Our First Encounter with the Superior Hiking Trail

The SHT is a beautiful trail! We had trouble realizing that as we complained about having too much weight to carry in the form of camping gear and dog food.

Lisa and I had been searching for something to do together for quite some time. We both have interests of our own, but rarely do they cross paths. I’ve enjoyed more physical sports as my pastimes; things like skiing, hockey, rock climbing, and the like. She is more of a yoga, meditation, exercise type of person. Our first encounter with the Superior Hiking Trail would start to change that fact.

Last spring, we were on a weekend road trip to see a friend in northern Wisconsin. On our way home, we took a different route than normal and drove past a sign pointing to a Superior Hiking Trail parking area.

“We should try hiking a part of that.” I said.

“Walking. Yeah, we’re probably skilled enough to do that.” She answered.

We set a weekend aside in June of 2019 with the intention of covering approximately 10 miles of the Superior Hiking Trail (SHT) over two days. The SHT is a wonderful trail that primarily follows the north shore of Lake Superior in northern Minnesota.

Little did we know what we had started!

Setting the Stage

Now, I’ve hiked and climbed mountains in the past. Lisa, along with her daughters, has hiked 220 miles of El Camino De Santiago in Spain. The last time that either of us has been backpacking with 50 pounds on our backs, however, was about 20 years ago. We forgot about that part.

Not only did we expect to cover a lot of ground in two days, but we thought that bringing our two dogs along would be fun as well. One is a ten-year-old boxer who spends most of his days curled up on the couch under a blanket. The other is an over-weight beagle mix with very little tolerance for other dogs.

See where this is headed?

We parked our car, unloaded a massive amount of camping gear, leashed the dogs, and caught the Superior Hiking Shuttle (superiorhikingshuttle.com) which took us to the trailhead where we were to begin our journey. Five minutes later we were hiking… sort of.

On-the-Trail Education

Within minutes we had discovered several things: we’ve brought too much stuff, we should have started with an easier section, we should not have brought the dogs, it’s really hot out, we should have not decided to use this as an opportunity to quit smoking cigarettes, basically we had no idea what we were doing.

This hiking thing seemed doomed to fail before the first hour had passed.

The SHT is a beautiful trail! We had trouble realizing that as we complained about having too much weight to carry in the form of camping gear and dog food.

Our boxer was well behaved but felt the need to stop and relieve his bladder on nearly every single tree and plant that he could reach on his leash. The beagle pulled as hard as he could without hurting himself until we started meeting other dogs on the trail, at which times he would bark and lunge at them in full-on attack mode. He never got a hold of another dog but holding him back was a challenge.

After about 3 miles our feet and shoulders were aching, and we needed to stop and rest. I placed a bowl of water out for the dogs. The beagle collapsed, exhausted, into the bowl.

We were not going to make it to the 6-mile point where the nearest camping spot was located.

After a long rest, we reluctantly got back to moving along the trail. We were no longer hiking, we were simply staggering forward, attempting to reach the next trailhead which happened to be near the main road, where we could make some, much needed, decisions.

Another mile and a half and we found ourselves on the bank of the Temperance River. I lead the dogs out into the water to cool off. Another 1/3 of a mile and we made it to the road. Our weekend adventure was over after 6 hours.

I was lucky enough to stumble across somebody who, after hearing of our plight, offered to give me a ride back to my car. I happily accepted, got the car, went back to pick up Lisa and what remained of the dogs, and we headed home.

It turned out to be something other than the amazing success story we had assumed it was going to be.

Reassess and Set Our Goal

So, there’s the backstory. It’s not exactly our proudest moment. Both of us were humbled by the events of that day. The dogs are no worse for the wear and we’ve learned since to be better caretakers for them.

Despite the difficulties of that day, we had found something truly wonderful. A simple trail, just a couple hours’ drive from us, where we could go to unwind from the tensions of the real world, where we could spend quality time together, where we could physically and mentally test ourselves, and where we could learn together.

First, we decided that we would eventually hike the entire distance of the Trail. Not all at once, not even more that a tiny bit at a time. We are not as young as we once were. We needed a plan. We needed a very forgiving, easy plan. I purchased a set of trail maps from the Superior Hiking Trail Association and spent quite a bit of time soaking up information from their website, superiorhiking.org.

Second, we determined how much time we thought it should take us to complete the Trail. Then doubled our estimate. This is going to take more than several years to accomplish.

Then, we made a plan. The dogs would stay home. One is too old, and the other is not built for long distance walking. We would only hike one section at a time, which ranges from just a couple of miles to several miles. We would not be doing any thru hiking which eliminates the need to carry heavy food and camping gear. We would start slowly on easy sections, work our way up to the harder ones, and we would get started immediately. One trip a month sounded good to us.

Baby Steps on the Superior Hiking Trail

Immediately didn’t happen. Life gets in the way sometimes. The next time we got to the Trail was three months later. We left our home in the Twin Cities at 4 am. Caught the shuttle 4 hours later and were ready to hike a 5-mile section minutes later.

It was wonderful! The weather was rainy and chilly and generally lousy. Lisa and I spent the next few hours hiking, talking about the fun things in life, singing ‘80s tunes together, and falling in love with each other all over again.

Our first encounter with the Superior Hiking Trail brought us past this beaver lodge
Beaver pond on the SHT

This time was much easier than the last time and will forever serve as the day we solidified our determination to hike every inch of every mile of this amazing north woods wonder.

We drove home that afternoon, tired and sore, but smiling all the way!

We were simply learning to walk in the woods. Together.

Our first encounter with the Superior Hiking Trail was followed by this sight on a trip in September
September leaves on the SHT

Learning to Hike the Superior Hiking Trail

Autumn was in full swing, with a foreshadowing of winter, a few weeks later when we set out to tackle another section. About an inch of snow greeted us as we departed the shuttle at the trailhead once again. The leaves that hadn’t fallen yet were a brilliant shade of gold and the cloud-muffled sunshine filtered through to create a warm feeling despite the cold air.

After having completed two sections of the trail in the previous 3 months, for a total of less than 10 miles, we weren’t exactly experts yet. But we were learning. Our packs had become significantly lighter. By now we had purchased proper footwear and were just starting to learn to pace ourselves. About a mile and a half an hour was turning out to be the average that we could rely on.  

Lisa had made sandwiches for us to enjoy halfway through this day’s hike, which we treated ourselves to on the crest of an exposed rock outcropping. Wind and sleet soon compelled us to move along. She didn’t know at the time that the sandwich ritual would become a thing.

Again, we drove home smiling.

First snow of the season on the SHT
Gold leaves in October on the SHT

Stay Tuned

That’s the story of how Lisa and I began our journey on the SHT. We’ve taken two more trips there between then and now. We’ve had two more trail sandwiches each. It is now early December and we have one more trip scheduled before the end of the year.

More to come….

In the meantime, please share your trail stories with us on our Stories page. We’d love to read about your experiences on this, or any other trail!

Late October snow on the SHT