If I were a physician, a medicine woman, a psychiatrist, a marriage counselor, or any person that’s expected to provide prescriptions for problems, I would grab my prescription pad and scribble “take a hike” for a good chunk of today’s troubles.
Michael, Hutch, and I are fresh off of eight days of hiking the Superior Hiking Trail (SHT).
We had guest appearances by our easygoing, adventurous friends Pete and Tracey (plus Kip the dog). We got to have them at The Northern Post as well. This was a true highlight.
On another day, Neighbor Sam joined us for a full 13.5 mile day that ended at the dynamic Temperance River.
While near Grand Marais, we got to have my highschool pal Arran, who usually resides in Switzerland, along for probably the most beautiful and certainly the most dramatic section- Pincushion Mountain Trailhead to County Road 14.
We also got to stay with Arran’s mom and dad for a couple of nights. This is always a joy. Our time included good food, soccer, feeding goats, wonderful chats, and for us- necessary showers.
We made it a goal to jump in Lake Superior or any other body of water after each hiking day- a form of bathing I suppose, certainly the most enjoyable kind.
With Pete and Tracey, we got a mid-day swim in Bear Lake. A loon was living here. His noises reverberated in the valley of this special lake that remained untouched by any road.
With Sam, we reached the mouth of the Temperance River at the end of the day and swam there. Being with Sam near the water always feels right. We met him five years ago as our neighbor in the the marina when we lived on the houseboat in St. Paul. Our memories with Sam always include water… or that damn tower (see tower tale blog post for details).
With Arran, we found ourselves very sweaty and in the right place for a cure- Devil Track River.
Our other swimming holes included Illgen Falls (a slightly hidden gem) and the classic Lake Superior dips at Split Rock River Wayside.
Outside of swimming, our eight wonderful days (in this third trip anyway; 20 days in total this summer) on the SHT included 102 miles of berry picking, song singing, joke making, discussion diving, and tidbits of silence… but not much of that.
Most of my quiet, tranquil moments were abrubtly interrupted by a sweet little voice yelling “Mama! Ra-berry!… Mama! Ra-berry!”
Raspberries, juneberries, thimbleberries, serviceberries, gooseberries, and the beginnings of blueberries lined our trails and filled our bellies. It’s no wonder all the bear scat is dark with berry juice and sprinkled with their seeds- the berries are everywhere.
We referenced our guide book Wild Berries & Fruits by Teresa Marrone to learn more about what was what. We sampled chokecherries (astringent AF) and rose hips (mostly seeds with a potato-like skin). Sam tried the bunchberries with an unimpressed reaction. We avoided the baneberries (toxic, both red and white ones) as well as the sarsparilla and the blue-beaded lilies (both inedible).
Michael proofread this blog and didn’t want me to forget the scootberries. Our guidebook stated that they are inedible because they cause problems like diarrhea. In Michael’s words: “That sounds less like a problem and more of a solution.” And that’s all you need to know about scootberries.
The raspberries were the most abundant. We would spend 10 minutes picking at one patch and still leave hundreds for the next hiker.
Like a true Minnesotan, Michael began to sing this well known Prince song whilst among the berries: Raspberry parade, the kind you find in a second hand store. Raspberry parade, if it was warm she wouldn’t wear much more.
Like me, you are probably thinking, “whaaaattt Michael?..”
I paused for a moment and said, “Michael, did you just say raspberry parade?”
Me, “Michael, it’s raspberry beret… the kind she finds at a second hand store.”
We both eat a handful of berries now and have a moment of silence.
Michael, “I don’t think so.”
Me, “… are you serious?”
Now, in the middle of the woods, I must dig my phone out of my backpack, turn it off airplane mode, hope and pray for cell service, and Google this very obvious win I’m about to experience.
With pride, I show him the true lyrics of the very popular song titled RASPBERRY BERET.
My ego is large now. My belly is full of raspberries. Michael is humbled. Life is good, and we sing his version of Raspberry Parade the rest of the trip.
When you hike for 8 plus hours per day, you and your hiking partners cover a lot of conversational ground. Hutch’s content revolved around the word “ra-berry” 90% of the time. This is now the longest word in his vocabulary, but he learns it out of necessity so he can direct his mama from his borrowed (Thanks Tannica & Sam!) Kelty carrier throne atop his father’s back.
“Mama, ra-berry!… Mama! Ra-berry!” Sometimes, I oblige and hand-pick the juiciest berry for our little forest prince. Other times, I’m simply too sore or exhausted or blistered to perform one more bend in the hot sun mid-ascension to the rocky ridgeline. During those times, we’ll pass the alluring berries quickly and ignorantly and say, “let’s keep looking,” and in 0.2 seconds, Hutch has scouted out another patch.
This is our third hiking trip on the SHT this summer. We have completed 221.5 miles with the goal to complete a total of 249.5 miles from Martin Road in Duluth to the northern terminus by the end of this year. We only have 28 miles left now.
This trail is one that we’ve wanted to acquaint ourselves with since buying land here in Two Harbors in 2015. These northern woods are both wild and comforting, two adjectives I also use to describe my husband; perhaps that’s why I love them both so much.
These north woods are different than the Hutchinson prairies that Michael grew up on or the deciduous driftless region that raised me.
These woods have an abundance of northern white pines (Michael’s favorite tree) that draw your eyes straight to the sky and cedar trees (my favorite) that grow erratically yet purposefully from any boulder or bog.
The trail has both robust and trickling streams, beaver ponds that come alive at night with a delightful cacophony of creature noises, waterfalls that feel other-worldly, backcountry lakes untouched by any sense of civilization, ridgelines that bring you close to heaven, and valleys that make you feel small again.
We scare up grouse a couple times a day, and on once occasion, we were attacked by what I assume to be a mother grouse.
The bears remained elusive while we saw their berry-ridden poop everywhere. I now fear the grouse more than the bear.
Moose prints were seen a couple of times- an animal we dream about catching a glimpse of. Unfortunately, we are much too chatty to allow for this fortuity.
Human sightings were only occasional- a surprise to us as this trail is incredibly accessible with trailheads every 1.7 to 11.8 miles. Some days, we saw nobody.
One day, we met a 73 year old woman named Jean. She was hiking 11 miles by herself. Her husband would pick her up at the end of the day. He did this every day for her- drop her off at the start and pick her up at the end.
Jean ran into a bear before she ran into us. We had our lunch break with her as she regaled us with her decades of hiking stories. I loved her.
Near a trailhead, we met a family with a little girl who greeted me by saying, “I like your purple everything,” as they skidaddled past us. It strangely made my day, and I thought: should I start using a version of this compliment? Perhaps, I will tell others, “I like your everything,” or “Your everything is wonderful.” I don’t know.. maybe this statement is most endearing from a five year old.
Another observation about the Superior Hiking Trail humans: most hikers (and especially the solo thru-hikers) were female. This was a pleasant surprise.
I have been hiking in a variety of ways and in many places for over a decade, and my gender is usually outnumbered. I find the same trend in boating- males everywhere.
Perhaps I share certain pieces of me most online- the forest activities and the river living- because I want other women to know that these places are for them. Of course, women have always been here, but it is harder to find the representation- the books about them, the public figures, etc. I have read my fair share of Mark Twain, Sigurd Olson, and Henry David Thoreau, but it is harder to find a book written by a woman like Jean.
(Side note: After intentionally seeking these out, I have found two books about women in the outdoors and am reading them both right now. I highly recommend these books pictured below. Rivers Running Free is now on my list of favorites. Thank you Gina for the book borrow.)
Back to the SHT shiz. I have talked about the incredible beauty of the trail, but there are hard parts too. I feel obligated to include the good, the bad, and the ugly.
My feet blister every time. My combination of moleskin, tape, and nylons under wool socks only ease the discomfort. By day four, the blisters finally pass the stage of pain with every step.
Camping with a one year old can be amazing or terrible. We changed course to day hiking after a night in which Hutch acquired a face full of bug bites nearly swelling his right eye shut. In that same night, Hutch woke at 4am crying to leave the tent and go into the darkness to play with the bears and the bugs. I should include that the camping sites are all group sites which is wonderful but not at 4am with a crying baby.
We decided to complete our third trip by day hiking only. This eliminated some of the aforementioned problems and allowed us to carry lighter.
We needed a “shuttle” to park or get back to our vehicle each day, so we utilized our electric bike.
The bike was a perfect shuttle service and even allowed us time on the Gitchi Gami bike trail. We are able to triple up on the bike, so it’s as good as a car for these short distances. It is also Hutch’s very favorite thing. If you see his front perch view here, you can understand why.
We only had one biking hiccup- a flat tire. It was being used for shuttle in the morning when Michael drove it alone back to us after leaving our car at the endpoint. He went flat with 4 miles to go and got a text through to me in a place with minimal cell service. In 10 minutes, I recruited a stranger named Maddy who had driven to our trailhead from his direction. I asked, “Did you see a hitchhiker a few miles away?” She said, “Yup, I thought about getting him but knew my mom would kill me.”
Maddy offered to pick him up now. She was smart though and asked me a few personal questions that she then made him answer before letting him in her car. He got the questions right, whew.
He hid the bike there in the woods until we could pick it up after our hike. Maddy wouldn’t take the payment we offered her. She said, “Someone did the same for me a few weeks ago.” People are good. Thank you Maddy.
Unfortunately, this year was much drier than normal leaving some trail water sources unavailable. We use the Sawyer filter (highly recommended) to filter water from any stream or pond.
The lack of water is usually a non-issue on the SHT. This year was different, so while we used our filter frequently, we also carried more water to assure hydration.
The wildfire haze was another new feature. Our weather report provided air quality alerts telling us to avoid extensive activity in the outdoors…hmmm, and our views of Lake Superior had a smoke-stained filter.
Campfires were banned completely. None of this is normal.
I write in this blog for fun, for a place to keep memories, for a place to share lightness in a sometimes heavy world, and to show a life that we work to keep simple, clarified, and reduced down to only what feels real- free of excess and free of societal expectations.
In time, I find that I cannot both enjoy the simple life that the woods and the waters offer us and omit the important discussions of stewardship as well as the environmental detriments being caused by human greed, gluttony, and the generational conditioning that has led us to create such harmful habits to each other and to the earth.
I have a lot of thoughts on these things. They are stored somewhere important in my brain, probably right next to all the Prince lyrics. I will share more of this in future writings, potentially more Prince as well.
I will keep my writings balanced like I believe life should be. Living lightly and living purposefully is not mutually exclusive.
I hope you stay along for the ride. Like forest prince Hutch in his Kelty carrier throne, I will feed you many sweet and sun-kissed raspberries and a few sour ones. They will both be worth a taste. Thanks for joining our raspberry parade.