October 5, 2022
Today I was struck by the unique beauty and wildness of this trail. Nature has carved a landscape filled with the howls of wolves and the screams of bald eagles, all surrounded by vivid Fall foliage in contrast to the volcanic rock that makes up the headwaters of Lake Superior. What makes it so unique is that this “wildness” is located minutes from roads and towns. The wilderness creeps right up to the edge of “man.”
As I crept through the dark morning back to the trail, I listened to my stomach rumbling. I had woken, packed, and started hiking, wanting to leave before day hikers began arriving. But I also thought it would be nice to let it warm up and eat down by the river.
Once I had crossed the river and started back up the other side, I stopped to eat on the shores of the fast-moving river. Heavy grey clouds hung over me as I ate cereal and nuts, watching the river edges for any early morning animals taking a drink. I sometimes spotted other visitors to the water at dawn and dusk if I was quiet and still, but the woods were silent other than a few darting birds.
I climbed back up the Temperance River a short distance before hiking over to Cross River and following it for a couple of miles before exiting Temperance State Park. The rest of the day was spent strolling along open ridges with views out over Lake Superior, every bit like a massive inland ocean, and hiking through the dense northern forests alive with the brilliant colors of Fall. This was a magical trail.
I had thought about staying at East Caribou Campsite for the night, but it was a large spread-out campsite, and I could see one tent already set up. It also looked like a large, well-established site which meant there was more of a chance for visits from local wildlife. Pausing to reconsider, I finally continued to the Caribou River to get water.
As I sat down on the rocks to begin filtering my water, I saw a man watching me from the bank further down the river. I lifted my hand, and he waved back just before four or five other people joined him. They all sat chatting, and I finished filtering water and headed down to the trail junction, where there was a logbook.
I often sign the log books on trails for safety reasons. This allows people to see the last time I was at a point on the trail. For this reason, some people don’t sign the logs, but I’m not quite that wary of people knowing my location. On busy trails like the AT, the log books are an interesting form of communication for thru-hikers. Some of the entries are pretty witty, and some of the artists are pretty damn good. It is always fun to meet a hiker whose entries you have been following as you hike.
As I sat reading the log, I saw that David, the lawyer who had started with me, had left the trail only a few hours earlier. I also saw the names of other hikers I had met at various points along the trail that were either moving faster or hiking different sections. The trails have a crazy flow, like the world around us, reconnecting with people you never expect to see again and never again seeing people you thought would be solid for another day or two.
The man from the river bank walked up as I read and asked if I was hiking the trail. He and his friends spent days hiking the trail and staying in hotels and Inns at night. I thought this would be a fun way to hike a trail when I was older and had the means. It would be nice to hike through all the good and the bad, knowing I would be dry and well-fed at the end of each day.
We chatted for a few minutes, and then I crossed the Caribou River and went looking for West Caribou campsite. My guide said it was a small campsite, and I hoped I would have it to myself for the night. Heading down a small spur trail, I saw that I would again be alone for the night.
The campsite had the standard fire ring with benches and space for about 3-4 tents. I initially set up at the back of the site in a nice flat spot, but the tall dead tree next to me gave me the creeps, so I moved up to the other side of the fire ring where nothing would fall on me. Clouds had hung heavy for the last couple of hours, and it looked like rain would arrive overnight based on the sudden temperature drop.
I made dinner around the fire circle and climbed up a steep hill to find the toilet perched on a hill. It could be seen from the trail passing by but not from the campsite below. I went back down to finish setting up the interior of my tent and resolved to return after dark. I was southern and still too modest to use an open-air toilet with the potential for witnesses.