Solo Camping and Hiking
Hey North Shore, I love you.
Last week I drove up and camped at a resort resting along Lake Superior by myself to have a good ol’ micro-adventure, and decided that not only will I be doing another photography excursion, I would do something different. I made a goal to hike one of the nearby sections of the Superior Hiking Trail to burn off some calories and burn off some weight in my mind. This camping trip didn't have much planning involved. I had a spontaneous urge to see what camping sites were available in a couple weeks prior to when I called and Lamb Resort (which I stayed last June with an awesome group of dudes) had a site on the lake open for a few nights. Pretty rad! The timing couldn’t be any better, as I was feeling a bit lost on stuff and needed an escape from the real world and clear my head.
My trip started by stocking my relatively new Honda fit. It’s also worth noting that I named my car Juice, because its color is orange and I randomly thought I should name it after one of my favorite characters from Sons of Anarchy. Anyway, I knew I needed at least 3-4 liters of water for the day/night of hiking and photo taking itinerary, in addition to a bunch of calories. I typically eat pretty clean during these trips – however, my diet from the last couple of trips had consisted of gas station food but I try to have fruit and protein bars thrown in – so my plan was to load up on bananas, trail mix and the like, but instead I attacked a Holiday station in Two Harbors and walked out with sour gummy worms, a muffin, Surge, sour cream and onion pringles, and Peanut butter Twix, and diabetes.
After feeling guilty about all of the bullshit I bought at Holiday, I stopped at a local grocery store in Silver Bay and aimed for the produce aisle. I did good, bought some apples, craisens, and V8 fusion energy drinks, but I also walked out with bratwurst, BBQ chips and beer. I did however score some sunscreen and I got hit on by a mom. Not a soccer mom. She was more of a pro wrestling mom.
I finally made it to the resort. Got my sweet parking pass with my last name on it and everything and some firewood. I drove up to my site and damn! It was bigger than I thought! There was room for one tent but a ton of space near the fire pit and I had a lot of shoreline to spare.
I instantly made a friend, he looked almost exactly like the kid Mike from the new Netflix show, Stranger Things. If you haven’t watched it yet, just stop reading this, like now – turn on your computer and start that s**t. After I set up my tent and stuff, I realized I still had time to make it to the local bakery next door and finally got food that wouldn’t melt paint off a car. I’ll never forget that incredible sandwich that was jammed with avocados and insanely delectable shredded meat. It was like high-fiving Jesus.
During the first afternoon I just sat on my chair, started a fire with a technique my friends from Eagan taught me (Spark tool from Amazon and tampons…but I didn’t have any on me but thankfully there was some birch bark nearby) and enjoyed both the fire and listening to the little waves crash on the shore. It was pure heaven. Once it got dark enough I thought I’d try capturing a night photo with my tent lit up. A few shots in and adjusting my angle later, I snatched a photo I was very satisfied with.
Woke up to a morning sky and lake superior doing her thing. Still in Heaven. I decided not to shoot a sunrise because…well, sleep is amazing, and I haven’t had much luck selling any of my sunrise photos at my art shows and online store, and technically this is my vacation so I can do whatever the heck I want. I sat on my comfy chair and ate an apple, cliff bar, and drank my v8 juice and hopped in the car and drove out to Lutsen to scout where I should park my car when I start my superior hiking adventure. I also did some research on a waterfall that was near the resort so I also wanted to check that out too. I made it to the Lutsen resort – definitely different during the summer time, I was almost tempted to ride on the alpine slide for old time’s sake. I received fantastic help from the Eagle Ridge help desk and showed me where I should go to check out the waterfall and made my short trek to the trail. I notice a bridge closed sign which normally doesn’t stop me while on foot, so I cross the sign, I enter the bridge and… Boom, there it is, the waterfall! Mission Complete.
Another location I wanted to photograph was the Palisade Head that I’ve been constantly seeing lately on Instagram posts. It was during the day that I decided to make my way up there so I knew that I’m not going to get any unique photos of it but I made it up there anyway. After driving up a very steep pathway (and can’t stop thinking about how epic it would be to bomb down that path with a longboard) I made it to the top and holy buckets it was busy! Normally that turns me off and I book it, but I asked myself when am I going to come up to this spot again? So I walked around, did some touristy sight seeing and snapped a few pics. I also sat and watched a group of outgoing people rock climbing.
Now, granted, this doesn’t sound very awesome or extreme, but when you are traveling alone, sometimes even the most tame or banal activity is charged with emotion and significance. Things sort of take on an amplified nature; that song you’re jamming with the windows down seems just a bit more impactful, that picture you took seems a little bit more meaningful, that beer sitting in the grass between your legs tastes just a little bit better.
Things are always safer with other humans, and when you have these feelings by yourself, it’s a rad and special thing.
Finished my agenda, had some lunch, camera time, and then made it back to my tent so I can nap and be naked. Just kidding. Kind of.
I relaxed, grilled some bratwurst and sat outside for hours, thinking Eric thoughts, journaling a bit, drinking beer, and forcing myself to just “be”. I have difficulty sitting still and meditating. But I did it. Totally nailed it! I sat and meditated and watched the sky fade into the night. I also had to capture another night photo with the tent. It looks so cool! I finally get to have a photo with a lit up tent.
Phone, Email, Commitments, Promises, Work. Life has been busy lately! Between working my real estate photography job, video projects, design work for Obsolete, and running a nature photography biz, you could say that I’ve been burning the candle at both ends, mentally, and physically. As much as I enjoy all of it, I would be lying if I didn’t say that I was stoked to get away from it all for a minute. That’s part of loving life as well.
So I sat.
And read some Harry Potter
If you’re like me, these quiet moments in strange places evoke all sorts of thoughts and emotions. You might be fortunate enough to experience something approaching clarity. In these moments you often realize how much of your time and energy is completely wasted on trivial bullshit. You make resolutions. You start to welcome change. You ponder. Weigh relationships. Evaluate where you are in life. Goals. Promise yourself to stop stressing. You might be smacked by a sudden awareness that time is immeasurably more precious than material wealth, and wonder where so much of your time went. You sit, alone, high on life and the infinite possibilities you feel are waiting for you, all you have to do is take action. I don’t know, Time to smash some cookies I bought and sleep while listening to june bugs and little superior waves.
Woke up to the neighbor’s dog checking me out. Gorgeous dog. I really want a dog, but my apartment doesn’t allow dogs, so I need to rebel and find one, train it to never bark and get away with having one. I packed my travel bag, cliff bars, water, small snack stuff, towels ( I sweat…a lot) emergency clothes, hammock, puny swiss army knife that I carry in the event of bears or angry hill-billies. Left my camera gear behind. It was like leaving your precious pets behind, but you know all of that extra weight is going to suck. Hopped in the car, stopped at a coffee shop and loaded on caffeine. Went back to Lutsen resort, grabbed a trail map, and started my hike on the SHT.
I overpacked. Dammit. That happens when you’re hiking solo, because if you’re like me, you’ve read all the books and articles about people stuck in the wilderness, cutting their arms off with pocket knives to free themselves, people who survive plane crashes by eating each other. (Side note: If anyone ever eats me, eat my butt first. I feel like I have a pretty good butt). I started up hiking near some of the lutsen runs, a couple names stood out like Log Chute (anyone in Minnesota should immediately think of the log chute ride in Camp Snoopy) and the Plunge (reminded me of this 90’s style motion simulator ride I used to work at the sealife aquarium a life-time ago). Continued on towards more trees and a powerful sun.
People are everything. Friends and Family are everything, but I truly love doing this stuff solo. Love it. I find that inner adventures I have are just as rewarding as the outer. Out here, the unpaid bills, the unfinished work, the personal stress I have in a handful of areas in my life all melt away and I become absorbed in the simple joy of moving my body in nature. This subject is always difficult to talk about without sounding like I snort granola or have a Subaru tattoo, but the sense of connection I experience can leave me high for days. It’s tough to explain, but my brain just shuts off and I tap into some sort of primal state that is difficult to hold onto, because once I realize I am having this ultra-blissful experience, I ruin it by the sudden awareness of it. If that makes any damn sense. But still, that moment of pure connection to the universe leaves me with a complete mind-body-spirit high, and is something I spend as much of my life as possible chasing. That’s some hippie shit, right?! Jeez.
I’m thinking about all of this while sweating every ounce of fat I gained from eating the delicious garbage I shouldn’t have bought from Holiday. I sat by the poplar river to jot down my thoughts and ideas. If anyone really knows me, I have difficulty speaking to people, as much as I enjoy being around them. That's one of the many reasons I enjoy writing and photography. I'm more of a visual aid guy, and this way I can reduce risk of embarrassment when I speak words.
A lot of walking. Brain is shut off again. Enjoying the experience.
So what was supposed to be an easy scramble to Oberg Mountain wound up being a handful of technical pitches. There was a spot that I wanted to grab my phone and snap a photo but I might have gotten dead had I fallen off the tree. I hope my Dad isn't reading this, but I’m sure he is right now. He’s getting more experienced with facebook and social media than I am, so if he’s reading this, sorry not sorry. It’s genetics, we thrive on difficulties. I blame and also thank him.
A few hours later, I made it to the "mountain"! I didn’t have much battery left and needed to save it for emergency stuff so I didn’t take any photos. Here’s what it looks like in the fall though:
This is also the same place where my good photo buddies Jordan, Peter, and Steve stumbled upon my first time actually seeing northern lights. It was a magical moment, with Selena Gomez music playing in the background:
I sat and munched the crap out of my snacks, like a hungry trick or treater. And I trekked down the mountain and headed back the way I came. This time the walk felt more like a victory. I didn’t walk back with worthy photos, but walked back with the feeling that I accomplished something greater. Definitely made me think about entering more 5k’s and a possible half marathon if I can actually maintain a good diet and exercise schedule. Not much interesting things happened during the next few miles. I did run into an old couple from Minneapolis. It was a small world after getting to know each other. They were hiking back the same way so we became hiking buddies. They were cool. I love running into nice people. It just gives you a little more faith in humanity.
After they went down the other route, I had done some more thinking during the last couple of miles before I could see the holy grail at this point (my car). I enjoyed doing this trip solo, but I think it’s a little more sweet to enjoy it with someone else. So for my future girlfriend, get ready.
It’s heading toward sunset and I finally made it back to Juice. I could not be more relieved! I hugged that thing. No shame. I surprisingly had more energy than I thought I would from that adventure, so I decided to grab my camera bag and trekked back to the waterfall that was nearby the resort. I’m so glad I did that. I ended up getting my favorite photo from the trip:
So that was only the first few days, but they were the days that I really needed. I’m glad I did this trip. I love photography, love the north shore, love my friends, love my fans, and I am eternally grateful that I get to do this. Grateful for a rad week. Grateful for my health. Grateful for quick escapes, grateful for clarity, for the experiences. Grateful for it all. Everything.
Have a great weekend, y’all. Keep Dreaming!
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