Hiking the Superior Hiking Trail

By From the Heart | Rita Meyer | From the Homefront

Jul 03
Twenty three years ago my husband Marv (still my boyfriend at that time) and I thru-hiked the Appalachian Trail. A thru-hike means one continuous hike of the entire length of the trail; in this case, over 2,100 miles from Georgia to Maine. It took us from April 2nd to September 20th to complete. For someone who had only taken short hikes in a park with a water bottle and maybe a granola bar with me, and definitely had never camped before, it was a game changer. Carrying everything we needed on our backs to survive for five and a half months provided a sense of freedom and simplicity I had never experienced before.

Fast forward to earlier this month. Emma, my eldest, graduated from college. What to do to celebrate? Go for a hike! Go to my favorite part of Minnesota, the North Shore of course! When Emma first proposed the idea, I asked her if she wanted to do the “sorta, kinda hiking thing” where we’d stay at a resort or hotel and just go out for day hikes but return each night to a hot shower, comfortable bed and “real” food.  Nope, she was all in; tent and all.

So, after locating our old gear in the basement – and borrowing a few things from my brother – we were ready to go. Well, I was ready to go; Emma, not so much. I’ve been hiking on the SHT – the Superior Hiking Trail – quite a bit since catching the “hiking bug.”

Emma, on the other hand, has only been on this Minnesota jewel that runs from the Eastern border of Minnesota (just west of Jay Cooke State Park) all the way to the Canadian border a couple of couple of times and then only for a few miles. She needed to do her research. She wanted to know how far we were going to hike each day, what campsite we were going to pitch the tent at each night, how many Liptons and instant oatmeals we should pack for each day, and on and on. And, thinking back on our AT days, Marv and I did a ton of planning too. My style is more of the “winging it” variety though these days. “We’ll see how we’re feeling each day and if we’re tired by 4 o’clock in the afternoon, then we’ll stop for the day” was my advice to Emma.
Knowing we only had a one week window of opportunity, our goal was to do the section between Duluth and Gooseberry Falls State Park. That’s a mere 30+ minutes of drive time on Highway 61 but hiking-wise, that’s nearly 80 miles. What follows are my journal entries (yep, I forced myself to write at least a page worth each day, something I wish I would have done no matter what when Marv and I hiked the AT).
Day 1 – Sunday, June 2, 2019
6 a.m. – Emma’s in the shower….probably the last shower she’ll enjoy for the next seven days. I’m drinking a cup of hot water.  No coffee this morning, nor for the next several mornings.  Emma said we’re not stopping to go the bathroom. I’ve never not stopped – at least once – between here and Duluth.
Duluth and the Superior Hiking Trail here we come! Our packs are packed. I’m close to 40 lbs. Hope my back and foot can handle it. My right foot is still numb from my sciatic nerve acting up back in April. Biking doesn’t hurt it; we’ll see what walking on it for 5-10 miles a day does. Hopefully “motion is lotion” will ring true.
Still Day 1 –
8 p.m. Big day! Inside the tent near Harvey Creek. Hiked 10+ miles. Didn’t think we’d do that many miles on our first day. Lots of mud and mosquitoes. Attended Mass at St. Scholastica. Saw Sister Lois. She needed to visit with the family of one of the sisters who’s health was failing so it didn’t work for her to give us a ride to the trail. Drove ourselves to the Martin Road Trailhead and left Emma’s car parked there.  Hope it’ll be OK for a week.
Day 2 – Monday, June 3, 2019
Went to bed right after we were done eating last night even though it was still light out. Didn’t play cards. Reminded me of Marv and I on the AT. I thought we’d have lots of deep discussions ‘round the campfire each night.  I can count on one hand the number of times we had a campfire in five and a half months! Right foot still feels numb but not any worse. Was VERY glad to get that pack off my back and shoulders. Forty pounds is too heavy. Not much I can do though to lighten my load; Emma’s carrying the bulk of the food. Again, another similarity with our AT hike – Marv always carried the tent and ground cloth which is not light even though it says “light weight” and I always carried the food. My pack would get increasingly lighter the more we ate (until picking up our next mail drop and then the cycle repeated itself). Probably another reason why he experienced foot problems and I just felt stronger the longer we hiked.
Emma tried adjusting her Chacos this morning. The big toe is too tight. I’m still thinking sandals are not a good idea for this. She says they got her thru her entire year – including the winter we just experienced – in Bemidji nonetheless; she’s sticking with ‘em. I, on the other hand, am lovin’ my new Oboz hiking boots. Feet haven’t gotten wet….yet!
Day 3 – Tuesday, June 4, 2019
Camped overnight at Fox Farm Campsite. I just walked down to the pond to wash the sleep out of my eyes. A beaver wished me “Good Morning” by slapping his tail before swimming away from me. Very cool! Also very cool were the amazingly bright stars last night. The Big and Little Dipper and other constellations were no problem to locate.
Chalk this up to another one of those things I successfully blocked out of my memory, but I don’t recall feeling this sore – like, everywhere! – when we first started hiking the AT. Marv does though; he warned Emma, “Day 3 is the hardest.” The problem with this section hiking thing is that when we’re only out here for a week, we’ll be over the “soreness hump” (maybe?) and it’ll be time to head home. Then again, I’m already looking forward to a shower.
We cooled off our feet in McCarthy Creek and signed the trail register. Richard, a fellow hiker we met yesterday, already claimed the lone tent pad area so we pushed on to Ferguson Campsite. It’s only 4 pm but we’re done hiking for the day. 14+miles. The mosquitoes are awful! And it looks like rain. We’re in the tent already for the night. Emma is doing amazingly well. Always taking the lead, pushing us on. I thought I’d have to set the pace but I’m giving it all I’ve got just to keep up with her.
Day 4 – Wednesday, June 5, 2019
It rained last night. Actually started right after we got the tent set up. Didn’t last too long but everything managed to get wet. The rainfly pushed against the tent walls causing raindrops to form and fall, dripping on all our gear we stashed at the foot of the tent. Emma didn’t sleep well because she was convinced a bear was roaming around outside the tent, sniffing for our food. Silly girl. She jabbed me a couple of times in the ribs with her concern but I told her I didn’t hear anything and proceeded to go back to sleep. She couldn’t believe I’d just roll over onto my other side and in her words, “go back to snoring.” She said she laid there envisioning what the bear was going to do to us and how she’d defend herself with her hiking sticks.
Then, this morning while I was making a pit stop (ie, going to the bathroom), Emma saw a wolf. More concern…..even when I assured her they’d run the other way if they saw us. She’s thinking more of the scene from “The Wilderness Family” where the little girl gets circled by wolves.
Emma carried the tent (and I took her Thermarest) for five miles today. She gets it! She has a better appreciation of what I’ve been dealing with now. As do I for Marv carrying it the entire length of the AT. I never even once offered! Shame on me.
Day 5 – Thursday, June 6, 2019
A long day….graced by a lot of trail angels…otherwise know as Divine Intervention.
Whenever Marv and I got off the AT and headed into town we hitchhiked. Granted, that was 23 years ago and in a location where there are lots more hikers and people know of their need for transportation so as to not “waste energy” road walking. Not so much up on the North Shore.
Emma, Richard and I walked into Two Harbors, a good five miles on the side of Highway 2. I could see Lake Superior at the bottom of the hill but it seemed to take forever before we reached Highway 61 and Judy’s Cafe. I had been dreaming of food. Real food. This feeling of a deep physical hunger like I remember from the AT had returned. So had constant thoughts of food. Like, all the time.
The pancakes, the eggs, the coffee (can you say 4 cups….yep, I had a buzz going!), the friendly service of our waitress Vicki…it was all wonderful. And, to top it off, we scored a ride back to the road crossing where we got off the trail. Lavonne, a 70-year old “work hard, play even harder” North Shore native that I know from my sales job with a few resort properties up there, was in her office next door to the cafe and before we knew it, we were throwing our packs in the back of her SUV.
And, the day ended with yet another car ride. From the time we started working off our breakfast until almost dark, we hiked. We forded the Encampment River, not once but twice, when the bridge crossing was out. We went up and down the ridge line not once, not twice, but three times. The views of Two Harbors, inland homesteads and Lake Superior were amazing (even saw a big ore ship out on the lake!). But we were exhausted. We calculated we must have hiked almost twenty miles when you include the road walking into town. And – the worst part – we still hadn’t come to the Crow Valley Campsite, our sleeping destination for the night. We thought we must have missed it. We had to have.
We were running out of daylight. We were running out of energy. We weren’t running. Period. So, when we came to a road crossing which looked vaguely familiar, I told Emma we were road walking again. In the back of my mind I knew Grand Superior Lodge, one of the resort properties I do Group Sales for, had to be close. If we could get a ride down the hill, I’d see if Brian, the General Manager, would let us pitch the tent behind the maintenance shop.
It must have been the exhausted look on Emma’s face – and the “Please Lady, we’re desperate” she pleaded out loud – as Ann, a gal just finishing her shift at Split Rock Lighthouse, braked, backed up and then gave us a ride down County Road 301 right to the front door of the lodge.
Skip pitching the tent idea, I thought. I’m going for it.
Brian had already left work for the day. Alisa, the Front Desk Attendant, listened to my abbreviated story and promptly offered a comped room for the night (was it our body odor she wanted removed from her work area as quickly as possible?!?). A hot shower, a bed with an actual pillow (not my crumpled up polar fleece jacket), and a Canadian bacon with pineapple (fresh, not canned!) pizza from the restaurant and life was looking very sweet again.
Day 6 – Friday, June 7, 2019
We slack-packed (that’s where you leave the weight of your backpack behind and just take water and a few snacks) our last ten miles into Gooseberry Falls State Park.
Lavonne was gracious enough to come pick us up and give us a ride back to Emma’s car in Duluth (can you say generous). And, just like that, our wonderful week of hiking was over. We’re already talking about doing the next section the first week of June again next summer.
Being outside. Doing something active. That’s where I feel the closest to God. Thank you Jesus for our incredible week together….you, Emma and me.

Rita Meyer is married and the mother of four children. She and her family are members of St. John the Baptist Parish in Meire Grove.

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(2) comments

Annette Jesh July 3, 2019

Rita, I feel like I was there with you. Thank you for keeping a journal and sharing this beautiful trip with your Emma. Blessings

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Linda Wenker July 3, 2019

Rita & Emma,
What a great story!! Such a good experience for both of you! Can’t believe Emma has graduated from college already!
Thanks for sharing. I greatly enjoyed reading it.
Linda

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