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SUBMITTED PHOTO A scenic view along the trail: Bear Lake in the foreground and Bean Lake in the distance.

A profound hike: BSU graduate Bartz shares experience hiking Superior Trail

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It was about halfway through his solo hike of the Superior Hiking Trail that Cody Bartz had his first major stumbling block.

Literally.

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"At one point, my shoe just ripped apart," Bartz said. "I had these lightweight trail running shoes. I thought they would at least hold up for the trip."

Naturally, the fact that the shoes -- which were almost new -- didn't hold up could have been disastrous. Bartz was hiking the 275-mile trail by himself; he had just more than 100 miles to go until reaching the end.

"For the last 100 miles I had this huge gap, you could see my sock through it," he said. "I ended up getting some duct tape from another hiker just in case but I didn't use it."

Bartz toughed out the final 100 miles and ended at the terminus just before the United States' border with Canada.

The whole trek took him 12½ days, from June 24-July 6 -- not bad for a first-ever solo hike.

Bartz, a native of McIntosh and a 2011 graduate of Bemidji State, is an artist by trade. He said he always wanted to do something big.

"I went to BSU, I had a bunch of friends who were into the outdoors," he said. "They were on the lake, they were on canoe trips or they were backpacking or mountain climbing. From them I started to see this big picture of outdoor sports.

"Reading online I heard about people hiking the Appalachian trail and these other long trips in the United States.... So I got really interested and excited to do my own trip."

He decided, after a little bit of research, to embark on a journey in our own backyard: The Superior Hiking Trail, which begins just outside Duluth at Jay Cooke State Park and ends 275 miles later at the border west of Grand Portage.

"I feel like before I left I knew a bit about the trail," he said. "It's close to home, I wasn't going too far. I've been up to the North Shore a bit, so I'm familiar with the area. But it was still daunting."

But why go it alone? Hadn't he read the stories about the lone hikers?

"Haha yeah. That didn't really bother me," he said. "My mom thought it was a bit crazy... she really thought I should go with someone. My girlfriend was supportive of it."

Bartz, of course, isn't the first or only person to make the trip -- it's a popular trail that has been voted as one of the most scenic trails in the nation by Backpacker Magazine.

That didn't matter to him -- he just thought he needed to go out into the world and do something.

"I wanted to challenge myself physically and mentally and it was both," he said. "There's something about getting out of the daily grind of life. It was nice to spend some time with nature."

He had a cell phone, which he didn't need to use until the end the trip and mainly used to take pictures.

Everything else was basic and adhered to his "getting away from it all" philosophy: A backpack with a tent, sleeping bag, mosquito net, first aid kit, food, a water bottle, a water filter and a few changes of clothes.

He knew he'd need to resupply every few days since he could only carry so much so sent himself packages at a few towns close to the trail -- Two Harbors, Finland and Grand Marais.

"That was the biggest thing," he said. "Preparing the logistics of supplies and figuring out where to go and how long to walk. That was almost as much of a challenge as the hike."

Which, of course, was no picnic: Setting off June 24, it rained for the first few days, which meant long, soggy walks through mud and dirt.

Those initial wet days were difficult on his body (and his shoes) but they also gave him his first opportunity to see a moose.

"I was hoping to see one the whole trip, but this one scared the heck out of me," he said.

It was the end of the third day, after the rain had stopped but before the mud had dried. He had just arrived at his campsite and set up his tent when he heard giant footsteps sloshing behind him.

"I knew it was something big -- probably a moose since I didn't think a bear would be going that slowly," he said.

The moose, according to Bartz, didn't appear to see him despite being just feet away from the large creature.

"But I don't know much about moose other than, you know, I don't trust them," he said. "I wanted to stay away from them."

By the time Bartz finished the trip he had a busted pair of shoes, some brushes with nature, plenty of photos and -- most importantly -- the satisfaction of finishing something this big.

"You learn about yourself a little bit," he said. "Before the trip I thought I was the kind of person who's dedicated to what I'm doing and will go all out for what I'm doing and I think this reinforced that for a little bit. I was able to push through."

Bartz is moving from Bemidji to the LaCrosse, Wis., area soon -- he felt like it was time for a change and he would be closer to some major cities, which will help his art career.

Still, his experiences in Northern Minnesota -- especially hiking the Superior Trail -- will have a profound impact on how he thinks about his art.

"I've got a lot of photos from the trip and a lot of memories from in general that I'm planning on using as inspiration," he said. "Hopefully I can make something out of it."

That said, he's not ready to hike this -- or any trail -- all by himself anytime soon.

"No, I don't think so," he said with a laugh. "I'd maybe go with a friend. But if I did do it again by myself I'd maybe want to try and speed hike it really fast, beat my time.

"But really... that first one solo was a good test but I don't know if I'd do it again by myself."

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Jack Hittinger
Jack Hittinger is a sports reporter for the Bemidji Pioneer, focusing on Bemidji State but also covering area high schools. He hails from the Great State of Michigan. Read his Bemidji State blog at http://thebeaverblog.areavoices.com/ and follow him on Twitter at @Jackhitts.
(218) 333-9772
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