On July 4, 2020, I began my 310-mile trek on the Superior Hiking Trail (SHT).

By hiking the SHT, I chose to speak out against racial injustice in the United States— brought to light by the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis. (Read more) 

I began my hike at the Wisconsin/Minnesota border and ended at the Canadian border. I completed my 310+ mile hike on July 28, 2020. (Read more).

The SHT is a rough trail with lots of roots, mud holes, and rocks, which I tripped over and stepped in many. I also slipped countless times. With each trip and fall, I was supported by my trekking poles. It was a reminder to get back up and to keep moving. For a lot of reasons, but one in particular, I was hiking the future generations.

For centuries, walking sticks have served many purposes: support for traveling on uneven ground, as a survival tool, a defensive weapon, and gradually a sign of power and authority.

Think of the wise mandrill monkey, Rafiki, in The Lion King. He carried his staff—or a walking stick for those wanting the correlation to hiking. Trekking poles are an extension of that staff.

As with Rafiki, the trekking poles allowed me to tune into nature and connect meaningfully with my ancestors who walked the land before me. The Indigenous spirits paved a safe passage. The trekking poles allowed me to bushwhack through tall grass and determine the depth of the marshy ground.

On other hikes, I’ve left my poles holstered, but I kept them in hand for the majority of this hike. Trekking poles help maintain balance over obstacles. I can say that my L.L. Bean Trekking Poles prevented sprained ankles and one potentially sprained knee.

In all the ways my trekking poles protected me during my hike, I still thought about the joint-locks and takedowns, when poles are used as weapons—snapshot glimpses of welts and bruises left on the backs of enslaved people. Sadly, those methods aren’t in the past. Watching the news, we see highlights of police officers in riot gear with batons (aka “riot sticks”) in hand at Black Lives Matter (BLM) protests.

My partner met me at the Northern Terminus. We planned to hike the summit overlook together (I was told a lot of thru-hikers end their hike at the trailhead, which is a parking lot. I don’t recommend that option).

When she arrived, she brought her two dogs and my dog Carma. Together, we all hiked the final mile to the overlook. As we walked, the message of control and the treatment of enslaved people played in my mind.

When we reached the summit, Carma wanted to be carried. I jokingly started singing The Circle of Life from The Lion King, holding her over the edge of the overlook — back to Rafiki, the trekking poles, the missed mishaps, the welts, and bruises inflicted upon Black flesh. The death of George Floyd, a Black man who died while being restrained by a white Minneapolis police officer.

George Floyd didn’t have trekking poles. George Floyd will never summit the overlook and breathe in the air.

I hiked 310 miles in honor of George Floyd, yet my journey felt incomplete at the end of 310 miles. 

Still in Minnesota, on July 30, I drove to the George Floyd memorial site at 38th Street and Chicago Avenue in Minneapolis. There, I was flooded with emotions rounding the corner where George Floyd took his last breath. I knelt because I genuinely could not stand. I cried over the chalk outline of his body.

Kneeling, it became clear that those poles were an agent of change. They can change how we approach relationships, from combatants to allies. Those trekking poles could lead to positive outcomes. If we all picked up trekking poles and went for a hike, could the violence end?

Someone would have to put down their sticks. I put down my sticks (trekking poles) in a symbolic gesture and left them on the momentum. I imagine this is progress.

Hike end: July 30, George Floyd Memorial at 38th Street and Chicago Avenue in Minneapolis.

P/C: on trail @dkap09  (minus selfie)

P/C: memorial site @wanderingseagoat

SHT NOBO (Northbound, starting in Wisconsin ending at the Canadian border) Total thru-hike complete!

 

 

Total miles: 310+ In the spirit of transparency, I hiked approximately nine SHT trail miles on the Gitchi-Gami Trail. 

Trail start: July 4, 8:46 a.m. Southern Terminus, Wisconsin/Minnesota border 

Trail end: July 28, Northern Terminus, Canadian border

Hike end: July 30, George Floyd Memorial at 38th Street and Chicago Avenue in Minneapolis.

 

 

Total days: 24 days total, of those it rained at some point 21 days.

Days off: Three neros (nearly zero, meaning a partial day off-trail or not hiking).

  • Because of a storm: a trail angel in Grand Marais picked me up. stayed with her family, went to a Black Lives Matter protest, and was a guest on WTIP Radio                    
  • To dry gear, shower, and sleep in a bed at Superior Ridge Resort Motel. It was a bit more than I wanted to spend but worth it! The owners were friendly and kind enough to drive me into town to resupply.             
  • For a post office resupply and to soak my arm in a bathroom with soap (I was thinking poison oak). 

Resupply: Two Harbor (post office). Beaver Bay (gas station/post office). Grand Marais (post office/grocery store).

Shortest miles in a day: 8.46

Longest miles in a day: 22 

Gear change – – – 

Pack: I started with the L.L. Bean AT 38 and switched to the Granite Gear Crown2 60 for more capacity when my tent failed me.         

                              

Shoes: I started with the L.L. Bean Alpine, switched to the Arcteryx Norva after several days of rain, mudholes, and an inability to keep the boots and my socks dry. I later switched back to the Alpines.         

                           

Socks: I started the journey with three pairs of socks, two for hiking and one for sleep. Due to conditions listed in the shoe section, the number grew to six, five hiking, and one for sleep.

 

Tent: I wanted to love the Nemo Hornet Elite. I did. But after several days of rain, it failed me. I reverted to my Marmot EOS 1P.

 

Animal encounters: Birds, a moose, and a cub. No harm came to me.

 

Favorite section: I thoroughly enjoyed the area from the Cascade River to Bally Creek. Walking through the large red pine forest reminded me of my childhood in Florida.

 

 

Least favorite section: I wasn’t too fond of the Sawmill Creek Pond Boardwalk. The boards were sunken, curved, slick, and missing in places. 

 

Random SHT $h*t: I became pre-hypothermic due to rain, wet gear, wet clothes—not severe or life-threatening, and thus, I live to write this story.

 

SHT Personal ranking: ⭐⭐⭐ out of ⭐⭐⭐ ⭐⭐

Volunteers and private landowners maintain the 310-mile hiking trail from Canada to Wisconsin. 

The sections range from well-marked, well-maintained paths to mud and tall grass-covered barley visible sections.

The SHT is a rough trail, lots of roots, mud, and rocks.

You definitely should “Hike That SHT.”

p/c: Instagram: dkap09

p/c: Instagram: wanderingseagoat

 

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.

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!”

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.