Canals and Convicts

Writing this has given me great pause, which in turn was compounded as the CDT has been generally tougher than I expected, or maybe I just got soft in UT.

I spent a few unexpected zeroes in New Rockford, ND. Only slightly jeopardizing my plans to meet my father at the end of the NCT to slackpack the gap to Glacier. It started after having hitched into town for water, I camped in the RV section of the town park, with plans to hitch back out to where I left off, and maybe camp there once more. It’d be a short day, but I did have a package to pick up in town. After dark someone stumbled over my tent on the way back to their camper, after a brief realization of what they’d  tripped over; in particular that I had no car. They told me that they “Really appreciated what [I] was up to, and that we should hang out in the morning.” I could feel the edge of the vortex pulling me in, but just wanted to get to sleep. So half-awake and halfheartedly I agreed. When morning came, I was surprised to find that my new friend; Chad, had barbed wire tattoos instead of eyebrows, my interest had been piqued. After some introductions I ended up staying with an old lady from town, Julie, whom they hang out with and generally seemed to be helping. We moved a bunch of her furniture, went searching for replacements on curbsides. Picked up a compact dishwasher for Chad’s RV, and a new-to-her refrigerator for Julie, swapped the old one to the curb where the new one was found.

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This account is of course abbreviated, many other things happened and people met, including Tarot readings, ritual use of energy crystals, Julie’s daughter and grand-children. I’ve had a tough time turning it into something coherent as is. My longest home-stay since Aunt Kim’s in Michigan, ended rather quietly, during my last morning I hitched out and slack-packed myself back to town from where I had previously hitched to town from, collected my pack and water and headed for the final stretch of the NCT: The McClusky Canal, an unfinished and abandoned canal, which makes up the better part of the remaining 170 or so miles to the NCT’s western terminus. Walking the canal is rough, it is long, it is flat, and the first couple dozen miles were basically dry too. The section of canal line near New Rockford doesn’t actually connect all the way to Lake Sakakawea; there’s about a 15 mile gap where you’re back on roads, or cutting across farmland. After this gap the canal is mostly full of slow or stagnant water, but it is available.

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The Canal drops into Lake Audubon, which is only really separate from Lake Sakakawea due to US 83 cutting across via land bridge. I am late in making it here, but its nothing a 24 hour challenge can’t solve, and its easy terrain for night hiking; the canal is lined with a pair of dirt roads. Once you hit the lake its back onto regular roads, tracking alongside the lake with a couple miles of trail leading into Lake Sakakawea State Park for the end of the North Country Trail. The Terminus Sign was absent, having been blown down during a semi recent storm, not with a whimper, or a bang, but a more of a sigh as I meet my Father, and ready myself for the long road walk to Glacier and my next long trail.

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Coast to Coast, and Southwestern leg done.

These got swept under the rug for a while, but February 4th I completed my coast to coast objective, making it into the Pacific Ocean at Dunes Park Beach in San Diego, CA.

In addition, I somewhat recently made it to the CDT aswell. Hit the Southern Terminus on March 2nd, walked to Lordsburg NM, and took off to Utah to wait and give the San Juans a chance to melt a little bit by the time I get there in May.

By the time this goes out I ought to be back to hiking on the CDT, but I have been tooling around Southwestern UT for a few weeks now, mostly focused on resting and learning to rock climb.

On a Plain

Lots of trail magic in Eastern MN, between trail volunteers and random passersby. I had a stretch of nightly hosting, and made a couple new friends. Including Henry, whom gave me a lift back into town during some mild rain wherein we played frisbee golf, ate mango, and talked about mysticism. From town (Fergus Falls) I met up with a friend from home, who was in school nearby at Morris and spent a weekend with him. Which included sorta low-key crashing his friends’ wedding, (that makes two for those of you counting at home) and gorging myself on cupcakes that nobody else seemed to be eating. Met a guy named Dale right on near the border with North Dakota, and after passing me several times just wandering down the road who after getting shot down offering me rides, ended up taking me in for a night. He had a rad Lego collection set up in his living room and a little wooded area with a fireplace that was all done up with Xmas lights and such. In the morning we stopped into his shop where we were greeted by a whole bunch of friendly farm kittens, not quite to the extent as I had seen in OH, but pleasant as all get out nonetheless.

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North Dakota surprised me with how well punctuated it is, however the roadwalks do drag on endlessly and some of the trail seems to be almost through people’s backyards, which can be a little awkward. The lack of shade led me to hike long into the nights, and spend my days in dry shady culverts. The non-corrugated ones are especially nice, although in a pinch you can sit just outside on the leeward side from the sun. The empty night roads  make for a pleasant trek, featuring wide open to the expanses with low horizon lines all around, and populated only by occasional trees, shrub, or ditch. While Its doubtful I would’ve been hassled while sleeping beside the road, I was thankful for my tent’s dark green shade, which likely drew less attention as I tore down camp in the mornings. The days I did hike during daylight hours were brutally hot, retaining much of that Minnesotan Humidity from just across the border. I certainly am a child of winter.

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Roasting in the sun, if you zoom in you can read the 106 F on my watch, and see the blank horizons beyond. The Shirt is wet with sweat, otherwise the white salt stains would be showing up, emanating from the sternum strap in particular. Luckily (not really, I am sure it was by design.) water was generally available, as the trail tracks the Sheyenne River pretty closely. There is a big gap between the Sheyenne and New Rockford where the Trail picks up the McClusky Canal, hitching back and forth to town for water is pretty weird, and people seem almost a little offended when you ask to get dropped off in the middle of nowhere, but then again, I don’t always jump to explain what I am up to either.

Boundries

The Border Route Trail section, immediately after the Superior Hiking Trail, brought me my dusting of late MN snow. While I had just come off trail to resupply; Nemo was dropping one of our friends off to SoBo the SHT, so we kicked it for a night and he brought me a ration box. Found several unopened beers in the woods, still good even; not in the same place either, like 3 different beers in 3 different places. Hope I didn’t wreck someone’s caches for a drunken FKT attempt… Saw lots of wild life up close, all the baby animals that aren’t afraid of people, or are otherwise foolish. From the moose at a safe distance, to grouse chicks and fawns that try to hide right in the center of the trail. (or worse, under the arch of my boot.) Met Problem Bear briefly on the Kekekabic trail, He’s Triple Crowner who attempted the NCT east bound in 2016. I think he got off in MI around when the trail gets overly civilized. People who can really relate to long distance hiking are pretty rare the farther you get from the Triple Crown Trails, so I think we both enjoyed taking an hour to commiserate.

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I caught both the BRT and Kek before many of the volunteers had been out for the heavy trail maintenance necessary. Many dead-falls and Aspen were bent across the trails; likely a hold over from heavy snows or a fall windstorm; slowing progress about as well as any of the steep elevation jumps of the AT and the LT, as following the trail became less walking and more tracing a tread path through a thicket that grows sideways. Leaving the Kek and the boundary waters I was able to connect with a group of volunteers who put me up in a boy scout camp near the Kek’s terminus, and also fed me pretty decent before I set off on the next decent road section. MN was good to me, even on roads; people offered me rides, food and drink multiple times a day between Ely and my next trail section just after Grand Rapids. (These great lakes states seem to share town names pretty frequently…) Good to have “Minnesota Nice” be more true than just a series of passive aggressive jokes.

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This road section is about when I really got on top of this iteration of the blog, and I think when I got onto instagram. The next section of established trail is well supported by trail volunteers and came and went quite breezily. Here I found my first morel mushrooms, which at the time I thought were quite sizable, as well this section was where I had to step over a fawn that failed its hide check. (or maybe just balance…) I ran into an encryption error, and accidentally erased all the pictures I took in Minnesota to this point, so the ones that have made it here I have found because as luck would have it; I didn’t back up anything in that time, but I did transfer files around a little so there were a few survivors. You’d think that afterwards I would’ve learned my lesson and developed good habits around back-ups and data management, but I actually recently had another near catastrophe… maybe I ought to get around to that…

Winter flees the North Shore

While still quite early for the Superior Hiking Trail’s season, my delays found me on trail with atleast one other thru hiker according to the registers. A little slack packing out ofy parent’s cottage in duluth, compliments of my father, (who seems to like slack packing quite a bit, seeing as he offers to do so not infrequently.) and I was back up to speed. The eastern most 400 miles of the NCT in MN are truly a joy; minimal roadwalking enough elevation change to stave off boredom, without being particularly difficult, plentiful and beautiful waterways. I may be a bit biased, as the SHT was my first thru-hike, and is in my home state, but this is the best section of the NCT; barring maybe the High Peaks area of the Adirondaks, which was nowhere near as long, but more spectacular, and not the official NCT route.

After the long and lonesome winter, having the occasional company at camp was nice, on trail as well although I seldom stop to chat for long. I passed several different trail crews all out for their first outings of the season, and even met Lars again and nighted with his family near Oberg Mt. (Which was fortunate, as I forgot my trekking poles with him when he ferried my back to the Twin Cities.) Shortly thereafter I happened to camp with another thru hiker which I hadn’t quite expected. I figured I would probably pass them at night while they were camped out. It was their first thru, and they were having some minor struggles regarding a hiking partner getting back on trail after having gotten hurt. I think I shared some cookies with them, hope they managed to finish

The atmosphere this time through the SHT was wholly different from my previous thru, in which it was much drearier, was also off season. I don’t recall this bridge being as sketchy then (heard they’ve already fixed it even) but I have a kind of fixation on failing trail infrastructure. When I previously passed thru, overcast skies lent a certain mystique to the riverwalks. Low visibility lent the rock formations additional gravitas, as they disappear into fog only 10 feet away. This time I had few clouds, although for a couple days they showed up bearing a dusting of snow in the far north. I’ll count that, and with it I had snow in every state of the NCT save ND.

PCT complete!

August 11th 2016, to February 2nd 2017.


A far cry from my original plan to complete the PCT within 100 days, but I self sabotaged that plan almost immediately. Second crown in hand, and onto San Diego to complete the coast to coast portion of my trek. The CDT is almost in my sights.

Dairy Land Blitz

Jetting thru WI’s 200 miles in 6 days neither left room for error, nor was a section prone to it, with a gentle elevation profile and overall easy to follow tread. Its greatest challenges came in the mundane challenge of mustering quickly in the morning and bedding down quickly at night. Such sections aren’t the most interesting to recall as a narrative, but are often wonderful in the moments; a simple pleasure, wherein talents learned in previous hardship aren’t tested, but exercised. Hiking the North woods in the spring, preseason to the more crowded summer offers cushier conditions than I think most expect. Cool, but not bitter cold temps, combined with longer daylight hours, keep you up and moving in the day and resting easily at night. The bugs that swarm from the upper Midwest’s many waterways aren’t out yet in any significant force. The woods are most often empty of people, as schools are still in session and vacation season is a ways off; and aside from turkey, hunting seasons are closed. Autumn is still my favorite time to be outside, but trading the foliage for more daylight, and less consideration for being downrange of hunters doesn’t seem unfair at all.

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None of that is to say that my way through WI was wholly unremarkable, I trudged long into the night to find shelters that were perhaps overly ambitious targets. Once of which was a small hardly optimally shaped building with a door, and made up my first night in the state. The next, and last was more a standard Adirondack style shelter, but with columns closely spaced instead of wall near the open end, as an architectural flourish to an otherwise simple building. Or finding myself sleeping beside a stream underneath a low clearance bridge, having left the day unplanned and ending with miles of road before the next bit of trail, without knowing if camping is even permitted near that trail head. Or getting mixed results hoping for shortcuts by following jeep trails.

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Spring thaw was in full effect as I tromped thru WI, as the contrast between these pictures show. I’m sure I would’ve encountered more places where the trail becomes a pond, had off trail section of WI been weighted more towards the end, but as it was I found myself practically snowshoeing into the state and wading out into Jay Cooke. Where I got spirited away by my friend Lars, first back to his cabin, and then back home to the Cities to have myself a bit of a spring break. I seem to diverge from hiking quarterly, and then inevitably get delayed in getting back to trail, as I  often put myself at the mercy of whatever cheap or free transport I can find. (Friends and Family have been super helpful on this front, although I suspect some foul play has perhaps been involved in some of my delays.)