Hiker hunger is a phenomenon hikers encounter when our appetite becomes insatiable, and we crave some of the weirdest things. Some hikers will say that they’re starving. But having known starvation, the word hunger is suitable.

 

On the PCT, hiker hunger kicked in for me around mile 43ish. Here, on the SHT, the insatiable craving for cheese, funnel cakes (which I’ve only eaten four times in my life), fries, and sushi hit on day three, and I’d run out of food by day five.

 

Knowing that the SHT is a lesser-known trail, I’d prepared meals prior and shipped them accordingly. I packed food for six days at the start of each resupply. Unfortunately, my calculations were off, and I’ve been running out of food!

 

Amid a severe hiker hunger spell, I started listing all the things I wish I had: ice cream, mushrooms, pizza, Sprite, Reese’s, cheese, sushi, and fries. I also started calculating the miles to the next town.

 

Then the reality of my situation set it—I have money. I’m not restricted to the trail. I can buy whatever I want except sushi. I’m very hesitant to eat sushi in small-town Minnesota. Not everyone has the luxury to purchase food in general.

 

I received sample boxes of Patagonia Provisions meals for this trip. And while tasty, what seems to keep the hiker hunger at bay are Pop-Tarts, peanut butter, noodles, and tuna fish—cheaply priced items that I seldom eat off-trail. They aren’t the healthiest. Yet these are items that nourished me as a child (government cheese and syrup sandwiches are also on that list).

Hiker hunger is legitimate and (currently) fierce. It’s 2 a.m. as I write this post in my orange tent, lying on an orange sleeping pad, debating if I’m desperate enough to walk the five miles into town and wait until noon for the store to open in the off chance they sale orange American cheese.

 

Alternatively, I could untie my bear bag and cook some ramen noodles, or I could just go to sleep.

 

I was warned that the Duluth section of the SHT might come with a few roadblocks (meant both literally and figuratively), but the views would be amazing. Both of these things were true.

 

The roadblocks were plenty, and on my way out of Duluth, I found myself in what I have now termed the “endless Bagley loop.”

 

Non-SHTA neighborhoods have made trails, bike trails, ski trails, spur trails, and overlooks. These made navigating difficult and frustrating because not all of them were on the maps.

 

For nearly an hour, I circled the first (NOBO) campground directly on the trail. I was consulting my map, pocket guide, and phone. Finally, a young man in flip flops directed me toward his family-made trail that would take me to a road.

 

A deer that I’d seen previously and asked directions to aloud was on that path as well. The path led me out of the loop to the main road and (eventually) back to the trail.

I found my way out of the loop and to Tom O’Rourke, the Hartley Nature Center executive director (HNC)—or he found me. Regardless, I met Tom during a massive storm that made foot travel hazardous, slippery, and ill-advised.


We talked about the trails and the history of the HNC. We also spoke about canoeing and books. Tom mentioned he built a shack that he stocked with books in the middle of the woods.

 

Little did he know that one of my childhood dreams was to live in a cabin in the woods, filled with books and a typewriter for writing. There is something majestic about reading a good book during a lightning storm, and I was giddy with joy to see the Library Shack.

The shack features several glass windows, a wood-burning stove, and access to his family-made backcountry trail. I can’t vouch much for the trail, as I didn’t venture too far.

 

I highly recommend visiting The Hartley Nature Center, especially to thru-hikers who might want to set up camp at the Little Library Shack in the Woods.

Enchantment can be found even amid the uncertainty of a thunderstorm, especially when good company and books are involved.

The SHT has two non-section hikes: The traditional one starts at Martin Road Trailhead and is about 260 miles long. The total thru-hike starts at Wild Valley Road Trailhead and is about 310 miles long.

Whether northbound or southbound (NOBO/SOBO) makes no difference, I’m a NOBO total thru-hiker.

Backpackers often chose the traditional option because the total thru-hike goes through Duluth, and backcountry campsites are strictly prohibited inside city limits.

Unlike the PCT, people along the SHT aren’t familiar with trail angels (trail angels help hikers along their way).

I have met many SHT trail angels who have helped me in various ways:

  • Meeting me on the trail
  • Taking me to the store
  • Dropping me off at the trailhead 
  • Showing up to ensure safe passage through a non-friendly private section
  • Teaching me how to interpret the multiuse trail signs
  •  Making me dinner, and 
  • Allowing me to camp out in their yard

But my trail angels have also been social justice advocates. They have been educating themselves on my hike. They scouted my route beforehand, demonstrated alongside me, and used social media to promote my journey and make others aware.

 

A plethora of people organized for me to hike the 50 miles thru Duluth.

 

What would it take to bring a community together to help get young people to the same trailhead for a day hike? Or for a neighbor to set up a few tents in their yard for a backyard camp out?

 

I made it out of the city of Duluth!

I feel a bit like Eugene Henderson’s character in the book Henderson the Rain King. It seems that every place I’ve hiked, the rain has followed.

 

Many of the creeks and streams are dry. And here I was, thinking that water would be plentiful because Minnesota is the Land of 10,000 Lakes. 

 

Once I started the day with three liters of water. I didn’t make the usual brown sugar oatmeal that I so love. I opted for a protein bar and decided to push through the morning. 

 

As the day deepened and the humidity increased, I desperately hiked not only in the pursuit of moving forward—but also to find water. 

 

After many hours and several dry creeks, I did what any nearly dehydrated person would do. I found a spot in the shade and decided to get out of the sun. 

After resting and waiting for the sun to chase the sky, I moved onward and finally reached a muddy pool. 

 

I was ecstatic—I had access to water! Filthy, brackish, and unsafe, but water nonetheless. 

It got me thinking about folks without access to clean water, those who can’t afford a filtration system. 

 

Specifically, I thought of a significant environmental injustice right in the neighboring lake: the lead infiltration in the drinking water in Flint, Michigan—a predominately Black, poverty-stricken city. 

 

Flint shows us how environmental injustice and racial injustice are deeply connected. I think if a Sawyer mini could purify my water in under 30 minutes, why can’t we encourage other companies to enact changes? The knowledge is there.

I sat quaffing muddy water, “Damnit, there should be more water on the trail. Minnesota, this ain’t nice!”

On Saturday, July 4th, at8:46 a.m. I will begin hiking the Superior Hiking Trail (SHT) in honor of George Floyd. Below are the changes to the original.

Patagonia provided me with their 29.3 ounces 850 down sleeping bag.

 

And I’ve switched to the 1 pound, 7 ounce Nemo Hornet Elite.

The SHT Association recommends that SHT users #RecreateResponsibly by practicing social distance.

 

I will begin my Superior Hiking Trail (SHT) thru-hike in precisely seven days. As of June 1, the SHT Association recommends that SHT users #RecreateResponsibly.

 

This hike intends to raise money and awareness for PGM ONE, People of the Global Majority in the Outdoors, Nature, and Environment. I don’t work for PGM One.

By hiking the SHT, I am choosing to speak out against racial injustice in the United States—brought to light by the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

 

Gear is necessary for a thru-hike (historically, my ancestors traveled the trails with less, but the gear is vital nowadays).

I want to use reliable, lightweight products from trusted brands for this hike. In the past, I purchased solely off reputation. I read hundreds of my fellow Trek bloggers’ posts, devoured review after review, and bought gear accordingly. 

As I began hiking, I started to share my likes and dislikes over time. It makes sense. When you spend a great deal of time backpacking, your knowledge about gear, quality, and product attributes becomes somewhat second nature. 

Pack: Keeping it real, I didn’t know that L.L. Bean made hiking packs. I was a skeptic accepting this pack as there aren’t a lot of reviews. Much to my surprise, the AT 38 weighing in at 2 pounds, 12 ounces is comfortable, providing excellent back support. I haven’t put many miles on this pack yet, but I’m looking forward to seeing how it holds up on the trail. I received this item for free.

Granite Gear donated their Crown2 60, which is extremely lightweight yet rugged. Unfortunately, I don’t need two packs for the hike.  I received this item for free.

Shoes: Footwear is essential. The more trips I journey around the Sun, I increase the likelihood of an ankle sprain or twist on unsteady surfaces. Who am I kidding? On steady surfaces too!

For this hike, I wanted a shoe that provided the boots’ support with the comfort of sneakers. L.L Bean’s Alpine waterproof hiking boots (1.93 pounds) were my choice. I’ve found these boots easy to break in—like most of my gear; these boots haven’t seen much use. I’ve got high hopes for these! I received this item for free.

Navigation: I am an advocate of maps. Please give me a paper map over a GPS any day. I’ll be taking the SHTA pocket map (the approximate map for each segment). I received these items for free.

For my safety, and so that the people I love won’t worry, I’ll be carrying a SPOT Gen 3!

Headlamp: The Black Diamond ReVolt Headlamp. 

Sun protection: On the PCT, I opted for bug spray over sunscreen. I was sunburned, leaving the trail. I will be using sunscreen, a bug net hat, and permethrin-treated clothing. I want to share–I hate ticks!

First aid: I had to get stitches around mile 66 of my PCT hike. I have since gone through WEMT school. I’m prepared and will be bringing a first aid kit (a modified version of items I wouldn’t be able to replicate using materials found in the natural world). 

Knife: I spent the summer of 2019 traveling the Northwest. I became a fan of wilding. I’m bringing a whittling knife. 

Fire: Bic lighter or I will start a fire using a rock and a stick. Knowledge is power! 

Cookset: MSR Pocket Rocket 2 2.6 GSI Halulite Minimalist 0.39 pounds

Shelter: I have come to understand that a tent is like a home. I’ve gone through so much in my Marmot EOS 1P (39 ounces)—sections of the AT, PCT, CDT, Yellowstone, the Tetons, and various places in between. 

I’d love a new tent, though. 

In a sense, wanting to upgrade but being unable to do so is a daily reality for many people. 

I am lucky that I can choose to be homeless (a hiker) for a while and return to my apartment’s comforts upon completion of this hike.

And yes, I would love a $600 tent; however, I’d also like to pay rent when this thru-hike is over.

My sleeping system: Big Agnes Sleeping Bag Hazel SL 15° 41 ounces Klymit Sleeping Pad 19.6 ounces

Food: On the PCT, I brought a variety of meals, all with varying weights. I’m packing the same meals each day for better weight distribution for this hike. 

Water: I will use my Sawyer Mini and Katahdin purification tablets as a backup. Three 1-litter bladders, with one marked “dirty.” 

Clothes: Diversity and visibility are essential. That also goes for the companies I will be representing on the trail: L.L. Bean, Patagonia, Arc’teryx, which donated gear to me.

Miscellaneous: L.L. Bean Hikelite 4 Season Carbon Hiking Poles 13.6 ounces. I received this item for free.

With recent protests denouncing police brutality against the Black community—and systemic racism in general— individuals, companies, and organizations across various industries have declared support of the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement.

While social media posts and various hashtags are a fantastic opportunity to increase the visibility of Black Lives, I want to recognize the focused efforts of L.L. Bean, The Superior Hiking Trail Association, Patagonia, Arc’teryx, and Granite Gear. Through tangible support and donations, they contribute to diversity and inclusion in the outdoors. 

Each has not only pledged to make the outdoors more inclusive for all but has actively taken steps toward making change.

Photos Cred Instagram dk09 with the exception of the bug hat selfie 🙂

In 2016, planning for the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT), my biggest pack weight dilemma was carrying my neurological recharge system. Fast forward to 2020, as I prepare for my Superior Hiking Trail (SHT) thru-hike, I’m facing yet another weight dilemma.

The reality of hiking in Northern Minnesota (in the US, for that matter) as a BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color). The additional “pack weight,” so to speak. In addition to traditional gear, I have to consider the weight of my skin.

As a Black woman solo hiking in Northern Minnesota, I can’t take for granted that Minnesotans will live up to the state motto: Minnesota Nice!

I’m not relying on it. I grappled with another weight-related decision. Do I alert local law enforcement of my presence on the trail or don’t? Sadly, we live in a time when an advance alert has to be issued. 

Here is an excerpt of the email I shared with the sheriff chief of all four counties along the SHT:

“A section of the SHT is located in the county you’ve been sworn to protect. As a law-abiding visitor, I expect the same level of protection and respect that is afforded to your residents. I understand that there is a great deal of racial tension in the US. I am aware that as a Black solo hiker, I might face adversity and possible prejudice on the trail. However, I do not anticipate threats or violence, and I’d ask that, if needed, you’d intervene promptly. I have attached a photo of myself in hiking gear and ask that if I am seen on the trail that you DO NOT shoot me. Aside from backpacking gear, I will be carrying the following items: bear spray, a pocket knife, and hiking poles. None of these items are “weapons.”

I’m sharing this because it’s the reality of being a Black hiker. 

PS Yes, I will post a gear list, trail information, and other “traditional” hiking-related things soon.

PSS. As of June 1, the SHTA recommends that hikers practice social distancing on the trail by limiting group sizes to 10 or less and that you stay home if you’re sick.

In 2016, I set out to thru-hike the Pacific Crest Trail. After 600 miles, I ended my hike due to complications with my implanted neuromodulation system. Upon return from life on the trails, I had surgery to replace the broken parts of my system. 

 

Being inactive during the recovery period, mixed with feelings of failure for not completing the 2,660-mile trek, left me depressed. With that depression came a period of sadness, overeating, and excessive weight gain. 

 

Eight months after my return from the trail, I’d gain nearly 40 pounds (equating to all the pounds I lost while hiking, putting me back at the same start weight).

In talking to a friend, I expressed discontent about not finishing the PCT and the lack of support from my peers. Many of them aren’t outdoorsy and couldn’t empathize or fully understand. My friend, a cisgender white woman, shared some information about a summit hosted by a collective known as PGM ONE (People of the Global Majority in the Outdoors, Nature, and Environment).

 

 I was gifted a scholarship to attend and was amazed to connect with so many Black, Indigenous, and People of Color of the Global Majority who, like myself, believe in the power of nature and environmental justice. 

 

I shared my PCT journey at the summit and was taught that the narrative was paramount. Meaning, I could share the story as a defeat because I did not complete the trail or as a triumph because I solo hiked 600 miles. 

 

I also learned about adventure therapy and nature as a form of healing. I applied for and recently graduated from Prescott College with a Master of Arts in Interdisciplinary Studies in Adventure Therapy & Adventure Education.

 

For the record, graduating during a pandemic amid civil unrest, as police brutality upon Black, Indigenous, People of Color (BIPOC) is becoming visible to the world, is disheartening. I’ve seen brutality against Black folks my entire life. But one thing I’m sure of is. Nature has never discriminated, nor is she hateful. 

 

On Saturday, July 4, 2020, I will begin a 300+ mile thru-hike of the Superior Hiking Trail. For a few reasons:

  • It brings me joy
  • It’s why I went to Prescott College
  • It’s a peaceful form of protest
  •  Because Black Lives Matter, 
  • and to raise awareness about PGM One.

 

I also want to shed light and understanding of the healing power of Nature.

*Due to the rapidly evolving outbreak of COVID–19 and safety restrictions, know that unforeseeable events might detour my journey. 

 

Subscribe and stay tuned for updates. Know that as a responsible hiker and a protector of Mother Earth, I will adhere to all Superior Hiking Trail Association (SHTA) regulations and recommendations. As of June 1, hikers are asked to limit group size to 10 or fewer. As a solo hiker, this isn’t a problem. 

 

The SHTA also recommends that you stay safe, sane, and sanitized—and do what you can to prevent the spread of the virus, and always adhere to Leave No Trace principles. And a Crystal Gail word of advice: practice common sense.

so·lo ˈsōlō

noun

 1. a thing done by one person unaccompanied, in particular.

SOLO sōlō

noun

2. Stonehearth Open Learning Opportunities 

If you’ve been curious about my absence during October, I spent the month enrolled in SOLO’s Wilderness Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) program in Conway, New Hampshire.

Overall, the course was intense, nearly a semester’s worth of work in four weeks. I completed the intensive training. The office staff and support staff were phenomenal.

Sadly, I faced opposition from my cohorts, which began the moment we all congregated. The course aids and prepares students to work in Wilderness Emergency Medicine.

Despite the numerous dangers in the wild, it seems that an educated Black woman was the most significant threat for my cohort. Initially, I felt comfortable sharing my health-related experiences. This knowledge, along with my ideas were not welcomed.

As the sole Black woman, I faced the harsh realization that people of color, even with shared passions, aren’t an acceptable feature in the outdoors. It’s disheartening and not based on logic.

The ostracism I endured throughout the course was an irrational dislike of the hues in my skin — the only differential factor. One might argue economic status, but we all paid the same amount to partake in the class, and finances weren’t a topic.

The course required hands-on experience for real-life situations and the practical exam. Seldom would I find someone to work with, and it was never for long when I did.

As the weeks unfolded, so did animosity and ignorance. I spent countless hours working independently on mannequins, studying vast quantities of new information alone. In real-life, a dummy won’t require life-saving skills.

I didn’t participate in the collaborative efforts of my cohort. Life has taught me that a significant part of the learning experience is the knowledge gained from others. At SOLO, my experience was, at best, frustrating. 

A few students physically pushed me aside during my attempts to perform knowledge-based tasks. My insights were often dismissed. In some cases, the same points I voiced were later echoed by others and taken as excellent ideas.

I witnessed the forming of bonds and the group’s closeness as a whole. I was never respected or accepted as a member of my alleged team.

Most of my classmates made attempts to insert a false sense of dominance over me, with the entitled belief that a Black woman had nothing to offer and, therefore, wasn’t worthy of respect. 

My cohort created a prejudicial distinction over me. As a person of color, I realize that I, and others who look like me, will have to work twice as hard to connect with the outdoors.

Due to my limited hands-on experience, I will need to retake the WEMT practical exam. Thankfully, my goal is to receive my Masters’s in Adventure-Based Therapy. I don’t foresee a future in emergency medicine. I believe in an emergency; I will perform adequately. 

What angers me most is the person of color who aspires to become a WEMT. That individual will likely face a great deal of adversity and unnecessary hardship at SOLO. 

I am only accounting for my personal experiences; however, I am connected enough to People of the Global Majority in outdoor spaces who have echoed similar negative experiences.

I started the Pacific Crest Trail earlier in the season to account for my slowness. To my surprise, it turns out I am fleet-footed when it comes to hiking. For the sake of slowing down my hiking pace a bit in an attempt to outsmart mother nature (impossible), I took the train from Tehachapi, CA to Oakland, CA. There I met with friends and family for a week.

During that week, I was hoping to waste enough time to begin my trek safely from Kennedy Meadows into the High Sierra. Oakland was a bit of a cultural shock. I’d never been there before my hike. Being the first densely populated city I’d encountered in weeks, it was overwhelming. I had a very good time, though.

Upon my return to the trail, I hiked slowly, to ease myself back into my groove. I felt uneasy, but I assumed that I’d grown lazy during my trail break. I pushed on. I walked a total of 5 miles the first day before setting up camp for the evening. My entire being ached that night as I lay in my tent and slept.

The next day refreshed and renewed I set off to increase my distance from the before. I made it two miles before I couldn’t stand. Nothing is scarier, in my opinion than feeling dizzy and lightheaded while hiking on the side of a windy cliff. Fearing for my safety, I stopped at the first makeshift campsite I could find.

I thought about heading back to town, thinking I just needed more time to acclimate from being at sea level, before continuing my entrance into the Sierra. For miles, all I could see were mountains, surrounded by more mountains. Though incredibly beautiful, I was becoming ill, and I knew it.

Being so close to town, I had cellular reception. I got a few pep talks from friends and family, and I slept it off that night. Admittedly, I woke up weary, no longer excited from the support rally that took place the previous day. I packed my bag and stood to return to town. That’s when I met a woman who follows my blog, and she told me I was an inspiration to her.

She said that she admired the way I took control over my health and inspire others to do the same. She reminded me of why I started hiking. With a new sense of dedication, I set off, forcing my body to move. I hiked 22 miles that day, suffering for most of those miles.

Suffering is not the intent of my journey. The altitude mixed with the various barometric pressure changes caused me extreme discomfort, dizziness, and vomiting. My Medtronic neuromodulator, though amazing, offered no relief for the symptoms.

The following morning while breaking down my tent, I leaned forward and fell head-first on a small rock. (The science of things: my leads are subdermal, any impact causes discomfort, contact sends a stinging pain throughout my head). As I lay there, physical pain mixed with negative emotions and swelled inside of me. Determined not to fail, I gathered myself and finished breaking down my site.

I thought about the hiker I’d recently met. Suddenly, I knew that pushing myself through something painful is the exact opposite of health and well-being.

Of courses being a badass, I wanted to go on record as saying I did not need my ACR Personal Locator Beacon. Furthermore, wanting to say, “I never turned back,” I insisted on hiking myself down the valley to past the PCT mile marker 600. With a hiker a few distances in front and another following from the rear, I hiked to the road to the waiting trail angels.
More than anything, my hike is about reconnecting with myself. Seven weeks, 6.5 sections, and 614 miles on the PCT are what it took for me to connect. Again, I took control of my health and decided to end my journey with a few tears, bruises, and fond memories . . .
600 miles hiking the PCT with a neuromodulator, and one headlight. I mean headlamp, seriously, did you catch the reference?  It’s been a long journey, and there are miles to go . . . However, for me, those miles will not take place on the PCT.

Finally in tune, connecting I can hear myself speak, and my voice is filled with pride.

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