August 18, 2022 ~ In the morning we enjoyed our breakfast and a visit with a nice group of motorcycle guys…all driving BMWs…from Green Bay, WI. We loaded our packs and made way to Russ and Karen’s to take advantage of his generous offer to deliver us to the trailhead. Once at the ranger station we enjoyed a quick chat with several employees and then headed off to meet our destiny.
Perhaps 50 yards into our hike, our brains began firing that we weren’t seeing any of the North County Trail signs but plenty of cross-country skiing signs. Yes, we had headed down WRONG TRAIL! We made a quick turn-around, embarrassingly confirmed with two other hikers that we had indeed located the proper trailhead and were off by 8:50 AM. A short distance down the trail we encountered our first bear scat as well as a light rain. We donned our sexy ponchos and continued. We came to a place where the sign directed us to walk down the road with our backs to the traffic for half a mile. Rule followers that we were, this was a difficult ask. Not only that, but having already established that we were two, semi-confused women…how far was a half a mile? We walked along the road by Grand Sable Lake. The guys we had briefly spoken to at the trailhead were behind us and eventually caught up. They had done the trail multiple times and assured us we were heading in the right direction. The trail was mostly through forested areas and not too difficult. The rain stayed light and ended within the hour. Penny chatted with lots of chipmunks along the way.
At around 12:30 PM we reached the log slide overlook and took a little rest. According to the National Park Service, “The Log Slide Overlook sits 175 feet atop the Grand Sable Dunes. It is so named for a wooden chute that early logging companies used to slide logs 300 feet down the sand dune to Lake Superior.” Would that we were youngsters, we may have jumped down that dune to the bottom…pretending to fly each time our bodies left the ground. The fact that we were older reminded us of the brutal climb back up the shifting sands of the dune. No, we were taking rest, albeit brief. From the top of the log slide we could see the Au Sable Light Station.
It was about 1:30 PM when we arrived at our first camp at Au Sable Point East (7.1 miles). Our feet were feeling the first day on the trail, and we were a little surprised at how quickly the day had passed. The fact that we had completed our first segment gave me confidence that we could continue to take this journey one step at a time and add to our success. A bit to our chagrin, our site was mere yards from the camp bear box with the communal fire ring, just a stone’s throw from that. We imagined that our first night would be filled with cheerful campers, staying up late, and singing “Kumbaya” with ukulele accompaniment.
Penny located what would be later thought of as the “Cadillac of Thunder Boxes” because it had two walls creating a semi-private area. A thunder box is an elevated box into which one could make a bodily deposit. Without this amenity, campers were expected to pack out any used toilet paper unless it was contained within a 6” deep hole (a.k.a. cathole). We had been disgusted by occasional sightings of used toilet paper along the trail…clearly from folks not practicing the “leave no trace” camping or hiking method. Penny had also purchased Kula cloths for both of us that eliminated a lot of that “packing out” hassle. The Kula was designed for women and used for pee-wiping only. It had an antimicrobial layer, and a decorative outside layer with a snap loop that attached to our packs. A little squirt with soap and water and we could be good to “go” for the next day!
We had plenty of time to kill so after we set up our camp, we scrambled down a sandy bank and restocked our water supply in Lake Superior. We used Penny’s Be Free water filter and each filled two 1-liter bottles with cool, clear water. Down the beach a short distance we enjoyed a good foot soaking. The cool water was such a comfort! The blister on my right toe was visible but not awful. Something had greatly irritated my left pinky toe. I was trying to ignore it. From the beach we could see what appeared to be a substantial thunderstorm over Grand Marais. We could barely make out the light on the end of the breakwater we’d hiked the night before. We heard the roll of thunder from a distance and were grateful we had not had to hike in a storm.
We headed to the Au Sable (aw-saab-ble) Light Station just a quick .4 of a mile down the trail. There were abundant blueberries along the trail, and I savored many! Volunteers staff the light house during the summer months and those we met this day were kind and friendly. We rested a while under blue skies and to our delight, discovered that there was also cell phone coverage at the lighthouse. We had said our good-byes to our men; but it was a nice surprise to be able to assure them that we’d made it through Day One with very few obstacles. Wanting to preserve our phones for picture-taking our conversations we were very brief.
I gathered more blueberries to add to our oatmeal in the morning and carefully tended them in a cupped hand on the way back to camp. In our absence, our neighbors had begun to arrive. First, we met Claire; a fearless solo hiker sporting the scar of major knee surgery. Claire was also sturdy enough to pack a sizeable tent, chair, a book, and at least one small bottle of wine in her bear-resistant food container. I was impressed! What appeared to be a father/son duo came up the trail a while later with the elder member carrying an additional pack. He explained that he was giving one of his companions a little break. They were eventually joined by a man we surmised was the elder of the three generations. He was perhaps the oldest hiker we would meet on the trail.
Realizing that our reservation information for the following night’s campsite lacked the actual campsite number, Penny hiked back to the cell phone reception to call Dave. She gave him a mission to locate her notes in her planner. We enjoyed Louisiana Red Beans and Rice for dinner, complements of Penny’s Pocket Rocket stove. We concluded that we both had solid endurance during the day though parts of our bodies were in pain.