"The clearest way into the universe is through a forest wilderness" - John Muir
Partaking on a longer-distance hike is something that has been on my bucket list for nearly a decade. Earlier this year, I learned about the Superior Hiking Trail (SHT) on the North Shore of Lake Superior in my home-state of Minnesota. After researching a bit about the trail, it seemed to be a great distance to cover which would push myself well beyond the weekend trips that I had done previously, while not so long that I would have to reserve more than a month to complete the hike.
This trip helped me to deeply connect to nature, and myself in a raw manner. I was able to reflect on my thoughts and actions, while staying present in each moment. The wilderness of the North Shore taught me more than I could have imagined, and I felt as though I had returned home.
In this post you will find information about my personal experiences on the SHT, taking a minimalist and raw vegan approach. My dog Brooks joined me for this trek, so I will also include information on long-distance hiking with a plant-based companion dog.
Thanks for taking the time to read through these experiences, re-live my adventures, and find what I learned out there ...
I began more extensive research and planning for this trip in April 2017 (3-4 months before beginning the hike). First thing I focused on was figuring out a start date and anticipating roughly how long the hike may take. This is a longer trip than I had done before, covering 260 miles total (418 km), and had anticipated that it would take close to 3 weeks to complete. Planning around my summer coaching schedule the best that I could, it came down to starting in either early or late June... and I chose to start the trip in the last week of June, the day after my 32nd birthday. Deciding factors for the start-date were learning that wild berries would be ripened by the end of June, and also biting-insects would be more tame than earlier in the month. It is also in the beginning stages of planning that I accumulated equipment that I did not already have, and purchased a copy of the official SHT book: Guide to the Superior Hiking Trail. The last piece of the 'preparation puzzle' was to coordinate transportation so I could leave my car at the end-point to have it there once I finished the hike. I reserved a shuttle service to meet me at the end-point, then drive to the start-point.
Where to start planning ...
- where to hike
- how far to hike
- working around personal schedule
- deciding on a start date
- list of equipment needed
- purchase guide book
- transportation to start/end points
Being sure to bring the right equipment for a longer hike is essential, especially when intending to be a minimalist backpacker. Having too much can be a burden when hiking long-distances, and I quickly learned that I did not need much.
There is no need to pack a lot of clothing, and bringing too much will take up much needed space in the pack. Once I arrived to my first re-supply pickup, I pulled everything out of my pack that I did not actually need. I put it all in a box and left it at the store to pick up on my way back home after the hike. At least 5 items were left behind, which definitely cleared up space and helped in shedding pack-weight.
I experienced injuries in both feet and the difficulties that come with not being able to walk comfortably, leading me to learn how crucial choosing the correct footwear is in completing a safe and successful hike. The SHT has muddy wetlands throughout, so waterproof shoes are a must if you want to keep your feet dry. If you are intending to try hiking in barefoot shoes, it is essential to gradually build up strength in your feet before long-distance hiking. First, get used to normal walking barefoot on flat surfaces, then begin taking them out on a trail for short distances without any added weight from a pack. From there, begin to add distance and weight until your body is fully acclimated to the conditions that you plan to face.
The equipment that I carried with me ...
- footwear .. gore tex, waterproof vegan hiking shoes; barefoot shoes; waterproof shoe covers
- pack .. 45 liter, internal frame hiking backpack with rain guard
- tent + rain fly .. single person mummy tent
- sleeping bag .. synthetic cold weather bag
- sleeping mat .. inflatable small mat
- water procurement .. iodine + neutralizer tabs, lifestraw filter, and boiling in cookpot; used a nalgene bottle to store water
- bamboo eating utensils with travel case
- small cook-pot .. for boiling drinking water, and use as a food bowl
- rope .. braided hemp, and accessory cord
- dry-bags .. mainly for food storage; bear bag to hang food from trees overnight
- clothing + rain gear .. short-sleeve shirt, long-sleeve shirt, thick fleece, water-resistant hiking pants, two pair athletic underwear, long underwear shirt and pants, 3 pairs synthetic hiking socks, rain poncho, waterproof pants, knit hat, bandanas
- first aid .. shea butter-coconut oil mix, gauze pads, gauze wrap, no-roll compact duct tape, nail clippers
- cruelty-free hygeine .. toothbrush, tooth powder, dr bronners soap, no-roll compact bath tissue, herbal insect repellent
- tools .. pocket knife, magnesium stone + compass + emergency whistle, lighter, headlamp, dryer lint for firestarter
- iphone .. mainly for photography; turned on 'airplane mode' while on the trail, and only used phone and internet while stopped in towns to pickup re-supply packages
Raw Vegan Trail Food:
Once I transitioned to a fully raw vegan lifestyle (primarily fruitarian) a few years ago, I always wondered about trying to do a raw hike. I am happy to say that all of the food that I prepared turned out really good, and I even ended up needing far less than anticipated. I was able to leave food behind when picking up the re-supply packages, which helped keep pack weight down. Digestion was totally different than it normally is on all fresh ripe fruit, even with having plenty of rehydrated foods and drinking a lot of water on the trail. I felt dehydrated most of the time despite the high water intake, and experienced a noticeable increase in vitality when I would get a fresh meal of juicy fruits while stopping in towns to pick-up the re-supply packages.
My favorite raw trail food discoveries were rehydrated applesauce with dates & muesli trail mix, trail smoothies and carob-hazelnut bars. I also surprised a few people on the trail with the 'spicy fruitarian jambalaya' once they learned that it is literally made from only botanical fruits.
Planning the menu for this trip began a few months before the start date, and prepping food started about four weeks beforehand (if planning on doing a longer hike... the longer the trek, the more time needed for food prep. be sure to give yourself enough time to get it all done!) I wanted to prepare as much of my own food from scratch as I could manage, and was able to do nearly all of it. The only packaged foods that I carried with me were raw sprouted granola, raw almond butter, and coconut water powder, everything else was prepared from whole-raw fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds. (bought go raw apricot chews, but ended up leaving them behind)
I did include (under-ripe) fresh mangoes in my re-supply packages, however I do not necessarily recommend to add fresh food into re-supply packages unless you are willing to take a chance. Fresh fruit may over-ripen and ferment if the timing is not right, or if not stored in a cool area. I got lucky that I put them in the packages under-ripe, added air holes in the boxes and the timing was on my side to receive a big meal of fresh ripe mangoes at each re-supply pickup.
Water was collected from creeks and rivers along the trail. I filled a nalgene bottle and would treat it with iodine + neutralizer tabs. I also would drink through a filter-straw directly from the water source. Lastly, I boiled water in a cookpot if there was a fire going at camp. All methods worked well for me, and if I were to go on this trip again, I would try to go without the iodine tabs and rely on the filter straw and boiling only.
Raw vegan foods that I ate on the trail ...
- trail smoothies
- raw muesli trail mix
- fresh dates
- rehydrated applesauce
- rehydrated fruits (pineapple, peaches, bananas)
- dehydrated fruits (raisins, apples, pears)
- spicy fruitarian jambalaya (jerky)
- carob-hazelnut bars
- cinnamon rolls
- raw vegan cheese and carrot crackers
- raw almond butter packets
- coconut water powder
- foraged wild berries
- fresh foods in towns .. watermelon, gala melon, cotton candy grapes, tomatoes, cucumbers, lettuce, guacamole, mangos, banana
Backpacking with a Dog:
Hiking the SHT with my companion dog, and best friend Brooks was such a joy. This trip was as much for her as it was for me. Brooks not only was an amazing hiking partner, but also taught me some valuable lessons along the way (as she always does). She seemed to always be a step ahead of me, out in front for most of the trek. Im grateful for her companionship and leadership out there.
She did not need much beyond her pack, food, bowl and a blanket to sleep on. She carried all of her own equipment, besides the blanket. The only change that I would make in preparation for her is bringing more (dehydrated) food for increased calories.
For her insect repellent, I only put the rose geranium oil directly on her (next time I am not going to dilute it so much, if even at all). The store-bought repellent was sprayed on her pack and on bandanas that I tied to her pack or loosely around her neck.
Brooks did fine both drinking from the iodine treated water that I carried, as well as directly from the clean water sources without treatment. She ate a base of her standard vegan kibble, and I added rehydrated oats/pumpkin/peanut butter/chia cookies that I had prepared for her in the dehydrator (they also were good treats for her!).
Dog equipment on the trail ...
- bungee leash (went around my waist to keep hands-free)
- collapsible bowl
- dehydrated cookies
- rose-geranium essential oil + pet-friendly insect repellent
- large blanket
- foot-wear and foot-care: one of the most important considerations .. proper footwear and conditioning your feet for the hike are essential
- safe form for repeated lifting movements: there are a lot of repeated movements on the trail, such as lifting a heavy pack from the ground on to your back .. always ask yourself if your are repeating movements in good-form
- stretching and massage: recovery is very important .. after setting up camp, be sure to care for your feet and muscles that are working hard throughout the day
- water procurement: many ways to collect clean drinking water .. hydration is a top-priority
- hygiene + first aid: no need for a huge first aid kit .. pack the essentials and nothing else
- insects: they are pretty much guaranteed to be out in the wild, and there is no need for harsh chemicals to help live with them in comfort .. cruelty-free herbal sprays are available to purchase, and homemade essential oil sprays are both viable options
- mindset: how do you handle stress? if you are faced with adversity, does it stop you, or do you look for a way around it? .. maintaining a positive attitude can be hard, but its required for a successful hike
- SHT-specific considerations: there will likely be a lot of mud, and it can get cold at night; it rained frequently, but often times passed through quickly; also be mindful that it is not a very crowded trail, so there may be times that you do not see many people for stretches of time
- embracing fulfilled solitude
- mindset (positive, gratitude, poise, acknowledge hardship to find the way through it)
- projection (displacing stressful energy)
- let them be, do no harm and leave no trace
Day 1 (06/25/17) ... saw a moose while parking the jeep at the end point (Otter Lake Rd), and learned a valuable lesson to not disturb him and the other life out there from then on. This lesson came quick, after trying to get a closer view, which disrupted his meal and resulted in his running away. "I am in his home, and I have to be considerate." From what I heard in learning that lesson, nature had given me a trail name... "Moose." Met Bob from the shuttle service when he picked me up at Otter Lake Rd to drive me south to the start point at Martin Rd trailhead in Duluth. We dropped off my re-supply packages at three stores along the way, and stopped at Bob's house so he could show me his incredible nearly off-grid craftsman cabin that he built himself. Met two new friends right at the start, and shared melon with "Sourpatch" at the Martin Rd trailhead. "Sunshine" and I started the trail together and took a wrong turn right from the start... lost within the first few minutes! Finally found our way back onto the trail, parted ways with "Sunshine" and hiked solo for 5 miles (8 km). Stayed at the Bald Eagle campsite, and discovered that I forgot to pack tent stakes. Set up the tent with rope, rocks and sticks holding it in place. Brooks (dog) did really well right from the start. I learned a few big lessons in the first day... stop to respect nature with space and patience; do not contaminate the wilderness with products of our unnatural systems (even fruit scraps coming from our chemical-laden food system!); remembering tent stakes when camping is important!; proper footwear or properly conditioned feet is crucial for distance hiking.
Day 2 (06/26/17) ... hiked 19 miles (30.5 km) to Fox Farm Pond campsite (not a fan of the name of this site). Camped solo and still setting up makeshift tent without stakes. Improper footwear began to take a toll on metatarsal bones in feet.
Day 3-4 (06/27/17-06/28/17) ... hiked 13 miles (21 km) to Two Harbors. Found a lot of wild strawberries and raspberries on an overlook right before trailhead. Walk into Two Harbors was brutal.. 9 miles (14 km) on the roads, and thought it was only 6 miles (10 km). Walking on the roads took a toll on both my feet and Brooks' paws, and the direct sun exposure was hard on her too. A nice lady and her daughter picked us up and gave us a ride for the last leg of the trip into town, and dropped us off at the SHT Association Headquarters. SHTA directed us to a pet-friendly motel (Viking Motel in Two Harbors). Stayed there for two full nights to allow for proper recovery in our feet. Went to the store and got lots of fresh food to eat... watermelon, cantaloupes, grapes (and bananas for Brooks). Bought new hiking boots and tent stakes.
Day 5 (06/29/17) ... got a ride to the Lake Co Rd 301 trailhead from an employee/family member of the motel. Hiked 12 miles (19 km) through deep mud to East Gooseberry campsite, and stayed solo with full tent setup for the first time.
Day 6 (06/30/17) ... hiked 24 miles (38.5 km) to North Beaver River campsite, passing Fifth Falls, Gooseberry Falls, and taking two detours due to flooding (Gitchi Gami Trail on hwy 61, and around Split Rock Loop). Met a group of four high school student hikers and stayed at North Beaver River camp with them. Really nice group of kids, and very respectful of 'Leave No Trace.' Great campsites there, right on the river with great views.
Day 7 (07/01/17) ... hiked 13 miles (21 km), and got caught in a 10-minute heavy rain downpour at an overlook before coming into Silver Bay. Stopped into Silver Bay to stop at Julie's True Value to pick-up re-supply package #1. Spent a few hours there resting and feasting on fresh mangoes from the re-supply package, and a watermelon that I picked up at a grocery store in town. Charged the phone and listened to music while resting. Noticed that all of the locals drive ATVs around instead of cars .. so cool! Headed back out onto the trail.. passed High Falls on Baptism River. Stayed at West Palisade Creek campsite with four really nice guys (Jesse, Graham, Anders and Mike).
Day 8 (07/02/17) ... hiked 14.5 miles (23 km) to Section 13 campsite. Stayed with two father-daughter pairs who seemed to want to keep to themselves for the most part (which was fine because I wanted some quiet time to reflect on thoughts with the sunset). Enjoyed the entire evening on the Section 13 overlooks.. had dinner and relaxed during, and was graced with one of the most beautiful sunsets I have ever witnessed.
Day 9 (07/03/17) ... hiked 13.5 miles (22 km) to Each Branch Baptism River campsite. Stayed with a group of three, and we all shared a bath in the river together. Stopped at Lily Island on Sonju Lake and spent some time there to let Brooks go for a swim and enjoy the island that was named after a dog who loved the trail.
Day 10 (07/04/17) ... 'Independence Day' .. hiked 13 miles (21 km) to East Caribou River Campsite. Was a huge campsite and stayed there solo. I was planning to continue further, but the view of the waterfalls kept me there for the night! Spent a beautiful evening on the rocks next to the falls, built a roaring fire from scratch, did some sun gazing during the sunset, and had a great natural 'fireworks' display from a lightning storm once I was tucked into my tent. The most fulfilled 'Independence Day' I have ever had!
Day 11 (07/05/17) ... hiked 12 miles (19 km) to Falls campsite on the Cross River. Stayed solo, and again had my own private waterfalls for the evening. Another stunning dinner sitting next to the falls. Hiking boots were creating ankle pains for a few days at this point.
Day 12 (07/06/17) ... hiked 11 miles (18 km) to Onion River campsite. As I was coming off of the trail at Temperance River Parking Lot to make my way into Tofte, the high schoolers from Day-6 pulled over in a car on hwy 61 to offer me a ride into town. Talk about trail magic and perfect timing! Stopped in Tofte to pick-up re-supply package #2 at Sawtooth Outfitters. While at the store, bought new hiking shoes, socks, and cruelty-free insect spray. I hung out outside of the store for a few hours to rest, recharge the phone and listen to music while enjoying a meal of fresh mangoes. Met a lot of nice people while resting. After leaving the store, walked for a bit on the roads, but Brooks tuckered out, so I hitchhiked the rest of the way and was picked up by a really nice local guy. He dropped us off at Britton Peak trailhead. Brooks and I got caught in a big hail/rain/lightning storm and was forced to stop and set up an emergency tarp-shelter. Once the hail stopped, we continued on to Onion River site.
Day 13 (07/07/17) ... hiked 10 miles (16 km) to Lutsen Mountains Recreation Area. Rested at the lodge for a few hours then took the gondola down to the chalet. Waited out two spurts of rain. There were a lot of really nice families at Lutsen, and they were all enthralled with Brooks. I originally planned to backtrack a few miles to stay at the Mystery Mountain campsite, but after talking with two other hikers, they let me know that it was not worth going back for. Met some amazing ladies from 'Women on the Edge' shortly after leaving Lutsen. We stopped and had a great conversation together, then I continued on to stay solo at East Polar River campsite. Had re-hydrated applesauce for the first time, and discovered that it is one of my favorite trail meals when paired with dates and raw muesli.
Day 14 (07/08/17) ... hiked 16.5 miles (26.5 km) to Cascade River State Park. Really great lookout points on ridge-lines leading up to park, and a lot of wild strawberries up there too. Met a group of really nice guys right after beginning the ascent up the east side of the river and stopping to ask them directions. I cannot even describe the faith that these young men helped to restore in me, simply by the energies and conversation shared.. I was blown away by their enthusiasm to connect, zest for life, exploration in nature, positive outlook, hospitality, kindness and openness. I parted ways with them feeling inspired and knowing that a strong connection was made. Continued on to the first campsite in the park, Trout Creek site. Stayed with a few other groups at this site, and shared dinner around the fire with a father/son pair and a couple who have some thru-hiking experience on the Long Trail in VT.
Day 15 (07/09/17) ... Got a ride from Cascade River State Park to Grand Marais. Picked up the final re-supply package #3 at Stone Harbor Wilderness Supply, and hung out for a few hours to rest and recharge. Owner, Jack, and the female employee were very accommodating and nice to Brooks and I. When I first went in to pick up my package, they made me nervous saying that something was fermented and rotting. Turns out that the mangoes were just really ripe and giving off a natural musk! Enjoyed a meal of fresh mangoes, and also bought a Gala melon, local tomatoes, cucumber and fresh guacamole topped with salsa. There were a lot of people around town in Grand Marais that day because of an outdoor art festival. Asked for a ride from a really nice local lady who is not afraid to tell it how it is (which I admire), and she drove me up to Pincushion Mountain Trailhead. Only hiked 4 miles total (6.5 km) for the day, also taking the spur-trail to Pincushion Mountain summit. Met a young man from Ely MN, and we shared a deep conversation, discussing our takes on the world around us, where we fit into it all, and how we can best utilize that space. I really admire his maturity, how strong his mind is, and how much connection this young man has within himself and to the world around him; his ability to trust, and welcome new ideas is refreshing. After leaving Pincushion Mountain, hiked a bit further to East Devil Track River campsite, directly on the river after the falls. This was a beautiful site which I was able to soak in solo. Built a cooking-ladder fire and boiled drinking water from the river for the first time (was running low on iodine tabs).
Day 16 (07/10/17) ... casually hiked 10 miles (16 km) to Hungry Hippie Hostel on Co Rd 14. Took a lot of photos during the hike on this day, and had a long lunch at an open-field with sweeping overlooks onto Lake Superior, North and South. There were wild strawberries and wildflowers everywhere in this field, and it was a great place to soak in some sunshine. After continuing on, I met a group of really amazing ladies near Cliff Creek. They gave me some great compliments (said I remind them of their favorite pro football player, Aaron Rodgers, a plant-based athlete) and we shared some fruits and veggies. One of the ladies shared a great tip for daily happiness .. "7 hugs and 3 belly laughs each day!" Arrived at Hungry Hippie Hostel and was greeted by host Jeremy. Took a shower, did laundry, set up the tent (no rooms available, so camped) and made myself dinner. Was content to keep to myself and read, but ended up joining a superb couple from the twin cities in a great conversation about just about everything ... animal rights, health, food, fruitarianism, environmental welfare and activism, music, dogs, and working as educators in the school system. Sipped on hot tea, and was entertained with live music from one of the guests who brought a guitar. Winded down around the fire before bed. Did not sleep well that night, and was up in the middle of the night for a few hours. Went inside and took a hot shower to help go back to bed for a few hours.
Day 17 (07/11/17) ... hiked 22 miles (35.5 km) to Hazel Corridor. Stayed at Hazel campsite solo. This was a pretty rough day overall, but definitely some great points throughout. The lake walk section was a nice change of scenery, and we took a long lunch on a jetty in Lake Superior; Judge Magney State Park hosts some of the best waterfalls on the trail (Devil's Kettle Falls); foraged a lot of wild raspberries on the side of Co Rd 70 (Camp 20 Rd). Was a long day, hiking through intermittent rains and very muddy sections, and the mosquitoes were out in full-force. Brooks injured her paw, and also vomited.. she had a rough day, but is such a trooper and pushed-through until the very end. I am always in awe of her resilience. Once we arrived at the Hazel campsite, I set up camp as quickly as I could to get us away from the mosquitoes and out of the rain.
Day 18 (07/12/17) ... hiked 21 miles (34 km) to Otter Lake Rd (SHT end-point). It rained nonstop, and progressively intensified throughout the day... downpour for the last few miles! We were completely soaked and saturated by the end. We passed by a incredible 200-300 acre beaver pond, saw a lot of moose tracks and droppings, and the ridge lines would have been better if there was visibility. Because of the fog and rain, we did not hike the extra mile to the 270-degree overlook into Canada on the Border Route Trail. We made it to the jeep, and I let Brooks and myself in to get out of the rain as quickly as possible to dry off. Brooks did so well hiking such a long distance in nonstop rain. Once I put the jeep into first gear to drive away, the rain stopped.