From Wayne and Marie Ferguson’s house, the U.S. – Canada border was a mere 36 miles away. I left Thunder Bay on June 12th and began the last leg of my trek through Ontario. Highway 61 weaved through farm and ranchland and was surrounded by rocky hills with flat tops. They reminded me of mesa country in the West, but with lush vegetation.
There was very little traffic (and no 18 wheelers!) to go with a massive shoulder clear through to the border. It made for a peaceful final stretch in Ontario.
I arrived at customs the following afternoon. In total, I walked 1,115 miles in Canada. 1,000 of those were in Ontario. I thoroughly enjoyed my time with America’s northern neighbor, but I was excited to arrive in Minnesota!
Getting back into the states was a breeze. The only item I was bringing back with me I was worried about getting across the border was a “bear stick” Marie had bought for me. The stick was made by a craftsman in Thunder Bay. It looks and functions like a normal walking stick, but the handle can be removed, which exposes an eight inch spear. It can be used as a weapon against a bear in a worst case scenario….if yelling and bear spray don’t work! I was worried it could be considered a “concealed weapon” or something, since the spear is hidden.
When the border agent asked me if I had any weapons, I told him about the stick. He interrupted me and simply said “That’s a good thing to have. Lots of bears around this area.” He moved along to his next question.
It was a painless border crossing. With my steps across the Pigeon River and a successful pass through customs, I had officially arrived back in the U.S., in the Central Time Zone, and in Minnesota. I achieved three milestones in a matter of minutes! I was happily back in the land of miles, gallons, pounds, and 100 deet bug spray, which wasn’t available in Canada for “health reasons.”
After taking several ceremonial selfies next to the “Welcome to Minnesota” sign, I began my 400 mile walk through the “Land of 10,000 Lakes.”
I was greeted with some great Minnesotan generosity within a few miles of crossing into the state. A man named Steven, who was visiting the “North Shore” with his kids, pulled over to visit with me. He wished me good luck as I began the mile long climb up Mount Josephine. Near the summit, Steven came back with a care package that included an antioxidant drink, a bag of almonds, a pouch of jerkey, a can of bug spray, and a tin of Altoids. “I bet nobody has given you Altoids yet!” Steven joked. He was right. I hope it wasn’t a subtle hint that I hadn’t been using enough toothpaste!
There were several breathtaking views of Lake Superior from the summit of Mount Josephine before the highway descended into Grand Portage.
It took 1,355 miles, but I finally had my first brush with law enforcement as I made my way into Grand Portage. The town is on a reservation, and one of the Tribal Police Officers pulled his vehicle over to talk with me. I gave him my usual walking spiel before he issued me a stern warning.
“It is against our laws for someone to camp on reservation land, unless it’s at the marina campground. The res continues for another 10 miles outside of town. And since I have warned you, if you do camp in the woods and we catch you, we will arrest you for trespassing. Wouldn’t want to ruin your trip.”
I forced a smile and thanked him for the warning. I would either need to camp in town or walk 10 more miles off the reservation (though some would argue I’m already “off the reservation” considering this walk I’m on). I had already walked 25 miles on the day.
As I approached the campground, I met Anthony and Cecilia. The couple worked at the marina and had just finished their shift for the day. Luckily, they were able to set up a free site for me for the night, which made my decision very easy! I thanked the couple and relaxed at the campground for the rest of the evening. I visited with some other campers and nursed my feet, which had been “firing up,” as I like to say, over the last few days. Unfortunately, my right foot was not alright. I had a few blisters on the sole of the foot, one on the big toe, and a strange rash around the toes. My left foot was great, though. I took some benadryl when bed time rolled around, hoping the red bumps were just an allergic reaction to something (maybe remnants from my errant shot of bear spray a week earlier?).
I had crystal clear weather the following day for the 35 mile walk to Grand Marais. To my surprise, my feet felt pretty good. Julian, a man I camped next to at the campground in Grand Portage, was on an out-and-back cycling trip from the Twin Cities to the Canadian border. The weather was supposed to get nasty for a few days and he decided to wait it out at the campground in Grand Marais. He invited me to camp with him for the night, which allowed me to walk into town as daylight faded without having to worry about where I would sleep.
Like the weatherman predicted, some pretty intense storms rolled through in the early morning hours. I stayed in my tent until the rain, thunder, and lightning stopped. There was a high probability of rain off and on for the next three days.
Julian invited me to stay at his campground as long as I wanted, but ultimately I said “To hell with it. I’m going to walk.” I psyched myself up for a potentially very wet few days.
On the way out of Grand Marais I was able to do an interview with WTIP Community Radio in their studio, conveniently located right off the highway. It led to some great connections down the road.
Amazingly, the rain spared me for the rest of the day. Dark clouds were visible to my south and east throughout the day. The day before, the lakeshore was peaceful under sunny skies. Small waves lapped at the shoreline. Today, the lake was angry. Three foot waves violently crashed onto the rocky coast. I hadn’t seen this side of Lake Superior yet!
Despite the late start, I managed 27 miles and ended my day camping in the woods just past Tofte.
Although I was greeted with partly cloudy skies in the morning, a cold, soaking rain moved into the area by 10 AM. Temperatures were in the mid-60’s but the wind and rain made it feel 10 or 15 degrees cooler. Was it really the middle of June?
I pressed on through the cold and wet weather and arrived in Little Marais. By then the rain had let up, but fog had settled in. A vehicle pulled over near the middle of the tiny town and a man named Gary, who owned the AmericInn in Silver Bay, got out of his car. Gary heard my radio interview and offered me a room for the night at his hotel. I was so excited I nearly hugged him, but didn’t want to stink up his finely pressed suit.
I walked the final eleven miles to Silver Bay and had another pleasant surprise – sunshine! The sun stayed out for the duration of my walk before more storms moved in overnight.
I was thrilled to be safely inside. I spent the evening doing laundry, nursing my feet (which weren’t any better, but weren’t any worse either), and eating cans of tuna fish and chili with tortillas and cheese wiz. I couldn’t have been happier.
I slept in the following morning and wasn’t on the road until 11. I took a brief trip to Black Beach and said goodbye to Lake Superior. My walk around the lake had been spectacular. I had experienced the lake’s many moods – sunny and peaceful; foggy and mystical; stormy and angry. I will always have fond memories of impressive Lake Superior!
I left Silver Bay knowing that I was going to be in for a wet afternoon. After I left the grocery store, I made it about four miles before thunderstorms sidelined me for two hours. I don’t mind walking in some rain, but I draw the line at walking through thunder and lightning. I found a low spot off the road and sat under my umbrella, waiting for the lightning to stop. As I contemplated whether I would get any more walking in, the storms steadily dissipated and I cautiously resumed my stroll. The clouds slowly lifted and I managed another 12 miles. Patience had paid off.
The following day was one for my personal record books. I started my walk at about 7 AM and felt amazing. I had some pep in my step and my feet felt like new. The terrain was flat, traffic levels were low, and I had a massive shoulder all day. I ended up walking 44 miles. I didn’t really plan to cover that distance….I was making good time at 15, 20, 25, and 30 miles, then said “Why not?”
The only problem was I started looking for a sleeping spot once I hit the 40 mile mark, and had walked off national forest land. A wet spring left grass on the roadside chest deep and impenetrable for PJ. I walked into darkenss and desperately looked for somewhere – anywhere to sleep. I crossed a bridge and passed a baby skunk. It startled me a bit so I went to the other side of the road. Another baby skunk! Back to the other side, and boom! A third baby skunk. Fortunately I never saw mama skunk. Getting sprayed by a skunk would be about the worst thing that could happen during my walk – aside from an injury, PJ breaking down, getting arrested by Tribal Police, or being mauled by some animal. I decided it was good luck I hadn’t been sprayed. A mile later I came across a tiny town and decided to sleep behind the Town Hall. I “slept” in my full body bug suit for five hours, woke up at 4 AM, and continued walking to avoid detection. What a day it had been!
Over the next two days I covered the remaining 60 miles to Grand Rapids in a relatively smooth fashion. Initially, I was planning on staying with an old co-worker from the Loop in town, but he thought I was in Grand Rapids, Michigan, not Minnesota.
Fortunately, I had met Dan Nielsen’s parents at the AmericInn in Silver Bay. Dan and his wife were on a four day backpacking trip while his folks watched the grandkids. Dan had reached out to me through Facebook, wishing me luck on my walk. I explained that my lodging plans had fallen through. He set up my stay for two nights at another AmericInn in Grand Rapids, and even took me out to lunch during my rest day in town. Thank you Dan!
There are a handful of helpful Minnesotans who have made contributions in one from or another to my walk during the last week. I am forever grateful for the generosity and love I have been shown in this incredible state!
Days – 71
Miles – 1,569.5
I also completed my first 200 mile week of the trip, walking 209.5 miles in seven days from Grand Portage to Grand Rapids. It was a grand walking stretch!
Peanut Butter Jars – 47
Roadside Change – $5.03
Favorite Roadside Find – Two perfectly wrapped hard candies next to a lucky penny.
Favorite Three Pictures Plus a Bonus Pic-
The Minnesota, North Dakota border is 190 miles away! I am so excited to start my Two-Step down U.S. Highway 2 on day 72 of my walk. Until next time!