The Cepia Club Blog

The Cepia Club Blog: The Cepia Club believes individual awareness and activism can lead to a peaceful and prosperous world. This blog contains the pertinent literature, both creative and non-fiction, produced by the Cepiaclub Director and its associates.

Thursday, December 28, 2017

Low Adventures—Trekking Superior Hiking Trail Part 4—Cold as Hell on Split Rock Loop

Low Adventures—Trekking Superior Hiking Trail
Part 4—Cold as Hell on Split Rock Loop
By Tim Krenz

Sometimes it takes a rude, crude endurance of a conquerable challenge to learn lessons. By learning through sheer survival of something bitter, we should hope to gain experience and knowledge of how to do something, and do it better next time. In the trip to the Superior Hiking Trail in late April 2003, I learned the value of proper preparation for the weather, and never to take a few degrees of latitude and a radically different geography for granted.

When Craig and I connected to travel together on Interstate 35 to the northern touristy wilds of the state, we had sunny weather and mid eighties in degrees of temperature, and I had come from home in Osceola, Wisconsin, out of a promising spring and a very beautiful clime. As a result, I packed some layers of clothing on me and in my bag, but light layers. “Pack layers as they work to keep you warm,” I heard somewhere. I did so because I did not want to carry heavy stuff. When we left the fast food place in North Branch, Minnesota to begin our weekend journey, I took one of the free tree saplings in a plastic bag, in order to properly celebrate a beautiful, temperate, and warm Arbor Day weekend.

A couple hours later when we stopped at the visitor's center overlooking Duluth, Minnesota, we got out of the car under gloomy, overcast skies, sparkled with some rain drops. As the hard wind came off Lake Superior and barreled up the harbor into the hills, I realized, to my horror, that I would freeze myself senseless in that peculiar lake-effect weather. I made the greenhorn mistake camping the north shore: I packed the wrong clothing.

North of Duluth, the skies did brighten, a little, as we drove into Gooseberry Falls State Park. Once parked, Craig fiddled in the visitor's and interpretive center while I sat outside scribbling in a new journal. Craig had brought me a partly used, orange, hard cover forestry notebook for me to log the journal of these infamous low adventures. I wrote my first entry in the book, “my fate of harm from nature or a heart attack rest with god. May he bless all these trips herein described.” With that dedication, Craig and I put our packs on our backs and off we walked.

Up the Gooseberry River in short order, we crossed under the highway bridge and up and around to the building by the highway we walked past the year before. The rustic and boarded-up stone and timber park building, built by a Depression-era conservation corps, looked even more dilapidated and forlorn than when we saw it last. Yet it looked more holy as a relic, a temple to an age long past, when the scale of things seem to have had a more noble, defined, and simpler character. The sight made me wonder if modernity does not actually see or even understand, if seen, the heritage of which history gives us a sense of going from whence we came. Perhaps I wondered a little to oddly, overtly reflective, and too philosophically, a useless question. Yet it seems more pertinent now to ponder such things than 15 years ago from when I write this memoir.

We walked for two hours, with some breaks, including one when I had to put my feet up to relieve chest pains from a horrible gas reflux attack. At least I did not have that feared coronary in the first hour of walking. The trail north that day from Gooseberry Falls did not, surprisingly, go up every damned hill. It followed some of the flat ground, too. We would find this phenomenon an aberration of the trail over the years. Over the course of trekking that day, I saw my first bear paw prints. It freaked me out seeing them smudged in the water-filled mud holes. Craig tried to ease my mind by telling me that they looked like just rather large and mis-formed deer tracks. “Bolshevik!” I thought.

We arrived at Blueberry Hill campsite a little after 2 p.m. Once done with the warmth of walking, I put on every scant of clothing I could find in my gear. Craig and I did the usual camp chores, and we put up my new Eureka two-person tent, which Craig had picked up for me in the Twin Cities. White, gray and dark green; roomy, spacious; with a good three-sided rain fly; and a front door vestibule; I liked my new purchase right away.

After the chores, Craig made a pot of coffee, drawing our water from the stream that ran next to our campsite. We did not do much the rest of the afternoon. I read George Orwell's novel, Burmese Days, and he puttered with a book that looked uninteresting to me. Craig re-hydrated a stew he made and dried with a machine at his home. It introduced to me a flavorful spice he discovered in the Peace Corps during his stay Kenya. Called Mchuze Mix, the spice made the stew edible.

The temperature dropped after early sundown with inclining worry to me. The coffee we kept making kept me warmed, and also kept me using nature's facilities too frequently. We putzed with a fire until 8 p.m., and then settled into the crowded tent. I slept horribly. The temperature dropped into the thirties, and I only had a foam pad and sleeping bag, a combination which did not keep me in a cocoon of warmth but rather in a frigid shake. Even though I wore all my clothing, including a light, threadbare nylon pullover windbreaker, I lost most of my body heat to the cold ground. I spent the night chilly, shivering, and determined to get a better air-filled, self-inflating ground mat for future trips.

We got out of bed at 6 a.m. Coffee, cold pre-cooked bacon and hard-boiled eggs from home made up breakfast. I shivered that morning sitting on a hewed log, wrapped in my sleeping bag, shivering to berate the devil of cold out of me like some dog left out in snowstorm. When packed up, and before we left Blueberry Hill campsite, I planted my little Arbor Day tree, near the latrine next to the campsite. Craig took photos. He also made some disparaging comments, although not an unusual occurrence of his. We left the camp at 8 a.m. and moved onward with the cold low adventure.

On that day's six hour walk, we came to an overlook from which we could see the big lake almost one miles away. We noticed some kayakers through the binoculars, small looking due to the distance and the huge enormity of the lake behind them. Kayaking on Lake Superior on a cold April morning seemed extreme in a way, but with the sun now out, a cold calm, and no waves on the lake, those kayakers seemed to have no cares. I respected that freedom. They must have prepared for their high adventure better than I prepared for mine.

At a little creek that ran downhill into the Split Rock River, Craig took out his fishing rod from a p.v.c. pipe attached to his pack. He assembled it, with a spinning reel, and he proceeded to cast into the creek. I read Orwell, which I found an intriguing book, like all of Orwell's less widely read books. About a policeman in Burma with a disfigurement, trying to make his way to social respectability and into a marriage with a society girl, Orwell captured the futility of opposing fate. It reflected Craig's futility to catch fish. When we moved onward, I signed as a guest in a spiral notebook left in a covered wooden box on a pole. Once in while on the S.H.T. we would see those, and as a rule, we always signed some name, real or pseudonymous. A few steps later we entered Split Rock River State Park.

The walk took us westward along the south shore of Split Rock River. The going got rather treacherous, when the trail crawled along the cliff sides of rock with mud and dirty water streaming down them. At one point, we held the rock with our hands above our head, facing the cliff as we scooted along a narrow board walk. On a flat stretch, we got passed by a German man with a light pack and two ski poles to guide his speedy trot. This guy, who we gave the trail name of “Gunther,” had only two more short sections of trail before he completed the entire course of it. He chided me for my walking stick, a piece of wood painted half black and half red, which I had once used as a Halloween prop. Gunther did not think much of my “light saber.” Even so, we stood in awe of him when we saw him walking opposite us back toward the lake on the north side of the river. His fitness shamed Craig and I. Then again, we both vowed to never, ever use damn ski poles as they would make us look almost too fit and in shape, and far too touristy and trendy. On the other hand, I never brought the light saber on another trek along the trail.

We came to the first campsite on the Split Rock Loop. Stuck in some copse of cedar trees, it provided no sun light. Craig insisted, however, that we move to the site upriver, next to the footbridge, because the ice along the shore looked unstable. We would have had to stand on the ice to draw water. Craig thought it unsafe. After six hours of walking already, I protested with “frankness.” Nevertheless, I followed Craig, while I cussed and swore with frankness, another half mile to the last campsite upriver, which fortunately had plenty of sun. The footbridge, which replaced one washed out further downstream, looked rather sideways but serviceable for crossing.

We pitched my new tent over pine boughs that some idiot(s) had cut from trees to give their tent ground insulation. While we both felt upset at someone or some people having cut down the branches in high impact camping, we used the available ground cover nonetheless. The boughs would at least provide me some insulation from the cold ground while sleeping. Again, after camp chores, I put on every stitch of thin clothing, and for the rest of the day while I read the rest of Orwell's Burmese Days, I tried very hard to stay in the sunshine on a cold damn day in northern Minnesota. Craig made some re-hydrated ghoulash on his rickety, unreliable camp stove. He flavored it with some sort of dull and zany tomato paste. It tasted very bland; rather awful,in fact. I did not eat much that night. Now cold,, tired and hungry, I went to the tent around 10 p.m. after dithering over a fire, a couple of hours after Craig turned into bed. With a better sleeping arrangement, including putting my empty pack under my legs for insulation, I slept better.

We woke early again, 6:30 a.m. Our breakfast consisted only of that vilely crap-i-licioius form of “camp coffee,” as we planned to stop for burgers and pies outside of Two Harbors, MN. We would eat a hearty lunch after Jen, Anya, and Liz picked us up at Split Rock Lighthouse to bring us to Craig's little green truck at Gooseberry Falls. Craig and I crossed the bridge by the site for the final leg, and we made our way along the north side of the Split Rock River, heading east toward the big lake. We rested mid-way in a storm shelter, a wooden lean-to building on top of a hill, from where we could clearly see the big lake to the southeast.

By the time we drove into the restaurant parking lot, I started to feel warmer after three days of dry, twitching cold. I did not prepare myself to endure, but I did endure nonetheless. When I arrived back in Osceola at my apartment later that afternoon, we still had the weather I left behind on Friday—mid eighty degrees, sunny, warm, and summerish pleasant. I took an hour-long hot, hot shower which started to thaw the very cold bones deep in my body. Beginning with that trip to the Split Rock Loop, I always brought a little extra clothing and sleeping gear, just in case nature did not do as I expected.

Sub Terra Vita #49: My Own Time Out for Christmas

My Own Time Out for Christmas
By Tim Krenz

For those who like the holidays, we all remember some Christmases more often and with better, warmer thoughts than others. Christmas some years means more to us than at other times, and the highs and lows usually reflect our relationships with family. I can recall some things about Christmas time in my youth, and I take those times to the present, very pleasant thought how more understanding I become with years of living.

At the time too young to remember, as I heard in the story, my mother bought my father a very stylish, brown leather overcoat one year for Christmas. And in another time I do remember, I got a severe disciplining on one Christmas Eve for misbehaving before we left for church. The next year, because I taunted my everyone over my “time out” the year before, I received another of those archaic “disciplinings.” Disciplining these days has a different approach than since the early 1970s. Now, and since a long time past, kids get that “time out” in a different way, but I learned to behaved better growing up and did not get that style of “time out”too often.

My immediate family celebrated our own Christmas Eves, with the big dinners, gifts and games the rest of the evening until time for midnight Mass. On Christmas Day, we spent the afternoons and evenings at my aunt and uncle's house across the St. Croix River from Osceola, Wisconsin, at their big house in Scandia, Minnesota. All the aunts, uncles, cousins, and pets on my mom's side of the family would gather for a night of feasting and fun and presents.

Christmas holidays bring their memories, and even the small things of a child's life can transform a person to such feats of stardom and greatness, and plainly become joy, sung like odes of a symphonic chorale finale.

My father always worked from early afternoons until late evenings at his life-long job at a factory in St. Paul, Minnesota. He slept until late mornings and did not arrive home well-after 1 a.m. I rarely saw him growing up, except on the weekends, but he sometimes worked then, too. He almost always took a few vacation days around Christmas and New Year's, but the rest of the year he never had time to do much. Father just worked and he did that very well to give us a steady living.

In fourth grade at Osceola Elementary School, my class did a Christmas play, which aside from this story has its other legendary elements. For our play called “Time Out for Christmas,” I co-starred opposite my classmate, Greta. I played a Teddy Bear and she played a Rag Doll. Paul, my best friend then and to this day, played some kind of time on the holiday calendar. I also remember my friends playing “Tick” and “Tock,” in a secular story about toys at Christmas. I do not remember much else about the actual plot of the play but neither does it matter. I surprise myself that I remember that much of it, almost 40 years later.

On the day we had our big afternoon performance for the entire school and for parents and teachers in the elementary auditorium, we also had a special morning performance in our small classroom, part practice for the big show, part performance for those who could not attend in the afternoon.

We had the sets out, the props ready, the costumes on, and everything else ready to go in the room. Outside the classroom, we waited for show time. When that time came, we entered the room of our little “theater in the square.”

In front row I immediately saw my Mom and my Dad. Dad smiled his big grin right at me when I noticed him, completely surprised. He wore his white collared work shirt and black tie under his very stylish brown leather overcoat. He had woke early that day, readied for work, and did it all so he could come to my school play!

I believe our cast and crew performed well that day. That did not matter so much. My father would later come to one of my freshman football games in high school with my mom, and of course they came to my high school graduation. Still, that first time attending something meant the most. I do get it, now, all of it, in fact. My biggest ever “Time Out for Christmas” absolutely rang out all odes for joy. And still, today, after he gave it to me after graduation, I sometimes wear that old, very stylish, brown leather overcoat.