Monday, July 2, 2012

Don'ts and Do's

On the Superior Hiking Trail...

Cassie, Erik, and I decided to do a couple legs of the Superior Hiking Trail (aka the SHT; type carefully) for a weekend wilderness getaway.  We planned to start after an overnight stay at Cascade River State Park.  On Friday we would hike 9.5 miles to a campsite on the other side of Bally Creek Road.  On Saturday we'd hike 8.3 miles to Grand Marais; no, not to the delightful little resort community on the north shore of Lake Superior, but to a primitive campsite in the hills above the town.  On Sunday morning we'd hike 4.9 miles to the Cook County Road 58 trail head and catch a ride on the Superior Shuttle, which would take us back to our car at the Cascade trail head.  So, 22.7 miles in two and half days.  What could go wrong?

Well, to begin with the SHT is really scenic.  As with all things wonderful, the more scenic the view the more effort you must expend to get to it.  The Cascade River segment of the trail is really, really scenic.  I mean well and truly scenic.  In fact the net elevation gain over this segment is more than 1000 feet.  Maybe that wouldn't be so bad if there weren't all the descents in between the re-ascents.  The temperature was somewhere in the 80s, the heat index was well into the 90s.  

Somewhere along the ups and downs I began to sweat.  After a few more I began to huff and puff.  We drank a liter of water.  Thank goodness for hiking poles.  They makes ups less uppity and downs less of a downer.  Still, I started pausing at the peaks.  We drank another liter of glorious H2O.  Then I began to pause at the bottom of the descents.  The kids (okay they're 23 and 20) pounced from rock to rock, switchback to switchback, like mountain goats...young, healthy, mountain goats.  I began to pause frequently, chest heaving, leaning on my handy hiking poles.  While leaning over I noticed the sweat was running off the brim of my ball cap...drip, drip, drip.  We drank another liter.  Cassie and Erik offered to take the full water bottles so I could carry the lighter empties.  I chuckled, remembering their first backpack trips when all they carried in their backpacks were their favorite pillows.

We took a break for lunch.  Erik and Cassie had beef jerky, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, and sports bars.  Tuna, salmon, and nuts for me.  A brief nap was restorative.  Away we went.

In short order came the muscle cramps.  They started with stitches in my left side.  Then as something that felt like a "Service Left Kidney" alert.  Ow.  Then they spread to include the right side.  Then up and down my back.  Then the tight muscle ache spread across most all of my chest, but was only noticeable when I moved, or breathed.  Hmmn.  Stretching helped, for a few moments.  So did sitting down on logs and rocks.  The kids disappeared for longer and longer stretches.  Each time I caught up with them we drank more water.  Then Erik insisted on taking my pack.  That looked like a lot of work.  Then Cassie and Erik tried carrying the pack together.  No joy.  We drank more water.  We were down to half a liter now.  Somewhere, a mile or so from our destination, I must have moaned or something.  "What's wrong, dad?"  "Cramps," I replied, "in my quads."  The kids said, "That's enough.  Sit here in the shade.  Drink the rest of the water.  Rest."

They doffed all three packs, and set out to find camp and the creek the map said was next to it.  They carried only the map, empty water bottles, and the water filter (they had edges and fire too, but they always have knives and flame in the woods).

I lay there in the shade, propped up against a log, amid the sun dappled greenery, kneading the cramps from my quads and hamstrings in one leg then the other.  In better circumstances it might have been nice (except for the thirst and the cramps).  I felt stupid.

Cassie and Erik returned in an hour and a half, wearing smiles and bearing full water bottles.  The camp was better than they expected and there was plenty of water in the creek.  Restored by the news, the water, and their company, I donned my pack and we pressed on to the Sundling Camp spur trail camp.

We rethought our plans and agreed Erik and Cassie would retrace our steps back to Cascade River.  This time they would descend on the east side of the river which they had not seen before.  They'd get the car and come to this end of the trail.  I'd rest and hydrate.  We'd spend another night and on Sunday head home to Minneapolis a little earlier than our original plans predicted.  That is what we did.  I threw in an "anything you see on the menu" breakfast at the Cascade Lodge Restaurant.

So, the Don'ts and Do's for middle-aged men who aspire to best the Superior Hiking Trail:

Don't go if you're seriously overweight.

Don't go if you've neglected your cardio for several months, or six.

Don't go if you're doing the Induction phase of the Atkin's low carb diet.

Don't go if you're going to pass any and all water supplies without refilling any and all empty water bottles.

But if you choose to hike the SHT despite all these contraindications then...

Do take two smart, loving children who have been camping, hiking, and canoeing since they were born.

Do take two thoughtful, insistent young people who have trained as high performance athletes.

Do listen to them when they say, "That's enough.  Sit here in the shade.  Drink the rest of the water.  Rest."

They have always been loving, but when did they get so damn smart?

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