Thur. May 16
Trail Day: 048
Miles hiked: 22
Judge C. R. Magney State Park
An amazing thing happened last night. As I was about to doze off I decided to check my phone and I had a signal in my tent! That has never happened before this far up north. A new tower must have been put up recently. I took the opportunity to send a few texts to some friends who are planning to come visit in a few days before I finally dozed off.
When I awoke in the morning the sun was shining. After a hot breakfast I hit the trail and after a few miles I make it to Hellacious Overlook. Isle Royale is clearly visible in the distance and I once again think back on my adventure there last summer. Soon after this the trail becomes dotted with many obstacles; blowdowns and patches of deep snow, some up to two feet deep. At one point right at the base of a hill I encounter a four-foot deep drift and without snowshoes to navigate over it I sink up to my waist. Coming down the other side a bridge over a stream has been washed out and the only way to cross is to carefully pick your way across slippery boulders. I make it across without any trouble and for most of the day trail conditions improve. After descending some steep steps the trail comes out only a dog sled training trail and follows it for several miles allowing for a brisk pace. After this the trail flattens out and emerges onto gravel Camp 20 Road, which the SHT follows for four miles to the boundary of Judge Magney State Park. The trail through the park is fantastic, paralleling the Brule River, allowing access to great views of many waterfalls. One in particular is known as Devil's Kettle Falls. In the summer months the river forks at the top of a bedrock cliff, one fork flows over it and another plunges down into a large kettle never to be seen again. The saying is that scientists still have no idea where the water from the kettle comes out, I would imagine it would be somewhere underneath Lake Superior. Unfortunately because of the recent snow melt the river is raging and the Devil's Kettle is completely submerged, but the raging falls are still impressive. Leaving this spot the trail climbs several hundred stairs almost straight up to the top of the canyon ridge and there leads to the campground where I will be spending the night. When I arrive I take a look around and many more memories flow over me. The last time I camped at this park I was seven years old. I remember meeting Mike and his family at the campsite next to us who offered us shelter under their tarp when a rain storm came in. I remember Mike joining us for a hike to the kettle and him and his family leaving shortly after. I remember our car dying at Grand Portage the next day and having to get towed back to the campground and then to Grand Marais to await repairs for a few days.
I check my phone again, I got a decent signal so I call home to confirm plans for a pickup tomorrow near Grand Marais to start slack packing for a few days. I also get a call from some friends that are planning on joining me on the trail in a few days, it'll be nice to have some company for once. I set up camp and crawl into bed excited about the days to come.
Fri. May 17
Trail Day 049
Miles hiked: 25
The Family Cabin "Shack" near Finland, MN
I'm up early this morning and hiking by first light. The scenery today is some of the best the SHT has to offer. For the most part the trail follows the ridgeline of the Sawtooth Mountains overlooking Lake Superior but today for about a mile and a half the trail comes right down to the shore on the "Lakewalk." I stop here to have breakfast as I did not eat before leaving the park. Next I descend into the Kadunce River Gorge. This is one of my favorite spots on the SHT though I don't come here nearly as often because it's so far north. A spur trail leaves the main trail and follows the rim of the gorge for a mile, allowing a hiker to witness a narrow but incredibly deep canyon. Bypassing this trail and passing by several good campsites I arrive at the next trailhead and see a familiar vehicle. As soon as I appear my mother Roxanne emerges from the driver seat and gives me a big hug. She is overjoyed to see me as she has not seen me since dropping me off near Sibley on Lake Ashtabula almost two months ago. I stop here to take a break as she has some trail magic for me, cold pizza and fresh fruit. I spend the next few minutes recapping my journey through the Boundary Waters. Soon I must push on though as I have still have alot of ground to cover today. We make a plan to get picked up outside Grand Marais near Pincushion Mountain. I switch my pack out for a nice light day pack that makes me feel like an astronaught as I continue down the trail.
The trail immediately plunges down to the banks of Kimball Creek and then back up again as it takes to the ridge top. I encounter a large group of hikers on a weekend escapade, about ten people most of whom have too much gear. I pass them by and keep bounding down the trail with my astronaught pack making good time through gorgeous trail. I pass through a patch of nice mature pines along the rim of the Devil's Track River Gorge before descending into the gorge past a group of campers and out the other side toward Pincushion mountain. I'm surprised when I get close that the entire area is a maze of multiple use trails so I have to keep a careful eye out for blazes. A spur trail leads out to a bald rock outcrop overlooking Grand Marais where I take a few minutes to rest before finishing the final stretch along a ski trail. It is here that I hear something scampering quickly down a tree and a get just enough of a glimpse of it to tell that it is a pine martin trying to avoid detection. Roxanne is waiting for me in the parking lot and we head down to Grand Marais for a good Subway dinner, which I have been craving since leaving Ely. Then it's an hour drive down scenic MN-61 to the family cabin which has come to be known as "The Shack", and is how I will refer to it here after. For the next week this will be base camp as I slack pack the SHT and hopefully make up for some lost time.
Sat. May 18
Trail Day 050
Miles hiked: 17.5
It was nice to wake up inside a heated room this morning. It's drizzling when I get back to the trailhead in Grand Marais and it continues to rain all day. I'm hiking along the North Shore State Snowmobile Trail for a good distance today and it's here that I encounter the first distance-hikers of the season. Bob and Mike are out finishing the entire SHT after hiking half of it last year. I tell them where I'm headed and they seem very enthusiastic about the concept of the NCT. We exchange greetings, talk for a few minutes about gear and planning, and then part ways. The rest of the day is pretty uneventful until I reach Cascade River State Park. Like most of the parks on the North Shore, the main attraction is a big river gorge with the SHT running parallel to it for many miles. The sides are incredibly steep in places and the trail is very narrow. At one of these points I encounter a very large ice flow. I stop and take several minutes to study it as there appears to be no way around. With closer examination I find a route that is possible using tree branches as handles to climb around the inside edge of the canyon. I make it around without incident and continue on without further issues. I arrive at the trailhead quite early in the afternoon and I would like to go further but the next road crossing is ten miles away so I probably could not make it there with this terrain before dark so I call it a day. After heading back to "The Shack" and having some dinner I hear a car horn outside. My friends Tony and Ashley have arrived to hike with me tomorrow. This is the first time I have seen them in two months and I am overjoyed to be with them again. We spend the rest of the night talking about events back home, having a few drinks, and planning the hike tomorrow.
Sun. May 19
Trail Day 051
Miles hiked: 21.5
Everyone is up fairly early this morning and we are excited for the day. Last night we decided to drop Tony and Ashley's car at Lutsen which means they will be hiking with me for about 15 miles today. Everyone packs raingear as it is drizzling when we depart. After dropping of the first car we all hop in Mom's car and we head for Cascade River State Park where I left off yesterday. After taking a group picture at the first waterfall we depart, making our way up and out of the gorge. After only a short distance the rain intensifies and thunder starts rolling in. As we are ascending one of the higher peaks a bolt of lightning crashes across the sky near us as an instantaneous flash and loud boom is heard. We all cower down for a few seconds in terror and then cautiously continue on our way. Before long however, the thunder rolls away and the rain stops allowing for a more comfortable hike. The trail is now following the ridge again and a fog has rolled in obscuring most of the view of the valley below but also provides a unique opportunity for good pictures. Eventually the sky clears and it's good hiking the rest of the day. Eventually we reach a gorgeous section along Lake Agnes, where we pause for awhile to take in the scenery and beauty of the place. After a few more miles we arrive at the trailhead where Tony and Ashley's car is parked and it's time for another goodbye, as I am pushing on another 7 miles to Oberg Mountain. Alas, I had so short a time with these friends before they had to leave, but I'm grateful they were able to make it up here, even if only for a day. Take care dear friends, you will be missed. After parting ways I make my way through Lutsen ski resort, up Moose Mountain and down the other side ending the day at the Oberg Mountain trailhead where Roxanne awaits and it's back to the cabin to rest for the next day.
Mon. May 20
Trail Day 052
Miles hiked: 24
The next two days I'll be hiking trail that I've already hiked in the past. There is a loop around Oberg Mountain that I have hiked multiple times, and I've hiked all the sections of the SHT between here and Tettegouche State Park in their entirety. Never the less it will still be a very enjoyable hike, I never get sick of the trail up here. It's like my home.
The trail today brings me over Leveaux Mountain, Britton Peak, and Carlton Peak before heading into the Temperance River Gorge. I pass a few people out for a day hike despite the wet and chilly weather. Once I'm down in the Gorge I'm not surprised to find the place fairly busy with people. This park is very popular with tourists, easy access off Highway 61. The trail here parallels the gorge on both sides of the river with old walls built by the CCC between the drop off into the gorge and the trail. After leaving the gorge the trail meets up with the Cross River and follows it for several miles displaying gorgeous river-front scenery. The trail eventually leaves the river and wanders southwestward and this part of the trail is very wet from the recent snowmelt. This slows my pace down somewhat and as a result I don't reach the trailhead on Sugarloaf Road until much later than I anticipated, and I decide to bail off here instead of pushing on to Caribou Falls where I originally intended to end the day. It'll be nice to get inside The Shack today and warm up as it was a very wet and chilly day.
Tue. May 21
Trail Day 053
Miles hiked: 26
It's raining again this morning as I begin my hike and continues to rain all day. I make the few miles from Sugar Loaf Road to Caribou Falls pretty quickly and take a few moments to enjoy the view of the falls. A spur trail leads to a large winding staircase that leads to the base of wide river gorge where the falls pour over a tall cliff. It's a very impressive site especially from the fresh snowmelt. As I continue on I am displeased to find most of the trail in this area is completely flooding. Most of the boardwalk I encounter today is either floating or completely submerged depending on how it was constructed. This makes for a very treacherous journey as everything is extremely slippery. I don't even bother trying to keep my feet dry because it's not possible. Most of the hike today takes me through George Crosby Manitou State Park which has some very steep climbs now slushy with mud. Even the larger bridges here are flooded, separated from land by a few feet of water on both sides. I don't think I've ever seen this much flooding up here. The rest of the day is a pretty relaxing hike with rolling terrain, nothing too steep. I pass a fur trapper's cabin and several nice campsites, including one right across from Lilly's Island. This is a unique feature of the SHT as it is simply an small island connected to the main trail by a narrow boardwalk. On it can be found several stone platforms to allow access to the lake for swimming or filtering water and there is also a trail register, which I make sure to sign before moving on. After a few more miles the trail starts to go uphill again and the trail finally drys out somewhat. I pass a familiar spot on the trail and another memory comes into my head. One of my first solo hikes was when I was 14 years old, and it was on this very section of trail. I had been gone for several hours and was on my way back to The Shack when at this very spot I encountered my first black bear. Being a 14 year old kid I wasn't quite sure how to react. It was a smaller bear, so I was a little worried that Momma Bear might be around somewhere. It knew I was there but took it's sweet time leaving the area but once it was out of sight I continued on and made it back to the cabin soon after. With this memory running through my head I emerge from the woods onto a gravel road, turn and take a short walk down the road and reach my cabin, a perfect place to end the day.
Wed. May 22
Trail Day 054
Miles hiked: 23
Today I get an earlier start as I don't have to drive anywhere, I just walk out the door and begin my hike. Today I'm hiking a portion of the trail know as Section 13, the first section of SHT that I ever hiked. When my family purchased the land back in 2003 and we built our cabin, the first thing we did after finishing was take a day hike on this section of trail. Now it's ten years later and I'm finally hiking the whole trail in its entirety. Section 13 has alot of highlights. There is an old logging camp, a large beaver dam with a boardwalk built over it, a large glacial erratic the size of backhoe, and several bald mountain peaks with no names. This section also passes through Wolf Ridge Environmental Learning Center. To add even more history to this trail... every year the sixth graders from the middle school I attended come to this very environmental center for a week in February to learn about different aspects of the outdoors. As a sixth grader I was here in 2002 for a week with my teachers and classmates, and then a year later my family buys land literally across the street. How does that happen?
The section through Wolf Ridge is fairly rugged, but the real challenged today comes in Tettegouche State Park. The trail crosses the Baptism River on a large suspension bridge and then climbs steeply up a gully known as the drain pipe, and it is aptly named as there is water trickling down it as I climb. After this it climbs directly over Mt. Trudee and Round Mountain before skirting along a cliff edge looking out across Bean and Bear Lakes. I pause here for a few moments to take in the beauty before continuing a general downhill descent toward County Road 5 where I am being picked up today. I'm about a mile and a half away from the trailhead when I pass a spur trail to a campsite and see a sign tacked to a tree. "Strider NCT Party" with an arrow pointing down the spur. I take the trail and arrive at the campsite and see a familiar face. Hence I meet for the fourth time Dave Frey, aka "Diablo." He is a fellow SHT volunteer that was also on the Encampment River Bridge project last year and he hiked the AT in 2007. He was hoping to meet up with me when I came through this area and it turns out he timed it pretty well. We share stories of both our hikes while having a few beers. After about 40 minutes I decide to push on as I don't want to be rude and keep Roxanne waiting. We shake hands and then I head back to the trail. I'm exhausted as I reach the trailhead as today was a very tough section.
Thur. May 23
Trail Day 055
Miles hiked: 26
I'm very excited this morning because soon I will have another friend joining me for a few days. On top of that the weather has improved and it looks like it's going to be a very nice day. The hike begins at the trailhead on County Road 5 where I ended yesterday. Just as I am about to begin Diablo emerges from the woods on the way back to his car. He informs me that we forgot to take a picture yesterday and he is right. Luckily there is a guy in the parking lot ready to go for an ATV ride that is able to take our photo. After shaking hands with Diablo again I start off down the trail. After I few miles today I am hiking along the Beaver River which has several fantastic campsites. I pass a few day hikers on this stretch out enjoying the day. Soon the trail climbs uphill to Fault Line Ridge where I get a view a few hundred feet down into a wide canyon. There are quite a few blow downs along the ridge and I pass a trail steward doing maintenance clearing the fallen trees. Thank you sir for your hard work. I take a rest once I reach the ridge above the Split Rock River and I have a grand view all around. I can see Split Rock Lighthouse off to the northeast, the mouth of the river to the east, and of course the grand view of the Lake fading out into the distance. I continue on and the trail descends into the gorge crossing a bridge over the raging river. On the west bank I come face to face with The Split Rock, the land form that gives the river and the surrounding area it's name. It's basically a large slab of rock that has somehow been cloven right down the middle. Littering the forest floor our hundreds of pieces of loose rock, but unlike ballast they are flat and smooth and are not nearly as treacherous to walk on. After clearing this area I have a few more miles to go to reach Gooseberry Falls which is my destination for today. This park was always my favorite as a kid until I got older and the park got more crowded at which point my favorite became Tettegouche, but I still enjoy coming to this spot time after time every year. I get a good video of the falls and then head to the visitor center to await my friend who should be arriving soon. No sooner do I arrive and sit down that I get a text message, she has just arrived and is on her way down. Impeccable timing! Within a few moments I stand up, she comes around the corner and I am face to face with Karlee, a great friend from college. She has decided to come and hike with me the next few days and it will be so nice to have company again. We decide to catch up a little before heading to the cabin so we decide to hike the short loop around the falls. On the way to her car we pass two women coming down the trail and I recognize one of them as Gail Coyer, the Executive Director of the Superior Hiking Trail Association. I say hi and she recognizes me from all the times I volunteered on the trail work crews. We have a short chat and she asks me how the trail has been so far and I talk about the bridges that were washed out and the flooded trail north of here. She wishes me luck and then we part ways.
When we arrive at The Shack I show Karlee around and introduce her to Roxanne who has got dinner ready to go in the oven. We spend the next couple hours enjoying dinner, catching up on events back home, and then planning the hike for tomorrow. Karlee is a marathon runner and did the ultra marathon on the SHT last year, so we decide to do a solid 21 miles tomorrow. I have no doubt she will do fine.
Fri. May 24
Trail Day 056
Miles hiked: 21.5
Today is going to be a very eventful day. It is Memorial Day weekend so my entire family will be up at the cabin this weekend to see me and work on a few additions. The forecast calls for another nice sunny day, perfect to finally dry everything out. Roxanne has prepared some lunches for Karlee and I to bring along on the hike today, including sandwiches and some fruit. How nice it is to get some relief from the same old granola bars, trail mix, and dehydrated meals. We shuttle Karlee's car to the Reeves Rd. trailhead and then get dropped off at Gooseberry Falls, where we will begin our hike today. Coincidentally this is where the ultra marathon starts so everything we will be seeing will be new trail for her. The trail heads north out of the park and follows the Gooseberry River for a long ways before finally breaking off and heading southwest. Early on we encounter a porcupine right on the trail out for a morning stroll. I've never seen one this close before so it is a fun start to the day. After leaving the river the trail climbs gradually uphill and provides some nice views of Lake Superior near a place known as Wolf Rock. Shortly after this we will need to take a detour. The next segment of trail includes the Encampment River Bridge which got washed out a few weeks ago so a temporary roadwalk has been designated to take hikers around this segment and join the trail again on the other side. It adds maybe a little more than a mile to the hike so it doesn't add that much distance, plus there is not much traffic so it makes for a nice leisurely hike. We encounter another backpacker along this stretch, who after we exchange greetings indicates he is going "all the way" to the end of the SHT near the Pigeon River. Several places along this roadwalk also have a foul lingering smell which we soon discover are several deer carcasses finally decaying after the warm up. Luckily we don't have to be exposed to it for long and soon find a nice shaded spot among several large boulders to have lunch before rejoining the trail a short distance down the road. The trail from here follows Silver Creek most of the way between here and Reeves Rd. and includes a very nice campsite. We stop here to take a break before pushing on up one final climb that includes some interesting rock art. The last section of trail is incredibly straight, likely falling on property boundaries and is densely shaded with evergreens. Eventually the trail emerges out onto the snowmobile trail which it follows the last half mile to the trailhead.
When we arrive at the cabin there are many vehicles parked nearby. When I emerge from the car a guy comes walking toward me from the cabin. My friend Trevor has come up with my father and brother to help install a new refrigerator and to see me. We embrace and he comments that I look strong for having walked for so long, and indeed I do feel strong. Inside the cabin everyone else is moving about, they seem to not have realized that I have arrived. When I open the door "Luke!" is the first thing I hear as my family sees me for the first time in almost two months. They can tell that I have lost some weight, but that I do look strong and healthy. They wanted to know about the Kek first and foremost because that's the section of trail they were most worried about me getting off track. I give a brief description of my hike since leaving Ely, and they seem amazed that I made it through with such little difficulty. Afterwards I introduce Karlee to the family and am relieved that they get along well. We spend the rest of the night having dinner, talking about things on the trail and things back home, and then sit around a camp fire with a few drinks. When everyone is finally ready to retire for the night Karlee and I make plans for tomorrow's hike and then get some rest.
Sat. May 25
Trail Day 057
Miles hiked: 24
I'm not surprised to find that I am the first one up this morning. Almost everybody had quite a bit to drink last night, even before we got back from our hike, and so this morning they are sleeping in. I have some time to myself to catch up on journal entries before Roxanne wakes up and again prepares lunches for Karlee and I to take on the hike today. Shortly afterwards Karlee wakes up and we have breakfast before gearing up for the day. It's going to be a longer hike than yesterday so I'm hoping to start a little earlier. We decided last night to drop her car at Fox Farm Rd. and hike there from Reeves Rd. where we finished yesterday, making a good 24 miles today.
The hike today passes through Lake County Demonstration Forest where the forest environment changes frequently providing some interesting diversity. In some places the majority of trees are evergreens, in others they are primarily oaks with open grassy spaces underneath the canopy. There are many places where the trail passes near several open areas where the beavers have been at work. After awhile hiking this morning I realize that something is off, despite feeling strong and healthy the day before today I feel somewhat sluggish and very tired. I'm intrigued when I find out that Karlee feels the same thing and for a long stretch neither of us says anything, just focusing on not tripping on rocks and falling on our faces. After awhile though we get a chance to rest for awhile and after eating a nice healthy lunch we feel somewhat re-energized and the rest of the day is much more lively. We pass a small waterfall where we stop for a break and I notice several small fish trying to clamber up to the other side. We watch for a good five minutes as none of them have the strength yet to make it. Later on we pass a large group campsite where several tents are set up and people are wading in the stream nearby. Soon we come to a bridge where I am shocked to see a large sheet of ice on the far side, still clinging to life in constant shade. After crossing this obstacle we have only a few miles to go to finish out this hike and we are provided with one last view of the Lake before reaching the trailhead.
Back in the car we have a few snacks, some fantastic monster cookies that Karlee made and brought with her, and I find out that she has never actually been to the shore of the Lake. I convince her to stop at Flood Bay wayside on the way up so she can experience why I come up here so often. We hang around for a few minutes despite it being frigidly cold this close to the Lake and then finish the journey back up to the cabin, where we enjoy another fine dinner and more camp fire chats before again retiring to bed.
Sun. May 26
Trail Day 058
Miles hiked: 27
My heart is a little heavier as I wake up this morning. The company I have had the past few days will be completely gone by the end of the day. Everyone is up fairly early and we head down the road to our favorite local restaurant bar for breakfast. The place is called Our Place right on main street in Finland, and I have had many enjoyable meals here. After breakfast it is time to say goodbye to the men of the family, as they will be packing up today and heading back home. I take a few moments to address each of them separately and say goodbye. This is the last time I will see them until I complete my hike in October. I climb into Karlee's car as I watch the other vehicle drive away. Karlee drives me to the Fox Farm Road trailhead where we ended yesterday and then it is time to say goodbye to her too. I've enjoyed her companionship for the past few days and I am very sad to see her go. After a hug and a goodbye I enter the woods with a heavy heart and a teary eye as I hear the car pull away.
The trail I am hiking today is significant as I helped construct part of it. In fact the first section today from Fox Farm to the Sucker River is the very first section I ever worked on, and is what I was working on when I first heard about the NCT. All day long I pass familiar landmarks; a set of stairs I helped build, a stretch of trail I remember benching into the side of a hill, a section of boardwalk in helped lay out, a large boulder I remember working around with my mattock, even the trailhead off Lismore Road that I helped clear so the loader could get in with gravel and actually construct the parking pad. This section today is where this thru-hike I am on now had it's foundation three years ago. It was just completed last year finally filling in the final gap to make the trail complete from Jay Cooke State Park to Canada. It was fairly difficult because of mostly private land the trail needed to cross and in some places it still hasn't been completely resolved, as alot of the trail towards the end of the day is superimposed onto ATV and snowmobile trails. At one spot I encounter several young kids on ATV's and dirt bikes going faster than they should. In another spot the trail wanders through an archery range where a few people happen to be out practicing. I manage to make decent time and arrive at the trailhead at Martin Road where Roxanne is waiting. I can tell she is heavy-hearted, as this is the last time she will be picking me up at the end of the day. She too is heading home tomorrow, which also means tonight is my last night at The Shack. The air somehow seems darker as we make our long trip back to the cabin. We even have the opportunity to see the beacon at Split Rock Lighthouse shining for unknown reasons. As we leave it behind I realize that today was the first time I have felt truely alone on this hike since my rough patch in Itasca State Park over a month ago.
Mon. May 27 - Memorial Day
Trail Day 059
Miles hiked: 22
Willard Munger Inn - Duluth, MN
I can tell that Roxanne is upset as I am getting ready this morning. She seems very gloomy, of course because in a few hours she will have to leave me once again and watch me hike away into the distance not to be seen again for many months. My pack feels unbearably heavy this morning. Of course I've been slack-packing for the last nine days so that is to be expected. From here on out I will be on my own until the very end.
I got a text yesterday from a friend from college who recently moved up to Duluth saying she was available today and wanted to hike with me for a ways so we made arrangements to meet at the trailhead on Martin Road. It takes us about an hour to get there as Martin Rd. is on the very outskirts of Duluth. We arrive a few minutes early and have some last moments alone in the car before another vehicle arrives. I get out and start unpacking my gear as my friend Kelsey walks over ready to go hiking. It is a bit chilly today so we need to bundle up somewhat. I make some last minute adjustments to my pack and am dismayed when one of the buckles snaps and flies off. Luckily it wasn't vital to the functionality of the pack so I don't have to get an immediate fix. We take a few pictures in front of the sign at the trailhead then it's time to say goodbye. With a last hug I turn and begin hiking. Thanks Mom for everything you've done for me so far on this hike.
The hike starts out in some pretty developed areas and the hiking is fairly easy. Kelsey and I catch up as we hike along, discussing my adventures on the trail so far, how things are going for her and her husband in Duluth, and what my plans are after this. After passing through the developed areas the trail passes through Hartley Nature Center before reaching the University of Minnesota Duluth campus. After a short roadwalk the trail descends into the gorge of Chester Creek which is quite impressive. If it were not for the houses visible on the ridge above you would think you were in the backcountry again. In the gorge we stop for a snack break near a waterfall and talk more about college and some of our favorite professors. We soon continue on down into the gorge and eventually emerge out the other end onto city streets. From here the SHT follows sidewalks down to the Lakewalk trail which it then follows all the way through Canal Park. Shortly before reaching the Lakewalk we take a short detour and stop in at the Portland Malte Shoppe. I first heard about this place four years ago and have come here every summer since, to date it is probably some of the best ice cream I have had. The cute red-haired girl at the window is shocked when she sees my pack and finds out my story. After getting my malt we continue down the Lakewalk into Canal Park. This park is the heart of tourism in Duluth. Located right on the waterfront, many restaurants, shops, and hotels are in the immediate area. The biggest attraction is the aerial lift bridge which allows large ocean and lake freighters to pass underneath into the harbor. Being Memorial Day I am amazed at how few people are out and about, the place is basically a ghost town. I get rather annoyed at the few people that are around feeding the seagulls, even though there are signs everywhere that say "Don't feed the birds." That is blatant ignorance of the rules and it's ticking me off, especially now that there are thousands of birds swooping around putting other people in harm's way. We make it past the mob of birds and follow sidewalks around the canal museum, the aquarium, and the DECC arena and after taking a pedestrian overpass across I-35 we begin on more off-road trail to climb towards Enger Park. This park is quite popular among tourists, there are many gardens, lots of overlooks, and of course Enger Tower. The trail passes right by here but we don't climb it as we have both been here many times already. The trail passes behind some residential areas with some surprisingly great views overlooking the harbor below. After reaching a place called Piedmont Knob we take a few pictures and then it's time to say goodbye to Kelsey. There is a spur trail leading away from here to another parking lot where she has another car stashed. Thanks for coming out to hike with me Kelsey, it was great catching up.
After leaving Piedmont knob the trail descends again into a valley and I come to a road crossing and I sign that says "trail closed." I am now at Haines Road where everything has been torn up as they are doing an improvement project and the plans include putting in a culvert for the trail so hikers no longer have to cross the road. With all the destruction I am unable to see where the trail picks up on the other side of the road so I make my best guess and pick my way across slowly. It is Memorial Day so there are no workers around to keep me out. I am pleased to discover that I correctly guessed where the trail picked up and continue on with no trouble. I end the day hiking down into the Kingsbury Creek gorge where evidence of the terrible flooding of last year is visible. I take the spur trail down to the trailhead and hike the extra quarter mile to the Willard Munger Inn where I plan to stay tonight. Andrew Skurka and Nimblewill Nomad both stayed here on their thru-hikes so I figure I should keep the tradition going. I check in and head to the room to update my facebook status thanking all the friends that came to hike with me this week, also noting that today marks two months since I began my hike back in North Dakota and with that I drift off to sleep.
Tue. May 28
Trail Day 060
Miles hiked: 22.5
Jay Cooke State Park
I woke up this morning and headed straight to the lobby for breakfast. I haven't had cold cereal in quite awhile so enjoy devouring several bowls of it before I feel content. Afterwards I head back to the room and get all my gear packed up and ready to go and then head back to the lobby to check out. Also in the lobby at this time are Bill and Sally, Bill being a direct descendent of Willard Munger himself. They see my pack and ask the usual questions and we spend quite a good deal of time talking before I finally hit the trail around 9:30.
Along the trail today is more evidence of last year's terrible floods. I hike past Spirit Mountain to Magney Snively Park where I get one last look back towards Duluth. Spirit Mountain has the only camping spot between Duluth and Jay Cooke State Park but hiking through Magney Snively makes me think that this would be a great place for a future campsite, or even a shelter. There is very little underbrush most of the way and the floor is covered by soft grasses making for a very pleasant hike. Eventually the trail reaches the base of Ely's Peak and a spur trail leads to the top, providing a great view almost 360 degrees around. After Ely's Peak the trail descends into the Mission Creek Gorge where some of the trail has been repaired since the flooding. There is an old historic bridge on the creek that the trail uses and right after this there is a sign that says "trail closed." I dare not go any further after this sign because at some point I know it will dead-end, as the trail beyond here leading into Jay Cooke State Park is completely obliterated, mudslides having wreaked havoc on it last spring. At this point I follow an ATV trail to the paved Munger Trail and follow it into the park. Along this stretch of trail is (former) Forbay Lake, which is now completely drained after the dam burst and released all the water into the countryside. Right after this the trail enters Jay Cooke State Park, my destination for tonight. I follow the Munger Trail spur to the park headquarters and get a campsite for the night. After setting up camp I head over to the site of the famous "Swinging Bridge" which was certified NCT. It was originally built by the CCC in 1935 and had been washed out only once before in the 50s, where it was raised a few feet to its current height. It is a very iconic and historic structure, being considered the gateway to the North Shore. The bridge is gone now because of the flooding and it is the only crossing of the St. Louis River for several miles so tomorrow I will need to take a large detour to get around the park and cross the river. As I am standing here at former approach I can see that work has already begun to repair and replace the bridge. The north side of the bridge has been completely removed and the horribly mangled metal frame is lying there. The south side of the bridge is still mostly intact and has been stabilized by cables. Seeing all the damage done to this historic structure brings tears to my eyes, as this park was always one of my favorites and I have many childhood memories here. To think that water had enough power to completely destroy a stone and metal structure is just incredible. Despite being a very sad moment this is also somewhat of a proud moment for me, as this bridge also marks the southern terminus of the SHT, which means today I finally accomplished a goal I've had since I first set foot on the trail ten years ago. Back then our family cabin was freshly built, the trail crossed our road only 400 feet away, and I made a goal to hike the entire trail within ten years. As of today, mission accomplished. I head back to my camp and head off to sleep with a heavy heart, it is my last night in Minnesota.
Wed. May 29
Trail Day 061
Miles hiked: 29
Pattison State Park, WI
I'm up fairly early this morning and get a good breakfast cooking before finally packing up and heading down the trail. Today's detour adds about eight miles to my hike but I have no choice, as this is the only off-road option with the bridge being destroyed. I follow the Munger Trail out of the park and through the towns of Carlton and Wrenshall before it finally starts heading southeast. It has turned out to be a very nice day, more typical for this time of year. I am hiking in only a t-shirt and it grows quite hot. The scenery is very pleasant along this paved trail, nice views of wetlands, a few cool rock outcroppings, and some nicely constructed benches to sit and have a rest once in awhile. After a few hours I reach the point where the trail reaches MN-23 and the trail forks, one fork going uphill to join the road, and the one fork heading straight to pass underneath the highway. To reach the Wisconsin border I need to take the straight fork, which at this point is no longer paved, but a grassy two-track with a ballast surface. Luckily because of the long winter the grass is not long yet so I am able to navigate the last few miles with no difficulty. Soon the trail comes out to a service road paralleling a railroad track and I follow this south for a half mile before hitting paved county road 4 and crossing the railroad tracks into Wisconsin. After snapping a picture I take a last look back at my home state, turn, and continue hiking.
The rest of today is completely a roadwalk to reach Pattison State Park where I plan to spend the night. After a few miles at a road intersection a county vehicle pulls up with two county workers inside. They stop and ask me where I'm headed and we spend a few minutes talking about where the trail passes through this area. It turns out that we are right across the railroad from a future segment of NCT in the Macquarrie Wetland Preserve, owned by the University of Wisconsin Superior. I had heard about the construction of this segment before leaving to begin my hike but it is not slated to be completed until next year so I am not able to hike it at this time. The two workers wish me luck as they pull away and I continue down the road. The next several miles are on backcountry gravel roads and after finally reaching the last paved road that will bring me into the park I come to a trail crossing. I am now standing on the Gandy Dancer State Trail, which is the same trail I encountered Nimblewill Nomad last year when I crossed paths with him on the last day of his Ice Age Trail thru-hike. The trail down there was a crushed limestone surface on an old rail grade and was very nice hiking, but up here this far north it has deteriorated into an overgrown and rutted two-track, with signs indicating the trail is closed until further notice. I stand here for a moment as the memories of that day last August when I finally met the guy that inspired me to do this hike come into my head.
I remember camping on the shore of the St. Croix River the night before and beginning my hike on the Gandy Dancer Trail north toward the place where my car was parked. I remember running into a familiar face at a road crossing and discovering that it was a fellow SHT volunteer I had met earlier that year that was also there to try and intercept Nimblewill. His name was Gray Ghost and is a very experienced hiker. After catching up for a few minutes I remember seeing three hikers coming toward us and knew that I was in fact going to meet the legend. The three hikers stopped to talk to us and I was surprised to find that Nimblewill already knew who Gray Ghost was. The two other hikers were Nate and Paul, who had already thru-hiked the Ice Age Trail and came to accompany Nimblewill on his last day. I remember Nimblewill himself turning to face me and I introduced myself and told him what an inspiration he was to me. We spent probably 15 minutes talking about my plans for the NCT, and his future plans for that year to complete the New England Trail after the Ice Age Trail. He gave me several pointers about planning, and also about not letting the long roadwalks discourage me. It was a great experience, one that will live long in my memory.
I continue hiking down the road and shortly before entering the park I come over a rise and look to the north and am surprised at what I can see. Way in the distance almost on the horizon line I can see the city of Duluth and a faint glimpse of the Lake. Just around a bend in the road from this point I see the state park boundary sign and a trailhead comes into view. I turn left onto the park trail system and hike down to Big Manitou Falls where I stop to take in the view. These falls are pretty impressive as they fall over a sheer cliff and into a large valley with sweeping views to the west. After enjoying the view I pass through a hiker culvert under WI-35 and enter the park campground where I make camp. I made better time than I expected and so take the opportunity to see all of the NCT within the park. The section through Pattison is currently a dead-end segment as it is surrounded by private land so a thru-hiker would normally be only a small portion of it before turning right past Little Manitou Falls and back out to the road, but now since I have some extra time I decide to hike all the NCT within the park, about four miles round trip. Most of it follows closely to the river making for a very pleasant hike. On the way back I am startled by a porcupine running across the trail right in front of me and quickly scampering up a tree to escape me. I snap a quick picture and continue on, giving the porcupine a wide berth. Right after this I hear a high-pitched screeching noise and look around wondering what in the world it is. Suddenly a large bird comes into view right in front of me and I duck as it flies right past me, screeching angrily. I got a good enough glimpse of it to identify it as a goshawk. I keep moving down the trail hoping to avoid another fly by but it seems intent on hurting me as it continues to fly up into the canopy and then swoop down angrily at me. It does this eight times I run, dodging between trees as I go to avoid being hit. Luckily I escape unscathed and hike back to the campground wondering what I did to provoke it. I come to the conclusion that it must have had a nest somewhere nearby and didn't like that I was that close. After getting a soda from the park vending machine I cook a meal and take a good look at my maps for tomorrow. After making a plan I read some more of Tolkein before settling into bed.
Sat. June 22
Trail Day 083
Miles hiked: 21
Cliffs Campsites - Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore
It rained most of last night and it is already humid as I begin my hike this morning. The trail is pretty easy to follow until I come to a trailhead at the Valley Spur ski lodge. Here I am faced with three different trails going in three different directions all marked with blue diamonds. Oh boy what a mess this is. With no indication of which way to go I try the most travelled route which turns out to be a loop trail. I decide to backtrack to a turn in the trail and then bushwhack to the nearest road, MI-94 which the trail does eventually come out to and then terminate. From here it is a roadwalk into the town of Munising. Enroute I pass by Wagner and Alger Falls. Munising is a great little trail town, lots of restaurants, cheap motels, and a nice Marina. I decide to stop by subway for lunch and treat myself to dessert at DQ. Afterwards I head down to the Marina to restock my fuel and water. I also give Tim Hass a call. Tim is the president of the Superior Shoreline Chapter and wanted to meet me. Within a few minutes he arrives with his wife Ellen. I tell them about my trip so far and then they spend the next several minutes warning me about what is to come on the far side of Pictured Rocks. There was a large fire last year and apparently there are a lot of trees still standing that could fall at any moment. Tim warns me to watch out for the ones with the roots burned away, those could fall at any moment since they are no longer anchored to the ground. Thanks for the warning Tim. I say goodbye to Tim and Ellen and then head to the ranger station to get a permit to enter Pictured Rocks. Everyone at the station knew I would be coming in and they are all excited when I walk in. I briefly tell about my trip so far and then head out to the trail. There is a visitor center a few miles east of town at Munising Falls and this is where the certified trail picks up again. There are lots of people at the trailhead but once I get passed the falls I don't see a single person. Soon a fog roles in and I am robbed of some good views over the lake. I still get some fine scenery though as there are a few stream crossings and I see beech trees for the first time on this trek. Their smooth silver bark reminds me of the Mallorn trees of Lothlorien in Tolkein's stories. After seven miles of Pictured Rocks I call it a day at the Cliffs Campsite.
Tue. June 25
Trail Day 086
Miles hiked: 24.5
Muskallonge Lake State Park
I woke up to the sound of Mosquitos buzzing around my tent, gotta put the bug clothes on before going into town. It only takes me a few minutes to break camp and hit the road to head back to downtown Grand Marais. I need to mail a few things home including my first pair of shoes which are very tattered and my thick fleece pullover, so I need to stay until the post office opens. I'm here a few hours early so I eat my breakfast at the picnic pavillion on the harbor. No bugs around here. As I am getting some of my things in order and taking a look at my maps a guy walks by with a cup of coffee and stops once he sees my gear. Hence I meet Mark, a visitor to Grand Marais for a few days. He asks about my gear, the food box operation, and where I'm headed. I tell him the story of my hike so far and he is very impressed. He wishes me luck as he returns to his motel across the street. About ten minutes later as I am still sorting through some things to send home Mark appears again. First he shows me a brochure of the trail that he picked up yesterday, and wants me to confirm that it is in fact that same trail I am hiking. I tell him yes, and point out a few highlights I've encountered so far on the brochure's overview map. He then hands me a brand new bandana for me to add to my gear list. I accept it gladly as mine is getting pretty tattered. He wishes me luck again and leaves. After a few minutes he returns a third time with a laptop in his hand. He first apologizes for interrupting me again (It's ok Mark, I'm just killing time) and then he says that he found me on the internet. He shows me the screen and displayed on it is the home page of my website. I then explain why I created the sight, to allow others to follow along and hopefully increase awareness and interest in the trail. Afterwards Mark is thoroughly interested and absolutely impressed with my journey and says he will be following my progress from now on and that he will try and get out and hike some segments of the NCT. He shakes my hand and disappears for the third and final time. Almost immediately afterwards a car drives down the street and stops right next to the pavillion. The window rolls down and I recognize Judy, the park ranger from the Grand Sable Visitor Center. She asks if I need anything and tells me to take care before continuing on to work. The town has finally started to wake up and businesses are opening for the day so I head over to Grand Marais Outfitters to thank Dennis for paying for my meal last night. Afterwards he lets me fill up my water from his sink and then it is time to hit the post office and then the trail.
The trail leading out of Grand Marais is well marked and after awhile heads back to the lakeshore. My feet hurt today as I am now wearing my second pair of shoes. Additionally the day has turned quite hot so I need to take more frequent breaks to ease the pain and discomfort. Towards the end of the day I reach Muskallonge Lake State Park. I have the energy and the time to push on but my feet are on fire and I am worried about pushing too hard the first few days with new shoes. Additionally a picnic table and shower would be nice so I decide to end the day and camp in the park. As I arrive at my site and start setting up camp several people ask where I'm headed and where I've been, including two ladies on bicycles and the guy camping next to me with his family. After brief introductions and story telling I get a nice hot shower, cook dinner at the picnic table, and call it an early night.
Wed. June 26
Trail Day 087
Miles hiked: 28
About a mile west of forest road 500 - Lake Superior State Forest
I lingered too long in camp this morning. I decided to cook a meal for breakfast to take advantage of the picnic table and so didn't get hiking until well into the morning. The guy next door wishes me luck as I finally depart. By 10:00 it has already turned very hot and the sun is out in full force. I noticed last night at my camp that I mis-calculated the last food drop and I am actually a day short on provisions and won't have enough to make it to St. Ignace. Luckily there is a little convenient store a few miles from the park in the Deer Park Township. I head there first thing to get the provisions I need and to take a break from the blistering hot sun. Soon I am back on the trail and the going is incredibly slow, most of the tread way is nothing but sand. The trail zigzags back and forth from the lakeshore back to Coast Guard Road, nothing but a sandy two track, several times before finally staying fairly close to the lakeshore. It is at this point that the area Tim Hass warned me about in Munising comes into view. As far as the eye can see the ground, the trees, everything is scorched black. Of course there is also no shade so this stretch of trail is unbearably hot. I heed Tim's advice and watch the roots of the trees as I approach but there is no wind and none of the trees seem to be in immediate danger of falling over. After several hours I finally get a chance to stop as I approach a campground at the mouth of the Two Hearted River. A great suspension bridge straddles the river from the beach of Lake Superior and brings the hiker into the campground on the other side. At the end of the bridge a man is standing admiring the view of the river and he sees me coming across. He asks about the condition of the trail between here and Muskallonge Lake and I inform him about the vast burn area. He then proceeds to ask me how far I have hiked and when I tell him my story he invites me to his camp site for a beer which I gladly accept. Hence I meet Art, out on a week long camping trip with his son who is currently taking a nap in the van. We have a nice chat about previous trips we've both had and what I'll encounter as I head south. After I finish my beer I thank Art for his kindness and continue on.
I'm finally clear of the burned area and I'm in the woods for the next several miles but I take another break at the next campground on Culhane Lake to cool off and camel up. After this the trail heads south away from the Lake and the Mosquitos are out in full force. Within minutes they become so thick that I am swimming through a cloud of them. My bug clothes and head net are back on but because of all the bush whacking I had to do earlier in the UP my head net has holes in it so it no longer prevents the buzzers from getting in. My hands are the only thing exposed and there are so many mosquitos that I shove my hands in my pockets to spare them some of the torment. This doesn't last long as I need my hands to swat the ones that have penetrated the bug net. Of all my years hiking in the north woods of Minnesota these are by far the worst mosquitos I have ever encountered. It takes every ounce of what little energy I have left to keep from screaming in agony. I am exhausted and need to stop for the day but the bugs are such a torment I push on until dark, hoping to find a place where they aren't so bad, but there isn't one. Finally I have no choice but to stop and I pitch my tent as quickly as possible and jump inside. I haven't eaten in the past several hours and I am starving so I eat my remaining rations for the day in my tent to avoid the horrendous Mosquitos. It is very unpleasant, my hands are completely covered in blood, it looks as if I have just given surgery. My clothes, my tent, everything is stained. I have been bitten so many times that my body could no longer handle it and an allergic reaction occurred as a result of mosquito overdose. My hands are covered in swollen bites which has never happened to me before. I got a pretty good sunburn today as well from the lack of forest cover at the beginning of the day and I can feel the effects of heat exhaustion taking hold. I am definitely overheated and over-exerted. After stashing my food pack away I lie down in my tent and get what rest I can, the heat making it difficult to sleep.
Thur. June 27
Trail Day 088
Miles hiked: 26
Rivermouth Campground - Tahquamenon Falls State Park
The sound of thousands of buzzers outside my tent is the first thing I hear as I wake up this morning. Oh how I do not want to get up out of this tent. I have to get going sometime though, and I'm only a few miles from the boundary of Tahquamenon Falls State Park where hopefully the Mosquitos will be thinner. I pack up as quickly as possible and head out. After a few miles I come to a trail junction with a sign of a park map, I've made it to the park but still have many miles to go to get to the visitor center where I can get some respite from these mosquitos. After a few hours I come to a road crossing, MI-123, so I know I am close. Sure enough about a mile further south the trail emerges from the woods and comes out to a wide paved trail and the stairway to the Upper Falls. I skip the falls for now as the visitor center is only a quarter mile further and I need something to eat. When I arrive I am amazed at what I see. This place is more than just a visitor center, it is also a gift shop, concession stand, and a brewery which is actually a full-blown restaurant! I waste no time going inside and trying one of their four specialty brews before they start serving food. As soon as the kitchen opens the server takes my order and it isn't too long before she comes out with my appetizer, a whole plate full of nachos. No sooner have I downed these than my burger arrives and I enjoy it. I get several refills of soda to quench my thirst and after I've finished gorging myself I head outside to the large patio to see what else is going on, and to let my stomach settle. Lots of people see my pack and want to know my story including a guy named Tyler. He thru-hiked the American Discovery Trail (ADT) in 2011 with a friend of his. I will actually be on that same trail for some distance in Ohio where the ADT coincides with the Buckeye Trail (BT). He is particularly fascinated with my trip and wishes me luck. Here I also meet Shannon, one of the servers at the brewery. She remembers Wolverine stopping in here about two weeks prior and I explain to her how we crossed paths in Marquette and ended up at the same place for two nights. I'm having a hard time tearing myself away from this fine establishment but alas it is time to hit the trail again. I drop my pack at the trail junction and head to the Upper Falls with only my camera. The view is spectacular and several people have flocked here to see it. After taking some good photos and a video I head back to the trail and hike the seven miles to the Lower Falls, encountering relatively few people along the way. The day has grown really hot and humid and it starts to drizzle several times. At the Lower Falls I encounter many of the same people I saw at the Upper Falls. Many of them commented that they wished they could have hiked the whole way between the two. I said it was only seven miles, but I guess to them that was a long way to go in the heat. At the lower falls there is a gift shop and a concession stand where I decide to have a late lunch; a hot dog and an ice cream cone. By the time I'm ready to get going again the rain has intensified and the thunder rolls in. I have no choice but to go out in it. After about an hour the storm ends and the sun is out again, making it very hot and humid. Also the bugs emerge once again and I scramble to get my bug net on as quickly as possible. After many miles of rolling terrain the trail emerges onto a gravel road and heads east towards the lake passing many summer cabins. A van pulls up and stops and a woman opens the window. "Are you hiking the North Country Trail?" I'm totally surprised that she knew this roadwalk was the trail. She then asks if I need anything. I'm all good so she wishes me luck and they continue driving. The road I am now hiking on ends at Lake Superior at a day-use picnic area and when I arrive the van that pulled over earlier is parked there. Hence I meet Doug and Sarah Fauser, and their kids who have just finished swimming. We talk for awhile about the trail and about my hike so far, especially about the horrendous mosquitos in this area. They say they may have something to help with the mosquitos and they hand me a tin container with contents that look like a bar of soap. It's a type of bug repellant that you rub on your skin. "Whatever it is, they hate it," says Doug. I thank them for their donation and as they prepare to leave they leave me their phone numbers in case I run into trouble. Thank you dear friends for your generosity, it was a pleasure meeting you. Afterwards a young couple that was nearby and overheard our conversation ask me a few questions about my adventure. They seem impressed and tell me that they are staying at the River Mouth Campground just down the street. Unfortunately they came to this picnic area to escape the bugs at the campground. It's getting dark though and there is nowhere else to camp for at least ten miles so reluctantly I head over and get a spot at the campground right next to the shower house, which I happily take advantage of before hitting the hay.
Fri. June 28
Trail Day 089
Miles hiked: 20, +12
IGA Apartment - Trout Lake, MI
I awoke early and left the campground by first light. I hike the few remaining miles of roadwalk to connect to the next certified segment of trail which heads back into the woods and to the Lake Superior shoreline for a short while before departing the Lake for the last time and heading south. I don't make it very far however as the Mosquitos are horrendous once again. I've been in these horrid conditions for several days now, and several weeks before that, and they only seem to be getting worse. I decide to bring my hike to the roads for the rest of today to get some relief from the buzzers. It helps a little but it is also very hot today, the hottest day so far this trek, and the road provides little shade. I drink plenty of water but I feel dehydrated and extremely tired. After awhile I can tell that I am not feeling well and that heat exhaustion is definitely taking its toll on me. I have to get inside out of the heat and the bugs for awhile or I could end up getting sick or worse. Reluctantly I stick out my thumb, intending to hitch a ride into the next town. To my dismay nobody stops, after five hours of hiking along the road with my thumb out over 200 cars drive by and not a single one stops. At one point I pass a nicely shaded driveway where I decide to stop and take a nap, physically unable to hike any further. I awake two hours later and continue attempting to hitch a ride with no luck. Eventually I reach the intersection of MI - 123 and MI - 28 where I was hoping to find a gas station or something but arrive to find only a small engine repair shop. They have a picnic table out front where I decide to stop and rest. A woman walks by and asks how I'm doing. I tell her about my day so far and by the look on her face I can tell she seems concerned. She offers me a nice cold bottle of water which I gladly accept as well as a nice cozy armchair to sit on inside the shop to rest for a bit. After a few minutes she comes out and says she will give me a ride to Trout Lake about twelve miles down the road. Hence I officially meet Becca, co-owner of the machine shop. She leaves her daughter in charge if the shop as we climb into her van and she shuttles me into town. We have a nice chat along the way, she relates to me how disappointing it is how nobody stops anymore to pick up people in need. Soon we arrive in Trout Lake, not much here, a motel and restaurant, an IGA, and an ice cream shop. We head for the IGA, Becca knows a woman there who rents an apartment above the store. She was not there but Becca shows me the right person to talk to to get me a room for the night. I thank her for everything she has done today and after a firm hand shake she is gone. I talk to the woman behind the counter about spending the night and she talks me through the process. She hands me two keys, each opens a different bedroom, and I get to pick which one I want before settling in. I head upstairs to see what the place is like. I am pleasantly surprised to find a three bedroom apartment complete with a kitchen and a living room with satellite tv. Only one of the rooms has a window in it so naturally I choose that one. After settling in I bring the unwanted key downstairs and pick out something for dinner tonight before heading back upstairs. There are currently no other tenants so I have the place to myself. After a shower and gorging myself with as fine of a meal as can be had from a convenience store, I jump in my bed and instantly crash from heat exhaustion and fatigue.
Sat. June 29
Trail Day 090
Miles hiked: 28
Carp River Campsite - Hiawatha National Forest
I slept for over 12 hours, waking up at mid morning. The first thing I do is make breakfast before settling on the couch to watch some tv and rehydrate. I'm in no rush to get going this morning as I want to make sure I am fully energized before heading back out into the heat. I finally get going at 11:00 and head east along county road H40 to get back to the trail. The most direct and time-efficient route would be to head south on MI-123 and pick up the trail there but I choose to take the longest way possible back to the trail without backtracking to add mileage to make up for the section I had to skip yesterday. After a few hours I finally reach the trail and head on in. I still need my bug clothes but they are not as bad as the past few days, perhaps the new bug repellent from Doug and Sarah is working. After a short distance blazes become scarce and I lose the trail. I spend the next few minutes walking around in a circle and backtracking trying to find the trail. I manage to find it again without too much trouble and soon the trail opens up a little more and becomes easier to follow. The rest of the day is a fairly pleasant hike as the trail heads through some damp areas and skirts along the edge of the Mackinaw Wilderness. I encounter lots of puncheon through this section as well as the first raspberries of the season. I end the day after crossing the Carp River and discovering the campsite that has been built there. After setting up my tent I roll inside and fall fast asleep.
I wanted to reach out to you and let you know that I have not given up on completing the remaining journal entries. I assure you, they are coming and I am doing the best I can under the circumstances. I know I am well overdue to have them completed, I expected them to be completed within a month or so of finishing the hike. As it turned out I got my old job back until my new job starts in March. I thought I would be unemployed until March and would have all the time in the world to just sit at home and ramble off 10 to 12 journal entries daily. That ended up not being the case at all. I deeply apologize for taking so long to follow through with my intentions, and I ask that you continue to be patient with me as I work toward completing this overwhelming task.
Due to a fresher memory of the ending of the hike I will be completing that first, and then going back and filling in the middle that I have skipped over for the time being. The journals continue below as I struggle to overcome a deadly heat have in northeast Ohio.
Tue. August 27
Trail Day 146
Miles hiked: 22
Salt Fork State Park
Staying up late last night means I'm sleeping in this morning. After breakfast I say goodbye to Jerry, thanking him for letting me stay on his lot, and then hit the road. The entire day is a roadwalk and my goal is to make it to Old Washington. The massive heat wave that began a few days ago continues and I heard there was a motel in town so I'm going to try and stay out of the heat as much as possible. I arrive to find that there is no motel, there isn't anything. I ask one of the locals about nearby lodging and they tell me there isn't anything for at least 11 miles down the freeway. Exhausted and with nowhere to camp in town I have no choice but to push on another seven miles to Salt Fork State Park. When I arrive I find that the trail at the back of the group campground is impassable and I encounter the worst Mosquitos since leaving the UP. With nothing left to do I pitch my tent here and struggle to get a good sleep, thoroughly exhausted and overheated. I can’t tell if this is the heat or the possible impending tick infection, or maybe a combination of the two, but I definitely feel off and am dazed and disoriented. I am getting really tired of Ohio.
Wed. August 28
Trail Day 147
Miles hiked: 27
Piedmont Lake Inn
I awoke this morning after a very restless sleep. Even in the dead of night it was still an unbearable 90 degrees. On top of that in the middle of the night about 1:00 I see lights as a vehicle pulls up and stops at the front gate of the campground. I thought it may have been rangers from the park until I heard a loud gunshot and watched as the lights turned and passed away as the vehicle peeled out of the driveway. Some hooligans had pulled up in the driveway and fired a round at the entrance sign. I wondered if they had seen me when they pulled up, I was camped behind the sign a good distance away on the edge of the tree line. Luckily their shot did not hit me and I got through the rest of the night with more restless sleep.
Since the trail leading out of the campground through the park is impassable I will need to roadwalk around this segment. Almost the entire day is a roadwalk in fact. Last night while looking at my maps I discovered that there is a B&B further down the trail that I may be able to reach and maybe get out of this heat for a night, so that is my goal for today. The hike starts out on mostly gravel country roads and field service roads. One of these roads travels through an impressive stone gateway, two giant stones propped facing each other forming a sort of half arch. Shortly after passing through this arch I leave the designated roadwalk and head for paved US-22 hoping to save time by walking on pavement instead of gravel and not risk getting lost on the often unmarked back roads. Like most of the roads in Ohio however, there is no shoulder and it is heavily travelled by large trucks. I have to hop off the road repeatedly to avoid being hit. This road turns out to be a workout as it descends into and then out of a large valley, the upward climb out being longer and steeper. Along this roadwalk a pickup truck slows down and pulls up along-side me. Hence I meet Mike, out doing his rounds working for DirecTV. He asks me where I’m headed and indicated that he passed me along the road yesterday as I was leaving Old Washington. He wishes me well and continues down the road. Not an hour later I see a truck stopped on the side of the road in a pull-off and recognize the driver as Mike as he calls over to me. I cross the road and wander over to his truck where he hands me a bottle of water and a banana to get me through the rest of the day. Thanks for the contribution Mike.
I finish the day with a short off-road section along the shore of Piedmont Lake before finally making it to the Piedmont Lake Inn, the B&B I discovered on the map last night. A sign on the door lists a number to call to request a room as it is after lobby hours. Just as I am about the make the call a truck pulls into the parking lot and man gets out. It happens to be Tom, the manager of the Inn. I tell him my situation and ask if he has any vacancy. He regrettably informs me that he doesn’t have any rooms available. He is currently renovating the place and the few rooms he does have available are currently being rented by some of the oil workers in the area. I then proceed to ask him if I can pitch my tent behind his place and he responds by telling me “No, but you can stay in the lobby tonight.” I gladly take up his offer and he lets me in and shows me around, telling me I can use the shower and laundry machine if I want. He then tells me the nearby places I can get some dinner, the one that’s just down the road is not very good but he tells me of a great pizza place a few miles away in the next town and he offers to drive me there. I gladly take up his offer and soon we are in the town of Freeport where I order a large pizza with everything on it and bring it back to the Inn. I thank Tom tremendously for everything he has done for me today, allowing the use of his air-conditioned lobby, driving me get dinner, and for letting me sleep on the couch in the lobby free of charge. Tom leaves shortly after and I enjoy watching tv while enjoying my delicious pizza. Folks following my hike were worried about how I was faring in this incredible heat wave so I give Bruce Matthews at NCTA a call and let him know that after seven days of being in the constant heat I finally made it inside and got some relief. After touching base with a few people back home I watch a little more tv as I rehydrate and then I settle down on the couch and drift off to sleep.
Thur. August 29
Trail Day 148
Miles hiked: 25
Home of Mary Hamilton - Dover, OH
I woke up surprisingly early this morning and enjoyed the left over pizza for breakfast. I glance over my maps looking at the mileage for today. I received a call last night from a trail angel named Cathy that heard about my struggling with the heat and wanted to extend an invitation to help out. She agreed to pick me up at the end of the day near Tappan Lake Dam. After packing up and rehydrating I take a few moments to leave Tom a nice note in his guest registry for allowing me to stay the night. Pack shouldered I take one last glance around the room to make sure I didn’t forget anything and then turn as the door locks behind me.
It is already hot this morning as this monstrous heat wave continues. A half mile down the road I stop at the convenience store there to get more Gatorade before turning onto back roads on another roadwalk. Eventually I hit another paved road, OH-799 and follow it to some off-road trail providing nice views of Glendening Lake. Many fisherman are camped right on the road bridge enjoying the day. I stop for a break near a boy scout camp entrance before continuing on. More roadwalk brings me to a fork in the road where I take a detour into the small town of Deersville. I had heard they had some pretty spectacular homemade ice cream here at the general store so I head there to try some. Easily some of the best ice cream I have ever had, so I stick around to have seconds and enjoy some more time in their AC. Also nearby is the BTA barn where the BTA holds their annual meetings. Unfortunately I’m not quite sure where it is and decide I can’t waste any time trying to find it so I hike back out of town and continue on the road walk toward Tappan Lake where more certified trail awaits. When I arrive I am disappointed to find that most of it is overgrown, lots of multi flora rose around to scratch me up pretty good. There are also many blowdowns many of which are too large to get over or under, and so I must go around and through the impenetrable brush. Only a few miles left to go I arrive at a boat landing and find the trail out of here is suddenly in good shape. After this nice change of pace I make good time to Tappan Lake Dam where a van is pulled up and I meet Cathy. We exchange greetings, load my gear into her van and head for her home in Dover. When we arrive I am introduced to Mary, Cathy’s mother, and am able to do laundry and enjoy a nice cooked meal. From being exposed to this heat for over a week non-stop I am utterly exhausted and have no trouble falling asleep.
Fri. August 30
Trail Day 149
Miles hiked: 22
Home of Mary Hamilton - Dover, OH
I awoke well rested this morning and was treated to another home cooked meal for breakfast. It was decided last night that I will spend another night here and so Mary has decided to loan me a day pack to use for the day so I don’t need to carry all my gear with me. I happily accept as it makes all the difference in this heat. After packing what I need for the day she shuttles me back to Tappan Lake Dam where I ended to night before I continue on from there. An uphill climb on some last certified trail for the day brings me to the road where I will remain the rest of the day. Not having my heavy pack on makes all the difference as I can tell I am not getting fatigued as fast even in this heat. I make decent time into Bowerston and after passing through town decide to diverge from the designated route and take more direct paved roads. This brings me through the town of Sherrodsville where I stop to rest at the city park picnic shelter. Feeling the effects of the heat once again I decide to lie down and take a rest. I wake up nearly two hours later and continue on at a much faster pace now to ensure I make it to the rendezvous on time. Mary intercepts me at the end of the Bowerston section of the BT, the 3-way intersection off Hwy 212, and I call it a day.
Sat. August 31
Trail Day 150
Miles hiked: 26
Home of Sam Ferguson - Magnolia, OH
I am excited to get going this morning because today I leave the Buckeye Trail behind and head east on true NCT. After a quick breakfast I finish packing my gear and am out the door. Mary drops me off at the intersection where I left off yesterday, telling me not to hesitate to call if I run into trouble. Thanks Mary, it was a pleasure staying with you and your family.
Today is mostly a roadwalk except for a short segment just south of the village of Zoar where the BT and NCT diverge. I have only 11 miles to go to reach that spot so I expect to be there around noon. Right after being dropped off a guy pulls up in a van and asks if I’m hiking the BT. I let him know that this is actually my last on the BT as I head east to New York. He wishes me well as he drives off. A short distance further down the road I pass a house with a woman sitting on her front porch. As I approach she comes out to the road to meet me. Hence I meet Barb who is here to offer me some fruit and a cold bottle of water. It turns out the guy that pulled up in the van was her husband. He called to let her know I would be hiking by. This is turning out to be a nice day so far.
After saying farewell to Barb I continue on the roadwalk and after almost an hour I find it very strange that I haven’t turned north yet. The road I am on continues to bear southwest. After crossing an intersection I check my map. Yup, I missed a turn that wasn’t marked over two miles ago. Great, even the last day on the BT can’t seem to be a normal day. After figuring out how to get back to the trail I continue on, mostly uphill. At an intersection after seeing a blue blaze on a telephone pole I know I have made it back to the trail but only after going five miles in the wrong direction. At last I reach the last chunk of certified NCT along the Buckeye Trail, nice towpath with crushed limestone surface. Here the trail diverges from the BT and crosses an old bridge over the Tuscarawas River into the historic village of Zoar. At the convenience store at the far end of town I stop to rest and rehydrate on more Gatorade. I check my phone and receive a message from Bruce at NCTA HQ. Don and Pam Fouse are trying to get in touch with me to offer assistance as I reach their area. As it so happens I still have their number from when I met them at Hocking Hills a few weeks ago. I give Don a call and tell him that I wont make it much past Magnolia tonight but I will be in his area tomorrow. We make arrangements for him to pick me up at the end of the day tomorrow.
I still have a long roadwalk left to make it to Magnolia so I hike on and make it to town a little before dark. I spend the little day light I have left searching for a possible place to camp. The only suitable place appears to be a cemetery but unfortunately the police station is right across the street. With nowhere to go I decide to head into the bar to relax and get a break from the heat. I’m the only customer here for the moment so I find a seat right at the bar. Here I meet Cheryl, on bartender duty tonight. I order a beer with a glass of water to start off. She sees my pack and asks the usual questions. I give her the entire story of my hike so far, where I’m headed, what I’ve experienced. She congratulates me on making it this far and then goes back to work getting the place ready for the evening rush. Before long people start coming in, many of them noticing the pack and asking me about my hike. I realize I’ve been in here more than two hours and I’m getting hungry. I order a large order of spicy nachos to tide me over for the evening with another beer. After I am finished Cheryl comes over and mixes two drinks right in front of me. “Since you’ve come so far, I need you to be able to say you had a wizard in Magnolia.” She hands one of the glasses to me and then it’s bottoms up. “Cheers.” I have no idea what a wizard is, some sort of a large shot, but it was definitely tasty. She asks me where I plan to stay tonight and I tell her I have no idea. I thought there would be a park or something nearby but arrived in town to find nothing. She mentions to me that I may be able to crash with her tonight if I have nowhere to go. Thanks Cheryl, meeting you has been the highlight of my day.
Soon I am surrounded by locals and a guy sits next to me and asks me my story. Hence I meet Sam, who happens to live a few blocks away. After telling him my story and that I still have almost 1000 miles to go to finish my hike he invites me to spend the night at his place down the street. At this point it is getting late, I am exhausted and I don’t think I can wait until 2:00 when Cheryl gets off work. So I take him up on his offer. He says we can leave whenever I am ready. Another guy had overheard our conversation and he insists on buying me a drink before I leave. I’m sorry sir I forgot your name, but I thank you for my final drink of the night. After 11:00 now I’m ready to go. With pack shouldered I say goodbye to Cheryl, and after a firm handshake I am out the door and following Sam to his house down the street. He has a nice open living room with a couch for me to sleep on. Sure beats sleeping on the ground.
Sun. September 1
Trail Day 151
Miles hiked: 28
Motorhome of Don and Pam Fouse - Lock 30 Woodland RV Campground - Lisbon, OH
I woke up surprisingly early this morning, probably anxious to get out of Ohio and into Pennsylvania. After rehydrating and filling up my water bottles I am out the door and ready to start the day. Sam decides to get his workout in for the day and ride his bike ahead of me. He knows a shortcut through and old strip mine that is now reclaimed forested land that will shave more than a mile off my hike so I follow him in. In no time we are following remnants of an old rail grade into the town of Waynesville. Sam stops and points me to the correct road to lead me out of town and with a hand-shake he turns and rides back to Magnolia. Thanks for your hospitality Sam, it was a pleasure meeting you.
I haven’t eaten yet so I decide to stop for breakfast at the Waynesville Grill before continuing on. It’s still early morning and it is already scorching hot and the rest of today is all a roadwalk. In Malvern I stop for a blizzard at the Dairy Queen in town and then head over to the picnic shelter in the park next and take a short nap to escape the heat. A few miles outside of Hanoverton I give Don Fause a call. I tell him where I am and what roads I will be hiking on and he says he will be around in an hour to pick me up. After one last push to get as many miles in today as possible and totally exhausted I see a vehicle slow down and pull up beside me. Don has arrived to pick me up and shuttle me to an RV campground near Lisbon where he and his wife Pam have set up their motor home for me to use for the next two nights. When we arrive we check in at the registration station to let them know that I will be staying here. At the motor home Pam is inside and has some snacks prepared for me. Don shows me where everything is and how to work all the appliances before they return to their home. This is just an incredible thing Don and Pam have done to help this hiker out, allowing me live in their motor home for two nights and recuperate. This heat wave has taken everything out of me and I have no energy left to continue. I am going to take tomorrow off from hiking and take a rest day.
Tue. September 3
Trail Day 152
Miles hiked: 32
Home of Rick and Sherry Eiler - Darlington, PA
Don and Pam picked me up and shuttled me to their house for dinner last night. What a fine cooked meal that was. Pam had baked me a tray of brownies with my name on it for dessert. They are here again this morning to drop me back off at the trail. Alas it is time for another sad goodbye. These folks have been so good to me the past few days. I will surely miss them. The day starts off with a road walk and then a short segment of bike trail leading into Lisbon. Here I take a detour to the post office to pick up a drop box with more food and the maps for Pennsylvania. My goal for today is to make it the 30 miles to the Pennsylvania state line so I don’t waste any time after getting resupplied.
The next segment of the hike is a long road walk past the RV camp ground and to the entrance of Beaver Creek State Park where a six mile segment of certified trail begins. The trail inside the park is in much better condition than most of the trail in Ohio has been, a good way to finish off the state. The trail follows along the Beaver Creek and past some old canal structures before reaching a road on the other end. Along the road walk I get a call from Don. Yesterday he had gotten the contact information from a guy at the campground who apparently lives near the trail in Pennsylvania and he wanted to give me his contact information. In a few minutes he shows up in his car and hands me a piece of paper with a name and number on it, as well as a final care package from Pam. Thanks again Don for your help. Right after this a guy in a truck slows down and pulls alongside me. He asks me if I need any help and says he lives right down the road and that I should stop in if I need anything.
I have only a few more miles to go now before I am out of Ohio and into Pennsylvania and my pace picks up as the excitement gets pumping. Then up the hill comes the same guy on an ATV. He pulls it off into the woods and comes out to meet me. Hence I officially meet Brad Bosley, president of the Great Trail - Sandy Beaver Canal Chapter. He has just returned from a trip out of state and knew I would be coming through. He decides to hike the rest of the trail through Ohio with me. Before long we pass his house where he mentions he wants to one day provide a campsite for hikers.
Only a few miles from the state line now we come to the last segment of certified trail in Ohio, an old rail grade through Sheepskin Hollow Nature Preserve. This is not typical rail grade as the ties have not been removed and many of the spikes are still in place. It still makes for an enjoyable hike and before long we emerge onto a road segment bringing us past a golf course and finally to the Pennsylvania state line. When we arrive there is a welcome party waiting for us. Rick and Sher Eiler live nearby in Darlington and knew I would be arriving today so they have come out to meet me and invite me to stay at their home tonight. We take a few pictures and then load the vehicles as I say goodbye to Brad and head to Darlington with Rick and Sher. At their home I am amazed to see a homemade banner attached to their mail box with the sole purpose of welcoming me to Pennsylvania. After snapping a picture their daughter Candice and her husband Bobby come out to meet me as well. They say they have pizza on the way for dinner so I unpack my gear and Rick shows me where the shower is so I can get cleaned up and join everyone for dinner upstairs. Also here for dinner is Dennis Garret from the Wampum chapter and his wife Karen. Dennis has a bunch of maps and information for me regarding the trail in the Wampum chapter area. He also offers to pick me up at the end of the day tomorrow and drive me to Moraine State Park where they have a cabin available for me to rent. I take him up on his offer so we plan a place to meet tomorrow before everyone heads out for the night, as it is now well past dark. The couch down stairs is very comfortable and I am happy to be inside on the supposed last night of this deadly heat wave.
Wed. September 4
Trail Day 153
Miles hiked: 25
Davis Hollow Cabin - Moraine State Park
Rick and Sher have fixed me a nice breakfast before heading out this morning, including a care package for the road. It’s a short drive to the trailhead at Gameland 285, where I ended my hike last night at the OH/PA state line. A crumbling cement obelisk marks the boundary between the two states. Rick takes my picture at the sign, a big smile on my face as I put Ohio in my rearview mirror and begin my trek through Pennsylvania, the sixth state of this trek. The hike today will bring me right by Ricks and Sher’s house so Rick tells me stop by again as I hike through.
The beautiful trail through the gameland is a nice change of pace. Along the way I pass a spur trail to a newly built shelter on private property. I stop in to admire the work done by the Wampum Chapter volunteers and consume one of the snacks from Sher’s care package. After this another spur trails leads off to the left to a place known as Indian Rock. Some very nice trail through this section indeed. From here it is a roadwalk to the town of Darlington and beyond. Soon I come to the Eiler’s home where they are getting ready to leave for work and there are some people with them. Their neighbors had intended to come over last night but they were unable to make it so they are out here this morning to meet me and wish me luck. Then with one last hug from Sher and a hand shake from Rick I continue on down the road. Within a short distance I’m passing by a home construction site and woman flags me down. Hence I meet Beverly Young, a local who knows about the trail and asks if I’m hiking the entire thing. I tell her my story so far and she snaps a photo of me and wishes me luck.
In Darlington I get a call from Dennis. He has my third pair of boots from the post office in Wampum and wants to know where he can find me. I tell him I am in Darlington and within minutes he is here at the gas station to meet me. We make plans for him to just keep them until I see him again tonight at Moraine State Park.
The road walk continues across two busy four lane highways, one with no legal crossing, before I reach the next segment of trail through Gameland 148 which will lead me into Wampum. After this I have few more miles of certified trail before I reach the point where Dennis will pick me up off Snake Run Road. This section brings me past an old Lime Kiln and an abandoned house locally known as the haunted house. I finish the day on schedule where Dennis is waiting for me. He loads me into his car and we drive to Moraine State Park where we have gained admission to a meeting of the Butler Country Recreation Club, most of them also members of the Butler County Chapter, NCT. Here I meet among others, Joyce Appel (President BCC) and Dave Galbreath. Dave mentions he lives near Clarion and would be happy to help me out when I reach that area. After the introduction by the Club and the group meal Dennis drives me to the Davis Hollow Cabin where I will be spending the next two nights. Like the NCTA School house in Michigan, this cabin was at one time the headquarters of the NCTA. Now it is available for campers and hikers to rent. The inside has been beautifully restored and decorated with all kinds of hiking club merchandise. The upstairs is complete with two rooms full of bunk beds, and I have the entire place to myself. Before settling in Dennis says he will be here around 7:30 to pick me up. Joyce stops by after the meeting to give me some contact info for the remaining chapters in Pennsylvania and also informs me that tomorrow we will be having dinner here at the cabin with the park manager and some others. With that she wishes me good night and I settle in for a cozy night of sleep in the Davis Hollow Cabin.
Thur. September 5
Trail Day 154
Miles hiked: 25
Davis Hollow Cabin - Moraine State Park
Last night before I went to sleep I spent some time unpacking my gear, sorting my drop box, and studying my maps. From where I ended my hike yesterday to this cabin is 25 miles, a good full day. So I will be spending another night here. I decided to leave the gear I won’t need today behind so I can travel light. Dennis is at the driveway early with some breakfast from McDonalds. After we eat he hauls me back to the trail and here it is time to say goodbye, as I will likely not see him again. Thank Dennis for all your hard work, and for helping me out the past few days.
After hiking a short section of trail on private land the route becomes a roadwalk to the border of McConnells Mill State Park. At the trailhead there are a few picnic tables so I stop to have a snack before heading in. The trail through the park is gorgeous, following the river most of the way. Lots of fir trees along the rocky ridge. I am surely in the north woods again. The hike is only about seven miles through the park but it is slow going because of the difficulty of this tread. Large boulders the size of basketballs and larger are all over the place. I have to be careful that I don’t take a bad step and sprain my ankle. Before long the trail emerges onto a road and uses a covered bridge over the river and then brings me right to the old mill. Here I stop to take a video and a few minutes to rest before continuing on. From here it is a short roadwalk to Moraine State Park through mostly residential area. Once inside the park I am pleasantly surprised at the quality of the tread. It has been widened out and some of it covered in woodchips to keep the weeds from coming up. On top of that it is well blazed and easy to follow. The gorgeous trail follows along the shore of Lake Arthur for a few miles before turning more inland. I reach the spur trail that will take me to the Davis Hollow Cabin and I hike it on down and find a few cars in the lot out front. Joyce is there, with a reporter here to interview me, and Jake Weiland, Park Manager. After meeting everyone we head inside and I am surprised by what lies before me. They had gone to Slippery Rock earlier and brought back a full meal and a pitcher of beer, courtesy of North Country Brewery, where the annual meeting was held this year. We spend the next hour or two enjoying the fantastic meal and talking about the trail, my journey thus far and what my long term goals are. They are pleased to find out that my main goals are to raise awareness of the trail and increase usage and interest in the trail so it can be better protected. After the interview is done it’s time for more goodbyes. Thanks Joyce for helping me out the past few days, and thanks to you Jake for allowing me to stay in your beautiful cabin free of charge.
Fri. September 6
Trail Day 155
Miles hiked: 22
Tamarack Campsite – Gameland 95
Joyce left me some breakfast in the fridge last night so I linger in the cabin to enjoy it before packing up and heading out. The cabin is pretty much in the middle of the park so I have many miles to cover on finely groomed trail. Once outside the park the trail connects immediately to trails within the Jennings Nature Center, a fine hike indeed. This section ends at the Old Stone House, a historic landmark of the area. After this it’s a roadwalk of several miles to reach Gameland 95 where there is one campsite. I pitch for the night on one of the tent pads and call it a day.
Sat. September 7
Trail Day 156
Miles hiked: 24.5
Super 8 Motel - Clarion, PA
I woke up and had a nice breakfast on my stove this morning. Then I was out and going as quickly as could be. Today’s hike is mostly a roadwalk except a small section through Gameland 95. This section is very nice, lots of cool rock outcroppings and some creek beds. Once I reach the town of Parker I have a decision to make. First, another heat wave has just settled in today so I have needed to stop more often. Also between here and Clarion there is no official place to camp so I need to decide if I should stay here in town or try and find a way to get through some of the area. I decide to call Dave Galbreth, who I met at the meeting of the Butler County Recreation Club. I tell him my situation and he agrees to pick me up at the end of the day in Callensburg, where he will shuttle me to a motel in Clarion. I plan to stay there the next two nights and slack pack tomorrow.
After getting off the phone with Dave I stock up on Gatorade before leaving town. The trail follows a pedestrian walkway along a big blue highway bridge over the Allegheny River. On the other side I pass the Allegheny River Trail, a bike path that makes a big loop towards Clarion. This is a suggested route for the NCT but has not been made official, and the maps given to me by the NCTA do not include it, so I take the straighter route through Callensburg. Along the road walk I have to fight off many more dogs with my trekking poles. One dog is so adamant on getting to me that he even crosses the busy highway with cars going full-bore. The owners scream as he is almost hit multiple times. Eventually he backs off and I can continue on my way.
I reach Callensburg where Dave awaits at the local convenient store. We load up his car and he shuttles me into Clarion where I get a room at the Super 8. We make plans for tomorrow and then he heads home and I enjoy a nice air conditioned room for the night.
Sun. September 8
Trail Day 157
Miles hiked: 18.5
Super 8 Motel - Clarion, PA
It was so nice waking up in an air conditioned room on a soft bed this morning. After a nice continental breakfast Dave is here at 8:00 to shuttle me back to Callensburg. The day begins on a roadwalk through some small Amish communities before turning off onto backroads through more gamelands. This is one of the nicest roadwalks I have had this trek, providing some great views. After the gamelands the roadwalk continues through some residential areas, across I-80 and finally meets the certified trail through some private property. Soon the trail reaches PA-322 only a few miles west of Clarion. On the other side of the road the trail enters Gameland 72 with lots of rocky and open areas. I was warned by Dave to watch the trail closely as this area has the largest population of venomous snakes in the county. I heed his advice as I have heard from many AT thru-hikers that it was in Pennsylvania where they saw the most snakes. I’m not as concerned with this as I made it through the entire state of Ohio without seeing a single rattlesnake or copperhead. I hike the few miles through the Gameland and am close to the trailhead off Breniman Road when Dave appears around a corner hiking towards me. We hike the short distance back to his car together and he shuttles me back to the motel. It is now mid-afternoon but the heat has intensified and I decide to take a shorter day and recuperate as I will be on my own now at least until reaching New York. Dave drops me off at the motel and I enjoy some Applebees car-side to go for dinner before catching up on some journal entries and preparing for the next few days on the North Country Trail.
Mon. September 9
Trail Day 158
Miles hiked: 20
Cook Forest State Park
I was more tired than I originally thought. Getting up this morning was the slightest bit difficult. After the continental breakfast I pack my gear then make a quick trip across the street to get some supplies at Walmart. The odor proof bag I keep my toiletries in has ripped open so I need to replace it as best I can. Back at the motel I check out, shoulder my back and walk the two miles or so into town to retrieve my package at the post office. There is no sidewalk for the first mile and the highway is very busy with traffic, not the safest place to be. When I arrive Dave is waiting for me and he has brought a reporter from the Clarion news. So after retrieving my package we have a quick interview out front on the sidewalk. Then I repack the box with my old shoes as they are now worn out, and I hope to make it the rest of this trek with the pair I now have on, my third pair.
After one last stop at the gas station to grab some Gatorade to get me through the hot weather Dave drops me off at the edge of Gameland 72 where I finished yesterday. Thus comes another goodbye that has become so common this trek. Thanks Dave for all you have done to help out this tired hiker.
The hike today begins on private land, well maintained trail. However the tread in this area provides a challenge as all the blowdowns have been cut very narrow to keep out horse traffic. They are so narrow in fact that my fully loaded pack cannot fit through without shaving the sides off my sleeping pad. After a few miles of this the trail opens up into a former strip mine as a little drizzle sets in followed by lightning. I keep a close eye on the sky as I am now more exposed and an easier target. All around me there are piles of trash, mostly metal and other recyclable materials. Apparently this place has become a trash dump for the locals.
After a few minutes the rain stops and I hike the short roadwalk to bring me to Gameland 283. This section has been well maintained and well marked, and has many ups and downs. From here the trail enters Cook Forest State Park where I hope to reach a shelter for the night. Through the park the NCT follows the Baker Trail, the blazes painted half yellow and half blue. As soon as I cross the boundary the rain comes again in a steady downpour. This makes the going really slow because a lot of the trail is solid rock and everything is slippery. The trail through the park is gorgeous, mostly following along the banks of the Clarion River. Trees that I have never seen before grow here in large numbers. As the trail turns away from the river I have a steep uphill climb to reach Cook Forest Fire Tower. About halfway up the slope I have to scramble among the rocks to keep my footing as the trail is slippery. Suddenly I feel a sharp pain on my wrist and draw it up to see what has happened. Is this it? Have I made it all this way to be bitten in the end by an unseen copperhead? As I look at the burning hand I see instantly a single puncture wound with puffy red edges. Then I turn as I hear a buzzing noise and see a very large yellow jacket flying away down the slope. I’ve never had a bee sting hurt this much. My hand still on fire I hike the rest of the way up the slope to the fire tower and there stop to take a break. My entire arm around the immediate area of the sting has swelled up. I’ve been stung many times before but I have never had a reaction this intense. I wonder if this is a different variety of hornet than we have in Minnesota. Whatever the case may be I keep a close eye on it and listen to my body to make sure there are no severe complications. An allergic reaction can happen at any time and I am not taking any chances. I drink plenty of water to keep my body fully efficient. After a few more miles it is getting dark and I am forced to pull off into the trees and pitch for the night, unable to make it to the shelter.
Tue. September 10
Trail Day 159
Miles hiked: 25
Campsite east of Kelletville - Allegheny National Forest
I woke up surprisingly early this morning, so early in fact that it is still dark when I emerge from my tent. The first thing I do is retrieve my food bag that I hid among some logs last night as my bear anchor got stuck in a tree I was trying to hang my food in. That’s the second time that has happened this trek, I think they are simply too light to be of any real use. I need to find something heavier to hang my food with. After packing up my gear I head straight for the visitor center but arrive to find not a visitor center at all, just an old cabin, a few shelters and a picnic area. I decide to stop and cook breakfast here at the picnic area before heading out today. As I am finishing up some tourists arrive and they are just as confused as I was when I emerged from the woods to this place. They ask me if I know where the visitor center is and I reply that I thought it was supposed to be right here, so I don’t know.
Finally getting moving I am still on the Baker Trail that takes me out of Cook Forest State Park onto some section lines following gas pipelines. I follow these for a few miles before reaching the southern boundary of the Allegheny National Forest.
The hike through the Allegheny starts out nice, but after awhile the trail starts to deteriorate. Multi flora rose is present in many spots, the trail has not been mowed in at least two months. Eventually the trail travels through some more open areas and the weeds are over waist-high. It is September now and many wild flowers are growing in profusion and the waist-high foliage presents a hazard: yellow jackets. The stretch of trail I am on now is full of them, buzzing everywhere from plant to plant gathering what pollen they can. I have no idea how I am going to get through this without being stung. With nothing else to do I raise my trekking poles and run. I run until I am clear to the other side of the meadow and back in the wooded hill sides. I managed to get stung only four times. I am a little worried now as I have again swelled up, each sting more swollen than the one before it. I take a few minutes to rest on top of a large flat rock to rehydrate before continuing on. The trail winds through a few rock cities before finally coming out onto a forest road that in a few miles will lead me into the little berg of Kelletville. There are many campsites along the river here so I set up camp for the night.
Wed. September 11
Trail Day 160
Miles hiked: 17
Minister Creek Area - Allegheny National Forest
I woke up this morning totally exhausted, and not surprisingly. Another heat wave has come through, the past two days have been unseasonably hot. I pack up camp as quickly as can be and hike the short distance down the road to the Kelletville public campground where I stop to have breakfast and camel up on water. I check my phone and don’t’ have a cell signal but luckily there is a payphone at the back of the campground. I give Keith Klos a call. He is the president of the Allegheny National Forest chapter. I tell him my situation, about the extreme heat, and how tired I have been and he says he wants to take me out for breakfast tomorrow. We make plans to meet at the next road crossing tomorrow morning, which is a full day’s hike away.
I waste no time in getting moving again but after hiking only a short distance I can tell this is going to be a rough day. After an hour I am already exhausted, the steep terrain not making the hike any easier. Early afternoon I decide I simply can’t go on like this. I need to stop and rest. I find a spot near Minster Creek to pitch my tent and struggle to get as much rest as possible. Heat exhaustion is definitely taking its toll on me again.
Thur. September 12
Trail Day 161
Miles hiked: 34
Red Bridge Campground - Allegheny National Forest
With much difficulty I actually managed to get some sleep and stay asleep for much of the night. I hope this heat wave vanishes soon, or I will need to take another zero to recover my strength. Quitting early yesterday means I need to get up early to make it to Henrys Mills, where Keith is supposed to meet me. It’s over 10 miles so I am up at 4:30, hiking with headlamp on, watching every step trying not to trip and fall on my face. This early in the morning it is already unbearably hot, makes me wonder what is coming later in the day. I manage to make it to the trailhead in Henrys Mills without incident and just relax until Keith arrives. He is there in only a short time and he shuttles me into Sheffield to have breakfast at the bowling alley in town. We have a nice chat waiting for our order. Keith talks about his time working on the NCT, the recent developments in his chapter and in Pennsylvania in general. He tells me that the trail ahead has been rerouted because of recent oil drilling in the area. He gives an example where cooperation between the trail and other organizations is crucial. When contacted about the issue of impacting the trail, the oil company responded by actually helping reroute it and get it on the ground, amazing. He also informs me that the heat wave is supposed to break this evening and that it will cool off quite dramatically over the next few days. Now there is some good news!
After breakfast Keith gives me a few things to take along with me, including an NCT bandana, which I have gotten into the habit of collecting. I have quite a few now. Keith drops me off back at Henrys Mills and we snap a picture at the trailhead. Then with a firm handshake and words of encouragement from Keith I am pack shouldered and heading uphill on the trail. Shortly after getting dropped off the rain starts and continues off and on most of the day. This doesn’t impede my progress much as it actually lowered the temperature making the hike much more enjoyable than yesterday. Keith had told me about a good place to have dinner in the little berg of Blissville just off the trail so I head there and make it just before dark. The place is fairly empty and I am served right away. Fine folks here at Bob’s Trading Post. I waste no time in ordering a large homemade pizza for myself before settling down at the bar for a nice glass of cold soda. Soon I get asked the usual questions by a woman behind the counter. Hence I meet Pauline, co-owner. I tell her my story so far and about where I am headed. From this point it is 30 miles to the New York state line, and I intend to do my best to make it there tomorrow. She has hiked most the trail in this area and says the last section along the Allegheny Reservoir is pretty rough, lots of ups and downs. “You have a shot, but it will be tough.” Challenge accepted.
Soon my pizza arrives and I waste no time in digging in. If this isn’t the best pizza I have ever had I don’t know what is. During the course of my meal I am talking more with Pauline, and her daughters that are running the kitchen. They are very impressed with my hike and enjoy hearing my stories, specifically the ones about the many animal encounters I have had. At this point I am the only customer left in the place and it is a half hour from closing time. Another man walks in and it turns out to be Jeff, Pauline’s husband and co-owner. Pauline asks me what my shirt size is and after I tell her she returns with a Bob’s Trading Post T-shirt, promoting the Allegheny National Forest on the back. “A souvenir to remember us by.” As if that wasn’t a kind enough gesture, as I am ready to pay for my meal Pauline says “It’s been covered.” She then goes on to ask me if I want a ride to the campground . She tells me it’s two miles away over a bridge, has no shoulder, and it’s dark outside. With no more persuasion needed I accept her offer for a ride. These have to be some of the nicest folks I’ve ever met. Thank you so much Pauline, and kind folks at Bob’s Trading Post. All full and ready for a good night’s sleep I load my gear in Jeff’s truck and he drops me off at the Red Bridge Campground, where I make camp and manage to get in a nice hot shower to end this amazing day.
Fri. September 13
Trail Day 162
Miles hiked: 30
Allegheny State Park - FLT, NY
Keith was right about the temperature cooling down, it’s cold when I get up this morning. I need to put on a layer of fleece to keep warm. I slept in a little later than I wanted to, as I have 30 miles to go to reach New York. However I don’t let that discourage me and I enjoy my leftover pizza for breakfast. With a good breakfast like that I should have enough energy to get me through the entire day.
The hike today brings me through a gorgeous section of the Allegheny National Forest. Pauline wasn’t kidding about the terrain though, there are many ups and downs, and steep inclines. About halfway through the day the trail reaches the Allegheny Reservoir and follows along the east bank clear up to Willow Creek Road. This section of trail is gorgeous. It reminds me a little of the Manistee National Forest back in Michigan, there is very little under-brush to obscure the view. Thin soft grass grows between all the trees. This section will probably be my favorite for Pennsylvania.
Along the trail today I spot a man, woman, and two dogs hiking toward me. As they approach they stop. “I know who that is,” the man says. His name is Ian, he’s been following my progress online and thought I would be past here by now. I explain my reasons for falling behind, but also that I am gaining lots of ground back, and still hope to get through New York before the snow flies. He wishes me luck and we part ways.Early evening now I reach Willow Creek Road, where the NCT leaves the Allegheny Reservoir. From here it is only a mile and a half to the New York state line. So close to my goal for the day I push on the final distance, nearly all uphill, and reach a large wooden sign that reads “Allegheny State Park, New York.” I’ve made it. Despite all the odds, all the mishaps and the bad experiences, I have made it to the final state of my journey, the seventh. From here the NCT will follow the white-blazed Finger Lakes Trail for about 420 miles before again diverging and heading more northeast toward the Adirondacks. I pitch my tent a few yards from the sign and call it a day, happy to have reached my goal.