Heading West : Solo Backpacking Weekend, Part 2

The photo shows a trail rising into the distance covered with the yellow leaves of fall and surrounded by tal maple trees.

#35 of my 2021 52 Hike Challenge

Trail/Park: North Country Trail, Maplewood State Park

This hike took place on the traditional territory of the Očhéthi Šakówiŋ, Mdewakanton, and Anishinabewaki ᐊᓂᔑᓈᐯᐗᑭ. I respect the histories, languages and cultures of these peoples, whose presence continues to enrich our vibrant and changing communities. To learn more about the tribes and these lands, please follow the links provided.

Trash Collected: 0.01 pounds, just one tiny piece of plastic

The drive from North Dakota took me through farmland where the fall sugar beet harvest was in full swing. Large sugar beets littered intersections where they’d fallen from overloaded trucks on their way to the Cargill processing plant near Wahpeton, ND. Gradually the farmland gave way to the wooded Maplewood State Park. Another clear, cold day was in front of me. While I was wishing I’d skipped this part of the weekend for two full days on trail in North Dakota, I knew this overnight would be another fun adventure.

On a visit a few years ago, I’d unknowingly hiked a segment of the North Country Trail. I was returning to revisit and hike the parts I hadn’t covered. While the North Country Trail covers more than 30 miles in North Dakota, this section is just three miles long. Nearly straight north/south section over steep elevation changes through beautiful maple forest. Eight lakes surrounded by hills formed as part of the Alexandria Glacial Moraine make up the stunning terrain.

The park’s five mile drive is worth the trip, even if you aren’t a hiker. But I’d come to do just that – hike. I’d reserved one of the park’s backpack sites overlooking Cow Lake. About half way along the drive I parked at a small pull-over spot for the campsites and grabbed my gear. With slightly colder temperatures expected and a closer spot to my car, I decided to take a second sleeping bag for extra warmth. It meant carrying it outside of my pack, but the short distance and inconvenience would be a small price to pay.

The trail to the campsite starts with a steep 100 foot climb on a half-mile long hill. It levels off briefly before turning and heading up another 100 feet. I’d selected the Grass campsite because of it’s proximity to the NTC. The reality is it sits at the intersection of several trails including the NTC. During the day it’s a busy intersection. The shelter itself was missing floor boards and appeared to have leavings of mice in one corner. I made the assumption there might be a mouse nest in the wall behind the plywood. Knowing this, I set up my tent a short distance from the shelter, located a tree to hang my food and decided to get my hike in before dark.

The section I’d not covered on my previous visit was located to the south of the campsite. Deciding to take my pack with me instead of leaving it at the busy intersection, I was off for a late afternoon hike. The colors were beautiful – golden topped hills I knew my camera wouldn’t capture with the same intensity I was witnessing. I’d forgotten how deeply rolling the hills of the park are. Regular elevation changes clock in between 100 and 400 feet in short distances. Even so, the trail is well traveled and easy to follow. The crisp air was helpful as I moved up and down, shedding layers to keep from overheating.

Making it as far as the Maplewood Church had me exhausted after my previous night of little sleep. I turned back toward camp and dinner. Pleasantly full I poured myself a hot cup of water to warm up before crawling into my tent for the night. I felt an immense sense of gratitude for the weekend, weather and beauty surrounding me.

As I fell toward sleep a rustling started all around the tent. At first I thought I’d be able to ignore it. I shook the tent a bit and the movement would stop briefly. I knew it was mice from the shelter nest. I was glad I’d hung my food in my bear bag further away, knowing they wouldn’t find anything in my pack. The rustling continued. I got up to use the latrine to find I’d left an empty cereal bag for collecting trash in the exterior pocket of my pack. The mice had begin pull it out, but hadn’t yet made a mess chewing it to bits.

Frustrated with myself for missing the bag, I took it to the latrine, tied it as high as I could and resigned myself to the idea of cleaning up tiny bits of plastic from the latrine in the morning. Thinking I’d taken the temptation away, I huddled back into my sleeping bag. Drifting off to sleep the rustling began again. Then, I heard a sound above me. I opened my eyes to a mouse sitting on the top of my tent between it and the rainfly. I gave the tent another hard shake. Grudgingly I got out again, this time clearing the leaves from around the tent hoping I was sending a clearer message I didn’t want to be disturbed. Slowly the movements in the leaves died down and I drifted off to sleep.

Morning came, cold and cloudy. Reluctantly I climbed from my tent again, tired from the noisy night. I slowly packed up my gear wondering if I could take another night of mice rustling in the leaves around my tent. I’d not find out on this trip. I slowly retraced my path down the hill and along Little Grass Lake. The intensity of the golden topped trees on the hills around me hadn’t faded even on this cloudy day. I futility tried to capture the views on my camera, knowing the true vivid colors would live in my memory. I was reminded that just two days outside can provide so many things to reset one’s perspective. On the slow drive through the park I was treated again and again to show stopping views. Again gratitude filling my heart.

Home Again

Getting home and unpacking is something I rarely see anyone write about. For me, the trip home is always accompanied by a bit of sadness knowing I’m going back to the day-to-day routine. When I get home everything gets unpacked. Everything. I wash gear that got dirty. Extra food is stored. Dishes are cleaned and water bottles emptied. I hang what needs to dry out up, which in winter means inside my tiny little house – tents in the shower, sleeping bags on their hooks in the basement. I know I’ll be spending a couple hours getting everything in order. It’s my gift to my future self to have gear that’s well cared for and ready for my next adventure whether it’s a long-planned hike or an impromptu weekend away.

Next Post Preview: I celebrate my mom’s birthday in a special place surrounded by a group of wonderful women.

GEAR: Vasque Talus Mid UltraDry Hiking Boots, Smartwool Merino 250 Base Layer, Merrell Women’s Siren 3 Mid Waterproof, REI Co-op XeroDry GTX Jacket, REI Co-op 650 Down Jacket, REI Co-op Rainier Full Zip Rain Pant, Marmot Kompressor Pack, SPOT GEN3 Satellite GPS Messenger, Dueter Dirtbag, Kula Cloth, Leki Women’s Micro Vario Cor-Tec TA trekking poles, Hornet™ Ultralight Backpacking Tent, Paria Thermodown 30 down quilt, REI Flash 3-Season Sleeping Pad, Thermarest Z Seat™, Z Lite™ Sleeping Pad, MSR Pocket Rocket Stove, GSI Pinnacle Dualist Cookset, MSR® IsoPro™ Fuel. Want to know more about my gear selections? Head on over to Gear & Gadgets or check out my posts titled “Gear in Review”.


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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5 thoughts on “Heading West : Solo Backpacking Weekend, Part 2

    1. The coldest over that weekend in October was in the 20s. And thanks, but I don’t consider myself brave. It’s more that I’m prepared. Including that I’m willing to bail if anything seems unsafe or “off”.

      1. I meant brave about bearing the cold. I can’t even imagine camping in temps below 40!

        On Wed, Jan 19, 2022, 7:46 PM Ruth’s Blue Marble wrote:

        > ruthsbluemarble commented: “The coldest over that weekend in October was > in the 20s. And thanks, but I don’t consider myself brave. It’s more that > I’m prepared. Including that I’m willing to bail if anything seems unsafe > or “off”.” >

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