Day 1: Thursday, September 1: 270 Degree Overlook to South Little Brule River
The big trip started with an early wakeup call before 6am. I was sleeping in my dad’s travel trailer at Cascade River State Park. We both got up quickly and were on the road within minutes. We drove north to Grand Marais and I ate as much food as I could at a small diner. From there, we drove further north. We drove all the way north, and parked at the Otter Lake Road parking lot, the northernmost trailhead on the Superior Hiking Trail. It was shaping up to be a perfect day to begin this trek, partly cloudy, not too hot and a nice breeze.
My dad and I walked to the Border Route Trail signpost, and then began the 1.2 mile stretch of trail that is shared by the Superior Hiking Trail and the Border Route Trail–to the 270 Degree Overlook. My pack was heavy, the heaviest it would ever be during the next 9 days, and I definitely felt the weight on my shoulders. Up and up, and we got the sign marking “End Of Superior Hiking Trail” and a great view of Canada to the north and the Swamp River to the south.
I wrote in the trail register:
“If it’s not positive, it’s negative. It has to be all positive from here on out.”
I noted the time, 8:39am. I told my dad I’d wait a minute so it’s a more even time, 8:40. Wait, who cares? I can remember 8:39, and so I started my watch and we hiked back to the car. Starting with no water, I filled up from the Swamp River, hiked to the Otter Lake Road trailhead sign and I wished my dad a final farewell. I wrote in the Otter Lake trail register as well, another mantra. I decided there I’d write the mantra of the moment in every trail register. The mantra in my mind at this moment was a quote from The Sandlot:
“Legends never die. Follow your heart and you’ll never go wrong.”
I cut through some tall and wet grass to get to a logging road where the trail was flagged. It was a pretty lame first few miles of the trail, and I even got turned around a bit at a logging road intersection, which was frustrating. I had to remind myself to be positive, found my way again, and then the logging road bumped out to the signature SHT singletrack. After a few miles of easy walking through swamps, lowlands and forests, I wondered if I’d see anyone before Judge C.R. Magney State Park.
I did see a couple of hikers heading north, and it was kind of funny to say that I’m thru-hiking, but just a few hours in. The trail got a bit more difficult with some up and downs, and I eventually climbed up to reach the highest elevation on the hiking trail. There was a sign in the middle of the woods for it–not too dramatic!
I tried to enjoy this section of trail that I had never experienced, knowing that after today, I’d hiked or ran 99.5% of the remaining trail at one point or another.
The elevation started to change from the flat swamps to climbing up through woods. The clouds rolled in and I decided to nibble on a little bit of food, although I wasn’t hungry at all. I stopped to take a picture of Jackson Lake, descended to the creek and campsite, and recognized the first signs of fatigue in my legs and shoulders. Here it is, I thought. I figured I get some sorts of sore within a few hours and here it is, 9 miles and less than 3 hours into the whole trip. In other news, right on track for the 3mph average, but I wondered if I’d ever feel that fresh legs feel ever again for the next nine days.
The trail went up and down a few times, and then up steeply, but I was rewarded by a fantastic ridgeline, just as the sun peeked out and glimmered across the deep blue Lake Superior wide in my view. My phone was off to conserve battery and I decided after 20 minutes of traversing the skinny trail that I’d eat lunch on the next flat rock I’d see. At a spectacular overlook, I set down my oppressive pack, rubbed my shoulders and pulled out my beef sticks and Cheetos for lunch. I wasn’t even hungry but it was nearly 1pm. With my mind on the clock, I ate my daily 5 beef sticks, a handful of chips and set back off.
Before long, I started following a creek and passed the spur trail intersection to Arrowhead Trail. I hiked this section just a few weeks before and I remember it being tough going. Carlson Pond, low brush, up and down, and a lot of bridges. This time, however, the trail just flew by in a breeze. I stopped to pick peppermint leaves at the rock crossing of little Carlson Creek and I was through–down the steep hill to Tom Lake Road. I got circled around here, because the sign said 1.3 mile roadwalk, that is what I did three weeks prior, but my eye caught a blue blaze to the right, just a few hundred feet in on Tom Lake Road. I turned off and followed the clear SHT marking. The trail circled around, curving sharply around trees and onto a bridge. I stopped, skeptical about this new path. It felt like I was walking the opposite way, like I did a 180 from Tom Lake Road. The map matched the sign saying that Tom Lake Road was the route. Hmm, I thought, do I follow this mystery path or take the way I know. Way I know for sure!!! And so I turned around, following the blue blazes back to Tom Lake Road, a little perturbed with confusion. A few steps and I saw a blue blaze on the roadwalk. Interesting…
By the time I got back into the singletrack, passed the Hazel campsite and filled my water bottle from a concerningly tiny dribble of water, it was getting late in the afternoon and I decided to stop. 4:20pm was a good time to stop and I decided that I’d break at this exact time every afternoon. Late in the day, big miles racked up and getting close to the campsite, on the 2o minutes to make easy math for my 3mph goal, it seemed like the most reasonable time and milestone to look forward to and focus on each day. Today, I stopped at a bridge. It felt incredible to sit down and relieve the pack from my shoulders.
After a brief stop, drinking as much as possible and a little snack, I was back in action with a renewed mindset. My shoulders were beginning to get very sore from the bulging pack. I tried to focus on drinking water, but slinging the pack over my one shoulder was unbearable. My water bottled didn’t even fit in its pouch, and I was trying to fiddle with it all while walking.
Camp 20 Road went slow. All I noticed was my sore body. My Achilles tendons started to feel overstrained and I began noticed the dreaded sore feet. I pushed through, and given the long afternoon break made good time through Judge C.R. Magney State Park. Past the Devil’s Kettle, onwards to my first campsite. There were a few early vacationers for the Labor Day weekend, enjoying the beautiful night, and I started counting the remaining miles as I hit 30 on the day.
“It’s one mile to this little kink in the trail then one mile more from there”, I thought to myself as I hoofed it to my first campsite. It was getting dark on the trail, but I could tell that it’d be sunny if I was in an open field. No time for stopping, I was cookin’ through the final miles to the Little Brule River, just south of the Brule River in Magney State Park, where there are three Superior Hiking Trail campsites in close proximity. I was looking for company, ideally a single girl who has made a roaring bonfire and a hot bed of coals. I finally got to the first two sites, side-by-side on the trail, but didn’t hear anyone or get a sense of company. I thought I heard a branch snap downriver, and decided to push the extra tenths of a mile to get to the last one, Southwest Little Brule River Campsite. Darkness was setting in as I finally arrived to the vacant site after 8pm.
I set up camp in the smoothest-looking spot with my last shreds of light. I started the alcohol stove simultaneously, grabbed my headlamp, and by the time the tarp was perfectly pitched, the fuel had burned and the water was not boiling. My water source was down a very steep scramble, but I soaked my feet and there was plenty of flowing water to fill up.
I decided that it was still early enough to cook a fire as I wanted to conserve the alcohol fuel. I surprisingly got one up and steady very easily, and had enough dry firewood on the ground to cook my first meal. It tasted good, and I relaxed and ate, sitting on the ground and barefoot, in the darkness.
I hunkered in for my first night, feeling good but sore, and ready to hit it early in the AM. I set my alarm for 7am and dozed off comfortably in the clear night.