The Final Stretch: SHT Update
With my last update, I was five days out from finishing my SOBO thru-hike of the Superior Hiking Trail.
Taking an afternoon off in Two Harbors was the perfect energizer for me. After three straight days of intermittent rain, I was growing tired of curling up at night in a quilt with soaked lumps of down. Having a roof over my head for a few hours gave me just enough time to dry off everything and give my feet some time to recuperate. I indulged in the little things; eating ice cream in bed with my feet up, watching hours of The Office, while reconnecting with the real world through hours of Instagram scrolling. For that one night, I lived like a queen. Well, a hiker trash queen.
The next morning, I reached out to my ride and found my way back to the trail. “It’s really easy from here,” she said as I hoisted my pack onto my back and lengthened my trekking poles. She took a quick photo of me at the trailhead and we parted ways. I bounced happily down the trail, joyous and rejuvenated from a night away from home.
The remainder of the trail brought lots of flat sections with long stretches of green tunnel views. Rarely did I have a hill to climb or an overlook to distract me from the task at hand. I put my head down and walked, and walked, and walked. With not much to look at, it was easy to keep my mind on putting one foot in front of the other. I looked up occasionally, appreciating the shade from the hot sun and the relief from the intense Minnesota humidity. For the most part, though, I just walked.
I think backpacking is often glamorized for being this really incredibly magical and wonderful experience. While it is in so many ways, the actual day-to-day more closely resembles the life of a factory worker. Early mornings and late nights, plugging away at a relatively monotonous task that doesn’t always require a great deal of brain power or focus.
When I was in AmeriCorps, I struggled a lot with monotony. We spent five months standing in a line while one person cut down brush. We would then take that brush and pass it along in a line down to a wood chipper where someone would chip all of it. I had a hard time recognizing the impact of our work or feeling motivated to do the same thing each day, all day. During my first backpacking trip, I wanted to overcome this by learning how to continually work toward something that didn’t always excite me.
I walked away from that first backpacking experience feeling much more competent in this, but I’m always aware that this is an area I can grow in. This section of the trail helped confirm all of the progress I’ve made in this regard. Never once did I feel the frustration of walking through the same type of landscape for days on ends. I was able to appreciate my last few days on trail, listening to the sounds of nature and witnessing wilderness unfolding in front of me. I felt at peace, more calm in mind then I had in weeks.
After my first full day back on trail, I began to look ahead toward the coming weekend. The Superior Hiking Trail ends at the Wisconsin/Minnesota border just beyond the town of Duluth. There’s about 50 miles of trail that doesn’t have free camping through the actual town, but there are three paid campsites off trail that hikers can utilize. On average, thru-hikers end at Martin Road, the last stop before Duluth, approximately 255 miles from the Northern Terminus.
I had been planning on hiking all of Duluth, but the timing was beginning to interfere with my plans. I was approaching Labor Day Weekend, a busy time for Duluth, and all three of the paid campsites were booked. I felt committed to camping my last night on trail, but unless I wanted to hike 50 miles from Martin Road to Jay Cooke State Park, it wasn’t going to happen.
After a long internal debate, I decided to abandon my plans of hiking the Duluth section. Having lived in Duluth for a year and a half, I had done a large chunk of that section already and hiking it at the same time as hordes of tourists didn’t appeal to me. The trail will always be there, and I can always make time to come back and finish it.
Suddenly, it was my last night on trail. I took every opportunity to appreciate the little things; the nightly rituals of preparing camp, the post-dinner candy bar dessert, the sounds of nature around my hammock as I fell asleep. Life was pretty good.
Luckily for me, Bighorn was able to leave work early. He drove all the way up from Winona, picking me up at the final trailhead. Being able to start and finish the trailhead with my biggest cheerleader and support system was the cherry on top. I’ll always appreciate being able to share these big moments with such an incredible and supportive person.
I’ve been back in reality for a little over a week now, and so far all is well. The transition was less harsh than after the PCT, in part from the vastly different experience. Two weeks just can’t compare to five months, no matter how much I gained from both. My feet are struggling to recover, so unfortunately day hikes haven’t been in the picture yet. But with time, all will return to normal and I’ll be yearning for the next adventure.
I’ll be posting a trail review soon for The Trek, as well as some other stories that came to mind while hiking. If you’re interested in following along or continuing to watch my adventures, feel free to subscribe to my author page or follow me on Instagram @alexamshapiro.
Until next time, happy trails!
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