A Thru-Hiker’s Journey I Have Observed for 27 Years
By Denny Caneff, SHTA executive director
I had the honor and great satisfaction of accompanying my son James as he made the last few thousand steps on his thru-hike of the Superior Hiking Trail earlier this month.
We found each other at the Andy Lake Road trail head, where he stated his pleasure at being “deep in the bush” of Grand Portage State Forest. Dusty gravel roads, no cell phone signal, no noise from Hwy. 612, only a few souls hanging around. We felt deliciously isolated.
James kept up a nonstop monologue through the grass and over the roots and down the logging roads toward the terminus. Though the SHT offer him rich solitude, what will stick with James the most are his encounters with other trail users. Everyone had a different reason for putting themselves through a thru-hike. The SHT is mental health counselor, spiritual guide, athletic trainer, tester of patience and endurance. James tapped all the Trail offered.
We huffed up to the 270 Overlook, where he threw his poles up in joy and triumph. I felt vicariously his relief and sense of accomplishment, sitting up there gazing into Canada and watching the Pigeon River etch the border between two countries. The Overlook was even better than I had expected. I can’t help but “work on the Trail” when I’m hiking the SHT, and I began to dream about making a spur trail down to the river so hikers could dip their toes into international waters.
It’s rewarding for me to see how James has taken to hiking. I helped him take his first steps, encouraged his many excursions, and watched him take a few missteps in his life. But it’s fun to see how hiking has grabbed him hard. Our return trip to the car was an inventory of the many hiking trails he’s now ready to take on.
I don’t know if I will be able to see James to the ends of those trails as I did on the SHT. But whenever I set foot on it, I will always see his footsteps and feel his passion for the Trail — and recall his renewed passion for life that is the Trail’s gift to him.