Friday, July 26, 2013

Hiking to Two Harbors, Leg Four: Prindle Road to Lismore Road

Thank you, trailbuilders!

With the young girl and the old man, I completed the fourth leg of my hike to Two Harbors. It was Daphne the poodle and my father, the two of them nearly inseparable the whole way, hiking yesterday from Prindle Road to Lismore Road on the Superior Hiking Trail.

This is a brand-new section of the Superior Hiking Trail, just opened in June. Building a new hiking trail is a rare and beautiful thing. It's a commitment to the future and a gift to the present. The hard work of tree clearing, bridge construction and tread building yields a whole new experience. Like any new trail, this section brings people places they never would have gone before, along a route no one had followed before but is still...just...perfect.

We picked up this section of trail after our brief tour of the English countryside the day before. Here's where the newly-constructed trail splits off from the North Shore snowmobile trail:

After following snowmobile trail for over three miles, it felt great to get back in the woods again. I realized, for the umpteenth time, how different a real hiking trail is. It winds around trees instead of blasting through them. You have to watch your feet and your toes, so you see more of what's right there.The canopy of trees, especially in this young aspen forest, pulls you in like a funnel or a birth canal in reverse.

This is the first real virtuous long-distance hiking since the Superior Hiking Trail left Jay Cooke State Park. There are no campsites in eastern Duluth, so the assumption any thruhikers might sleep illegally or maybe stay in a hotel. Starting at this section, the SHT has trailside campsites every few miles. The Bald Eagle Campsite was one of the scenic highlights of the day, overlooking a beautiful little beaver pond.

Just when you might get sick of thick aspen forests, the trail opens up into a recently-logged area. For about half a mile, the trail runs through thick regrowth. Hats off to the trail building for going through, rather than avoiding, this cut-over area. The sun is nice, and so is the chance to watch nature reclaim this site over time.

This section of trail is great for locals looking to stretch their legs. It's mostly easy walking, just a little hilly at the Lismore Road end. It would be great birdwatching in the spring, with a wide range of habitats and edges. Good job, trailbuilders!

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Hike to Two Harbors, Leg 3: Martin to Prindle

Dick Slade, Daphne and Hammo
I've never walked in the English countryside. Today was darn close, however. We, perambulated...2.5 miles from Martin Road to an unofficial trailhead on Prindle Road, and most of it through lovely farm fields. With my 82-year-old father and his faithful yellow retriever. And my own not quite as faithful poodle. 

My inheritance isn't vast tracts of bucolic estate lands or iconic castles. I inherited from my father a passion for hiking and for obscure long-term goals. Dick wants to have hiked the entire Superior Hiking Trail, and he accomplished that 10 years ago. But they keep adding new trail sections, so every few years we head out and explore the new terrain. I want to hike from Duluth to Two Harbors this year. I'm maybe a fifth of the way there. 

Cue the theme song from Downton Abbey.

British indeed:

Our feet were damp from morning dew in the unmowed grass.

We passed farmers working by hand in their fields.

Old barns loomed over the hills.

Even the names of the landmarks we passed were veddy veddy British: Martin, Amity, Riley, Prindle.

Dick and Andrew Slade at Martin Road trailhead

This stretch of the Superior Hiking Trail is located entirely on the North Shore State Trail. The North Shore State Trail was built for snowmobiling, not hiking. And in winter, this landscape would not be nearly as green or luscious as it was today. Lucky us!

But where were the tea and crumpets when we finished the hike?

Old barn beyond the trail bridge.
The hike to Two Harbors continues tomorrow, from Prindle Road to Lismore Road. No more English countryside, I'm afraid. Just lovely woods, a few deerflies, and one foot in front of another.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Hike to Two Harbors, Leg 2: Hartley to Martin

Overlook of Amity Creek valley
My summer hike from Duluth to Two Harbors continued today, two-plus weeks after it started (read about my hike from my house to Hartley here). Today was the shortest stretch of all, from Hartley Park to Martin Road.

It felt great to be out on the trail again. It sounds corny, but the woods and trails are really quiet. And peaceful. Note to self: Hiking is good.

I ended my last hike at the corner of Woodland and Fairmont. Instead of using the Duluth Transit Authority for my shuttle this time, I used my bike. I parked at the Martin Road trailhead, then rode my bike back down Woodland Avenue to Fairmont Street, locked the bike up, and hiked on the "trail" up Carlisle Street.

SHT along Vermilion Road
 Nearly half of this hike was on city streets, though it was mostly quiet back streets. The only car that passed me was on its way to the same trailhead, driven by a mom and two kids off to pick juneberries. The route passes between two cemeteries, well-landscaped park-like settings that just happen to have hundreds of tombstones.

As part of the Superior Hiking Trail, this section is unique and ultimately forgettable. The one big viewpoint into the Amity Creek valley pales in comparison to nearly any viewpoint east or west along the trail. Road walking is tedious. I've commented on this trail section before, even though I hadn't hiked it, when Backpacker Magazine named it one of the 100 best day hikes in the US apparently without actually hiking it.

Pyrola along SHT
But, hey, it's hiking. Hiking is good. All on its own. The sky was blue. It was a cool summer morning with no bugs. There were some lovely pyrola blooming by the trail, as well as cow parsnip and forget-me-not. Even a healthy young birch forest.

So now my journey to Two Harbors has reached the Martin Road trailhead. I have a date with my 82-year-old father to pick up from there tomorrow morning. I know it won't be a glorious climb like Carlton Peak or a challenging roller coaster like the area around Finland. But it will be hiking. And hiking is good.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Berry picking: Better late than never

Fresh berries in the straw.
Nothing tastes more like a Northland summer than a freshly-picked strawberry. The more juices running down your chin the better. After weeks of painful delay, pick-your-own berry season is underway.

Kids picking strawberries in the field at Finke's
Last year the strawberry season was almost a complete washout. With a late spring frost followed by mold-inducing June floods, the harvest was less than a quarter of what it could have been.

This year's harvest is late but bountiful. We went to Finke's Berry Farm late last week, about forty minutes south of Duluth and just off I-35, and picked four gallons of lush, ripe strawberries. One hot night in the kitchen later, we have a stockpile of delicious natural strawberry jam ready for a year full of PB&J's.

This was a few days ago, more like 14 picking days remain now.
For more information on picking at Finke's, "Like" them on Facebook. That way you'll get the latest updates on picking times. Oh, and those in the know call them "Fink's", not "Fink-ee's"

The other local strawberry pick-your-own farm is in Oulu, Wisconsin. Johnsons Berry Patch saved my summer and our kids' lunches last year after other local strawberry farms got washed out. Johnson's has been growing strawberries since 1951 and are not quite as modern as Finke's. So no Facebook page. All I could find online is this description. It is a lovely drive out past Brule and along a charming backroad.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Hike to Two Harbors: Leg 1, Home to Hartley

Okay, there are a few things you should know about me:
  • I really like the idea of Duluth's urban wilderness, of wolves and moose walking our streets and wild places, of vast open forests just beyond city limits. That's what inspired me to move here back in the 1980s, and has kept me here.
  • I like to set modest, attainable goals for myself. I dream way too big, but easily focus on the small.
 Also, you might want to know that as of June 1, 2013, the Superior Hiking Trail runs continuously from Duluth to Two Harbors. Well, actually it runs all the way to Canada, but the big news of this summer is that with two new sections basically the entire trail is complete.

A lot of folks take off every year to thru-hike the Superior Hiking Trail. Even more folks try to thru-hike far longer trails, like the Appalachian Trail or the Pacific Crest Trail. My modest and attainable goal for this summer is to hike all the way from Duluth to Two Harbors on the Superior Hiking Trail, as my little way to celebrate the long-awaited completion of the Trail.

I started this weekend with my first leg, 6.5 miles from my house in Duluth to Hartley Nature Center. The first mile or so of my journey was along the Downtown Lakewalk. No, that is not me in the picture below. Yes I was hiking alone, but I was in a much better mood than this guy.

While this is the Superior Hiking Trail, it is not anything like the rest of the Superior Hiking Trail. The only similarity was the signage along the way. Here's the sign pointing the route of the "Trail" up Duluth's 14th Avenue East:

The trail starts to get wooded and rugged (like the rest of the Superior Hiking Trail) when it crosses Fourth Street and enters Chester Park. While I could have stopped in at Burrito Union for sustenance, I plugged on. For almost a mile, the trail climbs up the west side of the creek, under towering white pines, past dramatic little waterfalls, and away from city noises.

Climbing out of the Chester Creek valley, there's another half-mile or so on city sidewalks before the Superior Hiking Trail enters UMD's Bagley Nature Area. There I enjoyed the sturdy metal deck on top of the old downhill ski run. I could see all the way back to Park Point, where my hike had begun an hour and a half earlier.

The most natural and remote part of the hike was through Hartley Nature Center. Not coincidentally, this was the first stretch of trail I'd been on that day that had been built specifically to be the Superior Hiking Trail. Everything else had been existing trails that had been connected simply by putting up the signs. 

The trail popped out of the woods at Hartley Pond and finished up down at the Hartley Nature Center building. From there it was a short walk up to Woodland Avenue and the Duluth Transit Authority bus stop. 75 cents and a 30-minute ride on the Route 13 bus brought me back downtown and a short stroll back over the Lift Bridge and home again.

The whole experience, including the bus shuttle back home, took three and a half hours. It's not the most scenic stretch of the Superior Hiking Trail and it might just be the busiest stretch. It was a great way to shake out my hiking legs and get ready for the many miles ahead on my modest, attainable goal.