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.

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