Last week Bear Creek Trail in Superior opened to hikers, bikers and snowshoers. It’s a 2.25-mile crushed-concrete pathway connecting the Osaugie Trail at Bear Creek Park to Wisconsin Point Road. An extension is in the planning stages that will create an additional trail on the other side of Wisconsin Point Road to parking lot #1. But what is already built is excellent.
The laziest and slowest record in endurance-sports history has been broken. Again. By me. Again.
As documented in numerous essays, I started hiking the Superior Hiking Trail on Sept. 23, 2000 and finished the 310-mile trek from the Canadian border to Jay Cooke State Park on Nov. 5, 2015. Obviously I took a lot of breaks along the way. Then, in 2016, I hiked new parts of the trail that hadn’t been built yet, breaking the record I already held for the slowest unsustained complete traverse of the Superior Hiking Trail.
Was that an official record? Well, no organizational body really keeps track of such things. But I stand firmly in my declaration that no one who has hiked the entire Superior Hiking Trail has taken longer to do it than me.
And now I’ve taken even longer.
In the summer of 2018 a new loop trail was built at Ely’s Peak in Duluth. It was kind of late in the hiking season when I heard about it, so I planned to do it in 2019. Then I kind of forgot about it and got distracted with other things. I had also started a new quest to hike the North Country Trail through Wisconsin. I’m still barely started on that.
Anyway, this past July I drove out to the Ely’s Peak area with the intention of knocking out the new last bit of trail, but as I started walking it occurred to me that if I waited until Sept. 23 to do this loop my Superior Hiking Trail story would span a perfect 20 years. So I hiked other trials that day and saved the loop for the perfect day.
One nice thing about hiking on county roads is that if a deer fly is pestering you and you happen to walk by a freshly killed skunk, the fly will transfer to the skunk and leave you to hike in peace.
There are also fewer ticks on roads than on trails, and you are less likely to get lost. But the benefits of a trail instead of a highway are obvious and substantial. In particular: the natural beauty of the land is a bit less interfered with on a trail, there are no motorized vehicles to watch out for, and on hot days there is usually some protection from the blistering sun.
Last summer I hiked county roads W and B to Pattison State Park. So far in 2020 I’ve hiked from Pattison to the border between the towns of Summit and Gordon. All of this has happened without any overnight camping or serious day of dedicated hiking. It’s just casual car trips to walk the road in there-and-back stretches.
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.