Trekking the North Country Trail: Minnesota – 10,000 Lakes, 10 Gigatons Mosquitoes

September 16, 2022

Trekking the North Country Trail: Minnesota – 10,000 Lakes, 10 Gigatons Mosquitoes

By Joan Young, MCP Contributing Writer.

On Dec. 1, 2021 Amber Township resident Joan Young began her journey to hike the entire North Country Trail continuously. She began her year-long trek at the Manistee National Forest’s Timber Creek Campground on US 10 in Lake County. The first half of the hike will take her to Middlebury, Vermont. She will then drive to Sakakawea State Park in central North Dakota to begin the hike back to Michigan. Young, 74, was the first woman to completely hike the NCT, completing 20 years of segmented hikes in 2010.

Here I am, still hiking through Minnesota on the North Country National Scenic Trail. Once I left the prairie, the terrain began to roll—hills and lakes appeared everywhere. The glacier that gouged holes in both Minnesota and Michigan calved chunks of ice to melt and fill said holes, dumped rocks and till leaving both states pocked and lumpy for the duration of the current geological era. How many lakes depends on how you define them. If you use the same definition for both states, Minnesota wins with well over ten thousand. But Michigan also has a cool ten grand plus.

The NCT passes by a small fraction of the Minnesota lakes, each one a beautiful blue gem under sunny skies. Or an angry gray lizard skin exchanging liquids and gasses with the saturated atmosphere. I’ve seen lakes, ponds, and puddles by the score in Minnesota, a fair share of both blue and gray.

A significant commodity of Minnesota is the mosquitoes. Of my four worst-ever, multi-day mosquito experiences on the NCT, Minnesota owns two of them. Michigan only can claim one. Minnesotans don’t call the mosquito the state bird for nothing. The skeeters diminished my enjoyment of the blue lakes. However I have now experienced a new level of mosquito misery. Even with every inch of skin covered, and a head net, the nasty devils were biting through two shirts. There were two days when my sleeves would cover with a layer of squatting skeeters vying for proboscis space. I would alternately wipe down each arm, sending piles of insect bodies tumbling to the forest duff. Experts say that humans account for only 0.6 gigatons of carbon out of the 550 gigatons of carbon on earth. I personally estimate the mosquitoes at 10 gigatons. Uff da.

Setting aside the insects and the rain, Minnesota has beautiful scenery, and a wry sense of humor. Small towns lay claim to fiberglass or concrete creations—the world’s largest prairie chicken, turkey, loon, Paul Bunyan… I confess to being a sucker for taking pictures of all. Summer festivals abound, and are well attended as locals celebrate their sense of community.

About 200 miles of the NCT are concurrent with the Mesabi Trail, a multi-use trail that was built to span the back side of the Minnesota Arrowhead from Grand Rapids to Ely. This route passes through the Iron Range where miles and miles of hills and holes were created, not by a glacier, but by mining equipment. Raw red tailing piles are slowly being overtaken by bright green aspen. The open mine pits have filled with blue water. The blues, reds, and greens contrast so violently you might think the scene was painted by an artist with only three colors available. The water seems bluer than normal, and it is. Dissolved calcium carbonate reflects more of the blue from the sky than clear water.

I have reached Ely, the jumping-off place for the end of the world. Here, expeditions of all sorts originate and head for the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, and/or Quetico Provincial Park in Canada. The trail continues.

Minnesota carries over 850 miles of the North Country Trail. I have about 300 of them yet to walk. On my way? you betcha.

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This story is copyrighted © 2022, all rights reserved by Joan Young, Scottville, MI 49454. No portion of this story or images may be reproduced in any way, including print or broadcast, without expressed written consent.

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