Sam Cook column: Father and son see an opening, hit the trail

During the pandemic, they go for a long walk on the North Shore.

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Sam Cook

I came upon the backpacker late on a May afternoon when the yellow dog and I were out for a walk. The man was standing just off the Superior Hiking Trail near Duluth’s eastern city limits. In his hands, he held a clear plastic water bladder that he had just filled with water from a trickle on the hillside.

He was excited about the water.

“Spring water!” he said. “This is like gold!”

I asked him how he knew the water was from a spring.

“It’s so clear,” he said. “And cold. Look at the condensation on the outside of the bag.”


A younger man was standing a few feet ahead of him.

“We’re father and son,” the older hiker said.

He appeared to be in his mid-40s. His son, I would learn, was a University of Minnesota Duluth student. They were hiking the Superior Hiking Trail together.

They told me they had begun at the trail’s northern terminus, beyond Grand Marais near the Canadian border. That was 17 or 18 days earlier, they said, and roughly 270 miles from where they were now sipping fresh spring water.

Good for them, I thought. Like so many others during this COVID-19 outbreak, they had turned to the outdoors. Bike sales are through the roof. The parks are crawling with people. Trails are buzzing. Everyone is looking for a reasonably safe way to stay sane in the pandemic.

The man and his son were from Coon Rapids, Minn., they said. I didn’t ask their names. When the virus closed UMD, the son had gone home to be with his family. Perhaps that was when the plans for a hike were incubated.

“We should be hiking at Isle Royale,” the dad said.

They had hoped to hike that island national park in Lake Superior, but the virus closed the park. So they chose to bite off most of the 310 miles of the Superior Hiking Trail. They planned to finish their hike later that afternoon at UMD, they said.


They both appeared fit. Their packs weren’t overloaded. They seemed to know what they were doing.

“Some parts of this trail are really rugged,” the dad said. “There’s a place called the Drainpipe …”

I knew the place, west of the Baptism River, where the trail leads hikers through a cleft in a cliff on stairs.

Perhaps sensing a receptive audience of one, the dad kept sharing stories.

“We surprised a bear at one point,” he said.

The bruin made an impressive dash up a steep hillside, the man said.

Between stories, they sipped spring water.

I had a lot more questions, but the day was getting on, and they had a few more miles to knock off before reaching the UMD campus. I didn’t want to hold them up.


I let them move ahead of me and open up some distance before I started hiking again. I grew a little wistful, thinking how lucky they were to be making that hike together. Whatever happens in the rest of their lives, this father and son would always have the shared memory of this time on the trail together.

Perhaps this hike would be the springboard for other adventures together. Or maybe not. Maybe the stars just aligned for one long walk along the shore of Lake Superior in the time of the virus.

Sam Cook is a freelance writer for the News Tribune. Reach him at or find his Facebook page at .

Sam Cook is a freelance writer for the News Tribune. Reach him at or find his Facebook page at
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