Traditionally in this state, when using the word Opener in reference to an activity outdoors, it is either fishing or hunting related. To that end, we always re-open for spring/summer when the fishing season opens on the second Saturday in May. There are several openers throughout the year, and they almost have a holiday-like feeling to them. The excitement runs in the air, there is a scramble to get everything ready in preparation, and in the case of spring fishing, the perennial question that is asked is When Will the Ice Go Out?
But this isn’t a post about ice or fishing. Instead, it is about hiking. Last weekend, I made a plan to begin the North Country Trail’s challenge. If you hike one-hundred miles on any portion of the North Country Trail, even if it is the same mile 100 times over, you can earn a patch. In this area, we are blessed to have three parts of the North Country trail to access: The Border Route Trail, the Kekakabic Trail, and a bit further-flung, the Superior Hiking Trail. The first year that this challenge was issued was 2016. I had to take it on. I love hiking and patches, plain and simple.
I hiked as often as I could, recorded my miles, put out pictures and notes on social media, and by early December, I was able to submit my miles. A few weeks later, I received my reward. The best part about it wasn’t the patch itself. It was that I had set a goal that got me outside. I remember how happy I felt when I was out on the trail, even when it was raining, which happened occasionally. I found a wolf skull on one of those adventures. I saw lots of wildflowers and other seasonal vegetation. I watched a beaver swimming around near a shoreline. He came really close to me when I stooped to observe. I noticed how large he was in relation to his beady little eyes. It was a close encounter for sure. I never saw a moose, but I did see a bear across a lake on the Kek, noshing on the abundant blueberry crop. Oh, and that was another bonus—blue treats along the way! By the time I finished in December, I was hiking through about six inches of snow, following fresh moose tracks. My toes were pretty beat up by then, but I was satisfied.
Back to present times. I decided my first hike would be to Magnetic Rock. This is a wonderful time to hike to the rock. Because there are no leaves on the trees yet, the views are clear. In particular, when approaching the rock, I can get a full and complete view of the silhouette, as the nearby birch tree isn’t covering any portion of it. The trail had some residual snow in the shady spots, and there were muddy areas, too. It’s been a colder spring, I guess. (I recently returned from three weeks in Alaska, so I missed the first part of April, and don’t really know what the weather was doing then.). LIttle stories with no endings played out here and there, like the pile of moose droppings on the rocky slope (when had he passed by? Where was he going? Did he get to all the way to the rock?). An explosion of fluff, which on closer examination appeared to be fur from a snowshoe hare. (Who got him? No visible tracks. How long ago? Fur might take some time to disperse, even longer to decompose.). I enjoy contemplating some of these things as I go.
The stream that one encounters early in the hike was running at full bore, with all of the melted snow. I am not very graceful when crossing these things. Especially since I have gotten older, and more mindful of where I want to place my feet, I took my time to gauge the path. On the return, I started to psych myself out over how I would get back. How silly! The obstacle to me was that the rock that I needed to reach was tilted at a steep enough angle, I wasn’t sure if my sole would stick or slip. As a precaution, I put my camera into a zippered pocket (as if that would somehow help!), told myself out loud that this was ridiculous, and that I just had to go for it. Which of course I did, with just a bit of a slip, and without getting wet. Crazy! But it’s the little things like this that I end up enjoying a lot when I am finished.
Other lucky souls were out there on the trail, too. I started out alone, and encountered the first folks on my return trip. We exchanged pleasantries, and it was from them that I got the title for this post. The woman asked if this was my first hike of the season, too, and I said yes, that I had last been out on snowshoes about a month ago. She said it was their first as well, and then she added, “The hiking opener!” How perfect! I also passed a family, and I alerted them to a pile of wolf scat up ahead on the trail, and asked if they had seen the moose droppings. We also confirmed the bunny fluff, and remarked that there are so many things to see when out and about like this.
So now I am committed. The hiking has begun, and I am down three, with ninety-seven to go. How about you? Are you up for the challenge? If so, hop on over to the North Country Trail’s website (www.northcountrytrail.org) to learn more about it, and to sign up while you are there. It’s a great way to spend time outside. The way I see it, even if I don’t make it a full one-hundred miles, I will still have won, for the sake of getting out there and enjoying nature. If you do decide to go for it, let me know so that I can cheer you on!