Sunday, July 16, 2017

Welcome to Minnesota and the Miles of Mud

Getting on the trail
I almost had to fake my own death. I landed in Chicago from the first leg of my flight to find that my second flight to Minneapolis was cancelled. This was a major problem for me since my backpack was checked luggage and my buddy Bill was on his way to pick me up at the airport in Minneapolis. The airline had already booked me for a much later flight. As I talked to the agent about how my bag will supposedly make it to Minneapolis without me, I began to realize my options were thin. I needed my bag and I had to rent a car to get there. I didn't want to hold Bill up in town a full day waiting for me to arrive. So I asked the agent if I could get my bag since I had packed my insulin in it... And I really needed my insulin. The agent sent a simple request down to baggage to have it pulled from the luggage racks and delivered to baggage claim. I had my bag in 10 minutes and I was on my way to rent a car. Easy! I drove up to Duluth, Minnesota, met Bill, and we got to our campsite for the night. The next morning we met the shuttle and got on the trail.

The Superior Hiking Trail
We decided it would be best to hike this trail south bound since there is no cell service up north... it's very remote so it would have been hard to call for a shuttle pickup if we finished on the north end.

We learned quickly that the trail had some rugged spots mixed with tree roots, rocks, and mud... all the things I intended to miss in Vermont. The Appalachian Trail has many views, but over a long stretch, you may go days without a view. On the Superior Hiking Trail there are views around each corner. That includes views of Lake Superior, mountain ridges, water falls, and wild rivers. The weather here is also cooler by about 10 to 20 degrees. All pluses in my book! But then there's the mud, making it tough to get to these views. More on the mud later.

Another plus here is the wildlife. On the first day we saw our first bear, on the second a moose, on the third some deer, on the fourth beavers and loons... plus we've seen all sorts of animal tracks in the mud. We can tell there are also linx, bobcats, coyote, and wolves in the area. We know we'll see more. Then there are the mosquitoes... apparently the Minnesota state bird. I was also hoping to leave them behind in Vermont.

The towns along the trail seem real nice... touristy really. Some good food to be had here and the towns folk all seem to have a love for this area... and the outdoors. Every weekend here, the towns are packed with visitors, so we have to plan our stops accordingly so we don't have a problem getting a room somewhere. We also have to plan our camp spots since most of the good campsites are taken on the weekends... that just makes us hike to a more remote site. The problem with remote sites are.... The mosquitoes!!! They are so loud at night all I hear is a constant buzzing over my tent. I swear I have more bite marks than money in the bank.

Let's talk about mud
I don't even know where to begin. There is more mud here than all of the Appalachian Trail put together. Granted the mud season has been extended this year due to lots of rain, but that doesn't mean I need to walk through miles of mud... Oh yeah... It does. There have been sections where the mud makes up over 70% of the trail. In the other sections it's more like 65%... No really. It's been bad. I've taken several spills due to slipping, my shoes and socks all now have holes after only a week, and I got stuck really bad...up to my waist!!! My feet got sucked into about 3 feet of mud...then just to make the whole experience complete, I did a face plant.

On the lighter side, I've had many opportunities to take dips in the rivers and creeks... with all of my clothes and shoes on. This is a mess.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

What was I thinking?

Deja vu
As most of you know, I hiked the AT in 2012.  That included New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts, and Vermont.  Part of the reason I decided to hike this section again was because I don't remember some parts of Connecticut and forgot about most of Mass.  Why not do it again?  And I love hiking in the Bear Mountain and Harriman State Park area, so it was only fitting to start there.  And yes I wanted to spend the first couple hundred miles before the Long Trail (starts at the border of Mass/VT) to get into trail shape.  Well I did it!

But along the way I figured out why I like hiking that area of NY, why I couldn't remember CT or MA, and why I should have waited to do the Long Trail in the Fall.

The Appalachian Trail in NY is a bit unique in that there are many different views to be had.  The trails in Harriman SP are so beautiful, even with some of the climbs that tend to tear my knees up.  Even after you leave Harriman, the views don't stop.  I got another set of views across the Hudson from Anthony's Nose along with knee damage that sent my pain receptors into maximum overdrive during the climb.  After that there are more views over Fahnestock SP and Canopus Lake, where I got to rest up before pending thunderstorms rolled in.

In addition to the views, I can't forget about the occasional deli that the hikers run into.  Always fun to be had when a bunch of hikers roll in on the deli for food and drinks. Against my better judgement on minimizing pack weight, I carried a huge can of blackberry flavored malt liquor for 10 miles until I could make camp.  It was so good that I got the hiccups after two big swigs and had to go lay down in my tent for the rest of night.  New York was fun.

Connecticut was a different story.  I had remembered that the climbs really started again in CT.  The AT has minimal climbs from North Virginia through NY.  Once hikers hit CT, they tend to get reacquainted with the never ending ups and downs.  CT still has the rocks like PA and NY, but it adds tree roots in the way and presents hikers with more challenging climbs and descents down steep rock faces... all while being chased by the southern New England mosquitoes.  It was in CT that I suddenly remembered that the biting insects really start to pick up.  Deet is not my friend, but on this trip it was a critical item.

CT did also provide some really nice towns to stop in while hiking though.  Falls Village was probably my favorite little spots.  I stayed in an Air BnB there and treated myself to dinner and a couple drinks while I took in a history lesson on the town itself, which includes a deep history in car racing.  Also little known fact, there are several well known actors/actresses that have second homes in Falls Village for both its distance from city life and its proximity to the cities themselves.

Massachusetts was the state that made me stop and think more on my 2012 hike.  I wanted to hike in Mass again because I couldn't remember most of the state besides Upper Goose Pond and Mount Greylock.  When I looked back on my hike of the AT I realized that I didn't remember most of Mass because there was nothing to remember.  Actually I had blocked it all out... the rocks, the roots, the mud, the mosquitoes, the deer flies, the humidity, and the constant wet sweaty feeling that didn't go away because I was hiking in the middle of the summer.  The worst part is that were not many views to sit and enjoy.  Mass did me no favors other than getting me back into trail shape.

Constant thoughts of the trail getting worse in Vermont were now on my mind.  But wait, I'm supposed to be getting ready for the Long Trail.  That was my goal.  Actually my goal was to hike long distances to enjoy myself and help get me back into shape.  I wasn't sure of the Long Trail was going to just push me to succeed or push me over the edge.

I decided to call a friend to have him either encourage me or talk me down, Bill, my hiking partner I met 5 years ago on Springer Mountain.  He laughed at me and said, "I wondered why you were doing that crap all over again."  Then he mentioned another trail in Minnesota, the Superior Hiking Trail that runs along the north shore of Lake Superior.  It's longer than the Long Trail by about 40 miles, not as tough, but still has all the elements of a tough but rewarding hike with lots of views.

Now I had a decision to make... stay on track for the Long Trail and not be so happy about it or do another trail that may be even more rewarding.

I opted out of the Long Trail and in for the Superior Hiking Trail!  And why shouldn't I? It's my time on the trail and I want to enjoy it.

That said and despite some rain, I did have some good days on the trail... and off.  The weather on some days that followed the rain were cool and breezy (my favorite).  There was one big day of hiking (20+ miles) that got me into Dalton, Mass where the biggest Prime Rib waited for me, as well as a needed day off from hiking.

After getting of the trail for few days, I'm headed out west to Minnesota for the next leg of my trip. When I get done with the Superior Hiking Trail, I'm off to Colorado to do the biggest hike this year.

This will be fun!