The young Chanhassen family of four that planned to take on the great north with a 170-mile pedal, paddle and hike in the Arrowhead region met its match on the last leg.
“My great takeaway was, did we fail because we didn’t do what we set out to do?” said Bobby Marko. “Well, we did do what we set out to do, which was instill love of the wilderness in the kids and to make memories as a family and to challenge ourselves.”
The Markos had dubbed their adventure the Arrowhead Traverse, which was intended to cover 170 miles by bike, canoe and foot over three weeks. The family began the trip July 30 with the bike portion on the Mesabi Trail. Paddling Moose to Saganaga lakes in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness followed. The final leg on the Border Route Trail (BRT) met horrid conditions. Marko, his wife, Maura, and their children Jack, 3, and baby Rowan had to turn back 2 ½ miles in.
“That was hard for me,” Marko said. They were aware of the bad trail conditions and had tailored the final leg to what appeared to be more manageable: fewer miles over a few days.
During the brief hike to get to the main trail, they came to a fork. One of the trails had neck-high fireweed. The other was in better shape but quickly deteriorated into mud and a tangle of blowdown. Just getting to the main trail was worse than feared — not promising for hikers with baby carriers. Each was carrying more than 50 pounds. Already tired after the canoe leg, they found the unruly BRT too much to take on. “We went from the planning stage to living it,” Bobby Marko said. Still, the Markos’ goal to make nature commonplace for their kids has taken root. Jack started crying when they decided to turn back, they said, laughing at the memory.
Disappointed but philosophical, they ultimately ended on a positive. They camped along the Gunflint Trail and enjoyed day hikes.
“We made the mistake that we tell parents always not to make, which is [keep] realistic expectations,” Maura Marko said of the physical demands, particularly the plan to end with several days of intense hiking. “There is nothing that says we can’t go back and try this again when they can walk.”