So it happened again, less than a month later from my experience in Marquette. I was lost deep in the woods without proper gear or supplies.
That day I had cruised over to Chapel Falls and met a lovely couple on the trail. We helped each other find an elusive section and struck up a conversation on mushrooms, politics, and veganism. The banter was welcome after the isolation I was experiencing.
We had a brilliant time along the loop, especially when we got to the lakeshore. The small but powerful waterfall which gushes into Superior is so magical in the framework of Chapel Rock and the Lake Superior shoreline.
As we progressed around the point we were treated to marvelously epic views of the legendary and world-renowned Pictured Rocks. Finishing up this luxuriously delicious hike we parted ways and exchanged contact information. It was their first time in da Yoop and I shared a laundry list of hot spots.
I decide to go to my favorite nearby campground at Kingston Lake rather than push. It was time for rest: after all, we had hiked well over a dozen miles. Well, after a few hours of hanging out and relaxing I got antsy. The neighbors came over to introduce me to their dog and told me there was a trail to the beach and they were going.
Naturally, I asked how far it was and they said four miles. "One way or round trip?" I inquired. They let me know that was only one way but "it was an easy hike with not much elevation change". I grabbed a beer and my light day pack and opted to join them after asking permission to do so.
We get down the trail and it's flooded. It quickly becomes apparent this may not be so easy. We cross the body of water and find some two-tracks that appear to continue in the right direction. We follow the wrong one more than once as we try to pick the pathway that heads North towards Superior and the setting sun.
About three miles in my accomplices give up and decide to head back. I checked my phone and saw we were less than a mile or so to Superior. I didn't come that far only to come that far, so I continued onwards.
I decided to go off-trail and charge directly for the coastline, it was a fateful decision. I had to traverse through thick underbrush, berries, and bushes. It was rough going and non-linear. Due to the brush, I wigwagged my way, checking Google Maps occasionally.
I got through the brush to old-growth forest. Now there was a large hill to navigate and new knowledge that I was farther than I thought and the sun was already getting low. Shit! Well, onwards towards the lake. I finally popped out right on the rocky shoreline. There was an abundance of hydrology evidence everywhere. Many little streams bubbled from the ground and towards the big inland sea.
I checked my maps and decided to not go back that way, it was too rough and thick. It had really beaten me up on the way in and was slow going. I would push down the coast to Sullivan's Landing where I could get a ride back to Kingston Lake...or so I thought.
I got to a campground and spoke with some volunteer rangers. They informed me Sullivan's Landing was still miles away and that I wouldn't get any phone reception so my hopes for a ride were dashed. They did however let me know that there was a trail that connected the NCT to Kingston.
This had been the trail we were searching for unsuccessfully earlier. I had been so close to it when I popped out of the woods on the lakeshore. If I had gone the other direction it would have been under a mile. Instead, I had added a few miles in the wrong direction and jogged the distance back in the citrus sunlight.
I discovered the trailhead to Kingston Lake just as twilight was upon me. The trail was clearly not used frequently. It was overgrown with brush and downed logs frequently blocked the pathway forward. The trail markers and signs were also disintegrating or non-existent and I frequently struggled to understand where the trail was and how to continue.
I was seriously unprepared for this journey. I had no food and little water remained. My phone was also at 5% and was my only source of light other than igniting the birch bark scraps that littered the ground with the lighter I serendipitously had with me...until I lost that too. The birch wasn't working very well as a torch because it would take off and drop flaming pieces of itself onto the trail I'd have to stomp out to prevent a forest fire.
The going was tough and the stress of the situation became very real. I did my best to stay calm and trust I'd find my way back but in the darkness of the forest I completely lost the trail....only to seemingly pop back onto it again later or so I thought, but I really couldn't tell.
I used my Google Maps and the moon's position to guide me back towards camp. I couldn't seem to stay on the trail and saw the network of two-tracks on the map that we were on earlier. My phone battery is dying and I've completely lost any gauge on where the trail is and isn't. The threat of a night in the woods became tangible.
Not only could I have to sleep in the woods, but I also may not be able to find my way out without any guidance system. I knew I had to get to that logging trail and made a break for it! I battled through the thick brush but the moonlight helped guide me out of the forest and onto a two-track. The relief I felt was magical and I was proud I had made it there through my resolve.
I looked at my map and studied the route to the campground, I had a few more turns to go! Then, my phone died. It was just me, the moonlight, forest, and stars. I optimistically cruised the few miles of two-tracks till I hit the asphalt road running along the coastline. I had missed my turn-off.
My chances of finding it by backtracking didn't seem good. I had been looking for it the whole time and didn't see it on the way here. I was exhausted, hungry, thirsty and now mosquitos were swarming me. I tried my best to recall the map I had tried to memorize before my phone died. I trusted my intuition and took a right down the road. I figured eventually I'd hit something I recognized and be able to figure out where I am.
I walked for what seemed like miles. I added it up and knew I was pushing my limits again. I had done twelve or thirteen miles at Chapel, now at least another eight for the four to the beach and back at Kingston, which meant I was over twenty miles on the day. Then, add in my detour of two miles each way and we're above twenty-four miles on the day conservatively. I knew the real total was even higher with this detour to the road.
Just then, two cars come whizzing into view. I knew they were likely leaving the bar in Grand Marais and intensely flagged them down. I really didn't expect them to but they stopped just ahead of me and ran out to ask if I was okay. The headlights of their vehicles had perfectly illuminated the sign for Kingston Lake State Forest Campground, I was home.
I prolifically thanked the man who came to greet me feeling relieved. He said, "Don't thank me, thank Jesus Christ", in the paradoxical fashion only a drunk alcoholic can pull off. I told him he is right and he offered me a ride to my site but I told him I got it from here. I had come this far on my own after all. I thankfully trudged back to my campsite and lit a massive fire as I feasted and drank. It was a marvelous moment of victory.