Walking on the Green Path: On Being a Trailblazer
New hiking trails don’t appear very often in the Superior National Forest, the trails that exist have been around for many years, often dating back to logging operations in the early 1900s. Many of these trails were created by wildlife and native peoples who trekked from lake to lake for hunting and between settlements. When I walk these old forest trails, I often imagine the original needs for the path and understand that most likely it wasn’t for recreation.
After the 1999 windstorm that blew through the BWCA, many trails needed to be cleared with some being rerouted to deal with major changes to the landscape. Caribou Rock Trail is one trail very near my summer outpost along the Gunflint Trail that ended up with a lot of changes to deal with the large trees that blocked passages and changed the hillside. It was during this rerouting that a new trail was started that eventually became what is now the Moss Lake Trail, following the south end of Moss Lake and connecting to the South Lake Trail.
I had looked at the trail on the map and at 2.3 miles it didn’t seem very long. I was curious about what might be along the trail, and at one point my wife and I walked a short part of it before it crossed a path that would lead us back to our starting point, so we decided to leave the rest of the trail for later.
On a particular warm sunny early afternoon, a group of us came to this same turning point. I had already stated a desire to attempt the rest of the trail, so I felt compelled to go on. However, I was the only one who felt that inspiration. Given a word of encouragement from one of my group, I made the turn and went on alone. Within a few minutes, I came upon a family coming from the other direction with a couple of the younger ones looking less than happy about the trail conditions. I assumed they had started from the other end, but it wasn’t long before I realized that they must have come from my direction and had turned back.
It was pretty obvious the trail had not been kept up and had not been used. It was overgrown with ferns and tall plants and at times it is hard to believe there was actually a trail under there. But every so often, the trail would reappear, or cairns would mark a turn, and I could tell I was still on trail.
I had to go slowly at times since I couldn’t see rocks or roots or holes in the trail. Overall it wasn’t very picturesque. A couple overlooks from tops of ridges that were mostly obscured and mostly scrub brush and small aspen and poplar and lots of undergrowth with very few older established trees. Fortunately there was a slight breeze, and it wasn’t too hot, or the sun would have been a real challenge.
It didn’t take long for me to regret not taking one of the water bottles our group had brought with us. Going without water on a trail isn’t a smart move. But I felt safe enough that the trail hugged a Boundary Waters lake and I trusted there’d be a stream or two that I’d cross with fresh, clean water. As the time went on and I didn’t seem to get down near the lake or to hear running water, I began to feel some concern. I had been walking about an hour when the trail dropped down and there it was. Three small streams were leading into the south end of the lake and the cool bubbling water rushing over rocks was just what I had hoped for.
I sat at the edge of the lake with damsel and dragonflies surrounding me, a rainbow of colors, darting among the grasses at the edge of the lake. It was enough. The hike had brought me here, to a place of rest, shade, and water. I was content to let this quiet lake bring me some peace. Other than the first family, I was the only person on this trail that day. And that was okay. I felt just fine being there on my own. I had so much to enjoy from this small accomplishment.
Of course, the thought that I had been away from my original hiking group for over an hour now, got me to thinking that they might be feeling some concern for me. I wasn’t sure if they would think that this 2-mile hike should be taking less time or at what point they’d decide to send someone to check on me. I hadn’t reached the end of the trail yet, but I figured that I must be close, so I gave myself another 30 minutes to try and reach the end and turn around.
My first attempt led to a grassy wetland where the trail abruptly stopped. So I backtracked and found a set of cairns along the lakeshore that led to another trail. Within 15 minutes I came upon the crossing trail for South Lake. I had reached the end of the trail. Knowing that it would be shorter to just turn around and head back, I retraced my steps and stopped for one more drink at the stream before working my way back to the trail that would lead me to the cabin. Three hours total. Yes, my group had become concerned, had made a couple calls to the forest service about the trail, and had sent one of our group to drive to the point where the South Lake Trail would meet the road about 4 miles away from our cabin.
They were glad I made it back. A wee bit relieved. And though they knew I was a pretty experienced hiker, they were still a little upset with me that I hadn’t taken water, and that I chose to go alone on a new route. I get it. I am grateful for their concern and willingness to take steps to check on me. That’s a sign of love.
So, it is with the same level of gratefulness that I share my thanks to all of you who continue to check in on me at my little café at 37th and Nicollet. For once again, Butter Bakery Café has made a hike on a rarely used trail, seeking the joys and beauty of being a trailblazer, as we continue our efforts to be a no-tip restaurant that is willing to pay a fair wage to each and every one of its staff; every day, every shift.
I look forward to walking the Green Path with you so we can share in the overlooks and refreshing streams!