Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Funny from Texas

Check out this funny essay from a Texas columnist about his recent trip to Two Harbors and the rabid late-season mosquitoes. Based on his dateline, this must have been just two weeks ago that he had so many skeeters.

This was totally the summer of bugs for us, like the woods were full of frustrated larvae that had waited out two or three dry summers and then just cranked out the generations like mad to catch up.

I don't know how this writer's bug experience really was. I'm pretty accustomed to onslaughts of insects. But the fact that this was mid-October is pretty weird.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Hiking Trail Defense Detour

For the next few days, the Superior Hiking Trail has a small detour.

Does the name "Superior Hiking Trail" evoke images of wooded ridgelines and deep blue views of Lake Superior? Do you feel the quiet of the trail, the peace of the forest? You probably don't think about throbbing engines, the sound of reveille, or a modular weapons system.

Trails get detoured for all kinds of reasons. Beavers flood the trail with a dam. A windstorm knocks down a few acres of trees. A private property dispute arises or the land is resurveyed.

For the first time that I'm aware of, the US Department of Defense has mandated a detour. Hardcore SHT hikers and a few residents of Duluth may know that the SHT runs right along the waterfront in front of the Duluth Entertainment and Convention Center. That waterfront space is now home to the Freedom, a brand new Navy ship built in Wisconsin and about to be commissioned in Milwaukee.

The detour is just in place through this Thursday, when the Freedom will leave for Milwaukee. But it's a serious detour; you can't just skip over the downfall or shortcut across property lines. Armed guards and a tall temporary fence make it pretty much mandatory that you take the detour.

The ship has attracted a small crowd of the curious and the patriotic. The humming and the geometry remind me of one of those opening scenes in Star Wars, as the giant Star Destroyer passes overhead humming (despite that inconvenient fact that there is no sound in space).

It really is quite a sight. Enjoy this detour while you can!

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Just here for the baked goods

Who's that guy at the press conference in Duluth, plugging the "Vote Yes!" campaign for dedicated natural resource funding?

Oh, it's me! Funny thing, I didn't think I'd be speaking at the event. I'd been at a meeting to organize it, but the decision had been to find someone who actually worked somewhere, like The Nature Conservancy. Me? I just came for the donuts.

And darn it all if those donuts didn't hit the road with the crew from the Cities on their way to their next event in Grand Rapids. I thought briefly about stopping them on their way out of the Marine Museum. They had one of those big white cardboard boxes, and some of them even had chocolate icing...I've been thinking about those baked goods all day.

Vote Yes! Protect the Minnesota you love!

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Jay Cooke thanks you

Just spent a fun few hours at the studio of KUMD, helping with their fall membership drive and pitching Skiing the North Shore. Northland Morning host-with-the-most Lisa Johnson said she has never been to Jay Cooke State Park.

To all four of my regular readers, MOST of whom have been to this fabulous, nearby state park, full of hiking trails and ski trails and an incredible river, THANK YOU for being a good citizen and visiting Jay Cooke. Lisa...haul your trailer (sorry, must be logged into Google-world to see these photos) there for a fall weekend and enjoy this gem.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

On the road

We drove from Ely to Duluth along Highway 1 the other day. There's some woozy curves along the way, especially woozy for kids in the back seat. I guess Noah wanted some fresh air, or he'd been inspired by the poodle, but he seemed to be enjoying the cool fall air and the breeze as we passed near Isabella.

When Noah grins like this, my whole world lights up.

Monday, October 20, 2008

My favorite ski trails...once

Back when I was a hippy...

When I lived out of the back of my car and made just enough money for new wool socks...

When I owned just one pair of skis, some Rossignol Randonees with metal edges I could use for downhill, cross country and everywhere in between...

Way back then, the North Arm Ski Trails north of Ely were my favorite ski trails. I loved the wild forests and hairy turns and the pride and work of packing my own trails. Tall pines marked the trail.

We hiked those trails this weekend, one last bit of fall colors in the woods as the tamarack and a few aspen were hanging in there with their season's best.

The trails in summer are nice for hiking, except a few low wet areas that had been filled in with logs. Perfect for winter, treacherous in summer. Hard to believe the open, lichen-covered rocks could make a good ski trail, but with decent snow cover the trails are great. Bring your shortest ski poles with the biggest baskets, however; the skier-tracked tracks are deep in the snow.

Now I'm hopeless addicted to wider groomed ski trails. I can't get the speed I'd like on these North Arm trails, and if I did, I'd probably crash into the big pines or over the Troll's Bridge.

But wow, are they sweet on a quiet winter wilderness day!

New trail at Gooseberry

For some, the North Shore ends at Gooseberry Falls State Park. It's all they've ever seen. Split Rock Lighthouse is way out there. To cross the bridge over the Gooseberry River (above) is to enter the Vast Unknown.

For me, the North Shore is just beginning at Gooseberry. And now, the North Shore's cool new trail, the Gitchi Gami Trail, starts at Gooseberry too. Below is the view facing west from the bridge. On the right is Highway 61, on the left is the new GG trail headed downhill toward the campground.

Maybe you've seen the slow slow progress as you drive up the shore. Just past the entrance to Gooseberry, a trail bed winds along the old highway roadbed up and to the right of Highway 61. A very short section of bike trail connected, well, J. Gregors Inn with just about nothing.

The bike trail is now paved all the way from Beaver Bay (think Big Dipper ice cream, the Beaver River, and the agate shop) to Gooseberry, with some terrific stops along the way. Some of my favorites along this stretch are Thompson Beach, Gold Rock Point and the wooded bridge over Split Rock Creek. Full coverage next spring, I promise!

You can access this section of trail from the popular Gooseberry main parking lot. Another cool spot to park and enjoy is the Twin Points boat landing, halfway between Gooseberry and Split Rock. Go west on the bike trail to Gooseberry or east on the trail to Split Rock.

Monday, October 13, 2008

A walk for all seasons

The Western Waterfront Trail in Duluth is one of my favorite walks in changing seasons. It runs over three miles along or near the shoreline of the St. Louis River. The trail is wide and well-graveled. Although open for bicycles, most users are on foot.

It seems like there is always something cool to see and to mark the change of seasons. In spring, it's the first trail in Duluth to be dry and clear of snow, and there's terrific early season bird watching with immature bald eagles and waterfowl coming along the St. Louis River's broad wetland areas even before the ice is out. In fall, there are nice leaf colors in the willows.

In the winter, the trail is sometimes groomed for cross country skiing.

As a hiker, I like to use the trailhead on 63rd Ave. W., south of Ramsey Street. That gets you right out on the trail and on the water's edge. To reach this trailhead, take the Central Avenue exit in Duluth, head south to Ramsey Street, turn right on Ramsey and drive past the North Pole Bar to 63rd Ave W. Turn left there, then find the trail on the right one block short of the dead-end of 63rd Ave.

Any time of year, if Lake Superior has cranked up its big old wind machine, the Western Waterfront Trail is a nice escape from the cold and maybe from the fog.

Go for it!

Friday, October 10, 2008

Where the lost hikers were found

Last week, two hikers from Duluth were lost on the Kekekabic Trail. The "Kek" is a wilderness giant that connects the Ely area with the Gunflint Trail through the heart of the BWCA. It's a rough and rugged trail, hard to find anytime but especially difficult after the blowdown and fires that have rearranged the whole region.

The two hikers that had been missing this weekend were found yesterday just north of Bingshik Lake. This spring I hiked in to Bingshik Lake (picture below) on the Kekekabic Trail. It was just a day hike, but I was still struck by how rugged and unforgiving the terrain is. The trailbed itself was basically fine, but the "woods" were a jumble of blown-down and burned-down tree trunks (picture above).

I am not at all surprised that they got off the trail. I was there before the grass grew in; with full grass cover, it could have made the trail impossible to find or follow.

This first (or last) section of the Kek receives, I imagine, better maintenance than the rest of the trail. What a challenge those two hikers had! I am so glad they were found and are okay. The Kek is deserving of all the press it gets for being over-the-top challenging.

The sunrise coast

Here is this morning's sunrise, viewed from our backyard.

Although I write about the North Shore of Lake Superior, we actually live on the west shore. Minnesota Point forms the blunt tip of the nose of the Lake Superior wolf head. So we get sunrises, sometimes very beautiful ones.

Do sunrises inspire great works through the day? Does it make us better people here on Minnesota Point that we're greeted by beauty in the morning? California is the land of sunsets over the Pacific Ocean—are people there different from us because of that?

I don't know. I do know that now it's raining and I've got a long to-do list for the day. We'll see what inspiration I have from this morning's beauty.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Out of the wild

The juncos are coming through. They're hoping around our backyard, cool as a cucumber. Check that, our garden cucumbers are gone already since it got too cold for them. The juncos are as cool as a...carrot...and nearly as earth-bound.

Juncos remind me of the wild woods, the deep real forests that surround Duluth and Lake Superior. They hang up there in the deep woods as long as they can, and only migrate a short ways south. Compared with the chickadee, juncos are a bit more shy and a bit more wild. Yet they come each year to our backyard and hang for a few weeks.

Juncos are ground feeders, often seen on the grass below feeders scooping up leftovers from hoggy squirrels.

I found the picture above from the US Fish and Wildlife Service. I searched a lot of images, but couldn't find one that showed the junco's most distinctive marking, the white outer tail feathers that flash when they flit into flight. I know this bird well enough to identify it by season, by association. Crisp northwest breezes? October or April? Smell of leaves starting to rot? Flash of white means junco.

As fall rolls along and we become increasing set at home, it warms my heart to have this little reminder of the deep woods come hang with us out of the wild.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

My left foot

I shouldn't complain. I've had some great outings on the North Shore this fall already. But here we are at the peak of fall colors on the North Shore, and I am laid up with a bum heel.

Any time you have a Latin anatomical word, and it ends in "-itis," that means that part of your anatomy is injured or swollen. My plantar fascia hurts. I'd never heard of that particular body part, but it's the tendon that wraps under your heel and heads for your toes. The pain means I have plantar fasciitis.

I have the typical symptoms: the pain is worst in the morning when I first get up, it gets worse the longer I stand on it, and I'm feeling a desperate need for better arch support.

The best treatment is rest...for like three months. So I'm resting. And canceling hiking plans. I suppose the long hikes I've been doing on the SHT this fall haven't helped, and bouncing around the tennis court doesn't count as rest. Darn it. I don't want to be laid up by sore joints; it just sounds like middle age to me, and I'm not ready for that. What's next? Reading glasses? AARP mailings?

Monday, October 6, 2008

Girls' day out

Fall on the North Shore, there is no better place to be than on some rocky ridge over an inland lake peering out over the tapestry of maples. Here, it's Bean Lake on the Superior Hiking Trail. Incredible spot, challenging hike.

I didn't go, not this time. I stayed home with the boys to nurse a sore foot and to keep the boys from revolting. Nothing ruins a great hike like a child's complaints halfway through. There's only so many times you can pull out the M&Ms to keep the troops moving. Noah warned me that if he had to come along and hike, "Don't thing I'm having a good time. I'll just be looking at the ground and waiting until it's over."

So this was Sally's trip with her sister Anita. Sally carried the nice SLR camera in its sweat-inducing fannypack all the way in, and despite some camera malfunctions, got a very nice picture of Anita and Bean Lake. They continued around to Bear Lake and did the loop trail back to Penn Boulevard.

They came back glowing like the maple trees, flush with the exercise and the challenge of the SHT's rocks and hills. Like a detective, I plugged them for details, trying to experience the day through their tired eyes and limbs. Crowds? Only in the parking lot. Fall colors? Not quite peak. Trail conditions? Crumbly and calf-burning.

It's Monday, my foot still hurts, and Sally is back at work. But the pictures and the stories still resonate for me. To torture a pun, I "Bean" there before. Thanks, Sal!

Friday, October 3, 2008

Follow me

They call it an "assurance marker." A few years back, the good folks at the Superior Hiking Trail came up with a simple, affordable way to mark the route of the trail. Blue paint blazes went up on trees and rocks all up and down the trail, even in Duluth. The marks are meant to "assure" hikers that they're still on the trail. And they work. During a long hiking day, I watch for those blazes to keep my energy from flagging,

But I get goofy in the brain, too. To me, the blazes look just the size and shape of an old-fashioned chalkboard eraser, with those thick layers of black felt just waiting to be banged together at the end of the day by the star student. So almost everytime I see one I imagine a precocious second grader teacher's pet, dipping an eraser ever so carefully into a tray of blue paint and applying it to the tree or, harder to imagine, rough rock.

This particular blaze above is on an overlook near Wolf Ridge ELC. In their SHT book, Ron Morton and Judy Gibbs call the bedrock here "tortured basalt."

The SHT blaze system gets more complicated. A white blaze means you're on a spur trail. Two offset blazes mean something like a turn is coming up, watch out.

They even use the blazes on their signs, which seems a bit funky since a blaze is meant for a natural surface. But consistency is comfort.

To me, one of the great beauties of hiking is to let go of worry, to let good trail maintenance and design take over your day, to be guided through some spectacular land. I love rock cairns on slickrock or on the open tundra, the way they say "Hey you human, follow me." In short, I take great comfort in being "assured."