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“You guys are tough guys!”

Week 11 and 12 Baraga State Park to Wakefield, MI

At the end of another week we’re asking ourselves where the time went. The duration of running up and back down the Keweenaw has been spent in the company of friends, family, and folks that have reached out to help us. Instead of wrapping up our nights with our journals and books, we’ve been watching the setting sun while sharing some beers and conversation.

From the noisy barrage of traffic sound at Baraga State Park we started running toward Houghton, where we met Evan’s parents and two younger brothers, Aaron and Matthew. Partway through the 29 mile run we came across a gravel path that we could eventually take into the city of Houghton giving us a reprieve from the noise of speedy automobiles. Coincidentally we landed in the same exact spot as Evan’s folks just as they were getting out of the car from Minneapolis. After a round of sweaty hugs we grabbed some food and beer before driving up to Calumet to spend the night. The next morning we woke early and giddy to hit up the continental breakfast at the hotel. We tried to keep our cool as we helped ourselves to as many as hard boiled eggs we could imagine. While the Floms were in town we made sure to check out the sights – we drove up to Copper Harbor, a route we would soon run. We trucked through the Estivant Pines and also headed up to Brockway Mountain, two locales that would otherwise be much too far off the road for our poor tired feet.

The next day the Floms drove us back to Houghton to start our running day. Their kindness and thoughtfulness helped us push on toward what would be high mileage day. From Houghton we ran more than 30 miles to a sandy bay we dubbed Dragonfly Bay. We decided to spend the night without a tent and instead just tucked in our sleeping bags on the beach. There were no clouds and the moon was hidden that night. What unfolded above us was a shocking display of light and hidden texture millions of miles away that fell down into our expectant eyes. We fell asleep to a galaxy above us and the occasional mosquito near our ears. We decided to name that beach Planetarium Beach.

The next morning we woke bright and early to make the push to Fort Wilkins State Park where we were excited to meet up with our friend, Courtney. One thing we’ve learned during our run is that sometimes it’s harder than you had anticipated to carry on for absolutely no particular reason at all. The run into Fort Wilkins was relatively short but by the end we were scuffling, grumpy, and overtired. Oh well. After setting up camp we waited a few hours until Courtney arrived. Courtney recently came back from a Peace Corps posting in South Africa. An old friend from college, none of us had spent much time with her in over two years. To help us catch up she brought New Glarus beer and cheese curds. The next day was a rest day for us. We spent the morning with Courtney before she headed home. Later that day our friends Liz and Nathaniel came to crash with us for the rest of our down time. They also brought delicious, delicious beer and, holy of holies, green veggies. The next morning they sent us off for our run down to Mohawk with pancakes topped with thimbleberries and maple syrup.

That day, August 4th, we decided to splurge and get a motel room in Mohawk because it was Allissa’s 25th birthday. Happy birthday, Lis. We enjoyed pizza and squishy beds for the big quarter-century celebration.

Waking up in a motel the next morning had the added benefit of not having to take down camp. This allowed us to get up and going early so we could head to Lake Linden. Once there, we met up with Andrew Ranville who took us to Rabbit Island. Rabbit Island is a 91 acre island off the southeast side of the Keweenaw peninsula. Along with co-founder Rob Gorski, Andrew has created a summer artist residency for artists all over the world. Early on in the planning of our trip Andrew reached out to us and invited us for a stay. Andrew picked us up and drove us to the boat launch where we headed off on a 3 mile boat ride to the island. Once there we got a quick introduction to the lay of the land and to the folks currently residing on the island. Andrew had radioed ahead to get the sauna started before we arrived and in short order it was ready for us. Andrew told us to hop in and abide by Finnish rules which meant two things: clothing was optional and we were going to get to know these folks we just met much better very quickly. We spent the rest of the day exploring the island, fishing and sharing stories with the other interesting souls on the island. After dinner, some of us even got ready for a nighttime sauna. We heated up in the sauna and ran into Lake Superior under a speckled night sky.

The next morning, after some tasty pancakes of course, Andrew took us back to the mainland and back to Lake Linden. We said goodbye with a promise to stay in touch and keep up with the happenings of Rabbit Island.

Because of our visit to Rabbit Island and the lay of the Keweenaw we had to run through Houghton again on our way further west. Luckily this time we were invited into the house of Kyle, a kind stranger that had heard about our trip and decided to help us out.

Our time running after Houghton has reminded us of our stretch travelling through Ontario: less visitors, more rain, and more hills. But we can’t complain. The landscape has become more and more scenic in the full ostentatious display of late summer. As we ran further and further west, closer to our home waters of Chequamegon Bay, through Ontonagon and then through the Porcupine Mountains Wilderness, the world has taken on a deeply familiar tinge – we’ve been here before. And if we don’t have an exact recollection of being here in these places we’ve at least been close or had friends who have regaled us with stories of these places. Just before entering Presque Isle Campground in the Porkies a truck-full of folks stopped to question what we were up to. They showered us with compliments about how intellectual and tough we were before rolling on down the road. Thanks, stranger!

And now we stay for the night at Eddy Park in Wakefield, Michigan, roughly 60 miles from being done with our journey.  We can’t wait to get back home and see our friends and family and, for once, take it easy and not run all day. Also we're excited to not smell really weird. 

"Do you even stop to breath?!"

Week 10 – Munising, MI to Baraga State Park

Ever since we got here, the Upper Peninsula of Michigan has felt like one big, embracing hug. After our long trek through the more remote areas of the lake, this leg of our journey has been filled with some creature comforts that we haven’t experienced in a while – mostly home-cooked meals, ice cream and the open arms of the folks that we have had the pleasure to stay with.

Once we left the warm hospitality of Barb and Charlie in Munising, we set out to run halfway to Marquette. It seems that the summer has finally rounded a corner in the season and things are starting to heat up on Lake Superior. It was hot as we headed up the hill and out of Munising that day. I think the summer heat has given our bodies a bit of a surprise the past week as we’ve felt our appetites diminish and our pace slow as we take more time to rest in the shade. We traveled 18 miles out of Munising to a spot that we dubbed Lake Danger Beaver, a small inland lake tucked off the highway next to the larger Deer Lake. After we set up camp and let our systems cool down a bit we cooked one of our largest and most favored meals, which we consider a sort of Thanksgiving (sweet potatoes, spiced quinoa and our cranberry turkey stuffing from Camp Chow)! Before we tucked into bed for the night we walked down to Deer Lake to rinse off the sweat of the day. Dusk was coming to an end as we waded into the black water. We splashed and laughed as we looked out across the lake to the line of silhouetted trees quietly stretching towards the transitionary hues of burnt orange, deep blue and imminent black of a star-speckled sky. That night we fell asleep to the sounds of a lone beaver paddling around the lake, periodically slapping its tail on the surface of the water.

We rose early the following day for our much-anticipated run into Marquette, a destination we were looking forward to for a long time for it meant time with close friends, needed rest and good food. Despite an early rise, the heat of the day set in quickly as we ran the 25 miles to the home of our good friend Devin and her parents Mary and Joe. We continued to follow the highway for the first half of the day until we were able to turn off and follow a well-packed gravel section of the North Country Trail (NCT) into Marquette. It may have been hot but at least we had a chance to get off the highway and run through the woods for a while (thanks for the tip, Barb!). We followed the gravel NCT until it became the paved Iron Ore Heritage Trail. Paralleling the lake, the trail took us into downtown Marquette where we eventually turned off and headed for our home for the next couple of days. As we approached our destination we were welcomed in by the cheering of Devin, Mary and Joe. We had made it! Mary had prepared a huge lunch that afternoon that would set a precedent for the meals to come in the following two days. We sat in the shade of their back patio, eating lunch and getting caught up on the specifics of each other’s lives. Already the feelings of rest were starting to settle in. Joined by Andy’s parents and some friends of the Butters, we had a dinner party that evening filled with more socializing and amazing food. We couldn’t have asked for a better welcome into Marquette. After a full day of running, socializing and eating, however, our energy was mostly depleted and we eventually turned in for the night.

We took our time the next morning, sleeping in and slowly eating breakfast. As we wrapped up the morning we packed a few supplies and headed to a traditional U.P. camp out on Fish Lake, complete with a log cabin and sauna (pronounced sow-nah!). The camp is owned by some close family friends of Devin, Mary and Joe, who had invited us all over to their weekly Sunday family lunch. We spent the day in good company as we swam, took a sauna and ate more great food. We even paddled out to a small island on the lake to pick blueberries.

We have only had back-to-back rest days a few times during this expedition so waking up to spend another full day in Marquette felt marvelous. We were all able to relax in a new way. Our second day in town was a productive one, filled with interviews with local news outlets as well as some time to catch up on writing and reading. Some fellow Northlanders, who are biking around the lake this summer, were also in Marquette that day. We met up with Olivia and Laura and chatted about how our journeys were going so far and what we were looking forward to. Later that night Mary and Joe treated us to one last meal when we went out for our last night in town.  

We had a hard time leaving Marquette the following morning after receiving so much hospitality from Devin, Mary and Joe. We enjoyed one last meal together and slowly packed Rig up – a bit awkwardly, seeing as we hadn’t done it in a few days and had a resupply of food to rearrange – to head west out of town towards Ishpeming. Our run that day was hard in new sort of way. The day was short but we had to run along a very busy Highway M-28 through the western sprawl of Marquette, Negaunee and Ishpeming. The busy road and intersections added a level of stress to the day but once we arrived at camp for the night – Country Village RV Park – we were pleased to meet a friendly woman named Deb who had driven passed us as we ran along the highway. She got us setup with a spot for the night at a discounted rate “for all of our efforts on the road.” Later in the day we were sitting in a pavilion of the park cooking lunch and talking with a young and enthusiastic boy named Draper. Deb had told Draper all about our travels, of which he had many questions about. “Do you even stop to breath?!” he asked us as we causally lounged about the pavilion, cooking lunch. Yes, Draper. We stop every once and awhile. Before leaving Marquette, Mary had informed us that right next to the RV park is the Country Village Cinema (in case we wanted a break from another hot and humid day). After lunch that day we scoped out what was playing and read some reviews. It turns out that The Secret Life of Pets is a “fun family diversion” for weary, overheated ultrarunners too.

Our run the next day, from Ishpeming to Beaufort Lake State Campground, was an exciting one because we knew we would be passing our 1,000 mile marker! One thousand miles of running. Holy shit. Before getting to the lake that evening we made sure to swing by a gas station and pick up some celebratory drinks to ring in our achievement that night. We swam and celebrated that night before tucking into the tent for the night… which, by the way, our tent’s name is Carol. We consider her more than a tent. She is our gray space pod that we’ve actually been using to travel around the lake. “Running” is simply a ploy to distract you all from our discovery of interdimensional travel.

Anyway… We rose early to depart from Beaufort Lake. The orange and pink splatters of the morning sky were brilliant and did not go unnoticed as we manically swatted swarms of bugs over breakfast and coffee. Once we ate and packed up we headed down the road with Baraga State Park in our sights. Some days we run amidst all sorts of conversation, sharing ideas with one another as we trot passed the mile markers along the road. There are some days, however, that we spend mostly in silence. Our run to Baraga was one of those quiet, contemplative sort of days. We even took a chance on a shortcut that would match the tone of the day, a quiet forest road, dappled with sunlight and the occasional deer fly. Once we got to Baraga we were informed that there was a Christmas in July event going on in the park all weekend. Christmas lights galore! From Baraga we head north into Copper Country. The Keweenaw awaits!

“Any of you ever been arrested at any time, for any reason?”

Week 8 and 9 – Pancake Bay Provincial Park to Munising, MI

During this journey, it often seems like milestones whiz by far too quickly as we try to find moments to reflect on them. Or, maybe in the moment it’s too hard to wrap our heads around those milestones and what they mean, so we let them zoom by and hope we can find time to reflect on what they mean. These past weeks have held more than one of those moments, and as our feet continue to carry us the miles, it’s hard to fathom how far we have come.

Heading south along the eastern shore, Pancake Bay marked the last Ontario Provincial Park where we stayed. This also signified nearing end of our trek along the Canadian coast. We began the week by closing the remaining distance to Sault Ste. Marie, the biggest city since Thunder Bay. At a private campground at Harmony Beach, we were invited to enjoy the campfire of some seasonal campers named John and Carol, and had the opportunity to learn more about the history of the city they had lived in most of their lives. The next day we woke up early to run to the Soo. Ever since our entry into Canada in the beginning of June, the road signs had reminded us of the incredible distance we had to cover to Sault Ste. Marie. 697 kilometers, 423 kilometers, 212 kilometers, 20 kilometers, the numbers had ticked down slowly. In an experience that felt slightly unreal, we ran into the city and made our way to our destination for the night. Velorution is a local bicycle and ski shop with a free campground for bike tourists. While not exactly their usual tourist, we were welcomed warmly and had the chance to meet other cyclists spending their summer bicycling across Canada. The next day we said good-bye to our new friends and our last Canadian city, and caught the International Bridge Bus which takes pedestrians across the bridge to the United States.

Border crossings remain strange and less-than-welcoming.  To cross the border we were asked questions about our possessions and criminal records. We dubiously glanced at each other as we answered the brusque customs officer.  After being asked the usual questions, we and our stroller were allowed re-entry into the United States. Not only is it a strange experience to cross these constructed, imaginary lines and end up in another country, but all of a sudden all the details were different too. Snickers! Fahrenheit! Miles! Being in Canada for over a month, we had become quite accustomed to these different day-to-day details. Just like that, we were back. Did we really run up and down all those hills and through all that rain and bugs?

Feeling strange to be instantly back in the United States, we made our way to the town campground for the night. The day after that was a long one, twenty-nine miles to Bay View Campground. With fresh legs we woke early, hit the road, and got to the campground in record time. Our campground host, Gilly, treated us to incredible hospitality and stories of life in the Upper Peninsula. In sharp contrast to our experience in Canada, the UP so far is enjoyably flat and bug-free. From Bay View we headed to Tahquamenon Rivermouth State Park, where we snagged the last remaining campsite. In the spirit of this summer, we got rained on. Again. We have become so accustomed to cold precipitation, but it can still be annoying when it surprises you.

Tahquamenon marks another strange milestone for our trip. On our drive around the lake to drop off supply boxes, we traveled from Ney’s Provincial Park to Tahquamenon in one day. On foot, it’s taken us almost a month. Yep, still wrapping our heads around that one.

From Tahquamenon Falls we headed to Pike Lake State Campground, in one of our longest days yet. We turned off the highway onto forest roads, complete with some well-packed gravel and some quite sandy patches. Pushing Rig uphill through sand is a whole other kind of workout, we soon found out. Thirty-three miles and a couple handfuls of wild blueberries later, we made it to Pike Lake. While the State Parks off of the highway are packed this time of year, Pike Lake was a tucked-away gem. Feeling wiped, we went to bed early and slept in a bit the next day, and were even treated to pancakes and jam from our neighboring campers. We were going to be entirely on forest roads that day, headed to Lake Superior Campground. Feeling tired but appreciative of the quite wooded roads and blueberries along the way, we made it to another hidden gem of a campground right on the lake. We felt blessed and fortunate as we watched the sun set over the lake and put our tired bodies to rest.

We ran back onto paved roads and into Grand Marais the next day, where another resupply box as well as our new shoes(!) awaited. Feeling pretty dang tired and proud after covering about 120 miles in five days, we treated ourselves to lunch at Lake Superior Brewing Company. Grand Marais will be remembered for its food, as we also treated ourselves to breakfast at the West Bay Diner the next morning. Grand Marais is one of the gateways to Pictured Rocks, and we enjoyed a much needed rest day as we prepared for an early start into the National Lakeshore.

When summer is in full swing, so is tourism. The road through Pictured Rocks was slow and meandering, and we’re always grateful for stretches away from busy highways. Deciding to spend a large chunk of the day relaxing at the beach, we napped and swam and read and enjoyed the crystal clear waters of the aptly named park. As the evening crept closer, we added another fifteen miles to the day and made it almost through the park.

Although the Upper Peninsula is quite flat, we have definitely been adding some high mileage days. Looking forward to a rest day in Munising, on the other side of Pictured Rocks, we pushed on the next day through some intense heat. After spending some time at the Falling Rock Café, we were graciously welcomed into the home of Barbara and Charlie Isom, who had reached out to us during our planning process. Living on the shoulders of the road and in our tent for so long, our hearts are warmed by the incredible hospitality and support along the way.

“We were going to stop, then we realized you didn’t have a baby”

Weeks 6 and 7 – Pukaskwa National Park to Pancake Bay

We set out from Hattie Cove in a teasing drizzle paired with a sharply cold wind, forlornly saying goodbye to the lake as we headed further inland to follow the highway for the next five days. After a few hours passed we hopped off the road to grab a quick snack and some water, only to realize that somewhere along the way we had lost a water bottle and our day’s portion of trail mix. It was becoming apparent this day was not going to be forgiving. We shouldered on and gratefully the rain abated. The rest of the day passed kindly enough but we were once again relying on unhelpful notes of our past selves to find a campsite for the night. Our plan was to tuck off on a forest road away from the highway, but unfortunately right about the time we wanted to end our day we crossed into the property of the Hemlo Gold Mine. This meant that either side of the road was peppered with no trespassing signs and the loud beeps and crunches of earth-moving machines. After a couple more unplanned and somber miles we found an overgrown path right next to a road dubiously called “Yellow Brick Road”. The rest of the night wasn’t too kind to us either. As we cooked a dinner that we would eventually burn badly, a thunderstorm rolled right overhead. We went to bed wet, hardly full, a little defeated but laughing nonetheless at the absurdity of it all. As each lightning bolt crashed above us the outside of our tent became illuminated and we could see the silhouettes of the dozens of slugs crawling all over our stuff. We dubbed our newfound campsite “Slug City”.

The next day we de-slugged all of our gear and put our soggy clothes back on for another long day of running further away from the lake. Eventually we made it to White Lake Provincial Park and were grateful to spend the rest of the afternoon in a breezy and sunny campsite. There we dried out every soaking article of clothing and gear and settled in for a rest day.

From White Lake Provincial Park we ran the 21 miles to the town of White River, the birthplace, as many signs and billboards told us, of Winnie-the-Pooh. We bopped around town for a little while asking motels if we could pitch a tent in their backyard and were lucky enough to find such a place. As we walked the town’s streets a couple came out of the hardware store and asked what our story was. They mentioned that they had seen us on the road a couple days previously during the rainstorm, and that they were going to stop and ask if we needed help but then realized we weren’t actually pushing a baby in Rig. They wished us well on the rest of our journey, regardless of our status of having a baby or not. 

From White River our next major destination was the town of Wawa. It took us two more nights to get there. Two more nights of camping on forest roads, dealing with hordes of blackflies and mosquitoes, and, of course, more rain. We coped by playing endless hands of Rummy 500 and eating Canadian candy bars. Never underestimate the power of one-third of a shitty chocolate bar.

The next day we were welcomed to Wawa, which means goose in Anishinabe, by a giant sculpture of its namesake. We were excited to be in Wawa because it meant that we could resupply in town, and it also meant we were once again on the shore of the lake. Our destination for the night was Naturally Superior Adventures, a kayak guiding company a couple miles out of Wawa. On our way to Naturally Superior, a small red car stopped on the side of the road for us. Out stepped Dave, the operator of NSA and our host during our stay there. He told us they were headed to a gathering in Wawa to celebrate Canada Day. We changed out of our running clothes, stashed rig in the woods and zoomed off to the festivities. We were glad to spend Canada day in such a Canadian manner: along with current and former guides and employees of NSA we watched films by Bill Mason, a famous Canadian paddler, painter, and newfound hero. Once the sky darkened enough we headed outside to catch the fireworks. At the end of the night we were given a ride to where Rig was stashed in the woods and walked him the rest of the way down to NSA to spend the night. We were giddy and content. Not only were we done with the arduous stretch so far from the lake, but we had also just reached our halfway point. The thought that we were already halfway done with our trip left us dizzy as we tucked in for the night, listening to the soft laps of the lake.

Before getting to the Wawa area we had reached out to a handful of folks asking if they would be interested in sharing their story. Many people were excited to share that place and their lives with us. In the morning, we started off talking with local historian Johanna Rowe. We spent a bright morning drinking coffee in the kitchen of her cabin that sits right at the mouth of the Michipicoten River as it empties into Lake Superior. After our conversation she asked if we wanted to take a sauna. How could we not? We spent the next hour steaming ourselves in the sauna then sprinting into the cold rivermouth and back again. We bid farewell to Johanna to meet up with another kind and generous soul who offered to show us the area, Joel Cooper. Joel met us and asked if we would be interested in spending the afternoon walking the beaches and trails, intermittently stopping in with folks to share their stories. Joel was a superb guide, giving us a run down on the natural history of the area as well as stories of residents along the shore. We spent the afternoon being offered homemade blueberry wine, moose stew, and Finnish chocolate and listening to folks talk about the arcs of their lives with this lake.

We were reluctant to leave after our wonderful time at NSA but, as always, had many more miles to cover. After packing up the stroller in our usual routine, we ran to Rabbit Blanket Lake Campground, our first of four days spent in Lake Superior Provincial Park. From Rabbit Blanket we were planning on spending a night near Coldwater River, a beautiful spot on the Coastal Hiking Trail which runs through the park. Right after cleaning up camp that morning, we were wheeling away Rig and unfortunately snapped off the front wheel. Apparently after six weeks of running, Rig got tired too. After some initial panic we were helped by a kind and patient maintenance worker. It turns out that the quick release bolt that holds the front wheel to the stroller had finally been met with too much stress and broke in half. We luckily got a fresh bolt on Rig and headed out for the day, keeping a close eye on our recently injured friend. That day officially marked our latest start yet as we rolled out of camp at 4:30 in the afternoon. Rig has held up so well the first half of our trip, but can he withstand the rest of it?

We got an especially early start the morning at Coldwater Creek because we wanted to reach Agawa Bay Campground with plenty of time to spare. Our intentions were good but we were once again delayed on the road by a finicky Rig. It was our third flat tire of our trip. This time, however, it wasn’t raining. We fixed the flat and, after coming to a tenuous truce with Rig, headed to Agawa Bay.

The next day at Agawa Bay was very restful as we made heaps of pancakes, stretched our tired muscles, and spent some solid beach time reading and writing. Eventually Joel’s partner, Carol, the head naturalist at Lake Superior Provincial Park, stopped by to say hello and take us to the pictographs at Agawa Rock. It was a treat to have her share her extensive knowledge about the history of the area. She dropped us back at our campsite along with some gratefully-received veggies and cherries. Our trip would not be possible without the help and generosity of folks like Joel, Carol, Dave, and all the others that we were introduced to during our stay in Wawa.

We bid farewell to the wide expanse of beach at Agawa Bay to head further south and, eventually, out of Lake Superior Provincial Park. We were giddy to get our resting place for the night- it was a place we were looking forward to ever since driving around the lake and scouting out the route. We made it to our secret and hidden away campsite off a small nondescript sand road. Once there we made a filling dinner and watched the sunset over the water undergird the overhanging clouds in a swath of crinkled pink.

The next morning we were met, once again, with rain. It’s a wet summer. We packed up camp but couldn’t quite get the gumption to head out to run 20 miles in the rain. We sat under our tarp and delayed the inevitable with hands of Rummy. The rain that scoured the surface of the lake died down to a soft dimpling. We swallowed hard and headed out on the highway. We thought we had said goodbye to most of the storm but as the day progressed, the skies darkened. Eventually we rounded a curve and saw the front of the storm rapidly advancing. The tops of trees bent under the strength of the wind as a sheet of rain came and pushed us off the road. We took shelter under a copse of firs and waited out the worst of it. Once it cleared up a bit, we ran the rest of the way to Pancake Bay Provincial Park in our raingear.

From our spot on Pancake Bay we can almost see the city of Sault Ste. Marie which means another international border crossing. We’re excited to head back into the United States as it means we’ve made it back to the south shore, for which we turn ourselves west, a bearing we’ll hold until we make it back home. 

“You guys should get some rollerblades or something”

Week Five: Rossport, ON to Pukaskwa National Park

Week five has been a week of rest (mostly). We have been looking forward to this stretch of the north shore for quite some time. This region of Ontario is home to Hattie Cove in Pukaskwa National Park, one of Allissa’s favorite spots on the lake. An elaborate grouping of bays, inlets and jagged shoreline, this park has been a calm spot to rest our legs for a couple of days.

Before making it to Hattie Cove we started our week running from Rainbow Falls Provincial Park to Terrace Bay. We had a brief layover in the small town of Schreiber to visit a recommended burger spot called the Golden Rail. We gorged on a dense lunch of cheeseburgers and onion rings which our bodies took surprisingly well as finished the rest of the day. That evening we watched the fog roll in off the lake from our camp on the beach. We cooked dinner and spent time in conversation with a fellow Northland College alum named Shawn who just happened to be staying on the beach the same night as us. Shawn is spending a few weeks biking around the lake. We talked about past travels and what it’s like to eat the same few meals for months at a time.

We woke to a fog-shrouded beach the next morning and with that fog seemed to have settled in a bit of group melancholy. From time to time all of the sweat and energy that we pour into the road seems to add up and our travels can feel overwhelming. We slow down in these moments. On that morning in particular we sat and drank coffee. And then we drank some more coffee. And then, after getting a very late start, decided to clump two of our days together to have our longest run yet. Properly rested and caffeinated, we found that our extra effort was well worth the additional day of rest that we created for ourselves at Neys Provincial Park. That section of the road, strewn with massive rolling hills and beautiful inland lakes, also turned out to be one of our most scenic yet.

We made it to Neys in the dark that evening and were promptly greeted by the most impressive storm of the trip yet. Without much communication we snapped to action, setting up camp in a fluid but hastened manner. We spent the next two days in Neys wandering its litany of trails and trying to stay warm despite periodic spits of rain. We also had a scare when our food bags went missing one morning. Unfortunately the park doesn’t offer bear-proof food storage for those without vehicles, so we had decided to hang our food in a low-trafficked bathroom for the evening. We woke and walked to grab our food one morning only to find an empty bathroom. We, again, quickly jumped to action and began walking the grounds until we found two young maintenance workers who had taken the bags. Upon hearing our story the two quietly stated, “Yeah, we didn’t know what was going on.” Maybe we’ll leave a note next time. The highlight of our time in Neys was basking in the ambience of the summer solstice and full moon.

As we started running again we appreciated our rest days in a new way, traversing a constant stream of hills that day. It may not have been as long as our previous travel day but our calves burned at the end of it. We turned off of our well-known travel companion, Highway 17, to detour down through Heron Bay and Pic River in order to make it to Pukaskwa. As we passed through these small towns we were stopped by more people than we have been at any other point in our journey. Everyone was stopping us to ask what we were doing, wish us well and encourage us to find some sets of rollerblades. Oh, and also to give us a brief ride passed a more-than-curious mother bear and her two cubs.

We spent two full rest days at Hattie Cove, during the second of which Andy’s parents visited us. They refueled us with all sorts of treats and resupplied us with our highly-anticipated Camp Chow, a generous donation from Sarah Hamilton, which will provide us with lunches for the rest of our journey. We will be veering away from the lake for the next week as Highway 17 covers its most inland stretch. While everyday seems to hold something new and exciting for us we are already looking forward to seeing the lake again once we reach its shores in Wawa. The rest from this week has sunk into our bodies in a necessary way. We haven’t offered ourselves this kind of rest yet and won’t see it again until much further into Michigan. The halfway-mark of our journey is near and our bodies have settled into a rhythm we couldn’t have imagined before beginning.

 

“If you see the bear, don’t run, just walk by, he’ll be busy with the Cookies ‘N Cream”

Week Four: Thunder Bay to Rossport, ON

The end of another week on the road marks the completion of the fourth week of this expedition, a full lunar cycle, and an almost dizzying recognition of how much time has passed and how much distance we have covered. We have traveled one-third of the circumnavigation route. This week also marks a significant milestone – we have shifted our feet and direction from north to east. For us, because we are so familiar with the lake and land from the perspective of Wisconsin’s south shore, it can be disorienting to face the lake with east and west reversed.

We headed out of Thunder Bay in the company of a brief, torrential downpour, and faced on-and-off precipitation as we headed to the Thunder Bay International Hostel outside of the city. Leaving the hostel the next day, we met a fellow traveler who is walking across Canada from the westernmost point to the easternmost. Our new friend Steve explained to us that walking across Canada is a bucket list item not only for him but for a surprisingly large amount of Canadians. We ended up camping together at the same rest area about twenty miles down the road, and got the chance to hear his story about grizzlies in the mountains, winds on the plains, and why he started his journey. It seems that the longer we three runners are on the road, the more vagabonds and travelers we encounter.

From the rest area, we continued north on ever-present Highway 17 to Wolf River Campground, located right on the Wolf River. Even though this was the middle of a series of days away from the lake, we are still moving through the same watershed. The cold, clear waters of the river flow out to Lake Superior, a visual reminder of the power of water to connect. We spent a rejuvenating rest day at our spot on the river battling bugs and impending drizzle, both of which too often seem to be the norm. Our new friend Caroline from Thunder Bay also surprised us at camp and drove us up to Ouimet Canyon, a side trip we wouldn’t have been able to take without her help.

The next city on the map was Nipigon, a friendly town of about 1,600 people.  We ran some errands – grabbing groceries, mailing a water sample, eating lunch, buying white gas – and then continued on to our destination for the night, Ruby Lake Provincial Park. The most that our research could tell us about Ruby Lake was that it is a non-operating park. We assumed Ruby Lake had been recently closed. Whoops, turns out it is a brand new park still in development. The directions given to us by a helpful woman at the Nipigon visitor’s center were to look for a really nice, “million-dollar road” going off into the woods. Confident that we would find it, we set off from Nipigon in the late afternoon to run what we thought would be eight more miles to Ruby Lake, eyes peeled for the unlabeled road. We kept running, and running, and running, and finally walking. No million dollar road. Huh. Ruby Lake, we’ll find you someday. Undeterred, we continued on to the Jackfish River and instead camped under the stark and somber shadow of gigantic cliffs. Even though we weren’t planning on running that far, it’s satisfying to know that our legs can carry us (and Rig) thirty miles in one day.

It’s June in Canada, and the bugs are a steady constant. Often the setting sun correlates directly with increased mosquito activity. Cooking dinner by the Jackfish River that night must have seemed hilarious from an outside perspective as we paced around and constantly swatted zipping and swarming bugs. That night by the cliffs also usefully let us know that we are definitely in bear territory. We learned this not only from ample bear scat around us but also by the sounds of the nearby creatures themselves as we got cozy in our tent for the night. We are being as cautious as possible, hanging our food in bear bags from trees at night, and during the day often seeing a bear scramble up the ditch as we run past on the shoulder.

Through previous contacts we had made in Thunder Bay around the microplastics samples we are gathering as part of this expedition, we connected with Chuck and Daniele Hutterli. On the way to their house, we passed by Kama Bay – the northernmost point on the lake. Another milestone in our circumnavigation! We spent some time at the overlook making coffee and eating breakfast, and packed up Rig just as it began to rain… again. It didn’t abate the entire afternoon. Thoroughly soggy and a bit chilly, we kept plugging away at the miles, buoyed by Chuck’s offer to cook us dinner when we arrived. At a rest area where we took shelter under a spruce for a few minutes, a well-meaning maintenance worker insisted we take the three giant, heavy duty garbage bags he offered us with instructions to make rain ponchos out of them. He wouldn’t take no for an answer, so we strapped the bags to our stroller and, like we always do, kept running. Wet and tired, we made it to their house where we were warmly welcomed by Chuck and Daniele who cooked us a delicious dinner, answering our questions about life on the lake as well as the plastic pollution on their beach. Since a train derailment eight years ago, there have been pre-production plastic pieces called nurdles washing up on their beach. We were excited to learn more about the organizing and advocacy that Chuck has been doing around the nurdles. Even though the train derailment was eight years ago, the plastic continues to wash up onto the shore. (We’ll post a longer conversation with Chuck in a couple weeks).

As we’ve been warned repeatedly by several people we’ve met, there are big hills ahead. It’s true – we are just beginning the hilliest section of the trip, meaning we are subject to the whims of million-year-old magma as well as the relentless perseverance of glaciers ten thousand years ago. We’re getting good at doggedly striding up and down miles of steep hills to breathtaking views of the cerulean waters and curving shoreline. Because we travel this route on foot and with a stroller, we are also subject to the path that modern construction has carved out of this landscape. We ponder often throughout this pilgrimage of ours how this highway is not meant for pedestrians. Navigating one-lane bridge closures and other various construction zones only serves to cement this fact.

On the way to the next town of Rossport at the top of one of the biggest hills yet, Caver’s Hill, we were nearly to the top when a construction worker warned us that they would be blasting soon. As our anxiety levels increased slightly, we began running as fast as we could to the top of the hill to escape the dynamite zone. We made it safely through just as the line of cars waiting for the blasting began to stretch down the other side of the hill. At the top, we chatted for a while with a bicycle tourist from Maine also circumnavigating the lake, and got warned by a couple from Minnesota about a bear ahead. This bear had become notorious to us by now, as both Chuck and that well-meaning maintenance worker at the rest area had briefed us on the current scenario. About a week ago, a Cookies ‘N Cream semi carrying a load of cookie dough caught on fire going down Caver’s Hill. The mess was cleaned up, but there was still cookie dough burnt onto the highway, attracting some large and furry lingerers. Sure enough, on our way down, we saw the scorched highway and just across the ditch, there was the cookie-addicted bear. We passed safely on the other side of the road, went up and down another memorable climb, and after finding a vein of amethyst in the bedrock and grabbing a couple small souvenirs, we made it to Rossport. Until the sea lamprey made its way through the St. Lawrence Seaway and into Lake Superior, Rossport was a fishing village. Now that the invasive species has decreased the fish population, the little town serves as a tourist spot and an access point to explore the myriad islands you can see from the shore. We picked up another resupply box and spent some quality time swimming and lounging at the beach before heading out for the last three miles to Rainbow Falls Provincial Park. With a rest day at Rainbow Falls, and a few more coming up quite quickly, for once we are pleased rather than disgruntled at our former selves for the plans we made for our future selves.

The past week feels packed to the brim. With both the summer solstice and the full moon right around the corner, we can feel the energy of the long-lit days. The summer is sinking in.

 

 

"Not many people get to see this"

Week Three: Grand Marais, MN to Thunder Bay, ON

These are the facts: We ran from Grand Marais, Minnesota to Thunder Bay, Ontario. Our legs still hurt but we’re getting stronger.

We were sent off from our rest day in Grand Marais with donuts. Yay! We were also sent off with rolling booms of thunder and pecking rain. Boo! Though the day was cold and wet, the road was gentle and flat on our way to Judge Magney State Park. What we could see over the lake was a play of light and dark, of storm fronts and blue skies peppered with clouds. Underneath that lay Grand Marais, now far in the distance, nestled at the foot of the receding saw-toothed hills of the north shore.

Here is another fact: Rig has had two flats. Both when it is raining. We now believe it to be a Foundational Law of the Universe that Rig will only get a flat when it is raining. Thanks, Rig. We still love you. On the note of anthropomorphizing inanimate objects, we believe our GPS running watch has a personality. We are looking to name it soon. If you have any ideas, drop them in the comments section below. 

From Judge Magney we headed to the Grand Portage Marina and RV Park for what would be our last night in the United States until our entrance into Michigan. We fixated on the idea of swimming in the Grand Portage Lodge and Casino’s pool that the website said campground guests could use for free. We’ve found that to get through a long running day our minds tend to fixate something that will motivate us. Sometimes it’s mac and cheese. Sometimes it’s chocolate. Sometimes it’s a pool.

Here is a sad fact: the pool is still under construction! To console our broken hearts we ate french fries and drank free soda while we watched folks drop coins into boisterous slot machines. After that we walked down to the campground office to ask the campground manager, Tommy, if we could have a conversation and get his story. On a side note we believe it to be a sign of good character if someone is known mostly by their nickname. Tommy, aka Tomcat, is one such person. He told us that we could catch him the next day for a chat.

We woke up in Grand Portage and took the morning to do a handful of errands. We mailed off our first two water samples to Adventurers and Scientists for Conservation. We also shipped off some postcards to our loving supporters. In between tasks we would pop into the campground and try to catch Tommy but he was always understandably busy. Eventually we decided we had to pack up and head out for the day. Just about when were ready to leave Tommy pulled up and instead of recording an interview, offered to take us to the Little Spirit Cedar Tree (also commonly known as the Witch Tree). He mentioned that to visit the ancient tree you have to be accompanied by a member of the Grand Portage band of Lake Superior Chippewa. He remarked that it was a sight not many people get to see. After a short drive then a short walk we came to the shore where we could see a gnarled and small tree growing from the rock. Of course, seeing the sacred tree was a somber and powerful moment.

Being bolstered by that experience, and after thanking Tommy, we went back to the campsite to start running.

The first half of our run for the day was in the United States, but at some point we would have to cross the border into Canada. We wondered how we would look running up to the border station with dozens of cameras pointed at us. It’s funny, international borders are so arbitrary; they feel so obviously made up. They do, however, have very real effects on people’s lives and wellbeing. We crossed the border on foot with no problems. Like none. They didn’t even ask us what was in the stroller. Ok. Cool with us. International borders seem to hold some sway over the geography of the land as well; as soon as we crossed into Canada the landscape became full of long and flat-topped bluffs.

After crossing the border we started to run to our campsite for the night. We’re discovering that part of this trip is dealing with the notes that our past selves left us. Before we started running we drove around the lake to scope out the route and drop off food resupply boxes. We took notes that at the time we believed would help. But now, when looking for a place to camp or a good spot to get water, we’re stuck deciphering such cryptic messages as “Shack. Left side of road.” Or “Mile marker 139. 18 miles.” This is to say we couldn’t find where we were originally intending to camp for our first night in Canada. As the sun started to fade we were lucky enough to find both water to filter and an improvised campsite at the last minute. Though it was completely accidental we were pleased to find our spot for the night was on the edge of a wide field that was crowned by a row of mountains. Above them hung the thin rib of a new crescent moon.  

We started the next day with our earliest start time yet, which isn’t saying much because we are horrendously bad at getting out of camp at a reasonable time. After around 16 miles of running we finally reached the edge of Thunder Bay and started to walk through the city to get to our friend’s house for the night. Thunder Bay is a very long city. It is also intensely industrial and not very pedestrian friendly. We have discovered that there are different kinds of walking. There is walking one does to get from Point A to Point B. Then there is the walking one does so they don’t sit down and devolve into a puddle of tired and hungry tears. We were doing the former. And the latter. Eventually we were warmly welcomed into our friend, Caroline’s, apartment. There we spent a rest day, took another water sample, ate some Finnish pancakes, and geared up to once again turn our eyes north and east along the shore.

Here is one last fact: Thunder Bay used to be two separate cities, Port Arthur and Fort William. They amalgamated into one larger city more than 40 years ago. Neat-o!

 

 

"Great day for a training run!"

Week Two: Duluth to Grand Marais, MN

It was foggy and rainy the day we left Duluth. As we headed out of the city and started our way up Highway 61 we were passed by a woman on a bicycle who exclaimed, “Great day for a training run!” If only she knew what was ahead. The 113 miles of the North Shore between Duluth and Grand Marais have been good to us, albeit foggy, rainy and windy. We’ve been blessed with a lot of hospitality all the way up this end of the lake. As we made it to the end of our first day from Duluth we were surprised to have some of Andy’s family friends reach out to us with a warm and dry camper to stay in just a few miles north of where we were planning on camping that night.  

Further up the shore we camped out at Gooseberry Falls, which ended up being one of the few clear nights we’ve had this week. After making good time on the road to Gooseberry we were able to unpack our trusty stroller, Rig, and ramble through the park. We made our way down to the shore to ice our legs before hiking up to sit and ponder the beauty of the falls. That night we had the opportunity to star gaze, something we haven’t been able to do much of due to cloud cover and exhaustion.

Several weeks prior to our time on the North Shore, we were contacted by a family living near Tettegouche State Park who offered us a place to rest our legs. We had no idea what sort of kindness and generosity we would get to experience during our two days with the Swansons. We spent a stormy rest day with them drinking home-roasted coffee, hunting for agates and hanging out with their five engaging kids. We left their beautiful home well-rested and well-fed.

Our good friends John and Andrea caught up with us thirteen miles down the road. John joined us for our last six miles that day as Andrea traveled ahead to meet us at Temperance River State Park. Despite another rainy evening we feasted on kim chi, dilly beans and foods we wouldn’t otherwise be eating. John’s fresh legs paced us to Cascade River State Park the next day while we happily lagged behind.  

The last day of our week found us running into Grand Marais, Andy’s hometown. We kept busy our second rest day of the week with a radio interview, catching up with friends and spending time with Andy’s family. Week two marks the end of our time in the United States until July. It’s been a treat to spend so much time with the friends and family up the shore but, we’re eager to see what Canada has in store for us.

"You're gonna look like frog people!"

Week One: Ashland to Duluth

Week one has come and gone. It’s funny, we’ve been talking about this journey for over a year and a half, yet it feels hard to believe that we already have seven days and 118 miles behind us. Our send-off felt ceremonial as it was full of friendly faces and feasting. We packed our cart in good company in the morning and then…started running. No matter how much planning goes into a trip, there comes the moment when all you have left to do is take the first step. For us, this meant the first step of the first mile out of 1,300. Our strides felt strange and giddy that morning because after a year and a half of planning, we were finally moving. The maps we pored over became the road in front of us.

We filled our bottles at the artesian well and took time to dip our hands in Chequamegon Bay, a place that has been home base for us. Our first leg of the day was filled with sunshine and support in the form of strawberry chia lemonade, rhubarb crisp, and an unexpected power totem (May the Floyd be with you). It was a new experience, to cover such a familiar route through a different form of movement.  We found that when we’re not in a car, signs stand comically out of proportion and landmarks wait patiently as we slowly plod towards them.

The last half of the day found us arriving in Bayfield, where we rested our legs in the company of our new friend, Cody. Sharing a meal and stories was the perfect end to our first day. Being on this expedition has opened many doors to profoundly powerful conversations with people we spend time with. We only hope this continues.

To wake up on day two of any expedition is almost as exciting as day one, but the road from Bayfield to Cornucopia kept us grounded as we climbed hills in the beating sun. Together we found out what it really takes to push a 100 lb. stroller up miles of incline. It’s super fun. After this trying time we felt we had developed a relationship with our Burley stroller. Consequently we have dubbed our blue, three-wheeled friend, Rig. When we were wrapping up camp for the night in Cornucopia we were pleasantly surprised by a visit from two adventurous and artistic folks. We talked about adventure, ideas of success and how running 1,300 miles may have us looking like frog-people.

Our other big challenge came but a few miles from the warmth and protection of a close friend’s house in Poplar. We spent most of the day keeping a wary eye on thunderclouds. While we appreciated their beauty as they rolled over hayfields and forests, we appreciated them much less so as when rain started to spit sideways. In our quickened pace through the thunderstorm we accidentally injured Rig. This was Rig’s first flat. Sorry Rig!

We’ve been taking our time throughout the first week - making sure to listen to and respond to our bodies as they take on all the miles. Mostly they say “Ouch! F&%k! Why?!” Even with all of our combined experience, planning a running expedition has involved a lot of best guesses. We’ve never undertaken something like this and we don’t personally know many other folks who have. We are writing the blueprints as we go. It’s reassuring to know that Rig hasn’t fallen apart yet and we’ve packed enough calories to get through the first leg. After 118 miles, we are well on our way. Now that we’ve made it to Duluth, we pivot North and East, saying goodbye to the sandy south shore to run along the harsher basalt coastline of Minnesota’s north shore.

This is just the beginning...

It may be cold and snowing outside in the frozen world of the Midwest right now but we've already been busy planning our run around Lake Superior for quite some time. It's hard for us to believe that this project has been something that we have been talking about since last January. What began as a collective daydream around a table at the South Shore Brewery in Ashland, WI has now become something much more real. The project has already seen many ideas come and go (and will probably continue to) but we are more than excited to finally be sharing our plans with all of you!

The impetus for this project has stemmed from our personal experiences with the lake. Whether any of us tried to or not, we have all fallen in love with it and our relationship to one another has grown through experiences and adventures around this body of water. This run is rooted in our desire to grow closer to it and to try and offer something back.

This blog will contain photographs, videos and a variety of words from our travels. We will be meeting with all sorts of folks who live around the lake to document stories of both growth and struggle at a personal and community level. By listening to these voices we hope to collect a powerful series of stories that showcase both what the lake means to those who experience it daily and to show what's at stake for those who may be confronting threats to the places they love, live in and rely on. Throughout the past several years we have learned from countless people who call Lake Superior their home, including farmers, professors, tribal members, chaplains, activists, musicians, artists, fellow students and community leaders. We hope to meet so many more.

For our next blog post we feel it necessary to acknowledge our privilege in the creation and execution of this project. Stay tuned!