This past weekend we headed North. After working 70+ hours last week, I needed a break. We got up at 5:30AM Saturday and loaded up our car and drove to Duluth where my wife had a student in a dance competition. Her student did exceptionally well, getting a first and two third place finishes. The weather was nearly perfect for the dance competition, and the location was very interesting (in the Fitger’s Brewery complex). The couple we were spending the rest of the weekend with caught up with us after the competition and we all ate lunch at Bennet’s on the Lake. To say that my meal was disappointing would be an understatement. Two of us had roasted pork medallions with a honey dijon glaze. My pork was newspaper dry and tough as leather. It was the daily special, and I generally expect a restaurant to do a good job with their featured meal. Not in this case. The other set of pork was slightly less over done. It was accompanied by the worst Risoto I have ever had. The other guy with us (he also had the pork) asked the waitress to inquire with the chef on his Risoto methods. My friend is quite a good risoto cook, and we both wondered how you screw it up in this manner. It was without taste, watery, and lacking the distinct creamy taste that risoto is known for having. Pair this with really slow service in spite of a nearly empty restaurant and we did not have a good time. We then drove down to Canal St. area in Duluth where a 4 person bike cart was rented. The ladies and my wife’s dance student and his girlfriend toured along the boardwalk while I and the other pork survivor caught up on some much needed sleep.

From Duluth we continued our trek North. We made a quick stop for groceries and I ran into Pamida for some white gas for our stove and motor oil for our car. I have not been in a Pamida for at least 4 years, and frankly I had forgotten about them, or at least blocked them out of my memory. If you aren’t familiar with Pamida, they are a chain that makes Wal-Mart look classy. You’ll find them in small towns (they can’t survive in larger towns with competition) all over the upper Midwest. While they serve a purpose in small towns, I am nonetheless constantly amazed that they stay open for business.

From there we made our way to George Crosby Manitou State Park (WIKI). Unfortunately the combination of the dance competition running late, our playing in Duluth, and the need to stop for groceries got us to the park far later than we had hoped. The other couple (J & N) packed up their gear more quickly than Banana and I, so we sent them on ahead. It was 1.75 miles to campsite #7. J&N thought that they would leave behind the food for the evening, and hike back after making it to camp and setting it up. After all, who doesn’t need more exercise? Banana and I finished our packing, filled our water bottles (there is no potable water in the camp save for the pump at the entrance for the park), and headed on down the trail. By the time we got hiking, we were getting the last few rays of sunlight on our backs.

I am an experienced backpacker. I was a professional guide for 2 summers (a Ranger) at Philmont Scout Ranch in Cimarron, NM, and spent a third summer building trails at that same camp and taking groups of trail building young men on treks (Trail Crew). The first 10 minutes of trail was all uphill. It wasn’t simply just trail, but was primarily slippery tree roots and rocks. Had I build this trail, I would have turned in my tools and swore to never build trail again. And this was the best part of the trial on our trek. We were surprised by the lack of maintenance on the trials, and in the park in general. The trail signs were poorly located. We had to climb over at least 10 large trees that had fallen down over the trail. The brush/undergrowth/trees had encroached over the trail in more places than a person could count. After a surprising amount of ups and downs through the park we neared our destination. Thankfully we had some Motorola walkie-talkies with us or we might never have found our campsite. With some guidance over the WT’s and through just simply yelling, we were able to find N who had come back to find us. They discovered that our campsite was virtually hidden from the world. Had they not gotten there 20 minutes earlier while there was still some light, they would NEVER have found the campsite. The trail leading into camp was so overgrown it no longer looked like a trail. The trail then disappears as you near the Manitou River. They had discovered, after some searching, that if you force your way through two pine trees that had grown together, that on the other side was something resembling a trial. 0% chance of finding this in the dark. And then just before getting to the actual site, there is an enormous tree down over the trail, requiring you to get down on your hands and knees to crawl under it. The picture (above) is the pine trees that cover the trail. Maybe it’s just me, but that doesn’t look like anything I would call a trail, and you can see why in the dark it was extra hard!

We set up camp, and it was clear that this site is rarely (NEVER) used. Our guess is that most people never find the site, and end up camping in another unused site, or just make their own site. There is a post in the camp where you are supposed to hang your reservation/payment paperwork. I suspect it has been many years since a park ranger last visited this site. We discovered that the area had an abundance of mosquitoes. We weighed the options of bug spray being a bear issue, and decided that having no blood left by morning was probably a worse way to go than by being mauled by bears. We coated ourselves head to toes, and it seemed to help keep most of them from biting.

After about 2 seconds of discussion, all were in agreement that there was no possible way J&N were going to make it back to the car for our food. Thankfully Banana and I packed the next day’s worth of food with us (minus some eggs we left in J&N cooler). J was going to cook a gourmet meal (he’s a top notch cook) of pork chops and chicken that evening. We instead ate two boxes of AuGratin potatoes and mixed fruit. We set the tent up in the dark (it’s a new tent, we had never set up before) and that went fairly well all things considered. We were exhausted, but managed to build a meager fire with the charcoal briquettes that J had packed in and sat around discussing the absurdity of the trial and our campsite.

Sunday morning I woke up earlier than the others by a few hours. After laying and listening to the birds sing their morning melodies, I decided it would be prudent to get up and find the vault toilet that was supposed to be near our campsite. I figure the ladies would want to use it at some point! I had to nearly trip over it to discover it. There were 2 down trees over the path to it from our site, and to call it a path is being generous. It was just a simple hole in the ground with a toilet seat on top. No wall or anything, just out in the open. I had grown accustomed to this set up back in my Philmont days, but I wondered if the ladies would approve. I guessed they’d have to, because it beat the option of the rock over by the skeeter bog.

Once everyone woke, I started in on breakfast while J went and pumped water from the river. We again had to be creative, since 50% of our food was still in the car in the parking lot. I cooked up a package of bacon, and we made sandwiches with the bread and cheese we had carried. We finished off the fruit from the night before, and for the most part all seemed to have enough to eat. We cleaned up, packed up, and began our trek back to the cars. Once back at the cars, we dug out the cooler and ate some of the best brownies I have ever tasted. N makes one mean brownie! J and I also downed a half gallon of milk.

The hike back was beautiful. We made a short side hike to a water fall that Banana and I had “found” on our hike to the campsite. Our one wrong turn (thankfully within walkie talkie range) led us to this the night before, and while it was getting pretty dark, it was clear it was a beautiful place. The forest was surprisingly quiet. I am used to more squirrels and chipmunks, but they were nowhere to be seen or heard. We also did not see or hear any wolves, moose, or bears. I would’ve also enjoyed seeing the beaver that are reported to be in this area, but we didn’t even see any signs of their work. Did I mention mosquitoes? Yeah, we saw/felt lots of those. I sit here itching from all the bites, literally dozens, that I got in spite of our use of bug repellent.

The four of us stopped back in Duluth on our way South to the Twin Cities. We got lunch at Grandma’s (which was very good). We then went our separate ways as couples. Banana and I drove across the lift bridge to take in the last few minutes of the Park Point Art Fair. Most of the booths were in various stages of disassembly by the time we got there. We did get a good idea for a table we might build though. We puttered around Duluth for another hour or two, and then made our way back to our home in St. Paul. It was a great, and adventure filled weekend. I look forward to doing it again. This time with more bug spray, and less hiking in twilight.

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