Monday, July 2, 2018

Day 0: The Race to Duluth!

It was a couple of months ago, and I was attending Heavyweight's wedding in Baltimore, and we had ourselves a sort of miniature Appalachian Trail reunion of the Four Horsemen--which included Superman and Blueberry. I joked about being the "secret fifth horseman," but I could fill in as the fourth of the Four Horsemen.

Blueberry would be my hiking companion on the Superior Hiking Trail!
This is him looking awesome in his scarf. *nodding*
And we were gathered around Heavyweight's living room chatting when Blueberry told me that he was thinking about thru-hiking the Superior Hiking Trail through Minnesota in June, and I told him that I was thinking about thru-hiking the Centennial Trail through South Dakota in June. And it occurred to us, if we were both going to be hiking in June, we ought to hike together!

And that's what ended up happening, agreeing to hike the Superior Hiking Trail (or abbreviated SHT--an unfortunate although often time accurate acronym if there ever was one--but it's pronounced with the individual letters spelled out. S. H. T.)

I've had the SHT on my hit list for several years now, but wasn't particularly anxious to do the trail in June when the bugs were allegedly at their worst, and historical data showed that June was typically one of the wettest and muddiest months of the year. My ideal month for thru-hiking this trail would have been September--less bugs, less rain, less mud and lots more color in the trees!

But Blueberry had his heart set on the SHT and I couldn't persuade him to delay it later in the summer or to join me on the Centennial Trail instead, so it was to do the trail now with an entertaining hiking companion or a lonely trek by myself when the outdoor conditions were optimal. I decided to do the hike with Blueberry, damn the bugs, rain and mud! (And I'd be damning them all month!)

The Superior Hiking Trail is about 310 miles long and stretches from the Wisconsin-Minnesota border to the Minnesota-Canadian border, following near (though rarely on) the shores of Lake Superior. Except for changing planes at the Minneapolis-St. Paul airport and an Amtrak ride through the state from Chicago to Seattle, I'd never been in Minnesota before--and neither of those incidents really counted. I never touched the Minnesota dirt. I never peed on Minnesota soil. So really, this would be my first real visit to Minnesota. It would be Blueberry's first visit as well.

The Superior Hiking Trail follows near (although rarely ON) the shore of Lake Superior. Lake Superior is the largest fresh-water lake in the world by area and the third-largest by volume holding 10% of the world's fresh water. It's reaches 350 miles long and 160 miles wide and, if you emptied the lake, it would take 191 years for it to completely fill up again.
Most of the trail has a network of 97 free, first-come, first-serve campsites that we'd use, but the southernmost 50 or 60 miles of the trail were fairly new and had no such facilities. A "traditional" thru-hike of the SHT, therefore, doesn't include this section while a "total" thru-hike does. But to legally complete a "total" thru-hike--which is what I wanted to do--we needed to find accommodations near the trail and a way to get to and from our starting and ending points each day.

We agreed to meet up in Duluth on May 30th, and I made a reservation at the Motel 6 in town. Amanda would show up the next day--not in time to shuttle us to or from the trail, but she would be essential in helping us complete the "total" thru-hike.

I didn't start packing for the trip until a couple of hours before my flight from Seattle left--which was scheduled to leave at 12:15 AM.

That flight went well, and I landed at the Dallas-Ft. Worth airport later that morning after getting a couple of hours sleep on the plane.

My next flight didn't go according to plan, however, as my stand-by status did me in and the flight checked in full. I texted Blueberry to let me know that I'd now be running later than planned--but I wasn't sure how late. The next flight looked pretty full too. It might be pretty late by the time I arrive.

But fortunately, I did make it onto the next flight and landed at the Minneapolis-St. Paul airport early in the afternoon, and I texted Blueberry the good news.

The next leg of my journey was a shuttle van from the airport to Duluth. I called about booking space on the next shuttle, but it was full and I'd have to wait for the shuttle after that which meant I had about 3 hours at the airport to kill.

And, as it turned out, so did Blueberry, who was waiting for his flight from this airport to Duluth. His flight got in shortly before mine did. After a few texts, I tracked him down at a food court at the end of the C gates and we chatted for an hour or two. But the race to Duluth was on! I was scheduled to take a long 3-hour shuttle van ride to town while Blueberry had a relatively short, one-hour flight. But I'd get a head start on his flight, and while the shuttle van would drop me off practically right next door to the Motel 6, Blueberry still needed to picked up his checked bag and then find transportation from the Duluth airport to the motel. It looked like it would be a fairly competitive race for who would get to the motel first!

"While looking out the plane's window," I told him, "if you see a slow-moving van moving north on the highway, that might be me. Give me a wave!"

I thought Blueberry had a slight edge to the race, but just a slight one!

Eventually, I departed to catch my shuttle van to Duluth. I picked up my check bag--which had been sitting in the baggage claim for a couple of hours now and was now chained up with other "abandoned bags." One of the employees unlocked my bag for me, and I found my way to the ground transportation and checked in.

At the allotted time, everyone piled into the shuttle van and we were off! Blueberry's flight wasn't scheduled to leave for at least another hour.

We hadn't been on the road for 5 minutes when I got a text from Blueberry saying that his flight had been delayed by at least a half hour. Ha! Maybe I would win this race!

The shuttle van swung past the state capitol in St. Paul to pick up one more passenger before hitting the highway to Duluth. Traffic, at times, was heavy due to severe construction. One of the passengers who lived locally joked that there are two seasons in Minnesota: winter and construction. Everyone in the van laughed, but I'm pretty sure that I was the only person who hadn't heard the joke before. The construction was definitely cutting into my race time, though!

Another hour or so later, I got another text from Blueberry. He wouldn't land until 8:20am tomorrow. Tomorrow?!

The actual text conversation from my phone went like this:

BB: You might beat me there. My flight is not supposed to land until seven.
BB: It changed again 8:20 am tomorrow.
Me: Tomorrow?!!!
BB: Yeah, 16 hours from now
Me: You should have taken the bus. *nodding*

His flight had been canceled. Well, I totally was going to win this race now. I wondered why his flight was canceled, thinking it was probably some mechanical issue, but I figured I'd get all the nitty gritty details later. I texted a message suggesting that it's not too late to take the same shuttle service I was using--maybe the airline would even cover the cost of it.

My ride continued on its way to Duluth, slowed by the construction but now comfortably in the lead for winning our little race. =)

About 15 minutes before arriving in Duluth, the weather took a surprising turn for the worst. Rain had settled in, but even more ominously, the fog became so thick that our driver had to slow down significantly. Visibility plummeted, and it occurred to me that maybe this fog was the reason for Blueberry's flight cancellation. 

The shuttle van dropped me off at the Holiday gas station with a Burger King inside, and it was about a 60 second walk from the drop-off point to the Motel 6 located right next door. I checked in and settled in.

An hour or two later, I got another text from Blueberry.

BB: I'll be there at 11.

What?! Another delay?! What happened this time?

Then he clarified:

BB: I got the last seat in the shuttle.

He's be arriving at 11:00 tonight! He would get here today, after all! Later we were texting about our plans for tomorrow, and he mentioned that he was getting on the shuttle soon. I got the text a little after 9:00pm. The shuttle took me a solid three hours to get me to Duluth--and he hadn't even gotten on the shuttle yet? There was no way he'd arrive at 11:00. There was no way he'd get to the hotel before midnight! If he was scheduled to depart in the next 10 or 15 minutes, he might make it by 12:30 in the morning, though.

And Blueberry finally dragged himself into our motel room at around 12:30 in the morning--about six hours after I had arrived. I won our race by a landslide! And the irony was that he wound up taking the same shuttle service into town that I did.

It was late when he arrived, though, and we quickly went to sleep. Tomorrow, we would start our hike of the Superior Hiking Trail!


GG said...

Be still my heart. You photo of Blueberry definitely got my attention.

Unknown said...

I have been looking forward to reading about your Minnesota adventure. I grew up in Duluth and have deep roots there, Beaver Bay and Two Harbors too.