The Perfect Fall Colors Hike

Until I moved to the North Shore, I hadn’t heard the term “Fall Colors.”  Well, that’s not entirely true–but I hadn’t heard it used in the way that it’s used up here.  The word isn’t so much a visual description of autumn foliage, as much as it is a 5th season.  There’s Summer, there’s Fall Colors, then there’s Autumn.  But in an area that thrives so much on vacationing visitors, this isn’t a surprising term.

While not 100% “local” yet, I still think in these terms–it’s hard not to!  But sometimes I like to take a step back and see my setting from the standpoint of a visitor.  Take in the North Shore through the eyes of my friends that visit, of the returning families I see year after year.

That’s one of the perks of writing this blog.

Thus, I couldn’t help but want to experience this Fall Colors business I hear so much about.  I mean, I’ve experienced the flip side of it as a server.  I can go a whole day shift in the restaurant flipping the

SAME.    FOUR.   TABLES.

You’d be surprised how long people will wait for a booth so they can eat lunch with a view of the sunset-colored mountain.

Additionally, as a server, if there’s fog or clouds or anything that obstructs the view of the leaves, I’m the first one who hears about it.  Two days ago, on a particularly foggy day, I waited on more than one couple that cancelled outings because they wouldn’t be able to see anything.

That’s when I really got interested in the Fall Colors.  I wanted to have this experience that people seek out by visiting the North Shore this time of year.  So I vowed that my next day off, I would be come a “Fall Colors Guy.”  I even lined up a day that would work with my buddy/hiking guru, Josh.

I awoke early that day to the sounds of birds chirping.  I could feel daylight on my eyelids.  I opened my eyes, looked out the bedroom window and saw….and saw….

FOG FOG FOG FOG FOG FOG FOG FOG FOG FOG FOG FOG FOG FOG FOG FOG FOG FOG FOG FOG FOG FOG FOG FOG FOG FOG FOG FOG FOG FOG FOG FOG FOG FOG FOG FOG FOG FOG FOG FOG FOG FOG FOG FOG FOG FOG FOG FOG FOG FOG FOG FOG FOG FOG FOG FOG FOG FOG FOG FOG FOG FOG FOG FOG FOG FOG FOG FOG FOG FOG FOG FOG FOG FOG FOG FOG FOG FOG FOG FOG FOG            FOG FOG FOG FOG FOG FOG FOG FOG FOG FOG FOG           FOG FOG FOG                   FOG  FOG  FOG FOG                   FOG FOG FOG     FOG FOG                       FOG FOG FOG FOG             FOG FOG FOG    FOG FOG          FOG FOG FOG

And this wasn’t “lazy fog” either.  You know, the few wispy strands that cling to the morning.  No, this was thick, London-caliber pea soup.

Perfect.  Now my brain is filling with backup plans.  Do I call Josh and cancel the hike? Do I power through and sully the experience? I was even picturing that scene in Jurassic Park when they use the goat as bait to lure the T-Rex.

The Fall Colors had become my T-Rex.  I wanted to see them.  Bad.

But Josh hadn’t cancelled, so neither would I.  Plus, I never miss a chance to grumble and groan about a not-ideal situation.  I’m a comedian at heart.  Ruined days are what we live for.

So I met up with Josh at the local coffee shop in Lutsen.  The owner asked what I was up to.  With an over-theatrical shrug I explained that this was my one day off to take a Fall Colors hike and–gesturing to the hazy mess outside–this was going to be my view.

“Oh, you’ll see’em,” the owner promised. “Don’t worry.”

Yeah, right.  That might cheer up a bummed tourist, but I’m a different breed, baby!

“Where you headed?” she asked.

“Oberg,” I told her.  The word on everybody’s lips.  The ultimate Fall Colors hike.

“Everyone does Oberg,” she told me.  ”Try Leveaux.”

This peaked my interest.  The “trail less hiked” is my passion.  That was something I wanted a piece of.  So I was back on the hunt, so to speak.  Of course, I needed a little fuel first.

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Step 1

 

So, we headed out.  I didn’t have much juice left on my camera phone, but I also wasn’t expecting to get much use out of it.  We hooked a right onto Onion River Road.

 

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Yeah, yeah, don’t rub it in…

 

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Looks like the right spot.

We ventured inward.  It truly was the trail less hiked–a parking lot full of cars and everyone one of them headed to the right.  We headed left.  As we walked, Josh and I traded our usual banter.  Work something-something.  So-and-so did this-and-that.  The small talk that coworkers can’t avoid, day off or not.  Eventually, we were distracted by a sheen of slime.  It was like someone had decorated the moss with tinsel.  We took a knee.  Pulling back a leaf, Josh showed me a mushroom stump beneath the slime.

Yep, he said, nodding.  Slugs.

Evidently, the stump was once a very edible, very delicious mushroom that was incredibly hard to beat the slugs to.  Gotta get up pretty early in the morning to beat a slug apparently.  We followed the slugs trail, studying the ground like Mr. Magoo.  CSI: Forest Floor.

When I finally looked up, I saw this:

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What was this?  My first sign of Fall Colors….and I could actually see it!!  Venturing deeper, I discovered I could see a lot of those reds and oranges.  If anything, the foggy veil creeping through the woods made the colors pop even more.  It was truly unlike any hike I’d hiked on the North Shore.  A little bit haunting, and a lotta bit beautiful.  Different.  Refreshing.

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Trekking deeper still, we finally came to a lookout point.  I was almost afraid to look.  No, not because of my fear of heights–but my fear that of what I would see in the valley.  Or rather, wouldn’t see.  This was my moment.  My last chance to have the true Fall Colors experience or, well, start work on the Slug Slime blog.

I parted the trees…

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There they were.  Fall Colors.  Josh and I went right to the edge, planted or bottoms, and took in the valley.  The fog was there, sure.  It rolled over the canopy in waves, but the colors burned right through it, like they really were the sun.  And ten minutes of silence later, I realized I was having my moment.  My experience.

“Josh,” I said.  ”I wish you’d brought your fancy camera, man.”

“I almost did,” he replied.  ”But I did bring this.”

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Upgrade!

The perfect hike.  The perfect day off.

No.  The perfect day.

And I had almost missed it.

I guess that’s what I’ll remember most about my “Fall Colors” experience.  I almost missed it.  All because I banked an entire trip on one thing.  That’s not what an experience should be about.  Too many people live for that well-liked Facebook post, or that favorited Instagram pic.

If you’re really worried about what Fall Colors you’ll see on your North Shore visit, I can assure you:

There’s a pumpkin ale that’s got all of’em.

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Cheers!  – Mikel

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