Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Day 1: Hitting the Superior Hiking Trail!

May 31: After waking up in the morning and getting ourselves put together, we walked over to the gas station convenience store and adjacent Burger King. At the convenience store, we picked up snacks and supplies for a day on the trail, and at the Burger King we ordered a hearty breakfast to power us through the morning.

The Superior Hiking Trail is marked with blue blazes while the side trails are marked with white blazes, so Blueberry and I often joked about the SHT being the "anti-AT" trail or sarcastically called each other "blue blazers." The trail is also marked with the SHT logo as well as blue blazes.

At this point, we had no support vehicles to get us to or from the trail so we had to get creative. The night before, I studied online maps and schedules and found no good way to get us to the very beginning of the trail at the Wisconsin border, nor any good way to get us back to Duluth at the end of our hiking day, so instead I went to plan B and looked up points along the trail that were located on or near bus stops. The Motel 6 itself, in fact, was less than a half-mile off trail and could make a reasonable starting or ending point for the day.

Ultimately I decided on a start near the base of Spirit Mountain, a ski resort with a bus stop maybe a 5 minute walk from the trail. We'd hike until we reached the road that would lead us to the Motel 6 at which point we could quit for the day or continue further on into Duluth depending on how we felt.

So we walked a few blocks to the necessary bus stop and waited for the bus. It was after rush hour and it would cost a mere 75 cents per person to get us to the trail. We found a place in the shade to wait because the temperatures were already growing hot and steamy. Highs for the day would be almost 80 degrees, but the humidity made it feel so much worse! I brought one liter of water but figured I'd find plenty more along the trail to resupply.

Our bus arrived, we paid the fair, and headed to Spirit Mountain.

We walked up to the trail, took a few starting photos, and started slackpacking northward on the trail.

Blueberry and I pose at the ski area at the base of Spirit Mountain as we prepare to take our first few steps on the Superior Hiking Trail.

The trail led uphill for quite a ways, following alongside Knowlton Creek.

Knowlton Creek
Almost immediately we ran into a sign about "Crowd Hydrology." It explained that they collect water data using social media and citizen science, and that there's a measuring stick in the creek to measure the water level which people--like us!--can text to a specific number and help create a historical record of the water levels of the creek. I'd heard of this before, but it was the first one I ran into and I had to do it. I pulled out my phone, which got a signal, and texted the measurement (1.16 feet) and sent it out at precisely 11:23:22 am on May 31st. You can even check it online at -- which shows up between measurements that other people recorded on May 27th and June 3rd.

We checked the water level of Knowlton Creek, which at the time we passed by was running at 1.16 feet.

Having performed our scientific measurements for the day, we continued our journey.... For while, things were uneventful. We got a few nice viewpoints to admire, but the trail was rugged--climbing and dropping regularly. Between the heat and humidity, we were sweating bullets.

An hour or two into our hike, we ran into our first detour:
Our first detour!
The bridge was indeed in very bad shape, but I wondered why we couldn't just ford across the creek since it didn't seem very high.
We followed the detour, which was well-marked and otherwise uneventful.

Several hours into our hike, Blueberry asked how far we had gone. I pulled out my guidebook and calculated the distance: 4 miles. We had been hiking for three or four hours, and while we weren't exactly burning up the trail, that didn't seem right and I calculated the numbers again and got the same number.

We both agreed that that couldn't possibly be right, and we joked about it being the "hardest 4 miles we'd ever done." Maybe the detour earlier wasn't included in the mileage we had calculated, but that couldn't have added more than a mile to our hike and it seemed like we should have covered a lot more than 5 miles in the time we had been hiking.

Later in the day, the trail hit a lot more viewpoints along a ridge overlooking the city of Duluth which was the highlight of the day. We passed 27th Avenue and could see our Motel 6 down below but continued to press on to get a few more miles in.

At one point along the trail, I wanted a photo of myself. I needed at least a few photos of myself, after all! So I gave Blueberry my camera and stood at a dramatic viewpoint for my photo.

I pose at a dramatic viewpoint!
But when I looked at the photo, I felt it could be better. A lot better. So I asked Blueberry to take another photo of me, but this time to zoom in so I filled the whole photo from top to bottom. So I posed again, and he took another photo.

Better! But still.... there's more room for improvement!
The next photo was better, but there was still room for improvement, and I asked for another photo--this time where I wasn't planted flat in the middle of the photo. Put me off to the left a bit, so it looks like I'm kind of looking into the photo. So we set up for a third shot and got this photo:

Awesome! I like it! =)
I joked with Blueberry that I'd make him a good photographer by the end of the trail or die trying! =) Actually, the first photo was perfectly fixable just by cropping it better in a photo editor which I also did:
The first photo was fine.... if I cropped it! But you lose some of the resolution by cropping so I wanted to give some tips to Blueberry so cropping wouldn't be necessary. Not just for this photo, but future photos as well!
In Enger Park, we lost the trail for a bit, but explored a Japanese garden and climbed a tower with a commanding view of the area. The garden had a Japanese bell which people could ring, and of course I took immediate advantage of the opportunity to make a lot of noise with very little effort. I think it startled a few people nearby.

Blueberry, who had been reading a nearby sign about the history of the bell, seemed startled as well not realizing that we could ring it, but then I asked him to ring the bell for a video that I'd record--and after hitting the record button, surprised him by asking him about the history of the bell. He nailed it, rang the bell, and after I stopped recording I commented about how well he nailed that pop quiz about the history of the bell. He rather liked it himself saying that he'd look like a genius being able to answer that question "off the top of his head." Nobody would ever have to know that he had just learned that information literally seconds before I started the video. Well, nobody would ever have to know, but of course, I'd make sure they knew. ;o)

Blueberry explains the history of the bell--then rings it!

We eventually figured out where the trail left from Enger Park and headed down it towards the town center, finally finishing our day where the trail passed a bus stop on W Michigan Street. We took the bus back to our hotel, dropping us off at the same bus stop we had gotten on at earlier in the morning.

All-in-all, it was a tiring but satisfying day. Our biggest complaint was that it was much too hot and humid, but that was out of our control.

After cleaning up at the motel, we went next door to the Duluth Grill for dinner--excellent food but I didn't think to take any photos of that so no food photos!

Amanda, in the meantime, had spent much of day flying out to the airport in the Twin Cities where she picked up a rental car and drove up to Duluth where she joined us late in the evening at the Motel 6. We would no longer have to depend on public transportation to get to and from the trail anymore!

Spirit Mountain Recreation Area
The trail had a lot of ups and downs! The low point of the trail was the Lake Superior shoreline at about 600 feet above sea level while the high point was about 1800 feet above sea level, but they can pack in a lot of ups and downs in those 1200 feet!

Blueberry admires the Duluth skyline.
Passing under Interstate 35
A little road walking on N 66th Ave W. This utility pole has ALL of the markings for the trail--a blue blaze, a Superior Hiking Trail icon, and a combination of the two on a sign. They really want you to stay on the trail here!
Boardwalk over a boggy area

Blueberry provides his first impressions of the Superior Hiking Trail.

It's some sort of pipeline that the trail goes under, but I have no idea what the pipeline carries.

The bridge crosses the St. Louis River (the largest river that drains into Lake Superior) into Wisconsin.
Trail under Haines Road

Blueberry props up a section of the mountain that's falling down over the trail. He's amazingly strong!
We found this gate across a road to prevent vehicles from entering, but I thought the "bracelets" in the middle looked like one of those public shaming punishments where people were manacled, so I had Blueberry put his hands in them and pretend like he was suffering a horrible punishment. It turned out great! =)
I admire the view of Miller Creek.
Miller Creek is a little rough in places!
Piedmont Avenue which leads into Duluth.
These boots were made for walking...
Enger Park Tower
View from the top of the Enger Park Tower.
Closing in on Duluth! We'd get off the trail for the day at a bus stop on the road below.


Hartwolfzell said...

I’m super excited to read about your adventure in MN! We were up on the north shore for Father’s Day weekend and I’m curious how close we were to you. Also, most people from the Twin Cities would drive “up” to Duluth. : )

Seagull said...

Looks like this is going to be a great hike. Blueberry adds a lot of interest! The videos are a nice addition to your blog. Thanks, Seagull