I was feeling pretty studly as I drove up the Shore. This would be our biggest day so far. Leo and I were going to knock off 18 miles. Then we drove by the start of the Superior Trail Races. They were running 100 miles. Feel inadequate much?
One thing I enjoy about this trail running project is that I get to drive up the shore. It’s part of the enjoyment. I’ve put in 1400 miles of driving to trailheads so far. However, there’s a bunch of construction along the road this summer. It forces a detour up through Finland. We sure live in a nice place when even the detour is scenic.
We stopped at the Cascade River State Park headquarters. I asked the lady if I needed anything special to park in the lot by the trail center building. I told her I was going to catch a ride with the Superior Shuttle to Pincushion. She reached for the overnight parking paperwork. I said I was going to run it all in one day. She didn’t so much laugh as snort. “You’re going to do all that in one day?” she asked. I explained that I wasn’t fast but that I was stubborn. I took her derision as a compliment.
Bob Risch of Superior Hiking Shuttle showed up in a freshly cleaned mini-van towing a trailer. It had a nice sticker of the Superior Hiking Trail logo on the side. Leo happily jumped inside and we were off to Grand Marais. I explained my project to Bob and he told me he was wearing a Wounded Warrior Project right then under his collared shirt. He used to help out with a Chicago group that brought Veterans up to the North Shore.
Before you knew it, we were at the overlook by Pincushion. Worth every penny to not hear my dog screaming in a bike trailer. All my calories would be going to running. As my self-imposed deadline approaches, I’m going to need all my efforts to go to trail mileage. It’s going to be tough.
We looked over Grand Marais and then headed up the trail. We made our way over the deserted Gunflint Trail and continued up a steep climb. Then we covered a lot of flat trail. We were on the North Shore snowmobile trail for a long way which made for easy going. Made our way through some cool mature red pine stands. Surreal poplar stands with a million wrist-sized trees, all exactly the same. Some open, green hardwood stands on the southern slopes. Dry trail. Pretty pleasant running. We encountered two backpackers. They were the only people we saw in four and a half hours of trail.
We found ourselves along a ridge with northern views. Dramatic steep drop off. No mountains in Minnesota. Yeah, right. We found a surveying corner post that identified the National Forest boundary. Ten seconds later, we flushed three grouse that even I could hit. They flew 30 feet and landed. We flushed them again and this time Leo almost snapped one up in his jaws. One week early for that season.
We were making good time, but I still took snack breaks while walking. Mowed down a granola bar and a Clif Shot at the top of each hour. I gave Leo some dog biscuits. I was feeling really good and wished I had added another five mile segment I missed last week to make it a 23 mile day. I will totally not wish this later.
Earlier than I expected, we were at the Cascade River. We discovered it at the feet of a dramatic mountain knob with exposed cliffs. No mountains in Minnesota. We rambled downhill for the next four miles along the raging, tumbling root beer water. Big cliffs. What a blessing to travel alone on a sunny day along a pristine northern river. I’m grateful my legs work and that I live in this place.
We crossed the river on a highway bridge and followed the river downhill. All the creeks that flow into the Cascade from the west do so in narrow, steep drainages. I was now out of gas. I didn’t want another five miles now as the steepest sections occurred between 16 and 18 miles. Oh, and throw in a few episodes of…ahem…gastrointestinal distress. We still managed to enjoy the dramatic waterfalls as we approached the finish line. Hard to really convey how awesome the lower river is. I highly recommend taking the half mile walk up to them from Highway 61 if you’re ever in the neighborhood.
There is nothing quite so awesome as seeing your car after a day like this. I gave Leo his supper and he mowed it down in record time. We stopped at the Holiday station in Tofte so I could get some caffeine. When we drove back through Finland, we passed where the Superior Hiking Trail crosses the road. 100-mile ultramarathoners were running through one of the checkpoints. They already ran for ten hours while I ran for four and a half. And they were just getting started. Uff da.
But hey, I ran eighteen frigging miles. At one point on my run, probably overcome by endorphins, I had a thought. We are all of us, every single one of us, capable of more than we think possible. But you have to put yourself in some insane situations to prove it.
Today’s Mileage: 17.8
This run in support of the Wounded Warrior Project. Please consider a donation: North Shore Shmo!
T-Shirt of the Day:
This is the shirt from the Spring version of the Superior Trail Races. I like the logo with the runner in the wolf’s nose. I ran more today than I did in that race. We made a family weekend of it four years ago. All four of us were standing in the rising sun on race morning outside the ski lodge at Lutsen. I was stretching when Al Young (“The Round Mound of Sound”) came out of the lodge. He worked with me up at the Guard base. He was looking a little hungover there in his golf duds. Then he saw me and shook his head in bewilderment. I explained I was going to run 15.5 miles on the Superior Hiking Trail. He said he was going to ride around on a golf cart and thought I was nuts. He’s right, of course.