I’m exhausted. Fourteen miles into town on gravel roads, then asphalt roads with traffic from Highway 210 rerouted onto the same road I hiked …this isn’t what exhausted me.
The fours days prior with temps in the mid 90’s while winds howled 30 mph as they pushed me sideways along the dusty roads, causing a man we met to remark that we needed to shorten a pole on the wind side because we were leaning so hard against the wind …that isn’t what exhausted me.
The nearly 500 miles we’ve come in the first thirty-two days while sleeping on the ground most nights as ticks kept us trapped in our zipped up tents aren’t what exhausted me either.https://fromdreamtolife.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/06/img_7826.mov
We’ve actually slept well, and the previous few nights were helped along by people who either offered us a place to camp sheltered from the wind, or gave us cold beverages and snacks, invited us inside out of the wind for an hour or two, or even took us inside their homes for the night, cooking dinner and breakfast for us before we hiked away the next day. These people added energy back into our days.
In fact, I’ve come to believe it’s the people along the way who have kept us on trail. Sometimes I feel like each day a stranger picks up where another stranger left off, gently easing our path and giving us encouragement, as though they’ve formed an unspoken agreement to ensure we continued along our journey.
No, lack of a good nights rest isn’t why I sit silently in my hotel room. I’m thinking nothing and doing nothing. I have no will to take off my hiking shoes. I don’t make a move to take a shower, normally the first thing I prioritize when reaching a town. I’m thoroughly and completely exhausted.
It’s the thought of hiking more of the same which exhausts my entire being. I sit on the hotel bed minutes after checking in, eating chips and staring blankly at the wall. Wingman seems to be doing the same thing from the couch in our little suite. After a while I say, “I was serious,” and then look over at Wingman. “I will be happy to take a few days off to climb a couple mountains and then come back to the trail.”
“Me too,” he answered, “My sister can bring my truck – I’ve already asked her.”
By the end of the evening we went from thinking it over to a new plan. We will road walk the next forty-five miles of the North Country Trail over the next three days, then his Mom and sister will bring his truck to us in Frazee, MN.
We cannot wait. I’m a USA Highpointer, which means I climb, drive or walk to the highest points of every state. I’ve completed thirty-four and next weekend we will be climbing King’s Peak in Utah, followed by Borah Peak in Idaho a few days later. My ice axe is being shipped from California, where I had it held in anticipation of hiking the Sierra Mountains, to Wyoming – ready for me to pick up along the way.
We hope a few good things are different when we return. First, we already know the miles ahead change from nearly all road walking to mostly trail. Only about one-third of the trail over the next two hundred miles is on a road and further north it’s all trail. Trail is why we hike after all. Short roads connecting long trails are not bad. The reverse is just trudging across America.
Second, more trail maintenance will be finished. Some trail ahead is still thigh-high with brush and grass. The ticks are very heavy and include deer ticks which carry Lyme disease. I am now used to pulling several ticks – if not dozens – off my shoes, ankles and legs every day. Deer ticks are harder to see than wood ticks though, as deer ticks are no bigger than a dot. We soaked our shoes and socks in Permethrin for the upcoming miles, but if more trail has been cleared by the time we come back, trail life will be much better and ticks will be fewer.
We expect Minnesota will open more in a couple weeks. Right now, some showers and restrooms ahead may still be closed. Breakfast isn’t served in the hotels – just sugary prepackaged treats – and most restaurants are still take-out only. Even remote areas like those we hike need a little more time to reopen in Minnesota.
Finally, we expect to be rejuvenated mentally. I’m pretty stubborn, which helps me reach my goals. What I need right now is to enjoy the challenge of pursuing this goal more than I have this first month. Since we don’t plan to finish all 4,735 miles in one season, it really doesn’t matter how far along we make it before snow flies – my cue to go home.
If we come back to trail and find it isn’t the journey we want to spend our days navigating, we can take the truck straight to the Boundary Trail and Lake Superior Trail sections of this hike. There are a lot of good hiking days ahead. We just need a strategy for creating them.
Two days later, I’m resupplied and nearly ready for the seventeen mile road walk ahead today. We casually walked nine miles of trail in a big “U” through town yesterday, so we even hiked some miles on our day off. It was a really pretty walk with groomed trails on half of it and downtown on the other half. I only found two ticks, and the rain which soaked us mostly dried by the time we found a partially open restaurant downtown.
I’ve been told repeatedly Maplewood State Park is beautiful. It’s our destination today. Once we finish today’s road walk, we will be in the woods on a trail camping on the last available site. It looks like a pretty sunny low temp day. I think it will be a good start to our new plan.