Duluth’s Parks and Recreation division has released guidelines advising citizens how to use city parks and trails in a manner that will reduce the transmission of the COVID-19 virus. March and April are also the months when snow is melting and natural-surface trails can be easily damaged.
So, where is it OK to hike and how is it done safely?
I’ve been a bit obsessed with planning human-powered multisport adventures in Northeastern Minnesota. Even within Duluth city limits, the options for loops are nearly endless. I was curious if anyone else out there had done similar trips in the past. Then I thought about how cool it would be to have a documentation of many routes for others to explore, want to replicate, or spur their creativity for a new route/loop. And Duluth Adventures was born!
Check out duluthadventures.com. This website pretty much hinges on other people’s submissions so I strongly encourage anyone to navigate to the “submit” button and send in their own routes.
This is the third chapter in my quest to hike the North Country Trail across Wisconsin, but logistically it probably should be the first. As I’ve explained in previous chapters, the Superior Hiking Trail in Minnesota and the North Country Trail in Wisconsin aren’t properly connected yet at the border. The best thing a purist can do to fill the gap is hike on Minnesota State Highway 23 and a pair of county roads to get to a trailhead. So that’s what I did. Because I’m an annoying purist. Sort of.
It’s not so much that I’m determined to be annoying and pure. There are basically three reasons I wanted to hike on the roadways. 1) I know from experience that having a somewhat methodical goal inspires me to stay active. 2) If the pieces don’t all connect, it’s easy to lose track of where I’m at in the process, thereby thwarting reason #1. 3) Hiking on a trail in May is less fun anyway because of mud and ticks, so roads might be the best option anyway. (And if I were a true purist I’d strap on a backpack and hike across the whole state in a few days instead of breaking it up into numerous easy hikes.)
If you’ve ever hiked Minnesota’s Superior Hiking Trail to the Wisconsin border you know the trail ends there, but doesn’t really end there. Despite a sign on a tree that reads “Southern Terminus of SHT” and a separate post sticking out of the ground that reads “Not a trail,” there is clearly a trail there leading into Wisconsin. But it doesn’t go far.
The rest of the text on the terminus sign explains: “Spur trail from here to be built by North Country Trail to a parking lot in WI. Trail now dead-ends ahead.”
I explained all that 17 months ago in a Saturday Essay titled: “North Country Trail: Wood Tick Flats,” which was the first report on my quest to hike the North Country Trail across Wisconsin. That summer I covered exactly zero miles on the trail, which is not a great start to a 200-mile journey. If you read that first North Country Trail essay from June 2017 you know I didn’t hike on the trail that day because the grass was long and loaded with ticks. So I waited and saved the hike for a day with more favorable conditions … 17 months later.
What I lack in ambition I make up for with tenacity, right? My motto is: “Never quit. Take a nap and try again later when you feel more up to it.”
Fall is prime hiking season around Lake Superior. Linda O’Connell of Onalaska went on a 100-mile journey from the Canadian Border to Temperance River State Park in early September and put together this 37-minute documentary.
“Beautiful views, wrong turns and good food were experienced,” she writes in the YouTube description. “I am just an average American 50-year-old woman trying to get out of my comfort zone. Life is short. Make it count.”
Linda O’Connell of Onalaska recently completed a North Country Trail Hike 100 Challenge. She went on four separate hikes from June to October, passing through Pictured Rocks, the Chequamegon National Forest, Brule River State Park Forest and Douglas County Forest, to reach a total of 100 miles.
“I had some struggles along the way,” she writes on the YouTube description. “I fell at Cheq & had blisters at Superior but I managed to achieve the 100 miles.”
A segment of the hiking trail in Chester Park on the east side of the creek, between Skyline Parkway and the Eighth Street bridge, washed out during recent heavy rainfall. Trail closure signs are in place leading up to and around the area, along with orange fencing.
Duluth’s Parks and Recreation Division requests hikers avoid the washed-out area and instead use the trail on the west side of Chester Creek. The pedestrian bridge near Eighth Street is open for trail users to safely cross the creek to the west side.
You can’t start hiking the North Country Trail at the border of Minnesota and Wisconsin without first hiking in from one direction or the other. If you want to go southeast through Wisconsin, for example, you need to start on Wild Valley Road in Minnesota and hike in for 3.2 miles.
I don’t know how far into Wisconsin you’ll get if you try that. As of the date of this post, the interactive map on northcountrytrail.org is unclear. It’s hard to tell if the trail ends cold in the woods, dumps out on a highway or carries on uninterrupted.
On the gorgeous Sunday afternoon of June 4, I tried to solve this mystery and failed. It was still a fun scouting mission, though, and that’s what I’ll share in this essay. Obviously I could call the trail association or maybe spend an hour scrolling through Facebook posts to obtain the knowledge I seek about the state of the trail, but I’d still want to see it for myself, so why bother with the hands-off research, right?
It has been thoroughly documented in a series of 13 essays on this very website that I slowly and somewhat methodically hiked all of Minnesota’s Superior Hiking Trail in sporadic spurts from 2000 to 2016. That journey started at the Canadian border and ended on the Wisconsin border. But the trail doesn’t stop at either of those points. The SHT is part of a much longer trail — the North Country National Scenic Trail — which extends to Lake Sakakawea State Park in North Dakota to the west and Crown Point in New York to the east.
The yearning for adventure is a pretty common human trait, along with the practical good sense to not get into a situation you can’t handle. The old Scout Motto is “be prepared,” a creed intended to make one think practically and plan ahead for potential disaster. There’s a colorful expression for those who are not ready for life’s misfortunes; they find themselves “up Shit Creek without a paddle.”
Not wanting to drift helplessly in liquid feces, people often put off serious adventure and plan to check their dreams off a “Bucket List” at some point between the impractical now and the day before it becomes physically impossible. When a Bucket List goes as planned, it’s a beautiful thing. More often than not, of course, it ends up being a list of unfulfilled wishes. That’s generally preferable to premature death in pursuit of pretty scenery, so lament accordingly.
There are also those perfect people in the primes of their lives, dressing up in expensive wingsuits and gliding majestically down from the world’s most spectacular cliffs. Are they the sons and daughters of the obscenely wealthy or did they persuade a gear manufacturer to sponsor them? Maybe both. Don’t be jealous. You probably wouldn’t take that leap if you could. I know I wouldn’t.
The new segment crosses the University of Wisconsin-Superior’s MacQuarrie Wetlands in western Douglas County and features scenic overlooks of the Nemadji River Valley and the basin of Glacial Lake Duluth. It also crosses a section of Douglas County Forest and Wisconsin DNR lands.
The champagne bottle popped shortly after noon today. In what must rank among the laziest accomplishments in endurance sports history, I completed the final stretch of my quest to hike the entire Superior Hiking Trail … 15 years after I started.
The 296-mile journey was tackled in about 45 different hikes spread out between Sept. 24, 2000, and Oct. 11, 2015. The longest single hike was about 15 miles. The shortest was today’s hike, which was less than a mile. Perhaps some day I’ll gather stories from the journey into some sort of narrative, but for today I’ll just present a simple breakdown of the mileage per year.
With a fused spine and partially paralyzed legs, Paul Hlina hiked the entire Superior Hiking Trail on crutches in 1995. He is credited as the first person to through-hike the trail, which at the time spanned almost 200 miles. It’s about a 300-mile trail today.