Friday, July 6, 2018

Day 2: The start of the Superior Hiking Trail!

June 1: The Motel 6 had been a relatively cheap and convenient place to hang out the first days of the trail, but tonight was a Friday night and rates would double! Hotel rates all around the area skyrocketed for the weekend, so we decided to bug out and move our "camp" to a KOA closer to the start of the trail. Now it really would be a camp!

We walked back to the Burger King next door for breakfast, where I ordered the "Ultimate Platter" for a mere $5. It was a surprisingly lot of food for $5. Not gourmet, obviously, but very filling for our planned 15-mile hike today.

We checked out of the Motel 6 and Amanda drove us to Jay Cooke State Park and the start of the trail. Or rather, as close as to the start of the trail that a car could travel. We stopped at a parking area on Wild Valley Road to put on our shoes and get our packs in order, then had Amanda drive us further down the gravel road and throw us out where the trail crossed the road but had no parking available. This left us about one mile from the beginning of the trail at the Wisconsin border.

Amanda drove off, and Blueberry and I started hiking south.

The temperatures today were cool and crisp--a refreshing change from the hot and humid weather of yesterday. The weather forecasts predicted that the highs today would be a full 20 degrees cooler than yesterday! I think the sudden change in temperatures threw Blueberry a little off--he didn't seem ready for the cold and would often complain about it, seeming to miss the hot and humid weather that he was used to in Georgia.

About 20 minutes later, we arrived at the Wisconsin-Minnesota border and the official start of the Superior Hiking Trail. It was not a particularly climatic moment. The location is shrouded in thick trees with a sign explaining that the trail ahead was not, in fact, a trail and dead ends--although they plan to extend it to a parking lot on the Wisconsin side of the border as part of the North Country National Scenic Trail. Recently, the Superior Hiking Trail had been folded into the much longer North Country Trail that stretches from Vermont to North Dakota.

Blueberry and I take a selfie at the southern terminus of the Superior Hiking Trail!

I pulled out my smartphone and looked at the blue, glowing dot that marked our location on Google Maps, but it didn't quite seem to line up with the border. According to that, the Wisconsin border was still a short ways off! This, we could not stand for! And Blueberry, who had never even stepped foot in Wisconsin before, needed to step foot solidly in Wisconsin.

So we followed the dead-end trail into Wisconsin. It took maybe 20 seconds of hiking to get the blue dot centered on the border, and less than a minute to get the blue dot firmly in Wisconsin-land.

"It's official!" I called out to Blueberry. "We're in Wisconsin!"

We looked around the thick trees.

"Looks a lot like Minnesota, doesn't it?" I said. "Did you have to pee or anything? Now's your time to leave your mark on Wisconsin!"

Blueberry didn't have to pee, so we turned around and headed back to the sign marking the start of the trail.

It's a sad, little sign, which looked like it was printed out on someone's home computer than taped up to a board with bright blue painting tape. You'd think they'd have built something a little more memorial for the start of an epic, 300+ mile hiking trail.

But still, we took the necessary start photos for our records, then turned back and began our trek to the Canadian border.

We didn't realize at first how close we were to railroad tracks until a train went barreling by close to the trail a few minutes later.

We also stopped briefly at the Red River Valley campsite--the only official SHT campsite between the start of the trail and Martin Road about 50 miles away. We hadn't seen what an official campsite looked like before and wanted to check out what we'd be using later down the trail.

The only official SHT campsite in the first 50-or-so miles of the trail. Although we wouldn't spend the night here, we wanted to check out what a "standard, normal campsite" was like since we'd be living in them for the better part of a month.

It wasn't much to look at. There was a fire ring--the most important feature as far as Blueberry was concerned--with benches around three sides of it, and a couple of small clearings for tents. A sign marked the way to a latrine which was nothing more than  a toilet seat on a box with no enclosure for privacy. What it lacked for privacy, however, it made up for in spades with fresh breezes. They smelled, of course, but without being enclosed in a structure, it didn't seem as bad. The odors didn't get trapped or build up.

Official SHT campsites always have a fire ring and these benches that surround three sides of the fire. The pile of firewood you see in the background was unique to this campsite. That's not a standard campsite feature!

After checking out the campsite, we continued our way down the trail. We hadn't gone more than a few miles when Blueberry reported that he could feel a hot spot on his foot and was suffering the first symptoms of a blister. Already?!

"You're in the army, man! I thought you were supposed to be tough!" *shaking head*

We stopped briefly a couple of times for Blueberry to put some duct tape on his forming blisters.

Besides the air temperature being a solid 20 degrees colder today than yesterday, it was also quite blustery making the temperatures feel even colder than that. So we never stopped for very long. It was too cold to stop for very long!

Pretty much the entire day we'd be hiking through Jay Cooke State Park. The trail went by the visitor center for the park, and we stopped in to take a look around. I bought a few postcards and then we continued onward.

We'd see all sorts of wildflowers at this time of year!

As we neared the end of our day's hike, I texted Amanda about our progress. Cell phone coverage was generally pretty good for most of the trail, and even when there were pockets without coverage, you typically didn't have to walk far until you got some sort of signal. It made the logistics of getting picked up a lot easier!

We arrived at our extraction point at the Grand Portage trailhead parking lot a few minutes before Amanda where she picked us up and whisked us away.

Blueberry wound up picking 5 ticks off himself that day. Including the 2 he pulled off yesterday, he had now pulled off a total of 7 since starting the trail. My total was still set firmly at 0, and I joked about how tasty the ticks found him.

I would, however, find my first tick later that evening when we stopped at Gordy's Hi-Hat for dinner. I found one of those buggers crawling up my leg and flicked it on the floor then crushed it under the leg of the chair I was sitting in. My first tick! I was so proud. =)

After dinner, Amanda drove us to the KOA where we set up our new base of operations. Amanda had already arrived earlier in the day and checked us in and set up the tent she brought from Seattle.

I bought a bivy sack a couple of weeks earlier thinking I might use it on the trail to escape the bugs if they were bad. They're small, lightweight and I was skeptical that I'd like them, but I had a 20% off coupon at REI and they have a pretty generous return policy if it turns out you don't like a piece a gear so I figured that if I didn't like it--and I wasn't actually super optimistic about it--I could just return it. So I was going to give it a try and see how it worked.

So I set up that in the campsite and would sleep in it tonight. Although it wasn't expected to rain overnight, I closed the bivy sack up tight to see how it felt in such conditions and ran into my first problem--it was hard to breathe! The bivy sack was supposed to be waterproof, but it felt like it was air-proof as well! I couldn't get enough fresh air into it and eventually opened up it up so the mesh part of the bivy sack was open and fresh air could get into it. Which would be fine to keep out bugs, but problematic if I was trying to sleep in it in a rain storm. Mesh isn't waterproof!

Yeah, it was likely I'd be returning this item. But at least I can finally say I tried it and now know for certain that it's not for me.

And that was that. In our first two days on the trail, we'd already completed 28.4 miles--nearly 10% of the entire trail! We were flying!

Some of the scenery near the start of the trail!

Blueberry checks out a blister forming on his foot.
Fun fact about Blueberry--he's been branded! See the brand on his chest? He also tells me that there's a giant brand on his butt, but I took his word about that and never checked.
Blueberry messing with the blister on his foot again.
Dangers of the trail.... *shaking head*
Spur trails to overlooks were marked with white blazes!
The overlooks were often overgrown and provided little in the way of views, however. There are exceptions, of course, but most of them I found disappointing.

The trail junctions in Jay Cooke SP are well-marked and include maps with our current location, so Blueberry checks this map to see our progress. (We're at intersection #40 here.)
The Superior Hiking Trail was recently folded into the longer North Country National Scenic Trail, and this was one of the very few North Country Trail emblems we'd see on the trail.
Blueberry tries on a hat that he found on the trail. We think it belonged to a small boy we passed going in the other direction, so we left it at this sign in the hopes they'd see it when they hiked back out again.
We crossed the St. Louis River over Swinging Bridge. In 2012, this bridge was destroyed in a June flood. There's a display nearby with photos of the water level going over the top of the bridge! Seems hard to believe considering how high the bridge is!
The St. Louis River is the biggest river flowing into Lake Superior.

Forbay Lake
Mama goose with baby gooslings. =)

The "lake" in this video, I'd learn later, is actually
the St. Louis River. Just a very slow-moving part of the river!

St. Louis River

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