ultrarunning

We Need to Clean This Up

In Conversation with Samuel Pegg

During our time in Thunder Bay, we met up with Samuel Pegg of Infosuperior, an environmental non-profit based at Lakehead University. Samuel had reached out to us prior to the run when he heard about the microplastics research we were planning. As we spent a rest day navigating the biggest city on the lake, he met up with us to talk more about microplastics issues as well as the work he does with Infosuperior. What follows is our edited conversation from that day.

So how long have you lived up by the lake, and what brought you here?

I myself have been here actually about five years – I used to live in Arizona of all places. Which is about as far away from water as you can get. But that’s one thing I missed, I missed the connection to the lake, I missed kayaking, I missed being somewhere that was green. And not unnaturally green. And that’s why I moved back here to Lakehead [University]. We have a program here for water resource science, and I enjoy doing that. I wanted to be back and looking at our precious water resources.

And now you live in Thunder Bay, the biggest city on the lake.

For myself, I’m used to Arizona, I’m used to Phoenix where cities are six million. Thunder Bay is 110,000. For me it’s a small town. I know the lake itself is so spread out and the communities are so spread out widely, but in a way that’s why Infosuperior is working to connect some of these communities to work together on some of these issues. I’m sure you all have seen that on your run so far, as to how big the lake actually is and how far some of these communities are from one another. They’re eight hour drives, let alone running.

So since moving back here five years ago, you’ve been at Lakehead. Can you tell us more about the studies and work you’ve been a part of with Infosuperior?

I started at the college here doing environmental technology. I’ve spent some time there involved with the organization, which works with areas of concern kind of like superfund sites in the US. There are actually areas of concern around the Great Lakes, and I got involved with that as a public advisory committee member. So Infosuperior is kind of developing out of this idea, which is basically historic contamination. [Instead of] ‘we need to clean up this, once we clean it up its done’, it’s more to try to bring together people who are interested in Lake Superior and the stories, connecting it to policy, education, research, and the social aspects that go together with environmental cleanup. Trying to connect people around the lake, and treasure and share the lake, preserve it.

Have there been challenges with this work at Infosuperior?

Yeah, there are always challenges no matter what. For the most part people are excited and interested for it. Our office is in a weird position, in the sense where we represent the public interest and serve the public advisory committee, but we also have the challenge in that we are also funded by the government. So we have to play the role of making sure the public has their voice while kind of having the government message of ‘cleaning up’; so we do get caught sometimes in between. Making sure there is a great public voice, and then the government is [also] able to have their message, and that’s how I see our organization, making sure everyone gets a voice, gets a message, and trying to foster that communication. Because I think communication is the most important thing. And that’s kind of why we have Infosuperior, to foster that communication on the issues that are challenging. Someone somewhere else may have a solution or at least discuss possible solutions.

What are you most concerned about, in terms of the future of the lake?

One of the biggest challenges we’ll face is climate change, and its different avenues and aspects too. Not just warming temperatures, but we’ll be facing rising water levels and increased precipitation, which will require us to build more infrastructure because we have all kinds of decaying and decrepit infrastructure. So that’s an aspect of climate change that’s not really talked about, but I think these connected issues are gonna be the problem, or what’s gonna be the challenge for people to work on. And I think it’s gonna be a big challenge. I think there’s the capacity, and I think people are going to work towards it, but you have to make sure people don’t get burned out. I think people are up for it but it’s that transition between being up for it, and where we need to go. And how much pressure we actually put on it. Once our backs are up to the wall humans can do great things.

Right now Thunder Bay is working on a climate adaptation strategy, and putting in a plan for it. What the timeline is it’s hard to say. Because the more pressure we feel and the more connected we feel to it as an issue, the more likely we are to work on it. If we don’t see it, well it’s not that big of a problem, then we don’t continue to work on it. But if we see the impacts of it, like how Duluth had significant flooding a few years ago… storm water management plans are becoming easier to connect to when people say, wait a minute, we should do something about that. That’s why I think work like this is great because it’s getting people to connect to the issues they need to, and actually being able to work on them. And it’s hard to do with these climate change issues because often times you don’t see the direct impact of climate change, because it happens on a global scale.

So what does climate change look like regionally to you?

You can say climate change will be rising sea levels, but if you tell someone your dock will be underwater in five years, then they can make an easier connection because then it becomes local, it becomes personal to them rather than something that’s a global issue. Most people are like, I don’t care what happens halfway around the world, but once you connect it to them and their dock they start to care a little more. And I think that’ll be the biggest challenge and the biggest connection and the way to go forward, is connecting it to the local as well as the global.

To end on a lighter note, what’s your favorite part about living up by the lake?

The summers. I love it. The midnight sun, it stays light, you can go out at nine or ten o’clock at night. I’ve got a little kayak and I just throw it into the lake and do a little paddling. It’s great to be out at ten in the evening, enjoying the lake. Winters not so much, but the summers are perfect.

"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.

White and in the Woods

There is usually a strange sort of recalibration that comes after a period of disconnection from cell reception and the daily news. It can be jarring to be instantly reminded of all of the other lives and struggles that go on without your knowing. We were met with heavy news the other day when we briefly reconnected for the first time in a while. At the top of our feed was the grave news of the deaths of both Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, two black men gunned down by police officers. This set us on the task of reflecting on our journey and our responsibility to remain connected to the struggle against systems of oppression.

Reconcile

Since hearing the news of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile we have had to reconcile the fact that we are far away, both physically and in our ability to be up to date on what is happening in our communities and around the country. We set out to run around Lake Superior in order to more intimately connect with a place that we love. We’ve had the privilege to invest nearly all of our time and energy into this journey and the work that we’re trying to accomplish with it. Part of reconciling our feelings is that we know we’re missing opportunities to fight against police brutality and engage in anti-racist work back home.

Re-evaluate

What is the importance of our journey? What are we trying to accomplish? How can we as white people in the woods engage in anti-racist work? These are the questions that we have asked ourselves after being reminded of the constant violence against people of color in a broken system. No matter how far away we may feel in the woods, no matter how easy it is to tune out the woes of the world in this space, we must realize how entrenched we all are in these violent systems of oppression. It would be easy to turn our heads away from the news of Philando Castile and Alton Sterling. It would be easy to not talk about these things with the people we meet on the road or over a campfire. But these typically recreational spaces, as they are, have the means to transform us and thus transform our understanding of systems of racism and state violence. Hiking trails, beaches and campgrounds are often seen as idyllic separations from the rest of life. While we don’t want to negate that wilderness can be a necessary place of healing, and has been for us, we also want to acknowledge that we have the power to reconstruct these spaces to hold critical conversation.

Responsibility

After reconciling our circumstance in the heart of our journey and re-evaluating our place in the system, what do we do from here? At first, as white people in the woods without internet access, it feels disheartening to feel so far away and so incapable of showing up. But we’re not incapable. Our current circumstance may have limits but there’s a lot that we can do and we have an undeniable responsibility to do it. We can talk about systems of violence, death and oppression with the people we meet even when it feels uncomfortable. We still can’t show up physically but we can send solidarity and support from where we are through social media, donations and writing. Racism is a white person problem and we have a responsibility to educate ourselves and those close to us. We have a responsibility to stand in solidarity with Black life.

 

With love,

Our Shores

“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. 

"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!

 

 

The Whole Big Quilt

In Conversation With Chris Duke

Before we left Ashland on foot, we drove down to Mason, WI to talk with local farmer Chris Duke at Great Oak Farm. We arrived at the farm to find him in the field doing what most farmers in northern Wisconsin are doing mid-May, prepping the soil for new plants to finally get into thawed ground. Chris took some time out of his afternoon to sit down and talk with us over lunch about kids, quilts and organic farming in the Chequamegon Bay region of Lake Superior. Below is our edited conversation from that afternoon.

What originally brought you to the area?

What brought me here originally is that I was far away from my parents in West Virginia. It was a 24 hour drive so there was not gonna be any, like, swinging in for the weekend. What really brought me here was Northland College and all the woods that were around. It’s funny because the lake is such an important part of a lot of people grow up around here, the lake is really key. For me growing up in West Virginia I never really connected with water, I always liked woods. It took me a little to get used to it. I’m definitely more of a woods connection. But I feel like the lake is good, it puts an extra sort of burden on the people that live in this region, not only as stewards of the woods, but also stewards of the watersheds that come in the form of this big lake. It’s a whole lot of freshwater and we’re in charge of it whether we like it or not. I think that part’s pretty cool. That’s what brought me. And winter. I was excited about winter. In West Virginia it’s like mud season, winter is mud season. You get some snow and it will be awesome for like half a day then it will start melting and just be gross and wet and muddy. I was excited to have some snow.

I feel like I hardly ever hear anyone say that, that they want to be up here for the winter.

I feel like if you don’t like winter you’re in the wrong place. Getting into farming was getting an internship during Northland at Tom Galazen’s. That’s what really turned the light bulb on for me. I used to think I was going to be a farmer when I retired because all the farmers I knew when I was a kid were as old as the wheel. Farming is what you do when you retire. When I did that internship at Tom’s I started learning more about food, the way it was grown and I realized, man if we’re gonna really feed ourselves we’re gonna have to do it before people are retired because there’s a lot of work to do.

So that’s what kept you here?

I feel like I put down roots. I’m a Cancer so I like home. That’s my thing. I feel like this place is so fertile for putting down roots. The community is such a fertile ground for making great connections and meeting people. I feel like that’s what really nurtured that connection. I’d be curious to hear if that community is the same around the watershed of the lake. Or if it’s something more just like a Chequemagon thing or more of a south shore thing. That’s what kept me here.

How has your sense of home changed as you’ve established your role as a farmer in the area?

When I first started out, this farm was kind of a quilt and I was one piece of it, but it all is made up of many parts. And now I feel like the farm is more a quilt in our larger community and it’s just one square, one design in the whole big quilt. It’s all sewn together, if any one piece came out, it’d be weird. That’s when I feel like you start to get roots, when things start to get stitched in place. I feel really humbled to be able to grow food for people. That’s kind of a sacred thing. I feel all the people that live here, we’re all stewards of this land and by default, the water. I feel that farmers especially we’re directly, we’re like managing some land with our hands, intentionally. As farmers, there’s even more weight to do a good job. If there are farmers that are spraying a lot of chemical and doing that kind of stuff I like to think in my heart, it’s not really what they want to do but it helps pay the bills and it’s not an easy thing to do. I feel like as an organic farmer, it’s one more level of stewardship, of fitting into the bigger puzzle. I’m pretty pumped. We’re at the top of two watersheds, it feels good to be taking care of a piece of land that’s, you know, kind of got impacts to some other places. It’s just one piece of land, it’s one piece in the quilt.

Do you see kids getting excited about the same things, like that sense of community getting instilled?

Yeah, yeah, it’s funny we had a group of kids that came out two weeks ago, those Washburn second graders. Right after that I got an email from another school group that was like, we’d like to book the next two Tuesdays. I was like, “Whoooa, I’d love to but I can’t do that, you know, I got stuff to do, it’s go time.” It was really cool to see, not only the kids that come out are excited about it, but get them excited about the connection with the dirt, that food doesn’t come from the supermarket, it comes from the ground and how it was raised is important. They helped plant corn seeds for transplants. One of them asked, “Why aren’t these corn seeds pink?” I was like, “Good question. This is an organic farm, we don’t use chemical agents we use biological stuff. That pink coating is a fungicide that people put on the corn so it doesn’t rot in the ground.” Then we talked about since this is an organic farm we don’t use the fungicide but we do use this other stuff which is like a bunch of tiny little good guys and we put it in the salt shaker and we start our corn and then we sprinkle this powder of good guys in there and then all these little bacteria that colonize the corn and prevent these bad guys from rotting the corn.

It was really cool to be able to make that connection to what we do and how we do it. I think it was good that kid asked that question. Having them come out is a great way to have them get excited. They’re just like us, if something sounds fun we’re likely to give it a shot and if it doesn’t sound like fun we don’t wanna do it. It’s not just for retired people, it’s for everybody. Everybody eats, so let’s all grow some food. I think that’s why with farming the average age is so high now. I think kids see that and they’re like, “Dude, that’s not fun. I see how hard my parents work, my mom and my dad, all these nasty chemicals and how bad off the animals are.” If we can show kids it can be fun, then we’re off to a good start.

One of the kids came out and we were talking about the germination chamber I was like, “Okay, so put those baby seeds in there and it’s like an incubator, it’s a place where a little hen sits on her eggs to keep them warm at just the right temp and humidity to hatch. We do that with our plants too just the right temperature and humidity so they sprout.” I was kind of quizzing them, “Okay, so what are the two things that plants need?” One of the kids said moisture. I said, “What’s the other?” I was waiting for somebody to say ‘temperature’ and one kid said, “love!” I was like, “Whoa, you’re exactly right!” They need three things moisture, love and temperature! It’s cool when they come out and get those connections.

What are some challenges to living and farming in the Chequamegon Bay area?

When you think about up here you don’t think about northern Wisconsin being any bread basket of food production. There’s Iowa, and those places are way better for growing food, but our CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) goes for 30 or 32 weeks. That’s longer than CSAs in Iowa and they got the growing season to do it. There’s even CSAs downstate that pride themselves on running for 20 weeks.

The seasons, even though it’s a challenge, it gives us a break. We’re still growing a lot of stuff in high tunnels and greenhouses and stuff through the winter.I feel like that helps us get into the more natural cycle of things. It’s disturbance and rest. If you farm down south you can farm all year round, it would be constant disturbance, it would be hard to time find to rest. Up here you get a naturally imposed break time. It’s down time and pretty much all you’re going to do is cut spinach. It’s a limitation but it’s one of those good limitations that stops us from being too human. It puts us in our place. We’re just here for the ride.

"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.

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, Refuse

In Conversation with Dr. Lorena Rios Mendoza

A couple of days before we started our journey, we sat down with Lorena Rios Mendoza to have a conversation about the state of microplastic pollution in the Great Lakes. Lorena is an Assistant Professor of Chemistry at the University of Wisconsin Superior. Her career in researching plastic began in California in 2003. In the following years she visited and sampled from what is known as the “Great Pacific Garbage Patch” which she described to us as “miles and miles and miles of garbage.” She sat us down and played us a video from her time of study there. She wasn’t exaggerating. The video showed an incomprehensible slurry of garbage, both large and tiny, floating just beneath the surface. 

Since we first reached out to her, Lorena has been an enthusiastic fan of our journey and a tireless voice in the raising of awareness around issues of plastic pollution. If she’s not busy teaching classes at UW-Superior she is hard at work on the Great Lakes furthering the depth of her research. She welcomed us into her office and lab to show photos, samples, and videos of her life’s work. What follows is an edited transcript of the conversation we had with Lorena.

 

What’s the comparison between what you’re seeing in the ocean and in the Great Lakes?

In 2010 I moved from California to Wisconsin and I said “Hey, you have water here.” The lake is like an ocean, it is so huge! Then I decided to collect samples and I went with Sherri Mason with New York with Fredonia and the Five Gyres Institute from Long Beach. We went to collect in 2012 for the first time in the Great Lakes.

In the ocean you can see big fragments of the plastic and here in the [Great] Lakes you can find like whole plastic bottles, plastic bags. But the fragments are very small, very tiny, smaller than what I found in the ocean. Plastic is not biodegradable, it just has photodegradation which means the UV is hitting the plastic and making it harder and easier to break into small pieces…The plastic has electrostatic attraction and this is why you can find very small pieces together with a lot of different sizes.

How are these microplastics problematic as they move through the ecosystem?

Number one the plastic is a huge synthetic polymer that cannot interact with the cell membrane because the molecular weight is so huge. The people were thinking that this is inert and it’s ok. But now that this is in smaller sizes it can easily be confused for food. The plastic is floating, which means it is very close to the density of the water of the lake. This is what we found with polyethylene and polypropylene because the density is kind of the same. They are floating, they are mimicking the natural food and then the organisms eat it. This is one problem because they are eating fake food and there is no nutrition.

The second is that we found in 2004-2005 that plastic can absorb toxic compounds, persistent organic pollutants. And these toxic compounds can produce cancer and endocrine disruption and too many things. And then these are working like a sponge, cleaning and concentrating a very high concentration of these toxic compounds and when the fish eat it, this plastic with the toxic compounds, [they] can damage their system. The problem is in the fish, in the endocrine system of the fish, and when we eat it the problem is with us. But how are we cleaning the plastic from the lake? How can we say to the fish, “this is plastic, don’t eat it?”

You’ve said that plastic should really be classified as a hazardous waste. Can you speak more to that?

We need to start changing the behavior in the people, how they see the plastic. Because they have taken the plastic and later don’t see it disappear. But normally the people not living close to the ocean or the lake don’t see this problem. But if you’re living in California or Asia you can see that this is a huge problem. And what is another situation with this? The plastic is so cheap and then we have a problem that we use it just one time and the plastic ends up in the oceans. We have plastic bags in the groceries. People are thinking it’s mandatory to use it just because it’s free. But you know, it’s not free. We pay. It’s very expensive later. I think this is why we need to classify it like other really bad products. And in that way, if you start to put a price on the plastic, people will not keep using it the same way. The people use just one product, one plastic bag. But if they need to pay five cents or fifty cents, forget it, they won’t use it.

There are young people, like you, that say “how can we live without it?” I can understand it because you grew up with it. In my time was the transition between glass and plastic. There was resistance to the change. We said “no way, the plastic is so horrible.” But you can see now that the plastic looks just like glass. It’s so beautiful. I love it, honestly. You can find it in whatever shape you want and it is so useful. But it is bad.

As members of the Lake Superior Watershed, how can we move forward on this issue?

The most important thing moving forward is the communication, to tell to the people that the plastic is not my friend. We totally need to stop using plastic like we are using it now. In school they teach you the three R’s: Reuse, Recycle, Reduce, but I say we need to start with Refuse. What happens when you’re at Subway? You ask them for your sandwich and then what do they do? Automatically, they give you a plastic bag. And then you walk and sit at the table and how long do you use this plastic bag? Less than five minutes. And then you can find it in the ocean and it will stay longer than 40 years like that. Just for five minutes. We need to start changing this. For me, the key are the children because they will listen to you.

You know this Lake [Superior] is kind of clean. It’s the cleanest. As you know, Lake Erie is the worst. This is horrible. Lake Erie is shallow and surrounded by a lot of people this is why we found a high concentration of plastic. Here in Lake Superior we didn’t find a lot. However… we found it. And this is the problem. Plastic is everywhere. We need to be careful because we are using the water. We are eating what comes from the water. We’re drinking this water. 

The Center of the Universe

In Conversation With Joy Schelble

In the week before we departed from Ashland to start running, we spent time in conversation with Joy Schelble, a woman who has been working with issues of food access and security in the Chequamegon Bay region for many years. We spent a bright and gorgeous morning sitting and talking in the Lake Superior Primary School Garden. Joy shared with us some details of the work she has been doing as well as some ideas of what it means to engage in your local food system. By reconnecting to our means of growing food we reconnect ourselves not only to healthier living and nutrition but also to our sense of place, justice and spiritual life. Joy worked for the federal food stamps program in Hurley, Wisconsin for five years before holding her current position as the Bad River 4-H Youth Development Coordinator on the Bad River Reservation in Northern Wisconsin. We wanted to share the following edited conversation, which includes Joy’s thoughts on love, gardening, institutionalized oppression, and living at the center of the universe.

Can you talk a little about the work you’ve been doing in the area and on the Bad River Reservation?

I’ve worked with federal food stamps for several years. I understood from early on that some of the barriers to eating healthy foods were really institutionalized oppression...we know brown-skinned people have higher rates of diabetes, obesity, heart disease, poverty. This is institutionalized oppression. This is intentional. We have to refuse that, and now is the time. I don’t want a world where the kids I know from Bad River are gonna die younger, are not gonna have opportunity for as much health as my own child. It just doesn’t make sense to me… I’ve always felt like gardening was a way for people to reconnect with their bodies, reconnect with the land and have a much more clear understanding of food as medicine.

We can see in this space, there’s magic in this space, there’s a deep and sort of language-less understanding of what it means to grow something and what it means to be part of a system that is natural and what it means to eat from there. We have to reclaim the spirit of what we’re talking about. This is not just nutrition, it’s not just, you know, the sustenance of drinking clean water. It’s life in its most spiritual form. That’s powerful.

It’s social justice, it’s spirit work. It’s fun, it’s food. I draw on many people’s wisdom, I consider myself a sort of conduit and less of a thinker myself. Vandana Shiva, who you know, she always said food is sacred but it’s as common as mud. We have to be in that space too. It’s not like food is so very special and we need to revere it and it’s sort of untouchable but it’s a real personal and daily relationship.

 What was it like to be welcomed into a community that you’re not originally a part of?

Ojibwe people have knowledge that we need to go forward here. They have lived here for a long, long time with no chemical inputs and no bottled water. There’s been a lifeway here that has been very successful… It’s funny to see that you come to your conclusions about your soil, your weather, your land and if you’re thoughtful and you’re learning as you go, you’re gonna come to the same conclusions that anybody ever has. Heugel beds sound innovative and they’re permaculture and they’re biodynamic and all these great hipster cool farmer things but it’s actually all old Indian stuff… As non-indigenous people our people that came here were like, we’re gonna start a brand new thing. We’re gonna discount the old thing and we’re gonna start a brand new thing and that makes us like middle-schoolers, that’s where we’re at. It’s great to be in a community that’s got some ancient wisdom still floating around.

What brought you North, to the lake, in the first place?

My partner and I moved here to step out of mainstream society and try to slow down and try and have every day a little bit in the woods. Now it turns out we live in the center of the universe because we live on Lake Superior with the world’s water supply at our feet and this really unique agricultural system that’s developing where there’s equity in the food system here.

How has living and working so close to the lake affected the way you live your life?

I am a much better person than I ever thought I would be. I’m calmer, I’m more content. Don’t know if I would have been as good of a mother had I not been here.

What was it like to work through the mining issue with this community? [Referring to community efforts against a recently proposed taconite mine.]

People can just come in here from across the world and subvert our lifeway. Wrap a bunch of language around it to make it sound benign but it’s actually genocide, like, that’s possible. The thing that pushed the mining company out wasn’t senators and it wasn’t politicians, it was love. It was love. That’s what did it. Because that confused them, they just didn’t understand it. When you got a bunch of people that need money, that need jobs, there’s a lot of stuff we need and we just don’t want it that way. That was an amazing experience…I had a couple of really, really, traumatic personal tragedies too, five years ago and strangely enough because of the mining issue revived me and helped me move through that and helped me heal.

Can you talk about your experiences while trying to organize with the community during that time?

The [mining] company thinks it was gonna unfold in the same way it unfolds the same way all over the country. You get some rage, some pushback. You pit neighbor against neighbor. You get the ‘jobs’ people. You get the hippies, then the battle blows out, then you get what you want… You can make change doing what you do where you’re at. You know en masse is not necessary. If I take a group of Native kids and Hurley kids and we collect onions together, there’s an act of justice in that. And that is what I could do. My friends did other things. Some people made art, some people did direct action, some people travelled with technology to document their journey, some people were storytellers. All of it fit and I think that was powerful for me because I thought activism was something else, I thought it was like a million people on the square kind of thing. It was incredible how also those forces that are driven only by profit were unable to get their claws into it. Because it might be someone in a jingle dress, or with fry bread at a county board meeting.

Any final thoughts?

Ojibwe people say this time was the time that was prophesized as a crossroads where humanity, all colors of humanity would come to this place where we would have to choose a charred path or a green path. I think we’re choosing the green path, I feel it… I was raised by parents who were like “we totally messed up the environment, oh my god you gotta do something” And I have. And now when I rally kids I’m like we’re doing it. I’m here at your side, it is our responsibility.