03 Aug 2016
Hike Date: July 22-24, 2016
Trail: Superior Hiking Trail
Trip Plan: Big miles over a weekend–from Gooseberry State Park south to home.
Day 1 – Hike south from Gooseberry State Park to Crow Creek Valley Campsite (~8 miles)
Day 2 – Hike south from Crow Creek Valley Campsite to Fox Farm Pond Campsite (~38 miles)
Day 3 – Hike south from Fox Farm Pond Campsite to home (~29 miles)
- Total miles: 41.6
- Time hiking: 13:30
Gear and Food: 7-22-16
Day 1 – Friday, July 22, 2016
Diamond and I left with my brother Matt right after work to get dropped off at Gooseberry Fall State Park right after work on Friday, on the hottest day day of the year, to replicate my very first backpacking trip just a few years prior. It took four full days to hike around 80 miles from Gooseberry Falls to home near Hartley Park, and this weekend I was to hike it in just two full days plus this Friday evening. In peak fitness, this would be a good tester to see how just two days in a row averaging around 35 miles would feel on the body. I’ve narrowed in on 35 miles per day as a reasonable goal mileage for the final through hike (putting me at 9 days total to cover the 300+ miles).
During the final work day on Friday, and as I weighed in right before leaving, I knew the weather would be a factor. Again, it was late afternoon on the hottest day of the year, and around 92 degrees as we left. Just two nights prior, Duluth got whomped by a vicious thunderstorm that brought extreme winds and widespread blowdowns throughout the city. The majority of the Duluth population–tens of thousands of people–had no power. Some didn’t have power restored for a week! This meant that there would likely be storm damage, certainly hiking into Duluth. Also, there looked to be another round of thunderstorms on the tail end of the heat wave. Diamond and I left anyways.
When we got to Gooseberry, Matt dropped us off and drove away. I must have looked like a crazy person in long pants and a long shirt in the brutal heat and humidity. And it was pretty miserable. I had no semblance of where the trail was, so we just started hiking towards the bridge on Highway 61 over Gooseberry, and quickly got onto some trail leading up to the Gooseberry River. A blue blaze was not hard to find after that, and I was dripping sweat on my first step onto the SHT.
My initial thoughts were of the discomfort. I thought it was stupid being out there given the forecast, and regretted it already. Diamond’s tongue was about a foot long and we stopped to get water in the Gooseberry as soon as possible. A few steps away and she would be panting again. Sticky, wet heat. It was like a sauna. Once we got out of the park and up along the Gooseberry, the deer flies came out. I neglected to get Diamond a bug repellent strap like the last trip. They were swarming her and it was rough. After Gooseberry, we encountered a lot of mud. Just as dusk was giving way to complete darkness, we arrived at the campsite. Luckily, there was a water source, but it was shallow, grimy and dark. Either way, Diamond drank up and I filled my water bottle.
I was testing my DIY tarp setup and bugnet, and it went up easily. I was so hot, and really looking forward to the cool night. I stripped down and we hit the sack.
Day 2 – Saturday, July 23, 2016
We woke up decently early after a crappy night sleep. The tarp on the exposed ground wasn’t bad at all. It was pretty comfortable, really, albeit most dirty than a tent, but I felt like I didn’t sleep at all. I didn’t even bring a sleeping bag and figured that my bag liner would be enough, and it did get chilly at night. As always, the first few steps out of camp were great, and Diamond and I were excited to be on the trail.
The morning was fantastic! It wasn’t too hot yet, and we expected another scorcher, although the forecast was to be cooler. I wondered about the forecasted thunderstorms, too, and how there was a flood warning for Saturday evening the last I checked 14 hours prior. The Castle Danger section to County Road 301 was great. The bridge out on the Encampment River was no problem and I found blueberries. Diamond and I were doing fine. Maybe a little tired, even already, but it was smooth sailing.
By the time we got to Silver Creek a few hours in, I had to stop. My legs were already tired and I was surprised at my sub-3 MPH rate. Usually we are 3.5 MPH plus stops. Were we stopping a lot? Not really… I ate a bunch of food and was coaxing Diamond to wade into the creek. Upon packing in the morning, I realized I’d forgotten my lighter. I consolidated my emergency kit from a baggie into a pill bottle for some protection, and the last item that didn’t fit was the mini Bic. That means that I wouldn’t be able to start my stove or a fire or anything. It’d be hard enough in a thunderstorm or flood!! In Silver Creek, I found a cool agate that I could potentially trade someone… That is, if the forecast looks good. I decided I’d hike another few miles to County Road 2/Reeves Road Trailhead and check my phone and reassess from there. I made all these benchmarks. If the chance of rain increases, I’d bail. If it decreases, I’d stay. If I find a lighter, I’d stay. If the flood warning is still present, I’d bail.
The walking wasn’t any easier even after the short break. I was curious why we were slogging along. Perhaps the lack of sleep? It was muddy, getting hotter, and getting buggier past Silver Creek. The only bugs were deer flies and mosquitoes. Deer flies are incredibly annoying. Diamond luckily does not seem to mind, despite these annoying creatures bombarding her head and butt.
We got to County Road 2, I found a patch of raspberries and grabbed my phone. The 60% chance of rain was the same as Friday, when I decided to leave. There was still a flood warning. What made me call my roommate Jack for a ride was the little blurb on the weather app that said “Severe Thunderstorms Likely”. The hourly forecast called for rain at the worst time: around 8pm as I’d be finishing the hike, setting up camp and trying to cook. Jack said he’d leave in a while and drive to pick me up.
I walked down County Road 2 and thought that Diamond and I could get some ice cream, stop at the gas station, and maybe even visit the Superior Hiking Trail office in Two Harbors. With my phone out, I was very surprised to see that the trip down to Highway 61 was over 5 miles! Jack would probably have to travel up the road to get us, then.
It was a dull walk on the side of the road. After an hour and a half, Jack called and picked us up. I enjoyed a root beer and Gatorade as mud-caked Diamond sat on my lap. The agony of pulling the plug was in contrast to the feeling of relief sitting in the car. There were no storms in Duluth until I went to sleep. Maybe some light rain, but I was jolted awake in the middle of the night with an extremely loud thunder clap. Who knows what it would have been like, but I do know I would have been very hungry without the ability to cook a third of my calories planned for the weekend.
Day 3 – Sunday, July 24, 2016
I slept it kind of late and was happy with my decision to pull the plug on the backpack trip as I was able to get a few errands done in the morning. I decided that we could do a nice hiking trip in Duluth to see how the conditions were after the blowdown and to recoup some miles. Three hours out and back would be plenty for a Sunday. If we could get 20 miles in, even better.
Sunday was cooler than Saturday yet, thankfully. It was a beautiful day, and I could see the pep in Diamonds step from sleeping at home, and I could definitely feel the better night’s sleep in my own self. Despite widespread damage in the city, there was hardly any indication of a storm the last two days in Two Harbors. In between, at the Normanna Road parking lot where we parked, there was evidence. It didn’t seem too bad at first–just some sticks across the trail and a few branches strewn about. We had to climb over a downed tree or two. Right away, Diamond continued to get bombarded by deer flies. Out here in the bog, it was worse. She didn’t seem to mind, but I couldn’t stand to watch them feed on her. I’d pick a few off of her ears and they’d explode with blood.
Past the first campsite, there was a huge blowdown. Several massive birch trees fell like dominoes, exposing their massive root systems and they laid down flush with the ground. It was really incredible. How can wind just topple these huge trees, roots and all? Luckily, we crossed this disaster zone and back on track. The next blowdown area was over an unnamed crick where a tree fell directly on an SHT bridge and smashed the handrail. We’d walk a mile or two without any obstructions, and then see three downed trees in a row.
We got to Sucker River and paused for a moment. I decided I’d jump in on the way back. The trees were definitely the worst in the mile of trail that the Sucker River is in. Carnage. We made it through, but I’d let Diamond off the leash completely because it was too hard to manage with her going under, me going over so many downed trees. We made it to the Sucker River spur trail in no time, only stopping at an expansive raspberry patch to forage for berries. At the Fox Farm Pond, the deer flies became terrible. They were almost comical, almost scary (like a horror movie) with how many were buzzing around Diamond’s head, and they started to bug me, too. We passed the Fox Farm Pond campsite with a half hour left to walk before turning around, but I couldn’t do it. Flies were biting me through my shirt, despite a lot of bug spray, and I turned around prematurely in frustration and anger.
The walk back went quickly. We stopped at Sucker to swim, and I simply dunked my head in and rushed back to my clothes to shield the mosquitoes. I wondered if they named it Sucker because of leeches… Luckily, the deer flies were easing off of me, and it still wasn’t too terribly hot in the middle of the afternoon sun.
We saw a few other hikers, and it was arduous to go through all of those downed trees a second time. Feeling strong and fresh, we rounded out a good day of hiking to salvage a botched weekend trip. I’m happy about the miles, but still frustrated how the weather is always going to be never perfect.
18 Jul 2016
Hike Date: June 25-26, 2016
Trail: Superior Hiking Trail
Trip Plan: Hike long on Sunday with my friend Dave Schuneman
Day 1 – Two hours out north, two back from Lismore Road Trailhead
Day 2 – Hike from Normanna Road north to ??
- Total Miles: 45.8
- Total Time: 13:56
- Time at Camp: 0
Day 1 – Saturday, June 25, 2016
Saturday’s hike was a spur of the moment foray into the woods. The weather for the weekend, again, was looking really stormy and I decided since I had this big hike planned with my friend Dave Schuneman on Sunday, it would be the best decision to sit tight on Friday night and sleep in my own bed. Saturday came around, I was twiddling my thumbs and decided to take Diamond out to the Lismore Road Trailhead with the intention of doing two hours out and back northbound. This section is particularly crappy, with most of the trail from Lismore to Normanna Road north being on the North Shore State Trail. I was curious how that weedy bog was shaping up into summer, so we hit it.
The forecast was calling for thunderstorms, but it appeared to be holding out and was actually sunny when we started. Sunny and hot. We walked Lismore Road itself until it crossed Jean Duluth Road, and we got onto a rare section of singletrack trail. That was a mere blip, and in the blink of an eye, at the swat of a fly, we were onto the State Trail. I brought just a water bottle with the Sawyer filter screwed on and a few snacks, figuring that we’d be walking the whole time and I wouldn’t burn too much up. Also, I tried the trekking poles for once. I wanted to make sure they’d be a wise thing to carry for the next day.
The bugs were definitely on Diamond, but the thick brush actually provided a little relief from the buzzing insects. The mosquitoes seemed to be the worst. They didn’t seem to be able to penetrate her coat, but they were crawling into her eyes and she looked infested at times! Meanwhile, I was wearing a tshirt and basketball shorts, really regretting my choice of not using bug spray.
It was definitely hot out, and I was worried Diamond would get dehydrated, but we were chuggin’ along and made a stop at the creek near the Lone Creek Campsite. It was still sunny and no indication of storms. We stopped at the creek for a bit and then kept on walking. Not long after, at 2 hours on the dot, we turned around.
We got back to that creek in no time, and I had sweat through my shirt. Diamond had a very long tongue, and the water was surely a nice reprieve. The clouds rolled in not too long after, and with it were the mosquitoes. I don’t know if it was a drop in the pressure with an incoming storm, the lack of sunlight, time of day or what, but the mosquitoes started bugging me BAD. I couldn’t use the trekking poles because I needed a spare hand to swat my triceps. Why they were going for the triceps, I do not know!
I was praying for rain at this point. Please rain out the bugs, I was shouting to the sky! Diamond was being pestered, but I didn’t care about her anymore, I was miserable! I’d slap my calf every now and again and it looked like I’d cut my hand with all the squished mosquitoes only briefly full of my precious blood. I started running. It was really terrible, and I decided I was wearing long sleeves and long pants the next day for sure.
We got back to Lismore Road with lightening on the horizon. The sky turned really dark and we could hear the thunder rumbling in towards us. We kept running once we got to Lismore so we wouldn’t get caught in a lightening storm, and got back to the car with time to spare on the two hours back.
On the ride home, I picked two ticks off of my bumpy leg. Meanwhile, I didn’t even have to look at Diamond to get the ticks. I’d simply lay my hand on her, anywhere was fine, and touch a tick. I pulled almost 10 off of her before the car ride was over, and then at least 20 more from the two of us once we got home and showered. That is the NSST for ‘ya! A tick infested, swampy mess. I prefer single track…
Day 2 – Sunday, June 26, 2016
Dave and I initially decided that we’d hit the trail at 4:30am. By 9pm on Saturday, we both decided that 6am was more reasonable. I left at 6 to pick him up, running late. I brought the trekking poles again, as well as long sleeves, long pants, and bug spray. I almost brought the headnet as well, but decided that was overkill. My legs were feeling great after a nice sleep in my own bed, and I was ready to rock.
Dave hopped in the car and I had to chuckle at his running shorts given my extreme bug experience the previous day. I warned him, but also said I had bug spray. We got out to the trailhead at Normanna Road at about 6:30am or so and set right off.
Dave was hiking strong right out of the gate, and it was pretty quick into some really tall and really wet weeds overgrowing the trail. We hiked mile after mile of these soaking plants. I was happy to have long pants on, and Diamond was nice and cool under the 4-foot canopy.
We hit Sucker River in no time at all and stopped for a snack and refill. I tried my water bottle with Sawyer screwed on top again, and coaxed Diamond into the river to drink. We set off and were really trucking. We ran the easier sections and hiked any uphills or really technical parts. The trekking poles were working nicely, and Diamond and I were pretty unfazed by the 12-miler the day before. It was nice to have someone else to hike with just for the conversation. Hiking alone doesn’t mean you don’t have conversations, but they’re much more one-sided. Diamond doesn’t care much for discussion, neither do trees. Conversations with myself are too predicable. Chatting away with Dave made the time just fly by.
Next thing we know, we’re at Fox Farm Road for a quick stop. Another section down and we stopped again at Rossini Road. I sat down to eat a few snacks, but we didn’t dwell on the beautiful day and were never stopped for very long. We stopped again at a creek to refill, and Dave was using a similar method to filter water, but he had a Life Straw that he simply submerged into the big Gatorade bottle. Dave was getting chewed up big time every time we stopped, but I knew the feeling! My bites were still itching, and I was just happy that I wasn’t adding more to my inflamed skin.
Time started slowing down a bit on the way to the Lake County Demonstration Forest. We were running pretty good, as this section was really nice, flat and non-technical, and in a picturesque forest. I started feeling a little rundown at this point, perhaps 6 hours and 20 miles on the day. Passing the spur trail at the Lake County Demonstration Forest parking lot, we saw an older guy running his dog who told us it was pure mud and wet up ahead. Up to this point, the trail was in great shape. Overgrown in many places, but not too muddy given the storms not 18 hours before. But sure enough, the trail started getting muddy. Dave called his wife Sonja and actually got phone reception. He asked her to pick us up at the Reeves Road/County Road 2 trailhead just north of Two Harbors. That would put us over 30 miles for the day easy. The next trailhead past that would have meant nearly 40, but we were both pretty beat and ready to be done on a Sunday afternoon.
The mud was getting to us, and things were sloppy in more ways than that. Dave tripped a few times, I was becoming entangled in Diamond and getting tired of carrying the dumb sticks. I started thinking of food and drinks. Mostly drinks. Luckily, the day was windy enough where the heat wasn’t a major factor in the meat of the day. The forecast was for 80s, however, and truth be told, it was uncomfortable. Given the end of June, it could be much, much worse. Diamond was doing good on the heat and still pulling on the waist leash.
That last section, 11 hard miles, took forever. We were both getting tired, but still cruising along pretty well. For better or worse, we weren’t running much in the muddy conditions. It was kind of funny how the last little section of trail just happened to be by far the muddiest! It was a sight for sore eyes to get to Reeves Road, and we knew it was a small jaunt to the car. We saw Sonja in the distance, and that was even better! It would have been a bummer to get done with a grueling hike just to sit and wait and swat mosquitoes! The muddy dog Diamond lumbered in the car, spreading mud and dirt everywhere. I precariously sat on the seat and couldn’t help but pick several ticks out of Diamond’s crusty fur. She was out, my eyes felt heavy as well, but it was fun to be in the car after an awesome trip.
I picked another 20 ticks off of Diamond and even I had a tick or two in my long sleeves. I submitted to my craving of root beer, white Gatorade, and stopped to get fruit brats from the meat market on the way back. Those were really good, and it was great to get a long weekend of hiking in the books but still able to sleep at home and get some other life things done with. However, only perfect practice makes perfect! If you want to be good at backpacking, you have to backpack.
11 Jul 2016
Hike Date: July 8-10, 2016
Trail: Superior Hiking Trail
Trip Plan: One weekend (after work Friday until Sunday), Temperance River Wayside to County Road 4 in Beaver Bay
Day 1 – Hike south from Temperance to Fredenburg Creek Campsite (6.2 miles)
Day 2 – Hike south from Fredenburg to Section 13 Campsite (~34 miles)
Day 3 – Hike south from Section 13 to Beaver Bay (~23 miles)
- Total Miles: 68
- Total Time: 41:42
- Time Hiking: 20:50
- Time at Camp: 20:52
Gear and Food: 7-8-16
Day 1 – Friday, July 8, 2016
What a weekend. It’s getting real. It’s one thing to say 65 miles or write it down or type it and plan the route. But to take that first step means that it’s real. And real scary!
This weekend started in Beaver Bay, where I caravanned from Duluth with my friend Max Elfelt. I dropped up the trusty and rusty Subaru and me and Diamond hopped in Max’s car. Just 30 minutes previous, it was raining in the Two Harbors McDonald’s parking lot. Luckily, the sun was shining and we kissed the car behind! It was a fun ride up to Temperance as I hadn’t seen Max for a long, long time and we were laughing and joking. We both cringed as it began to rain again. Temperamental weather! Max was planning on going up to Tofte on a fat-bike bikepacking trip through the great north woods of Minnesota for the weekend, so it happened to work out perfectly. We hopped out of the car right on the side of Highway 61 at Temperance River State Park, Max gave me a juicy peach for the walk, and we were off! I couldn’t see much for a trailhead, and as not to walk around in circles, we jumped into the woods pointed to Temperance River Road just to the west.
Photo credit: Max Elfelt
We were off! It looked like a multi-use trail, and I knew exactly where to go from Temperance River Road and figured this mystery trail would spit us right out. It was a perfect night, we hit the trail at the exact moment that the rain broke for good. The clouds cleared just enough to see a cherry sky in the waning sunlight. Beautiful. And a few steps in, I became entangled in Diamond trying to take a whizz. Well, I hope this isn’t a precursor for the whole trip!
We bumped out to a definite snowmobile trail and I wondered if it were the North Shore State Trail, on which Diamond picked up about 30 ticks two weekends prior and about 100 miles south. Before I could decide, we sure enough spit out onto Temperance River Road. A buggy 5 minutes on this road and we were on the main Superior Hiking Trail. 2.9 miles until the Cross River.
I began to calculate the time to the Fredenburg Creek Campsite, and figured we’d be in the dark. Oh, well, better tonight in the dark than an extra hour on Sunday. It just made the most sense for spacing out Saturday’s campsite and the weekend hikes. I also pondered how this was the 5th time in 2016 I’d hiked this stretch of trail. It’d be quick through the Cross River compared to two separate out-and-back trips already this year, one over Memorial Day and one in the winter. Good thing I liked this section! And 5 times on this bit of trail between Cook County Road 1 and Temperance River seems like nothing compared to the 100+ loops I’ve done on the Superior Hiking Trail in Hartley Park, my home turf!
We crossed the first campsite on the Cross River and it looked booked up with four tents. We clicked off the other three sites and it seemed like there were more people out camping this weekend than I’d seen this year so far. I pulled out my headlamp, but it wasn’t dark enough to make any difference and my eyes gradually adjusted to the twilight. Luckily, Diamond seems magnetized to the trail, so I just needed to keep my legs churning and she’d pull us in the right direction. We went into a deep pocket of woods and it suddenly became very dark. I used the headlamp the rest of the way to Fredenburg.
By 10pm, we’d reached the empty campsite. I quickly set up the tent right on the mosquito infested spur trail, which looked like the most comfortable swath of ground, chugged the rest of my water and refilled it in the creek. I simply strapped Diamond’s pack with my food stuffed inside on top of the Fredenberg Creek bridge’s handrail. Not the most reassuring bear hang-up, but it was quick! To avoid getting eaten alive my mosquitoes, I coaxed Diamond in from bounding through the pitch-dark forest, and we clamored into the little tent.
I was curious to test a new sleeping pad, and I quickly realized it was really warm. In the humid conditions, I developed a glistening layer of sweat, and I kicked my quilt to the foot of the tent in a hurry. I nixed the rainfly, having faith in the weather forecast, and before long drifted off under the stars.
Day 2 – Saturday, July 9, 2016
I woke up to a restless Diamond at 5:30am. It was too early, and the only thing to shut her up is to give her what she wants! Food. So I cracked open her morning ration, measured into a plastic baggie, and she scarfed it down as if her backpack was ravaged by a bear in the night and that was her only food! I forced her back down and we both slept a bit more until around 7am when we decided to hit it. I flicked a few slugs off of the tent and we packed up in no time. Luckily, the morning dew wasn’t too bad, and we felt as good as new! It was another gorgeous day with the sun shining bright in the early morning hours. We crossed the Fredeberg Creek Bridge, grabbed the food that was luckily NOT ravaged in the middle of the night, and hit the trail hard for a very long day of hiking.
We zipped through the beautiful forest near Tower Overlook, which gave Diamond and I the first sweeping Lake Superior overlook of many for the day, and were at Cook County Road 1 in no time.
We saw a big group of young kids in the Cook Road 1 parking lot and they pet Dimey and commented on her nice pack. I ain’t gonna carry her food! We kept on truckin’ past Dyer’s Creek and the really muddy section to Sugar Loaf that we’d hiked over Memorial Day. Luckily, it was substantially drier and we were able to dodge the mud nearly altogether! The sun was definitely out, high in the sky, and we were feeling the heat of that day even in mid-morning. There were plenty of water sources along the way, Dime was slurping it up at every crick. I rolled my sleeves up, happy that the bugs weren’t terrible, but could feel my back slick with sweat and completely saturating my shirt.
We crossed Sugarloaf Creek, next stop Caribou River.
I fondly remembered from a month ago this section being stunning. We buzzed across a very scenic ridgeline studded with bare birch trees. The overgrowth of mid-summer was apparent as we were bushwhacking previously cleared areas. The dew felt nice, though, and Diamond was happy about the shade low to the ground. We stopped for a drink and I sat down for food once we got to Caribou River. I noticed a water filter laying there and nobody to be found. Then, a lady yelled from a few rocks over. We munched a bit, didn’t leave too much time at Caribou, and were off. Diamond lunged at this lady’s dog and so I had to poke her in the butt to move on!
Next stop, a big climb up to Horseshoe Ridge in the hot heat, but we’d be afforded spectacular views if my memory served me right. At about 4 hours and 13 miles in for the day, we made it to the top and could see the encircling mounds lead towards the Big Lake. Spectacular! However, it was at the expense of a lot of energy. It sure was hot, and the water was being filtered frustratingly slow. I can only suck so hard! Diamond was not impressed by the views and so we kept on. I wondered if she remembered the nearby campsite from late May, but we didn’t spend any time investigating the site. Once we passed it, though, it was exciting because we were entering a large section of the trail that I had not been on. Once today is done, I’d have done the whole trail from Jay Cooke to Lutsen. That leaves me around 90 miles of unexplored Superior Hiking Trail from Lutsen north, and 6 miles to the new Southern Terminus south of Jay Cooke.
I figured that we walk a ways, then get to the Manitou River, then through Crosby Manitou State Park, then some inland lakes, a bit more walking and we’re at Section 13 campsite. That was a good way to break it up, but it’s still 22 miles away. In a frustrated state, I decided we’d have to stop at the Manitou River for lunch. It was… 4 miles? No 4 hours. No, no, maybe like one hour or two hours away. I ate a Shotblok or two and a lemon Larabar, then sucked on my dumb water filter. I’d peed just once and it was about the same color as the creeks from which I was getting the water. I was hoping for clear… for my pee and the creek water.
The hiking was getting pretty hard at this point. Up to Horseshoe was a grinding climb, but on the way to Crosby Manitou State Park was an unrelenting up and down and up and down. So many rocks. My body seemed to holding up just fine, but I could tell I was bashing myself going down the steep descents. Diamond, meanwhile, has the agility of a mountain goat and was ashamed at my cautious pace. The tiredness was a general fatigue, like standing in line for a long time or being at the airport or a lengthy trip to the fair. No real reason why you should be exhausted, but you just want to sit down for a second. I said that we’d sit and stop at the Manitou River, and it was great to hear the rushing sound of a big river. We went on a long, steep descent to the river, and it was great to take off the pack and relax.
I drank as much water as I could, no matter how slow it was to drink one liter. I ate most of one bag of meat ‘n cheese, a bunch of trail mix, and shoved some snackables into my pockets. Diamond wanted to just run around and explore, but I wrangled her in, got her back suited up, and we entered through the state park. Next stop were the lakes. We encountered a lot of groups now that we were in the State Park, but we were zinging along just fine, reenergized by the food. In fact, I got turned around by not reading the signs. It was maybe a 20-minute mistake, but frustrating nonetheless. We exited from the woods to the hot, exposed parking lot of Crosby Manitou State Park, and walked on the road towards Sonju Lake Road. This was a nice piece of trail, and I was happy that the sun had faded behind the clouds. It looked cloudy on the horizon and I envisioned complete cloud cover. Maybe some cool breeze, too. We passed Sonju Lake Road and figured we were right around the corner to the lake itself. Maybe we’d jump in, I thought. Hmm. Or we can jump in at Egge Lake. I wondered which one is more accessible. I thought about if either of them had a beach. Hmm. An hour passed and we were drudging on. I was so confused why there was no lake. WHY? I consulted the map and realized that there’s a large section of trail between Sonju Lake Road and the lake itself as the trail nearly parallels the road. CRIPES.
We finally passed a Sonju campsite. Things were tough going here. We had over 10 miles left to go and it was hard. All I was thinking about was how dreadful Sunday would be. Bean and Bear Lake and Tettegouche and Silver Bay are so hard. I’m so tired right now and we still have to climb up Section 13 to go to sleep. Why? I made up my mind that I wasn’t going to do the through-hike anymore. Well, maybe I’d still do it, but there is no joy in it. Camping is fun and backpacking is fun but to walk continuously on and on and on for hour after hour and counting every single mile just wishing you were done… it’s terrible! It’s not fun, it’s really rigorous. I thought about how I could even cop out of this trip! I knew that I could call for a ride. Maybe if we just hike to Finland, I thought. Maybe we can do one big day, like 40 miles, and then get picked up at Tettegouche? I thought to myself how that is still a really big day and a really big weekend.
We got to an trail sign, Lily Island, and followed it out to Sonju Lake. It was beautiful. The wind had picked up a little, and even though the sun was back out, to take off the pack, take off the shirt and sit down for a minute was truly wonderful. I took a few more handfuls of trail mix and filled up my water bottle. I sucked water through the filter as much as I could, taking advantage of the lull in the action to focus on hydrating. I closed my eyes and just heard mosquitoes and Diamond rootin’ around in the bushes. She jumped in the water and it was a welcome shake-off nearby. Without getting too comfortable, I slowly stood up, put the freaking pack back on my back, and we headed off. Diamond didn’t seem to be too bummed about getting back walking, anyways!
We passed the second Sonju campsite, next stop Egge Lake. Walkin’, walkin’, walkin’. I’d sometimes consider my posture, and realize my head is completely pointed down staring at the trail. Then, I’d trip as I tried to walk upright, chin out, spine aligned. I tried some different grips on the trekking poles, definitely glad to have them along. Despite hating them, those poles saved a lot of wear and tear on the ol’ legs, I say.
It was slow to Egge. Our pace was nearly unchanged, we weren’t stopping much, but the perception of time was much different than this morning blitzing trailhead to trailhead. One, two, one, two, one, two, the endless march. Egge came and went and we didn’t stop. Where are we, I wondered? Next stop, Finland. Gettin’ close. I figured we’d hit camp at around 6. Wait, how far out are we? I pulled out the map, unable to decipher the distance midway through the monster 11+ mile section.
We hit County Road 7 and walked on the road a bit. Surprisingly, Diamond slowed down. Or maybe I sped up compared to my klutzy trail speed with only two legs. We popped back into the woods, and we conveniently stopped at the Finland Rec Center trail sign and nearby creek. I filled up water and sat on the bridge as Diamond drank. It was the home stretch. Unfortunately, this section was hard if I remember correctly as Section 13 is atop a huge cliff, and it was near the end of the 7.6 mile section. Even 6 miles away puts us at two more hours of hiking. It was getting towards 5pm, and 2 more hours sounded impossible. Well, not that impossible, but strenuous. As not to lament, we just kept walking. I started chomping on a Clif Bar that I’d rationed for the day. I should’ve eaten it earlier, but figured that it still wouldn’t ruin my dinner appetite to have an evening snack.
We started trucking down towards Section 13, our final destination for the long day, and I was feeling great! The trail was nice and wide, devoid of large rocky scrambles and technical root formations, and it was good to be out! What a change in the mood!! I realized that the Clif Bar likely had caffeine in it. No way just caffeine can have that sort of effect… but I guess that’s what drugs do. The effects seem to wane as Section 13 came into view. I knew it was close, and we passed the buggy Sawtooth Bog to the base of some large hills. Up is the only way.
I kept telling Dime that we were right there. I heard voices in the woods and knew we were close. Also, I vaguely remember the book saying something about the water source at Section 13. No way there is no water source, but I made a note to keep my eyes peeled. Then again, it’s allegedly at the top of a cliff… how would there be a stream at the top of a cliff, I thought? We climbed and climbed and climbed. I was using the poles heavily, as if I wouldn’t be able to ascend this rooty climb without them. Then we went down. Then we went up more, up and up and up. We passed two little cricks that looked promising, and both times, I was alert to the upcoming campsite, thinking it would be situated nearby a crick. Up and up, climbing further and further up, and we made it to the top of Section 13. No site. Around a rock, with open outcroppings just waiting for photographers to capture the beauty, but we had no energy to gawk at the landscape. Finally, we hit the spur trail and was relieved to finally ditch the pack for the day. There were two people at camp, and I asked about water. They didn’t know. So, first things first, I set up the tent and went way back down the the water source. What a terrible walk. It was only a 15 minute round trip, but not one I wanted to repeat after nearly 35 miles. I unpacked the rest of the gear and was appalled to find that my recently purchased fuel bottle unscrewed itself and there was alcohol over everything. Terrible. My two new friends were kind enough to lend me their little stove and I cooked the most delicious and hearty meal possible in that little kettle. Cheesy queso rice and vegetarian taco filling mix and cheese curds and Fritos were very delicous. I tried to eat it in the tent, but the rainfly was on and it was sweltering. I heard more people come into the campsite, and ate around a fire, bugs at bay, and chatted with the other groups at Section 13. It was cool to meet Jared VanderHook, current self-supported SHT fasted known time dude at the campsite, who was just out with his son for the night. What a random meeting! But great to chat about nerdy things like pack weight and miles per day. We seemed to agree that 35 miles per day is probably the top end when carrying camping gear and food. And 300+ miles is a lot different than 200 when it comes to planning and packing food for an unsupported go. And on that note, Dime and I crashed.
Day 3 – Sunday, July 10, 2016
When Diamond woke up early for her food, I fed her and did not go back to sleep. We hit the trail early, packed up quickly and were off just after 6am. The legs and feet were feeling pretty decent, but there were some definite tender spots, notably on my left hip and left shoulder. I broke my left clavicle years ago and still have a protruding bone that can get a little finicky. It sometimes feels like the nerve gets rubbed, which is just a little weird. Meanwhile, the hip belt was in no way comfortable, but I was able to cinch everything down and forget about it. Diamond and I got turned around almost immediately in the cliffs of Section 13, maybe still asleep, but righted ourselves and made the descent, after briefly regaling in the spectacular, overcast morning.
25 Jun 2016
- Don’t mess up down project
- Really light (less than 1 lb)
- Good for 3 season/warmer weather
Final specs (click here to go to finished pics):
- Total weight: 427 grams, 15.06 oz, .94 lbs
- 66″ long, 44″ wide, 15″ wide footbox, 20″ sewn-in footbox
- 9 oz HyperDRY 850 FP Goose Down
- 3 yards 1.0 oz HyperD diamond ripstop nylon – Royal Blue / Calendered
- 3 yards 0.66 oz MEMBRANE 10 taffeta nylon – Spectra Yellow
- ~20 ft 0.67 oz Noseeum Baffle material – 1.5″
- Gutermann MARA 70 thread – Royal Blue
1. Draw detailed plan. I used the Karo Step method of baffling. Karo Step has open channels… for a better explanation, search on the internet. I made a grid pattern of 14″ boxes to plan the Karo Step.
My initial goal was to have the quilt 70″ long, 46″ wide, and a tapered design. I wanted to sew the 6″ Karo baffles on with 8″ gaps.
2. Cut the main layers of fabric to size according to plans. The outside layer is the blue Diamond ripstop, inside is yellow taffeta. Hem every edge.
3. The next step is to draw the grid pattern on each layer of fabric. I used a magic marker to mark on the ‘wrong side’ of the fabric. Online, many people tape down each layer on a flat piece of floor. I noticed carpet was not a very effective surface to do this, so got creative and taped the fabric to the wall, which worked great.
According to the plan, draw a grid pattern of 14″ squares. I started by drawing the mid-line lengthwise and measuring 14″ on either side from there for the vertical lines. I measured down a bit from the top, perhaps 6″, and then measured 14″ down for each horizontal (width-wise) line.
4. Mark where to sew the baffles. This is a bit complicated. Essentially, there should be open areas (no baffles) where the grid lines intersect. It almost looks like small 8×8″ squares all said and done. Again, the pattern is 6″ baffle, 8″ space, 6″ baffle, 8″ space, etc…, etc… I think the easiest way to mark the baffles is to measure 4″ from each intersection, mark 6″, and ensure it’s 4″ to the next intersection. If you measured correctly, it should line up perfectly. I freestyled the edges of the fabric and just decided where would make sense to have an additional baffle.
5. When you have the first layer of fabric done, it is IMPERATIVE to follow the exact measurements so the baffle lines match up. If you sew one side of the baffle, then connect to the other side of fabric and it doesn’t match up exactly, you have irreversible problems. The grid pattern and baffle markings must match up perfectly.
6. Tape baffles in place onto one layer.
**Note**: The above picture has just the vertical (length-wise) baffles taped on. It was at this point that I realized my calculations were incorrect. Luckily, the two layers matched. My mistake was that the horizontal (width-wise) baffles were measured with only 6″ gaps in between. It ended up to be no issue, but a mistake nonetheless.
7. Sew baffles onto first layer. This is very straightforward, especially with the markings. Just follow the line and make them as straight as possible. Again, these MUST match up when you attach the other layer. To be clear, sew these on the ‘wrong side’ of the fabric.
8. When all of the baffles are sewn into place, it is time to sew the baffles onto the other piece of fabric. Unfortunately, I didn’t take any pictures of this, and there is no good explanation how to do this. Line it up, think it through, and take your time. This takes a fair amount of readjusting the fabric, and there is a high chance of sewing folds every which way. Think it through, be diligent with where you are sewing, and it will go smoothly.
9. Sew edges. Quality check the baffles, and then line up each edge and simply sew ’em together. Make sure to keep one piece open to stuff the down in. I chose to leave a ~16″ section near the top corner open. It doesn’t really matter, but think of a place where you can easily push the down feathers deep into the quilt without being obstructed by a baffle. I sewed the edges twice for twice the reinforcement.
10. Connect lower part of quilt for sewn-in footbox. I chose to have a 20″ seam for the footbox area, so I measured up and sewed the two edges to create the tube shape. I spent extra time really reinforcing the ‘split’, as this is a high-stress area.
11. Make footbox. First, measure the circumference of the bottom of the quilt. Without doing too much math, I just laid the quilt flat on the ground, measured the length of the bottom and multiplied by two. Then, add up the four sides of the rectangular footbox to equal the sketchy measure of circumference. Cut squares of fabric, hem the edges, sew three edges, and stuff with a handful of down. Then, sew the last open edge up and you have the footbox.
12. Sew the footbox onto the quilt. Pins help tremendously on this part. I did this part inside-out to improve the look of the outside of the quilt.
13. Stuff with down. I used the Fronkey technique of stuffing down by going in my bathtub, and it worked great. I debated leaving some down for a different project, but figured what the heck, might as well use it all!
14. Sew last 16″ open section closed.
Comments: Notice the rectangular shape of the Karo Step, this is because of the mistake with the horizontal baffle spacing at 6″ instead of 8″ as the vertical (length-wise) baffle spacing.
21 Jun 2016
Race Day: Saturday, June 18, 2016 – 7:45am
I counted up the years and found that this was my eighth time in a row competing in a Grandma’s Marathon event. This is where it all began, and I love the race. I love the atmosphere in Duluth over the weekend, too, and look forward to it every single year. I signed up for the Garry Bjorkland Half Marathon 8 years ago, having never done a real running race, and the rest is history!
This year, I had very little by way of goals or aspirations for this race. Since April, my running volume had kind of tapered off, and I actually was focusing more on walking. It seems bizarre, and what really suffered here were long runs. If I’m backpacking every weekend, it makes it very difficult to get those few hours of running in. Eyes on the prize, though, and backpacking is first priority! Unfortunately, as I’d find out at Grandma’s Marathon, hiking doesn’t play in too well to marathon running. It’s probably better than watching TV, but definitely doesn’t translate exactly.
I was really looking forward to the weekend of Grandma’s, because 2016 was the first year in four that I wasn’t going to be working long hours at the race expo. After work on Friday, I’m off scott free! I got my packet on Thursday right as packet pickup opened, and was looking forward to have plenty of friends in town for the big weekend. I wanted to think of a race plan, and decided it might be a good idea just to take it easy and feel like I finished strong instead of the too-familiar slow crumble. I saw my friend Savannah at the expo and she was looking for a pacer for a sub 3:05 or even better: under 3 hours. That’s a respectable time for sure, but would be my slowest marathon of three, and this is coming off good 50 mile and 50k races just a few months prior. I wondered if it’d be possible to instead push hard and go for a marathon PR and pace for a 2:45 or so. If I built up for a fast marathon from April, it’d probably be no problem, but my training had shrunk since April and I had no workouts, longs runs, or races to use as a gauge to what I’m capable of. So I told Savannah we’d meet up at the start line and rock out some 7 minute miles.
Work was dreadfully slow on Friday, but it was great to get back for the weekend and see some friends. We had a pasta dinner potluck and everyone was in good spirits. I felt no pressure, but kept wondering if running slow would be a mistake. Why pass up the chance to have a great race? Then again, who cares? A 3:30 marathon would be fun and easy given my fitness! It is hard to even consider limiting one’s self in the context of a race. It’s hard enough when I’m trying to do a track workout!!
The weather was looking OK for race day. There was a chance for thunderstorms, which really can mean anything. Low winds, the temperature was bound to be higher than I’d like, but I didn’t think it’d be too extreme. As I went to sleep nice and early, I regretted promising to run quite a bit slower than PR pace with Savannah, but figured I’d stick with it and can always kick it up a notch at mile 15 for a sweet negative split.
I arose at 5:15am and saw house guest Carlie leisurely filling up her water bottle at the sink. Her and her husband Grant, as well as my roommate Matt, were all running the half marathon. I became a little confused with my morning sleepiness, but then quickly realized that they were probably running late. Matt came upstairs and I asked him if he was late or what. Nah, he said they have time. I told him the buses were shipping out of the University of Minnesota – Duluth, at 4:45-5:15am! They all three started scurrying around to get their things and got out the door at around 5:25 or so. How stressful! I can’t handle that on race morning! I wondered if they’d make it to the bus…
Meanwhile, my pre-race routine was right on point, and Kyle and Stacie picked me up just like last year. We made the buses with plenty of time to spare, hopped on, next stop Two Harbors. The weather was nice and the sun was out. It was shaping up to be a beautiful morning. The pre-race excitement on the school bus is always so fun. We got out and started walking towards the massive crowd near the starting corrals. The sun was already beating down, even at 7am. I dropped my clothes bag off and headed out to get in line for the porta-potties to complete the pre-race routine. I found Savannah almost immediately and we reviewed the pre-race plans. She said she doesn’t look at splits and told me not to yell them out. Fine! We’d just pace at a manageable speed, although I knew I wanted to hit 7 minute miles for the first five miles to start.
The hour before the race start was spent in porta-potty lines. I luckily got a big squirt of sunscreen and lathered it on my face and shoulders. It was going to be hot unless the clouds really come out in full force. With five minutes to spare, we ran towards the start line, got a nice comfortable spot near the 3:05 pace group. Without much ado, “ERRRRRRRRRRRR” and the start horn sounded. I promptly started my watch, but didn’t move my legs for 15 seconds until the crowd lurched forward. And we’re off.
It was nice to be up front and not have to run around all those people. My legs were feeling great, nice and refreshed, and I was excited to be on the way back to Duluth. Mile one was right on target. At around mile two, Savannah had to make a bathroom stop. I was confused because we were at the porta-potties not 20 minutes prior! But if ya gotta go, ya gotta go. She said she’d catch up and I never saw her again. On my own! I vowed to keep a 7 minute pace until at least mile five. I got to mile five, saw my boss Dennis, and was right on track.
At this point, I didn’t know what strategy to take. I realized that 7 minute pace felt like a good marathon pace and I wasn’t too confident that I’d be able to go much faster anyways. I tried to ignore the pace and just run at a very easy effort. My new race plan was to kick it down at mile 18, do a few miles, then really give it all up at mile 20 when the real race begins. A marathon is a 10k with a 20 mile warm-up. Each split up to the half marathon mark was pretty well under 7 minutes. 6:33, 6:54, 6:39, and I was feeling good. The sun was definitely coming out, but I hadn’t yet resorted to dumping water on myself. My nutrition plan was right on point, gels on the hours, and I made a point to sip Powerade at every aid station.
I felt the fatigue set it at mile 15 or 16, near Brighton Beach. Luckily, it was a brief wave of tiredness that quickly passed. We bumped out from the Scenic Highway 61 to London Road and I was feeling good and in control once again. I realized I wouldn’t get close to my PR. I would be happy to beat 3 hours at this point, as my pace was feeling pretty automatic but would not be reasonable if I cranked it down at all. We’ll see at mile 20, I thought to myself.
I noticed the heat on London Road, and the sun was definitely coming out. I noticed it in my fellow competitors, as well, as more and more people were walking or hunched over, or spending a long time at aid stations grabbing ice and sponges and water. I was happy to feel like I was managing the heat well, however, and surprised the race was going without a hitch. No stomach issues, legs were feeling decent, really nothing to write home about!
Nearing the end of the Lakeside neighborhood, I felt a wave of fatigue once again. I battled it, and felt faster and better going by the Glensheen Mansion that I ever have in past years. I could see Lemon Drop Hill and was passing people. What a great feeling. I ran up Lemon Drop and knew it was all downhill from here. This is where it gets gritty. Sure enough, I realized I wouldn’t get a break from the pain and suffering of running a marathon despite my relatively conservative pace. Down London Road through the business district, the wheels fell off. It was a quick demise, and I really felt my pace slow down. It was a struggle to hold on, but I knew that this was the part of the race where you gather as much energy as possible from the crowd and from adrenaline and let ‘er rip. Also, I knew I’d get a boost from friends at Super One a mile down and the Duluth Running Co. a half mile past that.
I got passed a few times on the open and exposed London Road business district. I could feel my legs getting really heavy, the pace was slowing, slowing, and the pain. I missed the 3 hour cut and was looking at a Boston Marathon qualifier time 3:05 if I could hold it together. My tank top was pasted to my skin with the water and the sweat and I was taking every opportunity to dump water on myself. Super One was indeed a good boost of energy as I high-fived my friends. Then we turned up 12th Avenue East, the last tiny uphill, and it was the hardest part of the race. I had no energy and told my friend Kris it was really hard. It is once we get back up to Superior Street when the crowds come out. It seems like such a long couple miles to the finish whereas the early miles had just clicked off one by one a few hours prior. Duluth Running Co. was great energy and my pace sped up. Keep it up, I thought to myself. Unfortunately, I wilted very soon after. I was struggling to hang on to my 7 minute pace goal, and my watch was confirming the grim notion that I was running slow. There was a wide array of energy levels in my fellow runners as some people were passing me and others were stopped completely because of the heat and the exhaustion and the pain.
As we passed Fitger’s, I gritted my teeth. It was slow going into Downtown Duluth, and I tried to get a mantra in my head. I told myself it was easy, this was nothing compared to the 50k just a month ago. I had to run 10 miles in worse heat and with worse pain, and now I just have 2 miles left on the easy, flat roads. Easy! Lake Avenue is my favorite part of the course, and I tried to use some of the loud energy to my favor. I knew I’d be able to hold on at this point and just tried to push it as well as I could. My splits had still been decent since Lemon Drop Hill, but things really started going south once we turned onto 5th Avenue West for the final mile. It was rough. The sun was so hot and I was just toast. I could feel the weight of the day on certain painful muscle groups but tried to push it out of my mind. Under the bridge, around the hotel, and that finish line was great to see. I could finally let loose, and can always somehow find a little extra energy on the finish stretch on Canal Park Drive. I made it through the finish right in the meat of 3:04.
I kept running very slowly, a volunteer may have thought I was delirious as she told me I can stop running. I told her that I actually cannot stop because I’d cramp up! I saw Grant and Carlie immediately, extremely happy to see medals around their necks given the frantic morning start. It was nice to sit down, I saw some fellow Duluthian marathoners, dunked my legs in the Big Lake, and drank some chocolate milk.
All in all, the 2016 Grandma’s Marathon was great! It was fun to run a steady race and I felt great in the days after the race. It wasn’t my fastest race, in fact it was my slowest marathon out of three, but the entire weekend was so enjoyable and I was very pleased with my time regardless of what it could have been given a different race strategy. By mile 22 or so, I was giving it all I got anyways, so I’m led to believe that cranking down the pace earlier would have made for a more extreme implosion, especially with the heat! Not to many PR’s were set that day. And with that one done, there are no other races on the docket!
Chip Time: 3:04:14
Shoes: Mizuno Wave Rider size 11
Food: Strawberry Kiwi Honey Stinger Gel, Salted Caramel Gu
11 Jun 2016
Hike Date: June 4-5, 2016
Trail: Superior Hiking Trail
Trip Plan: 2 days, 50 miles, park at Ely’s Peak, hike home and then back the next day.
Day 1 – Drive south to Ely’s Peak/123rd Avenue trailhead, hike home (near Bagley Nature Center)(27 miles)
Day 2 – From home, run to Enger Tower and hike back to the car (23 miles)
- Total Miles: 50.44 miles
- Total Time: 13:06
Day 1 – Saturday, June 4, 2016
On a foggy, dreary and chilly Saturday morning, I laid in my bed, dog Diamond by my side, and was hoping to do anything besides go outside and hike for an untold amount of hours. Eventually, I got my ass out of bed, much to Dimey’s delight and we went hiking.
Rewind a few days, and the weather forecast for the upcoming weekend was again rain. What a bummer. When Thursday came around, I had no plan for the weekend, but did have a looming appointment scheduled on my calendar that read “50 Miles”. I kept thinking to myself, “don’t want to camp in the rain, don’t want to camp in the rain, don’t want to hike in the rain.” I fell asleep on Thursday with nothing packed, no provisions, no plan to go backpacking the next evening. All day on Friday, I gave this trip more thought, while frequently checking the meteorology reports. It’s kind of a cop out, but it would be much easier to mentally commit the miles if I could sleep in my own bed and eat whatever I wanted after a long day on the trail in the rain.
So I put the plans in motion. I decided I could drive towards the southern section of the trail. My house is nearly a half mile from the SHT in Bagley Park on the University of Minnesota-Duluth campus. 40 or 45 miles south from there is the southern terminus of the Superior Hiking Trail (currently at Wild Valley Road), and 250 or so miles north is the northern terminus at 270 Degree Overlook. I’d never been to the newly completed 6 mile extension south from Jay Cooke State Park to the new southern terminus, and this would be a good opportunity to check it out. I did some calculations, and figured it’d be around 40 miles or perhaps a few more to park at the southern terminus and hike all the way home to a trail split in Bagley Park, then another half mile home from there. If I could do that on Saturday, then somehow get another 20 miles in–maybe get a taxi to a choice trailhead–back to the car, I’d be in business.
Fast forward to Saturday morning. I set my alarm on Friday night and we awoke at 6am. This is Diamond’s breakfast time and I had no choice to get up and feed the beast. It surely looked rainy out, and had been raining for 15 hours prior. Nice. I reset my alarm for 6:38am. That came and went. Next thing I know, it’s 9am and still very foggy, and my motivation at an all time low. I somehow came to terms with what I wanted to do and we got the hell out of the house. Map in hand on the freeway, I did some calculations and figured 40 miles at 3 miles per hour puts us at 13 hours and change. We’d maybe hit the southern terminus and park by 10am, which puts us at 11pm to arrive back at the house. Nope. No way. That’s stupid! I thought about Palkie Road on the north side of Jay Cooke. Nah, still too far. What about Ely’s Peak? That will work. I figured it was 25 miles or so, which is about 8 hours of hiking, and puts us at a cool 8pm arrival time back at the house. A good, long day, and then we can just hike right on back the next morning, getting the perfect 50 miles in! Boom.
So we parked in the fog and got to hiking. I didn’t track my gear, no gear list, no plan for this one. I ate a large breakfast a few hours earlier, took rain pants and my rain jacket, a lot of snacks and a 2L water bladder full. The rain had luckily subsided and it looked like we’d maybe get sprinkled on, maybe a thunderstorm, but it no surefire drenching rain like Friday had brought. Diamond didn’t even bring her pack at all, I packed a baggie of a few treats.
We started off walkin’, and I immediately got nervous because all I was thinking of was how I parked directly in front of a sign that said “NO PARKING 10PM-6AM”. Eh, who will be in the lot past 10 anyways? Well, police officers, for one. Oh, well. It started sprinkling, and we didn’t see anyone for a long time.
A few hours in, I pulled out the rain jacket as it started to rain enough to make my shirt wet. I was pretty warm already and regretted taking so many clothes. I had a bamboo short sleeve and a long sleeve tech tee with basketball shorts. The short sleeve was off quickly, and it actually wasn’t too bad with the rain gear on. Meanwhile, Diamond was getting drenched. Maybe three hours in, we stopped for lunch and sat down on a very wet bench alongside Keene Creek. I had a large burrito that was full of just peanut butter and jelly. FULL of peanut butter and jelly. It was too much… I gave a small bit to Diamond and started walking again with the last bit in my hand. The jelly was sticky and too much peanut butter was kind of gross. The thing weighed a half pound!
Soon after Keene Creek, we went past Magney-Snively and the rain had subsided. We were on Skyline Boulevard for a half mile road section, and I saw two ladies putting up signs. They joked how it is such a nice day. Actually, it really was! I told them how there are no bugs and I can’t complain! I think it was a unique perspective they hadn’t considered. They were putting up signs for a horse ride. We went back down into the woods, and I quickly realized that my tee shirt sketchily shoved into my hydration pack had slipped out. Crap! I started walking back and decided it was stupid to do so. This is motivation to come back tomorrow no matter what.
I started getting a bit tired, but Diamond was still tugging on my waist. We were maybe 4 or 5 hours in. I think that is the threshold where the body starts to give out a little bit. It’s mostly the feet, knees, and general fatigue. The questions arise in one’s mind why one is doing this. It was so foggy and any overlook was just grey. That was kind of nice, because you can see Enger Tower from so far away, which is a little frustrating to know that’s how far you have to walk. Crossing Cody Street was kind of dull because it seems like its just half way. Luckily, the walk to Enger went really quickly and next thing we were there! I looked at my watch to get an idea how far we’d want to hike tomorrow, and we’d hiked 18 miles.
Ever since Keene Creek and the lunch stop, by stomach wasn’t feeling right. It was definitely the peanut butter. My stomach probably wouldn’t feel great if I ate a stick of butter or a cup of oil or a large slice of lard, either. Fat is very calorie dense and therefore good for backpacking with such a favorable calorie to weight ratio. However, you can’t just eat fat with out paying for it! I paid for it when I had to stop, then realize I needed to take an emergency dump. No way I’d make it another 10 miles turtle-walking and clenching by butt. It was coming now! I ran Diamond off the trail as quickly as possible and did what I needed to do. Then we kept walking.
It was nice to get to Enger Tower. The day hadn’t broken at all, and it was still drizzling and cloudy and foggy. We descended into the Duluth City, and started running. No sense slow-walking on the flat, paved path through Canal Park. People were everywhere trying to enjoy their Saturday despite the crummy weather, and Diamond and I probably looked like weirdos running with a big, overstuffed hydration pack and caked in mud. We stopped at the very corner of Lake Superior and went down to the lake. I was hoping Diamond would wash off a little bit and drink water, but neither of us really wanted to go into the waves. We sat at a bench and ate the majority of the remaining food. The home stretch is one big climb back home. So we ran the rest of the Lakewalk until the Superior Hiking Trail turns onto 14th Avenue East in the middle of Duluth. We walked up the steep hill, and kept hiking once we got into Chester Creek. It was good to know that neither Diamond or I had slowed down much at all during the long day. Going light helps a lot! Bagley was next, and we were home before long at all. We’d made a really fast hike that day, and celebrated with a lot of food. Pizza it is. I went to bed relatively early and set my alarm for 6am again.
Day 2 – Sunday, June 5, 2016
I actually woke up early on Sunday and Diamond and I both seemed to be fit to walk another big day, which was great. I felt really good, so ate breakfast and we hit the trail without much dawdling at all. The plan today was to run to Enger Tower from home. No sense in hiking all the way down to Canal Park just to be on the Lakewalk and then hike the huge climb up to Enger. This would cut off at least an hour, too. So we jogged to Enger Tower in the beautiful morning sun. It was a much different day with abundant sunshine and warmth. I wondered if this was good or bad, as we both seem to prefer cool weather versus hot heat. A quick half hour and we hit the Superior Hiking Trail and slowed it down to a walk. There was a chance for thunderstorms around 1pm, but did not pack any clothes this time. Just a long sleeve tech tee, basketball shorts, and nothing much else. Also, I didn’t bring any peanut butter today! We packed a similar stock of snacks, but figured I’d be able to hike all the way back without lunch. Starting before 7am helps with that.
There were more people on the trail on the sunny Sunday morning, and we passed (and got passed) by several runners. I could see my muddy footprints in a few spots, but the trail was already drying out quite substantially. The hike back was going fast, and we were in Piedmont before long, soon to pass under I-35, and in the prairie-like section along the freeway. It was nice to actually have a view! In the exposed sections leading to Spirit Mountain, time slowed down. It was getting warm, and the miles were taking their toll. I saw some friends running up a tough climb just outside of Spirit Mountain, and that seemed to break up the walking nicely. We zinged past Spirit Mountain and were nearing Magney-Snively when I found my shirt! Nice! Someone had hung it over a post or stump and I shoved it tightly in my pack.
Walking on Skyline, I found the SHT sign to get back into the singletrack and thought it was funny that there were two arrows pointing different directions. I followed the trail down. Down, down, down, and thought I’d maybe misread the sign and taken the wrong trail. So I kept my eyes peeled for the blue blaze. No blazes. Hmm… I figured it was an interconnected system of trails here and I could catch onto a trail. No, no, we stopped and I grabbed my phone to hopefully orient myself. I looked up the hill, and it was a sheer climb to get back onto the trail. Screw it, we can get back to the car one way or another, it doesn’t matter if we aren’t on the SHT. We kept walking down, down, down, and ultimately met up with the DWP, an old railroad grade that parallels the Munger Trail. Well, we parked right at the Munger Trail so would probably get to where we need to be soon enough. And this is easy walking. Easy, boring walking, though. Flat gravel. So Diamond and I walked on the flat gravel for a few miles. It was getting hot, and poor Diamond had no creeks to drink from. Finally, we went through the dark tunnel under Ely’s Peak and I knew we were close. I got a little turned around looking for the right trail, but soon enough, we crossed some train tracks and got to the car as the clouds rolled in.
What a hike! It didn’t go exactly to plan with the DWP debacle, but Diamond and I both seemed to be in great shape. Yeah, we were tired, but no injuries, no major implosions, and I think we could have gone a few more miles if necessary. With food on our minds, we drove home just as it started sprinkling. Then, on the freeway, and all out torrential downpour slowed my speed on the freeway to just 40 MPH! We got done at the right time!
It wasn’t purist backpacking, but I think this sort of hiking is great for testing the limits and really building some strength and stamina for both Diamond and I. However, I am eagerly looking forward for a few weeks to do another two-nighter.
As a training plan, I’m looking to be able to hike 80 miles in a weekend with relative ease. To build up to 80 miles in a weekend and then do a few of those should get me into good enough shape to hopefully pull 40 miles day after day. Then again, that is a long, long weekend of hiking! Luckily it’s getting fun.
05 Jun 2016
Hike Date: May 28-30, 2016
Trail: Superior Hiking Trail
Trip Plan: 2 nights, not well planned at all. Park at Sugar Loaf Road lot and yo-yo with a long middle day Sunday.
Day 1 – Hike north from Sugar Loaf (~10 miles)
Day 2 – Hike south from a campsite, past the car, and continue south (~30 miles)
Day 3 – Hike north from a campsite to the car (10-25 miles)
- Total Miles: 46
- Total Time: 30:18
- Time Hiking: 14:51
- Time At Camp: 15:27
Gear and Food: 5-28-16
Day 1 – Saturday, May 28, 2016
As Diamond and I drove up Sugar Loaf Road into the fog and mist, I was happy it wasn’t raining, like the forecast suggested. Once we got out of the car, I realized that the parking lot was pretty muddy. It then dawned on me that the trail is probably quite muddy. In fact, I could see water on the trail 50 feet away!
Rewind 5 days, and everyone at the ol’ office was really excited for the long Memorial Day weekend. The forecast for rain was set in stone, so to speak, as Friday drew near. My initial plan for the weekend was to take Friday off of work, and try to roll big miles–120 by utilizing Thursday night and all the way through Monday. I realized far out that it was probably not my best use of time off, and so I figured I’d still have 3 full days of hiking, plus any mileage I could get on Friday after work. With rain for four days straight, I was rethinking my plan quickly. I ultimately decided on Thursday night that I would not go out until Saturday at the very least, if at all.
Luckily, by Friday, the meteorologists were predicting less rain and more of a dreary, foggy and cloudy weekend. That is OK! I made the plan to go out on Saturday at my convenience. No rush as to let the rain clear out. On Friday night, I became completely absorbed in a down top quilt DIY project (which is another blog post for another day), and I didn’t get in gear until the afternoon. With no plan in place, I figured Sugar Loaf Road would be a great place to park for a yo-yo- style hike. Up the first day, down past the car for the big second day, then back up to the car. I knew I wanted to try to rake up 30 miles on Sunday, so the other two days just have to add up to 30.
So we parked and got out, and I thought of the mud and water… a thought that hadn’t crossed my mind yet. Diamond and I set off, and what a good feeling to be on the trail! In 15 minutes, however, my socks were wet. Oh well, they won’t be getting much drier from here! We were heading north, and I figured we had at least 4 or 5 hours before it got too late to hike and set up camp and such. Given my 3 MPH target, that translates to 12 to 15 miles. Unfortunately, there were no campsites in that range. The last site that would be plausible to hit was North Cross River at ~11 miles. Beyond that, I’d have to hike up and over Carlton Peak, one of the biggest climbs on the SHT if I’m not mistaken, and another 5 miles or so. I was looking at 20 or so miles, and that wasn’t possible. Back to Cross River I guess! In the winter, that was an awesome campsite, but it seems ridiculous to camp at the same site twice with all of those option!
I saw one girl backpacking with her dog almost right away, and then didn’t see anyone else until another solo hiker along the Cross River. We’d done this whole section not 5 months previous, but in the wintertime (see link above), and it was just as stunning in the summertime.
The variety in terrain in just 8 miles is incredible, from following bubbling cricks to swampy pond areas, to large forests, to the powerful Cross River, you get a great mix. The trail got more and more saturated as we went, to the climax near Dyer’s Creek where the Superior Hiking Trail had a stream of water literally flowing right down the direct center. I think it was technically the west branch of Dyer’s Creek. After that, mud over my shoes. Dimey was truckin’ right through.
We were feeling good past Cook County Road 1 and into the woods. The Tower Overlook was really pretty boring because of the dense fog. Every overlook or break in the trees brought the same grey view. No bugs was nice, though.
The section beside Boney’s Meadow went quickly, and we crossed of Fredenburg Creek soon enough, and jetted right past the campsite there. Another few minutes and we were already at the Cross River. What a roaring, energetic river! Just hearing it and watching the water rush down towards Lake Superior was energizing to me.
The rocks and boardwalks were very slick, and I was happy to keep my feet below me. Just as I was expecting, we descended a rocky hill into the Cross River Campsites. In the interest of staying at a different campsite, I scoped out South Cross River, but opted to hike another 50 feet to the North Cross River. Diamond was not fatigued at all and was running around like a nut when I unleashed her. I set up camp quickly and had a nice meal of dehydrated refried beans and rice and cheese and chips. Before it was dark, we were huddled in the damp tent, everything damp. I had high hopes that my socks and shoes and pants would dry out completely by the morning.
Day 2 – Sunday, May 29, 2016
The day started off very early. What time, I do not know. It was light, and Diamond was looking for her food. I leashed her and we got the food from her pack in the tree. She ate in the tent and then both dozed off. When we woke up next, I actually checked the clock and it was 7:30 or so. Time to go! I let the beast out of the tent, and was sad to see that everything was still very wet. To top it off, there were slugs everywhere. Pretty simple to flick ’em into , but to see slugs dragging their slimy butts all over my stuff was nasty at 7am. We got packed up and ready to go quickly, and Diamond finally slowly walked over to me to I could slide on her soaking wet and muddy doggie pack. Sorry!
The night before, I’d done a bit of brainstorming, and thought I could do an out-and-back quick to Carlton Peak, past the car until Dime and I were tired. That way, it would be a nice and short walk to the car on Monday. The goal was 30 miles. The weather had not changed whatsoever, and it was still foggy, damp and dreary. We set off feeling good. I ate my breakfast bars quickly and before long, were on top of Temperance River, awaiting the long decent to that deep gorge. Diamond was keeping a good pace and was pulling my hips with every step.
Down the large hill–not looking forward to going back up that thing–and we were alongside Temperance River. The mud was out today! Maybe it was the time of year or the recent rain, but that river was raging! The waterfalls were incredible, and it was hard to keep walking with so many great overlooks to the deep gorge that the Temperance has carved. We started seeing people now that Diamond and I were in the state park.
We crossed the bridge, went up the opposite side of Temperance River, next stop Carlton Peak. I did some quick math and realized that we’d be at 12 miles or so when we get back to the Cross River, plus 11 miles back to the car, which meant that our Monday was going to be puny! I was kind of bummed that I didn’t plan it out better, but didn’t want to turn around or anything. I wanted to get up to Carlton, and really, the short day on Monday wasn’t the worst thing in the world. It would be very nice to get back into civilization at a reasonable hour.
It was slow going up to Carlton, but worth it for the sweet view. At this elevation, we were slightly above the fog, and could see it crawling between peaks and valleys in every direction. The big Lake was completely obscured, but I saw the slightest break in the clouds to the north, and hoped it would clear out so we could dry everything out at camp. But that was another good 24 miles away. For now, we eat. My shirt was soaked in the back.
The climb down from Carlton Peak was worse. Everything was slippery. Then it started raining. I judged when I should put on my rain jacket by how wet my shirt looked. In the sprinkles, there was no indication that water was falling. By now, I could see the raindrops. It sounded like the rain was coming down harder up above the trees, so I put on the sweltering rain jacket. What a relief, though, as the rain did indeed get worse. I had the hood up, and before long, Diamond was soaking wet and trying to shake off every 15 minutes to no avail. My pants were soaked besides behind my knees. There were day hikers here and there, and everyone was in the same boat… wet.
By the time we started climbing back towards the Cross River, it was still rainy. The climb wasn’t as bad as I’d expected after the grueling Carlton Peak, and I started counting worms. There were worms all over the trail, and Dime would step on ’em and they’d squirm and shrivel up. I got to 38 or so and figured that counting worms was a stupid game. It was hard to think of hiking for many, many more miles when we got back to Cross at around noon, but kept hiking anyways. The day was still dreary as ever, and we stopped for lunch at the Ledge campsite on the Cross River. I let Dime off for a bit and she was doing circles in the dirt. You’re not tired?!?!? I yelled at her.
Before long, we’d done 8 more miles and was back at the Dyer’s Creek mud pit. By now, the day had completely changed and it was sunny. It was short lived, however, and the sky would turn grey quickly and sprinkle a bit, then clear out. This happened a few times during the afternoon. I had the idea of dropping out heavy on my mind. I figured that if my pants were completely dry by the car, I’d keep going. If not, we’re done. When we got to the car, I didn’t stop, didn’t think of anything except to keep walking. We barely looked at that ol’ rusty Subaru!
There was a campsite atop Horseshoe Ridge, and the sign near my car said Horseshoe was 6.1 miles away. That seemed like the ticket, as Dime had dropped back and wouldn’t hike in front of me, and I was becoming very tired. The site beyond that was perhaps another five miles. Another hour or two… nah. Right past the car, we entered into a pine forest. I told the forest that I liked pine forests. I was in good spirits despite the fatigue. Just to push past the car and NOT drop out was plenty to be happy about.
Through the pine forest, we came to a great section traversing the hills high above the big Lake Superior. Everything had cleared out, and it was really nice to have some scenery to break things up. We were walking through some nice and easy meadows, and seemingly out of the mud. The Caribou River came and went pretty quickly, and I saw some signs of other hikers on the trail for once. The map said it’s a huge climb for about 3 miles up, up, up to Horseshoe Ridge and our campsite for the night. Up and up, then mud. It was slow going, and this part of the trail did not seem very well maintained. Trees were encroaching on the trail, and mud.
We climbed up a steep hill to be rewarded by a fantastic view from Horseshoe Ridge. It must be close. I saw a through hiker who was taking a break, passed a crick, and there we were! I noticed we were sharing a campsite with another group, but nobody was in sight. I saw a tent and trekking poles. We took our backpacks off, and Diamond ran right to the tent and jumped! She must have seen its inhabitants and was spooked. Crap, now I have to make sure that she doesn’t terrorize these people. She’s taken my shoes off into the woods and I can forgive her, but that would be terribly embarrassing to have to go find someone’s old muddy boot that Diamond is swinging around in circles. Why she wasn’t tired, I don’t understand.
I took off the boots, set everything up, and walked barefoot back to that crick for water. Bad move, as it was really rocky. I made the freeze dried lasagna and it was delicious. By 8pm or so, we were in the tent with bugs surrounding the entire exterior. I opted for no rain fly, and we slept under the starts. The DIY down quilt I’d made just a few days ago was very warm and seemed perfectly dry. Before long, it was dark, and we were out. A muddy dude and a really muddy dog crammed into a tent.
Day 3 – Monday, May 30, 2016
Diamond woke up early in the morning as we both heard rustling from our neighbors. I remembered to bring her food into the tent this time and she ate it in seconds flat. We laid back down to bed, and woke up an untold number of minutes later. A beautiful morning with the sun shining, I flicked a few slugs off my stuff and packed up quickly. Knowing that it was either downhill, or nice scenic hiking, and that we only had 6 miles to go, morale was high. I shrieked “MORNIN’!!” out upon Horseshoe Ridge. It was a blur before we hit Caribou River, and we really enjoyed the final section to the car.
Unlike the last few days, it was hot, even early in the morning. The sun really makes a difference. By the time we got to the car, Diamond was panting and drank a lot water. I switched out my clothes and we set off. It was a nice short hike on the last day, for better or worse, but overall a great weekend. The inclement weather really did not play too much of a part. We slept great, and it was nice to have the cool, bug-free hiking weather, even if that meant fog and drizzle. There really isn’t much to say about mud and wetness, as that is just part of summertime on the trail. When is the next trip?!?
28 May 2016
Race Day: Saturday, May 21, 2016
Location: Lutsen, MN
The few days before race day were accepting that the Superior Spring 50k was going to be a hard race. The weeks prior were not ideal training conditions: traveling, vacation, business traveling, rock and roll festivals, heavy drinking, a bad cold, more or less in that order. I was feeling fit as ever, but had nothing to validate it because my running had been pretty sporadic and without any sort of structure. Definitely no four-hour SHT training runs like Wild Duluth a few seasons prior, which seemed to help that race tremendously. But even that was still a hard race.
With mom doing the 25k, I stayed Friday night right in between the start and finish lines at Caribou Highlands Lodge in Lutsen. That was clutch. The plan was to drive up with Jack after work, drop Jack off at a nearby campsite of his choosing, then go to Lutsen, sleep, do the 50k, then meet back up with Jack and fish for a couple days. So that’s what we did! Driving up Highway 61 from Duluth on Friday, it was shaping up to be a perfect weekend.
Competition for the race was looking pretty steep, so my plan was to let ‘er rip, see how the first few miles pan out, but try to race my own race and see where I shake out. The course was an out-and-back southbound on the Superior Hiking Trail from Lutsen to Carlton Peak and back. I’d never been on that section of trail so was excited about that. Times looked pretty fast for the course, which seems crazy given the rugged nature of the Sawtooth Mountains, but I figured I’d pace off of 4 hours flat to finish and see where it gets me. If all goes according to plan, that would get me a solid third place.
As promised by my phone app, Saturday morning was prime weather. Cool, crisp, sunny with scattered clouds, and the green was starting to pop. There was definitely a lot of snow left on Lutsen, but very patchy. I ate a nice buffet breakfast, had some coffee, some Mountain Dew, a few caffeine jelly beans, and a very accessible hotel room bathroom for the morning bid’ness. On the start line feeling good, I was anxious to get the race started. Race director John Storkamp made a funny joke about “coffeine” at some guy’s expense, a few other words and “GO!”, we were off. The videographer on the lead vehicle fell out of the trunk, which was not expected 3 seconds into the race, and pre-race top contender Michael Borst took off right away.
Photo Credit: Jim Ward
The race starts and ends on a half mile of road, and I took the lead of small group as Michael bolted out of sight. We got onto a bit wider of a trail, climbed and climbed, and then entered the signature Superior Hiking Trail singletrack. I was pretty much running by myself already, with Mike way out front and the rest of the racers somewhere behind me. I didn’t turn around and look. 15 minutes in, I saw Michael up front again. I figured I might as well surge to catch him and hang on. Eventually, I was right on his tail. We chatted a bit, and definitely took note of the perfect morning for running. It turns out that the other pre-race contender, who had won this race multiple times, was not racing. Chris Lundstrom is his name, and he allegedly had sick kids according to Michael’s intel. I joked with Mike that it was good for us, but I don’t think he found it very funny!
I remember thinking how it is nice when the weather conditions have no factor in the outcome of the race. We went down Mystery Mountain, up to a sweet lookout, and then down a really steep hill to the flats. My watch flashed 32 minutes for my first 4-mile split. Perfect. It wasn’t much longer, though, before I let Mikey go. I have got to race my own race, I said to myself, and could definitely feel the speed early in the race. It’s hard to know when you’re pushing to hard in a race like a trail 50k, and just very slightly too hard for two hours is enough to make the following two hours very tough.
Photo Credit: Jeff Miller
Photo Credit: Jeff Miller
Photo Credit: Jeff Miller
I got to the first aid station at 56 minutes or so. Way ahead of schedule, WOW! I was makin’ some good time! Feelin’ good, I filled up my water bottle and took a cup full of gummi bears, and shoved them all in my mouth as I ran out of the aid station. My dad said I was three minutes down. Hm, not bad. Then again, he was with me just 30 minutes ago… It took me a while to chew all of the gummis. There was nobody behind me that I could sense, and I was right where I wanted to be.
Photo Credit: Jim Ward
Photo Credit: Jim Ward
Photo Credit: Jim Ward
The next few miles went by pretty fast. It was a runnable section to the next aid station just over five miles away. They clicked by, and I was completely alone besides a few groups of hikers and perhaps a photographer or two. I was right on track at the second aid station, and I ate some pretzels and drank a bit of Coke, and asked for salt pills. There were no salt pills, so I took off. My plan was to eat a gel at 1.5 hours and 3 hours, I’d eaten my first gel not too long ago, so I left the aid station filled up. It was a quick two miles or so up to Carlton Peak, and then turn around and run all the way back to Lutsen. Exiting the aid station, I asked my dad to time how far back the rest of the race was, and he said I was around four minutes down from Mike. I realized running away that I’d see everyone after the turnaround with my own two eyes…
Photo Credit: Jim Ward
Photo Credit: Jim Ward
Photo Credit: Jim Ward
The climb up Carlton was rough. I kept thinking that it was nothing compared to Ant Hill at Zumbro, but it was starting to get hot, I was starting to get tired, and was scared to be walking. I saw Mike barreling down the hill and noted the time. The views at Carlton Peak were dramatic, but there was no time to regale in the beauty. I reached the top and confusedly asked what to do… if I just touch the turnaround sign or what. Yep! Ok, off to the bottom.
I looked at my watch again and saw 2:01. A one minute negative split is definitely not out of the question! I wanted to remember 2:01 to see how far back the rest of the pack was. Bombing back down was much easier than climbing up Carlton Peak, and I saw a pack of three guys running together about three minutes back. I had no wiggle room if I wanted to stay in second place. I tried to think of what I should do at the next aid station, and I started to feel the day wearing on me. Too soon! No!
At the far aid station, I refilled my bottle and drank some Heed. Borst was five minutes up, and my dad confirmed that the second pack was three minutes back. I hurried on to the final aid station. This is the meat of the race. The key is to not slow down, or at least slow down as little as possible. I was still running at a decent clip, but holding off the inevitable break-down is my true measure of fitness and mental ‘stremph’.
Photo Credit: Jim Ward
It was hot and tough running through the rest of the 50k field towards the first/last aid station. Hills were becoming pretty hard to run up. It must’ve been an easy time running down these, I thought! I tried to remember the intricacies of the trail to recall what elevation challenge was next. It was past the last aid station to the steep hill where Michael left me in the dust. Running was becoming tough to sustain through the smallest uphill bump, and I knew my split was slowing simply from the excessive walking. The heat was searing in the unshaded sun.
My focus had become solely to not get caught. It was terribly nerve-wracking to ponder how close the pack was behind me. They were running together at Carlton Peak, so they’re coming for me. How disheartening would it be to be passed while walking slowly? I finally neared the last aid station and had my bottle filled with the tastiest ice water. I took ice on my head and ate a few pretzels. I made a grave mistake by not drinking as much water, coke and Heed as I could. In a disheveled state, I was in-and-out. My dad gave me the update: I can’t catch Borst. I didn’t really expect to once he ran away from me three hours ago…
Photo Credit: Jim Ward
Photo Credit: Jim Ward
Photo Credit: Jim Ward
Photo Credit: Jim Ward
Photo Credit: Jim Ward
It was almost 8 miles back to the finish without an aid station. It took me 56 minutes to run this stretch the first time around, and I had a massive hill to look forward to on the return trip. However, I recall climbing much of the first 15 minutes of the race, so it should be a relief to run almost exclusively downhill on the final home stretch. I was slamming my ice water. It was so tasty. I was half gone with my bottle before a mile had passed from the aid station. Poor form. I realized my mistake and longed to be back at the aid station with unlimited drinks. Foolish. But I kept running. I wasn’t necessarily sore, just fatigued. The heat of the day was taking it’s toll on everyone, though, and I was walking past 25k runners on uphills, and blasting past them on the flats and downhills. The rest of the race was a slow degradation of my pace. And of my wellbeing, for that matter!
Photo Credit: Jeff Miller
Photo Credit: Jeff Miller
Photo Credit: Jeff Miller
I expected the large hill up Moose Mountain at any time, and before long, there it was. I walked up the whole thing, and it was actually a welcome relief. I saw my friend Melissa who was stopped. I coaxed her on to walk with me, and she did, but wasn’t doing so hot! She said she might yak. “Don’t yak” was my revolutionary advice as I walked past. Running was rough once I got to the top. I expected of myself to run once we got to the flats… it should be smooth sailing from here. Another downhill, some flats, a grinding uphill with switchbacks up Mystery Mountain, and that’s it! But I was not smooth sailing.
Once I got to the bottom of Mystery, perhaps 3 miles to the finish, I really did not feel good. Running was a monumental task. Running fast was not in the cards. Thinking back to the easy feeling of zinging 8 minute miles through the morning mist seemed ridiculous at this point. How? I looked back when I could and made a promise that when I get to the top of Mystery, I’d drink the rest of my water and run the whole rest of the way to the finish without walking. I kept that in mind during the rough walk all the way up Mystery. It was a struggle, but more so mentally as I accepted that I’d get passed in the last mile. There’s no way I’ve held anyone off with my 25 minute pace. I finally got to the top of the hill and realized my water was completely gone anyways. Nice, so much for the last sip. It probably evaporated. The heat was brutal. It was probably 72 degrees, but living next to Lake Superior does nothing for my heat tolerance. I had to fulfill my promise to myself to run the whole way home. Luckily, the downhills were doable. I was probably bashing my legs with poor, fatigued running form on the rocky and rugged slopes, but did not care at all. I yelled. The 25k runners looked back. Just a grunt of pain here, nothing to see! I was VERY eager to get off of the SHT and on to the ATV trail. Just a quick lil’ jaunt and it’s the home stretch onto the pavement. Over the Poplar River, and I could see cars.
I had to walk on the road. Only for a moment. I kept running. I felt like I was going to faint. I was really lightheaded and knew I was pretty well dehydrated. I wondered what would happen when I finish. As long as I don’t faint or poop my pants, I’m fine. The finish stretch was a glorious sight, and I gritted my teeth to bring it home. I heard someone yell “how about a smile?”, and cracked a small grin. I came into the finish and felt like hell. No celebration, just straight to a folding chair. My watch read 4:23, which means I ran over 20 minutes slower on the second half. I drank a couple of cups of water, and several cups of iced tea, several lemonades, and several Arnold Palmers. Iced tea and lemonade at the finish… genius. I was able to hold off my adversaries, and they probably were having a rough second half as well. Meanwhile, I think Michael Borst sped up the second half, and had a fantastic finish a few minutes under 4 hours.
Photo Credit: Jim Ward
Photo Credit: Jim Ward
Photo Credit: Jim Ward
Photo Credit: Jim Ward
Photo Credit: Jim Ward
What a great race. It wasn’t well executed, my training was not on par with what I’d like, but the race itself was fantastic. Out and back has its own character from a point-to-point, and that section of the Superior Hiking Trail made for a great race. How does one climb Carlton Peak and run back to Lutsen, but after 85 miles of running, as in Superior Fall? That is beyond me…
Second place was a good feeling, and I got an award for the Open category. Meanwhile, mom won the Grandmasters division in the 25k. Bringin’ home the hardware!
Photo Credit: Jim Ward
After more iced tea, a shower and burger and beer, I met back up with Jack and we stayed overnight at the Superior National Forest campsite way up on the Poplar River. We went fishing and I got one small fish, presumably a brook trout, thanks to some kid who found worms at his family’s adjacent campsite. What a fantastic weekend up north.
Shoes: Mizuno Hayate size 11
Handheld: Nathan insulated 18oz
Food: Gu Salted Carmel gel, Honey Stinger Ginsting gel, 1 pack Honey Stinger Cherry Coke chews. Aid station: gummi bears, pretzels, two salt pills, Coke, Heed, water
07 May 2016
Hike Date: April 29-30, 2016
Trail: Superior Hiking Trail
Trip Plan: 2 nights, 40 miles. Park at Rossini Road and hike home.
Day 1 – Hike south from Rossini Road to Big Bend Campsite (3 miles)
Day 2 – Hike south from Big Bend Campsite to Bald Eagle Campsite (24 miles)
Day 3 – Hike south from Bald Eagle Campsite to Home (near Hartley Park)(11 miles)
Day 1 – Friday, April 29, 2016
The journey to hike the entire Superior Hiking trail officially starts here. I’ve planned out ten backpacking trips, of varying distances and time, to prepare me for the long haul. The very first one is now. The plan was to start off relatively easily—I’d get the whole weekend to hike just 40 miles. It seems ridiculous, because the Superior Hiking Trail guidebook and maps recommend planning 1-2 miles per hour, and 40 miles is a long way to walk in a weekend! However, based on the time off of work and the time I’m willing to spend in the woods to complete the entire SHT, 35 miles per day is the least amount I can do. That sounds pretty grim for a hike of nearly 320 miles!
The first backpack trip should be pretty easy, then, since I had all Saturday and Sunday to hike, plus I could get a few miles in on Friday. I made a plan to hike home. I’d drive out to the Rossini Road trailhead on the SHT and hike south around 40 miles straight back to my house. When I split off from the hiking trail in Hartley Park, it’s a bit less than two miles back home. It would be a bad omen to bail on the very first trip, so I figured it would be slightly easier to complete the full 40 miles without an easy option to pull the plug and walk back to the car.
I was trying a few new things on this trip. One was a new backpack I’d bought: the Granite Gear Lutsen 35. I hadn’t really given the inline water filter a shot, so I set up my 2 liter Camelback bladder with a Sawyer Mini water filter in between the hose. Fill ‘er up with water, and just suck it through the filter to purify. I brought a coffee filter along in the case of some skuzzy water. Finally, over the long, lonely winter, I sewed up some hammock gear. I had a custom-designed, DIY underquilt, top quilt, and tarp. Based on the ratings on the Climashield synthetic insulation, I thought I’d be plenty warm in the mid-30’s low temperatures that were forecasted for the weekend. In fact, I skipped the sleeping bag liner. I set the entire hammock up, tarp and all, in the backyard a few times and knew it was pretty simple to put it together.
Without my dog Diamond, packing was a bit easier. I tried to be diligent with my gear, but there are always the things you think you need, probably won’t need, but definitely want to have in a time of distress or emergency. I took the new backpack, and everything was fitting in easily. I planned to leave on Friday right after work to get to the trailhead around 7pm. The hike in is from Rossini Road south to the Big Bend Campsite on the West Branch Knife River. The next day is a long haul to the Bald Eagle Campsite, the most southerly official SHT campsite, good for around 24 miles. The last day, Sunday, is a leisurely trek home expected to be around 11 miles. I packed enough food for two days, banking on the fact that I can eat dinner after work on Friday, and lunch and dinner at home on Sunday. I didn’t really pack a ‘lunch’ for Saturday, either, but had plenty of food (7,750 calories worth according to my calculations).
Jack agreed to come along for Friday night and peel off at the Sucker River trailhead. We dropped his car off on the way to Rossini, and he was in for an 8-mile hike on Saturday. I knew 8 of 24 miles will be nice to have some company.
With everything ready and prepared on Thursday, we loaded up the car on Friday and set off. It always takes so long to get the hell out of the house… and the solemn nature of hiking itself is in stark contrast to the stress and rushed feeling of packing up the car to go. I ate cold pizza on the ride out, and it was a great ride out as the sun sank lower in the sparsely clouded Duluth spring evening sky.
We got to Rossini Road and locked the car, time to go! I started my watch and we set off. Within a mile is 12-Mile View, a lookout towards Lake Superior 12 miles away. My timeless joke is that ¼-mile view is much more scenic. 12-Mile View boasts a tiny sliver of Lake Superior that you can barely see through the trees. The novelty of it much more impressive than the lookout itself.
I asked Jack to see the map. It was on the top of the car. Oh, well, ought to run back, I thought. I set down my pack and went back to my old rusty Subaru one last time for the weekend.
It was a beautiful night on the trail. The sinking sun was making the clouds turn pink, orange, and indigo. We passed some signs of beavers with ponds and downed trees, heard frogs croaking, and saw pile after pile of moose scat.
Jack and I presumed that a moose momma and child likely tromped down this same trail in the wintertime, and the melting snow left a lot of poop piles. We couldn’t think of what else it could be besides moose… these were no deer pellets!
After a fast hour, we saw smoke, signs of people, and a barking dog. The dog ran out from the trail to make sure we were friendly. Around the bend, Jack and I saw two other tents, and then two fellow hikers sitting around a smoldering fire. We asked if we could stay for the night, and looked for a good spot to set up. Jack set his tent right onto the trail itself, and I hung my hammock nearby. It went up quick, but Jack’s tent went up faster.
Starting dry, I brought my new water contraption down to the Knife River. The spring melt meant the crick was rushing pretty good, and as I kneeled towards the river bank, fiddled with the coffee filter to let it sit over the opening. I tried to hold the bladder and coffee filter in place as the rushing water fought to take it downstream, when the cap of my bladder came off. Time seemed to slow down as it bobbed in the water, then caught the current. I grasped for it, but the cap was in for a ride. Immediately realizing the scope of the situation. I dropped everything to run for the cap. With a brambly bush up ahead, I had ten feet to reach for it. At the last possible minute, I dropped to my knees and lunged for the cap. I’ll take a wet sleeve over dehydration any day. To lose the bladder cap would be detrimental. I didn’t really have a backup plan.
I got back to the fire pit, and Jack had his whole gig set up. I told my new friends of the bladder cap debacle and took a large sip of water. The filter worked perfectly. The rest of the night, we stoked the first and engaged in general chit chat. Emily was likely in her 20s, and worked at a church in Duluth. Randy had adopted two campsites on the SHT (Big Bend being one of them), and was up to clear brush from Waterloo, Iowa. At 10:30, we all decided to hit the hay.
Day 2 – Saturday, August 30, 2016
It was a cold night. Uncomfortably cold, thanks to the a underquilt. I wondered if I actually slept at all. But then, next thing ‘ya know the sun was up. I had an hour until my alarm was to ring, so I figured I’d try to adjust my very drafty underquilt. That was the ticket, and I could feel my body warmth collecting under me immediately. I closed my eyes a bit more, and decided to get up a half hour late, at 7:30am. I’d told Jack on a few occasions of my plans to leave before 8:01am under any circumstances. If I have to pack my bag while walking, so be it! Well, he woke up around 6am to make eggs and coffee, and we still couldn’t hit the trail until 8:10! The extra shut-eye was nice, but my breakfast consisted only of a few Lara bars while walking.
I was pretty chilly still walking, but it was a perfect day to be on the trail. With abundant sunshine, and light breeze, and the awakening of the entire northern Minnesota woods in early spring, there was no better place to be, and I felt very energized because of it. I must’ve slept last night, I thought…
We agreed to stop for lunch, and after a couple hours, we sat down on a few stumps to eat. Jack and I both were feeling really good, fatigue-wise. We spent a solid 10 minutes or so basking in the sunshine and taking down some tasty calories. I was gearing to go, knowing that I had a pretty big day ahead of me, and soon enough, we were back on track. I was spitballin’ with Jack about my plans, and briefly thought about hiking the whole way back today. After a cold night, thinking about a good night’s sleep in my own bed seemed to outweigh the arduous 36-mile hike. That is a long way. I told Jack I’d be back at night, in the case I walk the rest of the way in one day. Soon enough, we passed Fox Farm Pond, and the spur trail to Jack’s car was right ahead. He wished me good luck, and offered me a good luck slice of toilet paper. So long, friend!
The heat of the day was upon me as I kept hiking, and I definitely cranked down my pace once Jack peeled off. I decided I’d stop again at the Sucker River campsite, eat lunch and fill up the water bladder. It was a quick hour, and I stopped and sat down on the banks of the Sucker River around 10am. At this point, I was feeling pretty good. Five hours in the hike, and I started to do some calculations. I told Jack that I’d probably just take it all the way home if I got to the Bald Eagle campsite before 4pm. That way, I’d be able to get those last 10 or 12 miles in by 8pm. That sounded like a good plan, barring extreme exhaustion. To stay on track, I’d have to get to the Normanna trailhead by noon. With a plan in mind, I stashed some food in my pockets and set back out.
Things were going good between Sucker River and Normanna. I didn’t feel the need to stop and rest and could manage my pace really well. My spirits were high, and it was a perfect day to walking in the woods! An hour passed and I felt like I was on the home stretch into Normanna with maybe a half hour until the trailhead. Another hour passed and it was in the afternoon. I didn’t really recognize where I was at, but knew that I’d pass the Heron Pond campsite about a mile before getting to Normanna. No campsite. The miles started showing their effect on my body and I got a little tired, and little frustrated, and a little concerned that I’d missed my noon target. I couldn’t remember how far it was from Normanna to Sucker… was it 3 miles? No, pretty sure it was 5.6 miles. Or 6.5? No… 5.63?? It doesn’t really matter, anyways, I walk and I get there. But why did I think noon was a reasonable estimate to arrive? ‘Just get to Normanna’ was my mantra.
A clearing in the woods, and I saw a large pond off to my right. I saw a familiar bluff with some tree cover and recognized the area. In a few minutes, I passed the Heron Pond campsite and contemplated stopping. Well, I just didn’t stop. I couldn’t think fast enough to make a decision to rest at the campsite and it just passed me by! 20 minutes later, and I saw a large rock in the sun where the SHT conjoins with the North Shore State Trail. I took my pack off, took my shoes off, took my socks off and ate as much food as I could. Boy, the Havarti cheese was good. My socks hadn’t even gotten wet, and I was blister-free! Sitting was a great reprieve from walking, but 5 minutes was all it took to munch and get going again. Onto to the wide open state trail.
The CJ Ramstad/North Shore State Trail is a MN DNR-maintained snowmobile trail in the winter, and a multi-use trail in the other months. The SHT conjoins with the NSST quite a bit, especially in the sections just north of Duluth. I’d walked through this section before, and knew it was a lot of state trail. This is good and bad. The good is that it’s just something different. It’s generally easier walking… no big rocks and roots, and not technical. However, it’s wet and swampy, and pretty boring. There are plenty of times where you see the bend in the trail to take, only to then see a very, very long and straight stretch ahead. I figured I could make a good pace on these sections, so set off pretty hard.
I was playing games. I tried to estimate how many steps it would take to get to a sign ahead of me. The first one, I figured it was 600 steps. Nope, 300. Way off. I saw an overhanging branch up a small hill and guessed 550 steps. 551. Better! Then, I saw a large pine tree way off, and guessed 880 steps. I got to 880 and stopped counting. When I got closer to the tree, it was indiscernible which tree I was looking at 880 steps previous, and I decided that this is a stupid game. I found a tick on my butt. Luckily, it was the only one that stuck onto me.
The 6.9 mile section from Normanna south to Lismore Road went by really fast. I could feel my legs getting heavy, and I could feel a few twinges in my knees and hips and feet. Also, the bottoms of my feet were getting sore. I thought I may have a blister forming on my left long toe, but nothing was too serious. The final half-mile road walk into the Lismore parking lot was tough because I knew I was close, and hadn’t stopped at all since Normanna a few hours earlier. Once I got to the Lismore trailhead, though, I took off my shoes, soaked through with water and mud, and peeled my socks off like the skin of a banana. I hoped the wicking tech socks would be able to dry on the rock by the time it’d take me to eat as much as my body would allow. That wasn’t the case. This time, the salty trail mix and chunks of Snickers really hit the spot. No blisters, and my feet were looking OK, despite being white and wrinkly from the swamp water. When I put my socks back on, not 10 minutes later, it didn’t feel good. Standing up felt worse.
Heading south from Lismore Road, I knew I had around 3 miles to the Bald Eagle campsite, or around 15 miles all the way back home. Based on my mileage and pace so far, I was looking at either one hour, or five additional hours. It was around 4pm at the time, so I definitely missed my 4 o’clock cutoff to continue on from the Bald Eagle Campsite, but the idea of hiking all the way home had been building in my solemn mind for hours since Jack left me. I ultimately pondered, out loud to myself, the pros and cons of hiking home today. The pros were that I could be home tonight, sleep in my bed, and wake up tomorrow with the whole day to recover, eat, naps, do whatever. Also, there is a benefit of hiking big miles. If I can do it all, nearly 35 miles in one day, that is a big boost of confidence knowing that I may be capable of 50+ miles for consecutive days later in the summer. The downside was regarding my body. What if I push too hard? What my legs are busted after this one? For months?? How terrible would those additional 12 miles be? The con is going against the plan. Also, camping is fun! It’s nice to wake up to the birds chirping and get back on the trail. However, the sides were stacked resoundingly in favor of going home tonight.
South of Lismore enters some singletrack trail, which is a nice change from the state trail, but it was the muddiest section of trail I’d been on! Well, my shoes and socks didn’t dry out at all, so there really wasn’t any point to pussyfoot around the mud. I was walking fast at this point, but definitely noticed some soreness and pain increasing as I hit 20 miles on the day. I got to the Lester River and Lone Pine campsite very quickly and kept on truckin’. I passed another hiker… I scared him. He said he saw a person at the Bald Eagle site.
Passing two massive beaver ponds was cool. I knew I was getting into town, but it still feels like the middle of nowhere. I looked at my watch and saw 5pm. I’d been hiking for just about 9 hours, nearly straight, and saw the trail to the last campsite on the SHT. I passed the Bald Eagle site without even thinking twice.
Once I passed the Bald Eagle, fatigue set in. Yes, I was feeling some sore spots during miles previous, and it is arduous, but I finally felt the sun and the mud and endless walking and poor night’s sleep really catch up to me. I just felt tired. I thought it out, and figured I’d be back by 8pm. Only three more hours of walking. Three hours is so much walking. I exited the woods and was back on the state trail. The rest of the trip consists of state trail, then singletrack trails, then some roads in Duluth, then into Hartley. Hartley is the final stretch, where I peel off onto a spur trail and beeline it home.
I had to stop on the state trail. My shoulders and back were getting so sore, and I couldn’t find a comfortable position at all. The best way was to hitch it down, right on top of the worst friction areas, and just forget about it. My feet were not feeling happy, and my right foot hurt to flex. I worried about plantar fasciitis. I was talking to myself, taking stock of my situation.
“Ok, legs feel ok. Hm. Shoulders hurt. Mind is still good. Well, except I’m talking to myself…”
I took my pack off, which felt incredible. I knew I was about 6 miles out. I sat on the ground, ate some food, and tried to forget about my pace or time. This is supposed to be fun, after all, I thought. I ate any food that sounded good, and started to think of what I’d gorge on once I got home. It took a few minutes to get back up and going, but I knew I was getting into town. I’d run these snowmobile trails plenty.
I did more calculations, and confirmed my initial 8pm estimate. The last of the NSST sections were over soon enough, I crossed Martin Road, and started towards Hartley Park. From the Martin Road trailhead into the official Duluth sections of the SHT, it is about 3.1 miles south to Hartley Park. My estimates were around 1.5 or 2 miles from there back home. When I got back into the singletrack, I was feeling good. A runner passed me, and I thought about how I’d look to my own self as I passed by, running at a smooth 8 miles per hour.
Into Duluth, the SHT is sandwiched between Vermillion Road and Amity Creek. The trail is very rugged with irregularly shaped boulders and rocks jutting out at all angles, just inviting one’s foot to get stuck and twisted. I took it slow and easy, though, and the trail soon bounced me right onto the gravel Vermillion Road. I tried to shorten my steps as to ease my busted joints and tendons. I could sense the sun lowering in the sky. The road turned to pavement, the graveyards on either side changed to a neighborhood, and here I was, a scraggly backpacker walking through peoples’ neighborhoods as they play with their kids on the swing set. I wanted to let them know I was from here, but didn’t say anything at all, just kept on a-walkin’ and a-hikin’.
Hartley was a welcome sight. The park was eerily empty, but that is generally the case in the wet and muddy spring. I didn’t stop to take in the beautiful sun peeking from behind a few clouds over Hartley Pond, as I had my sights set on the driveway. After 35 miles, I left the Superior Hiking Trail main trail for a spur up to Rock Knob, my favorite place in the world. It is one of my favorite past times to run up to Rock Knob and yell “MORNIN’” to the great city of Duluth. It took me three times as long to get up to the bald rock face, and given the time of day, I opted to yell “EVENIN’!!!!”
I jumped down the steep gorge on the other side of Rock Knob and knew that I had just a small little bit of trail left, and one that I’ve been on hundreds of time before. Luckily, COGGS (Cyclists of Gitchee Gummi Shores, the local mountain bike source) had been working on some new bridges and it was mentally stimulating to see a different trail than I was used to! In fact, it was probably my first time through Hartley since the winter. I popped out of Hartley onto the street, and it is a quarter mile to the driveway from there. The excitement started building.
I was all smiles, and probably looked like a crazy person to my neighbors. I got to the very end of the driveway and just said “YEAH” loudly, and clapped my hands once. I took off my shoes and socks, released the backpack from my tender back and shoulders, and knew I was done for the rest of the day. I arrived just before 8pm, finishing nearly 37 miles in about 12 hours total.
After sitting a while, my legs were really sore. Parts of my knees and hamstrings and all sorts of tendons were inflamed and tight. Parts of my body that I didn’t notice as being stressed were sore now, and I was movin’ slow. A few days is all it took to recover fully, and I was pleased to complete the hike in one day after all.
For the next hike, I need to get the weight of my pack down. At over 15 pounds, I felt each gram more and more as my mileage increased. That is a sure fire way to make things easier. The next trip will involve some bigger mileage for multiple days, and I’m already excited for that next chance to walk through the woods!
10 Apr 2016
Race Day: Saturday, April 9, 2016 – 12:01am
50 miles is a lot of ground to cover. 2016 is the year for long backpacking trips, hiking, walking, slow-walking, and so on. However, I love racing and just can’t give it up. With a few forays into ultramarathons, I realized that they’re really fun and challenging, and I’m pretty good at them. For better or worse, I think that based on my physiology and genetic abilities, trail ultras suit me best compared to other types of endurance racing like bike racing and tris and road running. The real test is to register for a really competitive trail ultra like Superior Spring 50k and Voyager 50 mile and see where I place…
Anyways, I figured that throwing a few trail ultramarathons in the mix for the year would be great training, a lot of fun, and a perfect compliment to backpacking. I registered for Zumbro 50 mile and Superior Spring 50k simultaneously, actually, but Zumbro is the one that I was thinking about every single day a month prior. I was having thoughts of fear, nervousness, dread, excitement.
Training leading up to Zumbro was interesting. I’d been running very, very consistently at about 60-70 miles per week from into February and all of March. This is pretty big miles for me, but I think the big key was running every day, doing a lot of doubles, and back-to-back longer runs on the weekends. I was staying free from injury (maybe riding the line of frinjury… but that’s where you wanna be!), and running was feeling VERY easy. An hour run, for instance, would feel as taxing as a lunch break walk around downtown Duluth. My hamstrings get more sore watching an hour of TV on the couch. This is a good sign. However, 90% of my running was roads. February was really warm, and once the snow starts to melt, it’s game over for the trails until it either snows more and is consistently cold, or it all melts and the trails completely dry out. And in Duluth, that’s usually mid-May. This year is no exception, and the daily highs were above freezing in the day and below freezing at night. Rain, snow, mix, sleet, and all of the above at the same time… yeah it’s not meteorologically possible but I’m pretty sure it happened. So roads it is. 7:30 pace was feeling EASY to maintain, breathing through my nose or carrying on an intellectual conversation even for two hours. I was feeling very confident in my running, especially for, say, a road marathon. If I keep this up, I’m a shoe-in for a PR at Grandma’s! But a technical, challenging trail ultramarathon is what I was actually training for…
Two weeks prior to Zumbro, I started getting really nervous. First it was about training. Roads are different than trails. Will that fitness translate or am I going to break both my ankles on mile 1? Also, I hadn’t done any really long runs. I anticipated doing some 4 hour runs, but push comes to shove and my biggest weekend was 2 hours for 17 miles a Friday morning and then 3 hours for 21 miles the next morning. Both on roads, 3 hours felt so easy, and this was maybe 5 weeks out. Then, a few days before the race… when do I sleep? How do I eat? Naps? Two dinners? How do I pace this thing? Am I going to fall apart on the third lap? Is this like a 50k or is it a different beast? Pretty standard pre-race nerves, but maybe a little amplified because of the scope of the race itself.
Zumbro is made up of three races along a 16.7 mile loop in bluff country near Winona, MN. The 100 mile is six loops and starts Friday morning. The 50 is three loops and starts at midnight Friday night/Saturday morning. The 16.7 mile (17 miles for all intents and purposes) starts Saturday morning at 9. The cutoff for every race is Saturday at 6pm. So my plan was to take work off on Friday, drive to Maple Grove and then drive to the race site on Friday evening to catch packet pickup at 10pm. As far as race plans, my goal was to go under 9 hours. To achieve this, I figured I could pace off 10 minute miles. If I keep a 10 minute pace right off the bat, I don’t think I’d overexert myself but that leaves a 40 minute buffer for the inevitable slowdown. If I can hit 10 minutes for every mile, it puts me at 8:20. Lastly, I want to win. I mean, really, what’s the point of racing besides to beat people and stroke one’s own ego? Otherwise, it’s just a timed training run with a bunch of other weirdos…
So I relaxed, ate and slept as much as I could on Friday. I started driving south and arrived at the race site right after 10pm. Nick’s advice to me was to be full at the start line. I got my packet, rushed back to the warm car, and hung out for an hour. I ate half a Subway sandwich and was munching on trail mix and Combos and candy and various other munchies. I set my alarm for 38 minutes and tried to get some quick shut-eye. I definitely wasn’t tired but figured it’d benefit me. I didn’t really sleep. And when my alarm rang, I gathered some food and a backup headlamp and socks into my little drop bag and set out to the start line.
The overnight low was supposed to be in the 20’s, even into the teens depending on the location. I definitely noticed that the river bottoms were cooler. I chose to wear a long sleeve tech tee and a thin running jacket, running tights, a buff and thin poly liner gloves. A voice came over the loudspeaker and we lined up in the pitch dark midnight. I got up the front row, and saw Bennett Isabella to my right. We raced against each other at Capitol City Tri, I noticed his USA Triathlon shirt and put two and two together. We were chatting a bit… he’s doing an ultramarathon year as well, just had a baby, and didn’t have a target time in mind at all. He said this is pure training, and didn’t really say much about my 9 hour goal.
Then “GO!” and we set off. I started slow and wanted to have some dudes in front of me to lead the way. I was really nervous to run in the dark and potentially get off course, so my initial plan was to latch onto a group going exactly 10 minute pace. High hopes… beggars can’t be choosers! Looking at the start list, I figured Kurt Keiser would win. I want to win, but Kurt set the course record for Zumbro 50 the previous year (8:10), and he’d won Surf the Murph 50 mile the past October, too. So, he’s got consistent 50 mile experience, a just fricken’ fast dude. Another guy who looked like a contender is Jeff Vander Kooi out of Michigan, who popped a 24 hour at Sawtooth 100 the previous fall. And Bennett is a beast triathlete, so you can never discount him. Plus, I’m not too versed in the who’s who in ultras, and unlike the MN triathlon scene, there are lot more ringers out there. Just super fast no-name dudes who decide to race an ultramarathon and kill it.
Within a quarter mile, we popped onto some singletrack. Up, up, up, and it got really technical really quick. Rocks, uneven ground, roots up this big hill. I quickly realized that the course was probably going to be really well marked… it was super easy to see the reflective taping, and it was obvious where to go for every turn. It didn’t take long for Kurt to take the lead and sprint up this hill that everyone else was walking up. Another guy went with Kurt and they were quickly out of sight. The nice part about the darkness is that you could see headlamps from a far ways away… and the two guys slipped into the darkness with 49 miles to go, never to be seen again.
Bennett and I were running together, and we latched on with another guy, who I realized after the race was Jeff. We did maybe 5 miles together, and were in second place at that point. There were four aid stations on the course, and the big one at the start/finish/lap area. After the second or third aid station, I lost Bennett and Jeff, never to be seen again. I was running by myself and feeling pretty good. I made a point to walk up hills that were really steep, half for energy conservation, half for efficiency. I mean, running up these scrambles was maybe slower because of the sheer steepness. Steep up, steep down, but also a lot of flat running on horse trails.
At another aid station, I departed with another guy. I wanted to latch right onto him, and once he sensed my light behind him, he jumped to the side and let me take the lead. And he latched right on to me! Eh, whatever, it’s nice to kind of zone out on someone’s heels, but this allowed me to go my own pace and I get some bonus light from the back. We ran a good few miles together without much conversation, and then bumped out to a nice flat road. He came on my side and we started chatting a bit. His name was Nate and he was from Bemidji. Two first time 50 milers, and we were probably in 3rd and 4th place. He didn’t really have a goal time, but mentioned his wife was running the 17 mile and his kids were at an aid station. We came through the fourth aid station on the course, I lost Nate, and few miles later I completed my first lap. My watch said 2:45 or so… really good time considering 10 minute pace for 16.7 miles comes out to 2:47. Literally right on track. Perfect! I had set the auto lap for 6 miles and was trying to catch my mileage on the hour… so at 1:00, I should be at 6 miles, 2:00 is 12 miles, 3:00 is 18 miles, etc… I fueled up, feeling good, feeling confident, and set off on the second lap.
At this point, I was by myself. I was feeling pretty sore and tight. Nothing really in particular, but I could feel my legs were fatigued for sure. I wasn’t really mentally tired, like “I need sleep”, but physical exhaustion was definitely setting in. I thought it was too early for that and got kind of nervous. Oh, well, I thought to keep running smart, hit this 10 minute pace, and if I can do another 2:45, I have a 40 minute buffer to slow down on the last lap to hit sub-9 hours. I climbed the first big hill out of the River Bottoms start/finish/lap area, looked down and saw the lights from the mini village I’d just departed way down there. “See ya later,” I thought to myself, and started down into the dark wilderness alone.
I was passing a lot of 100 milers, who were going on 21 hours of continuous forward progress with no sleep. Most had pacers, and it was a 50/50 split of good spirits and bad spirits. I tried to be energetic and positive towards all of them that I passed, and half were with it, half didn’t respond! Who knows what’s going in their minds. Not just at that moment but in general…
At the second aid station, I ran up to get drink a little Coke and heard my name. It was Dan, my cousin-in-law! That was great to see him… he started as a triathlete but morphed into an ultramarathon enthusaist. He’d done pretty well at Zumbro 100 a few years back, and said that he’s been volunteering at the aid station the past few years. He thought I was in second place… sweet!! I didn’t really believe him, though. Maybe Kurt was way, way up there and the other guy that went with Kurt off the bat was who Dan thought was leading the race. Oh, well, I left the aid station in a great mindset and feeling good.
The whole second lap, I felt more and more tired; more and more sore. Also, I wasn’t hungry and was forcing a gel every now and again when I felt like I needed to. Nasty, but I knew the race hinged on staying on top of food intake. I was super gassy, and either burping or farting every step. Probably the Chubway sandwich. The second lap felt much more flat than the first. Yes, the hills were extreme, but the course, for whatever reason, seemed to be mostly flat and runnable terrain the second time around. Maybe it was because I was by myself.
Halfway through the second loop, I came back upon Nate. He was going really slow down a super steep section, and again jumped out of the way to let me pass, then latched onto me. I wasn’t really cookin’ at the time, and maybe Nate was going through a little rough patch, but I made some time on him, and his headlamp became more and more dim until it was unseen in the early morning darkness. “Old man can’t hang,” I thought. My stomach was feeling a little off… I was eating ShotBloks intermittently and a gel every 1.5 hours or so. At the aid stations, I definitely went for Coke, but it was freezing! So I’d melt the icy slush in my mouth. I suppose the stuff that doesn’t freeze is like Coke concentrate. Just gimme the sugar and the caffeine! I knew I should be eating food with substance… savory items like grilled cheese and soup and pb&j and stuff, but all that looked appetizing was candy, pretzels and maybe some trail mix. I wondered if this would sustain me?
Running by myself in a sandy river bottom that had been gorged out by thousands of years of water flow, it hit me. The gels and the Scrubway, and nature calls. I had to poop, BAD. I tried to walk it off (cue the Unk song), looking behind me for Nate to pass me in my time of peril, but it was getting worse. I stopped dead in my tracks, half by necessity as not to poop my tights, half in hopes it would subside. “C’mon body, I’m sure you can use some of this!” I thought. “Recycle it for energy!!” I don’t think it works like that and I knew I had one choice, to poop in the woods and keep running. So I trudged off, handful of brown and crunchy leaves, a few feet off the trail. Squat, hope it doesn’t hit my shoes, and get this over with. Sure enough, I looked up and saw a headlamp bobbing in the distance. As not to expose myself to my new buddy Nate (that is not something one can erase from one’s memory), I turned off my headlamp. Ok, now I’m just being creepy, I thought. He can obviously hear me rustling… so I yelled out.
“Yo, Nate! Is that you?”
I saw his headlamp swivel.
“It’s Mike. I had to take an emergency dump over here.”
“Ummmmm. Ok. Uh, the trail’s over here when you’re done.”
“Yeah thanks,” I replied, as he ran off into the darkness. What an unpleasant experience. Not the Nate conversation, but just the whole situation with the crunchy leaves, and, well, I’ll spare the comprehensive details. Let’s just say…. I had leaves in my butt. On the flip side, it would have been a long 8 miles turtle-walking to the next porta-pottie.
So I was back on track here, feeling much better from an internal organ standpoint anyways. I caught back up to Nate pretty quickly, and we got to the third aid station shortly thereafter. I didn’t need food or slushy coke, but I asked a volunteer if there was a porta-pottie there. “Uh, no,” he replied. Whatever, I just ran off. I thought it was kind of a snarky response, but then realized that this volunteer had probably been out here pooping in the woods for almost 24 hours. How are they going to get a porta-pottie into this remote location?? We were literally in the middle of a million acre tract of state forest. Duh!!
I left in front of Nate and he quickly drifted back, never to be seen again. I ran the flat road by myself this time, and before long, I was done with lap two. It was a tough lap. With the poop debacle, feeling sore, feeling tired, and I’d slowed down quite substantially. I had song stuck in my head for hours, and I was timing my running cadence to the guitar line of REM “Everybody Hurts”.
At my little drop bag, I switched out some garbage for another round of gels and a new pack of orange ShotBloks (with caffeine!). I stopped at the porta-pottie there to take care of some unfinished business, and my watch read 5:50 or so. Eh… a solid 3 hours for the second lap, but I still had a buffer of about 3 hours and 15 minutes to get under 9. That’s a pretty even slowdown, and to be expected. On one hand, I have 33.3 miles in my legs and every single mile after 35 is a new record for the longest I’ve ever ran. It is expected that I get more and more exhausted, and the harder and harder it will be to maintain a pace of 10 minutes per mile. On the other hand, I could see it was getting bright out. The sunshine will surely be a source of energy and positivity. Before I left for lap three, I yelled out and asked what place I was in. Third.
So I set off by myself, a deep violet hue on one horizon… what a beautiful sign of things to come. On the other horizon was pitch darkness. I figured that since I was in third, when I’d seen Dan and he said I was in second place, my Bemidji pal Nate was in front of me and that’s who Dan thought was in first place at the time. Well, I’d passed Nate and it was probably Kurt and this other guy crankin’ out in front. I wondered if they were together and how far up. Who is this other guy? Is he the real deal? I know Kurt is the real deal and maybe this guy is exploding himself by going with Kurt from mile 1 on. Oh, well, my focus was to stick 3 hours. If I can run an even lap, I’d finish right before 9am and get my sub-9 hour race. My watch read 6 hours as I crested the top of the first big ridge right out of the start/finish area. It had become really light really fast, and I finally got a lay of the land. Straight up bluff country. The start/finish area definitely looked like a village now, and I saw hundreds of cars parked. I couldn’t help but yell “MORNIN’!!!!” at the top of my lungs.
“Mornin’ cars! Mornin’ rocks! Mornin’ trail! Mornin’ birds! Mornin’ leaves! Mornin’ wood!”
I had a second wind and knew I had to leave it all out here. My body was becoming really fatigued. The urge to stop was almost overwhelming, but unlike many other races I’ve done, I could actually keep my pace up. But the pain was imminent. It was becoming a mental game here.
I was passing a few 100 milers, and it was easy to give some positive notes of encouragement regarding the dawn of their second day. The light was well received by everyone. I noticed that I was running fast. I was hauling ass. The third lap seemed even more flat and runnable in the light. However, I would become fatigued very easily. For instance, I could stick a 9 minute pace for a mile on the relatively flat horse trails, and would be so happy to get to an uphill where I had to hike up, just when I thought I couldn’t run another step I’d get relief from the hill. It worked different muscles. By the top of the hill, I would be using my hands to scramble, breath heaving, and so thankful to run again. When the downhill came, it felt so nice to rest the calf muscles and let my quads do the work. By the time I got to the bottom of the hill, by toes were so jammed up, knees in pain and would be extremely happy to get back into a groove at 9 minute pace on the flats. The variability in terrain was a huge advantage at this point in the race where all of my muscles were pretty much toast, but I could switch up what muscle groups I was using every other half hour.
I was passing 100 milers power hiking up the unrelentingly steep bluffs, and on the flats, running past them like they were standing still. Well, most of them were standing still! I broke up the loop in my mind… keep it together for the first half, run a solid pace. Keep on the nutrition and eat ShotBloks. Don’t slow down, and power up the hills with a purpose! Once I’m at the biggest uphill section, it’s go-time. After that, a mile along the ridge, then the most challenging downhill part. This last big downhill was a boulder-strewn section right after we run adjacent to a farm. There’s no good path to take. But after that is the flat road for about a mile. Then, it’s 3 miles of relatively flat, relatively easy trails, the final aid station and other mile or so to the finish. Once I get to the flat road, it’s time to crank and bring it home.
The least taxing was the downhills, but I could feel the toll they were taking on my body. First off, my big toe on my right foot was completely jamming the end of my shoe. I figured I’d lose that whole toenail. And my knees were really gettin’ it. Old man status. But I was making really good time. I made it down the last big downhill, past skull-sized boulders everywhere, without twisting either ankle or blowing out my knees, and it’s on. I was running as fast as possible on the flat road, and dipped into the 6’s. Well, 6:55 pace for a minute or two anyways. I was feeling good, only because my brain was emitting chemicals that made me feel so. In reality, I was falling apart big time. My body was toast, hips, feet, knees especially, my shoulders and triceps… just general exhaustion.
I made it to the final aid station and ran right through. I looked at my watch and it read 8:07. Holy crap! I can make 8:20! I really kicked it down on this last bit of trail section in hopes I’d get a sub 10 minute pace. 100 milers were saying I was in second place. 8:20 came and went and it was just a matter of leaving it all on the course. At this point, the mantras kicked in. I was talking to myself, audibly grunting in pain, gritting my teeth, and saying to myself “leave it all out here, leave it all out here”. The urge to stop running was overwhelming.
Finally, the trail curved downwards, then bumped out onto the last little road into the campsite. I sprinted past some 100 milers, past the gate where some spectators were cheering, and saw the cars and the campfires, and the big group of 17 milers congregating for the start of their race. I ran through the finish and hit my watch at 8:32.
Photo Credit: Julie Ward
Photo Credit: Julie Ward
Photo Credit: Julie Ward
I did the celebration I’d been thinking of for five hours. “YEAH DOGGIE!”, I yelled, and then did a whip-crack motion. A volunteer jokingly told me that I was being too excited.
Photo Credit: Julie Ward
My mom was right there, which was nice, and she gave me a big hug. She then bombarded me with what I need. Water? PB and J? Chips? What do I need? She grabbed her phone for a pic with me and my finishers medallion.
“I don’t want anything, no pictures, no pictures, I fucked up my legs,” I mumbled in a disgruntled and disheveled blur.
I plowed past her and sat on a table to take my jacket off. I was really warm, and put my head in my shirt and closed my eyes for a second. A race coordinator came up with a picture frame with ‘First Place Male Open’. Neat! I asked him the scoop… I’d just come in second place and of course, Kurt won in record time. We took a picture and I mustered a big-ass smile.
I talked to mom a bit, but all I could really say that it was really fun but my legs hurt bad and I was in big pain. Throbbing pain in every muscle below the waist where you get no relief if you stand or sit or walk or just decide to blast your legs clean off. I changed clothes, chugged some water, refueled, and spent the rest of the morning around the campfire and watching other racers come in. I did talk to Kurt, he’s probably the most modest dude in the world… and he said that the other guy that went with him got too cold on the second lap and either dropped out or fell way off or something. Wait, HE got cold? Kurt, meanwhile, completed the race in short shorts and a singlet. Coca-Cola was freezing in the 2 liter bottle and Kurt was running with no sleeves??!? And his buddy from Mankato got too cold?
Zumbro was quite the experience. Pure fun, pure enjoyment and adventure. I think it was the best executed race I’ve ever done. In terms of going in with a plan of what is the limit of my abilities and sticking to the plan, it was the best I’d ever done and it paid off. The 50 mile format is certainly fun, and I’d be a fool to skip Voyager 50 mile this summer!
Shoes: Nike Terra Kiger 3 size 11
Handheld: Nathan insulated 18oz
Food: 4 or 5 gels of various flavors (all caffienated!), nearly 2 packages of ShotBloks, one Honey Stinger Waffle, many handfuls of pretzels, trail mix, gummi candy, and M&Ms, one small slice of potato covered in salt (nasty), and maybe three electrolyte capsules, a few cups of Coke.
Approximate Loop Splits: 2:46, 3:06, 2:40
05 Mar 2016
- Easy to make
- Covers the whole hammock and pulls taut
- Lightweight (under 10 oz)
- Can be set up as a ground tarp with trekking poles
- Looks super cool with the dual-color design
Final specs (click here to go to finished pics):
- Total weight (with string up kit): 262 grams, 9.24 oz, 0.58 lbs
- 10′ 3″ long ridgeline by 7′ 97″ wide at the widest
- 7 yards 1.1 oz Silnylon (3 yards Robin Egg Blue, 4 yards Real Teal)
- 1 yard 2.2 oz HEX70 ripstop nylon (Vader Blue)
- 25′ 1.75mm Zing-it
- 1 yard- 5/8″ Grosgrain ribbon
- 1 yard- 1 3/8″ Grosgrain ribbon
- Black 100% polyester thread
Lay out and cut fabric:
Cut the Real Teal Silnylon to 10′ 4″ long and lay it out. Cut 2- 20″ wide sections of Robin Egg Blue Silnylon all 3 yards long. Align the Robin Egg strips on each long side of the Real Teal section in the center. That is, leave approximately 1/2 yard of Real Teal on each short side. Stack and pin them so the outside sides are touching.
Stitch fabric together with flat felled seam:
Use a flat felled seam to connect the three pieces of fabric. If you want a better description of this type of sewing technique, go to Google and/or YouTube. To start, run a straight stitch on each side with about 1/2″ seam allowance. Try to keep the layers lined up as best as possible. With the lightweight and waterproof Silnylon, it’s pretty difficult to keep things together. The fabric is super slippery and it takes patience to keep everything lined up.
Then, pull apart the layers, fold the longer layer (in my case it was the Real Teal) over the shorter layer (Robin Egg Blue), and then fold once more so no rough edges are exposed (essentially a rolled hem… look that up on YouTube if you need to know).
Cut to shape:
Following a cat-cut design on the Ripstop By The Roll website (click here and look under the Instructions tab), mark out the corners at 2′ in from the very end. This should leave 6′ between each corner tieout. At the middle of the tarp, measure 6″ up. This will be the highest point of the curved cut. Then, stretch a long and flexible PVC pipe along the marks to trace the curve with a marker. Make a mark in the exact middle of the short sides of the rectangle for the end tieouts/ridgeline. For the side curves, just freestyle it! After the cuts, the tarp should be in its final shape.
Sew a rolled hem around the entire perimeter:
Start sewing a rolled hem. If you need to know what that is, Google or Youtube is a great source. Don’t sew the corners or the end without adding the reinforcement corners!
Sew in corner reinforcement corners:
Custom cut triangles of HEX70 ripstop to fit each of the four corners, and rectangles for each long end. When sewing the rolled hem around the perimeter, slide the reinforcement patch under the fold and sew it in.
It helps tremendously to pin the corners as you sew the reinforcement patches in. This is definitely not the spot that you want a sloppy stitch, and a clean fold will make things much easier!
Cut Grosgrain ribbons:
By now, the tarp has taken shape and is pretty much done. This is the last sewing step. Cut the wide Grosgrain into 12- 2″ (?????) strips. Use two for each corner, and two for each end. Cut the skinnier Grosgrain into 6- 4″ strips for the tie-down loops.
To make the loops, simply fold the skinny Grosgrain into a loop with and make the same side up.
With the tarp’s outside layer down, stack a loop and a strip of wide Grosgrain on top. Tack this on, then sew the perimeter, then add a few more stitches for extra reinforcement. Then, sew the second wide Grosgrain right below, with a slight overlap. Be sure to only sew three sides, allowing for a ‘pocket’ for a trekking pole or stick for use as a ground tarp. Repeat for the other end.
Use the same loop technique, but sew the wide Grosgrain ribbons to make an L shape/right angle. Make sure to use plenty of reinforcement stitches!
Tie Zing-it tieouts:
The tarp is essentially done! All that’s left is to attach the tieouts. I used two half-hitches on the loop side, then a taut line hitch to form another loop for the stake side.
21 Feb 2016
- Good to around 20 degrees in the hammock.
- Around 1 lb, give or take a few ounces
- Bungee cinches at the end
- A channel running the entire length, making it easier to string up and adjust
- 6ft long, 4 ft wide
- ~$75 in materials
Final specs (click here to go to finished pics):
- Total weight: 895 grams, 31.57 oz, 1.97 lbs
- Without hangup kit: 835 grams, 29.45 oz, 1.84 lbs
- 69″ long by 43″ wide (5.75′ x 3.58′)
- 2 yards 7.5 oz/yard Climashield Apex
- 2 yards 1.0 oz/yard calendared HyperD Diamond Ripstop – red
- 2 yards 1.1 oz/yard calendared Ripstop Nylon – grey
- Gutermann MARA 70 thread
- 5 yards Paracord – white
- 90″ tiny Bungee cord
Cut one section of Diamond Ripstop and one section of grey Ripstop to 50 inches wide by 78 inches long. Cut two sections of grey Ripstop 5 inches wide by 78 inches long. The two big pieces are the top and bottom of the quilt, and the two skinny pieces make the long channels for paracord for stringing.
Sew a rolled hem along all edges of all four sections.
Lay the two large sections on the ground, match the corners as best as possible. Then, lay the insulation on top and cut any large sections off. Ideally, insulation will stick out 1/4″ from every side.
Layer and pin:
In the sewing machine, the insulation is against the machine. With calendared fabric, the outside side is the matte side, the inside side is the shinier side. Place the matte sides together. The 5″ channel is to be folded in half, with the fold towards the inside. Then layer, from bottom to top: insulation, red Diamond Ripstop (inside layer), folded channel, and grey Ripstop (outer layer). Line all fabric layers as close as possible without bunching up. Pin the two long sides first. Be careful to pin with enough room for the channel. If the channel is out of line, there will not be enough room for the paracord or it will simply miss the stitch.
Sew long sides:
Run a straight stitch along both long sides, trying to get as close to the rolled hem stitch as possible, but without going over (keep the rolled hem stitch towards the outside). Fold the channel in so there is a 2″ gap between the ends.
Sew one short side (foot side):
Run a straight stitch along one small side, careful to sew outside of the 2″ where the channel stops. If you accidentally sew the channel shut, the paracord will not be able to pass through!
Sew 15″ in from each side of the other short side (head side):
Starting from the top of the other shorter side, sew in 15″, leaving a break to flip the whole quilt right-side out. Then, starting 15″ from the bottom, sew down.
Stitch the perimeter:
Once every side has been stitched (except the one short side, where there is a gap to flip the whole quilt right-side out), do another straight stitch to reinforce the previous stitching. Aim to sew just inside the previous stitching.
Flip the quilt:
Make sure that the stitching looks nice and consistent, and that there are no big problem spots. Then, shove the entire quilt through the hole on the one short side to flip the quilt right-side out. Then, inspect the channel to make sure there are no major issues.
String paracord through the channel:
This was tedious at best… In hindsight,I’d make the channel, much bigger. At spots, the channel was no more than 1/8″ tall pulled taut–just wide enough to fiddle the paracord through. Also, when I flipped the ends of the channel back, I didn’t sew it to the sides, so there was open fabric that got caught on the paracord as I tried to get it through the other side of the tunnel. Eventually, I got both sides through and tied a quick stopper overhand knot to ensure it wouldn’t slip back through!
Sew the open end shut:
Mash the ends together and sew them closed. Make sure there are no gaps or holes and you can no longer see any insulation. I didn’t use any sort of special technique here, just try to match the sides so there is no bunching.
Prepare material for bungee cord enclosure:
Measure and cut 2 strips of grey Ripstop Nylon 6″ wide by 44″ long. Measure 2- 45″ lengths of bungee cord. Sew a rolled hem on every side.
Sew in the bungee cords:
Fold the enclosure strip in half and place the bungee at pit of the fold, like a taco fold. Stitch as close to the outside of the fold as possible without going completely on top of the bungee cord.
Make grommets at the ends, then scrap ’em:
Hammer in four grommets to the end of the enclosure so the cord can pass through. Prepare to pin the cinch cord enclosure on to the quilt. Here is where I realized the grommets were not the right way, so I scrapped ’em! The bungee cord runs by the grommet on its way out, hence, no use for the grommets at all.
Pin and sew cinch cord enclosure on the quilt:
Wrap the enclosure strip stitching down, around the short ends of the quilt. Aim for the direct center, where the bungee cord is sewn in, to be directly on top of the quilt seam. Then, sew it on!