Rudi Hargesheimer doesn’t get to the North Shore much these days, and yet much of him is forever attached to the big water, granite cliffs and pines.
For years, he made the trip north from the metro area when he had off consecutive days from Midwest Mountaineering, that outdoors fixture in Minneapolis where he was a manager for 40 years. He eventually bought a half-interest in a cabin near Split Rock Lighthouse.
Lake Superior and the region’s backcountry got his special attention in every season, through a variety of activity. There was paddling and exploration to be done. Photography, too. He trained his camera lens on the spectacular color-scape of maples and aspen in the fall, at places like Oberg Mountain. He also cross-country skied frozen interior river gorges and ice bridges down to the lake.
Hargesheimer, too, got swept up in the nascent idea put forth by resort owners and land managers with the state and the U.S. Forest Service: Create a footpath along the North Shore of the Great Lake. In 1986, he joined the Superior Hiking Trail Association, and in 1987 work began on its namesake path, hugging tight to the lake 200 miles from Two Harbors to the Canada border. From 1990 to 2003, he served on the board of the trail organization (six as president). By 1992, nearly all 200 miles of the trail was built. Over the next 25 years, the trail expanded to its present 310 miles, with the southern terminus in Wisconsin, near Carlton, Minn.
Nowadays Hargesheimer’s attention to the outdoors is closer to the metro area. He works on his gardens and other projects with his partner, Judy Stern, at their home in Marine on St. Croix. He’s discovered other interesting parts of the state, too, to the south, and writes short stories about them for MN Trails magazine. And he makes images for his photo business, North Shore Photo Art.
While he claims to be “a normal trail association member with enthusiasm but no responsibility,” his trail work continues in a different way. He has a new self-published book, “The Superior Hiking Trail Story,” a scrapbook-like collection of stories, photography, and quotes from hikers left at trail registers. The “heart quotes,” as he calls them, worked on his own heart. “Some are beautiful. Some are poetry.”
In the book, he refers to their inspiration and power: “More than once as I read one of those quoted gems I thought, ‘Hey, I have a photograph of that sentiment.’ Someone wrote about what I had seen through the lens of a camera.”
Stern and longtime Superior Trail map cartographer Matt Kania, who with Hargesheimer created the first full trail map in 1995, were motivators, too. Time to get the book done, they said.
An encounter last summer largely sealed matters. Hargesheimer did freelance work for Hamline University: photos and short stories from the North Shore, and specifically the Superior trail, for travel kiosks. He was at Bluefin Bay resort in Tofte where a kiosk was installed, and casually mentioned the book project to owner Dennis Rysdahl. Hargesheimer had photos on the kiosk, and Rysdahl was enamored. “He said, ‘I’ll buy 400 of them’ ” for condo owners and business clients, Hargesheimer recalled with a laugh.
“That got me excited,” he said.
Hargesheimer, 69, began in earnest piecing together photography and text last fall. Rysdahl didn’t buy 400, but he bought enough, and in advance, that it allowed Hargesheimer to budget for the book’s printing.
Hargesheimer’s “Superior Hiking Trail Story” starts the reader on a south-to-north odyssey, chapters dedicated to particular sections: among them, Wisconsin to Jay Cooke State Park; Temperance River State Park to Cascade River State Park; Kadunce River to Rosebush Ridge. Interspersed are Hargesheimer’s arresting photos — many from rivers such as Caribou, Manitou and Split Rock and overlooks such as Wolf Lake, Moose Mountain, Carlton Peak and Pincushion Mountain. Like stone steps erected to shore up trail, the stories bind events and people and place. Bridges built — and destroyed by flood — and built again. Trail sections created, and rerouted. Everyday folks devoted to an idea, offering their sweat, brains and muscle.
Hargesheimer got dirty all those years ago, too.
“Rudi probably has the best been there/done that/got dirty/took pictures view of it,” said Bob Nesheim, of Grand Marais. “There are a lot of people since who have walked through it and then written up their photos or stories of walking through it. But this would be a guy who actually grubbed out the trail, and then took pictures afterward.”
Nesheim joined the trail organization, too, in 1986 and its board of directors in 2001. He was a key player in extending the trail through Duluth between 2002 and 2006. And he fed Hargesheimer a few stories when he came collecting.
Hargesheimer recalled when the board OK’d the trail’s first 100-mile ultramarathon, from Silver Bay to Grand Marais, in 1991. Twenty-seven runners finished (crossing a beaver pond with a canoe at mile 73). Superior at the time was one of only 10 races in the country of 100 miles or more.
The next year, a runner named Eric Clifton covered the distance in an astounding 17 hours, 21 minutes, and heaped praise on the race in Ultrarunning magazine: “The Superior Trail 100 lived up to its name as it was a truly superior event,” Clifton said. The coverage helped raise the profile of the trail and the region.
“You can’t get press like that among that community. It went a long way,” Hargesheimer said.
Trail running has surged in popularity since that time, and the Superior fall races now include a 50-miler and a marathon distance to accommodate all those interest in the sport and, just as much, the location.
Hargesheimer said doing the book brought him closer to a trail he’s so intimately known. “[The process] was nostalgic, and it was enlightening that so many other people shared my perspective that [the book] was worth doing.”
People he interviewed had praise for other volunteers and the landscape itself. That buoyed Hargesheimer.
“I was enthused by their enthusiasm to keep going and get [the book] done,” he said.