On to adventure with fears, real and imagined
I was nervous about my pending odyssey. And annoyed with myself for harboring this trepidation. It’s not like I was a newbie to long-distance hiking. In fact, I’m rather a pro. I’ve twice thru-hiked the Ice Age National Scenic Trail, which winds more than 1,100 miles throughout Wisconsin. I’ve also thru-hiked the New England and Florida National Scenic Trails for a combined 1,500 miles. So why butterflies about a much shorter stroll along the Superior Hiking Trail?
Lots of reasons. First was my left hamstring. After years of powering my various activities, it had almost completely detached from my lower pelvis. In February, it was stitched back into place. Although cleared for this endeavor by my surgeon and physical therapist, I was technically still in the recovery stage. And the Superior trail and its 310-plus miles are famed for both their incredible beauty and harsh ruggedness. This trip would be far from a gentle amble. The path’s signature blue blazes lead hikers roughly from Duluth to the Canadian border, including a stretch along the jagged Sawtooth Mountains. It would require scrambling up and down the soaring bluffs lining Lake Superior’s North Shore over and over again. Was my body really up to the challenge?
Then there was the camping. Camping is not my thing. I prefer getting off the trail at night and staying in a motel. The restorative power of a hot shower and comfy bed after a long day in the outdoors cannot be underestimated. Yet, I decided to rough it and try to crawl into a tent about half of the nights. It seemed to make for a more authentic experience. To prepare, I hit the YouTube channels of camouflage-clad men with monikers like “Cr0cket20” and “Pa Wilderness” to learn how to assemble my tent, use a camping stove and tie knots. I worried that I’d forget what I learned once I was actually on my journey.
My biggest fear, though, was ticks. I have an irrational alarm about those creepy crawlers, which I’m going to blame on my parents (sorry, Mom and Dad). The two are big-city folks from Chicago. Although they packed their bags and moved our family to Wisconsin when I was 8, their urban roots meant there were no sultry summer weekends spent at cottages up north for our family. Instead, we visited vast, marble-floored museums and attended band concerts performed by smartly dressed musicians. I didn’t even know what a tick was until I was an adult — and I never saw a real one until last year.
But I so badly wanted to experience the storied beauty of the Superior Hiking Trail that I was willing to face my fear of those nasty flat bugs. I proactively drenched all of my clothing in Permethrin, then turned the spray bottle and nailed my backpack and tent. For added insurance, I bought something called a tick key, a device that is supposed to easily remove a tick embedded into your skin. I felt rather positive about my preparations even though a friend helpfully sent me a link to an article warning that ticks are supposed to be in abundance nationwide this year. If I was going to combat my fear of ticks, apparently it was going to be in grand fashion.
So these were the reasons I was a bit unsettled about my looming adventure. Yet while skittish, I also was incredibly excited. Because my past treks have taught me this: No matter what challenges you encounter — and there are always some — any day on the trail is a good day.
Melanie Radzicki McManus, a frequent contributing writer to the Star Tribune, is an accomplished long-distance hiker. Twice, she thru-hiked the 1,000-mile Ice Age National Scenic Trail in Wisconsin, and holds the fastpack record for women. Her book “Thousand-Miler” chronicles her first Ice Age thru-hike in 2013. The trail is one of 11 National Scenic Trails on her bucket list.
Star Tribune photojournalist Brian Peterson knows the North Shore — he was born in Duluth. From news to sports to features, he’s helped tell stories all over the state in the Star Tribune since 1987. He has a particular affinity for the outdoors: His award-winning book “State of Wonders” brought a keen eye to the abundance and diversity of Minnesota’s natural beauty.