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Monday, February 04, 2019

Low Adventures: Trekking the Superior Hiking Trail Part 8: Baptized Up Two Creeks

Low Adventures: Trekking the Superior Hiking Trail
Part 8: Baptized Up Two Creeks
By Tim Krenz
December 2018

In the spring of 2005, after Craig and I spent a couple of weekends in March scouting for trout runs near home in Amery, Wisconsin. He and I ventured in the middle of May for a two-night backpacking trip to the Superior Hiking Trail. This trip, for the first time, we brought two of our friends. We would have a good trip, despite my negative attitudes during it. Not quite proud of my words and feelings that surfaced during the trek in northeastern Minnesota, I can only say that at least the other three did not tie me to a tree, dangle bacon over my ears, and leave for the bears.

I probably deserved it, if they had done such a thing. Instead, I learned a lot on that trip, the effect that disgruntled expectations could have on me and neutral parties. I have never quite grasped why I got so bent over things. In the end, though, we had a great trip, even if not my best moment in the woods.

Three years after I graduated university, I became friends with a girl a few years younger in high school, the redoubtable Mary. Actually, that same summer she and I became friends, Mary had introduced me to her classmate that I only vaguely remembered slightly more than Mary herself. She brought me together with her best friend: Craig. Yes, Mary stands responsible for my very great friendship with the man who instigated this whole, immortally self-acclaimed Low Adventure.

Mary, always a sweet friend, had her charming, even disarming ways, with her ready laugh, her vibrant smile, short red-blond hair, and her stories of wacky adventures living in the Twin Cities. Luckily, my girlfriend back home, Looey, did not mind my friendship with Mary, since Mary and I would have to share my tent. “Who's Mary?” Looey asked me. I explained. “Sure,” Looey said, “. . . sure.”

The first day of the trip, Mary picked me up at my parent's farm in the morning. After stopping at a Minnesota Walmart so she could get knee braces, we drove straight up I-35, farther north of Duluth, MN, to Two Harbors. There, we met Craig and his friend from university days, a software engineer named Bryan. Further up the Lake Superior coast, we parked Mary's car in Silver Bay and we all found ourselves in one car on the way to the parking lot for the section of trail before 1 PM.

When we started our walk I carried the lightest pack I had brought so far for these trips. Before I left my parent's house, I weighed the gear—most of it heavy and obsolete by today's standards—at thirty-nine pounds. I did not, however, get into very good shape over the winter or early spring for this particular trip. I should have, if I only remembered how I carried my own ass after the walk on Christmas Tree Ridge the previous autumn. As my trail journal reminds me, I hurt like hell that first day. Combined with the frustrations of life and the trip, and with the clouds and chill rain all that weekend, the effects made for a very “crabby-sour apple” me.

That first day, Friday, May 13th, I found a new definition of awesome, of truly awe-inspiring power, on that Superior Hiking Trail section. As the beautiful views of the big lake became dimes by dozens from high hills in the woods, the new power mixed with beauty brought me a new sense of the word “WOW!”

Coming down from the north side, we arrived at the shore of the Baptism River. To our right, the four of us gawked at the wall of water crashing down Baptism Falls. From across the far shore to our side of the water, the rushing, gushing cacophony lifted spray from the impact of millions of gallons of water that daily fell down from the heights above us. The cold mist of spray lapped our faces, clothes, and packs. It caused me even more chill inside than the light rain and cold air did. After we climbed the stairs to our right, directly next to the falls, my legs hurt horribly. Wherever Craig and I found stairs to climb on our two-person trips we would always swear at the makers of the Superior Hiking Trail. Those cruel trail designers always seemed to put the trail up the nearest hill where flat ground would have worked. Yet, here we had no choice. Up the stairs we climbed. At the top of those Baptism Falls, I would not complain due to the Wow-factor.

About thirty or forty yards from where the water toppled over the edge, we turned left to cross a bouncy suspension bridge made of some rusty metal. Although quite stoutly built, which impressed our group's engineers, Craig and Bryan, the sign still warned all hikers in groups to cross one at a time. It did not help Mary's anxiety when Bryan or Craig stepped onto the bridge while she and I crossed in our turns, and they began jumping up and down on the metal grate path. As the whole bridge plumped up and down, its bounce freaked Mary out. Not too fun for Mary, we all made it across safely and in good humor

A short distance from the Baptism River, we climbed a narrow path of rock-strewn gully, something the guidebook called The Drain Pipe. I ran out of breath a little, but worse, my legs and hips burned like a steel furnace from the stress. Straight up almost, I remember we had to climb somewhat hands over head to grab supports to support and balance us. Up the Drain Pipe, and trekking more, we later made another tough climb, up Mount Trudy. By this time, we had only hiked 4.5 miles, and since Craig had the map, he could see we still had more than 1.5 miles to walk to our planned campsite. “Just up ahead, not too far,” Craig kept saying.

“Just around the bend.” Craig said repeatedly, encouraging us. He said those words all the way up the hill, even after we stopped to look at big pile of bear poop in the middle of forest path. It looked at least hours old, and it did not steam, which I took as a good indication. We had contemplated a wolf leaving us that huge bread-loaf scat, but a pile of bear chip seemed more likely. Big as an Egyptian pyramid in size and shape, a bear's presence unnerved me a little.

At the top of Mount Trudy, Craig ran ahead to make sure we could get the campsite before anyone coming from the other way could occupy it. Mary, Bryan and I trudged along, with me and my now wet and heavy, blue backpack weighing down the group from the back end. We walked “just” a little farther, and farther, and farther. Craig's words kept stinging my memory, “Just up ahead, not too far.”

When the three of us stragglers reached Palisade Creek campsite, a lovely little alcove of space in the tall pine and birch trees across the bridge over the creek, we saw Craig sitting next to a stranger. He had come from the other way, I believe. I subsequently called him New Guy. When I walked into the camp, I shouted at Craig who sat on a log bench, “Fuck you and the map you were using!” It probably shocked everyone and also New Guy. I took no notice of my temper but proceeded to calm down as Mary took my tent poles off her pack. I then began to assemble the Eureka tent, the body and rain fly of which I had carried. My 39 pound backpack by the end of that day's walking felt like the burdens of a hundred stones. Luckily, I did not pack more.

On the trips, Craig always made sure to assemble menus and apportion meals and various ingredients and parts for me to bring. That night, while still daylight, Bryan, Mary and New Guy, and I tried to build and maintain “the little fire that could.” Craig boiled water for dinner on his rapidly malfunctioning, two-piece gas trail stove. The menu that night? Noodles in individual Styrofoam packaged cups.

Eating, the slight rain continued as Mary flung chicken parts into a pine tree from her cup of mixed noodles and veggies. She did not care for the chicken, apparently. When I noticed her flinging food around, I asked my friend and tent-mate, “Mary, are you throwing chicken into the trees?”

She smiled wide in her way, and said, “Yeah.”

“Mary, ders barrs in dose woods,” Craig said, sounding rather concerned although he tried to disguise his voice in a verbal pantomime of language.

“Oh!” Mary replied, now worried that she just invited the forest animals for supper. Oh, Mary!

That night, as everyone went to their tents, New Guy to his, Craig and Bryan to Craig's blue domed “Hilton of the Forest,” and Mary and I to the little gray and green Eureka, the rain started falling harder. Mary had a high-tech sleeping bag she borrowed from her sister. It could have fit into a small purse, and it weighed almost nothing. I knew then that I had obsolete gear. I worried greatly, though, when Mary unzipped her backpack to take out snacks of dried fruit, nuts, jerky, and other yummy things that she brought into the tent. It worried me a lot, but then again, I ate the snacks, too, and we left the bags in the tent vestibule outside the door. I only hoped that if a bear came into the tent that Mary's red flannel pajamas would wave him off or wave the okay for him to sample taste her first while I “ran” for help.

Luckily, through the night no bear came to get Mary's food, and apparently none came into camp to eat rubbery chicken out of the pine tree next to our tent. Mary fell asleep early and after I read more of Thucydides' book, I also dozed off around 9:30 PM. I did sleep well and kept my legs warm by putting my empty pack under my sleeping bag to give me more insulation from the cold ground.

The next morning, we all woke around 7 AM. We ate oatmeal and drank coffee for breakfast. Then came the worst conflict of the whole low adventure walking the entire Superior Hiking Trail over those years.

We packed tents and bags. And although we had a nice running stream of cold water below the campsite, Bryan asked to use my water bottle. He had water from home, good clean drinking water, and he wanted to save it. I had filtered my two bottles the night before when we arrived. Filtering with an older hand-pump, with charcoal canisters, gummed up from years of use, took about five minutes per bottle. I had one liter bottle of water for the walk, thinking we would find a water source along the way. To my astonishment, Bryan used almost the rest of my drinking water to rinse his breakfast dishes. As soon as he did, he and the others (minus New Guy, of whom I lost track), began the day's walk. I packed my bottle and rushed to keep up with my gang. I had no time to filter more. Unfortunately, we never crossed a water source. Worse, I soon drank the remainder of my bottle early in the walk.

I could have borrowed water while walking from others, but no one had very much to spare. All day, exerting or resting myself, I need a lot of hydration. I took some sips of Mary's, but she had very little. The whole thing should not have bothered me so much. After a bit, I got into a verbal tussle with Bryan, which I should not have done. I liked Bryan, even if I did not know him too well the past ten years since I met Craig.

Bryan and I camped as a group before, and we did much camping later since then. Sometimes we camped in a group on the Superior Hiking Trail and in the Boundary Waters. And even years later, when we separately visited Craig and his family in Washington state, Craig and I camped with Bryan and his two teenage children in the Cascade Mountains. However, that day and with my attitude I almost nixed a friendship with a decent, hard working person. I later regretted my outburst, but the issue of lines and tolerances never had to become an issue again. I also learned the easy way to avoid that situation by always keeping my water bottles full and purified at every opportunity. I also learned that justified anger on my part cannot exist in my world. Such self-righteous outburst does not do me or anyone any good. I do not know what really bothered me on the inside of my thought and life. Perhaps I have more to write about that elsewhere.

When we trekked that morning, we walked up Round Mountain, not as high as Mount Trudy the previous day, we still had a clear view to the northeast, toward the big lake. I got some good pictures before my camera rewound after only a few frames. I probably hit the rewind button accidentally. Ahead of us, though, we came to another hill and we stopped at an overlook above Bear Lake, a clear and deep looking body of water below us, filled by innumerable streams flowing from the west. On that entire northeast side of the our view, we surveyed a landscape of downed, leafless timbers. These views, although dimes by dozens, each had their own striking individuality. At this view, I remembered how it all looked with low ceiling clouds just above our heads.

I do remember an incident that day, on one of our stops on an overlook. Bryan jumped off the cliff, freaking out Mary, even after she and I realized that Bryan landed a narrow piece of outcropped rock and thin grass a few feet below him. Mary's anxiety shot up several levels. For me, I thought it a clever antic, but I would never jump on a rock outcropping without courage or caution . I saw too much of the trail already to trust a tuft and thin ledge where grass grew.

Around noon, we reached a multiple-group camping area, a large patch of dirt under a thin growth of trees, at the place called Penn Creek Campsite. After Bryan and Craig set up their tent, the two of them walked back to the small, deep, clear lake we passed but this time they carried reassembled fishing rods. In camp, Mary took a nap in our tent and I read more of Thucydides. I also cut up the plentiful firewood left by previous occupants. Of course, I made coffee over a little fire in the rock-lined pit. Meanwhile, when Bryan and Craig fished, I watched over the dehydrated venison stew in a steel pot where Craig had let it soak in some water to re-hydrate. Before the trip Craig spent hours making the mix at home, cutting, drying, etc. all the vegetables and venison. The pot rested, somewhat precariously, on a split log shelf wedged between two trees. Knowing my usual luck and clutziness, I remained far away from the pot. I had one job: Make sure no critters got into it.

After a stew dinner boiled on the fire, since Craig's stove immolated in fire upon lighting it, we enjoyed a bigger fire over which we made a pot of coffee. At 7:10 PM, I wrote in my trail journal, “After raining hard last night, a muddy campsite last night and this morning, and cloudy, chilly drizzle all day, the sun just popped out. Here comes the Sun!”

The evening wound down. The others most likely thought of their loved ones at home. Craig had his wife, Jen, and his daughter, Anya. Bryan, a wife, Tanya, and two children, Blake and Alyssa. Mary had her son, Jimmy. I thought of my girlfriend, Looey, my cat Bettee, and our dog, Nacho. I thought of the value I had in that. Two years into that relationship with Looey, I missed my kookey sense of family every time I camped.

In the tent, Mary and I talked and ate more snacks she brought back into the tent. Like good friends of ten years standing, we always enjoyed our own company. While she snuggled in her high-tech sleeping bag, I read some more ancient Greek history. I never felt old on the trail, but at age 35, life's history of my future looked entirely positive and longer. Then, we heard it, and all of it became a question mark in my head. We heard the sound of something huge scuffing hard at a tree, loudly, and not very far away. It definitely sounded sharp, eerie and large.

“It could be a deer, rubbing its horns on the tree,” Mary said, looking a little startled in those large green eyes.

“Ah, yeah, but it could be a bear rubbing its back, too,” I replied.

“Oh?” Mary replied.

With food in the tent, NEVER A GOOD IDEA AFTER THAT TRIP, we could only offer tasty morsels to the fierce beasts of the forest, moose or bear, or Big Foot. We heard the noise, but no roar, no murmur. Nothing other than the scraping and scuffing of a tree. Resigned to our fate, we ate more snacks. We never discovered the source of that very, very loud and disturbing noise. Something, on the other hand, watched over the camp that night.

The next morning, following breakfast of jelly-filled snack bars, we stood around drinking coffee. One by one, we each took turns walking down the side trail to the open-air, fiberglass latrine over a shallow pit. At the creek, drinking coffee, the others could see the head of the person sitting, looking embarrassed, and only wanting the natural privacy which brush and branches from downed trees could not provide.

We encountered no problems walking out, or getting back to the shuttle car. After taking time to shop in Two Harbors, Mary and I drove home to Wisconsin. She dropped me off at my parent's farm, with my parents happy to see her again. The trip complete, at home in Amery at Looey's house, and future camping trips to come, these low adventures continued to tell me more about the nature of nature and the nature of human relationships than I ever realized before starting to walk the Superior Hiking Trail. I concluded that I wanted to trek some more. Craig and I definitely would.


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