I signed up for a 16-mile hike, part of the 27-mile Grand Traverse. It’s an annual event meant to highlight the awesomeness of the Superior Hiking Trail.
The Grand Traverse is a non-competitive, non-timed hike (or run if you’re into that sort of thing) that begins at Jay Cooke State Park, follows a rugged 27-mile trail, and ends at the Fitger’s complex in Duluth. You can do the full 27 miles or sign up for 21, 16 or 10 miles. I signed up for 16 and began at the Magney-Snively trailhead.
My route, mapped here, climbed up and down the bluffs along the St. Louis River, with a total ascent of 1,353 ft. Thanks to my wonderful husband I had a new pair of hiking boots and camel-back to help me and I felt great heading out. The weather was beautiful, around 65 when I started, and as long as I kept a pace of 3 miles an hour I’d be done before the hottest part of the day, which hit almost 80.
I was feeling exhilarated and even though I got off the bus with about 75 other people, we all had our own paces and soon I was by myself, hiking in the woods. It was shaping up to be the best day ever.
Once I reached my first checkpoint, about 5 miles in, I felt in my backpack to see how much water was left in my camel-back. It felt about half full and that would last me to the next checkpoint so I continued on without topping off my water supply.
Mistake. What I had felt was not the camel-back, but the ice pack my husband had lovingly put next to it to keep my water cold. I ran out with 4 miles left to go before more water would be available.
This mistake is what did me in. Almost immediately the muscles in my legs started cramping up and I began finding it hard to keep my eyes open. Major dehydration, but I had to keep going. Water was ahead of me. This part of the hike was all uphill until the Highland/Getchell trail head. Soon after crossing the construction there I found myself in another maple grove.
This ended up being my favorite part of the hike. It was cool, breezy and calm. I frequently stopped to rest and listen to the animals of the forest scurrying about, making their homes ready for winter. Truly refreshing, for both body and soul.
It seemed like I would never reach the next water station, though. I’d had to take my rings off because my fingers were swelling so much it was becoming dangerous. Eventually the trail started descending but by this time I wasn’t very controlled with my steps and I ended up crunching my toes pretty badly, which didn’t make things any easier. And then…
One of the most beautiful sights ever, and not just because of the fall colors. This road meant that water was near. The next trailhead, where I could refill my 100-ounce camel-back, was where the trail met this road. I became focused on nothing else and didn’t take any more pictures. As soon as I got to the table with coolers and bottles of water I drank the blessed H20 like it was going out of style, but the damage had been done. I was exhausted and couldn’t take much more than baby steps, which is how I finished the next 2 miles before reaching the 12-mile checkpoint.
By the time I hobbled in to the checkpoint I had slowed to a pace of 1 mile an hour and there was no way I’d reach the finish before dark. So I made the difficult decision to give it up. I almost cried because I had worked so hard and there were only 4 miles to go. I almost made it. I was SO close. Then I realized, I just hiked 12 fucking miles! The farthest I had ever gone was 7.5 and it was no where near as difficult a course as what I had just done. Twelve miles and over 1,300 feet uphill. Not too shabby.
Next year, I’ll practice more and fill up with water every chance I get. I’ll finish the 16.