Thru-hiking the Superior Hiking Trail

I‘m going to hike the Superior Hiking Trail.

I have been building up to this point for a while now, but I’m still filled with a flurry of emotions when I think about it looming in the distance. For the longest time it was just a thought in the back of my mind, but when I blocked out a section of time for it and took that time off of work, that’s when it became real. All of a sudden it wasn’t something I planned on doing, it was something I was going to do. That’s the biggest difference in the world.

The Superior Hiking Trail, for those who don’t know, is a roughly 313 mile trail starting at Jay Cooke State Park just southwest of Duluth, Minnesota running all the way up the coast of Lake Superior to a point roughly 1 mile south of the Canadian/U.S. border on Rengo Road. It’s a far cry from the lofty distances of more popular thru-hiking trails such as the three members of the Triple Crown of Hiking–Pacific Crest Trail, Appalachian Trail and the Continental Divide Trail which all top 2,000 miles each–but it’s as good of a place as any for a first-time thru-hiker to start, especially since it’s in my backyard.

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MSR Sweetwater Purifier System review

“Water is the driver of Nature.”
– Leonardo Da Vinci

Water is essential for all life, we know this. Every living creature on this Earth requires it to thrive: trees, insects, animals and humans. Being roughly 65% of human composition, water is especially essential for our continued survival. In fact, humans can only live for roughly 3 days without it. That’s around a full 17 days less than without food making it one of the most important requirements for the survival of the human race.

In modern society it’s easy to get water just by turning a faucet, but how is one to get water on the trail when they are out for extended periods of time? Early on in my hiking/backpacking explorations, I was faced with this exact question as I was planning a weekend getaway. I was aware of carrying water in Camelbaks from my military career, but even in Iraq and other locations we were never too far from a clean resupply source. As a last resort we could use water from a local water source along with “special” pills the military had developed to disinfect it from disease, but the verdict on those (going all the way back to the Vietnam War) was use them only in a last-ditch effort. I’d be damned if I was going to take them. All that aside, how was a civilian to filter and purify their drinking water? MSR is one of the companies with an answer.

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Roaming through South Dakota

“The farther one gets into the wilderness, the greater is the attraction of its lonely freedom.”
– Theodore Roosevelt

The last time I remember exploring South Dakota was during a family trip with my father, mother and my brother nearest to me in age when I was a teenager now over twenty years ago. As things like that go, I only remember bits and pieces of that trip. When I play it back in my head it’s like watching an old reel-to-reel movie, broken and skipping with intermittent audio throughout. I remember locations spread out over the course of the memory: the town of Wall, the Mount Rushmore monument, the Badlands; however, there was little context to which they would show up or little background to any except we were there–we came, we saw, we conquered–then the memories were gone.

A couple of decades later, two years after my father had passed, I found myself wanting to go back to this mystical place. I was trying to conjure those lost memories as I planned my solo trip to South Dakota. In a way I wanted to mimic my family trip, perhaps in a vain attempt to remember lost memories of my father or in some spiritual way find myself closer to him, but no matter how hard I tried I couldn’t revive any specific details so I had to make choices. I began by narrowing my destination down to two basic (main) areas of contention: Black Hills National Forest and Badlands National Park. Each area appeared in my memories so I knew I wanted to visit them and each area seemed to offer completely different aspects of South Dakota which was great because I wanted to see what the entire state had to offer, but I only had one weekend to complete this journey. What was I going to do?

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Hiking injury prevention and management

A hiking injury is both frustrating and scary, no question about it. Something happens to your body and you don’t know the extent of the damage which causes your mind to start probing the “worst case” and “what-if” scenarios. This only helps to increase your fear, especially if you’re still on the trail or alone when it happens. However, fear is the real enemy here. No matter what the injury is or potentially may be, there are steps you can take during and after that will help you manage them after they occur as well as safety measures you can take before your next hike that will give you a better chance of preventing an injury before it happens.

This all stems from an incident that happened to me recently when I was on a hike in Pattison State Park in northern Wisconsin, home to the fourth highest waterfall in North America east of the Rocky Mountains. I decided to climb down Rocky Gorge to get a better vantage point of the river and waterfall below when my knee gave out from under me. The wet, moss-covered ground perhaps in combination with a twist of the knee and some pressure caused me to re-aggravate a MCL injury that originally occurred when I was a teenager putting me in a precarious situation as I had to climb back up the gorge, hike back to my Jeep and then find the nearest hospital that accepted my insurance (the main office was closed and I felt I wasn’t in that crazy of a situation where I had to call in the calvary, yet).

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Eureka! Solitaire Solo Tent Review

Early on in my backpacking trips I realized that I needed to lighten my load if I planned on completing my hikes without killing myself. Carrying a sleeping bag, tent, food, utensils, water, clothes, and so much more on your back for an extensive period of time is a literal and figurative burden, but it’s a burden that a backpacker must bear. That being so, about the only option we have to help ourselves is by finding lighter equipment which I immediately set out to do with the heaviest thing in my pack: my tent. It’s something I found the answer in with the Eureka! Solitaire Solo Tent.

My early knowledge of the outdoors came from camping with my family at designated camping zones within state parks which meant all of our gear was loaded into the vehicle for the journey. Weight wasn’t a huge deal because the only place it became a factor was when we were moving it a few feet from the vehicle to our campsite. I took this naievity with me when searching for a tent for backpacking. I picked up a super cheap multi-person dome tent but soon realized no matter how hard I tried to compress the tent it still took up a large portion of my pack and carried the same amount of weight. It wasn’t going to do. Continue reading

A day hike at Whitewater State Park

When most people think about hiking in Minnesota their mind generally shoots straight to the northeast section from Duluth to Canada in the boundary waters area, and with good reason. That section of wilderness alongside Lake Superior houses some of the most rugged and beautiful land that Minnesota can throw at anyone. However, a short two hour drive southeast of Minneapolis, MN will bring you to a part of the state that holds its own to this area in many ways and may even add a bit of magic of its own. It’s Whitewater State Park.

A friend on Facebook recently asked if anyone knew of a good place to hike two hours away from the Twin Cities and of all the responses not one of them mentioned Whitewater State Park, and I think it’s an absolute shame. There are parks in the mid-to-south that get greater attention such as Afton and St. Croix State Park, but none of them hold a candle to Whitewater when it comes to hiking. So why do these other parks garner more attention? I may understand why. Continue reading

A stroll through St. Croix State Park

I‘ve heard people rant and rave about St Croix State Park near Hinckley, Minnesota for a while now so when I was recently looking for a new place to go hiking and see the Autumn colors come in, I thought I would finally check it out. After all, the park is located in a heavily forested area of Minnesota about half-way between the Twin Cities and Duluth, roughly 20 miles east of Hinckley, boasting over 34,000 acres of forests and flatlands with two rivers bookmarking both ends. With this much space and this much scenery, the park must be perfect, right? Well, it ultimately depends on what your goals are.

I’ll come right out and say it: as a strictly hiking park, St. Croix State Park fails. The true hiking trails are split on the far western and eastern ends of the park making it difficult to get to them, and what’s in between is but a passable substitute. However, that’s not where the true brilliance of this park lies. What is in between the hiking trails are miles of mounted trails winding through and around the park that you can take your favorite vehicle–i.e. horseback, mountain bike, atv, etc.–and see the lush park scenery. Also, if you enjoy water activities, the park just so happens to be placed right in the center of the Kettle and St. Croix rivers giving it excellent potential for kayaking and canoeing. That makes the lack of real hiking trails discouraging.

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Continuing the legacy with Wadjet Eye Games

VIA GAMESPRESSO.COM – I have always been a fan of games that remind me of my childhood, so it came as no surprise as a few months ago I found myself scouring the web for an adventure game that, while fresh and unique, could touch on the feelings of age-old classics such as The Secret of Monkey Island and Loom. What I came across was a game about “a shy medium and her ghost partner” that PC Gamer described as “grounded in a rare sense of sympathy, written with an eye for minimalism, and showing constant improvements, it’s a game that started out being inspired by the classics but soon proved itself worthy of sitting alongside them.” That game was Blackwell Legacy. And to my surprise, the game was actually only one in a full series of five titles. Picking up a bundle of all five, what followed was a string of glorious days in with five of the best adventure games I’ve ever played.

The narrative starts off relatively short and to the point: a girl and her inherited ghost solve a mystery. However, as the series progresses, not only do the characters get more engrossing, but the storylines become more dense, layered by new revelations and surprises both good and bad. By the end not only did I feel invested in the characters, but emotionally attached as well, which sent me spiraling at its inevitable conclusion. I knew at that point I had to find out more about the developer and what made him tick. Continue reading

Where’s our ‘Predator Isolation’?

VIA GAMESPRESSO.COM – In 1987, director John McTiernan brought us a film that was unlike any other that came before it. Mixing equal parts Rambo and Alien, Predator was a unique combination of wartime action and science fiction mystery that managed to avoid many of the B movie cliches that doomed films in the same genre pool prior to and since then. Although not a critical success in the beginning with many berating it for having “arguably one of the emptiest, feeblest, most derivative scripts ever made as a major studio movie” and being “dull, with few surprises”, it garnered commercial success earning over six times its budget and a following that only grew over time. Unfortunately for the fans of the movie, we haven’t gotten a worthy sequel, and we haven’t gotten the video game equivalent we deserve.

For those who haven’t seen it yet (why not?), Predator put a team of highly trained Delta Force soldiers, lead by the one and only Arnold Schwarzenegger, behind enemy lines deep in the jungle in search of a kidnapped government official and other hostages at the hands of a South American guerilla group known as Val Verde, but what they find is much worse. Not only have they been lied to so the CIA could retrieve critical lost intelligence from past captured operatives, they are now being hunted and killed one-by-one by something not of this world: the Predator. Continue reading

Alan Wake couldn’t have written a more late review

After seeing I have Alan Wake in my Steam library, a friend informed me that it was one of his favorite adventure games. High praise for a game released around the same time as Heavy Rain and Dark Matter in a genre already populated with classics like The Longest Journey, Syberia and Broken Sword, to name but a few. At that point I could only assume it contained some wonderful game elements that would hold it up among these adventure game legends, and for the most part it does, but it also contains its share of lowlights that pull it down from attaining such a high pedestal.

Alan Wake has a story that rivals many novels, which is apt as it follows the Stephen King-esque writer as he tries to find his wife who has been taken by a dark entity in the small Washington town of Bright Falls, all while trying to escape it himself. It’s a story with familiar threads that connect it to many horror and adventure novels on the market today, but that’s part of its attractiveness–you can live the story you’ve only been able to read up to this point. Regardless of how much it borrows from other sources, Alan Wake manages to feel fresh and compelling–a big compliment to the voice acting/motion capture, and the atmosphere the story sets for you. Unique to the game is how it’s presented. It’s wrapped in the framework of a television show presented in episodes complete with musical outros and “Previously on Alan Wake…” cutscene intros, this parallel to TV only further strengthened with the Night Springs serials that play on the TVs throughout the game, which were where Alan got his start writing, that mimic old Twilight Zone television show giving the game another layer. Continue reading