Trail people love our trails. This past September a hearty crew traveled to the north shore to help work on a crucial section of the trail. UMTR Member and amazing trail runner Steph Hoff helped lead this crew, and wanted to share her experience over the weekend.
“There’s something inside of me that changes as I drive north past Two Harbors.” One of the volunteers told me this on the first day and I couldn’t agree more. As I sit here typing and I’m back into my routine of work, life and family stuff my heart longs to be back up north. Don’t get me wrong, I love my family but the satisfaction and fulfillment I get from working on the trail doesn’t compare to any other ‘work’ I do.
I went through Volunteer Crew Leader training back in April through a program that the Ice Age Trail puts on. I was excited to work on my ‘own’ project on the Superior Hiking Trail sometime this summer. I met with Tamer, the Trail Operations Director for the Superior Hiking Trail, back in August to discuss a potential project. We met at the Crow Creek site where, in February of 2018, they had put in a brand new bridge. The approaches to the bridge and a new set of stairs needed to be built and the trail needed to be rerouted. Tamer and I discussed possibilities and came up with a plan.
The work days for the project were September 19-22nd. Surprisingly, we got more volunteers for the Wednesday and Thursday shifts, than for the weekend. Thankfully, we had such an eclectic mix of people with wide ranges of background that it worked out perfect and there was someone for every job.
The morning of Wednesday September 19th we met at the Grand Marais municipal campground. I brought coffee, bananas and cookies for breakfast on the first day. We had a quick breakfast and then met at the work site, about 9 miles north of Grand Marais. At the work site we had a safety briefing, talked about the scope of the project and then started hauling materials into the bridge. It was about a half a mile hike to the bridge. This doesn’t seem far….unless you are hauling planks of wood and tools. Thankfully the USFS lent us a four wheeler and trailer to haul in the really big boards. It took us half the morning to haul in everything we needed and man, did I feel that the next day! Once we got it all hauled in we split up into two groups. I led the group that was working on the trail reroute and Tamer took a group to start the stairs. Coincidently while we were rerouting the trail, a hiker came by and started talking to us. He was from Pennsylvania and was hiking a section of the trail. He kept talking to us, eventually put down his pack, and started working with us. It was great and shows another example of the spirit of trail people. We took a lunch break around noon. We finished the day with my group working on the reroute and Tamer’s group working on the stairs. I feel like we had made some great progress on the first day.
After trail work, we headed back to the campground, made a quick stop at Voyageur brewing for a little bonding time and then went back to the campground for dinner. Joe, the hiker from Pennsylvania, even came with us. He decided he wanted to do trail work more than hike. We brought him back to the campground with us. Thanks to UMTR I had purchased a bunch of food ahead of time to feed the volunteers. I had made up some pulled beef the day before, so we heated that up with some potato salad, pineapple and brownies. The crew seemed to really enjoy the dinner. We ended the day with sitting around the campfire. Even the volunteers that weren’t staying at the campground came to dinner and the fire. Another volunteer told me how nice it was that the campground and food was provided. It made it easier for her to come and volunteer. Perfect end to a perfect first day.
The second started similarly to the first. We had a few more new volunteers join us so we went over safety again, the scope of the project and headed into the work site. It was so nice that we didn’t have to carry anything in today. We split up similarly to the first day. By lunch time, my group had the trail reroute pretty much finished. We took our lunch break, and then my group started working on the approach on the west side of the creek. For the west side approach we built 4 platforms, each 2 feet shorter than the previous, so that it would be like 4 giant steps. The group working on the steps was also making good progress and by the end of the day we had the west side approach almost complete and the first set of steps (there will be two sets) almost complete. Just as we were wrapping up it started to rain, we couldn’t have lucked out any better with the weather that day.
After trail work, we once again stopped at Voyageur brewing and then headed back to the campground for dinner. Now it was really coming down with rain and wind. I had hoped we could cook the hot dogs over a fire, but with the weather, that wasn’t going to be the case. There was a picnic shelter just off the lake, across from our campsite. There was two people doing CrossFit under the shelter. We asked them if we could share the shelter. We put up an Umbrella Mike had brought to block the wind, set up our two burner stove, and boiled the hot dogs and baked beans. It was almost comical sitting there under the picnic shelter. The wind whipping across us off the lake, huddled up to stay warm, meanwhile 10 feet away from us there were two beefcakes (one guy and one girl) doing CrossFit. I offered them a hotdog, but I’m sure you can guess their answer. We ate our hot dogs under the cold picnic table and then walked back to our tents and hunkered down for the night. We were all in bed by 7pm though I’m sure no one was sleeping. The wind would blow off the lake and whip your tent into my face where I was laying. Thankfully my cheap tent didn’t leak or break down but everything was damp.
Friday morning we woke up and the clouds were starting to break. It was barely drizzling. I was so thankful. Most of our volunteers had driven up from the cities and I didn’t want to cancel a work day because of the weather. We ate breakfast – yogurt, fruit, granola, coffee (made by my generator) and of course cookies – and then headed to the work site.
Day 3 of trail work and we were really gaining traction. We had the same two guys finish up the second set of stairs, another two guys finish up the west side approaches, 3 more working on the trail reroute (one of which was the Executive Director of the SHT) and 3 more starting on the east side approach. It was amazing how fast it was coming together. The weather cooperated for the most part with just a scattered sprinkling here and there. By the end of Day 3 we had minimal work to be done on the project, which was exactly how I was hoping it would go so that Saturday would be just some odds and ends and clean up.
Friday after trail work Tamer invited us out to his house for homemade chili. After a cool day on the trail, the warm chili and fireplace felt amazing. Everyone was in great spirits and appreciated the camaraderie. We drove back to the campground before dark and had another bonfire.
Saturday’s trail work was minimal. The handrail on the bridge was finished up, and a little bit of trail work on the west side of the creek for the reroute. All in all, it’s just simply amazing what we got done in the 4 days we were working.
The thing that I love about trail work is you can come back to the same section of trail year after year, bring your kids to that section and say – I did this, I built this! And each year hundreds, if not thousands of people will benefit from the 4 short days of work we put in one week in September!
If you’re like me, you’ve been wondering what makes our Gnarly Bandits tick. Why are they undertaking this year-long, 462-mile project? And what wisdom are they acquiring along the way? This week, I spoke by email to three of our five contenders to find out more about what motivates them, and what they can teach us. Thank you, Matt, Even, and Brian! If you see them on the course or at the finish line this weekend, be sure to give them a hearty cheer!
I just want to run a hundred miles in the woods with friends. I really enjoy the 100 mile distance. The vast range of emotional and physical challenges you face over the duration of a race of this length really pulls at me. I haven’t found the same level of satisfaction in events shorter than this since I started running them. This is the only place for me to strip down and find peace and happiness from everything else in life. I am getting older, thereare other races that really appeal to me that I want to do, and my good buddy Brian was doing it. Brian and I talked about doing The Bandit together this year in the lead up to last year’s Superior and Here We Are! Zumbro is really special to me, Superior is the best time of year in our community and I can’t ever imagine not being at either one, I had crewed and paced a number of times at Kettle, the Black Hills of SD are beautiful, and Wild Duluth is a really challenging 100K that time of year. It just made sense.
Basically, “gnarly bandit” just sounds cool. I mean, who could resist? Really though, it’s pretty simple: the Gnarly looked hard, and I wanted to try something hard.
At 2016 Wild Duluth I met and ended up running for awhile with Jim Lemke, he told me about each of the races and I became interested in each of them individually. I really wanted to run Zumbro, Black Hills and Superior in 2018, so adding in the others and doing the series seemed to make sense.
I have really honed in on my ability to shoot a quality snot rocket. Seriously. You can’t spend that much time out in the woods in the elements and not be able to blow a booger. If you’re wiping your nose for 29+ hours, you’re going to have bad day. Surround yourself with like-minded good people and you’ll have fun doing it. There will always be someone who has ran farther, faster, and has finished more races than you. They all have a story to tell. Find something to take away from every one of those people for when you need it.
It seems like the secret to the Gnarly is to just keep on not quitting. Whatever the heck happens out there, keep on not quitting and you’ll get through it just fine. I look at the Gnarly (and running ultras in general) as good practice for tricky future situations. Hopefully at the end of this thing, I can wrap up the whole experience into a tidy, cohesive metaphor for later use. For now, though, the best I can do is say, “NO QUITTING!”
Each race in the series is so different from the others. They all have beautiful views along the way and challenge you in different ways. The one constant is the great people you meet and see at each of the races.
You never know what you’re going to get. Be mentally and physically ready for anything. I was lucky enough to have my friend Mark Smith pace me at Zumbro. Mark is doing the Grand Slam this year. Mark is an accomplished 100 mile finisher and spoke of this year’s weather at Zumbro as, “This is really something special.” Mark saved my race. I can’t underestimate that enough. Zumbro was Zumbro, the weather at Kettle was nearly perfect, the hills on the first half of Black Hills should not be run.
I didn’t think that mud was going to play such a pivotal role. I really don’t care for running in mud at all, and when I imagined running these races, in my head, there wasn’t any mud. Cut to reality, and the trails have been like a darn monster-truck rally (those are muddy, right?). I guess there’s probably a lesson here, like letting go of expectations or learning to be adaptable or something, but… I’m still too bitter for that kind of perspective.
How awesome our trail running community is. The support at each race has been incredible, from the amazing volunteers pulling all day/nighters at the Zumbro blizzard to friends taking time off work to travel and help crew and pace at races. It has been great being surrounded by so many supportive people.
“Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.” (Mike Tyson). You’re going to get punched in the mouth. Go out and have fun. Don’t spend a lot of time and frustration with every detail on what pace you are going to run at, what you are going to wear, run comfortable, run by feel. Find a friend or friends go along for the ride with you. Enjoy every mile out there.
My one piece of advice would be: don’t listen to me, I’m not qualified. Really, I have no idea what I’m doing. But if I could give 3 pieces of advice (demanding, I know), number two would be to get yourself a mantra. It helps keep things on track when the delirium sets in. And third, remember to hear the birds chirping, smell the forests, and say thank-you to all the badass volunteers helping you get this thing done. Oh, and “no quitting.”
Do it. And add the Sandlot Marathon on your spring race calendar to get the year started right, it’s the best pre-Zumbro training around.
Matt McCarty is from Ramsey, MN. He is 39 years old.
Even Semrud is from St Louis Park, MN. He is 29 years old.
Brian Corgard is from Coon Rapids, MN. He looks forward to celebrating his 37th birthday at Superior, and thanks everyone “for showing up and making it so special”!