How I turned a 10-mile stroll into a 24-mile odyssey through grit and jackassery.

That dart into Kwik Trip for the final indoor pee of the day sparked a sense of optimism. I dropped off a medium-sized load of microgreens at McQuade’s Pub and Grill next door, and was stoked to head up into the highlands to complete that last stretch of trail between Duluth and Two Harbors.

If, “Adventure begins when things go wrong,” then I had plenty of it.

Could my IT band syndrome-impaired legs handle the ten-mile segment? I had no idea, but that miracle hike out in Montana showed that by proceeding at a snail’s pace, with plenty of breaks mixed in, success was a strong possibility.

Then my shuttle ride from one end to the other fell through.

And then, like the sirens of the Odyssey, I ran into this asshole:

This page is nothing if it ain’t honest, and that’s the word that repeatedly ran through my mind and tumbled out like so much vomit as I repeatedly ran into the bastard.

As I fumed, I fantasized melting down every last one of the medallions into shot to be used for aiming at the several grouse I spooked in the Lake County Demonstration Forest. But, we’re getting ahead of ourselves here.

This tale begins with the insertion of a single page into my upcoming book, bearing eight little words that are upending my life:

Never let a good depression go to waste.

I’m pretty sure it’s the beginning of Act 2 in the story (another memoir, because I’m apparently a narcissist). But, if I take it out, will my life return to normal?

I’ve been in the fine-tuning/re-writing phase for months now, and it has been uncanny how I’ve serendipitously relived much of what I’ve written while going through it (meeting people I haven’t spoken to in years on the very day they enter the story, and other coincidences that are remarkable to live through, so here I am remarking). It’s as if I’ve transformed into Will Ferrell’s character in the movie, Stranger than Fiction, where he’s living with the narrator’s voice in his head and doomed to a plot line that steadily carries him along toward destruction:

Life isn’t all buttercups and roses, so now I’ve re-entered this doggone depression, and must write myself out of it. This entire process, particularly coming at the heels of the whole COVID thing, has been tremendously isolating. As much as I think and write about belonging and connecting to your time, place, and people, there remains a stubborn disconnection. Destined to sojourn. Since you can’t wish this sort of thing away, one must pick up one foot at a time and move forward however slowly.

All that is meant to say that I felt like I needed this hike, and couldn’t bale on it after repeated obstacles.

So, after stashing my bike in the woods north of Two Harbors and then wandering around the Demonstration Forest like a fool, thanks to that aforementioned asshole (luckily there are no mirrors out there), it was already high noon by the time I made it to the actual trail. I had hiked 4 miles in circles in the demonstration forest, which as far as I’m concerned demonstrates nothing besides the fact that I’m a horse’s ass, until finally ending back at my car, because, due to poetic justice, by the time I found the correct spur trail…

I went the wrong direction, and ended up right back where I had begun.

If 10 miles was a stretch, could I possibly make 14, followed by a ten-mile bike ride?

Sensing that I should throw in the towel, I drove to the spot where the trail crossed the Drummond Grade, and parked right along the gravel road, where I had planned to be dropped off in the first place. I thought I’d meander a little ways and just see what happened.

Finally, I came across this dead vole, who must have died earlier that day. What was he doing in the middle of the trail? A most improbable place for a vole to expire, a creature that doesn’t see well and spends much of life underground and really doesn’t have much reason to be using the Superior Hiking Trail, was this some sort of sign that I should turn around and give up?

(feel free to correct me on the creature’s name)

Following a minute’s contemplation, at which point I had already travelled six miles but was just two miles into the ten-mile section, I respectfully crossed this Rubicon and committed to the journey.

It was a most unremarkable trek, but here I am remarking again.

This would be a day of subtle beauty. The fall colors are a bit behind. Normally, September 28th would find these maples at peak color, but not this year. In about five days it should be rather magical, as there are more maples along this segment than you’ll find just about anywhere in northern Minnesota.

Such conditions found me paying attention to the little things, otherwise overlooked. That large tree, left of center, for example, is an example of forest succession. A birch, you’d never know it without peering into the canopy, because of it’s maple-like craggy bark of the lower 40-odd feet. Virtually every stand of maple had one large birch like this, surviving about as old as they get (perhaps 100-120 years), betraying what was likely the first species to roll in after the initial clear cut of the 19th century.

And then there’s this unremarkable erratic:

Dappled by the shadows of maple leaves, the forest changed immediately upon stepping beyond it. I suppose this makes sense, as it seems to have been deposited on the top of a hill. The north side, rather than the lovely hardwood forest I had travelled through for miles, felt dead with tight-packed spruce trees bearing dead branches at least 20 feet into the air. Only the tips, that top 10%, had any needles at all, so shaded was this place.

A few miles later, after only a few forays through the fire swamp, I came across another glacial erratic (just two observed the entire time):

I might be mistaken, but I believe this is bluestone. This seems an odd place for it. Not quite small enough to be carried away.

And then there was that bird that flew through the forest as fast as a rocket, ducking and diving through the brush and passing within 2 feet of me as it crossed the trail at such great speed that it was just a blur, a kind of brown smudge, but I could never testify to its actual color.

This large rock would have been perfect for a nap, with no irrational fears of ticks crawling up into warm, dark, hairy places:

Alas, there was no time for naps. My whole strategy had broken down, but I promise you, an hour of shuteye atop this quiet spot would set you right as rain.

If you’re looking to start an iron smelting business, there’s an avalanche of free taconite pellets to be had beneath this train crossing. How are any of them left by the time the trains reach their destination in Two Harbors?

The pellets are ankle-deep. If you’re young and full of piss and vinegar, here’s a business opportunity for ya.

I was looking forward to writing that there are zero overlooks on this segment from the Demonstration Forest to Reeves Road, but the Superior Hiking Trail unexpectedly opens up a bit at the ninth mile.

And then, not long thereafter, after 55 miles from Duluth to Two Harbors, you finally catch a glimpse of Lake Superior again. I can imagine how exciting this must be for the thru-hiker. The trail is constantly veering to the right on this trip north, to the east and toward the Lake, to the point that I had an urge to be lifted up on a hoist so my boots might be rotated. The trail will now continue along the North Shore of Lake Superior, with its countless overlooks of the big lake and all the views we typically associate with the Superior Hiking Trail.

I made it to the bike at 5:00 on the dot, but a 10-mile ride back to the car awaited me. The saving grace of the whole thing was that the trail dumps out at the very top of the Hwy 2 hill leading out of Two Harbors:

And yet, it took me 90 minutes to make the journey. I did have to regain that lost elevation, after all, much of it atop gravel. Occupants of the few cars that passed me, with my 50-year-old flannel, 25-year-old hiking pants, and Fleet Farm cap, must have presumed I was biking home from work. “That’ll teach ya to go and get a DWI!”

Perhaps overkill, I had a bear horn in my pocket (left over from Montana), because I knew I wouldn’t be outrunning any stray dogs.

Nearing the car, this sign brought some joy. Not 10 feet away was the familiar rectal pass-through remarked upon earlier who had lured me from the correct path, laughing it me.

My only complaint was that the signage from the parking lot to the 1.2 mile spur trail is awful. So bad, in fact, that I wondered if the Demo Forest folks might just hate the Superior Hiking Trail. But, I’ll try not to grumble too bad. I’ve been walking this trail for free for better than a quarter-century, so I won’t grumble too much. And, with a new roof (fully reconstructed) set to go up next month that’ll set me back a half-year’s wages, I reckon I’ll continue to hike for free for the foreseeable future. If you’re a lover of this trail, as I am, perhaps you’ll consider donating in my stead. Even unremarkable jaunts like this have a way of setting me somewhat aright.

Arriving home, I still had to plant 22 trays of microgreens, but at least there were the new lights above my fancy new deck:

Look closely, and you’ll see I had to lop off the head of my beloved sunflower earlier this same day. I caught a squirrel wreaking destruction upon it. Chopping it off was like removing the head from a favorite chicken.

For reasons I can’t seem to explain, such adventures seem to be a critical aspect of my work.

Not all who wander are lost.”

The Stewart River, at the halfway point.

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