Monday, September 3, 2018

Day 27: The end of another trail....

June 26: I'd like to say that Blueberry woke up at the crack of dawn, but he was stirring long before then. The stars were still shining when he hit the trail at 4:30 in the morning, but there was the tiniest hint of the sunrise already. I knew Blueberry was anxious to finish the trail, but that was way too early in the morning for me! And anyhow, I needed to take photos for Walking 4 Fun and I needed daylight to get the job done.

Somewhat remarkably, Blueberry's phone actually worked out here in the middle of nowhere. My phone, by comparison, was as useful as a paperweight, and had been so the last couple of days. Late in the night after we went to sleep, he was doing some texting and talking and I overheard a little a problem with his cat, and that his friend who was taking care of it might have to euthanize it. Something about a spider bite and it's face melting off?

So besides just being tired of the trail in general, he wanted to get back home and take care of his cat--if it lived long enough. His plan was to get an early start--and 4:30 is definitely early!--finish the trail, hitch rides back to Duluth and, if everything went really well, fly home that evening. It seemed optimistic at best. We were only eight miles from the end of the trail so finishing the trail would only take a few hours--that was the easy part. Trying to hitch a ride out of this remote wilderness area might take a bit longer.... Then he still had to hitch all the way back to Duluth which was a good three hour drive in itself, although I suspected that might actually be faster and easier than trying to get out from this remote location back to Highway 61. And to make it to the airport in time to fly out this evening? Technically, it was possible, but it didn't seem very likely without some serious Blueberry Magic working its charm.

My goals were a little less lofty: I hoped to get back to Duluth by nightfall. I didn't have any deadlines and wasn't in a rush, although if I could get back into Duluth before the post office closed, I could pick up my laptop which would be useful, but whatever happens happens... *shrug*

So Blueberry left camp, essentially ditching me the last day on the trail. Although if he was stuck at the trailhead for several hours trying to get a ride out, I might run into him again. =)

I, on the other hand, went back to sleep for a couple of more hours before hitting the trail myself. Almost immediately out of camp, the bugs came out in full force. I walked quickly to discourage them, but there were just too many of them. I pulled out my head net and put it on--it was the first time of the entire trail that I actually hiked with the head net on. I hate hiking with a head net on. It's hot and stuffy and only to be used as a last, desperate resort.

The high point of the trail, I knew, was located just a few miles from the campsite, and my guidebook warned to keep your eyes open for a sign marking the high point of the trail in a wooded area with no views that could be easy to miss, and every time the trail climbed, I'd look for a sign marking the high point when I felt the trail leveling off. Especially if it were in an area surrounded by trees and with no views! But I never did find the sign marking the high point (although I did later see photos of it that Hiking Viking took just the day before, so I know it exists). I guess it really is an any sign to miss because I missed it even though I was deliberately looking for it! Or maybe I couldn't see it through the stupid head net.

The only part of my body not protected from the bugs were my hands, but even those I put on thin, white 'gloves.' Strictly speaking, they aren't gloves at all, but I picked them up in the medical aisle of a CVS. I guess they're meant to be used to cover cream or lotion that are on your hands so the liquid doesn't spread onto everything you touch. I liked them because they're really thin and I'll cut off the fingers to turn them into "glovelets" that I'll use keep the sun off the back of my hands so they won't burn. On this trail, mostly in the shade, it hasn't been a problem so I didn't cut off the fingers, and now I used them as a form of mosquito protection instead. But they weren't very effective because they were so thin. I still wore them thinking it made things harder for mosquitoes, but it didn't stop them.

The trail came out onto a dirt road, which I followed a ways to a small parking area where I found a register. On the roads, even dirt roads like this one, the bugs usually aren't as bad since they have fewer places to hide and there's often a small breeze blowing along the road to discourage them, but they were still bad and swarmed as soon as I stopped to sign the register. I wound up picking up the register and walking around in circles in the parking lot while simultaneously trying to sign the book. It was awful! I didn't even bother to take my signature stamp out of my backpack to stamp it properly. The bugs were just too bad.

I quickly moved on, soon passing over Swamp River--there's a not-so-cheerful and appropriate name for the creek. I thought about stopping to fill up my water bottle. I had about half a liter, which is less than I usually prefer to carry, but I figured I'd be done in maybe two hours and I could live with half a liter for the next two hours. Normally I'd have preferred to guzzle down as much as I could possibly drink then top off my 1-liter bottle for the trail, but stopping for that would just give those mosquitoes another chance to swarm. I'll live with a half liter. It was a decision I'd later regret....

I reached the trailhead for the Border Route Trail (BRT), which overlaps the last mile or so of the Superior Hiking Trail. I saw no sign of Blueberry, but he should have finished the trail by this point. It was a mile to the end of the trail, and a mile back to the trailhead, and he had a solid two-hour head start on me. I wondered if that meant he actually managed to get a ride... or if he was walking down the road trying to get a little bit closer to town for a better place to hitch?

The march continued, and I finally arrived at the end of the trail at about 9:30 in the morning. The trail officially ends at the 270 Degree Overlook, which overlooks the Canadian province of Ontario. I looked for the "no touching" line that marked the boundary of the United States with Canada but couldn't see it. Every time I've been at the Canadian border you can see a deforested line maybe 30 feet wide marking the border, but I couldn't see that here. I wasn't sure if that was because I just couldn't see it through the trees or if the border followed a river and the river actually was the boundary. I did see a river down below, though. That might have been the border. In any case, according to my maps, the Canadian border wasn't more than maybe a quarter-mile away.

It's official! The end of the Superior Hiking Trail!
At the open overlook, the mosquitoes weren't an issue so I finally had a rest from those blood-suckers. I was almost more excited about that than the view or the end of the trail! =)

There was another register at the overlook, so I signed that as well--and did pull out my signature stamp to mark my entry.

View from 270 Degree Overlook into Canada. Is the river the border?! (Looking at a map later, I think it was.)

I wasn't done hiking, though. Not yet, at least.... I still needed to get back to a trailhead. The closest trailhead was the one I came out from about a mile away, but I liked the idea of not retracing my steps and realized that I could continue down the Border Route Trail to another trailhead maybe four or five miles away. The distance was a little fuzzy for me because I didn't have any maps for the Border Route Trail, but the trailhead I passed had a map showing several scenic overlooks along the way and given that it was only 9:30 in the morning, I had plenty of time to hike a couple of hours to the next trailhead. Even better, the next trailhead was closer to where the Arrowhead Trail crossed a couple of other dirt roads, and I figured if I reached that intersection of roads, my chances of finding a ride would be greatly improved. I could get a ride from people heading to town from three separate dirt roads where they all intersected!

So I picked up my pack and pushed onward, following the trail west roughly along the US-Canadian border. Within about 10 minutes, however, I started having second thoughts about this decision. The trail, as it turned out, was severely overgrown and not well-marked in places. I had to scramble over and around fallen trees. After another half hour, I lost the trail completely. I knew it had to go generally westward, so I scouted in that direction for some sign of the trail when I saw a cut log. It didn't look like a trail, but the cut log was a sign that I was still on the right track. Maybe the trail was overgrown, but it was supposed to go through here which was why the fallen log had been cut.

I picked up the trail again, but at this point thought about turning back and going out the way I came. I hated the idea of backtracking, but this trail was turning out to be a lot more difficult than I imagined. And I had very limited water--it might take longer to reach the trailhead than I expected, especially if I got lost along the way. My half-liter of water was a growing concern. It didn't help that the temperatures were continuing to climb and I was sweating quite hard at this point.

On the plus side, however, the mosquitoes didn't seem as bad out here and I finally stopped wearing my head net. I suspect the lack of mosquitoes had more to do with the lack of water on this stretch of the trail, though.

But the thing that worried me the most was the possibility of a severe injury. If I twisted my ankle on an uneven lump on the ground I couldn't see through all the grass or broke a leg or something, I could really be screwed. It didn't look like anyone had hiked this trail in years--I'd be on my own with a phone that didn't get a signal. At least on the SHT, even if I hadn't been hiking with Blueberry, I knew that someone would eventually show up before too long. I really wished that Blueberry was here on this section of the trail with me. The one day that I really needed a hiking partner, and he wasn't around anymore.

So I went slowly, thoughtfully, keeping my eyes open for the faint traces of the trail and stepping carefully to not twist an ankle or otherwise injure myself. I also started rationing my water, swearing not to drink more than one gulp of water every 15 minutes.

That should get me to the trailhead, where I knew there was a large lake and I could fill up with water. Assuming, of course, I didn't get lost or injured before I reached it.

I passed a few scenic overlooks, but the view didn't look much different than it had from the 270 Degree Overlook so I found them a little disappointing.

When I first started down this path, I was taking photos regularly thinking it might make a nice "extra credit" segment for the SHT on Walking 4 Fun--kind of like I did with Buckskin Gulch on the Arizona Trail or the PCT when it continued about seven miles into Canada to the trailhead. But I was finding the trail less than scenic and decided it wasn't interesting enough to include. And anyhow, I was more concerned about my safety and well-being at this point. So I stopped taking photos--except for the overlooks. One less thing for me to worry about.

After a few miles, the trail was supposed to reach a junction to a spur trail that would lead another mile to the trailhead, and I was absolutely paranoid that I wouldn't see the spur trail. What if it wasn't marked very well? What if the spur trail was even more overgrown and difficult to follow than the main trail? I could not miss that spur trail! It was my salvation!

And when I saw the sign for the junction, there was much rejoicing! I made it! Well, okay, I still had a mile to the actual trailhead, but I didn't pass the junction! Even better, there was a small creek there to fill up with water! I dropped my pack and filled up with water. The water was absolutely clear and ice cold--I couldn't have asked for more beautiful water! Considering how ice cold it was, I figured the water must have come out of a spring just minutes earlier, although I didn't see the spring. Give it ten minutes and the water would already be warming up to air temperature.

There was much rejoicing when I found this sign marking the junction with the spur trail to the trailhead.

I guzzled about a liter of water in one sitting, and being such fantastic water, I filled up both of my water bottles for a total of 2 1/2 liters in my pack. I only had a mile to the trailhead where I knew there was that lake, but I had no doubt that this water was better than anything that lake could provide. And I also knew that I might be on the road for hours trying to get a ride. I would need some water while I waited!

I stopped for about 15 minutes, basking in the cool shade, with cold water, and an area largely free of bugs. My worries vanished--although I still had to be careful not to injure myself since there would be no help coming up behind me. But with 2 1/2 liters of water and knowing where to find water nearby, a lot of my worries had vanished. Poof!

After the rest, I continued onward. The spur trail was as overgrown and difficult to follow at the BRT so I didn't make great time, but about a half hour later I arrived at the trailhead safe and sound. Yes! I made it! I was done!!!!

Well, done with the trail.... I still needed to get back to civilization, though.

I found myself on the gravel Otter Lake Road and started walking west towards the junction with Arrowhead Trail about a mile away where I hoped my chances of a ride would improve as vehicles coming from three different directions might pass that point going back to town. The road was largely unshaded so fairly hot and miserable, but at least the bugs weren't especially bad. They were there, but not bad.

This was the lake that I knew was by the trailhead and the water source I was initially planning on using... until I found the beautiful, cold water at the junction with the spur trail.

I arrived where the two gravel roads intersected without seeing a single car the entire time. Yeah, this could take awhile....

I sat down on the side of the road, in the shade, and waited for a vehicle to go by. I ate a few snacks to pass the time, then pulled out my Kindle for the long haul. After about 10 minutes, the first vehicle approached the intersection.

It wasn't going in the direction I wanted to go, but the driver pulled over long enough to ask where I was trying to get to. I told him, and he said that he was out here to go on a bike ride, but if I was still there in a couple of hours, he could give me a lift back to Highway 61. Awesome! At the very least, I wouldn't be here for more than about two hours. I hoped it wouldn't be that long, but at least I had a firm timeline for getting out of here.

About every 10 to 20 minutes, another vehicle would pass by. One large shuttle van flew past heading in the direction of town without even slowing down. I couldn't tell if the shuttle van was full of people or not, but I was a little resentful of that. It's a shuttle van! I needed a shuttle! And it was huge! There was probably plenty of space for me in it!

Another guy in a truck stopped and asked me if everything was okay. Yeah, just trying to get to town. He said he was checking something out up the road, but if I were still there in 20 minutes, he'd be passing that way again and could take me into town. Awesome! Now my wait time had been cut to 20 more minutes! That would mean I would have spent about an hour trying to hitch a ride.

In the first hour, four vehicles passed me by. Two of them stopped and offered to give me ride if I was still there when they came back, and a third one wasn't going in my direction, and the fourth one was that shuttle van which was going in my direction but didn't stop at all.

I spent an hour looking at this view down Arrowhead Trail waiting for a ride....

The guy who said he be back in about 20 minutes was good to his word, though, so after an hour of waiting, I finally got a ride. During the ride back, I spotted a black bear dash across the gravel road. It was a quick glance from a distance and I wasn't entirely sure it was a bear I saw. "Was that a bear?!" I asked the driver, and he said that yes, he thought it was.

Finally! I saw a bear on the trail! Well, I guess, not on the trail. Not exactly.... I had to finish the trail before I finally saw a bear. I never did see a moose, though, much to my disappointment. (Blueberry really wanted to see a moose as well--he'd never seen one, not on the Appalachian Trail or any other trail for that matter. At least I've seen them several times--four on the AT, one on the Long Trail, one on the Colorado Trail and some in Yellowstone.)

My ride out of the wilderness got me to Highway 61 in Hovland, and I figured my chances on getting to Duluth before the post office closed were actually pretty good. I could score a ride in 10 or 15 minutes--it was a fairly busy highway and Blueberry and I had no trouble hitching on it before. If I was really lucky, the ride would get me all the way to Duluth, but it would probably only get me part way until I had to hitch another ride--which wasn't a big deal. This was easy street now!

Except that it took over an hour to get a ride--even longer than it took me to get a ride out of the wilderness! I counted 65 vehicles that passed me by. It was frustrating! The longest wait for a hitch in my life! (Although not the most number of cars to pass me by.) It seemed inconceivable that this relatively busy road was harder to hitch than a remote, wilderness gravel road.

Then I waited for just over an hour with this view of Highway 61, waiting for a ride. At least there was a general store next to it if I needed anything to eat or drink, but I was anxious to keep moving and never wound up going inside.

But finally a vehicle pulling a boat pulled over and gave me a ride as far as... Grand Marais. Not even a half hour down the road. I took it because it was better than nothing. I could start hitchhiking again from Grand Marais and now anyone heading toward Duluth from there was a possible ride.

Also, if I still had trouble hitching a ride, I knew of a nice hostel not far away I could stay in. And, at this point, I was hungry for food and I didn't mind taking a short break to eat some real food that didn't come out of my pack.

So I took the ride to Grand Marais. I wanted food, but I also wanted it fast so I could get back to my main job of hitchhiking and went to the Dairy Queen where I wolfed down a combo meal and headed back out.

By the time I reached Grand Marais, I was hungry and did stop briefly at Dairy Queen for a late lunch.

Fortunately, this hitch went a lot faster. I only had to wait about 10 minutes to get a ride with a nice couple and their dog, but again didn't make it very far. This time, I covered another 30 miles down to Tofte. Another trail town that Blueberry and I had stayed at. I seemed to be getting rides between every trail town where we stopped along the way! At this rate, my next ride would drop me off in Silver Bay....

The next hitch went well and a vehicle pulled over after only about 5 or 10 minutes. This time, a fellow named Chad picked me up and we had a lot in common. He had actually thru-hiked the SHT two times before so we had a lot of stories to share. He was also driving back from a backpacking trip he did on Isle Royale, which I was very jealous of and wanted to learn more about. =) Also, since he had been backpacking for the past week, we both smelled bad so I didn't feel so bad about stinking up someone else's nice car. =)

His destination would also take him through Duluth so--wonderful news!--I wouldn't have to hitch anymore rides! He was even extra accommodating by driving me directly to the Motel 6.

I checked in, but it was too late for me to pick up my maildrops at the post office on the adjacent block. That would have to wait until morning. But at least I was able to take a shower, clean up and get online with my smartphone. I walked next door to grab a quick dinner at Burger King then settled into the hotel for the rest of the night watching TV.

I also got a text from Blueberry saying that he had arrived in Minneapolis already and was waiting for his next flight. He did it! He must have had some incredibly good luck getting rides to have already made it to Duluth in time for a flight to Minneapolis. Damn him and his Blueberry Magic. I was envious!

And that was basically it for me. The next morning, I was at the post office the minute they opened and picked up my mail drops. An hour later, I was on a shuttle van taking me to the Minneapolis-St. Paul airport, which I shared with a couple of human eyeballs in a box that got the front passenger seat. Apparently they were on their way to the airport too for a transplant or something.

And a couple of hours later, I was on a flight heading home.... The end of another grand adventure!

The Superior Hiking Trail really is a wonderful trail, but if you're thinking about ever doing it, don't do it in June. The bugs are awful! September, I think, is the best month to do it. *nodding*

1 comment:

Karolina said...

What a coincidence - on the last night on the trail Blueberry asks you to take his eyeballs to the trailhead in case he dies before reaching it and two days later you are travelling in a car in company of a pair of human eyeballs!