The Secret Loves Of Color
She had just left me, parting ways to make our miles and heading in opposite directions. Instead of making an early, timely start, we conspired with sunrise for a photoshoot. Stepping out of the campsite and onto the trail, my eyes first looked in the direction she had gone. I took every excuse to start slowly, smelling the air, checking the guidebook, filling the water bottles. I had felt the magic of the fall and the intimacy of friendship. Stepping over the bridge, my heart was both full and empty, but there were miles to make. And I had much to ponder.
Back On The Trail
Four months prior I had finished a section of the Superior Hiking Trail, from Duluth to Beaver Bay. At that time, the weather for my last two days had been of heavy rainstorms, so I had decided to quit early. There were many miles left between this town and the northern terminus, and I would have to return to trek north whenever I could. Finding the time has always been a killer. For as a wedding photographer, prime walking time is also prime working time.
For a full artsy image gallery of this section, Click Here
A new friend of mine had become inspired by that first trek, so we found a handful of days between weddings and planned to go together. However, in the interest of having our own adventures, we designed our attack to start on opposite ends of the section and work our way towards each other. We would convene in the middle for one night. This would give us a chance to create content for Enlightened Equipment, for whom I was working towards becoming a brand ambassador. Then we would finish separately and reconvene before returning to Minneapolis.
Something doesn’t smell right. It stinks and it’s following me everywhere I go. Leaning down to check my left boot it gets worse. Oh yes, I’d already forgotten, last night I had stepped deeply into ‘Shit Mountain’. That’s how my last pair of Columbia boots had died, only that time it had been a ‘Shit River’ in India. This time was the result of a fresh woods-toilet. With the new hole dug, the old was covered with a small amount of dirt. Easily stepped in when you’re looking for the bathroom in the dark.
The first day on the trail had been good however. Had a bit of a late start but powered through, rushing to get images of sunset and still make camp. It was dark when I arrived to cook dinner but setup was simple with my new Enlightened Equipment bivy, so I spent the rest of my free time trying long exposures of the fall colors with a flashlight. The temperature toyed around 50 degrees but it didn’t matter. I was so happy to be back in the woods nothing else mattered.
This was to be a much shorter trip than the last expedition to the SHT. Because of the reduced amount of available time, and solo hiking a new experience for her, we didn’t want to overextend our abilities. We planned for less daily mileage and this meant that the first couple of days I had oodles of extra time. I was really industrious and attempted sunrise pictures. I hiked ahead, climbing up to the ridge overlooking a beautiful scene of Bean Lake. Standing in the chilly, heavy winds of morning woke me right up. But the benefit of my ambition was getting to take it all in completely alone. To see the sun reborn from where Lake Superior lie, and slowly cast it’s light down upon this inland lake. This was a new style of hiking, to walk ahead knowing I would have to hike it again but I was feeling driven.
A Beaver Pond
We’ve all heard about beaver, but how many of us have seen their habitats up close? At Round Mountain Beaver Pond campsite, I set my pack down and followed a trail to where the beaver lived. Once I reached the site’s water collection point, I knew I had to go farther. I made my way through the underbrush, ducking through thick foliage and scrambling over fallen trees. As I got closer I could see their signs, the spike that remained of a tree gnawed-off with beaver teeth. Then I saw something I had never seen before. Perfect paths a foot wide, that made their way from these trees straight into the water. These creatures must be half submarine and half tank, emerging from the water and dragging their hefty bodies onto land. I waited in the woods for a while, but never caught a glimpse. I had to keep moving.
The third day was the middle of our trek, and it was a fantastic one. The morning had been frigid, my thoughts were with my friend, hoping she was warm. The day prior I had met so many amazing people that I actually had to stop myself from talking in order to keep making ground. Today, at the top of Mount Trudee, I ran into Monica. It was her 66th birthday and she had treated herself to a brand new Nikon. I found her perched on a rock, looking over an expanse of brightly colored trees. If I remember correctly she was watching for hawks and eagles. We chatted, I was the first person she’d seen that day. She put things in perspective a bit, when she told me this was her last trip up here. Maybe, maybe not, I didn’t question her. Looking at me, she told me to do these things now while you’re young. Then she asked me how old I was. When I told her I was 31 she gave me a look that said, “Well it’s actually time to get your life together.”
That’s part of growing older, the world becomes less and less accessible. That which came easy to you in youth, is more of a struggle. She made me wonder about my parents, the things they had done in their youth and the last times they’d done them. She seemed to really love it up here, and told me she was from the Twin Cities. She mentioned she wondered why she never moved up to Duluth, and as I walked away I wondered the same about myself.
It was a sleepless night on the ground, curled up and resisting the cold by staying in my down sleeping bag. Between the cold and physical exertion, my mind was running amuck with me in my dreams. I found myself on my wedding day, all of the hubbub of decorating and planning in full swing. I wrote in my journal, “Watching it all I knew it was a mistake to go through with it. I found my bride-to-be, and confessed to her…in my heart I knew I cared for her but I could not find a love or reason to be with her forever.” Whoa, what was going on in my head that I was having such heavy dreams?
I was late meeting my friend at the midway point. Without good service or great ways to charge our batteries we had planned to check in at certain times of day. I had missed my check-in not having service, and found the last two miles to camp was all uphill. Stressed and worn out it all faded away when I made camp and we went straight to picture making. When we wrapped we returned to camp, cooked food in a bag, played with the cat (because camping is better with cats), and drank our little whiskey bottles. Mesmerized and transfixed by the fire, we swapped shoulder rubs and stories of our days in the wild.
A Quick Conclusion
The last day and a half went by quickly. The sun stayed mostly behind the clouds, and a damp, misty feeling permeated the air. My mind was with my friend. Now in my 30’s, I have found I don’t make as many friends as I used to. At some point, you have already met more people than you can keep up with and you simply run out of time. Unlike the majority of people I know, I am rarely in any single place for too long so regular contact with friends is a strange thing. But in the half a year we had known each other, we had gone on many adventures. I walked and relived them all, just holding onto the feeling of having feelings which is such a rarity.
My boots were broken. Done, finito. I sat on a rock alongside the north campsite of Egge Lake, soaking my black feet in the tinglingly cold water. The dirt from the trail had worked its way through boots and two layers of socks. It felt good even though I couldn’t keep my feet in for long. This was our last night on the trail. I spent the night barefoot, padding around the fire and journaling. Pondering journeys, miles, distance. Physical distance and emotional distance. Wondering how life can be so simple and so complicated all at the same time. When I finally laid down to sleep I zipped the bivy just up to my face and kept my glasses on, so I could watch the last starry sky I’d see for awhile, just a little bit longer.
Dreary. My, how the atmosphere affects mood. So does knowing you are near the end of something. When close to a finish I often find I just want to be done with it. This hike was putting me on a bit of a tight deadline so I couldn’t dawdle. Our plan was to meet by noon, meaning I had to finish walking the last eight miles and drive the twenty to get back to the rendezvous. Our plan was to get back to Minneapolis, another two hundred and eleven miles. Then I would pack, clean up, and get ready for another 120 miles to photograph a wedding in Winona that next day. Wrapping up that Friday wedding, I would return that night and prep for a second wedding on Saturday. I can be quite the ambitious scheduler.
The great thing about the trail is that all of those cares and worries were able to fall away when the most important thing is putting one foot in front of the other. Even if something is so important I must think on it, moving along a path gives my head some semblance of clarity, more opportunity to be clear. I didn’t need clarity now, however, but speed and strength to move. I was making distance slower than I had that summer and I wondered what was up. Eventually I ended at George Crosby Manitou State Park, finishing on a long gravel road into the park. I didn’t know when but I knew I would have to return one day to finish this trail. I got into the car, and met my friend at a touristy spot looking at the candies. We had both already decided we were getting coffee and ice cream to celebrate our success. We loaded up, and returned to the big city. Back to real life, with memories of the woods ever lingering in our heads.
If you missed the previous expeditions that lead up to this section of the trail, check out: