Let’s Go Back to the Isle: Day Six

Trail/Park: Isle Royale National Park

It may be officially certifiable that I’m crazy as I sit here writing this in a shelter at Windigo.

Journal Entry on July 16, 2017

It’s a bit comical now reading that journal entry of mine from this day. Just the day before I’d discovered that I’d likely have the not-so-fun loss of one, possibly two toenails because of my ambition to hike nearly 16 miles in wet boots. But there you have it. The getting there was yet another day of adventure.

If I thought I’d had late starts on my first couple of days, today’s was even later. It was nearly 10:30 a.m. before I navigated the slippery mud between the South Dessor campground and the Greenstone Ridge Trail. I was tired and sore. My muscles and feet ached. The bright sun once again gave me a boost and meant that I’d be mostly dry for another day. I knew that mud would be my primary challenge and that I’d need to stop and check my feet more often now. The last thing I’d need would be an infection.

Having heard from Nick about how muddy the Island Mine campground was on his first night and knowing it was in a low, marshy area, my goal was to get to the trail intersection by lunchtime and decided if I could make it to Windgo instead. The trail from South Dessor to the Greenstone was plenty slippery, but each day the mud solidified a bit. At the intersection with the Greenstone the trail takes a sharp climb but offers beautiful views of South Dessor Lake before the trees take over.

An Act of Giving

As I neared the top of one of the last climbs with a view, I came upon the youth group that I’d met the night before the ferry brought us over. As with the other ferry passengers I’d crossed paths with, we greeted each other with stories of our past few days. The previous night I’d given myself a hard time because I had way too much food and was slogging along with unnecessary weight because of it. As I chatted with this group, I asked if they’d like to have some extra food. They readily agreed to take whatever I’d like to give up. This afforded me the opportunity to pass along a variety of items that their counselor agreed would be divvied up as equitably as possible later.

We talked about the other people we’d seen from the ferry over the last few days and as I mentioned running into Nick, I told them that I’d dropped my bug goo and was reluctantly wearing my headnet. One of the counselors started digging into her pack and produced a nearly empty container of bug spray, offering it in exchange for the food I’d just shared. I took it with extreme gratitude feeling that I’d gotten the better half of the exchange. Once again, I parted ways, wishing them a wonderful adventurous two weeks.

The next thing I new I ran into yet another couple who shared trail conditions from the south and I shared mine from the last couple of days, noting that it would be likely that the farther north they got, the dryer the mud would be. They also warned me that there was a tree down over a section of boardwalk that I’d have the joy of navigating over.

I spent a long stretch after seeing them in solitude. When I reached the tree on the boardwalk I had a new challenge. The boardwalk was surrounded by bog. Smack in the middle of the boardwalk was a tree that had a width to my hips. I searched in vain for any possible spot of dry land anywhere around. The thought of stepping into the bog and getting my feet wet again wasn’t appealing. I knew the only way forward was to climb over the tree and hope I didn’t miss the other side of the boardwalk on the way down. I ended up sitting on top of the tree and swinging my legs over hoping I’d be able to slide down without ripping my pants or my pack open. Thankfully I was able to navigate it and was soon back on my way.

Continuing south, the mud was less and less watery, but I could see how it would have been soupy a few days earlier. Of course there were still sections that were deep and required a confident stride. I enjoyed the forest with small streams and eventually came up to the marker for the Island Mine campground. I stopped, took off my boots, checked my feet, got something to eat. As I rested a small group of trail runners went by. I was feeling good so I decided to press on instead of hike the half mile to a campground I knew would still be muddy from the reports of the hikers I’d run into earlier in the day.

Panoramic photo of the forest along the southern end of the Greenstone Ridge Trail on Isle Royale National Park with the sun filtering through the trees on the greenery and rocks.

Along the next segment I ran into a trio of two men and a son who were heading to Island Mine. I won’t lie that the more people I saw, the more excited I got for my decision to keep moving. Windgo isn’t a bustling town by any means, but at this point it represented finishing my slog through days of mud and the possibility of conversation. The southern end of the island has a fairly consistent, rolling terrain, not the steep climbs and decent of the center and northern part of the island and I was grateful for it.

I crossed the narrow flow of Washington Creek, checking my water situation. The area was a nice place to stop and was covered in moss. Moving on, the trial continues to keep dropping in elevation, meaning more mud. Thankfully the patches of dry earth helped me keep my pace, which was now closer to what I’d planned. I took delight in everything around me, including a tree that arched over the trail giving the impression of passing through a gate. It wasn’t long after passing it that the breeze changed from the humid forest breeze to one of open water. It had me nearly skipping joyously down the trail. From that point, I kept having to remind myself that I needed to take care with my feet I was so excited.

It wasn’t long before the trail became a solidly used path. Then the marker for Windgo appeared. I was exhausted and it was late in the day, but I stopped to take pictures. The final .3 of a mile to the campground seemed to be 3 miles. I now worried that I’d not be able to find an open shelter or campsite this late in the day. As I hobbled into the campground, I moved past the large group sites to the shelters, first finding one occupied by a lovely couple who told me that they thought the next few were open.

I put a few empty shelters between us and thankfully landed in shelter #10, conveniently located across from the latrine. That meant less distance to walk on my aching feet and the hope that it would be a quiet night. I spread out my sleeping bag, made dinner and before dark I was sound asleep. But before I slept I finished my journal entry for the day with the words

I made it! And a day early to boot. Yes!

Journal entry July 16, 2017

Helpful Hints

  • Training will help you figure out what fears you pack to ease. On this trip it was food. I knew from previous trips that I’d be forcing myself to eat, especially in the mornings. That it would take a few days before my hunger kicked in. But I packed for the trip as if I’d eat a lot from the first day. I carried way more food weight than I needed.
  • When you are dealing with foot issues, stop often to check on them. Really, stop often to check on any injury no matter how small. Rain, sweat, any moisture can prevent healing so give a minor wound a break and some fresh air.
  • I’ve learned that I need to carry an antihistamine for bug bites. Know your own body’s reactions and what you need to carry to keep yourself from as many issues as you can.

Photo of a group of hikers on a sunny day in a field heading towards a wooded area. The photographer has taken the photo from behind the group.

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