28 Sep 2019
Trip Plan: Drive to Superior Hiking Trail Rossini Road Trailhead, run ~38 miles back to my house (.3 miles off the SHT), grab my bike and take a road/gravel route ~36 miles back to my car.
Start Time: Thursday, September 26, 2019 – 7:55am
- Run 7:52:08
- Transition: 0:13:00
- Bike: 2:12:08
This was the second adventure day that I dreamed up early on in the summer. I got the St. Louis River paddling trip in the books months ago, and this intense duathlon idea was looming. I knew I would have to wait until after the NorthShore Inline Marathon (of which I am race director… therefore low sleep, high work hours, no time for cool adventures), and when that wrapped up I was eager to pick a day and go. However, daylight was a serious concern and every day I waited meant a higher chance of being caught in the dark at some point.
With Wild Duluth 100k on the horizon, and training going really well, I questioned something like this. On one hand, what better simulation than 40 miles on the SHT? On the other hand, training is like digging a hole and filling it back up. A tough training effort is a bigger hole and takes more time, sleep, recovery, to fill it back in and get back to “normal”. The Rossini Duathlon would require digging a real deep hole. But I knew I wanted to do it so what the heck??
I saw my opening on Thursday. Not really thinking of my Wild Duluth training plan at large, I had Thursday on my mind and worked my week around accordingly. I wanted to make sure I had all my personal life stuff in order (work, chores, dogs). With that in place I was ready to go! The night before was the infamous NMTC Fall Wednesday Night Trail Series race at Brown’s Point in Superior. 8k of steep ups and downs on mostly ski trail. I had an exceptional race after two kind of crappy weeks of getting passed mercilessly, and chalked it up to really focusing on sleep. I’d slept 11 hours a piece Monday and Tuesday. I felt normal soreness Wednesday night and when I woke up Thursday.
I questioned even going… I lamented to Emily and she didn’t really have a good answer. Oh well, stick to the plan, I thought. My hamstrings were the most sore, right up by my butt from holding sub-7 pace on trails for over 4.5 miles. That Wednesday trail race was a tax on the body for sure. I felt late all morning but got out to the coffee shop for various bagels and coffee, and was up to Rossini Road before 8am.
First steps out of the car… sore hamstrings. Crap. I’ll really have to focus on recovering these hamstrings this week, I told myself. I had to be reassuring: after today I have most of my miles in for the week and so plenty of time to do stretches and strength work and foam rolling. But the fear was real. What if I really mess my body up? All this training and planning for Wild Duluth down the drain. What if I can’t finish this run? Jeez, 40 miles is a really long way. What am I thinking? Who can I call to pick me up when I bail? It was a cool 37 degrees according my van’s thermometer, but I felt pretty comfortable in just a short sleeve tech shirt. I neglected to bring poles, and thought about 12 minute pace as a rough target. Despite the negative thoughts right off the bat, I mostly walked up to 12 Mile View in no time, feeling great.
The morning was simply pristine. Perfectly beautiful. A textbook fall day. How fortunate am I to be able to spend this whole lovely day out here? I now remember interviewing Adam Schwartz-Lowe for The Duluth Rundown podcast as he described gratefulness as a mental strategy to keep going during a 100 mile race. That really works. It was pretty hard not to be grateful… I can’t stress enough how overwhelmed I was by the beauty of the fall day!
I was surprised how fast I got to the Big Bend campsite. I remembered hiking home from this campsite in 2016 as I trained for that year’s thru-hike. I also remember during the thru-hike itself getting rained out in the night. I looked at that tent pad that flooded me out years ago. Nobody was camping, I wondered how many people I’d see today. For now, just me and the tweety birds. I wasn’t quite at 5 miles when the first hour struck. Therefore, a bit down on my goal pace. But I was feeling really smooth. The trail was perfect for running. Dry, kind of tacky, not so overgrown as I thought it might be. I was rolling. I hit Fox Farm Road trailhead and was kind of sad to leave the section between there and Rossini. I could run that piece endlessly. It’s just perfect trail running terrain.
On the ridges out of Fox Farm Road, I saw a backpacker. He stopped me, grasping for my name. “You’re… you’re… what’s your name?” I said Mike. He said he was Carl, he helped me out at NorthShore just a couple days back. Then it struck me and it came flooding back. He is Anne Hyopponen’s brother and we chatted a bit. He said that Anne and her husband Dave (who I have raced with many times) told him I’d be out here. Here I am! It was a funny coincidence, and cool to see a fellow lightweight backpacker. He was going from Martin Road all the way north to Canada, testing some gear for the PCT along the way. We crossed paths and were on our way. I looked down at my watch. Cripes, getting further and further down on pace. That is the trouble with an unsupported run… the clock don’t stop, and I need to filter water! I wondered if I’d see another thru-hiker, a gal going for a supported Fastest Known Time. Lacie is the name, she’s going northbound on the trail, and I figured I’d see her. I wonder where?
The miles kept clicking off and I felt good through 10 miles around the Fox Farm Pond campsite. I was working hard to scrape my way back to 12 minutes per mile average, but also keeping it smooth. It was the perfect temperature by this point, and I was focusing on eating food as not to fall behind on that. With a big mouth full of food, I realized my water stores were running low. I knew there was a creek before the Sucker River and aimed for that. I completely ran out of water before getting to the creek crossing and filtering water back into my two flasks. Boy, that makes the pack feel much heavier all the sudden! But on we go…
I ran it out to the North Shore State Trail, where there is a shelter near the Sucker River Bridge. I put my hands up in the air and yelled “Hello Sucker River!!!” as the breeze wafted through my armpits. Mmmm perfect. I was running good, making my way quickly through the terrain. I wondered if I’d see Lacie at the exact same spot I saw the last FKT completer – Austin – just south of the Sucker River campsite. I did see someone, just north of the Sucker River campsite. A gal was walking with perhaps just one trekking pole, nothing on her back, looking fresh like she was on a morning stroll. I wonder if that’s a camper at Sucker just going for the morning wakeup stroll? I barely said hello as I zoomed past through an entanglement of cedar roots adjacent to the Sucker River. It didn’t even strike me until hours later that this was the thru-hiker Lacie! That notion was confirmed much later on when I checked her tracking link. Crap! I wanted to spitball a bit with her, see who she was and her plan and how she was feeling. Oh well.
Hiking away from Sucker, it was time to lock and load. I was feeling a bit fatigued. Not bad, but definitely a feeling of needing to get into a rhythm, zone out and click off these miles. About a marathon left seemed daunting. I wasn’t afraid to walk up hills, and was running very quickly and efficiently on the many flat and slightly downhill sections. Running right on the fringe of 12 minutes per mile on average, I was definitely mindful of my pace and had a sense of urgency. Still, not afraid to walk up the hills. It’s a long day. My hamstrings were still sore with a tight feeling up by my butt. Ugh. They were no worse, though, and my feet, ankles, quads, back, everything else felt golden.
By the time I got to Heron Pond campsite with just a mile to get to Normanna Road, I was moving really good. This section is just so easy to run. I leaned forward, kept those legs churning and let my momentum and gravity do the work. I hit some fast miles coming into my estimated half way point at Normanna Road. Excellent. I didn’t know how to think about the remaining sections with many miles on snowmobile trail. Carl said he was happy that his shoes finally dried out. Would it really be that muddy and wet? When I took a right hand turn and passed over the French River bridge, I got a little taste of what was to come. Well I can certainly churn out fast miles on this stuff, I told myself. There just isn’t the steep inclines on the snowmobile trail like there is on the singletrack sections. And even those steep inclines are nothing compared to the other 250 miles of the Superior Hiking Trail. The anomaly of the SHT is between Duluth and Two Harbors where the trail cuts inland. I, however, love these sections and don’t think they get the love and respect they deserve.
Anyways, I saw plenty of 11’s flash on my watch as I cranked up and down the snowmobile sections, southbound to the Lester River. I told myself that if I could run in to the Lester bridge, up the ups and all, I’d be able to sit at the banks of the Lester and eat all the food I could and drink all the water I could and sit all I like. It was hard, though. I started getting the insurmountable fatigue… where you know there is nothing you can do to mitigate the pain and agony. Well, except stop running. There were plenty of instances where I made audible groans and grunts. Sometimes I’d step on a root or rock wrong and twist my ankle. OUCH! I’d yell. Or just simply a wave of pain… a dunk in the hurt tank. But it gets absorbed somehow. Yep, the final 15 miles would be a struggle. I wondered if this was too much? But I was feeling pretty good overall. The fatigue was starting to show itself in certain spots like my ankles, the bottoms of my feet, still in my hamstrings, quads were starting to feel it, the back liked to stretch out on the uphills… yep, I was feeling it. But I was motivated to finish strong and look back at my overall pace with contentment. So I kept running. There was very little walking, only when absolutely necessary, leading up to the Lester River. I was so sick of itchy plants on my legs. Even though I could move good on the snomo trails, this section sucks. I tried to tell myself it was a unique section, cool trails that are underutilized. But the bottom line is that the snowmobile trail sections go on forever!
I was so happy to get to Lismore Road. I felt like I was really dragging ass at this point. I had no lift. I don’t think I could have run under a 9 minute pace if my life depended on it. But I could run 10:30 pace on the flat road endlessly. I saw a few backpackers through the previous section. The sun was high in the sky and I was sweating. I again ran out of water having not collected any since before the Sucker River. I wasn’t really hungry and probably wasn’t eating enough food, but would catch back up at Lester by eating all my pizza. I felt so stupid even bringing it. These two massive slices had been up against my back for hours and hours. I could have subsisted on exercise food until the transition zone at home, and then ate pizza. Instead I carried along these heavy pizza slices for hours and hours and miles without taking a nibble.
I was so happy to see the shelter at Lester River. I crossed the bridge, scoping out a good spot to collect water. I went under the bridge, filled my bottles, chugged a lot of water, took everything out of my pack to kind of reorganize, and ate one of two slices of pizza. I couldn’t eat the other one. I also looked at my handy distance calculator to see where I was at. Home looked to be about 12 miles away. That seemed like nothing. And that excited me. I rested at Lester just like I told myself I could.
The legs were slow going getting up from the riverside rock I was sitting on. I told myself I could walk it out for a while, to digest and get the wheels back turning, but looking at my watch I understood that I had fallen way behind on my pace. 5 miles per hour/12 minutes per mile was utterly out the window. Oh well. It didn’t seem like I was sitting for that long but 10 minutes goes by in a snap when you are dead tired. It was business as usual from here, run whenever possible and walk when I have to. I was definitely able to keep pace with some 10 minute miles, many 11 minute miles, and some 12’s. Every now and again I’d need to walk up a hill. There weren’t many, but some miles in the 13 and 14 range. I didn’t even bat an eye at those…. but the 10’s jacked me up. Let’s go!
Before long I was back onto the snowmobile trail, across Prindle Road, Billy’s Bar came and went, UMD Farm a blink of the eye and I knew I was moving real good. I got to Martin Road in no time at all. Yes. The worst is over, all downhill to get home… I made a mistake right across Martin Road and thought the trail went into the ditch. I was in a swamp and said “forget this!” and backtracked to the road. I then realized the road was the correct route indeed. Stupid. On the road and gravel parking lot, I probably looked like a senior citizen. I was hunched over, probably had the lean going on, creaky old legs somehow churning forward. It was survival mode for sure. The relatively fast snowmobile trail miles seemed to have taken their toll, but probably not any more or less than the 20 miles on singletrack to start the day off. I knew I’d finish this baby up well under 8 hours. It was my goal now to get home, do what I need to do to set off on the bike, and actually start biking by 4pm, about 8 hours from when I started off this morning. I planned out what I’d do: let the dogs out, drink a lot of water mixed with powdered exercise drink mix, maybe use the restroom, feed the dogs a scoop, repack my pack. Should I wear the pack on the bike? Hmm. I still had about two hours to figure that one out.
I hit a wall in the Amity sections. It’s just so rugged… I had to sit down. Not good. I realized at this point that I didn’t have anything left for the bike at all. I still had 5 miles to go, one hour left, a couple tough hills in Hartley, and a huge 36 mile ride on my modified singlespeed gravel bike. How would I do that? It seemed impossibly daunting. Maybe I’d just skip it… No, how could I do that? I’ve come this far. This whole deal is about the adventure duathlon. No way I wouldn’t set off on the bike. But seriously, how would I be able to do the bike? I was dead tired. I dragged my throbbing legs to Vermilion Road and forced them to rotate in a rhythmic motion once again. Just like a steam train getting it’s rotors going, start slow and eventually they’ll be moving ’round and ’round. On the gravel road, I got up to speed and was pleasantly surprised by my ability to roll. The technical trail and uphills were killing me but I could hang on the flat road. Just like a steam engine… legs go ’round and ’round and ’round.
I got into Hartley and struggled on the singletrack once again. Ugh, so hard. I decided to eat my second piece of pizza while hiking up the steeps in Hartley Park. It was not an appetizing slice and my stomach wasn’t feeling great. I tried to eat it all but just couldn’t chew the crust. I slammed most of the huge slice but out of frustration chucked the other bits into the woods. Not the best example of Leave No Trace but I was not going to uncrumple my plastic wrap and rewrap a half slice of old crusty pizza just to throw it in the trash at my house. Enjoy the ‘za, animals of Hartley.
I was elated to get to Hartley Road. The hardest was behind me, I told myself. I cruised on the wide and buffed out trail leading to Arrowhead Road. Up into Bagley and the running felt good. Bagley is a gem of Duluth… the wide and soft trail is such a treat to run. And I was running good for being well over 35 miles for the day. I was still about a mile, 12 minutes or so, off of 5mph average. When I got to the big hill in Bagley, it almost stopped me in my tracks. I arched my back, and tried to maintain a speedy cadence of power hiking. I didn’t have it. My stumps, formerly legs, could barely churn forward. I had to audibly voice my disdain with the trail conditions. “BRUTAL,” I muttered, exasperated. “This hill is brutal.” Once to the top, no time to dilly dally, get those legs moving again. I ran down the backside, ran through the parking lot, and ran through UMD towards Chester Park, my home trail. I was nearing one mile to go and my watch was over 37 miles.
Perhaps it was adrenaline, but I ran quickly through Chester. I hit a sub-10 minute mile. This had to have been my fastest one. Crazy. I ran past a couple off-leash dogs and it made me fume a bit. I wasn’t in a great mood at this point. Tired. The next dog ran beside me and I yelled at the dog and it’s owner. The guy asked me if I wanted to go. Umm what?? We had a yelling match, he told me to chill, told me who cares, I said it’s illegal, I said he’s being disrespectful to me. No way to come to a mutual understanding. I ran away. Hips forward, legs churning, I made it to the bottom of Chester, up the steps to 6th Street and over to my house in no time.
I almost collapsed out of exhaustion. My feet were so tender as I putzed around, putting my plan in action. Dogs out, drink the drink, put the stuff away, get the thingy. My brain was foggy. I sat down to put on my bike shoes and yelped in pain as hip tweaked in a direction I wasn’t used to. My legs had been doing the exact same motion for nearly 8 hours and that’s all they knew by now. It was rough. I again questioned how I would complete this adventure, but went through the motions to complete the task. I hobbled up the back steps with my bike, ready to take off. I barely was able to mount my bike but realized when my butt hit the seat that I still had my running shorts on. No way I’m doing 35+ miles in these short shorts. I set out my bike shorts many hours ago but forgot to put them on. ARGH! It was almost too much to handle, but I set my bike down, went back inside and changed my shorts. The dogs were mad at me for leaving, just like that, and I apologized profusely. I think that was it… what else would I need? Last chance… I ended up taking my vest, now refilled with water. Snacks accessible, some in my bike bag, phone in my bike bag for pictures, I was ready to roll for sure this time.
I started up 11th Avenue, a very steep grade. Just perfect. My legs were fatigued for sure, and it hurt to put pressure on my feet as well as pressure on my butt. Once I got off of the avenue to the flat street, it was a sweet relief. Coasting felt great. The wind in my face, the zero impact. Ohhh, beautiful. This was going to happen. I tried to break up the remainder of the ride, the remainder of the epic adventure duathlon, into manageable chunks. Once I get out of town, up this huge damn hill, onto Jean Duluth Road I’d be smooth sailing. Then it’s an intimidating stretch from the end of Jean Duluth Road up to Fox Farm Road. Once I hit Fox Farm, it’s some fun gravel about 10 miles to Two Harbors Road. When I get to Two Harbors Road I am home free. I can gut it out from there, I don’t care what condition I’m in. I had it all planned out. The biggest threat was probably not my body or nutrition or fatigue, but a mechanical issue with my bike. I was concerned about the front skewer holding my wheel in. It sounded loose. I’d tightened it up before heading out, but it seemed loose again. I could just hear it… like the front wheel was moving around ever so slightly in its fork. Plus, I was riding the makeshift singlespeed setup. I had purchased a new chain and rear derailleur but forgot about the cable. Out of frustration, I just said I’d rock the singlespeed. Maybe permanently. Riding on 8th Street, I was holding good speed and the gear I did have seemed to be the perfect one. If I could make it up 11th Avenue out from my house, and get up to 22 miles per hour on 8th Street, I’d be good to go.
As I made my way to Jean Duluth Road, the starting and stopping and thinking involved with riding with traffic was frustrating. It was great to get to the open road of Jean Duluth. Just stay off to the side, don’t get hit, crank away and this thing will all be over soon, I told myself. I felt really pretty good once I hit Glenwood, Martin Road, Stokke’s and the soccer fields, Billy’s Bar, Breeze Inn, then up some hills getting way out of town. The hills were tough with the single speed. The downhills were glorious and I didn’t feel pressured to try and get speed, I would just coast. And I could get going at a nice clip on the flats.
The ride was going smooth as I hit 5 miles in about 20 minutes, and 15 miles in an hour with ease. I took it slow and easy on Normanna Road past the SHT parking lot, on the way up to Fox Farm Road. I didn’t want a motorist to put an end to my trip, and felt uneasy on the very small shoulder with vehicles zinging by me. I tried to sit up a bit and pay attention. As I shifted my position, I realized that no position was comfortable at all. I’d stand up to stretch, my feet would scream. The clip and pedal dug into the ball of my right foot exactly where I smashed it 200,000 times today on the trail. My butt was sore on the exact spot I needed to sit on. My back needed to stretch out. I was probably three inches shorter after impacts of the long day on foot. Then my triceps, shoulders and arms gave out. I couldn’t hold myself up on the bike. What I would do for some aero bars so I could just rest on my elbows… They weren’t in pain. But I had no aerobars so my triceps will have to do!
I was certain Fox Farm Road was right around the corner on several occasions. Around the next corner, and I could finally see it. Is that it? I saw a vehicle with a huge cloud of dust behind it and knew that was the gravel. I didn’t recognize the foreshadowing of the huge dust cloud. I was grateful for the change of scenery and surface as I got onto the gravel of Fox Farm Road. This road is just fun to travel on. Lots of logging activity, you feel like you’re really out there. I suppose that’s because you are really out there! The gravel road was one step away from pavement and very hard. Not very rocky or loose at all. I could crank just as fast as on the pavement, so that’s what I did.
I heard a vehicle come from behind me, and was disappointed in the dust cloud trailing it. Dust got in my eyes and my mouth, and I could barely see where I was going. Don’t fall, don’t fall, I told myself. I probably should keep eating, I said, so grabbed the blueberry waffle and scarfed it down. That tasted good. As I was chewing, another sound from behind me. This one was a massive dump truck. Oh, great. The cloud was especially large, but I used my eyelashes as a filter and kept my mouth closed. Not so bad. Keep cranking. I was moving good along Fox Farm Road and eager to get to the end. As fun as this road is to travel along, it goes on forever. I started getting anxious, bored, ready to be done. I could summon the leg strength to push hard, but it definitely hurt to do so. I few times I lost my momentum by just coasting. Too tired. What a waste. A few more cars passed. The sun disappeared and clouds moved in. It was still a perfect temperature out, and I did make sure to regale in the stunning scenery of Fox Farm Road. A few more turns in the road, a few more straightaways, a fun little downhill and I passed the Fox Farm Road trailhead on the Superior Hiking Trail. I told myself that I was close to the end now. By the time it took me to think that thought, there it was. My brain wasn’t working at 100% capacity. I remembered distinctly the route, as it’s easy to get lost in these backroads. Left on Two Harbors Road, left on Laine Road, left on Rossini Road. I took the Two Harbors Road. Just that turn gave me a little jolt of energy, as this was the point that I’d thought about all day being the home stretch. Nothing could stop me now.
I didn’t fully realize the grind ahead, though. I made good time on Two Harbors Road as it seemed to be mostly downhill. The bike was holding up… my trusty machine. Beautiful. I still had water and felt full. Well, full enough. Laine Road came quickly and I had a few miles of pavement before getting onto the gravel again. I didn’t realize while driving this morning, but Laine Road was all uphill. A vehicle passed me, and I watched it disappear in the distance, motoring up a huge hill on the horizon. I have to go up THAT?? So I pushed and pushed on the pedals, trying to get some momentum a mile out from this looming hill. I had to stand on my tender feet to crest the bump. I knew I was close and the pain had all but subsided… just survival now. I hit two hours on the bike, over 30 miles in. I was very pleased with my speed thus far. I’d thought many hours earlier of my lack of bike miles in the previous month. It turns out that was not an issue. And I cranked away.
Atop the massive hill on Laine Road, I finally was able to peer down the other side and felt relieved to see a downhill slope. I rode it out, happy with coasting on the firm gravel.
I kept on pedaling, ’round and ’round, and was feeling pretty positive at this point. Wow, I’m definitely going to do it. I didn’t think it’d happen. Well, I kind of knew it’d happen but there was definitely the element of fear and uncertainty as I drove this same road over 10 hours ago. I saw the signs up ahead denoting Rossini Road. I took a left. Another little uphill and 90 degree right hand bend in the road and I knew I was very close. With excitement, I rode it in with the remaining energy I had left. It was almost like my brain knew we were close and stopped sending the signals of STOP, DON’T PROCEED, SEEK HELP that had been firing for hours. That is the pain cave for ya. I caught a glimpse of the SHT trailhead sign first and a smile lit up my face. I made a smooth turn into the lot and rode right up to my van, placing my hand on the back and stopping my watch. Another vehicle had joined me in the parking lot, which kind of surprised me. I sat down on the ground for the photo opp, and to rest. Done!
Driving home, I told myself to yell. I gave a big yell: “YESS! WOOO HOOO!” That felt good.