Being A Trail Angel Has Hidden Rewards

Caribou Falls cascading over the rocks at the base of the falls.
Caribou River Falls

#46hike of my 52 Hike Challenge

Trail/Park: Caribou River Spur Trail, Superior Hiking Trail, MN

It was almost a year to the day that I tried to track down my friend and fellow hiker the Wandering Pine as she started on her attempt at thru-hiking the Superior Hiking Trail (SHT) in one five week blast. In the end she and her trail mate ended up only covering about 100 miles of the 300+ mile trail due to a series of varied injuries that drove her hiking crew off trail. Undaunted, she determined to tackle the hike in segments and would be hiking her last 50 mile section while I was on my North Shore adventures this year. Obviously another plan was hatched for me to try and trail angel her.

For context, thru-hikers often depend on the kindness of others for various forms of support. These people who offer the kindnesses are known in the hiker vernacular as Trail Angels, Trail Fairies and the like. These helpers might bring food to the trail, offer a ride to town for a zero day, provide a night of rest off trail in the warmth and hospitality of their home, even access to a warm shower. It’s a spirit boost to the thru-hiker. Sometimes there is a hidden bonus for the angel too. I’ll get to that soon enough.

Armed with Jen’s itinerary I’d decided on the day and campsite. One I knew I could hike to reasonably quickly since it would be at the end of the day and that I might have to hike out as it was getting dark. I landed on the Caribou River Spur Trail as it offered parking, about a mile hike one way and would provide me a hike on a trail I’d not experienced before.

As I headed out, laden with a partial bundle of wood and a couple of beers, I was asked if I was camping for the night by two ladies coming the opposite direction. I explained my purpose and then headed up the trail. The trail itself starts out about a mile from Lake Superior on a quiet section of the Caribou River, then quickly gains elevation alongside the river. As I hiked in, I could hear a falls and it wasn’t long before I caught my first glimpse of the falls roaring from the morning’s rain. A side stair goes down to the base of the falls, which I took about halfway down, before glancing at my watch. I knew that Jen and her crew would be rolling into camp in about 45 minutes and I wanted to be there when they arrived.

The trail continues to get steeper and narrower as it climbs toward the junction with the SHT. The sound of the falls stays with hikers as they venture along the trail, but the views are of the river gorge below. It wasn’t long before I came to the intersection with the SHT and saw the sign for the East Campsite and the bridge leading to the west side of the river and West Campsite, where I expected to meet up with Jen.

At the intersection I discovered one of the many logbooks on the trail. These notebooks are a place for hikers to track their progress, to leave notes for each other and to find folks on trail through their entries. This one was placed in a bright blue mailbox which was fastened to the roots of a downed tree that looked as if it had let lose it’s early bond for this very purpose. Next to it was a long bench making the site feel welcoming and cozy. I pulled the notebook from it’s plastic bag, penned a note to Jen in the event that I had missed her or that her crew was behind and I would miss them to avoid the decent in the dark. I carefully wrapped the book back up and slid it back into the mailbox before I took a deep breath to cross the bridge.

The bridge over the Caribou River at the intersection with the Superior Hiking Trail.

The longer I’ve hiked the easier the bridges and high places have gotten for me though they always take me a minute to digest. This bridge was solidly placed and sturdy which I always appreciate when I’m on the SHT. It’s an effort to place and upkeep these bridges and trails that I don’t take lightly since it’s all done by volunteers and through donations.

On the other side the bridge I quickly located the campsite, tucked off to one side of the river gorge. It was a bit quieter and smaller, but had a nice fire pit. I got to work unloading my pack. And then nature called. So I grabbed my Kula Cloth, headed to a private spot and took care of business, all the while listening as best I could over the noise of the river for the voices I expected to hear anytime.

Then I heard what I thought to be Jen’s crew. By the time I reappeared it was quiet again. I waited, and waited a bit more. I called out and then decided that I’d heard the people I’d passed on the spur trail who must have made it to the intersection and then turned back or perhaps Jen and her crew had decided to head for the next site another three miles down trail. I waited a bit longer and then decided it was time to head back since the sun was starting to get lower in the trees.

As I left the site, I realized that, while I hadn’t been able to give my friend encouragement in person, that I had made the attempt. And in sharing her itinerary with me, she too had given me a gift. Both last year and this year, the itinerary and the thought of finding her in the woods had taken me to two beautiful places I might otherwise have missed. So as I headed back down trail, I wondered if maybe she was my trail angel. What if I had the roles reversed?

The log book at the junction of the Caribou Spur Trail and the Superior Hiking trail with my note to Jen and hers in reply to me.
Postscript: On my arrival at the parking lot, this image pinged into my phone from Jen. My suspicions were confirmed, during my trip to the woodland loo she’d wandered right by.

GEAR: Vasque Talus Mid UltraDry Hiking Boots, Marmot Kompressor Pack, SPOT GEN3 Satellite GPS Messenger, Dueter Dirtbag, Kula Cloth, Leki Lhasa Lite AS trekking poles. Want to know more about my gear selections? Head on over to Gear & Gadgets.

Next Post Preview:  September 21 was National Clean Up Day. I’m so grateful to the incredible crew of helpers that showed up to clean up one of my favorite parks.

Copyright Ruth Wikoff-Jones, | No Use Permitted Without Prior Permission

One thought on “Being A Trail Angel Has Hidden Rewards

  1. Aw! Love this post and you are the sweetest! We just missed you when we missed the sign for camp the first time. We wondered if that was you that left the wood!! Thanks for being a great trail angel and tracking us down! You rock!!

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