I’m still on trail. Or, more accurately, I’m back on North Country Trail for the third time this year.￼ Apparently no amount of misery will keep me off of it.￼￼
This summer I’ve hiked about 1000 miles, finishing the 300 mile Superior Hiking Trail in northern Minnesota – a part of North Country Trail – a couple weeks ago. It’s become very clear that ￼the time of year and weather matter a lot when you’re hiking, especially if you’re backpacking and cannot escape the elements￼.
When we came back from mountain climbing to hike ￼central Minnesota, we found a beautiful well-maintained trail through the woods. Unfortunately, it was mosquito and deer fly season. It was also hot and very humid. ￼We were the only ones on the trail except a man from Fish and Wildlife Department￼ who was mowing the trailhead parking area.
He looked at us, shook his head and said “You don’t have to hike this trail in order, right?” We nodded. He said “You should skip on up north and get out of these bugs. Nobody hikes central Minnesota in July.” We were miserable and not at all looking forward to camping in heat and humidity with relentless biting bug swarms.￼ That evening we drove up north￼, skipping over 300 miles of trail, and set our sights on hiking the Border Route section of this trail￼.
The bugs were far fewer, although it was still tough wilderness area hiking with very challenging terrain. The paths are difficult to navigate and this year all trail maintenance was canceled because of Covid. ￼I am glad to say we finished it without injury￼. The campsites are beautiful and we often camped by a lake and had great views of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness at times. Plus, ￼I felt like the challenge brought my experience level up a notch. I am glad we hiked it, …and even happier it’s behind me.
Next we started the Superior Hiking Trail, hoping to regain our love of hiking￼. It was a wet and somewhat buggy start and ￼my hiking partner stopped hiking after the first full day. He decided there was more joy in fly fishing, but stayed nearby to shuttle me between trailheads. That way I could hike with a day pack instead of my full 29 pound backpack.￼
I hiked on my own a few days and then ￼￼one of our trail angels from North Dakota, Rachel, joined me for a week. We had very good weather with some beautiful river and waterfalls along the way, plus good views of Lake Superior￼￼. It all went so well in fact that she is the reason I’m back up in northern Minnesota again.￼
A friend of hers planned a hike through another remote section of this trail, the Kekekabic Trail (Kek), with a permit to start next week. ￼They invited me to join them and I took them up on it, as I’m probably not ready for solo hiking that type of wilderness area just yet.￼ It’s a 22 hour drive up here, so I brought my bicycle and car to shuttle myself along the hike. I want to complete as many of the miles we skipped earlier as I can before we start the Kek next week.
The plan is to park at a trail head, then ride my bicycle as far as I want to hike, lock up the bike and hike back to the car. Then I can go pick up the bicycle and do it all over again the next day.￼
I did my first self-shuttled hike late yesterday after I arrived. It was only 3 miles but gave me a chance to try it out. I’m on a section of the trail that follows a bicycle trail called the Mesabi Trail for over 130 miles. I figure a shared bike/hike trail will be the easiest way to test this strategy.￼
I’m grateful to have the chance to hike the North Country Trail this year, even though it has been challenging in many ways that I never expected. I’ve learned a lot this year about hiking, reevaluating dreams, and about how stubbornness can both help you reach your goal and prevent you from reaching it at the same time.￼ I hope to sift through these lessons and insight to be able to write about them someday.
In the meantime I’m going to keep hiking and searching for ways to make the reward worth the work￼￼.