A Spirit-ual Experience on the SHT
“Wilderness is not a luxury but a necessity of the human spirit, and as vital to our lives as water and good bread.” – Edward Abbey, Desert Solitaire.
I’ve spent the last few weeks adjusting to my first Minnesota winter and working to buy a house in Duluth. Soon, I’ll be taking a trip back to Washington State to visit family and enjoy more temperate conditions for the holidays. At the office, we’ve been crafting ambitious plans for the SHT in 2019. I’m excited to see the Trail Renewal Program in action, but I’m also a bit anxious about the crowded, soon-to-be-released project calendar. Put simply, it’s been a typically busy and stressful December already.
When I stepped out of my car to hike the one of Duluth’s “Triple Crown of SHT Loops” at Spirit Mountain (the other loops include Ely’s Peak and Brewer Park), my mind was elsewhere – my growing to-do list, my inbox, what color I’ll paint the new bathroom. I hardly noticed I was the only human around as I took off on the Trail from the upper parking lot. But I quickly realized how alone I was, as I wandered into the snow-covered woods, when I saw there were no tracks ahead of me on the Trail. Nobody had taken this route since the snow had fallen a few days before. I forgot what had been on my mind – ripping out old wallpaper – and instead thought about how cool it was to put the first boot prints on fresh snow. (Note: As a first-year Minnesotan, this is still a novel experience for me.)
I found myself fully present, in my body and mind and surroundings, for the first time in weeks. I felt the gentle, chilly breeze on my face. I noticed the crisscrossing rabbit and squirrel tracks all over the place. I paused to admire snow piled up on a young pine tree’s needles. I could hear the faint hum of the ski lift running off in the distance, but it was white noise, easily drowned out by the steady crunch of snow under my boots. I nearly missed a turn by the campground while pondering how the few remaining leaves had held on for so much longer than the hundreds buried below the snow. I felt peaceful and calm, completely removed from the stress I had felt just minutes before.
As I came to a junction and turned to head down the main SHT, I saw there was some ice underneath the snow in some places. I didn’t have any traction devices on my boots, but I hadn’t slipped yet and continued on downhill anyways. In hindsight, I wouldn’t recommend this – unless you’re comfortable ice skating in hiking boots or sliding on your rear-end. Lesson learned.
West of the Chalet, I came to another junction, this one of the SHT and COGGS biking trails. I appreciated the warning signs, but I didn’t bother looking both ways before crossing, trusting the silence that surrounded me didn’t include any stealth fat tire bikers. Soon after, I traversed a short, new reroute of the SHT where it was moved to avoid the recently built Nordic ski trails. It’s impressive how many great trails have been threaded through the Spirit Mountain property to ensure nobody has an excuse to stay home – if you hike, bike, run, or ski, there’s something for you to enjoy in every season.
Passing the Grand Avenue Chalet, the spell of solitude was broken; I finally encountered other people enjoying an afternoon ski session. But as soon as I dipped back into the woods, I was alone again and following Kingsbury Creek up the hill. I couldn’t help but think back to the struggles I faced on this part of the Trail only a few months before during the Grand Traverse and Wild Duluth trail races, both of which use the SHT for their race courses. I had passed other runners heading up this hill – so it stood out in my mind – but it certainly looked like a different trail when wearing its wintery coat.
As I approached the last turn off of the main SHT back to the parking lot, I paused to admire the ice forming on Kingsbury Creek. This junction again exemplifies how our paths converge with nature’s – bike trails crossing hiking trails crossing waterways. I headed up the final hill back towards the parking lot, again setting foot on fresh snow.
What I took from my 1.5 hour trip around the Spirit Mountain Loop is that, like food and water, we have a vital need for both solitude and space to explore outdoors. We can all benefit from taking time to get away from the hustle and bustle of our daily lives. The SHT, even inside Duluth’s city limits, offers a unique opportunity to feel like you’re alone in the wilderness without having to travel far from an expressway – a perfect opportunity to reset and clear your mind. So if you’re feeling stressed out or overwhelmed by the demands of the holidays, I recommend you give your spirits a boost by enjoying a walk around the Spirit Mountain Loop.
By Jaron Cramer, SHTA Development and Communications Director