In this video, Dawn LaPointe of Radiant Spirit Gallery explores a section of Lake Superior’s North Shore on a day when temperatures hovered around -10°F.
To this day there is no Encampment River Bridge. It was washed out in the Historic Summer Solstice Flood Disaster of 2012, along with about $50 million worth of other stuff in northeastern Minnesota. What I found out by talking to other people who had hiked through the area is the Encampment River is not typically deep and gushing, so unless there’s been a heavy rain it’s easy to cross without a bridge.
With that knowledge I made plans for my final hike of 2014, from Silver Lake Township Road 617 at Castle Danger to Lake County Road 301. Saturday, Oct. 11, looked good on my calendar as one of the last days one might confidently expect nice weather before colder days set in.
Of course, there are forces other than weather and natural disasters aligning to alter whatever plans we might have for our lives. Six days before my hike, a great friend and mentor died in his sleep.
By the fall of 2014 I had fewer than 50 miles of walking left to complete the Superior Hiking Trail. That might seem easy enough to knock out in a couple days, but it wasn’t a single stretch I had to cover, it was short segments stretched out over hundreds of miles. So I was picking them off three miles here and eight miles there.
An example of how it sometimes broke down: Rather than do the 6.4-mile Rossini Road to Fox Farm Road segment with cars at each end, or hike through and then go all the way back, I chose to break it into two trips on two separate days – Rossini Road to the West Branch of Knife River, then Fox Farm Road to the same spot, going both directions on each hike rather than one 12.8 miler.
Of course, by driving one car to the same area twice, instead of two cars once, I didn’t save any gas or spare the environment any emissions — and I doubled my time spent in the car — so it was a dumb thing to do … even though it seemed intelligent at the time.
The highlight of that first hike in early September was either a mushroom or some kind of yellow porcelain trailside birdbath.
On those summer days when the water is clear and warm, Lake Superior becomes the greatest swimming pool in the world. Remember, summer is coming back in just a few months!
What says Minnesota more than pond hockey? How about a rink in the shape of Minnesota? I made this rink in the shape of Minnesota over the course of two days. The project took a total of a few hours and I had some help on the final shovel off.
The final four of my 16 years on the Superior Hiking Trail were spent filling in a series of gaps, the biggest of which was an 85-mile stretch from Martin Road outside Duluth to Split Rock State Park. I covered nearly three quarters of that distance in 2012 and 2013 through somewhat random day hikes. The 2012 hikes were in areas that are among the most beautiful on the trail. The 2013 hikes were marred by biting flies and scenery that doesn’t quite measure up to better parts of the trail.
When people find out I’ve hiked the entire SHT, they sometimes form a grandiose opinion of my outdoorsmanship and general machismo. Like I’m the kind of guy who walks around with a Leatherman multitool at all times, practically lives off the land and is prepared for Armageddon. In reality, I wouldn’t have slept a single night in the woods on my hiking trips if there were an easier way around it. Once I’d knocked the northernmost 180 miles off my checklist, there was an easier way around it, and I took full advantage of the opportunity to get dropped off at a trailhead and get picked up eightish miles away just a few hours later.
“I’m sorry, but the colors were TERRIBLE this year,” one Perfect Duluth Day reader wrote at the time. “Very disappointed.” Another agreed. “They’ve been very dim up the shore.” One advised that it was important to “get off the shore 5 miles inland” to see the colors at their best.
It’s human nature, I suppose, to consider all things in relation to whatever else might be possible. Just this past week I was at Bent Paddle’s busy tap room and my wife quickly ordered two Harness IPAs, knowing it’s a beer I love. While that was happening, I was a few feet away looking at the beer options on the board and elated to see Barrel-aged Double Shot Double Black Ale was available. When a Harness landed in front of me I wanted to take that beer I generally love and pour it directly into a urinal to make a clear path for the Double Black—the only acceptable beer in the world at that moment.
So when I say the fall colors were excellent in 2009 and show a few pictures, it’s with the understanding that maybe they were the 974th-best fall colors of all time.
In the fall of 2008 I resumed my north-to-south march on the Superior Hiking Trail at Finland Recreation Center. I was dropped off in the early evening, with just a 2.5-mile hike to Leskinen Creek Campsite. When I arrived I discovered I would have to share the space with a group of young men who were already set up there. Sometimes a person goes off into the wilderness with intentions of being alone, then sleeps 50 feet from snickering 20-year-olds.
This was one of only two times I shared a backwoods campsite during my SHT trips, and the only time I shared one with a group of people. My mostly solitary experiences were probably not typical, however, because I tended to hike late in the season — usually the tail end of September but sometimes well into October. On this trip I arrived at camp on Aug. 16, which was by far the earliest I had started an SHT trip. It was still summer. Still T-shirt and shorts season. The last grasp of summer for those attending school in September.
I introduced myself to the neighbors and spent a little time with them at their fire. I don’t recall much about them eight years later. I want to say they were from Hermantown. One was named Andy and another was Dan. I think there were three of them in total. They were nice guys. That’s about all I remember.