The SHT Show: An Introduction
Allow me to introduce myself. My name is Konnor Arnaud-Leblanc and in ten months I’ll be back where things make sense. On trail. This time next August I’ll be loading up my gear into a van that’s aimed toward the Northern Terminus of the Superior Hiking Trail (SHT) with two of my closest friends. But before we get into where I’m going, I think it’s best if we start with how I got here in the first place.
Born on the bayou, bound to the hills
Raised in a rural community in South Louisiana, I’ve always had the notion that being outside is most often preferable to being inside. However, with a landscape more akin to a swampy and humid Anne Rice novel than the mountains of central California, my outdoor activities frequently took the shape of camping in sugar cane fields or paddling down narrow canals (at least in my experience). I’d never viewed this as a limitation but have always had this desire to experience different kind of backcountry with a new and unique set of challenges and elevation that could be measured in more than just inches. A quick trip to Georgia at the ripe age of 5 was enough to light that fire. My first trip out of state was an eye opener as the flat landscapes of Cajun country slowly rose into the swooping green hills of Southern Appalachia. This foreign terrain was both intimidating and enticing, and from that moment on I was captivated. It would be years before I’d find myself face to face with those old friends again.
Fresh out of high school I was desperate to live out the “getting out of this town” narrative. I enrolled in a local seminary that placed high priority on travel and humanitarian type efforts. This was my ticket. In my three years with the program I traveled through nearly half of the US and five countries around Europe and was given ample opportunity to not only see the hills that once took hold of my affections, but interact with them, from the depths of Rocky Mountain National Park, to the foothills of the Carpathians in Romania, to the plateaus of Northern New Mexico, and then took a job that left me surrounded by the mystique of the Black Forest in Southwest Germany. No matter what twists and turns life would throw at me, it seemed that there was no escaping the gentle tug of wild places. And that was alright with me.
A bothy hopping, haggis chasing, good time
In 2015, after spending a year in Stuttgart, Germany, my funds ran out. I had no choice but to return home and stay home, nestled back into the welcoming arms of cypress and rice fields. It was a cold comfort. This place that at one point I considered a sort of refuge was now my cage and I was searching for the key to let myself out. That key appeared, but it was tied to grim circumstances. The unexpected loss of my grandmother. This woman, who was no stranger to adventure and travel, left the world and just as she did in life, ensured that those that she loved were taken care of.
Enter stage left: an idea. Find a good backpack, a pair of boots, and do what I do best. Head for the hills.
It didn’t take long for me to decide that the United Kingdom was going to be the backdrop of this “soul search” and soon found myself sitting at an airport terminal in Houston, TX, waiting for the call for Group C to start boarding. Armed with bright red boot laces, determination, and my good friend Chase by my side, we were cleared for takeoff.
After two months and over 250 miles placed underfoot, we returned home. But as the cliche goes, we didn’t return the same. In our time there we hiked trails such as the Fife Coastal Path, the Lairig Ghru, and half of the Great Glen Way; we walked the highway between Glasgow and Edinburgh, somehow managed to hoof it the majority of the way between London and Stonehenge, and took countless other detours that can mostly be attributed to very minimal pre-trip planning. Chasing blazes became the new normal, and coming back to a life without them seemed unacceptable, but life goes on and “normal” always changes.
Big boy pants
In the years after that trip I’ve gotten married, moved three times, and welcomed a beautiful baby girl into this world. These are things I consider different types of blazes on a different kind of trail. Among those milestones was the decision to move out of the wonder-filled kingdom of drive-through liquor stores and Zydeco and land amid the cheese of Southern Wisconsin. Right on the door step of my next trail. The SHT.
The summer of 2019 is high time for a new set of hills and their long line of blue blazes are sure to be a sight for sore eyes. Better prepared than before, with a new set of red laces, my old friend Chase, and another old friend Chaz, I’m hiking this trail to return to simplicity. To look back at all that’s happened since my last long hike and consider this trail a deep breath. This 14-day excursion will no doubt be filled with great people and awesome memories and just as quickly as it begins, will be over. So I’m planning to make every step count, through the highs and the lows, because that’s the only way to get anywhere.
Thanks for reading and coming on this journey with me.
Header Photo courtesy of Flikr
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