It was a really long walk!

22 May

Have you ever wondered how far you’ve walked in your lifetime? Too bad we don’t come with built-in pedometers. We’ve all probably walked a lot during our lifetimes, but is it always with a purpose? I know I’ve walked a lot in my forty years, and I can honestly say that there has been a lot of purpose in my steps. Yes, I’m referring to my many walks along the railway; I wish I had a pedometer for that as well. Ninety-two miles of railway were built and I’ve covered a lot of those sections many times over. I wouldn’t even begin to guess how many miles I’ve done over the years. There was one time in the last twenty years that I knew exactly how much of the railway I covered, but that’s a story for later.

So it’s been a crazy couple of weeks since I last wrote. It’s to be expected though, as the approach of the end of the year always brings with it a plethora of things to do. Thank God it is nearing the end of June as I don’t think I could handle much more of this.

Well, what’s keeping you busy Dave? I guess the answer is what isn’t keeping me busy! School is very hectic as usual. I’m trying to keep up with the marking and we are going to be timetabling for next year very soon. Things are ramping up in football as well. A couple weekends ago the coaches from the University of Minnesota-Duluth were in town putting on their annual coaching clinic and camp. I spent the Friday night learning a few new things about coaching defense, while Saturday and Sunday were spent at the LU Hanger watching Ethan go through various drills. This week we met with our Grade 9’s and travelled to our feeder school, Pope John Paul II, to talk about our upcoming spring camp.

The weather is slowly warming, though as is typical in the spring around here, the temperatures can be all over the map…beautiful one day and freezing cold the next. We seem to be about three weeks behind where we should be in terms of the progress of the season. I’m desperately trying to catch up on things around the house that should have been done a while ago but that I couldn’t due to the weather (and we all know how much I love yard work!). A few weeks ago I trashed part of my backyard pulling the boat to the front yard; it’s going to be a treat trying to fix the damage once everything dries out.

This past weekend was a little bit longer due to Monday’s Victoria Day holiday. Traditionally this marks the beginning of the summer camping, fishing and hiking season, but it wasn’t the usual hub-bub due to the delayed spring conditions. I had been planning to go down to Gunflint to do some hiking, but I had to postpone. I’m going to try again this weekend…hopefully we get the +20C they are calling for! I’ll be hiking the railway along portions of the Centennial Trail with the intention of shooting some new video of the area (with my fancy new video camera). Fingers are crossed!

So if you recall I left off in my last post talking about my twenty year involvement with the railway. It was the summer of 1994 and I was in the midst of a great trek to explore a remote, neglected part of the railway along North and Gunflint Lakes. At the time the area was very inaccessible due to the lack of direct roads; the only real way to get in was via North Lake, which was an ordeal in itself. Fortuitously some family connections gave me a little bit of help in making this trip happen.

In those days one could not simply drive in to North Lake; due to some terrible road conditions, I had to walk the approximately 9km in from Addie Lake while carrying all my gear with me. You can do those things with a little more ease when you’re 20 years old! The next obstacle in my path was the famed Trestle Bay, which was spanned by a 1000 foot trestle from 1892 to 1909. It would take an hour plus ride by boat from the east end of North Lake to the narrows between Little Gunflint and Gunflint Lakes where I left my gear, and then another half hour back by boat to my drop off point at the western side of Trestle Bay. The searing late August heat made the 6km hike from Trestle Bay westward to my campsite at the eastern side of Gunflint Lake quite the ordeal, but I made it.

The next morning I was up bright and early as I had a daunting task ahead of me; I would be walking the remaining 12km of railway right to the Gunflint Narrows where the railway crossed into Minnesota. I had never seen this part of the railway and I was amazed at all the rock work that had been done along the shore of Gunflint Lake. Walking through Leeblain I saw the remains of the rock ovens for the first time; I was disappointed that I could not find the location of the Gunflint Cross which was approximately 1.5km west of the ghost town.

My original intention was to spend another day on Gunflint before I was picked up by boat, but after two straight days of walking and a big thunderstorm after day two, I was done. The question was how to get back? I formulated a pretty bold plan. I packed my gear and hiked the 6km eastward to Trestle Bay. When I arrived, I stripped down to swimming shorts, put my hiking boots and clothes in a garbage bag and proceeded to swim the 1000 foot expanse while fighting white-cap conditions and praying not to get impaled on an old trestle piling. The stupidity of youth! I made it across, got dressed and walked another 5km back to the east end of North Lake.

Rock cut, North Lake, August 1994.

Rock cut, North Lake, August 1994.

Rock cut, Gunflint Lake, August 1994.

Rock cut, Gunflint Lake, August 1994.

Rock oven, Gunflint Lake, August 1994.

Rock oven, Gunflint Lake, August 1994.

Rock cut, Gunflint Lake, August 1994.

Rock cut, Gunflint Lake, August 1994.

My North Lake hosts were shocked by my unexpected arrival and astonished by tale of how I got there. A short boat trip later I had retrieved my gear and was back on the trail toward Addie Lake and home. If you’ve been keeping track, the finally tally looked something like this: 9k+6k+24K+6k+5k+9k. I’m not sure about your math, but that equals nearly 60km in my calculator. I walked 60km in three days! This was either an incredible display of determination and fortitude, or just really stupid…I guess it depends on your perspective. Needless to say I’ve never done anything like that since, though I have contemplated a 60km journey along the Kekabekic Trail from Gunflint to Ely (I want to see the planned route of the railway between those two points). Maybe I’ll do it someday when the boys are older.

Anyway, I should get rolling. I’ll probably be back next week with more reflections of the past and some details from the weekend’s hike. Until then…

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Posted by on May 22, 2014 in Hiking, History, Railway, Research, Writing


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