Trail people of all sorts
Of course, affinity for the Superior Hiking Trail transcends hikers. The trail is maintained and supported by a cadre of volunteer groups, individual volunteers, government agencies and business people from the North Shore and other parts of Minnesota. Below are a few voices:
Bob Nesheim’s trail story, like the path, has a lot of spurs.
He became a member of the Superior Hiking Trail Association in 1986, and joined its board in 2001. He would help the drive to extend the trail from Duluth to Jay Cooke State Park.
Today, he and his wife run the Pincushion Trails Inn within its namesake mountain trails system, uphill from Grand Marais. They moved from Duluth, and specifically wanted the little bed-and-breakfast a kilometer off the Superior trail, with the Devil Track River coursing through the property.
They bought in 2014, after an epiphany in 2013. Nesheim was hiking with a friend in the area of the inn when his companion bashed his head and drew blood. Off they went — after the hike — to Sawtooth Mountain Clinic. His friend was stitched up in the emergency room, but didn’t have his medical card. No matter: The clinic told him to come back with it when he had it.
“I am a doctor. For Sawtooth to stitch him without his plastic — it’s beautiful,” said Nesheim, a retired psychiatrist.
Nesheim couldn’t deny the “real moving force” of the inn’s availability … in a beloved area … with proven quality medical care … and a son with a job in Grand Marais. Nesheim and his friend, Dick, still walk the section of trail where branch met flesh: They volunteer to brush the section twice a year for the trail association.
The inn’s prime market is Nordic skiers in winter and hikers in spring and summer. Nesheim was quick to rattle off a list of people — Bill Blank of Solbakken Resort in Lutsen, for one — who helped get the trail built and promoted. They all feel a sense of ownership and pride in preserving the trail, Nesheim said.
“If you are going to work, this is pretty cool,” Nesheim said.
No work is too low for trail volunteer Christie Calin — even if it goes below ground.
In short time, Calin, 54, has taken on multiple volunteer roles for the Superior Hiking Trail Association. She cleans up a campsite at Dyer’s Creek south of Schroeder, Minn., in advance of spring and fall hiking seasons, and she brushes a several mile section of trail twice a year, too. It’s located just north of Lutsen. Now, she also digs latrines.
Calin was responding to a need from the association, an opportunity to join the “elite latrine digging squad.” “How can you turn that down? The glory and the glamour of doing that?” Calin asked, her sense of humor intact.
Calin first stepped foot on the trail two years ago as a trail runner in a spring race. She said the attraction was immediate, and she quickly signed on to help maintain the trail. So, she’ll continue to prepare the campsite, lop branches jutting into the path — and relocate latrines. Regardless, she feels a sense of ownership, capturing the sensibility of the hundreds of volunteers who help the small staff at the association care for the 310-plus miles of footpath.
And there’s more.
“The thing I found about volunteering is it gets me up there,” said the fitness coach from Forest Lake. “It’s not always easy, but if I have a great cause while in the process, then it works out.”
The shuttle driver
Bob Risch is effusive about hikers. And good thing — he shuttles them hundreds of miles, three days a week, spring to fall, along the Superior Hiking Trail.
“There is a weeding out. You don’t make it through to backpacking if you are not a nice person,” Risch said, with the enthusiasm of a tour director. “I am working with the nicest people living.”
Risch has been operating his self-proclaimed “one-horse show” for five years after buying Superior Shuttle Service.
Risch knows his territory intimately. He has lived on the North Shore for going on 50 years, first magnetized by the region as a boy visiting with family members (“I got addicted to Lake Superior”). Offered a teaching job in Grand Marais and Duluth as a young man, he chose the latter.
Now, he resides in Castle Danger, and relishes retirement work that is seasonal, unstructured and, really, out of his home: Three miles away is the Castle Danger trailhead, where his shuttle drivers begin Friday through Sunday mornings, covering more than 52 trailheads depending on need on their way to Grand Marais. Then, late morning, they head back.
Risch is content to roll with the vagaries of the job: late hikers who miss their reservations or go to the wrong location, or don’t show. He recently had a day in which his crew of four vehicles drove 71 hikers, followed by a day when just four needed a lift. “A typical day is chockful of variables,” he said.