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?!

Friday, August 24, 2018

Day 23: Donuts on the mind!

June 22: Today was a zero day, so Blueberry and I both slept in late. Eventually we got up, but we were in no rush.

We asked the proprietor of the hostel, Jeremy, if he planned on going into Grand Marais today and, if so, if we could get a ride from him. He was, and didn't have a problem with it, so when he was ready to go into town, we jumped in his vehicle and rode into town.

We didn't have a ride back out of town--it was probably a good 10 miles from Grand Marais to the hostel and definitely not something Blueberry and I wanted to walk--but we figured we'd hitch a ride back to the hostel. It didn't seem like it would be difficult, but Jeremy said to give him a call if for some reason that didn't work out.

Our first stop in town was to grab some World's Best Donuts. I capitalize "World's Best" because that's the actual name of the donut place: World's Best Donuts. The town might be small, but their ambitions are big! I got the donut kabob, and while it was delicious,  I'm not entirely convinced that it really is the world's best.

Blueberry was very interested in eating the World's Best Donuts. *nodding*

We walked around town a bit and along the waterfront, admiring the sites. It's a beautiful area.

When we were done walking around and looking, we headed to the grocery store to buy food for the rest of our hike, which we expected to finish in four or five days.

After taking care of that business, we headed to Sven & Ole's Pizza for lunch. We both ordered a couple of slices of the uffda pizza--how can you not order something called an "uffda". (Although I did ask what it was before I committed it. Minnesotans have their own language!)

After lunch, Blueberry decided to hitch back to the hostel, but I stayed in town and went to the library. I had more work to do online, but I had to be in town to ship my laptop to the next post office, so I spent a couple of hours working on my laptop in the library.

The post office closed at 4:00, though, so by around 3:30 I closed it up and called it a day. I walked to the post office and mailed my laptop to the post office in Duluth. I wouldn't pick it up again until I was done with the trail.

There was nothing else keeping me in Grand Marais anymore, but before I left, I walked over to Dairy Queen and got a strawberry sundae before walking to the edge of town and sticking out my thumb for a ride.

I was picked up after about two minutes--awesome!

This ride got me to the turnoff for the hostel, which was a couple of miles up the road. I didn't mind walking a couple of miles on a quiet, gravel road--although I wasn't excited about the prospect either. I knew I'd be at the hostel in less than an hour if I started walking, though, so I started walking.

I had walked for about 5 minutes when I heard a car approaching from behind me. I turned around and stuck out my thumb. No reason not to try?! And the driver came to a stop. He didn't pull over per se--there wasn't enough room on the road to "pull over", but he stopped and I jumped into the front seat and road the rest of the way in style to the hostel. Very very quick, very easy hitches!

Early in the evening, nobody seemed interested in building a fire, but Nula and I wanted to roast the leftover marshmallows from the night before so we headed to the campfire ring where I set up my stove and we roasted marshmallows over the stove. It was faster and easier than building a wood fire. =) Nula was fascinated with the soda can stove, never having seen one before and wanted to know everything about it. Maybe make some herself to sell. I told her that I didn't think she could sell them for enough money to make it worth her while, but wished her luck if she decided to try it anyhow.

I also gave her a rousing recital of The Ballad of Blasphemous Bill around the soda can campfire. Then we headed back to the bunkhouse, where Blueberry had already gone to sleep, and I called it a night. Another rough day on the trail came to an end!

Roasting marshmallows over an open stove!

This was me getting my skizzle on! =)
The World's Best Donuts had some unusual and unconventional hours, so we made that our first stop in town. =)
I'm enjoying my donut kabob.
Blueberry catches up with a phone call while we walked along the shore of Lake Superior at Artist's Point.
A sailboat heading into town!
Blueberry admires the views over Lake Superior.