(We’re picking up where we left off, our adventurer trekking not only through the northern wilderness but also his troubled past. Ok not that troubled but it sounds dramatic right?)
Four years ago the first .2 miles tuckered my weak body out, but today I had eight in before lunch. Back then I wrapped up a temp gig in Minneapolis and was unemployed. Here and now, I was making a go of being a self-employed photographer and actor. No surprises here but it felt much better. I got a sick pleasure from looking at the map in my guide book; it was visual validation of the progress. Similar to snapping workout selfies in the mirror when you feel muscles swelling. I wrapped up the lunch and mushed on to Gooseberry Falls.
I pulled into the first of the four Gooseberry campsites and squeezed my tent in. Supposedly there were four spots according to the book but the two tents already there seemed to fill it in it’s entirety. I hobbled down to the Gooseberry River, allowing the chilly water to wash the sweat off while rocks berated my toes. Minus the ticks, everything was too good to be true out here. As I did every night, I analyzed the day’s distance and planned for tomorrow and loosely the next few days. Today I had been too social to make my planned mileage but it didn’t matter. Tomorrow would be easy either way as I was ahead of schedule and my plans were flawless.
The weather doesn’t give a shit about your plans. It was made evident as my perfectly cloudy day turned into a steady trickle. Under a fine pine tree I pulled out one of my two survival poncho’s. You know those plastic sacks with holes for your head that you never, ever use? I didn’t even use it, but pulled it over my bag and kept on walking. Previous West Coast Gale Force Wind experience has taught me that nothing can keep you dry in the rain. Passing through Gooseberry State Park was uneventful, I just got my camera wet. Ironically, the rain increased it’s downpour almost exactly the same time I read the sign that said there was a detour. No worries, there was a nice little detour on the “Gitchi-Gami Trail.” You know a sweet, exposed, asphalt kind of path right on the highway.
These were the moments I trudged the most. The new boots I had purchased should have been worn in by now but really weren’t and my feet were hurting good. I was completely soaked through, but that was familiar territory. Then suddenly the rain stopped. And the winds came. They blew at me, not enough to make a person stumble but enough to instigate whatever it is that makes water feel colder when air passes over it. “Maybe continuing to walk would dry me out from the inside.” I thought. Maybe continuing to walk was the only choice I had. Frozen, silent, I reached Split Rock Wayside and quietly watched a youthful group put their kayaks in under the tutelage of a master. My food was consumed on a log, wrapped in the ever-useful but unfortunately too thin yak wool blanket that accompanies me everywhere.
It is seriously amazing how much weather affects the mood. Changes landscapes. Inspires and depresses. Etc, etc. After the beach wayside there was a mile of uphill stairs and my legs were feeling strong after a week of hiking. As I climbed, the clouds parted and in an instant I went from freezing to hot. But boy did I feel like singing to the trees. I know this because I started singing to the trees. Just not too much, in case someone was around a corner. Eventually came the most secluded, sexy, and perfect campsite of the entire trip. That and the other three surrounding campsites on Split Rock River all belonged to me. I hung my food in a tree on a cliff island! I found a horde of drunk butterflies drinking from a small puddle. I danced naked in the river and failed at a fire…but it was ok. The weather doesn’t give a shit about your plans. But neither do your plans so just go with the flow and quite possibly your worst moments might turn into your best.
The next day I left, not really wanting to. Today wasn’t going to be about making miles, but exploring a really cool area. I had been to Split Rock Lighthouse before, but not spent any real time around it. So I hiked out of my magical spot and when I came to a split in the trail to either continue or go to the monument, I hid my bag in the woods under sticks and walked freely in the hot sun. Wow, I felt almost invincible. With no weight besides a little camera, I could hike for days without stopping! My path would cross with a water fountain that did not need to be purified from giardia. Here I drowned myself for a bit. Then I hiked up to the lighthouse…and promptly walked away. After spending days mostly alone with only a few conversations here and there, the juxtaposition of an outdoor landmark surrounded by so many kinds of people, a visitor center, handicap accessibility, cheap souvenirs, fences, entrance costs, etc.; I couldn’t stay or justify paying just to go look at it.
Instead I took one of the world’s longest wooden staircases down to the water and explored the lake from the rocks, setting self timers and photographing the lighthouse from there. The water was clear as glass and I stared in awe, wanting to jump into it. Children lazily skipped rocks from the beach, kayaks floated by, day hikers with small bags passed. I took it all in, and as always, felt confused about if what I was up to was what I actually wanted to be doing. However a chilled breeze off of the water coupled with hot sun on my face put me in an amazing mood and I left my new favorite place again wishing I could simply stay and be.
My bag was exactly where I had left it. I tugged it up and over and sallied forth after lunch with spiders and ticks. Phone service intermittently came in and I saw that bad weather was ahead. My mind drifted back to just about everything under the sun. Since I didn’t have a mileage goal today I just wanted to set myself up to be able to reach Beaver Bay early the following morning, where my next box of food would be waiting. I had made much better mileage than I thought I would up to this point so I stopped at the last campsite before crossing the road to Beaver Bay. Coincidentally the site was right next to a beaver lake. Let me just add that those are where nature hosts her loud, late night parties. I even had the energy left to take my camera for the first time after hiking all day, and find a good location for sunset pictures. I climbed a ridge and sat on the edge. In moments like these, I often think about all the other places I’ve been and had quiet moments to myself. Often the details are forgotten, names of trails, people that I met, the types of trees I am walking under. However the moments where the feelings, the raw emotions, and the Big Picture hits me and puts me at ease.
I didn’t know at that point it would be my last day on the trail. Arriving in town with a lift from a lady with two giant dogs in the back, I found out the post office wasn’t open until 12:30. It was 8am. I had planned for two more days. Those next two days looking at the weather app were going to be complete rain and thunderstorms. My plan to be picked up would coincide perfectly with when the storms would end. I opted to not be a badass, but be comfortable instead.
My nine days of the SHT ended when my racist, pilot lumberjack dropped me off in Rose Garden parking lot. Back in Duluth I looked out over the lake that had inspired my trail adventure. Kids ran through the park followed by parents who were happy to release them. A single man on a smoke break from somewhere left to go back to work. I had not finished the trail, but I had tasted it. I had soaked it in and learned that I did not hate long distance hiking. A literal world full of trails may have just opened up to me; the possibilities were astounding. Then I crossed a major street that was under construction and I looked at all the development in my peripheral. This too had once been a beautiful forest, some of the trees that originally stood here may have been the ones that now peeled paint on these neglected houses. I pictured the tubes of feces running from each one, collecting in unknown places. Fumes from giant machines poured black asphalt onto the ground. Gone was the beaver pond of this morning. Gone was the inconvenient muddy trails. Gone were the ticks. Gone were the vistas. Gone were the chilly and soaking rains. Physically I had returned to civilization, stepping into my cousin’s house. Closing the door behind me I couldn’t help but feel that a little part was still out there on the trail.
That shower was amazing though.
The End. Or is it?
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