Saturday, September 13, 2008

Signs of the times

A sign can make all the difference in an outdoor experience. True, off in the deep wilderness, there are no signs and you have to navigate by gut and by map. But in the intermediate zone between civilization and wilderness where most of us recreate, signs are a huge help and comfort.

Yesterday I hiked the Superior Hiking Trail from Beaver Bay to the Split Rock River. This section of trail was built about 20 years ago, and I last walked it fourteen years ago. That hike was for my 30th birthday, a fun treat up the shore in the days before we had young kids. I don't recall the signs at the time, but they must have been there.

It's still a great hike. I really enjoyed being out for a long stretch like this 10 mile trail. The signs that marked the way yesterday were definitely showing signs of aging.

A geologic process called solifluction has made the trailhead sign on County Road 3 bend downhill. Every winter the ground heaves out, and every spring the ground settles down. Out and down results in downhill movement.

Rot and irrelevance have worked on this sign. It was installed when the trail was first built to reach an actual overlook. It's no longer a dead-end spur, but part of a loop trail from Cove Point Lodge.

Here at Chapins Creek, the forces of nature have had their own way of rearranging signs and geography. North America's largest rodent, the beaver, has flooded the trail and the sign. Now the beaver's bay is 0.0 miles, not 6.5 miles.

One other change over time: when the SHT was first built, mileage was calculated using a meauring wheel. I know that because I was the one to measure the trail from the Manitou to the Caribou, pushing this bicycle wheel with a clicker through the woods. This hike was supposed to be 11.3 miles. According to my GPS, the hike was actually 10.0 miles. I've had the same experience on other sections of the SHT, with my GPS reading about 10% lower than the mileage wheel. I'm guessing that my GPS is correct, or closer to the truth anyway.

Stewart Brand (of Whole Earth Catalog fame), wrote an interesting book called How Buildings Learn. It shows how structures evolve over time. These signs on the SHT are a history lesson in themselves, about the organization, about the trail, and more.

No comments: