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.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Low Adventures—Trekking Superior Hiking Trail Part 5—Proto-Typical Family Vacation

Low Adventures—Trekking Superior Hiking Trail
Part 5—Proto-Typical Family Vacation
By Tim Krenz
February 14, 2018

When camping with one person or a small group over many trips, divisions of labor and routine establish themselves. Chores get divided and done pretty much by mutual consent of everyone involved. It works pretty good that way. Add new elements and other people and new adventures happen, and in new dynamics of having fun. With our trip to the Superior Hiking Trail in June 2003, I settled in as one member of the “Craig Mueller family,” which continues to the day of writing this memoir, 15 years later. And many good, and different, adventures we have all had.

In our camping trips over the years, even from before Craig's two-year stint in the Peace Corps, we had done camping in the St. Croix River backwaters, and now had done three two-person expeditions to the trail in northern Minnesota along Lake Superior. I had only once before camped with Craig and his wife as part of a group. Craig and Jen met in the Peace Corps, both serving in the east African nation of Kenya. Although I did not attend the wedding in 1999 when they arrived home in the States that fall, I nonetheless had met Jen as a pen-pal almost as soon they both left our country in 1997, so we all did get along rather well.

Their daughter, Anya, coming up on three years in the summer of 2003, made up the rest of their family, until they added Syd the dog two years later. We never did know quite where I fit into the super-nuclear family. Like on my visits to their different homes, I just sort of show up, and they never have had the heart to get rid of me since. On that summer of 2003 trip to the Superior Hiking Trail, the four of us spent three nights in a privately-owned campground near Two Harbors, MN. The most memorable part came when Anya almost got carried away by a flock of white gulls.

After Jen and I toured Glenshein Mansion in Duluth on the way up, while Craig and Anya occupied themselves outside, our troupe checked into Big Blaze Campground around 3 PM on the last Thursday of June. The first night we did not do much, except eat very, very well. Our supper, well balanced, consisted of salad, pork chops, potatoes, peaches, and the ever-present coffee around the campfire until rain drove the Mueller family to their safari tent and me to my two-man Eureka. For the trip I had brought along the texts of the Lincoln-Douglas debates, and I read for a couple of hours that night, dozing for a snoring nine hour nap. When Craig woke me at 8 o'clock, he had made a hearty breakfast of sausage, eggs, and of course, coffee. I would carry extra heavy weight on the morning's short hike of the trail, as indeed we always did. At least we did not eat McDonald's, which never. . . well. . . .

All four of us drove up to near Silver Bay, MN, where we hiked in sunshine along a section of the main trail starting around 10:30 AM. Craig carried Anya most of that morning in a child carrier backpack, a far lighter load, perhaps, than he would have carried had we had full packs for camping on the trail. The hike that day followed over hilly ground but the trail itself kept mostly to the ridge lines. It looked rather unremarkable except to note the heavily used ATV trails the Superior hiking path followed or crossed.

We saw some industrial development, too, like pipe line pumping station buildings and a huge, possibly man-made lake for iron mining debris, surrounded by scree of huge, sharp rocks coming down the hillsides of the reservoir's valley. We saw power lines, too. On the other hand, the most striking and serene aspect of that day hike we saw at the bottom from one cliff side look out: A beaver lodge in the middle of the the clearest pond water, all surrounded by evergreen trees, with all the hills and green reflected off the mirror-calm surface of the small pond. We could even see the bottom of that very clean body of water. At least the beaver had it right.

After a picnic by the car in Bayside Park, we drove back to the campground. That night, using some precious dried oak Craig had brought from home, we had a good and willing fire. We ate another well-balanced meal, this one featuring not only salad, canned corn and buttered herd rice, but a big slab of buttered grilled salmon Craig cooked in foil on the fire. After I almost blew myself up lighting my old red Coleman lantern, I read for a couple of hours outside my tent after the Muellers withdrew for the night. We may have had a good afternoon of clear, sunny weather, but the night got a little damp and chilly, and the air began to feel like a lot of rain the next day, a Saturday.

I woke first the next morning, around 6 AM, made coffee and spent the morning reading and reflecting thoughts perhaps now forgot. The drunk kids who camped right next to our not-very-private site had at some point all passed out from the alcohol and other things. Judge not, lest I get judged. I counted my fortune in my head like gold that I no longer suffered myself any things like that former part of my life. I, indeed, enjoyed the serene quiet morning, hearing in my thoughts how Lincoln and Douglas would have sounded, debating in 1858. I heard a storming rush of Lake Superior water lashing loudly against the shore less than 60 yards from our campsite. Then, I wondered why the guy who parked across the campsite road on the lake side of the campground actually needed to carry camping gear in a small U-Haul trailer? That seemed overdone, for reasons I could not know, except that he really wanted all the comforts of home at the campsite.

The campground, full by Friday night, had many motor homes and camping trailers, R.V.s in the lexicon. The different couples and families really went all out in their camp set ups. The people directly opposite of us actually spent two hours Friday night getting their little love shack all perfect, including spending too much time, in my opinion, hanging little electric Chinese lanterns dangling from the awning of their pop-up camp trailer. I suppose I developed a different habit of camping in my life. I spent my youth camping in Boy Scouts or with my family's motor home, but even then I got shoved out of the campers and in to the Camel pup tent I got at age 9. And still, my backpack could could weigh a ton, too, on backpack camping trips. But as Craig would always say, “you can take it on the trip, Tim, IF you carry it yourself.” Yet, for the car camping trip to this base camp at Big Blaze, we brought some heavy and cumbersome crap, too—lawn chairs, coolers, group cook kit, etc. We judge not, lest we get judged, right? But at the least, we did not need a whole damn U-Haul trailer.

When the others woke that morning, emerging from Craig's large, blue dome tent near 7 o'clock, we ate dainty and yummy French toast of Craig's creation and the clumpy scrambled eggs I whipped and cooked from dry-powder and water. We could have skipped the eggs. By 9:20 AM, Jen and Anya dropped Craig and I off at Wolf's Rock for the Crow Creek section of the trail. While the girls drove to Duluth to shop, Craig and I descended to a bridge, where the hill slope we walked down had a large stretch of heavy, icky poison ivy on each side. Well marked by signs, Craig believed this particular part had the only known poison ivy “orchard” along the entire trail, or so the guide book might have said so.

Once across the creek, we walked up yet another tall hill, 1000 feet above sea level. We passed two guys coming down some of the steps which formed along parts of the hillside, and they carried a lot of gear in huge, heavy looking packs. They had not a speck of filth on them and spotless gear and bags. Craig commented later that we probably carried as much heavy crap on some of our trips, and that he and I probably would look as ridiculously burdened as those two men. Judge not, lest we get judged, right? From then, I always tried to carry a lighter backpack in future camping trips, mostly unsuccessfully. With only day packs that day, at least we did not have to carry all the normal gear with us and we traveled rather lighter up that hill. Still, the climb exhausted me, if not Craig, too.

As always the rule when day hiking or backpacking, when we saw a bench, we sat on it. And we saw a bench at the top of that hill. And we sat on it. Shaded by pines, looking out over a drop from the cliff where we sat, the sky looked more like rain than it had earlier in the morning. Sitting there, on cue, the drizzle, and heavier drizzle started to fall and mist.

Once we put on our rain coats, we walked the topline of that cliff and the connecting ridge line, passing an open field on that hill. Trees of the forest enclosed that field, with the grass of the open space all tall, thin, and densely growing with blades of greenish yellow. After a mile, we snaked the other side of the hill in a slow descent, in the rain that began to really fall. At least it did not have a whipping wind.

Over the Encampment River, we traversed a high, sturdily built and well-engineered bridge, which impressed Craig, a working civil engineer himself. It even had heavy metal cables holding it lashed to trees on either shore's hillsides, to prevent the structure from washing away in rains or spring melt, as Craig explained to me.

At the top of yet another hill, we arrived at yet another thrilling overlook. Approaching the cliff side from behind, we startled another memorable stranger on our many low-scaled adventures to the Superior Hiking Trail. Stony, as we nicknamed him later, sat on a log, wringing the water out of his muddy, wet socks. We talked to this recent college kid, who wore a “Gilligan hat” in the heavy rain, and he said he just moved back to Minnesota from Washington State, where he had gone to school and done much camping in the mountains. Little did either I, or more importantly, Craig, realize then how that state and those mountains would figure into our own lives and more low adventures a decade later.

After talking with Stony quite some time, the rest of the walk south toward Two Harbors passed rather quickly. Thank goodness for light day hiking pack bags. We came to a couple of roads, where I whined in disappointment that we still had more walking to do to reach my car which we shuttled with Jen in the morning. Craig also found a smudged dog's print in the fresh mud on the way to my car. “It looks like a wolf's,” he said, perhaps jesting me. He startled to howl and made fun of my sudden unease and slight discomfort while we stood over a huge ass footprint of a really BIG dog.

Back at the campground, with Jen and Anya still away for the afternoon, I took a twenty-five minute shower in the campground bathhouse. It soothed and warmed my bones, freshened my attitude, and cleansed me of the mud and muck. I even shaved my beard stubble under the hot water streams using a hand held mirror. I really did not feel like getting out and into the cold air of a concrete building on a cold, rainy Lake Superior June day. In camp, I read in the tent or outside when the rain subsided. We did get a fire going, using the last of the precious dry oak, those extra scrappings of shelves Craig had built in the Mueller condo in West St. Paul, MN. Over the cracking and snappling fire, we made brats and hot dogs, and baked beans. We decided to not hike the next morning, a Sunday, and would pack instead and go our different homes Sunday.

Around supper time, in the early evening when the gray and black clouds took away the sunlight earlier, Anya started feeding birds with bread crumbs. She stood in the middle of the dirt between the rows of campsites, throwing bread and attracting white-grayish gulls who fed along the shoreline. She threw more bread, attracted more gulls, and danced around. Then, suddenly, she looked like a Tippi Hedren munchkin, in Alfred Hitchcock's movie, “The Birds,” getting swarmed around and dived bombed by a hundred of the very aggressive gulls. Craig, Jen and I would have laughed, but we all seemed too worried. When Craig told his daughter to stop throwing bread, she got bored and the birds tapered off in numbers, just as magically as they appeared—from nowhere.

That Saturday night, I slept warm, and despite the drunken party and the music racket coming from the campsite next door, I nonetheless slept well and thankful. Judge not, lest I get judged, right?

The trip home in my own car by myself passed uneventfully, with one exception. My old greenish-blue Dodge Shadow, which I had named “Grushenka,” after a Dostoyeski character, would only go uphill about 25 miles an hour. Heading up the steep incline of I-35 heading south from Duluth, I had to watch the Muellers pass me, and I had to watch all the other frustrated drivers line up behind me to pass, too. I could only laugh. That seemed the hardest hill to surmount that weekend. But, I did have a fun weekend. As the years have rolled by us, I became even better friends, unto a brother and brother-in-law and uncle to Craig and his entire family, and even an adopted poor relation to his parents who still live near me. The low adventures would continue. They would get Craig and I closer to the goal each time. We actually only had but a total 260 odd miles to do the whole trail, but it took us so long that we seemed slackers. But, I would not have had it any other way, brother.

Sub Terra Vita: Chronicle #50 Battles of “Snow-maggedon”

Sub Terra Vita: Chronicle #50
Battles of “Snow-maggedon”
By Tim Krenz
January 25, 2018

Remembering winter from my youth in the St. Croix Valley, I recall the snow most of all, and although we got conflicting weather patterns and snow from different compass points in western Wisconsin, it always came down from the sky. Sometimes it even pistol whipped us sideways, whenever a good blizzard and the winds hit us just at the wrong time. It always seemed to come down in instant drifts in the 1970s and 1980s, as heavy snow and wet in swirls, or so my imaginative memory thinks today. A village buried in snow meant pleasing words to eager and attentive ears listening to the radio during breakfast on school mornings. “Osceola Public Schools—CLOSED.”

A snow day! A fun day it always became on those not infrequent days in January, February, March which followed the snow storms of the century. For a snow day usually involved some epic, special recreation.

On a normal winter's day, the kids on the upper part of the village, south of the Soo Line tracks, did the normal things—on weekends and AFTER school. Bundled and stuffed in multi-colored snow gear and black and blue snowmobile wear, we sledded down hills in the neighborhood, in front of my house or out back in the Industrial Park. When not dodging huge oaks and elms and pines in the runs, we jumped creek beds on toboggans, until someone like a cousin broke her leg landing on the ice of the stream. Even though that would end the fun, we went back and did it again anyway the next day.

Most of the normal freezing days, we built snow forts out of the crusty, hard old snow. Those never stood up well but served their purpose. Digging dangerous snow tunnels in the plowed-up banks of snow? Yep, we did that, too. Like all kids everywhere, we did kid stuff in the snow. Under the water tower, in the park on top of the railroad embankment, we played hockey at the small ice skating rink, next to the tennis and basketball courts all buried in snow. Some of us had hockey skates, some figure skates, and some just shuffled on the ice in black rubber boots or moon boots, with the felt or cotton ridiculously lined with bread bags to keep the feet dry. Few of our neighborhood gang knew about hockey, but it served us well to try. We learned the manly art of cross checking more than we learned to handle a deft stick to put a puck on goal. Still, we played hockey, though badly.

All of these things we did, normally. But a snow day from school? That demanded something different. A snow day meant a different aspect in the snow, a change in the way we played, and a true duty to other suckers in other districts who had to go to school that day. We owed it to all boys and girls everywhere to have the ultimate battle Royal of the winter months, in our neighborhood, and in the name of all others, everywhere. We owned that duty.

The days school stayed closed for snow invariably meant we had a deluge of the heavy wet kind of “sky snot,” the type of snow with which we could do something useful. This particular type of snow came with a warmer temperature, still tipping around freezing, but not the deep Arctic freeze that arrived following the light, fluffy sorts of “sky dandruff” snow. If warm, the snow stayed wet, causing especial strain when we shoveled out the house entries and the driveways and mailboxes, those places where the snowplows rumbled up huge banks of dirty, road crud snow. Once we finished our grueling chores of shoveling snow, the playing on the snow day began by rallying at the funnest places for a heavy duty snow day of fun.

One particular day when school closed after a warm and deep snow storm, the south hill gang of the village all gathered at a usual play site. Located at the southwest corner of the railroad tracks where it intersected “old M” road, it did not have any of the usual playground amenities. It had no swings, no slide, no merry-go-rounds. What did it have to attract us so near a railroad intersection? Well, it had a narrow, tree-free, dug out side of the ridge line that formed the upper area of Osceola. Since the earth of that exposed embankment, without snow cover, looked and felt a grainy, very reddish and heavy muddy dirt, we knew it by its colloquial name, “the Clay Pit.” And when the heavy snow came, and it gathered against, on top, and below the sheer and steep face of it, the Clay Pit served as the ultimate in death sliding and cliff jumping down into snow piles.

The face of the pit did not drop too treacherously far, but it did provide its own unique fun, terror and challenge for all kids. We would bring sleds to jump and tumble, helplessly, down the bank. After a couple of superman flops down, the red muddy streak marks from the mix of earth and wet, melting snow left our clothes and faces a series of smears in sepia brown. Eventually, on that one particular snow day, like others, we all geared and itched for “the Battle.”

It never happened by any deliberate game play, or the choosing of sides, or by capturing any nebulous flags, nor according to Marquise of Queensberry rules, either. The battle just began with whoever found themselves on the top versus those under the handicap of standing at the bottom. It seems to me, that day like many others, the battle for the Clay Pit supremacy just started when someone threw the first snowball.

The battle involved snowballs, but it also took form as an inelegant ballet of king of the hill, on a real tall hill with a straight up climb. The hard and packed snowballs we prepared, sometimes secretly minutes ahead, hit with the impact of ice balls, but ones with hard mud and gravel mixed in them. Some fired less effectively up at the defenders; yet, most of the ice balls plunged with full force downhill. If kids got to the top, they of course tried to toss the defenders down, onto the slithery slope and into mud below. Most of the time, the topside hoplites paired in teams to toss the Light Brigade chargers over the side and back from whence they came—dropped to the muddy snow drifts. As the ice cannon balls flew, they caused some pain, though less on the breastplates of snow suit armor. If hit in the face, the projectiles left red and cold marks, perhaps a cut on the cheek even. Some cried, but all tried to share the laugh.

That day, like always, at some point those below the hill gave up their futile charge. If anyone made it to the top to join those happy fewer who outnumbered the attackers at the start, they all claimed the victory of good, or bad (?), in the winter struggle of Snowmaggedon, “The Battle for the Clay Pit Heights!”

And like other kids everywhere, following the snowball fight, we trudged in our small gangs to someone's house for stories and soup and hot chocolate. Everyone victors, we all shared the honors.