Sunday, January 28, 2018

A Very Long Walk in May, Chapter 6

Tess and excited to hike into Lutzen for a fancy breakfast.  Also SUN!!!

We were so excited to re-visit this bustling resort!

On day 10 of our trip we awoke to sunshine!! We got up early, packed up our (dry!) tent, and started out on the mountainous path.  The night before, while Tess studied the SHT guidebook and I read a little pamphlet about Minnesota’s native birds, we both decided that it would be fun—and only a mile or so off of our path—to hike towards Lutsen. Lutsen is home to a popular* ski resort that we had visited on a previous summer backpacking trip.  We remembered the bustling cafeteria, the hundreds of people, and the fantastic food we had eaten, and thought a repeat trip would be a highlight.  Even though I am an introvert, sometimes being around other people, even if just for a few hours is comforting.  I was truly looking forward to this diversion.  We had decided to hike into the resort for a late breakfast; seeing as it was only five miles away from our campsite, and hiking at approximately two miles an hour, we figured we could make it there by 9:30 am. But, by 9:30, after we had climbed through the rugged ups and downs that made the path and had wandered through a long deserted stretch of unmarked trail, I told Tess that I needed to stop and sit for awhile and eat something since we hadn’t breakfasted on our typical oatmeal that morning and I was nearly passing out.  She was convinced Lutsen was just over the next hill and wanted to keep going but stopped out of compassion. She let me grab a few handfuls of our homemade trail mix (oat squares, chocolate sundrops, raisins, and peanuts which I had thrown together in GM--all from the “natural” co-op) and drink some water.  (I was so glad to be done with our old trail mix which was Aldi’s cheerios mixed with more cheerios and a few nuts…I think that’s it; It had almost no calories and tasted like cardboard and you had to eat a lot of it to feel satiated, but, hey, it weighed almost nothing. Tess made that trail mix.) She said I should stay hungry for the food we were going to eat when we got there.  We continued on for another hour and a half and distracted ourselves by discussing the delicious breakfast options we were hoping to find on the menu—eggs Benedict, blueberry pancakes with maple syrup, and freshly-squeezed orange juice.  Finally, around 11 am, we saw smoke rising from a building in the distance and followed the descending trail into a mostly-deserted parking lot.  Thinking it strange that we didn’t see lots of cars, and forgetting it was only May 24, we kept on walking toward what looked like the bustling lodge we remembered.  The big red building was closed.  We cheerfully hypothesized that everything opened up at lunchtime and went searching for someone—anyone—who might help us find somewhere to buy breakfast (nearly lunch by this point).  Not wanting to admit to ourselves that we had entered a ghost town, we were thrilled when we found a gangly teenager doing some grounds keeping.   Trying to be upbeat, I approached him and asked him where the nearest restaurant was.  He took off his ear protection, looked at our grimy clothes, and said, “What?” Repeating my question cheerfully, (I was putting all of my slowly disintegrating hope on his answer), I asked, “Is there somewhere we can eat around here?” and he drawled, “ Most everything is closed, ma’am, but I think Moguls is open for lunch.” I replied, “Halleluiah!” and we continued the half-mile more down the road.  My mouth was watering like the Pavlovian dog. 

When we got to Moguls, which we barely found as it was in the basement of a condominium unit, we walked in and saw that it was also abandoned with a sign stating they would be open at 4 pm.  Since we hadn’t yet eaten any breakfast, 4 was too long for us to wait and we trudged back up the half-mile hill (now having adding an entire mile to our trip).  By this time, we were hungry and I was fighting tears; I had looked so forward to this “fun stop”.  Tess knew that I was super discouraged and said we should check and see if the gift shop in the chalet was open.  It was!  We trudged in and talked to the owner who said nothing much was open in MAY, but we were welcome to use the picnic tables outside the shop…not exactly what we were expecting, but somewhere to rest for awhile, regardless.  As we were leaving the shop, Tess tried to cheer me up by saying, “Mom, you could get a special treat for yourself to eat with breakfast.” I chose a blood-orange Vitamin Water to share with her.  Jet chose a stuffed animal from the low shelf, which we nonchalantly pulled out of his slobbery mouth and replaced on the shelf with the others.  When we got outside, we decided to be thankful for the sunshine and for the outlet on the outside of the building; charging your phone in the wild is difficult.  Looking around for witnesses (really?!), I unceremoniously disconnected the pop machine from the outlet and plugged both of our phones in. 

Wolf Man

As Jet rested in the sun, we accepted the fact that our dream breakfast was a fantasy and we dug out the Nutella, peanut butter, tortillas, granola, fritos, and licorice for our (now) lunch.  As we were spreading the PB/ Nutella onto the tortillas (gag!), and laughing at our pitiful morning, a short, wiry man in a flannel shirt with the sleeves cut off and Carhart work pants drove up on a four-wheeler and yelled, “Is that what y’all are eatin’ for lunch?” Embarrassed, we told him we had planned on a fancier meal but everything was closed, as he could see.  He seemed kind of sketchy, but he was little and I figured I could probably take him in a fistfight.  Plus we had an aggressively affectionate dog that could occasionally intimidate.  We continued to converse about how we needed to eat lots of calories since we were hiking and all.  “You ladies are hiking alone?” he asked.  At this point, as I was eyeing the knife on Tess’ pack and trying to remember the name of the gift shop proprietor, I said, “My husband and son will be joining us soon” which was partially true if by soon, you meant one week.  He continued, “Well you ladies be careful out there and don’t let the wolves eat your pup” and then, “Haven’t y’all heard ‘em howling at night?  My neighbor let his shih tzu out to take a dump and the wolves, they came up and ate that dog whole…nothing left but bones. And when my friend called him in the house again, of course the dog ain’t coming cause he got et up!”  After this grueling tale, he laughed hilariously and showed his tobacco-stained teeth and warned us to be careful again.  Then he hopped on his four-wheeler and sped away before we could wipe the image of a wolf-mauled shih tzu from our minds. 

After wolf man left, I moved the pepper spray to an easily accessible hip belt pocket and then unplugged our illegally-connected devices from the outlet and plugged the pop machine back in, checking to make sure we had phone service.  We did.  We hiked out of lonely Lutsen that day making sure—several times—that wolf man and his ATV wasn’t following.  We never saw him again.  And we never did hear—or see—any shih tzu-eating wolves.  Jet was glad about this.

*Apparently Lutsen is only popular with grounds-keepers and wolf men in May.

May 24, 2017  Day 10.  Sun today! First day of absolutely no rain! We hiked 5 LONG miles to Lutsen for breakfast and nothing was open!! So we just ate a late breakfast with our own food. Met a weird guy when we were eating who told us to be careful of wolves and to keep Jet in our sight.  We haven’t heard wolves on this trip.  Tess made some gross pudding tonight that smelled like Vicks vapo-rub and tasted like burnt banana chips.  I refused to eat it.  Thanks for the sunshine today, God! Protect us from the wolves and the wolf man.

Monday, January 22, 2018

A Very Long Walk in May, Chapter 5


After our zero day in Grand Marais (GM), we called up Harriet Quarles who put little paper “business cards” at every trailhead along the route to advertise her shuttle service. Since hikers typically leave their vehicles in a parking lot somewhere close to the trail and hike far away in the opposite direction, they need someone to pick them up and return them to their car. “Shuttle services,” then, are often a necessity. Since the SHT is not a popular thru-hike (mostly people do shorter journeys on this trail), our choices for these services were limited.  Either we had to call the SHT sponsored shuttle or Harriet.  We chose Harriet.

On Monday morning, May 22, after a glorious day-long sabbath in GM, we packed up our backpacks with all of our newly-acquired food and supplies, dressed in our freshly washed hiking clothes, packed the dog’s pack with his convenience store (CS) dog food**, ate a good breakfast at the hotel buffet, and then sat in the lobby of our Best Western and waited for Harriet.  

We saw a large white industrial-looking van pull into the parking lot.  A tiny white-haired woman wearing rolled up jeans, a colorful oversized sweater, and socks under athletic Sketcher clogs jumped out and made her way into the hotel.  Because we were sporting backpacks, she assumed we were her clients and bid us to come with her.  While walking behind Harriet and looking down at the top of her head, I noticed that the tips of her hair were pink and had been hastily put into a lopsided bun that reminded me of an elderly one-bunned princess Leia.  Harriet liked to create her own conversation and told us that she was 70 and had been doing her shuttle service since she moved to GM in the 80’s.  But, now she only does it in the spring and summer months since she bought her condo in Florida.  “And it is the best %$@ service on the SHT, hands down!” she told us.  Harriet drove a very large and cluttered van.  As I rode in the front seat, I saw that she kept her late husband’s obituary in the cup holder along with some WD40 and a rosary.  Tess and Jet sat in the second seat as Harriet took us to our chosen trailhead at Pincushion Mountain and talked about how her wine-saturated friends had invited her to a garage sale/wine drinking party and that she had bought the shoes that she was now wearing at said event.  Harriet had very colorful language and trash talked about the other shuttle service and about some other female hikers she had picked up who sprained their wussy ankles and quit hiking the trail.  We wondered what things she said about us as she dropped us off on top of a hill on that cold and windy morning. 

On the trail again
The day started off windy and muddy with a couple of difficult climbs, but we trudged through because we are not wussy hikers.  Jet seemed a little sluggish, and noticeably slower, as we started but we just thought he had had a little too much relaxing at the dog-friendly hotel.  As we stopped for a very excellent lunch of all organic pepperoni and Parmesan cheese on triscuits, we heard Jet heave.  He choked up some foamy white grossness.  We chalked it up to the 3 cups of CS food that he had eaten that morning and filed this strange happening in the back of our little minds. We choose to avoid looking at his latent foamy slobber during lunch.

May 22, 2017  Day 8.  We called Harriet to shuttle us from our hotel in GM to our trailhead.  Pretty good day today and I was able to do 16 miles! I am getting stronger and I hurt less. Inclines are a tiny bit easier.  No rain today, but some cool temps and winds.  Staying at Cut Log campsite tonight.  Supper with fritos and licorice, good conversation.  Jet’s coat helps him.

**As a dog returns to his vomit (I know you have all been waiting for this)
After a nearly 16 mile day of slogging through mud and misty haze and with a slightly under-the- weather pup, we camped at the Cut Log campsite and settled in with a hot supper.  We went to bed by 7:30 (as we did most nights).  At 4:30 am, we were awakened by Jet forcefully puking at the feet of our sleeping bags.  In my groggy state, I sat up, pushed the dog outside and surveyed the mess.  The vomit was filled with blood and mucous.  We cleaned it up as best we could with wet wipes and Kleenex.  When we let Jet back in the tent, we prayed that he wouldn’t die and tried to sleep a couple more hours.  Arising by 6, we quickly packed up and left our campsite with all of our disgusting vomit garbage hidden away in our packs.  Jet was slower than yesterday and lethargic.  We dared not feed him anything and thought maybe we would have to cut out trip short to save him.  As we climbed that morning, we got to a ridge where we actually had phone service and I was able to call our very calm vet (it was 7 am) and rehearse last night’s scary occurrence.  Being the logical, non-alarmist that he is, Dr. Mai told me not to panic and to feed Jet a little oatmeal or rice or potatoes for a few days before putting him back on the Cstore dog food.  Gastric distress in dogs can surface as blood in the vomit or stool—who knew?  Relieved, we sat eating our breakfast of peanut butter/Nutella tortillas, and we praised God for his provision and for a dog who didn’t die; we like Jet and didn’t know what we would do with a dead dog on top of a mountain.

Jet quickly recovered.

Tess congratulating Jet for eating his oat, rice, oil, pb porridge

May 23, 2017  Day 9.  After the incident last night, the day seemed very long and cold, but we were happy that Jet survived.  It rained as we set up our tent and cooked supper.  Jet’s eating our rice, oats, peanut butter and olive oil mixed with a tiny bit of his new food and he seems better. Lots of good talking today but kind of gray moods because of all the bad weather.  Maybe sunshine tomorrow, God? 

We stayed at a VERY LOUD campsite on this night.  We think the river insects were having a party.  I interviewed Tess about it.


Sunday, January 21, 2018

A Very Long Walk in May, Chapter 4

NOT a Vacation
Remember when I told you to file away the MILEAGE detail? And remember when I said that Tess planned the trip all by herself and decided 15 miles a day would be a good number?  Yeah, well 15 miles a day in the mud and rain and Minnesota ridges was incredibly arduous for me (although neither Jet nor Tess seemed to think so).  I really wanted to do it, and I tried really hard not to complain about it, but I was not enjoying my hiking at all because I was just trying to survive.  The inclines were the worst; every time I had to climb up a steep ridge –which seemed pretty often to me—I felt like my heart might explode because I was breathing so hard.  Sometimes, I even started to have tunnel vision as I went up, presumably because all my oxygen was being used by my lungs and heart and not my brain. If I could work it out, and if Jet hadn’t run ahead by this time, I would put his leash on and let him give me a little pull as we went up together.  He really disliked this as it slowed down his natural instantaneous ascent, but I made him do it anyway. I did bring a hiking pole and next time I will bring two (did I actually say “next time”?!); this helped me gain footing, but what helped me more was the system I created to assist me with my climbing; as I started the climb upward, I would count to 10—usually in my head since I had no extra air—and then I would stop and lean on a tree or my hiking pole for a moment.  I would repeat the entire sequence until I was done with this grueling task.  Tess would often wait at the top for me, cheering, because she knows I really hate anything mountain-like.  She said things like “It will get easier!” “You are getting stronger!” and “You’re almost there!” (when I really wasn’t).  Aside from the inclines, another part of the trail that was especially challenging was the walk along the shore of Lake Superior.  Now I know what you are thinking, “That sounds really beautiful!” But it wasn’t.  Picture yourself trying to hike through a six-inch deep pebble beach against gale force winds.  It was brutal.  And exceptionally freezing.  Compared to this “lake walk”, the mud seemed pleasant.  

Seriously guys, the hiking was hard.

Tess and I on the shore of Lake Superior trying to act like we were not struggling to walk
Anyway, learning about my difficulties on the trip thus far will give you a little background for this next section.  

When Tess and I took a zero day in Grand Marais, we had already completed somewhere near 75 miles, and I was so incredibly grateful for a day off because I could tell I WAS APPARENTLY NOT IN VERY GOOD SHAPE.  As we sat on the bed and ate our Sven and Ole’s pizza and watched The Food Channel, I said, “Tess, I’m super glad you asked me to go on this trip with you, but I am not enjoying our little vacation at all because I am struggling to complete the miles each day.”   I tried to say this without bursting into tears; I felt like such a loser because I couldn’t keep up with her.  Tess' response helped me understand that our expectations for this trip were vastly different,

“Mom, this isn’t a ‘vacation'. It’s a thru-hike; thru-hikes are supposed to be hard.” 

This explained a lot; I had visualized our hike as a fun girls’ trip. She had visualized accomplishing a goal together. 

If I had grasped Tess’ goal at the beginning, my mindset may have been different; I’m not sure why I didn’t since it was it was a thru-hike and all.  I understand challenging oneself with a difficult physical feats; I have completed a handful of marathons and plenty of halves.  I even, once, had to hike the 25 miles that we had left of our backpacking trip ON A SPRAINED ANKLE WRAPPED WITH DUCT TAPE because there was no other way to get back to civilization.  But, I had started out this journey not realizing Tess' determination was to finish the entire thing, by golly.  And to do that, we would have to stick to our original plan. This was somewhat of a conundrum for me. I guess I had defined "thru-hike" as finishing as much of the trail as we could in three weeks. (I am not as goal driven as my daughter and apparently not as fluent in hiking talk.)

Once Tess had shared her expectation, I tried to convince her that it was okay if we didn’t actually complete the trail, and that I would really enjoy our trip more if I could hike less miles each day.  She hesitantly agreed not to push as hard, and we both came to the conclusion that we would probably have to leave a portion of the trail unhiked (we had already planned to stop in Duluth and not complete the mileage that goes through the city, but this meant we would lose more miles).  I was fine with this, but I knew it really bothered Tess, and I felt incredibly guilty that I had made her dream unachievable. Even though this was a bummer, from that time on, I think we had a little more grace for each other as we each made some compromises so our vacation/thru-hike could be fulfilling for both of us. 

And, as an added bonus for my faithful readers, we located a rare picture of Jet, humiliated,  and wearing his bright orange coat.  

Stay tuned for the next chapter in A Very Long Walk in May to learn about the fascinating Harriet Quarles, the tiny and peculiar shuttle driver who helped us get back to the trail...

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

A Very Long Walk in May, Chapter 3

This was the only thing separating us from the Canadian Border.  If we really wanted to, we probably could have entered illegally, but we chose to obey the law.

Tess and I at the our starting place on the SHT. We did the trail the opposite way of most hikers. I look zombie-like because I was experiencing trauma.

Can we talk about the Border Route Trail (BRT)? Tess had originally asked me to do a thru-hike of most of the Superior Hiking Trail (about 250 miles of the 300 total) in northern Minnesota with her, but then, as she was planning mileage (and forgetting that I was 26 years older than her), she decided to throw in 35 extra miles along the Border Route Trail, which crawls along the border between the US and Canada, just to make it a little harder more fun. This would mean that we would need to average about 15 miles a day to keep to our schedule. Remember that. It is an important future detail. So, when we finished 35 miles of the west to east BRT, we intersected the SHT and started our trek south. The intersection point was actually the northernmost tip of the SHT, and since most people go from south to north on this trail, the signs we encountered on our fourth day said “End of SHT” even though we were just beginning it. Believe me, by this time, I was actually kind of wishing we were at the end of the SHT. And also, believe me, the fact that the acronym for the SHT looks like another word that I never actually use, but that came into my mind several times on the trip, was not lost on me.

This was definitely the most remote place I had ever hiked. In fact, it was a little unnerving to be so all alone. And maybe because of the previous fall storm, or maybe because the trail people just didn’t have very much ribbon, the trails were marked every three miles or so with a little tiny piece of plastic blue ribbon tied high up in a tree or sometimes really low down on a destroyed branch laying in the ice. Other than right at the beginning of our route, throughout our first four days, we had seen absolutely no people at all. We saw no cars, heard no airplanes, saw no footsteps and had no phone or internet service. We discussed whether the world had ended or at least been evacuated and that we had evidently been forgotten. Or maybe it was a deadly plague. Regardless, we were apparently the only two people left...AND THEN WE SAW IT!!! A footprint in the mud! It was going the way opposite us, but it looked fresh and so we celebrated knowing that no disaster had befallen humanity. When we had nearly finished the Border Route and were set to start hiking the SHT, we encountered two other actual humans and we nearly hugged them, but restrained ourselves. After this discovery, I felt a sense of relief mixed with exhaustion from lack of sleep during the night of the day that shall never be spoken of, so I convinced Tess to hike into nearby Judge Magney State Park, and by mid-day, I had rented a tent spot in the campsite and taken an actual (albeit tepid) shower in the bath house—my first of three that trip (did you get that? I took three showers in three weeks). Tess actually showered too but got so chilled by the cool water that I had to force her into her sleeping bag to get warm while I heated some hot water to put in her water bottle so she could hug it and not freeze. I fed her supper in the tent that night so she would live. I also made her hug the dog, who was now regularly sleeping his stinky self beside us each night. We FINALLY had cell service here so I was able to call home to tell my family we were still alive and to check to see if Shay (my daughter who had traveled to China on the third day or our trip) arrived safely at her destination (she did). I also found out that my nephew and wife had delivered a baby girl--two weeks early--while we were taking our very long walk. It was good to be in touch with humanity again.

May 19, 2017  Day 5.  MUD! Today was so muddy that my feet were caked with mud all day. The mud is so deep that your foot goes in and the mud seeps into your shoes. Ick! Last night was the coldest yet! I washed some of my clothing in the beaver pond yesterday and dried it on logs. When I got up, all of it was frozen stiff, but I had to put it on because I had to wear all of my clothes to stay warm. Tess was sweet to me and we stopped in the afternoon at Judge Magney State Park and rented a tent spot in the camping section. We only got 13 miles in today but got a semi-warm shower in the bathhouse as a reward. We also walked alongside Devil’s Kettle Falls today and I thought the name was appropriate.

Frozen clothes are hard to wear and no fun to put on when you are freezing yourself.

Devil's Kettle Falls in Judge Magney State Park 

Hungry Hippie Hostel
We stayed at Judge Magney State Park all afternoon that day and slept in our tent on our tiny concrete tent pad that overlooked the freeway. The next day, we got up early and had the privilege of eating our oatmeal at a table--a true luxury in the wild. After breakfast, we hiked a 13 miles to one of the only hostels close to the SHT (even though the guide book said it was “a mile from the trail, it seemed like 5 miles all uphill, and we thought that every house along the route must “finally be it") and found that they were full and we couldn’t stay there. They had, however, received the resupply box that we sent ourselves to their address. This was very fortunate since we were quickly running out of food and supplies. After we waited on their porch for a little while, they happily drove us into the beautiful village of Grand Marais, MN (pop 1339). In Grand Marais, we found a pet-friendly Best Western and walked in the front door in all of our grungy glory. I had forgotten that I was wearing bright pink leg sleeves that day with my skin tight capris because no one cares what they are wearing when they are hiking and I looked ridiculous. When we got to our room--an actual room with a ceiling and running water and a bed--we opened our resupply box; it was like Christmas had arrived! We were still missing some key items though, so we decided to take a zero day (a no-hike day!) the next day and shop for them. Meanwhile, we were hungry and dirty so we ordered pizza and took showers and wore things like down vests and raincoats with towels while we did laundry in the hotel laundry room. We had to make creative outfits so we could answer the door and not be naked when the pizza man came. When our clothes were done, I put on more acceptable and modest attire and went next door to the QT and bought a quart of chocolate moose tracks ice cream. Since we had no freezer in which to store our treat, we ate the entire thing.

That night, the skies outside stormed and blew and poured rain; we were happy to be clean and dry and snuggled together in a king size bed watching the food channel. When we awoke, it was still raining, but we were inside a building and not a tent! Before doing our needed shopping, we each went down to the breakfast buffet by ourselves since we had the dog and all. And we pilfered enough cereal and granola and tea to last us for a few days. Seriously guys, it was just two small baggies full and maybe we shouldn’t have taken it, but we did, so please don’t tell the motel. I tried to stand outside of the security camera so they wouldn’t arrest me. Then, together, we trudged out into _________ ____________ (fill in the blank with the most obvious weather situation) in search of a few more key food items. The only store close by was a food co-op that sold all organic, bulk items—not the best option for our backpacking lifestyle. But we managed to get what we needed. The chocolate sundrops were the bomb. Since we had a dog, I decided to “walk” him when Tess got the groceries. But, per usual, the rain came pouring down and I was again wet and freezing. Luckily, I noticed an “Adventure Store” nearby so I ducked under its canopy and saw that it was dog friendly (as were most places in Grand Marais). Seizing the opportunity to get warm, Jet (who acted like he was an obedient and calm dog) and I entered the store where we were greeted by a friendly store employee who said that she owned 13 sled dogs—13! I noticed a bright orange dog coat in the back of the store and asked if my very skinny and freezing dog could try it on. The owner of 13 dogs said yes and helped me find one that fit him perfectly. I bought it. Immediately as I put the fleece-lined coat on Jet, he dropped his head and acted humiliated. He wouldn’t even get off of the floor or walk around. But, as he wore it and found that it kept him warm and dry, he was hooked. And less shivery. I wish I had a picture of him in his new coat, but I don't. I do, however, have photos of these first attempts at trying to keep him warm.

Jet wearing one of our raincoats because he was cold and had no coat of his own.

Jet acting humiliated when wearing the sweatshirt we brought for him. It didn't work as a coat so we finally used it as his "bed." 

Oh. And Tess didn’t get any dog food at the co-op so we had to go to a convenience store to get some. Have you ever shopped at a convenience store in a tiny town for dog food? The selection is somewhat limited. I did what I could and bought the pup 8 pounds of food and prayed this would last him until our next resupply arrived. Remember this detail—the C-store dog food detail. It will help you as you read farther.

May 21, 2017 Day 7. Zero Day in Grand Marias! Wonderful breakfast that offered Lefse!! Really?! Grocery shopping. TV watching! Coat for Jet. Rainy!! Cold!! People in GM love dogs! Jet go so many compliments on his behavior today. He is turning into a good dog. I think it is because he is so tired. 

Friday, January 12, 2018

A Very Long Walk in May, chapter 2

May 15, 2017  Our first day! So much mud. Wonder how we will get clean again. Lots of elevation, but the hiking poles helped.  Got to our campsite at 5:45 pm.  Jet is being a good dog and actually got tired!!  Hard but successful day.  I am not scared or worried.  Beautiful, sunny and warm today.  

Tess and I happily starting our 3rd day...notice Tess decided to wear shorts.

Days of Rain
It started raining on day two and didn’t stop completely until day sixteen. Yep, you read that right.  With nighttime temps in the thirties, and sometimes only mid-forties during the day, we had to be extra careful to not succumb to hypothermia; carefully layering on all of our clothes and lining our packs with plastic so that our very valuable 15 degree sleeping bags and tent would stay dry.  If we hadn’t been able to, daily, hop into our warm bags after setting up our tent in driving rain, we would have faced actual freezing…of our skin, our blood, and our minds.

May 17, 2017   Day 3.  We have seen no people or any sign of human existence for three days.  It is very weird.  We had a serious talk about the possibility of an apocalypse.  We have also had no cell service for the entire time.  Today’s trails were flatter than yesterday but so many blow-downs that I felt like I was in an extreme adventure race.  It also started raining at 1 pm and never stopped.  It is very cold.  Physically, I am doing well but am exceptionally dirty and stinky.  The last few days of rain have put a damper on fun and bathing.
Nights of Rain
We endured a driving rainstorm with gale force winds on our third night out.  We felt the temperature drop and the storm rising in late afternoon (unluckily, Tess had chosen that day to wear her only pair of shorts) when we were still two miles away from our chosen campsite. As the pelting rain stung our faces, we hiked fast and hard, constantly scanning the environment for anything that could serve as a shelter. Nothing. Earlier, we had seen on the map, something that indicated that we might encounter an outhouse on the trail--a rare luxury--and a viable, albeit tiny, shelter. We never found it. When we finally arrived at the campsite, we quickly created a little shelter for our dog, Jet, out of hiking poles and a big black garbage bag; he refused to lay under it, and instead, stood bewildered in the rain as we set up our tent in record time.  Feeling sorry for ourselves—and him—we let the drenched and pitiful creature in our dry tent and covered his shivering body with more garbage bags while we snuggled down deep in our sleeping bags and listened to music on my phone.  We were so discouraged by our circumstances that Tess grabbed a pop tart and I, a big cookie, and called it supper.  Then I pulled out my harmonica and attempted to play a song that would drown out the tornado-like storm without (and our fear within). It didn’t work. It was a very long night.
Onward Christian Soldiers
The next morning we lay awake and listened to the unceasing rain as we made a pact to leave by 8 am, rain or shine (a pretty measly pact considering we had only had shine for a few hours on our first day.)  Our deadline came.  The rain continued.  It was incredibly hard to get out of our warm sleeping bags, put on wet clothes, go into the wet weather and fold up our wet tent while our wet dog stood watching.  But we did.  And it was miserable.  No breakfast for us on day 4.  This was not what we had planned, and our spirits were beginning to plummet like the pouring rain.  

We decided to go as fast as we could (so we wouldn’t freeze) and march on out of that wretched wet place.  I told Tess that we had to remind ourselves of the true story; we were out on an adventure together and we were alive and it was good.  God had so far protected us.  We sang every hymn we could remember that morning to help us to think rightly. We needed to be thankful and not discouraged. We covered 12 miles by lunch.  Thereafter, we referred to that time as  “The day that shall never be spoken of.”

May 18, 2017   Day 4.  Last night was really scary with lots of wind and pelting rain. Everything was wet and SO cold.  Thanks God for keeping us safe today.  No supper last night.  No breakfast this morning.  I was super tired and worn out today. Tess is being very patient with me.

Thursday, January 11, 2018

A Very Long Walk in May

Tess, Myself and Jet, the Wonder Dog on the first day of our very long walk

My oldest daughter and I took a little backpacking trip together last May. I have wanted to write a story about it ever since.  I figured if I posted a blog about it a couple of times a week, starting now (nearly 8 months after the fact), a story would magically appear…and you would be on the edge of your seat waiting for the next installment, amiright?  Here goes, Tess Haverkamp:

A Very Long Walk in May
In the spring before my 50th birthday my daughter asked me if I would like to take a walk with her; a very long walk; a three-week thru-hike of the Border Route Trail and the Superior Hiking Trail to be exact.

I said yes. I’m glad I did, but as I type out my thoughts about this trip, my fingers keep spelling trial instead of trail, and that unconscious slip tells volumes about my experience on this very long walk.  One detail for you to record:  this long walk was in mid-May in Northern Minnesota at the border of Canada.  For some reason, maybe because of age-induced long-term memory deterioration, I had forgotten that it was still winter in May in Minnesota.  I should have readily recalled that fact because when I was a kid in Minnesota, my Dad made me wear boy’s long johns to stay warm in May; humiliating, but true.

This trip was not my first.  Our family has adventured in the wilderness by backpacking not only in Minnesota, but Colorado, Texas, Arizona, Michigan, Alaska, Arkansas, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, and (my favorite) Italy, France, and Spain where we hiked the famous Camino de Santiago!  It was, however, the only official thru-hike (we stayed in hostels on the Camino) I had ever undertaken; and the only hike I had ever taken alone with my 23-year-old daughter, Tess. 

I thought it would be a fun way to spend lots of time with Tess; to connect, bond, and share a little sunshine together (sunshine. Ha!) So I told her (since she was familiar with thru-hikes, having completed the northern portion of the Appalachian Trail just two summers earlier) to plan the trip and I would make the journey with her. She planned our route and decided that doing just the Superior Hiking Trail (SHT) wouldn’t be hard enough and that we should do about 35 miles of the very northern and remote Border Route Trail as well.  Thinking myself fairly fit and thinking her fairly reasonable, I allowed her to plan the route, the food, the mileage…THE MILEAGE.

Standing Water
I should have known the signs of warning. On the first deceivingly warm and partially sunny day of our trip, my husband dropped us at off at a small lodge close to the trail head.  When we asked the proprietor which direction we should go, he said with a smirk, “Go straight ahead on the gravel road and look for water.”  I thought, “Wonderful! We get to start our hike by doing a lake walk!”  But, as we approached our trailhead, I saw that I was sadly mistaken; the water was not a lake, but the trail itself.  We started our first day of our three-week journey hiking through ankle deep water.

Our preparation had been thorough, and as ultra-lighters, our packs minimal, but nothing could have prepared us for the state of the Border Route Trail.  A strong storm had blown through the previous fall, and by mid-May, when we took our trip, the trail had not been cleared.  We encountered hundreds of blow-downs, minimal trail markings, and overgrowth that required constant bush-whacking.  And mud.  Can we talk about the mud?  We are talking deep, thick, shoe-stealing, soul-sucking mud.  

So much mud.  
It would be a long time before we were mud-less again.