Little Todd Harbor to North Lake Desor

Trip Start Sep 02, 2011
Trip End Sep 11, 2011

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Where I stayed
North Lake Desor, site 2

Flag of United States  , Michigan
Friday, September 9, 2011

Day 7: approximately 5.7 miles

This stretch of the Minong is considered the most strenuous. One book we read suggested that even a fast moving, athletic hiker will take 4 to 6 hours to traverse this section. Our friend Ben told us he did it in two hours and that when he got to the next campground, North Lake Desor, he was so bored he just hiked the remaining 12.7 miles to Windigo.

Despite knowing that I'm not Ben, who has competed in Iron Man competitions, nor am I a fast-moving, athletic hiker, I still have this sneaking little belief that Julie and I should be able to do this trail in less than four hours.

The day starts well. My back doesn’t hurt. I don’t know what I’ve done differently with my pack, but I haven’t been this pain-free since we set foot on the island. "This is fun!" I tell Julie, as I find a good foothold to heave myself up a boulder. I’m practically dancing across the rocks. Slow dancing, that is. It doesn’t hurt, but the pack is still heavy enough that I don’t trust my balance.

An hour later, we’re climbing an interminable hill—every time I think I must be near the top, I look up and see Julie’s ankles ahead of me. If it weren’t for all the greenery, I’d swear we’ve been transported to Mount Everest. What makes the Minong difficult, we’ve read, are the ups and downs. We discover this is another understatement. In reality, it goes up, up, up and then down, down, down.

I stop to take my second rest break (on this hill) and announce, “I take back what I said before. This isn’t fun and I don’t want to come back here ever again.” Julie bursts out laughing as if what I said was funny.

“From now on, the only backpacking we’re doing is Wii Backpacking.” I imagine a game where you use the Wii remote as a walking stick or carry it in a special pack on your back. The game displays the trail in front of you as you “hike” along. You can choose from many different, beautiful locations, including Isle Royale.

I’d probably be more likely to see a moose on Wii Isle Royale than on the real thing. We spot  occasional piles of petrified moose poop on the rocks, but no poop producers. I wonder why a moose would bother to climb up here. It’s practically arid, and they like the water. Maybe they come up here for the view? Though the views today aren’t as good as we saw yesterday or the day before.

Or it could just be that we aren’t stopping to look. When on the ridge, we’re being roasted by the sun. It saps our energy and strength. We hurry across the lichen covered rocks as quickly as we dare. “I hate this fucking ridge,” I blurt out every time we leave the shade of the forest and ascend onto the bare skeleton of the Minong. I wish for gray skies, clouds pregnant with water, threatening rain. But not actual rain. That would make the rocks dangerously slippery.

It’s September. We wonder how people manage this in July or August.

The Minong is far less populated than the other trails we’ve hiked. Today we see one other person, coming the other direction. He tells us he has been on the island for sixteen days and is on his way to Rock Harbor. Sixteen days. I’m worn out after six! But he’s looking pretty beat up himself. He’s thin, unlike many men we’ve seen on the island whose bellies weigh as much as my pack, and his face is gaunt and sweaty. I notice his arms, ropy with muscle. And his pack is immaculate, unlike ours, which have all kinds of things dangling off of them, like trash bags, water bottles, and dirty towels.

Though he doesn’t say so outright, it sounds like he’s trying to hike every trail on the island. He saw moose on the Feldtmann trail, and tells us Huginnin Cove is the most beautiful site he’s seen yet. He also warns us to bring extra water on our hike tomorrow. We wonder if he’s going to write a book about his experience.

For the first time on this trip, Julie wants to rest as often as I do, which is proof that it is a difficult trek. My back is still doing well. Some twinges, but nothing like the torture of previous days. Today, my challenge is the heat. I’m burning up with it. I even waste some water by pouring it over my head. And I’m still not interested in food. Julie is suffering, too. Her feet and lower back are giving her trouble. The thing about Julie is that she doesn’t whine about discomfort the way I do. She focuses on her feet to take her mind off her back, and then on her back to take her mind off her feet.

By the time we reach Lake Desor, we’re both exhausted. We take the only available site, number two. Julie starts setting up the tent. I know I should help, but all I want to do is cool off. I strip down and head to the lake in bra and undies, completely unconcerned about other campers seeing me. There is no beach, only a steep descent down a gray boulder. The water is blessedly frigid, but there is no shade so I’m icy on the bottom and sweltering on top. It’s only marginally better than my whole body being on fire. I consider sitting in the water, but my underwear would get all wet and this is my last pair. The previous two have been relegated to the “crotch rot” bag, a ziplock bag inside another ziplock bag, inside yet a third. Spending a week in the wilderness has made me appreciate the modern comforts I usually take for granted, like showers and clean underwear.

Julie is resting in the tent when I return, but that seems too hot to me. I throw my inflatable pad onto the dirt and lay down in the shade, staring up at the trees. I think to check the time. We did the hike in five and a half hours.

Eventually I feel somewhat better, and start filtering water. I fill every container to the brim and get a second bag so we have plenty for tomorrow. It is taking a long time for the contents of the Dirty bag to flow into the Clean one. Looks like our filter is toast. We back-flushed it twice, but probably should have done so more often. I move the spare filter into an easily accessible pocket in the pack in case we need it in the middle of the day tomorrow.

After a dinner of dehydrated something-or-other, I’m in the tent, getting ready for bed while Julie goes fishing. Previous nights, we’d put our food between us, but tonight I leave mine around the edges. Until a red squirrel scoots right up to the tent wall and starts trying to dig her way in, that is.

When Julie returns, having caught nothing, she tells me she saw a huge leech, at least eight inches long, swimming in the lake. I’m glad I didn’t spend more time in the water than I did!

Darkness falls, and I’m laying on my back worrying about tomorrow while Julie breathes evenly and deeply beside me. The hike is 12.7 miles, more than twice the distance we hiked today, and on the map the terrain looks just as demanding. Even though I had an entire day with virtually no back pain, I’m certain my back will fail me tomorrow, and imagining that I’ll spend all day in agony makes me afraid. The fear makes me unable to sleep. And I need to go to sleep soon because we’re getting up at dawn to get as much hiking done as we can before the sun starts its relentless persecution. 

Even with Julie so close, I feel alone.

I remember a poster I saw at the fly-infested grill in Grand Portage. The image was of two wolves, and the story was of a tribal elder telling his grandson about how each person wages a war inside herself, a war between the good wolf and the evil wolf. The evil wolf represents all the negative emotions: fear, greed, anger, envy, and so on. The good wolf represents the positive ones, like joy, love, hope, and compassion. When the boy asks which wolf wins, the elder replies, “whichever one you feed.”

I’ve spent most of my life feeding the evil wolf. Listening to the water of Lake Desor lapping against the rocky shore, topped by the eerie cry of a loon, I realize I can’t survive the rest of this trip unless I start feeding the good wolf.

The antidote to fear is love, or so I’ve heard. I try to see how I’m being loved right now. This is not an easy task for me, but I think about really basic things, like how I have air to breathe, and ground to lie on, and gravity to keep me from flying into outer space and exploding. The trees above me rustle in the breeze. They’re giving off oxygen, so that I can breathe. Squirrels and birds make their homes in the branches, ants and beetles snuggle under the bark. Caterpillars eat their leaves, larvae and fungi eat their wood, squirrels eat their seeds, beavers eat their bark, we eat their sap. When they fall, they can be benches in the woods, and bridges above the snow for small mammals. Their decaying bodies feed the next generation of trees. We cut them down and burn them for heat, pulp them into paper, or build shelters and picnic tables from them.

I realize that every part of a tree is love. And I’m surrounded by trees. Surrounded by love.

I fall into the best sleep I’ve had on the trip so far.

Graffiti in the loo: The cairn killer is back, only this time there’s an addendum. “2008: Finally got laid. Don’t care about cairns anymore.”
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Neil on

Really nice post Michele.

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