Growing up in Minnesota I was never far from the outdoors. Since we’re known as the great North Woods, it was fairly easy to be drawn to hiking and the trail life. My husband and I are weekend hikers and take longer hiking trips when possible.
This year, I had the rare chance to get a week off by myself and decided to do my first solo trek. I had already hiked 150+ miles of the 300 mile Superior Hiking trail and was excited to put down some serious miles over new ground. The weather looked less than optimistic but I loaded up my gear anyway and headed for the SHT. The trail runs on a never ending ridge line along Lake Superior with ups and downs and views for miles.
My friends and family thought I was nuts for wanting to be alone in the woods. They couldn’t understand the need I had for solitude or the void that the forest always fills back up. I briefly thought about the wildlife I might encounter alone as I heaved my pack onto my back and snapped it in place. Refusing to turn back now I stepped onto the trail brushing off the nagging thought of teeth in the middle of the night.
Minnesota has a lot of wildlife that other states boast as well. We have black bears, moose the size of houses, coyotes, snakes, skunks, porcupines and the myriad of small critters that seem to always be scurrying about. But Minnesota has something most other states don’t. Something I didn’t think about.
My first night (alone) I had my whole camp set up with dinner away and was just nestling into my bag with a book when I heard a stick snap outside my tent. “Okay, don’t freak out. It could be anything. That squirrel was eyeing you up around the fire a few minutes ago.” I said to myself out loud. Whatever it was it slowly walked out of my camp leaving a trail of snapping twig sounds in its wake.
Bear. That’s all I could think about. I had hung my food, I had done everything right to deter them, I had even left a fire crackling so I could see around camp while I was huddled in my tent.
Wide eyed and staring at the bright orange extremely thin fabric of my tent all I could think about was how my heart was pounding away in my chest and how easy it would be for a bear to plow right through my mosquito net.
I drifted to sleep at some point dreaming of bears when a loud crunch made me sit straight up. “Okay, that was for sure something big.” I thought to myself. Not wanting to make noise in case it was closer than I thought, I squinted into the darkness outside my tent trying to see the beast that made the noise. The fire had died down so there was no hope for extra light.
Crunch, crunch, crunch.
“Oh sweet God. I’m going to be mauled by a bear.” My brain raced remembering all the things I’ve learned over the years on how to scare them off. Just as I was about to start making noise I heard sniffing not far from the back of my tent.
“It sounds like my dog sniffing,” I thought as confusion clouded my already over imaginative brain. “Dog? Why would a dog be this far into the woods?” I thought as I reached for the zipper of my tent.
The hair on my whole body stood on end as the noise rose out of the forest in a harmony I’ve never experienced.
They joined in song as I tried to count the separate howls and lost track after 8 or 9. Their song filled the quiet forest as a smile spread over my face. It was terrifyingly beautiful and something I’d wager I’d never experience again.
As their song died down I heard the one near my tent lope off into the forest and all was quiet again. Safe to say I didn’t fall back asleep as I listened to the sounds of the woods and letting it fill me back up again.
Check out more of Maurina’s stories on her blog – Creeks to Peaks!