail. What if it wasn't marked very well? What if the spur trail was even more overgrown and difficult to follow than the main trail? I could not miss that spur trail! It was my salvation!

And when I saw the sign for the junction, there was much rejoicing! I made it! Well, okay, I still had a mile to the actual trailhead, but I didn't pass the junction! Even better, there was a small creek there to fill up with water! I dropped my pack and filled up with water. The water was absolutely clear and ice cold--I couldn't have asked for more beautiful water! Considering how ice cold it was, I figured the water must have come out of a spring just minutes earlier, although I didn't see the spring. Give it ten minutes and the water would already be warming up to air temperature.

There was much rejoicing when I found this sign marking the junction with the spur trail to the trailhead.

I guzzled about a liter of water in one sitting, and being such fantastic water, I filled up both of my water bottles for a total of 2 1/2 liters in my pack. I only had a mile to the trailhead where I knew there was that lake, but I had no doubt that this water was better than anything that lake could provide. And I also knew that I might be on the road for hours trying to get a ride. I would need some water while I waited!

I stopped for about 15 minutes, basking in the cool shade, with cold water, and an area largely free of bugs. My worries vanished--although I still had to be careful not to injure myself since there would be no help coming up behind me. But with 2 1/2 liters of water and knowing where to find water nearby, a lot of my worries had vanished. Poof!

After the rest, I continued onward. The spur trail was as overgrown and difficult to follow at the BRT so I didn't make great time, but about a half hour later I arrived at the trailhead safe and sound. Yes! I made it! I was done!!!!

Well, done with the trail.... I still needed to get back to civilization, though.

I found myself on the gravel Otter Lake Road and started walking west towards the junction with Arrowhead Trail about a mile away where I hoped my chances of a ride would improve as vehicles coming from three different directions might pass that point going back to town. The road was largely unshaded so fairly hot and miserable, but at least the bugs weren't especially bad. They were there, but not bad.

This was the lake that I knew was by the trailhead and the water source I was initially planning on using... until I found the beautiful, cold water at the junction with the spur trail.

I arrived where the two gravel roads intersected without seeing a single car the entire time. Yeah, this could take awhile....

I sat down on the side of the road, in the shade, and waited for a vehicle to go by. I ate a few snacks to pass the time, then pulled out my Kindle for the long haul. After about 10 minutes, the first vehicle approached the intersection.

It wasn't going in the direction I wanted to go, but the driver pulled over long enough to ask where I was trying to get to. I told him, and he said that he was out here to go on a bike ride, but if I was still there in a couple of hours, he could give me a lift back to Highway 61. Awesome! At the very least, I wouldn't be here for more than about two hours. I hoped it wouldn't be that long, but at least I had a firm timeline for getting out of here.

About every 10 to 20 minutes, another vehicle would pass by. One large shuttle van flew past heading in the direction of town without even slowing down. I couldn't tell if the shuttle van was full of people or not, but I was a little resentful of that. It's a shuttle van! I needed a shuttle! And it was huge! There was probably plenty of space for me in it!

Another guy in a truck stopped and asked me if everything was okay. Yeah, just trying to get to town. He said he was checking something out up the road, but if I were still there in 20 minutes, he'd be passing that way again and could take me into town. Awesome! Now my wait time had been cut to 20 more minutes! That would mean I would have spent about an hour trying to hitch a ride.

In the first hour, four vehicles passed me by. Two of them stopped and offered to give me ride if I was still there when they came back, and a third one wasn't going in my direction, and the fourth one was that shuttle van which was going in my direction but didn't stop at all.

I spent an hour looking at this view down Arrowhead Trail waiting for a ride....

The guy who said he be back in about 20 minutes was good to his word, though, so after an hour of waiting, I finally got a ride. During the ride back, I spotted a black bear dash across the gravel road. It was a quick glance from a distance and I wasn't entirely sure it was a bear I saw. "Was that a bear?!" I asked the driver, and he said that yes, he thought it was.

Finally! I saw a bear on the trail! Well, I guess, not on the trail. Not exactly.... I had to finish the trail before I finally saw a bear. I never did see a moose, though, much to my disappointment. (Blueberry really wanted to see a moose as well--he'd never seen one, not on the Appalachian Trail or any other trail for that matter. At least I've seen them several times--four on the AT, one on the Long Trail, one on the Colorado Trail and some in Yellowstone.)

My ride out of the wilderness got me to Highway 61 in Hovland, and I figured my chances on getting to Duluth before the post office closed were actually pretty good. I could score a ride in 10 or 15 minutes--it was a fairly busy highway and Blueberry and I had no trouble hitching on it before. If I was really lucky, the ride would get me all the way to Duluth, but it would probably only get me part way until I had to hitch another ride--which wasn't a big deal. This was easy street now!

Except that it took over an hour to get a ride--even longer than it took me to get a ride out of the wilderness! I counted 65 vehicles that passed me by. It was frustrating! The longest wait for a hitch in my life! (Although not the most number of cars to pass me by.) It seemed inconceivable that this relatively busy road was harder to hitch than a remote, wilderness gravel road.

Then I waited for just over an hour with this view of Highway 61, waiting for a ride. At least there was a general store next to it if I needed anything to eat or drink, but I was anxious to keep moving and never wound up going inside.

But finally a vehicle pulling a boat pulled over and gave me a ride as far as... Grand Marais. Not even a half hour down the road. I took it because it was better than nothing. I could start hitchhiking again from Grand Marais and now anyone heading toward Duluth from there was a possible ride.

Also, if I still had trouble hitching a ride, I knew of a nice hostel not far away I could stay in. And, at this point, I was hungry for food and I didn't mind taking a short break to eat some real food that didn't come out of my pack.

So I took the ride to Grand Marais. I wanted food, but I also wanted it fast so I could get back to my main job of hitchhiking and went to the Dairy Queen where I wolfed down a combo meal and headed back out.

By the time I reached Grand Marais, I was hungry and did stop briefly at Dairy Queen for a late lunch.

Fortunately, this hitch went a lot faster. I only had to wait about 10 minutes to get a ride with a nice couple and their dog, but again didn't make it very far. This time, I covered another 30 miles down to Tofte. Another trail town that Blueberry and I had stayed at. I seemed to be getting rides between every trail town where we stopped along the way! At this rate, my next ride would drop me off in Silver Bay....

The next hitch went well and a vehicle pulled over after only about 5 or 10 minutes. This time, a fellow named Chad picked me up and we had a lot in common. He had actually thru-hiked the SHT two times before so we had a lot of stories to share. He was also driving back from a backpacking trip he did on Isle Royale, which I was very jealous of and wanted to learn more about. =) Also, since he had been backpacking for the past week, we both smelled bad so I didn't feel so bad about stinking up someone else's nice car. =)

His destination would also take him through Duluth so--wonderful news!--I wouldn't have to hitch anymore rides! He was even extra accommodating by driving me directly to the Motel 6.

I checked in, but it was too late for me to pick up my maildrops at the post office on the adjacent block. That would have to wait until morning. But at least I was able to take a shower, clean up and get online with my smartphone. I walked next door to grab a quick dinner at Burger King then settled into the hotel for the rest of the night watching TV.

I also got a text from Blueberry saying that he had arrived in Minneapolis already and was waiting for his next flight. He did it! He must have had some incredibly good luck getting rides to have already made it to Duluth in time for a flight to Minneapolis. Damn him and his Blueberry Magic. I was envious!

And that was basically it for me. The next morning, I was at the post office the minute they opened and picked up my mail drops. An hour later, I was on a shuttle van taking me to the Minneapolis-St. Paul airport, which I shared with a couple of human eyeballs in a box that got the front passenger seat. Apparently they were on their way to the airport too for a transplant or something.

And a couple of hours later, I was on a flight heading home.... The end of another grand adventure!

The Superior Hiking Trail really is a wonderful trail, but if you're thinking about ever doing it, don't do it in June. The bugs are awful! September, I think, is the best month to do it. *nodding*

Friday, August 31, 2018

Day 26: The mosquitoes are coming! The mosquitoes are coming!

June 25: Even before the sun rose above the horizon, the mosquitoes had come out, and I quickly packed up camp and headed out to escape the onslaught. I wanted nothing more than to get through this bad section and escape the bugs. I didn't know how far I had to go to get away from them all, but anything would be better than this location!

I was expecting them, but I never saw any!

Or so I thought.... The trail next passed by Carlson Pond, a wonderfully scenic lake (calling it a pond didn't give justice to its size), but it too was plagued with mosquitoes so I barely stopped long enough to take a few photos before pushing on.

The trail followed a dirt road for awhile--Tom Lake Road according to my guidebook--when it ran into a section where the road had been flooded by beaver ponds. My guidebook warned this was often the case and to look for a blue-blazed side trail that lead around the flooded area near the edge of the meadow which I found easily enough and started to follow.

Except, as it turned out, the side trail hadn't seemed to have seen any maintenance in the past 20 years. It was badly overgrown and rundown, and at one point, I lost the trail completely. I scrambled over fallen trees, tore through brush, and generally cursed the people who hadn't maintained this trail. After losing the trail, I went up a steep slope but then headed back down it again when I figured it was getting too far away from the meadow. It was supposed to go around the edge of the meadow--not up deeper into the forest. I scratched at the cobwebs that kept hitting my face and my progress slowed dramatically through this section--making it all the easier for the swarms of mosquitoes to attack.

It was a rather dispiriting experience and I found myself wishing I just walked through the flooded section of trail instead. Sure, my feet would have gotten wet, but that was a small price to pay compared to the horrors I currently suffered from.

Oh, how I later wished I just walked right through the water. It would have been so much easier and faster.... The spur trail around the edge of the meadow took me maybe a half hour to complete and returns to the trail at the base of at hill at the far end of the road. It was a tough half hour!

But eventually I found my way to the other side, reconnected back to Tom Lake Road for a short while before the trail headed back off the road and into the woods.

I took my first break an hour later where the trail crossed the gravel road known as Arrowhead Trail. The bugs were still out, but they didn't seem as bad along the road where a slight breeze could blow through and didn't have so much vegetation to hide in. For the time being, it seemed like the best option to escape the bugs--temporarily, at least. I also had plenty of room to spread out my groundsheet and stretch out.

There were only about 10 miles that Blueberry and I planned to cover today, so this was going to be a long hour-plus break. I didn't want to get into camp before noon--which was what would happen at the pace I was currently covering! I pulled out my Kindle and started reading.

Four or five vehicles drove by in the next hour or so, so the road wasn't so busy that it was annoying--although it had a big downside too. Arrowhead Trail was the road I needed to hitch out on from the end of the trail... tomorrow! It was not a busy road, though. Hitching out might be difficult.... But there was nothing I could do about that and I put the thought out of my head.

After an hour or so, Blueberry caught up with me and he took a break as well, also thankful escaping temporarily from the mosquito onslaught.

Blueberry gave me a funny look. "Did you take that side trail around the flooded section of trail?" he asked me.

I laughed. I had a pretty idea where he was going. "Yes...."

Blueberry cursed the trail, and I nodded in agreement. "It's like they're trying to torture us!"

After an hour sitting out on Arrowhead Trail, I felt like continuing onward. And hopefully find a quiet, backcountry location away from the bugs.

We stopped again a couple of hours later at the Woodland Caribou Pond campsite for another break. The bugs were still bad, though, so we didn't stop long. There seemed to be no end to the bugs. That was originally our goal for the day, but both Blueberry and I were anxious just to finish this trail and we decided to push on to the next campsite five miles ahead.

Along the way, the trail climbed to the Hellacious Overlook, a stunning view overlooking Lake Superior. And, being well away from any water sources and with a slight breeze blowing through the exposed overlook, the bugs weren't bad. Weren't bad at all. If I had thought about it earlier, I'd have brought tons of water and just camped up there.

We didn't have tons of water, but we could certainly stop and enjoy the location for awhile, which I did by watching a few Netflix shows that I had downloaded to my phone and read my Kindle. I probably spent over two hours at this location, not anxious to re-enter the forest and contend with the bugs again.

Blueberry left the overlook an hour before I did, anxious to get to camp and get a fire going. But eventually it was time to get to camp myself and I picked up my pack and headed off.

The view from Hellacious Overlook was wonderful!

Almost immediately, the mosquitoes were back. Bastards.

About 10 minutes before reaching the campsite, I slipped on a boardwalk and face-planted into the boggy area right next to it, banging my shin hard against the wooden supports for the boardwalk. I cussed and punched at some mosquitoes in frustration. I didn't know how badly I  hurt my shin, but I figured it probably drew some blood. I didn't want to deal with it just yet, however, and as long as I could still walk, that's what I did. Just finish with this rotten day.

When I arrived in camp, Blueberry already had a fire going and--somewhat surprising--the mosquitoes weren't overwhelming. Will miracles never cease?!

By now, Blueberry wasn't sounding very good. He was sniffling and reported feeling like crap--beyond the mosquito issue--and was ready to be done with the trail.

I set up camp and settled in for the night, where Blueberry and I filmed our last episode of the Campfire Chronicles.

And that was it for our day. Overall, a pretty rotten day on the trail....

Carlson Pond

Blueberry takes a break at the Woodland Caribou Pond campsite.

Blueberry takes a break at Hellacious Overlook. He looks exhausted!

Our camp for the night at the Jackson Creek campsite.
And it's our last episode of... the Campfire Chronicles!

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Day 25: Bad rain! Bad!

June 24: My decision to not set up my tarp, in hindsight, was a terrible mistake. At about 1:30 in the morning, the rain started. And it wasn't a light sprinkle, or even a light sprinkle that gradually ramped up. No, this was a rain that went from 0 to 60 in about three seconds. It was sudden, and it was heavy.

I jumped up to quickly set up my tarp, but in the few minutes it took to set it up, everything was already wet. Not a "soaked to the bone" kind of wet, but.... still pretty wet, and I wasn't happy about the situation.

The rest of the night was therefore cold and miserable--but at least things didn't get worse once the tarp was up, and the rain stopped after about an hour.

In the morning, I lingered in camp late to give my gear a chance to dry out a bit. And anyhow, with a planned 11.2 miles to do today, I didn't have far to go. Maybe five solid hours of hiking. I could leave at noon and still make it to camp well before dark!

Blueberry slept in late as well because that's what Blueberry liked to do. =)

As it was, I left camp a few minutes after Blueberry at around 10:30. I hadn't been hiking for more than five minutes when I caught up with Blueberry who was stopped at a large tree snag and pointing up at it. "See the weasels?" he asked me.

I did! Well, I saw one of them, at least, but Blueberry said that there had been two of them. I wanted to get a photo of them, but they were hard to see through the thick tree brush and facing into the sun like they were, then the one I did see ducked into the snag and out of view. We waited a bit to see if he'd come out again, but he didn't and we continued down the trail. I'm still disappointed that I never got a photo of that. I don't think I'd ever seen a weasel in the wild before!

The trail wound it's way into Judge Magney State Park, following alongside the Brule River for several scenic miles and where hoards of day hikers had come out. The highlight of this section of trail was Devil's Kettle.

The Brule River split into two streams as it cascades and splits into two channels of water. The stream on the right falls down as a waterfall and continues downstream like a normal river, but the channel on the left appears to fall into a sinkhole and the water on that side just vanishes without a trace. It's a pretty substantial amount of water too and runs down the sinkhole and disappears.

The waterfall on the right works like a normal waterfall--it falls, then continues downstream. The stream on the left, however, is Devils Kettle. The water flows into a sinkhole... never to be seen again!
I heard stories that people have thrown in dyes and objects for years in an attempt to track where the water goes but without success. The logical place for it to go is into Lake Superior through an underwater cave system. Lake Superior could absorb that much water without anyone noticing, after all! But where, exactly, it comes out had been a mystery for hundreds if not thousands of years. At least that's allegedly the story.

Hiking Viking told us earlier that in recent years, they finally did figure out where the water went, and the answer was no great surprise: Lake Superior. So maybe Devils Kettle isn't as mysterious as it had once been, but it's still a wonder to behold!

The last few miles of the day things took a turn for the worse when the bugs came out in force. Mosquitoes seemed to very much enjoy the terrain the trail went through now, and the trail was considerably more boggy and wet. I guess that's the kind of terrain mosquitoes prefer.

Our goal had been the Hazel Campsite, and I caught up with Blueberry there but the campsite was a claustrophobic dump and overrun with mosquitoes.

I asked Blueberry if he wanted to try hiking on to the next campsite three more miles ahead--maybe the bugs wouldn't be as bad there. Maybe....

Not only were the bugs a problem, but the trail turned a lot muddier too!

But he didn't think it would be any better at the next campsite and preferred to stay put so we set up camp. I'm usually to tired and lazy to build fires, but the mosquitoes were bad enough that for the first time on the entire trip, I collected the bulk of the firewood. I wanted a fire! A big fire! With lots of smoke to discourage the mosquitoes! I also put on my bug outfit that covered my torso, arms and head.

Blueberry slunk into his sleeping bag to escape the onslaught, so I wound up keeping the fire going for most of the evening. It was as if our rolls had reversed.

Although I didn't get in my sleeping bag, I pulled it out to dry in what sun was left, which I'm happy to report had finally dried out from my misadventures earlier in the morning before slipping into it for the night.

Stupid bugs.....

The trail crosses the Brule River here, in Judge Magney State Park.
On the downstream side of the bridge, you can see where Highway 61 crosses the river.

Just in case you wanted to see Devils Kettle in action, I took a video too. =)

It was at the end of this road walk when the bugs really came out in force! Until then, they weren't noteworthy.

Monday, August 27, 2018

Day 24: Soaring with Eagles!

June 23: I woke up and took one last shower before hitting the trail. It would, I knew, be my last shower until I finished the trail.

Blueberry's flight didn't leave until June 30th, a week away, but we had only about 40 miles until the end of the trail. Even poking along at a slow 10 miles per day, we could be done a few days early, so we decided that there was no reason to rush out of the hostel and start getting  the miles under our feet. Blueberry decided to hang out and watch TV shows on his smartphone, but I had other (more exciting) plans--to hit the high point of Minnesota at Eagle Mountain, 2,301 feet above sea level.

I thought this--Whale Lake--might, perhaps, be the highest lake in Minnesota. Later, some Google searches would tell me that that was not the case.

The SHT passed a few miles from the Eagle Mountain trailhead, and from the hostel, it was maybe a half hour drive away. I asked Nula the day before if she'd be interested in hiking to the high point of Minnesota. Nula had recently moved to Minnesota from Washington state and didn't have a permanent place to stay yet, which was why she was hanging out in the hostel. Knowing she was new to the area, though, I thought maybe she'd be interested in a hike and--besides having company on the hike--she had a car and could just drive us there. Win-win! =)

So we piled into her car and to the trailhead, which followed several miles of gravel road and took a bit longer than we expected but we weren't in a rush.

I had heard a lot about the trail from other people who reported that the trail was mostly flat until the last half mile when it climbs steeply. The trail was remarkably flat considering that we were hiking to a high point for a state, but I didn't think the last half mile was particularly noteworthy. Maybe by Minnesota standards they considered the trail steep, but I considered it a cake walk. There was none of that mad scrambling like you'd find in the White Mountain of New Hampshire which is what I tend to think of when people tell me a section of trail is steep and difficult.

Say hi to Nula. Hello, Nula! =)

Not to mention that I left most of my gear in Nula's car so I got to slackpack to the top. Life was great! It was easy!

What was a problem, however, were the bugs, which were absolutely dreadful!

Near the top, Nula stopped to pee so I continued on and reached the summit where I waited for probably a half hour wondering what the heck happened to her. The summit itself was boring. There was a plaque marking the high point, but it was in trees without any views. There was, however, a viewpoint just under the summit and I figured Nula must have stopped there.

Since Nula never showed up, I took this photo of myself at the summit by stting the camera on the ground and using a 10-second timer. =)

I went down and sure enough, there she was. She actually had no interest going to the very tippy-tippy top of Minnesota, despite it being a mere three or four minute walk away on relatively easy ground. She wanted the view, but bragging rights to the top didn't interest her.

Additionally, she reported that she felt blisters on both feet, so she was good.

We admired the views along with several other people nearby, and the view was genuinely wonderful with several scenic lakes spread out below us. Lake Superior actually wasn't in view, but there were some clouds and haze in the sky and I wondered if that was obscuring the lake or if it was just too far away to be in view.

I counted five or six visible lakes--it was hard to get an exact count because some of the lakes were very close to each other and it was hard to tell if they were one lake with several "lobes" or if each lobe was a separate lake.

Being the troublemaker than I am, I announced, "I'm counting about six lakes here! I heard there were 10,000 of them! Where are the rest? From the high point in Minnesota, wouldn't you expect to see all 10,000 lakes?" Exactly. *nodding*

They laughed, knowing I wasn't from around there and was just teasing them.

The viewpoint near the top of Eagle Mountain was gorgeous! But I don't see no 10,000 lakes... do you?

Eventually Nula and I started back down the mountain, but Nula was walking considerably slower and with a more pronounced limp than she had coming up. The blisters were bugging her.

But expect for the bugs, the trail itself was uneventful. It was an out-and-back hike, so we retraced our steps back to the trailhead, passing by a couple of small lakes (probably the highest lake in Minnesota, I said to Nula, but nobody makes note of that!)  and quite a large number of hikers heading in the opposite direction.

We arrived back at the parking lot, which was completely packed with cars now, including some overflowing the parking lot onto the gravel road that went by it. I was glad we arrived earlier and beat the large crowds!

When Nula took off her shoes, I saw the blisters on her feet for the first time and was stunned at their sizes. They were an inch or two in diameter, on the backs of both feet, and both of them had already popped. It was ugly and I felt a little bad that the hike I suggested did this to her feet. Round trip, the entire hike was something like 7 miles which I didn't think was particularly problematic. I didn't realize that she wasn't much of a walker at all and that seven miles would cause her so much trouble. But it might have just been the shoes as well, not sufficiently broken in. (Or, as I joked with her, her feet weren't properly broken in. "You don't break in shoes. Shoes break in you!")

We piled into the car and headed back. We stopped in Grand Marais--it was on the way and I wanted to grab a real lunch while I could rather than live off the food in my pack. I offered to buy lunch for Nula as a thank you for the ride to the trailhead and the company, but she wasn't interested and instead dropped me off at Hughie's Tacos while she ran out to the co-op to run her own errands.

While waiting in line, I bumped into Jeremy, the proprietor of the hostel. Which wasn't as much of a surprise as you might have thought because his wife, Kate, was the new owner of the restaurant and bought it just a couple of weeks earlier. They planned to change the name of the restaurant to Hungry Hippie Tacos, but that hadn't happened yet.

So I finally met his wife, Kate, who was cheerful and seemed to be enjoying herself and the customers.

I got my taco and dug into it. It was delicious, and I finished it off and was walking toward the door to leave when Nula walked in to find me. Looked like we were both ready to leave at, quite literally, the exact same time!

We piled into her car again and started driving back toward the hostel. Nula stopped at the SHT trailhead a mile before the hostel where I hopped out to begin the day's hike on the Superior Hiking Trail. It was about 3:00 when I arrived, so it would be a late "start" for my day's hike, but Blueberry and I had agreed to stop at a campsite only 8.5 miles up the trail so I didn't have far to go.

Back on the Superior Hiking Trail! Which is actually more steep than it was to the high point of the state!

Blueberry, undoubtedly, was already on the trail and ahead of me somewhere. Depending on when he left, he could already be in camp!

I was maybe an hour into the hike, when I approached an older woman hiking with her unleashed dog, which I didn't think much about until the dog went into attack mode when it saw me, barking and snarling, sharp canines bared and looked ready to rip my throat out.

I pulled up my trekking pole to defend myself, pointing the sharp end at the dog and backing away. The dog backed off a bit when I pointed the pole at it, but he continued growling and clearly looked like he wanted to attack.

The dog's owner shouted, "Throw down your stick! He's scared of your stick! He'll leave you alone if you throw down your stick!"

What the f*** is wrong with you? I want him to be scared of my trekking pole! It's all I have to defend myself with!

She came up behind the dog, grabbing him by the collar and started putting a leash on him.

My heart was beating fast--it was a scary encounter and the adrenaline was pumping through my body.

And I was angry. Absolutely, blood-thirsty angry.

"Keep your dog on a f***ing leash!" I yelled at the woman. And I yelled. I was angry. "You do NOT have your dog under control and it NEEDS to be on a leash at ALL times."

She shook her head, as if I was being totally unreasonable and didn't know what I was talking about.

I'm always a little amused when people who are scared of the woods ask if I'm scared of bears or wolves or whatever wild animals capture their imagination, but what scares me most aren't bears or wolves. It's people and their so-called domesticated pets. This wasn't the first time I've had a problem with dogs, and it's not wild dogs that I've had problems with--it's the domesticated ones. The ones that have no fear of humans. This moment was the scariest moment of my entire hike.

Fortunately, I didn't get hurt from it, but it could have turned out badly. I could have been severely injured or killed, and I might have severely injured her dog defending myself. All of which could have been prevented if the woman just kept her dog on a leash.

And to blame me for the attack because I carried a trekking pole? On a trail? In the woods? That woman and her dog running loose are a threat to every single person (and animal) hiking the trail.

I continued onward, anxious to leave the scene behind me.

This bridge looked like it was installed just yesterday!
Another hour or two later, I followed the trail across Highway 61 and to the shore of Lake Superior. For 1 1/2 miles, the trail followed along the beach. It was the only place on the entire trail where the trail followed directly along the lake the trail was named for. (Except for in Duluth--which doesn't seem like it really counts since it's in town rather than a wilderness experience.)

The walking was difficult, over sand and small rocks where each step felt like two steps forward and one step back, but I enjoyed every minute of it. The views were wide open and beautiful! The air was crisp and cool! There were no bugs--not any! I loved it!

The fact that Lake Superior was a freshwater lake still fascinated me. Looking across it, I couldn't see the other side. It looked like an ocean or a sea. You'd think there must be salt in the water, but nope, there isn't. Or is there...? It suddenly occurred to me that I never actually tasted the water. I should check that it really is fresh water. I stopped long enough to partially fill one of my empty water bottles and took a chug. Yep, it was fresh--and absolutely delicious! And cold, too. I was told the average water temperature of the lake is about 40 degrees year round--cold enough that I wouldn't want to swim in it, but a great temperature to drink. (This is also the reason the air temperature near the lake was so much cooler than it was just a couple of miles away from the lake. The lake effect. It keeps temperatures along the shore cool during hot weather and keeps temperatures warm during cold weather.)

The start of the infamous Lake Walk. (A lot of hikers complained about it because it's so hard to walk on, which is true, but I loved the Lake Walk anyhow!)
I did try to walk over sections with larger pebbles--the larger the pebbles, the easier it was to walk on--and kept my eye open for when the trail would head back into the woods. I was a little concerned that I'd miss the turn and keep hiking along the beach in the wrong direction.

But I didn't miss the turn, and headed back into the woods. I wish more of the trail was alongside the lake.

I continued onward, finally reaching the North Little Brule River campsite where Blueberry had already set up camp and had a roaring fire. And it was roaring! His campfires are usually small, modest affairs, and this was the biggest one I'd seen on the trail.

I was tired by the time I arrived in camp. Blueberry hiked a mere 8.5 miles to get here, but I did another 7.5 miles to Eagle Mountain on top of that had therefore had walked closer to 16 miles and was pretty beat.

The weather forecast called for a slight chance of light rain, but it looked clear right now and I decided not to put my tarp up. I set up camp at a location where I could easily get a tarp up quickly if it did rain, but I figured if it did rain, and if it was light, I'd just throw the tarp over me like a blanket and wait it out. I didn't feel like setting up my tarp if I really didn't have to.

Then I joined Blueberry by the campfire, cooked some dinner and we caught up with our day's adventures in the next episode of... the Campfire Chronicles!

More photos from the Lake Walk--it was the most spectacular section of the trail all day!
I didn't create this line of rocks, but I liked it! =)

It looks like a bunch of fur on the ground. What the heck happened here?!