Party on the Superior Hiking Trail like it’s 1999. Fox Farm to Rossini.

In those final fleeting moments before the snow begins to fly, I get twitchy. Must cram in as many fall experiences as possible! Yesterday’s hankering to knock out the next stretch of the trail, before it’d be blanketed under several inches of snow, was overwhelming. Though I only had a handful of four-mile runs under my belt over the past couple months (owing to painting the house at the most glorious time of year), I embarked on a 13-mile out and back anyway. I’d feel it, but I’ve got solid mental and muscle memory of these sorts of treks.

Joey fixed me this swell lunch: a hot fish sandwich topped with tartar and spicy mix. Yum yum. School work hasn’t occupied him as much, so we’re trying to bring more chores into his life. It gets complicated, however, because his twin sister has been buried in her distance learning. Fairness and twins. It’s a thing. Anyhow, Jo wouldn’t be joining me on this journey, so he was excited to help me along any way he could. Good kid.

For yesterday’s epic, I opted for the more casual route to the trailhead on Fox Farm Road. For the drive out you too might choose this more authentic northwoods experience, rather than the freeway-dependent route shown on the trail’s website.

You come to the end of Jean Duluth Road 15 minutes after leaving my house. Take a right, and keep on driving. I love it out here so much. You can comfortably drive your jalopy van under the speed limit, chuck an apple core out the window, and enjoy the ride.
Who the heck wouldn’t want to own a cabin on Paradise Lake? I didn’t have time to visit. I’m guessing the crystal clear, rejuvenating water of my imagination is better than the real thing. All the street signs out here are peppered with lead shot. Such a different world from home, and yet so close. The drive out here is so relaxing and enjoyable. I could easily imagine lighting a cigarette, cracking the window, and living large while trundling down the gravel roads. Alas, I’m clean and pure, so no cancer sticks for me. On occasion, I do understand the allure…

After several miles of bumping along the washboard, I was slowed to a crawl behind the road grader. This is an authentic northern experience. I then bottomed out while plowing across the two-foot high zipper of class five he made in the middle of the road, passed the large piece of machinery, and immediately arrived at the trailhead after going through the trouble. Hilarious.

Me and the van had a stellar bonding experience back here. She’s got a nearly full tank of gas, and I suspect her replacement is nearly ready. May as well use those last sips of fuel to enjoy these final moments together.

I had Stanley take this picture of the two of us together at the end of our run/hike. I feel nothing but gratitude each and every time she starts up for me. At her age and mileage she’d be entitled to stay in bed from time to time, but she never fails me.

Though it’s a model year 2000 Dodge Grand Caravan, the original bill of sale in the glove box dates to 1999. If I charged a dollar for every thousand miles on the odometer, the sale price would come to $288.10 (and slowly increasing). It’d also come with the hilarious collection of cassette tapes stashed under the passenger seat. I rather like that idea, but the sort of chap who buys vehicles at this price does not have a reputation for being reliable. Coordinating things like a test drive and title transfer sounds like a major hassle, so I’m considering one last tearful drive to the junkyard for ol’ Dodgey. Poor dear, and after all she has done for me. I’ve basically enjoyed her as a farm vehicle for free these past 3+ years. Huge blessing.

Our upgrade will be to an 18-year-old van, a mere youngster, and from the same trusted prior owner as ol’ Dodgey’s. At $2000, or perhaps a wee bit less, we can easily pay cash. More importantly, I’ll sleep at night. The thought of shelling out half the farm’s annual income for a depreciating asset didn’t sit well. In an ideal world I’d pretend we paid $5k, invest the difference, forget about it, and have that waiting for us when it’s time to purchase the next vehicle. Alas, life throws punches. These funds will go towards a new roof next spring, which will be torn down all the way down to the bottom of the attic. Yes, that’s less than ideal, but by keeping unessential expenses to a minimum, I think we’ll be fine. Saving money on cars is the first place to go when such things crop up. The only hole in the scheme is that our retirement investing has ground to a halt this year. No bueno. This is the Achilles’ heel of self-employment.

1999 was a momentous year. That’s the year we were married. It’s also when I purchased that $20 pair of painter’s pants that are now carefully rolled up and sitting in a trash can with a, “Thank you for your service,” pat on the split behind. They helped pay for our wedding that summer. Slightly more disconcerting, as I made my way up the trail with Stanley, was the thought that my small investment in these pants easily produced more income than the 60 or so thousand dollars shelled out for undergraduate and graduate degrees. I’ll just take a big fat stab and say that these pants aided me in producing $60,000 of value. They repeatedly have come in handy during tough times, such as in My Napoleonic Return to the Economy after I was laid off. Always a reluctant painter, I have resisted investing in a new pair.

They helped paint our house two times. Here are the results of the second job, completed 17 years after the first.

Alas, we can’t live in 1999 forever. Time to turn a page. The long run helped put these things into perspective.

The trail gets groovy right from the get-go.
The SHT parallels the west branch of the Knife River for a spell. Further downstream, the river picks up more volume, to the point where it has washed out a major highway bridge on at least two occasions.
The trail has a boreal feel to it for long stretches.

I journey northbound whenever possible. The lure of the north is irresistible as it pulls me forward, though legs and hips grew increasingly sore on this occasion.

The campsite on this stretch is stellar. There’s an excellent water source in the Knife too. I enjoyed a Clif Bar as a pick-me-up here. FYI, you can buy these via Amazon’s Subscribe and Save for about 75 cents each. Evil empire or not, a couple of these stuffed into a Camelbak hydration pack will help you go the distance.
The trail passes beside several beaver ponds in close succession. Pro-tip for Christmas tree hunting: search beside open wetlands like this for the best selection. Balsam trees fill out quite nicely if they are exposed to full sun. (No, I’m not advocating poaching.)

After passing through the land of beavers, you come to a healthy stand of maples.

Ol’ Dodgey served as a time machine taking me two weeks into the future. Every leaf was on the ground up there. In town there’s still plenty of color, due to non-native varietals and proximity to Lake Superior.

As I write this 16 hours later, I’m grateful to have taken advantage of a small, rapidly closing window of time. Though it hit 70 degrees at the start of last week’s adventure, snow is falling quite heavily now. This area is now fully blanketed for certain. The undulations of the land have their own subtle beauties worth taking notice of.

With the leaves down, there are several openings with nice views. It’s hard to discern in the photo, but I could see clear across miles of forest to Lake Superior. These views through the trees are obscured by the green tunnel in summer. While the colorful leaves would have been gorgeous, this time of year is probably my second favorite for exploring these sections between Duluth and Two Harbors.

There are no stunning photo opportunities that will light up your Instagram profile in this section. Is that the goal? This is a fully authentic back-country, remote-feeling wilderness experience with limited human traffic.

I’m not sure why this spot is called 12 Mile View. I could clearly make out Wisconsin across the water. Definitely more than 12 miles in the distance.

While the lake is a distant friend on this journey, it’s not the focus. And heck, the next couple hundred miles have countless outcrops with sweeping views of the lake. Also, I see the lake nearly every day. This is a different experience, altogether. If one is forced to choose, yes, the more northerly sections are indeed more scenic. Thus, I’m happy to bang some of these out with the dog, and allow Joey to join me closer to the action further up the shore. Perhaps the more seasoned backcountry traveller is better tuned to fully enjoy these portions of the trail between Duluth and Two Harbors. I really loved this stretch.

It’s helpful to get down to Stanley’s viewpoint from time to time.
The smell of snow was in the air. My elfin ears became chilled, so I switched to the beanie here. Temps in the upper thirties with a stiff breeze encouraged continual movement.
And then the sun burst through the blanket of clouds from time to time. Glorious.
Based on the character of the land here, a sleuth could discover the spring-fed source of this tributary to the Knife inside of two minutes, name it after his girlfriend, and then propose to her. Nothing says, “I love you,” afterward like a gentle brush-off of the ticks slowly making their way up her calves.
How many years ago did the seed that eventually became this stump germinate? My guess is 172. That’s ten years prior to Minnesota’s statehood. Countless organisms have thrived on and in this decaying stump in the decades since it was felled.

Sore legs and hips, I was happy to reach ol’ Dodgey at the end of our journey. I followed the directions given on the SHT’s website for the journey back home, and found all the hub-bub of the freeway between Two Harbors and Duluth discombobulating. Also, at highway speeds chunks of rusty body fly off the fuselage, causing ol’ Dodgey to feel like we’re in re-entry, desperately hoping that the heat shields hold up.

This was an unexpected half-day trip, taken on a whim after glancing at the weather report. I’m grateful to have the flexibility to head out on such ventures at a moment’s notice when circumstances demand it.

I returned to these trays needing to be unstacked. Work is now pretty thoroughly integrated into daily life. It has its own set of rhythms that my tired body accepted out of habit. You’ll notice I’m now using two big bricks on the pea shoots. Better reliability for consistent production. Strong plants they are, but at 1500 plants per tray, many hands make light work of the 40 or so pounds.

One thought on “Party on the Superior Hiking Trail like it’s 1999. Fox Farm to Rossini.

  1. This was the very last section we hiked. Perhaps I had a bit of war-fog from all the miles, but I’m having a hard time remembering the landscape. Thanks for the photo journey.

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