Superior Hiking Trail, MN
The furthest stop north. I pulled my backpack out onto the ground and slammed the back door of the van. Bob, the operator of the shuttle, shook my hand, wished me well, and drove back down the bumpy 25 miles of gravel road that had brought us here. Only after a few minutes passed I could no longer hear him…and then silence. No power lines, no traffic noise, no cell phone service. As much as I enjoy a healthy dose of solitude and quiet, I shouldered my pack and started moving to prevent any anxious thoughts to grow from the overwhelming stillness.
It was the same summer after selling my house and quitting my job. I had come back from a roadtrip, but still seeking space for direction and contemplation. My plan was to hike the entire Superior Hiking Trail, 300 miles, from the Canadian border to Duluth. I would carry two weeks worth of food for the first half of the trip, making it to the post office in the little town of Finland, where I mailed the rest of my food for the second half of the trip.
Primitive designated camping areas with a fire ring and a bench are spaced every five or six miles. My first day in, I made it to the nearest one as the evening light filtered through the thick forest. I didn’t eat much that night, my nerves getting the best of me. A few spots had already eluded me, leaving me feeling as if I might be following a deer trail, the areas further north not being maintained very well. A light rain started to fall, so I crawled into my bivy sack early and went to sleep. A few hours later in the middle of the night, a pine marten had felt my loneliness, squeaking and chirping a few inches from my face. Only blinded from each other by a thin piece of fabric, I swatted from the inside hoping to scare him back where he came from. Instead he made a lap around the tent pressing his elongated body next to mine the whole way, making sure to stop once again near my head ready to tell another story. Though I could have used the company, I welcome no visitors at such an hour. With another swat and a loud “woof,” he finally retreated, squeaking and cursing as he ran back into the woods.
The next two weeks of hiking felt like something of a dream. The highs higher, and lows lower. Feelings of triumph and feelings of sadness and defeat intensified in both directions. A confirmation and realization of how simple one can exist. A raw and stripped down examination of oneself, I found it interesting after spending many days walking in soaked muddy socks, an inconvenience only soon becoming a new normal to a certain extent. And as I lay in my tent peering through the mosquito netting on the nights that didn’t rain, I realized how insignificant my worries and troubles were while looking up at the enormous amphitheater of stars.
I only made it a little over halfway, 160 miles to Finland before taking the shuttle back. My first long backpacking trip left me with a few errors. My biggest mistake relying mainly on store-boughten dehydrated food which had me scurrying out of my tent a few times during the night the last few days. But also having enough rain to turn many lengths of the trail to an ankle deep soup, eventually wearing my spirits. All in all an amazing experience I would do again, and plan to.