I got up early and drove to The Village of Grand Portage. Because the Heritage Center where I parked wasn’t open yet, I headed to Rose Hill. The hike at Rose Hill is a steep, paved trail about a half mile straight up. The view at the top is stunning as you look out over Grand Portage Bay. On a clear day, you can see Isle Royal, which is about 20 miles out in Lake Superior.
After my warm-up on Rose Hill, I headed to The Grand Portage Trail along the Pigeon River to Grand Portage Fort. Early fur trappers found the Pigeon River too hard to navigate by canoe so they created a portage trail to the fort to sell and trade. The trail is almost nine miles long. I decided to hike a couple hours in, then turn around because there is no way to be picked up at the end.
In 1970, I was on this very same trail with a canoe on my back. I was 16 years old then and just finishing a month with Outward Bound.
Sweet sixteen and a bundle of trouble
It was an early spring day when my dad came into my room and said, “Come on. We’re going to Sears.” “Why?” I asked. “I’ll tell you later,” he said. At the old Sears store on Lake Street, he bought boots, flannel shirts, work pants, wool socks and some bandanas for me. “What’s going on?” I asked.
“You’re going to Outward Bound this summer!” he said — and that was that! I don’t think my parents could handle another summer with me hanging out, smoking at the park and staying out late. I was 16 years old and boy could I find a ton of trouble to get into. It was the year I was suspended from school for starting a riot in my English class and spent a few hours in the Edina police station for beer drinking in the back of a friend’s car. I was perfect Outward Bound material.
Father knows best
I talked my best friend Jeanne into going, too. Outward Bound would not be so bad with my best friend to hang out with. But when we got to base camp, we were put into different brigades. I told the director there had been a mistake because Jeanne and I were supposed to be together. “It’s not a mistake,” and that’s all she said. So off we went to our separate cabins. We didn’t see much of each other until the end of camp. My dad trusted his instinct by sending me to Outward Bound. It could have turned out bad. I could have dropped out like this really tiny girl who cried for days after the midnight swamp hike. Soon we never heard her crying again — she was sent home.
But I loved Outward Bound right from the start even though I was the youngest in my brigade. My bunkmate was a 26-year-old from New York City trying to find herself. The young women in my cabin came from all over the United States, and each had her own story about why they were there.
A month that changed my life
That month changed my life. I discovered I could do all sorts of things that I never thought I could do — like rappel over cliffs, complete ropes courses, carry a canoe, start a fire and be alone for five days on an island for my solo experience. I learned to be a leader and get along with all different personalities, including the girl who thought she was Judy Collins and sang “Both Sides Now” off key, every night around the campfire. I have to admit when it was my turn to take over the compass and map during an orienteering hike, we got horribly lost. In fact, we were lost overnight with no food or sleeping bags. Sorry about that gals!
When my brigade got to the fort on the Grand Portage Trail, our counselors met us with Oreo cookies and big jugs of wine. It was hot and sunny. I was a whole new me, and I was ready to take on my junior year! I know that if I had not done Outward Bound, I might not be an author and illustrator today. Maybe I wouldn’t have had the confidence to try. I came home from my Outward Bound experience ready to work hard in school. Best of all, I was really tired of getting in trouble.
I was strong and starting to mature then. But I was still just 16 years old so as I hiked the Grand Portage, I was also planning the outfit I would wear when I saw my boyfriend at school for the first time after camp. I decided to wear army pants from Ragstock and two bandanas tired together for my top! I was sent home from school the day I wore it.
My most challenging expedition is now
Now I am almost 60 years old with a ton of new challenges ahead. Will I have the right instincts? Will I come out of this time of my life a new me? Will I be strong? I feel like I am on the most challenging expedition of my life; I have no idea how it will turn out. I know, however, that I need to keep hiking and putting one foot in front of the other.
I hiked for three hours that day this summer, then headed to the fort for some history lessons. I tried to hike another trail in town called Mount Josephine but after a half mile, it was too flooded to continue on. I hear it is a wonderful trail and hope to try it again someday. I still had time to get in another hike so I headed south on Highway 61. More on that one next time.
What has been the most challenging time of your life?
For more information on Grand Portage http://www.nps.gov/grpo/index.htm
For information on Outward Bound http://www.vobs.org/our-bases/wilderness-base/