After yesterday’s long haul, it’s no surprise that we get off to a slow start—slow to rise, slow to pack up and slow to get going on the trail. We are both weary, and, for some reason, our feet are bearing the brunt of it. We are fighting through blisters and pain with each step until we are either numb to it or distracted.
Luckily, the warblers continue to provide some of that distraction. We hear chipping in the bushes and then are fortunate to spy first a Mourning Warbler with his beautiful black bib, and then a Canada, with his black necklace adorning his yellow chest. The birds are definitely here if you are patient and looking!
Today, more than the last several days, it is apparent that we are walking on private land whose owners have granted access so that the SHT can connect to public land. We are grateful that they have done so because it allows for this continuous appreciation of a natural area that is only briefly interrupted by gravel road.
Early on the trail, we pass through the Lake County Demonstration Forest. Apparently it has some well-maintained interpretive trails, but we don’t have the time to spare for a detour to see them. From the looks of it it’s a very healthy forest.
It’s another quiet day on the SHT as far as hiker traffic goes. The only people we encounter all day are two trail runners in their 60s who stop and chat briefly. They live nearby and belong to a running community that likes to run sections of the SHT. They ask about our plans and mention two important facts: first, there is good water ahead at Stewart Creek; second, there are moose droppings two miles ahead and it would be great to see a moose (from a safe distance).
They also mention that their friend recently set the FKT for running the SHT. He did it in 4 days and 9 hours, AND he’s 69 years old. The man even ran a few legs of the trail with him. Shortly thereafter, a young couple from out west broke that record.
A few miles after we part ways with the trail runners, we do, indeed, come across two moose prints in the mud and, a bit later, the aforementioned #2 droppings. Sadly, there’s no moose sighting to go with it.
We arrive at our first reliable water source for the day at Stewart River and decide to make a long break of it. We take off our shoes and cool our dawgs, soaking our throbbing feet in the cool water. It’ amazing what a few minutes of R&R for your feet can do to change your mindset and restore a positive outlook on life. Hiking is tough going some days; it definitely calls on all your resources and reserves at times to keep going.
Late in the morning, sounds of distant thunder hint at a coming storm, which eventually arrives. Luckily it’s a soft enough rain that we can hike with our pack covers but no raincoat. The forested path shelters us from much of the rain, and we are grateful to not have to add another layer.
When it comes time for lunch, once again, there is no obvious place to stop for a break—no picturesque vista and no convenient rock or log—so we simply stop in the middle of the path, pull out our chairs and eat right there.
There are so few people hiking or running that we are not too concerned about someone coming along, and in fact, this is exactly what happens. On the plus side, the rain seems to have ushered in some slightly cooler air and less humidity, so at least we are not sweating buckets like yesterday.
For about a half mile, the SHT becomes a road walk, first on gravel road and then onto Highway 2 before returning to the path. It is July 5, and one of the houses we pass on the road is fully decked out with American flags to celebrate Independence Day. Over the past couple of days, we have heard lots of fireworks at night, but this is our first visual sign of the holiday.
As we are walking, we realize that we recognize this stretch of road. Sure enough, in our short road walk, we are passed by several southbound vehicles with canoes strapped on top, all coming from the Boundary Waters, some from Ely and some from the Gunflint Trail further east. This puts a smile on our faces as we, too, have made this return journey from the Paradise of the North.
The path now turns off the road and back onto snowmobile track that leads into a creepy dead forest. There is not much to break up the monotony of hiking on straight snowmobile trails. We stop for another quick pack break to grab a quick snack while we rest our feet. I can see in Alison’s eyes the tiredness that I, too, am feeling.
Soon after we come to a rock cliff and a perfect sitting log, the first good place to park it all day long, but wouldn’t you know that we just stopped for a break not five minutes prior! We move on, descending this short rock cut staircase.
The sound of distant thunder once again catches our attention, and this time the clouds look a bit more threatening, so we try to keep a decent pace. The trail brings us down to Silver Creek which is pleasant and close to the path. We surprise three deer drinking from the creek, who are startled by us and make an awkward exit into the brush on the opposite side.
It’s getting late in the afternoon, our feet are tired and the rain is coming. I check maps.me and discover that we have only 1.3 miles left—part of me thinks, I can bang that out no problem, the other part thinks that could kill me!
There is private property on our left. Instead of the usual “Private Property” signs, the signs posted here say “Dog on Premises,” which lends a certain threat level to the end of the hike. This reminds me of a time in Albania on the Peaks of the Balkans when a shepherd dog sprinted across a field barking loudly at us until our guide shooed him away. Hopefully that won’t be the case here.
We arrive at Silver Creek Campsite at 5:15 in light, steady rain. We would love to relax, but instead we quickly set up the tent during a break in the rain so that we can keep our gear dry. There is one other tent set up in camp. When I go down to filter water, I meet our neighbor, a solo hiker from Madison, WI who is fairly new to backpacking. He is out on a 4-day trip traveling south from Gooseberry Falls where he was dropped off today to Martin Road where he has his car parked. He says that he is looking forward to solo time on the trail.
Alison has been resting her feet in the tent, so I head back to get some coffee and dinner started. We are both eager to turn in for the evening and get a solid night of sleep.
Day 8 Stats
Starting Point: Ferguson Campsite
Ending Point: Silver Creek Campsite
Miles Hiked: 15.2
Miles to Canada: 197.9
Bird if the Day: Canada Warbler