We continue along my attempted journey to thru-hike the SHT, arriving at the day when everything went fell apart.
Day 3 continued
As I hiked the final 5 miles of the day from Durfee Creek to Devils Track River, things started to turn for me. I started to feel some pains in my back and hip that weren’t going away and they were compounded by intense bruises on my collarbones (more on this in the next part). The pains had started a little bit on day 2, but I didn’t think much about it and was determined to press on. However, by the end of day 3 things were making themselves known in a big way.
As a bit of background I have a mild form of scoliosis with about a 15% s-curve and twist to my spine. I’ve had this since I was a young child, and it’s something I’ve just learned to live with. I see chiropractors for adjustments periodically to help keep things aligned as best as I can, but with COVID, I hadn’t been to one in a long, long time.
Mike and I had put together an aggressive timetable to complete this hike. We planned on 15 days (for 310 miles) that would push our daily average up to 20+ miles per day towards the end. The end of day 3 marked 50 miles with a pack, which was the first time I had ever attempted backpacking that long. My back was rebelling. As I marched along the long climb to the top of the Devils Track gorge I started to realize that there was no way I was going to be able to keep up this pace for so many days with the condition my back was in.
At this point all the emotions started pouring out. I barely noticed the beautiful scenery I was walking past as I tried to process everything. My legs and feet were fine, and I knew I could have kept walking without the pack on my back. But my spine and hip were giving me a different answer. I caught up to Mike at camp, sat down and started crying.
I’m eternally grateful that I had a friend like Mike there to help me through that moment and give me a space where I could process everything I was feeling. I was in a vulnerable spot and he was a good friend, supporting me as I fell apart. In the end though I made the decision that I would pull the plug on my attempt. We were only a few miles from Grand Marais and so I called my wife and asked her to pick me up there the next morning.
Mike and I spent the evening enjoying one last night in camp before we moved on to planning how I would support him the rest of the trip. I’ve got more to say about the emotions of this moment, and the following days, but before I get to that there was one more hike to get to civilization.
Day 4, the hike out
The Devils Track campsite is one of the most popular sites on the SHT, and for good reason. There’s a beautiful river that flows through the gorge and the campsite is large and spacious. That means that by nightfall of day 3 we were sharing the site with at least a dozen other tents. Thankfully the sound of the rushing river meant that voices were drowned out and we were able to sleep peacefully.
We woke up just before sunrise and got ourselves packed up and on the trail. A night of sleep helped my back and hip a little bit, but even on the 3 mile hike out of the canyon, things didn’t feel great. Getting out of the campsite required another climb up some trail stairs and it felt like we were going up forever before we hit the bench at the top. At this point we were in the Pincushion Mountain region and the trails were incredibly buffed out. There were beautiful brand new boardwalks that were in perfect condition and were a joy to walk along. We made really good time getting to the parking lot and got to spend a few minutes getting re-organized in the light of the morning sun, overlooking the lake and Grand Marais.
After helping get Mike situated with gear he wanted to drop and borrow from my kit, plus get the GPS tracker moved over to him, I sent him on his way and waited for my wife to arrive. While I was waiting I got to meet a couple that was thru-hiking and hear a bit of their story. They were taking a zero day in Grand Marais and needed to make a few adjustments to their plan as this was their first attempt at something like this. When my wife arrived we offered them a ride in to town so they didn’t have to take the long road walk down.
Day 4 was also our first resupply day and so my wife and I met up with our relatives up there who had already agreed to help with the resupply, and met Mike mid-day at a trailhead to get him another batch of food for the next couple days. My plan was to go home for a couple days and then return with my friend Michael who had agreed to do our resupply at Temperance River State Park on Day 6/7. The plan had always been for him to camp with us that night after giving us our supplies, and so it made sense for me to come back up with him for that evening.
Even though I wasn’t on the hike anymore, I still wasn’t done with the SHT and I wanted to just be up there as much as I could. As luck would have it, I even managed to get back out on the trail for one more night.
To be continued…