Chasing 42

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Archive for the tag “Superior Hiking Trail”

On Reconnecting with the Run: North Shore Adventures

“What’s true for us as individual humans is true for the civilization we create:
a sprint culture, seeking ever greater speed and power in all things cannot endure.”

– Ed Ayres, The Longest Race

There is no finish line. Our fast-paced society has certainly taught us to be goal-oriented, always striving to be better, faster, stronger, smarter, and a host of other qualities that our individualist, Western culture values. When we cross that finish line, whether at a race or in the board room, we immediately turn our attention to the next finish line. All of this is to say that we create artificial targets for ourselves because we think we need them to feel happy, satisfied, and successful. I’m certainly guilty of this, and I”m sure many of you are as well. I am continually setting goals for myself, whether they be running or academic-related. I’ve convinced myself that my identity is shaped by whether or not I achieve those goals. In some ways, I suppose these beliefs have become a series of self-fulfilling prophecies. This is not to say that we shouldn’t strive to be better than ourselves, or that we shouldn’t derive a sense of satisfaction in achieving something new, exciting, or extreme. We should always take pleasure in those moments. However, I’m realizing, more and more, that we need not define ourselves by those moments. Doing so robs us of the enjoyment that the journey brings, the benefit of the physical and mental growth we receive along the way, and the relationships we build in the process. Who would have thought that a brief injury and a yearly camping trip would have produced such insight, eh?

As you may recall, I managed to injure my back rather successfully a little over a week ago. A subsequent trip to the physical therapist revealed that my issue was in the pelvis, which has apparently decided not to twist forward when I bent over. Not surprisingly, this is quite painful. My pelvis was out of alignment, in part from the injury, but also from extreme tightness in my lower back, and persistent leg issues related to a small length differential. This injury caused the epicurean and I to worry about not being able to embark on our yearly, rejuvenating adventure to the north shore of Lake Superior for some camping, hiking, and disconnecting. Fortunately, my mobility improved in the days following the injury, and we hit the road for Split Rock State Park as soon as I finished my PT appointment. My back was still a bit tender, but I could walk, and was confident that I could get around in the woods with limited difficulty. We had stumbled upon a backpack site in the park last year and immediately fell in love with it. We reserved it as soon as we got home last year, and were excited to revisit this peaceful, secluded oasis nestled on the shore of Lake Superior. There’s really nothing quite like feeling as though you have the whole lake to yourself! It was a short hike (less than a mile) from the parking lot and camp office, yet far enough away from everyone else that we felt as though we had the forest to ourselves.

Not a bad sight first thing in the morning!

Not a bad sight first thing in the morning!

Although I felt up to traveling, I was still uncertain as to whether I’d be able to enjoy the hiking and trail running that I had been so excited to experience. We arrived late on Wednesday and quickly set up camp before nestling into our tent for the night as the northern sun gave way to the full moon glistening on the glassy waters of Lake Superior. There’s really no substitute for the white noise of the lake as the waves break on the shore. We awoke the next morning and decided on a comfortable hike on the nearby trails to get our bodies moving. This first test of my mobility proved to be a success, and a lovely morning hike was just what we both needed to feel the stress leave us in waves. After lunch, I decided to test my body and head out for my first trail run. I hadn’t run in 5 days, which was the most time I’ve taken off all year, so I was equal parts anxious and excited to lace up my Altra Lone Peaks and tackle the beautiful single-track of the Superior Hiking Trail. It wasn’t long before my legs remembered why I loved trail running and this particular spot in the world so much. There’s truly nothing that compares to finding yourself in the fortunate position of choosing between beautiful wild views and technical single-track that forces you to keep your mind and body focused on the task at hand. This was just the run I needed. Although it had only been 5 days since my last run, it has been a full year since our last trip to Lake Superior, and I felt like I was reconnecting with an old friend. The trail greeted my with all of its rocky, rooty excitement and joy. Interestingly, I forgot to pack my Garmin, and although I had my phone stowed away in my pack, I was still running solo. This made the reconnection with my footfalls, balance, and breathing all the more enjoyable. I had a general idea of where I was going, and knew I had to be back for dinner. Other than that, however, it was just me and the trail. There was no finish line.

The hike is always worth it for the view at the top :)

The hike is always worth it for the view at the top 🙂

That 12-mile trail run propelled me into subsequent adventures. The epicurean and I tackled some challenging hikes, and I was able to follow them up with more running and exploring. The elevation I tallied, relative to my everyday miles, was a not-so-subtle reminder of just how flat Iowa is, and now much more intentional I need to be about seeking out the vertical. I was able to explore some new sections of the Superior Hiking Trail this time around as well. I think I fall more and more in love with the trail and area each time I lace up my shoes. Following the coverage of some of the major ultra-running events throughout the summer (Western States, Hardrock, Speedgoat, etc.) has left we dreaming about the mountain trails in the Western U.S. This trip North reminded me of what I still have available in my own “backyard” and left me grateful for the opportunity to explore it with my best friend.

So many options!

So many options!

I’m not going to go into great detail on my specific hikes/runs, but will instead let the pictures speak for themselves. At some point during each outing, I had to make the arbitrary decision as to when to turn back towards camp. It was simultaneously tempting and encouraging to know that the trail kept going, even if I didn’t. There was no turn-around point, no cone marking the half-way point, and not signs counting down to the finish. There was just the trail. It’s important to remember that running can be one of the most amazing life-long activities, and I truly hope it is just that for me. I’ll always set goals for myself, and I know there will be more setbacks in the future. However, as long as I can, I’ll continue to lace up my shoes. I’ll continue to force myself to hold back in those opening miles, to focus on my endurance, and to remember…there is no finish line.

Exploring Temperance River State Park...

Exploring Temperance River State Park…

The top of Carleton Peak.

The top of Carleton Peak.

There aren't too many climbs like this in Ames!

There aren’t too many climbs like this in Ames!


Goodnight, Lake Superior...We'll see you again next year!

Goodnight, Lake Superior…We’ll see you again next year!

In Defense of Nice Things

I originally titled this post “This is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things” and then saved it in my drafts folder so I could return to it when I was ready to document my thoughts. However, the more I thought, the more my approach to the topic changed. I began to consider the realities of “nice things” and this topic in general, and I now find myself convinced that the reality is a far cry from the popular headlines. You’re no doubt wondering what “topic” I’m referring to, however, so I should probably back up.

Such natural beauty!

Such natural beauty!

This post was sparked by recent reports that Grand Canyon officials would be reconsidering access policies to the national park when they release an updated back country management plan this fall to deal with overcrowding issues. Now, I’ve had a R2R2R run on my running bucket list for quite a while, and love reading reports from other ultra runners who have made the journey. I’ve spent time obsessing over routes, tips, gear suggestions, and timeline recommendations. I’m pretty sure I could attempt the run tomorrow if I actually had the time and money to get to the Grand Canyon tomorrow! Thus, this news obviously made me perk up and pay closer attention to the discussion.

It sounds like the number of hikers and runners descending on the national park has been steadily increasing, and the current infrastructure just can’t handle the numbers. This is not surprising since most of the structures were built over 100 years ago. The park rangers are hearing more complaints about the increasing numbers, and are being forced to address problems resulting from visitors who aren’t adequately prepared and suffer any number of ailments or predicaments as a result. There has also been an increase in trash left around the park, which also creates more work for rangers and other park staff. These problems are no doubt exemplified by various problematic scenarios involving large groups of unprepared visitors that visit the Grand Canyon as a park of tour packages.

Plenty of land to explore.

Plenty of land to explore.

Now, it goes without saying that poorly prepared, inconsiderate, or otherwise destructive visitors should not be acceptable, regardless of their intent. However, let me bring to the forefront a few points worth mentioning.

1. The line between “runner” and “hiker” is clearly very murky, so it’s hard to say you are running, fast-packing, or hiking in the park.

2. There will always be outliers. There will always be sensationalized stories of situations involving individuals who do not represent the majority of participants in any given activity. Runners are all too familiar with the random rude folks in an otherwise open, caring and supportive community.

3. Attempting a R2R2R run doesn’t just happen. Even the most experienced trail and ultra-runners take time to plan out details, just like they would for any other race.

4. If you are attempting a R2R2R run, chances are you’ve run a few ultra and trail events before! I’d venture to guess that very rarely does a recreational runner just wake up one day and decide that want to traverse the Grand Canyon twice, over 42 miles.

5. Trail and ultra-running is built-in part on the principle of “leave no trace”. The same is true of committed hikers and fast-packers. We know how important it is to be good stewards of the land we have the privilege of exploring on foot, and we want to keep it as pristine and beautiful as the moment we ran through it. (if you are rolling your eyes or shaking your head in any way, please see #2)

Recently, however, it seems that there has been a particular “backlash” against runners (broadly defined). Articles are popping up everywhere complaining about behavior or generalized (read: stereotyped) personality traits that happen to describe some runners. I’m really not sure what is motivating people to decide runners are worthy of their scorn and the time to chastise, especially considering all of the other complete stupidity that exists around the world on a daily basis. I could suggest that there is an element of self-loathing involved, linked to the obesity epidemic that our country is currently experiencing, but I’d probably get chastised for that. Thus, I’ll refrain.

I should add that the Grand Canyon is just the next in a line of national parks that are limiting access to runners and others. I followed the Badwater 135 very closely this past week and was amazed by the endurance and athleticism of everyone who toed the line this year (side note: I WILL toe that line some day). This year’s race was especially interesting because the course was altered due to the moratorium placed on special event permits by Death Valley National Park’s new superintendent. There was quite a stir when the announcement was made, and the race director has taken everything in stride and should be commended for his continued service to the running community! The race went off beautifully, but the new route has certainly changed the history of the race.

Looking forward to exploring the Superior Hiking Trail in a few short weeks!

Looking forward to exploring the Superior Hiking Trail in a few short weeks!

All of this is to say that I completely understand and support the movement to protect our natural resources and update national park policies to reflect changing trends in community behavior. Many of our natural resources are dwindling and our national parks, along with the wildlife and plant-life, are constantly being threatened. Not only do many of the shelters and other facilities located at many of our parks need to be updated, but people visiting these areas need to take the time to educate themselves on proper etiquette and behavior so we can maintain the beauty that defines these spaces. Limiting access and eliminating events may ultimately prove necessary for the continued preservation of these spaces. However, for the time being, I would hope that committed and passionate runners would not be excluded from the experiences one can only have in these spaces. We are a considerate, responsible, and thoughtful bunch. Embarking on these various experiences is simply the final step in a series of unique and personal commitments. As runners, we understand the responsibility to be stewards of the land, and we take that responsibility very seriously. Every time we hit the trail, clear a path, and explore the natural beauty around us, we prove that we do deserve these nice things. We truly appreciate them.

Back to Basics: Hitting the Superior Hiking Trail

Teaching, working on an independent study, writing my dissertation and training has made for quite the hectic summer. Our trip to Maine two weeks ago was a perfect race getaway and I couldn’t have been more happy with the entire experience. It was an amazing, albeit busy vacation. That journey left the beautiful epicurean and I longing for something a bit more relaxed and low-key. We may not have scheduled our two summer vacations as well as we could have, but stealing away to the North Shore of Minnesota for an anniversary camping trip was just the peaceful and relaxing getaway we both needed.

Is it time to go running now?!

Is it time to go running now?!

I’ve been in love with Lake Superior for quite some time, and the beautiful, ocean-like waters and wooded environment have become a favorite source of calm for both of us over the last couple of years. This year, we headed out for our first solo camping adventure with a car full of camping essentials, a wonderfully stocked gluten-free pantry, and a Vizsla eager for adventure. Our destination was a wonderful campsite at Gooseberry Falls State Park.

Checking out Gooseberry Falls.

Checking out Gooseberry Falls.

The falls are a popular day trip and tourist attraction for locals and visitors alike, but once you get past the easily accessible falls, you enter the best trail system in the country! I was thoroughly excited for the opportunity to run and hike the surrounding trails and do as much exploring as possible. There is something about new trails and the thrill of the unknown that brings me such joy, especially when I have no destination in mind, other than wherever I decide to stop, turn, and head back to camp. The past week did not disappoint on any level.

Nature's stage was alive!

Nature’s stage was alive!

We arrived on Monday afternoon, and we squeezed in a nice little hike down to the Falls to get Looper acclimated to her new hiking pack. She was a bit hesitant at first, but wore it proudly by the end of our trip. The next day, I headed out on my first adventure along the Superior Hiking Trail. This 296-mile trail follows the rocky shore of Lake Superior from Duluth all the way to the Canadian border. I picked it up just beyond the North falls and headed southwest along the Gooseberry River for several miles. I stumbled upon an old bridge that appeared to have been abandoned some time ago. Just on the other side was a beautiful field of wild flowers, and butterflies everywhere. It seemed like a perfect resting and refueling point. In all honesty, I could have set up camp there and been completely happy! The whole run back to camp, I found myself daydreaming about that field, and did my best not to trip over the rooty, rocky single track trail. it was a perfect way to begin my running adventures.

Every day on the Superior Hiking Trail.

Every day on the Superior Hiking Trail.

The next day, we headed up to Tettegouche State Park for a wonderful morning of hiking and exploring. It was a great morning, with some fantastic climbs, and we soaked in the beautiful views. On the way back, I decided I wanted to start my run for the day a bit early. So, we pulled off the road outside Beaver Bay, I changed into my running clothes in the car, and I hoped on the trail and ran back to camp. The next few hours were filled with beautiful views of the lakeshore throughout the entire run. I had to keep reminding myself to look forward and not constantly strain my neck to the left to enjoy the postcard view! I had only planned on 8-10 miles, but had neglected to remember one of the most important rules about trails. They aren’t straight 🙂 Needless to say, when I got back to camp, I had logged 14 miles and still had a big, dopey smile on my face!

It's easy to just keep running when you have views like these!

It’s easy to just keep running when you have views like these!

On Thursday, my plan was to tackle more of the Superior Hiking Trail. I hoped back on the trail, and headed north after finding my way around a slight detour. This was the run that proved to me just how much more I love trail running. It seemed as though there was something new to smile about around every turn, and it was so quiet that I might as well have had the entire trail to myself! After some beautiful wooded scenes straight out of a Bob Ross special, the trail climbed and followed Bread Loaf Ridge. When I got to the top, I was greeted by one of the most incredible views of the surrounding forest and lake that I had ever seen. I soaked in the cool air as the sun danced on the water and I could have lost myself forever in that moment and not cared. In an instant, it became my favorite running view of all time. I meandered back down the ridge, into the forest, and eventually back to camp, passing waterfalls and listening to the uninterrupted sounds of nature around me. I’ve never spent much time meditating, and the thought of sitting still for long periods of time is hard for me to swallow, but this run fit every definition of a meditative state I have ever read.

Such an amazing trail run- can I just stay here?!

Such an amazing trail run- can I just stay here?!

We ventured out for a final hike on Friday as well. On the advice of some wonderful friends who had just returned from the area, we headed to the Split Rock River Loop just north of Gooseberry Falls. This 6.5 mile hike proved to be our favorite of the trip and rewarded us with stunning views of the lakeshore. In addition, we happened upon several backpacking campsites along the trail. When we reached the final site, it was occupied but the folks camping were just on their way out. They invited us over to check out their site, and we were hooked! I’m not sure either of us could have dreamt a more perfect campsite, with plenty of space, access to trails, and miles of lakeshore to ourselves. We were in love and determined to stay there at some point. We may have discussed it the whole way back to our campsite 🙂

Looper was born to hike :)

Looper was born to hike 🙂

As we drove back on Saturday, we enjoyed blissfully reflecting on a wonderful week of camping. The weather was perfect (lows in the 40s/50s, highs in the 70s, the bugs were minimal, the hiking was great, our campfire meals were delicious, we rested and read, and I ran the trails like a kid in a candy store. In addition, we had recently read a story about resetting your internal clock with a few nights of camping, and his trip did just that for us. It also made us realize just how simply we can live, and be completely happy and content. When we got back, we were both even more invested in downsizing and minimizing our lives.

Oh, and that amazing hike-in campsite on the Split Rock River Loop…we already have it booked for next year!

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