Superior Hiking Trail Reminds Me of Why I Thru-Hike
Maybe that could be your new trail name; Pippity Pep Bitty Bep!
I watched as Cooper tried to coax me into a more genuine smile for a photo. He always knows how to make me smile.
No… I like Bonsai just fine, I replied, letting out the perfect, wide-mouthed grin he had been looking for. Cooper snapped a few more photos, satisfied with his work.
His efforts to distract me were well-intentioned. I was moments away from beginning my solo attempt at a Superior Hiking Trail thru-hike. Although very comfortable with the actual mechanics of backpacking, the whole sleeping in a hammock alone for three weeks part filled me with dread. Not to mention the impending goodbye that was about to take place. Cooper and I haven’t spent this much time apart since the fall of 2015, and the idea of going to bed without him by my side left a sadness I couldn’t shake.
“Let’s not Minnesota goodbye,” I said, our signal that it’s time to actually leave. We gave one another a big hug… and then another… and another, and then finally departed from each other’s arms, Cooper returning to the car and me stumbling down the trail as I tried to put sunglasses on to mask my teary eyes.
During the summer, I watched a very specific routine take place every Monday morning. As the director of a day camp, I spent most Mondays welcoming new campers and talking to parents. Without fail, every week at least one camper would come in, grasping their parent’s leg and crying as they reached up for a hand to hold. They would spend the half hour before the bus came huddled around their parent as they encouraged them to be brave and make new friends. Then, when the moment finally came to board the bus, the child would hesitantly walk up the steps, turning around to wave goodbye one last time, then finally clamber their way to a seat. Within minutes, the camper would have a huge smile on their face, their tear-soaked cheeks turned rosy red as they laughed with their new friends. They were transformed within minutes of stepping away from their parents.
The start of my hike was much like that. Once the Band-Aid was ripped, my mind focused immediately on the trail. Excitement grew within as I transitioned back into the hiker trash world. Everything felt right again.
“I’m home. SOBO thru-hike attempt, Alexa ‘Bonsai’ Shapiro,” I wrote on the first trail register.
And then off I went.
Day one brought lots of overgrown trail and some difficult to navigate sections. At the most northern section of trail, there isn’t always a lot of availability for maintenance. The trail at times can disappear as you emerge from the woods and you’re stuck looking far ahead for signs of blue blazes or cairns. That being said, the climbs are often rewarded with incredible views of sweeping landscapes overlooking parts of Canada or rivers of Minnesota.
Within two and a half hours of starting my hike, I came across a black bear. It began to saunter across the trail, getting only as far as to turn its head out of the thick of brush and see me standing there, less than ten feet away. Startled, it quickly ran back into the woods, mowing down a path as it pushed past small trees and shrubs. I began singing loudly, hoping to avoid any more interactions as I passed by.
The first night ended at a small campsite beside a beaver pond. I was joined by three others; two girls hiking together from UM Twin Cities and a man also attempting a solo thru-hike. We sat together and chatted for a while before I decided to turn in for bed early. Having not slept well in weeks, I was looking forward to curling up in my hammock, wrapping my quilt all around me, and collapsing into a deep slumber.
The next few days brought much of the same terrain and no bear excitement; however, I felt nature revealing itself to me around every corner. A small snake slithering past my feet, a fuzzy caterpillar crawling its way into the woods, countless frogs trying to camouflage themselves with the dirt path, an injured bird slowly following along the trail. My mind began to quiet a little more, allowing my awareness to be within each of these moments. It’s amazing what you can see when you quiet down and allow yourself to simply be.
I made it to Grand Marais much quicker than expected, two and a half days to be exact. The hike in was good, with the company of an older gentleman living in Texas. We talked for three straight hours as we walked and accidentally found ourselves at the parking lot to hitch into town. He gave me a ride into town, dropping me off at my resupply and a nearby campground where I spent the night. His company reminded me off all the afternoons spent walking with my trail family in WA. After lunch, morale could be a little lower, but the conversation with my family helped the hike fly by. I hardly noticed the climbs, the pain in my feet, or the mileage as we talked in one big line. Having company again as I walked into town reminded me of why I love backpacking. You meet so many incredible people on trail and often these people will look out for your wellness simply because of your shared passion for nature. It’s a weird thing to find so consistently when backpacking, but it definitely makes me fall more in love with the hobby knowing how supportive and engaging the community can be.
Back on trail later today and pushing on for two and a half more days to Schroeder, MN. Till then, happy trails!
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