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Saturday Essay Posts

Sixteen Years on the Superior Hiking Trail: Leaves, Needles, Mud

Paul Lundgren Saturday EssayBy 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.

To the Battlements, Wherever and Whatever They Are

Anna Tennis Saturday EssayI think about September 11th a lot. More, lately.

I was working at Duluth’s now-defunct Ripsaw newspaper at the time, and we were confounded for the first hours. Do you remember the world in which an attack on U.S. shores was impossible? The idle impenetrability of the United States? We invaded. The world was our bully pulpit. But that day, the paradigm shifted as surely and as immediately as that of a new mother, who, in the second her child leaves her body finds her heart, her worst fears, vulnerable and exposed to the worst the world has to offer. You could almost hear it, the snap of collective consciousness as the reality became apparent, over the day. One hour at a time, our perceived security, the luxury of our superiority, rolled away like so many layers of fog.

My sister came and picked me up. We drove around, listening to the soundtrack from the Coen Brothers’ masterpiece, O Brother, Where Art Thou? and tuning in to the news for updates. We smoked a million American Spirit cigarettes. We felt scared.

Later, I stood on the balcony of my third-floor apartment, on the phone with my best friend. “We’re going to war,” he said.

“Definitely,” I replied.

Saturday Essay: Select gems from 2016

Saturday Essay logo genericLast week we highlighted the five most-read pieces from the first year of Perfect Duluth Day’s “Saturday Essay” series. This week’s focus is on five essays of similar quality that might have been missed by readers who were cleaning their attics, fixing their hot rods or relaxing at the cabin on the particular Saturdays these stories were originally posted.

The first 50 essays in our series showcased the work of 16 different writers; we hope to expand that roster in 2017. Anyone who has an original piece of literary excellence that seems to fit (or appropriately defy) the established format should email paul @ perfectduluthday.com to get involved.

And now a few select gems from season one, in random order …

The Most Read Saturday Essays of 2016

Saturday Essay logo genericPerfect Duluth Day launched its “Saturday Essay” series at the beginning of 2016 and it quickly became the most popular recurring feature on the website. With the first set of 50 essays now complete, it’s time to take a look back at which pieces have been the most read of the bunch so far, according to the folks at Google Analytics.

Before we get all Casey Kasem, a few notes about how the “Saturday Essay” feature works: Yours truly, Paul Lundgren, is the editor. A small group of writers are featured somewhat regularly, but anyone is welcome and encouraged to submit a piece for consideration. Shoot an email to paul @ perfectduluthday.com to inquire.

And now, the countdown …

Sixteen Years on the Superior Hiking Trail: Two Harbors Vicinity

Paul Lundgren Saturday EssayThe 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.

Sixteen Years on the Superior Hiking Trail: Silver Bay to Split Rock State Park

Paul Lundgren Saturday EssayThe fall colors in 2009 received mixed reviews. I thought they were outstanding.

“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.

Historical Trauma and Standing Rock

DavidBeard_SEWhen I was young and more exciting than I am now, I started teaching Art Spiegelman’s graphic novel Maus. One of the reasons Maus made its way into classrooms was that it was an immensely accessible introduction to the Holocaust.

But about halfway through the second time I taught the book, I realized that its special genius is not the way it tells the story of Vladek, a Holocaust survivor, but the way it tells the story of Artie, the son of a Holocaust survivor.

Perhaps this is clearest in the scene where Artie and his wife, Francoise, take Vladek to the grocery store so that Vladek can return a half-eaten box of cereal.

Sixteen Years on the Superior Hiking Trail: Finland to Silver Bay

Paul Lundgren Saturday EssayIn 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.

Sixteen Years on the Superior Hiking Trail: Duluth Sections

Paul Lundgren Saturday EssayBy the end of 2006 I had completed the northernmost 140 miles or so of the Superior Hiking Trail over three separate backpacking trips. My methodical march from one end of the trail to the other was broken up that summer, however, when newly cut segments of the SHT in Duluth demanded my immediate attention.

I can’t fully express how awesome it is to have the SHT through Duluth, how quickly I’ve taken it for granted, and how I never even dreamed of it before it happened.

Somehow I actually thought of Duluth as an outstanding hiking city before the SHT. In retrospect, it really wasn’t that special. There were several excellent options — Park Point Nature Trail, Chester Creek, Hartley, Lester River, Congdon Park, Lincoln Park, Western Waterfront — and then there were a few gravel railroad beds, old roads and paved trails for walkers/bikers. Mostly, however, there were many muddy unofficial paths, swampy ATV routes and overgrown ski and snowbobile trails crawling with ticks. So, not really outstanding back then; more like pretty good.

If you wanted to hike the western hillside and view the overlooks from a footpath instead of Skyline Drive, you had to bushwhack before 2006. I grew up doing that, not realizing a group of organized and ambitious human beings could carve a deluxe trail through the entire city in just two summers. God bless them. Now, we have an outstanding hiking city.

Message to a White Boy Who in Some Ways Reminds Me of Me

Chris Godsey Saturday EssayDear Russell:

I want to tell you some things that might not make sense. I wish an adult would have seen me clearly enough to know I needed to hear similar things when I was 18. Do you know what I mean when I invoke the impact of being seen?

You’re a sharp kid. Like a lot of sharp kids, especially ones in their first semester of college, you know both way more and way less than you realize. I was the same way. So was—so is—every other adult, including every other teacher, you’ve known and will know.

You should accept nothing from us as truth before vetting it against your own inquiry. We do probably know more than you and your peers know about some things. We also tend to indoctrinate young people instead of helping them become autonomous thinkers. Please heed Walt Whitman and “re-examine all you have been told in school or church or in any book, and dismiss whatever insults your own soul.”

By “inquiry” I mean deep, active curiosity that includes interrogating your own thinking at least as much as you interrogate the thinking of people you disagree with or consider stupid. It’s very hard work. It’s not just navel-gazing. You will find few examples of how to do it well. Even after doing it for years—after it has helped you learn to discern valid insight from self-serving magical thinking—it will lead you to many inaccurate conclusions because all perception is distorted and opinions can definitely be wrong.

Sixteen Years on the Superior Hiking Trail: Temperance River to West Branch Bar in Finland

Paul Lundgren Saturday EssayBy 2006 my life was in order and annual Superior Hiking Trail trips became a fall routine. The major development at the time, however, was that the SHT was being blazed through Duluth. So that summer, for the first time, I began covering sections out of order by simply knocking out a few day-hikes wherever and whenever nearby trail construction was completed.

I’ll have more detail on the Duluth hikes in future essays. This week the focus is on my fall 2006 trip, which began on the evening of Sept. 30 at Temperance River State Park. A short 2.7-mile hike through a birch and aspen forest brought me to a campsite at Cross River, where I’d spend the night before getting in a full day of hiking.

This would be my first SHT trip with a digital camera, so plenty of color photos are available to document the scenery.

Sixteen Years on the Superior Hiking Trail: Nonchalance

Paul Lundgren Saturday EssayAfter hoofing over 90 miles of the northernmost sections of the Superior Hiking Trail in 2000 and 2001, I failed to hike a single SHT mile over the next five years. What went wrong?

Little tiny things, that’s what. In 2002 I was a freelance writer barely making rent. It was hard to turn down work to free up time to go on a hike. One weekend I planned a short trip, but the weather forecast indicated rain and I sissied out.

By 2003 I had made the mistake of accepting a fulltime position in the field of advertising, with no vacation time until after the first year — although I did manage to sneak off for a three-day weekend on Isle Royale.

Frustrated with my inability to get out of town for a good hike, and inspired by a discussion about how Duluth is a geographically wide city, I decided to organize a roughly 26-mile single-day walk from the Wabegon Supper Club in the Superior Township to the Lakeview Castle in Duluth Township. This complete traverse of Duluth was called the Nonchalant Jaunt.

Perfect Duluth Day was launched just three months prior to the 2003 jaunt, so there are a few posts about it in the archives. A group of seven hearty individuals completed the trek, which for the most part followed Highway 23, Superior Street and Highway 61.

Disfluency

Anna Tennis Saturday EssayAll names in this story have been changed, because this is the internet. But not because of you. You’re wonderful.

If you had told me five years ago that a life could be forever altered by a toddler’s stutter, I would have rolled my eyes deep enough to dislocate my optic nerve. Maybe that’s a little melodramatic. My point is, I wouldn’t have understood. Like so many things, there’s often a pretty good delta between experience and imagination. I know a little better now, because of my own experience, and while this isn’t the worst thing that ever happened to me, it actually did change my whole life. This one little thing. A stutter.

I remember how, a week before my second daughter, Lilly, was born, I was thinking about how, in the new Pooh movie, Piglet lost his stutter. I had a little internal dialogue about the ridiculous, reactionary nature of helicopter parents, so sensitive to anything that might hurt … someone … that we couldn’t even joke around anymore. They had probably driven the change in Piglet’s fluency. Except I didn’t know to use the phrase, “change in Piglet’s fluency,” yet.

Sixteen Years on the Superior Hiking Trail: Cascade River to Temperance River

Paul Lundgren Saturday EssayThe second leg of my Superior Hiking Trail journey began Sept. 14, 2001, at Cascade River State Park. Two friends dropped me off that Friday night at a campsite in the dark, then immediately turned around and drove back to Duluth. My first job was to get out a flashlight and put up my tent.

The big clumsy contraption I slept in the previous year had now been replaced with a fancy Marmot model I could scrunch into a tight bundle, which would make hiking a bit easier. This tent has gone on to serve me well for 15 years and counting, but I wasn’t impressed the first time I set it up. Yes, I broke a tent pole before I ever slept in the thing. Perhaps setting it up for the first time in the dark led me to force things too much. Whatever the case, a single broken pole is not a big deal and did little to hamper my experience.

The next morning I was up early and on my way. Maybe an hour into the hike, a bit of morning mucus had built up and I did what anyone alone in the woods in such a situation would do: I pushed one finger against the side of my nose, turned my head and blew snot out the other nostril. It was at that moment I noticed a female hiker was right behind me, and this would be how we would get to know each other.

“Oh, good morning,” is probably what I said. She replied with a hello, or something like that, and kept on hiking at a rapid pace. I think I saw her again when she stopped for a snack and I passed her. Then she passed me again later. I don’t remember how many times this happened.

Sixteen Years on the Superior Hiking Trail: Swamp River to Cascade River

Paul Lundgren Saturday EssayDigital cameras existed in the year 2000, but it wasn’t until about 2003 that using one became mainstream. I started my quest to complete the Superior Hiking Trail with a cheap 35mm pocket camera and a roll of black and white film … perfect for capturing lush fall colors. A grand total of four photos were taken during this five-day hiking trip.

By contrast, I have 35 photos and three videos from a five-minute window when I finished my hike in 2015. So the world has changed a bit. I worked for a newspaper then, I work for a website now. The World Trade Center buildings stood then, the National September 11 Memorial & Museum stands now. Time marches on at a faster pace than my hiking boots, apparently. My first trip covered nearly 60 miles of trail, however, and that’s not too shabby. Unfortunately, things slowed down after that.

On the sunny afternoon of Sept. 23, 2000, my friend Jeff and I drove the winding way of Highway 61 to Grand Portage. It’s not a place that is necessary or practical to go when seeking the start of the Superior Hiking Trail, but it’s a fun location to stop and look out over Lake Superior while there’s time to kill on the day before the adventure begins.