Friday, July 02, 2010

North Country Trail journal -- June 16, 2010

We finally made it to Solon Springs! What a turn of events. Trail angels even exist on the North Country Trail. Right when we got into town we stopped at a Dairy Queen across the street from the county park we planned to camp in. While we were sitting at a red picnic table enjoying our first non-trail food in four days, an older gentleman walked over and asked about our trip.

He said he’d seen us walking into town and saw Steve limping. When he heard we were camping at Lucius Woods County Park across the street, he offered to let us camp in his yard. “The trail goes right by my place and I have a hot tub you can use too,” he said. “At least we’re not hitchhiking,” I told Steve, remembering my promise to his dad. Steve whispered back, joking, “If he gives us any trouble, I think we can take him.”

Doug told us he’s almost 80 and was taking care of a 7-year-old boy, Jake, who I thought was his grandson. He took us up the street to the post office, where I picked up our food drop, and sent Steve across the street to the grocery store (Note: We’d just met Doug, and although he seemed safe, I didn’t want to leave Steve alone in the vehicle). As I was picking up my mail, a guy in line asked me about the hike. Our exchange was brief, but he was very encouraging. The postal worker who gave me my package said, “Hey! I remember talking to you on the phone.” I’d called the post offices in Solon Springs, Drummond, and Mellen to get their hours and let them know what I was sending. I also called for a silly reason. I wanted to hear people talk in a northern Wisconsin accent. It’s just a slightly more tamed clipped sound than that heard in Fargo.

Doug’s place is a beautiful 35-acre spread. The yard is bordered by forest and a pond he dug that has an island on it. He told us he wants his ashes scattered on the island. We set up our tents just beyond the unmowed wildflower patch next to the pond. We took showers, hung up wet gear to dry, and even did laundry.

Steve has been deliberating going home. His big toe has an ingrown toenail that has slowed and hobbled him. It is leaking green pus. I said, of all the various foot injuries, rashes, and sores I’ve seen hiking the long trails, his was somewhere between mild bother and disfigurement. Hikable, but painful, I bet. I told him I wouldn’t be disappointed if he went home. He hiked almost 50 miles. Pretty darn good for his first time. He was beating himself up over the decision.

I remember when a hike was a quest. I treated my first thru-hike 10 years ago like that, and sometimes acted like a drill sergeant to myself and my hiking partner. If Steve had joined me then, I would have thrown a fit and tried to shame him into staying on the trail. But all the miles since and a whole host of other factors, such as being a father and teacher, have softened me. This ain’t no big deal.

I plan to continue, even though my left shoe is giving me problems, two heel blisters, two toe blisters, and a huge popped-turning-to-callus one on the center sole just below the toes. My right foot is blister and pain free. My parents or Esther can pick me up in Hurley.

Doug prepared a pot roast dinner while Steve and I sat around his living room socializing. Scott, Jake’s dad, came to pick Jake up and take him to a baseball game. The two of them and their friend Pete joined us later for dinner.

Like many trail angels, Doug has enjoyed the vagabond lifestyle. A licensed pilot, he flew to Alaska in 1995 and spent a year there. He told us about flying to tiny fishing villages on Kodiak Island. He’s also roamed around Arizona, living out of his RV. It’s nice how long-distance hiking connects you to kindred spirits. A backpack says a lot about a person, or can lead an observant person to make certain conclusions. Nature lover? Healthy? Leg strong, lungs strong? Driven? Free? Easygoing? Tired? Hungry? Such conjecture only applies to long-distance hikers. Weekenders never end up in town with their backpacks on. They’re never seen to be considered.

It seems so long ago, but this day started in the pines and fog near Harter Road and county hwy. M. I felt sore and unmotivated after yesterday’s ordeal. For the first time, Steve was ready to go before I was. We finally joined the NCT as it crosses M and was happy to see easy-to-follow trail for the second time on this trip. We were also almost to the nice NCTA maps, and after Solon Springs continuous trail for a nice long stretch. [post-script: I had continuous trail right after leaving Doug’s place. We actually yellow-blazed the trail through the streets of Solon Springs as Doug drove us to his place.]
We’ll be using NCTA map WI-02 for the next 80 or so miles. Goodbye photocopied DeLorme pages. On-trail distances can now be determined to the 10th of a mile.
[P.S. - The latest DeLorme atlas shows the North Country Trail route.]

No comments: