Monday, August 6, 2018

Day 15: The Tofte Arrival

June 14: I woke up early and was on the trail hiking by 6:00. As impressive as that is, Blueberry still beat me by a half hour. He usually prefers to sleep in late, but when he's motivated, he has no problem getting up!

What would excite Blueberry to be on the trail and hiking by 5:30 in the morning? Civilization. We had a hotel reservation for the night in the small podunk known as Tofte, and Blueberry couldn't wait to get off the trail and into town. Neither could I for that matter. We'd been on the trail for nearly two solid weeks! Our reservation at the hotel was for a single night, but we had discussed extending it into two nights and taking a zero day on the trail. We felt we earned it and, more to the point, the weather forecast for the next few days looked terrible with lots of rain. A rainy day is a great day to take a day off the trail! But we would have to ask about the availability of a room and how much it would cost. When I had done some Internet searches earlier, tonight (Thursday) had plenty of options available, but tomorrow night (Friday) prices had been higher and there were a lot fewer options available. But maybe the expected bad weather would cause a lot of cancellations? We'd see.... At the very least, however, we'd get one night off the trail.

So I hit the trail at 6:00 and walked quickly, anxious to get into town and perhaps catch up with Blueberry.

I made good time too, following the trail down a steep trail to the Temperance River. The trail followed the river downstream for a couple of miles where the trail crosses the river on a bridge, and it was a delightful section to walk with waterfall after waterfall along its length. I stopped often to take photos and videos, trying to capture the pure energy of the river but never quite succeeding.

I ran into my first hikers of they day along this stretch, a couple of older people who were clearly out for the morning on a day hike and moving rather slowly, and I asked them if they had seen Blueberry. "You'd know him if you saw him," I said. "He'd have been the only guy you saw today wearing a skirt." It was really handy for me that Blueberry was wearing a skirt. It made him immediately recognizable to people, and an easy way to describe him.

They had seen him, telling me that he passed them maybe five minutes earlier. Awesome! I was right on his heels!

I kept on, and where the trail crossed the Temperance River on a bridge, I found a note that Blueberry had taped to a directional sign saying that he decided to hitch a ride into Tofte from Highway 61 because he thought it would be easier than a less busy road further up the trail. I didn't really believe that excuse.... I figured he just was anxious to get into town as soon as possible and tired of walking. His feet had blisters and he was having a more difficult time hiking than I was, and he would have already covered a respectable distance today and was ready to call it quits for the day.

But he did have a point that Highway 61 would likely be the busiest road around to hitch a ride into town a few miles up the road. I wanted to continue on to the next road, however, for a few reasons:

One, it was still relatively early in the morning--well before check-in time for the hotel and I wasn't excited about sitting around town waiting to check in. I liked the idea of "wasting" more time by hiking further.

Which led me to another reason I wanted to continue onward: It was supposed to rain every day for the next several days. We'd probably be hiking in the rain when we got back. If we got back on the trail here, we'd have a nearly 7-mile hike to the next campsite. In the rain. If I got off at the next road crossing, it would be just 1.7 miles to the same campsite. If the weather was really bad, I'd rather hike a mere 1.7 miles into camp in the rain. And it was a gorgeous day today! I'd much rather hike this distance on a beautiful day like today than in the rain one or two days from now.

And finally, Highway 61 was a quarter-mile off trail while the next road crossing was directly on the trail. Why hike an extra quarter-mile off trail then again back on when I didn't half to?

So I wanted to keep going, but I didn't mind Blueberry bailing out early. From his note, I wasn't sure if he was planning to wait for me at the trailhead before hitching into town or expected us to meet in town, though, and I wasn't sure what to do. I didn't want to walk a quarter-mile off trail just to tell him not to wait for me--especially if he'd already left!

I found an older gentleman who was hiking and asked him about Highway 2 up ahead where the trail crossed the road and asked him how busy it was--would it be easy to hitch a ride from? He lived locally and assured me that yes, it was a pretty busy road and he didn't expect getting a ride would be a problem.

Good, then that was one less thing for me to worry about. I pulled out my smartphone and texted Blueberry a message to go ahead and hitch a ride into town without me--I wanted to keep hiking several miles further. I wasn't sure if Blueberry would get the message or not, though--his phone had been giving him problems--and when I passed two other people on the trail heading back to the trailhead, I asked if they could look for a guy wearing a skirt and tell him that I was going to keep hiking to the next road. Hopefully he'd get one of my messages--or just give up waiting for me and find his own way into town.

I continued onward, now following the Temperance River upstream on the other side. A couple of miles later, the trail veered uphill and away from the river, climbing toward Carlton Peak. Near the peak, the trail turned extraordinarily rocky and rough, and I scrambled up the steep slope, often times pulling myself up with my hands and arms as much as I did with my legs and feet.

Near the summit, a spur trail led to the top of Carlton Peak. There was a register which I signed, and left a note for Blueberry heckling him about how dry he was knowing that there was a good chance he'd reach it in the pouring rain later. I was also surprised not to see Snowshoe signed into the register since, as far as I knew, she was still ahead of me on the trail. What happened to Snowshoe? That was a mystery I'd have to solve later....

Being such a beautiful day, I followed the spur trail to the summit to admire the views--which were expansive and impressive. I could even see the small harbor by Silver Bay far down the shore of Lake Superior.

Then I headed back down the mountain and down the other side of Carlton Peak. Along the way I got a text from Blueberry who informed me that he made it to town and was at the hotel already, waiting in the lobby. I texted back to go ahead and try checking in if he could. I wasn't sure they'd let him because it was still hours before the official check-in time and the reservation was under my name (they have my phone number, I told him, so they can call me if they want to confirm if it's okay to check you in). They probably wouldn't let him check in--not this early, at least--but it didn't hurt to ask either.

I got a text back several minutes later telling me that the room wasn't ready and he had to wait. I told him that I expected to finish hiking within a half hour or so and would be coming into town soon myself. "Send some Blueberry Magic my way," I joked.

I passed maybe a dozen hikers on the trail heading up to Carlton Peak and figured this was a good sign of how busy the parking lot and road would be. Getting a ride into town would be a cinch!

Getting to the road and parking lot seemed to take a lot longer than I thought it would, but I did arrive about a half hour later. The parking lot wasn't right next to the road like I expected, but a few minute walk away and up the road. I headed up to it thinking it would be an easier place to hitch from--I could catch someone pulling out from the parking lot and people traveling down the highway would have a place to pull over.

That hoof print is nearly as big as my foot! Must be a moose print. *nodding*

But it didn't take more than a few minutes before I had serious doubts about my prospects of getting a ride into town. There was absolutely no traffic on the highway! After about five minutes, one car drove by and didn't even slow down to check me out.

I pulled out my Kindle and sat down next to my pack, waiting for the next car to come by. I'd been hiking non-stop since leaving camp about 12 miles ago and my feet were throbbing. I wasn't going to stand if I didn't have to!

So I sat down on the side of the road and read my Kindle to kill the time. Whenever I heard a car coming, I'd quickly stand up and take my position with my thumb sticking out, and the vehicles would typically veer into the other direction of traffic (there was none) and give me a wide berth. I was glad, at least, the traffic wasn't passing just a couple of feet away.

After about an hour, a mere 7 cars had driven by in the direction I wanted to go. Two of them were dump trucks which I figured were unlikely to stop because they probably had company rules they had to follow about not picking up hitchhikers or whatever, and the other 5 never even slowed down.

Tofte was only about 2.5 miles away, though, and heading downhill on a flat, even surface, I figured I could probably walk to the hotel in less than an hour and decided to invoke my rule that if a location takes longer to hitch a ride from than it takes to walk into town, I may as well just walk into town.

I had texted Blueberry earlier that it might take me longer to get into town that I originally thought, and I texted him again that I'd given up and was walking into town now. Unless a car stopped to pick me up along the way to speed my progress, I should arrive in about an hour. Probably a little less.

So that's what I did. I picked up my pack and started the long walk into town, grumbling the entire way. A few more cars passed me on the journey and I still stuck out my thumb hoping for a last minute reprieve that would save me from walking the entire distance into town, but it never happened. I walked the entire way into town.

Highway 2 dumped me off by a general store along Highway 61, and I headed in the direction of the hotel when I received another text from Blueberry telling me that they finally let him check in and told me the room number. I could see the sign for the hotel ahead and texted back that I was perhaps five minutes away. My arrival was imminent.

Then I noticed the post office across the street and veered off there to where I was able to pick up my maildrops. I was expecting two of them: one with my laptop and one with a new camera to replace the one that went on the fritz nearly two weeks earlier.

I walked into the lobby where I told the cheerful woman behind the counter that I had some packages shipped to me via general delivery, and she promptly went off to retrieve them. Which I thought was kind of odd, actually, because I hadn't even told her my name. I figured she'd return a few seconds later and sheepishly ask me what my name was.

Except she came back with two boxes, and I could clearly see my own handwriting on the box. They were my packages!

"How did you know it was me?!" I asked.

"You're the only person we have packages for," she told me. "It had to be you."

But she still asked to look at my ID to check that I really was who I said I was, but mostly because there wasn't any real reason not to.

I asked her about the lack of packages--was that normal? And she said that this time of year, yes, it was. But in mid-summer, they might have a dozen packages waiting for hikers. Then she needs to know their names. I had clearly arrived before the summer rush.

I thanked her for her help and crossed the street toward the hotel, carrying the two boxes awkwardly in my hands with a trekking pole that was just getting in my way now. I zipped passed the front desk without even stopping--I already knew what room we were in, after all--and found the door propped open.

I entered and heard the shower running in the bathroom. I knocked on the door and let Blueberry know I had arrived and thanked him for leaving the door propped open for me.

What I really wanted to do first was take a shower, but that was occupied so I did the next best thing and headed back to the front desk to inquire about extending our stay for an extra day. The woman at the front desk said that wouldn't be a problem, although the room would be more expensive. She quoted the price, which was almost double the rate it would be tonight. Kind on the expensive side by my standards, but Blueberry and I both really wanted a day off and if the weather was as bad tomorrow as forecasts predicted, it would be worth the price. I booked us for an extra night and told Blueberry the good news. Tomorrow was a zero day!

After Blueberry finished his shower, I took my turn to clean the grime and dirt off my body, watching the dirty water swirl in circles around the drain. It was hypnotic.

Along with my laptop, I also shipped myself a clean shirt, clean underwear and a clean pair of socks--and put on my camp pants which weren't exactly clean, but not absolutely filthy like my hiking pants currently were. I started to feel somewhat human again.

I was tired of walking. Counting my walk into town, I had walked over 15 miles for the day and was absolutely beat. Blueberry walked half that distance and had no interest walking anymore for the day either, so we largely holed up in the hotel room for the night watching TV and surfing the Internet.

I still needed food for dinner and walked next door to the Holiday gas station's convenience store. The store was wonderful! It had all sorts of food options available--mostly of the candy and crappy food variety, but I didn't care. It was food I hadn't carried on my back, and it wasn't dehydrated. I bought a bunch of stuff that filled two plastic bags and carried them back our room. I was done.

Blueberry turned out to be very correct with this prediction. *nodding*

View from the top of Carlton Peak. See Silver Bay on the shore of Lake Superior in the distance?
Highway 2 was not as busy with traffic as I was led to believe.... *sigh*
But I made it to our hotel in Tofte, even if I did have to walk!

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