North Country Trail in Wisconsin: Green Underwear in Gordon

There is usually not much to say about a great hike, great weather, and beautiful scenery. They’re nice, but they don’t help create a classic story that you tell your friends and sit down to record it in an essay. Good stories involve things that don’t go as planned. Something has to go very wrong, very well, or very strange to have a good story. If someone shows up in green underwear, for example, that at least provides the basis.

So before I write about the numbers and geography of my hike, let me assure you that the green underwear is coming.

If you’ve been following my North Country Trail series in Wisconsin, you know I slowly walk 214 miles through Badger State. I started in 2017 and at the time of this writing I have done 65 miles, taking my time.

In the summer of 2020, I hiked from Pattison Park on the outskirts of Gordon Town and completed part four of my series of tests there. Thought I was done for the year, but just a few days after posting the essay, I headed back to Gordon for another hike.

This was at a time when cases of COVID-19 were on the decline and wearing a mask was voluntary in most restaurants. But that was still before the vaccines were available, so the threat level was probably “high” but not quite “high”. I decided to play it safe the day before my hike and order a takeout pizza from a local bar, wearing a mask while doing so.

As I walked in I passed a guy on my way out who quickly sat down at a picnic table and lit a cigarette. He then decided to appoint himself chairman of the welcome committee for the town of Gordon.

“We don’t wear that fucking stuff here,” he said, obviously referring to the mask I was wearing.

In retrospect, it would have been fun for me to take my pants off and walk into the bar with my skivvies on, like that was what he was referring to, but the idea didn’t occur to me. mind at the moment. Also, the green underwear shows up later in this essay, so it’s probably best that I don’t spoil my upcoming anecdote by doubling down on the underwear stories.

Anyway, you might think the guy on the host committee was hoping I would acquiesce to his peer pressure and take off my mask, but I don’t think it was. really what he wanted. More likely he wanted me to cry about science and how we’re all going to die. Then we could have a nice debate on the most boring topic of 2020, which is unfortunately still relevant in 2021.

What I did was say “Oh, okay” and then I continued to wear my mask while doing whatever I wanted. It ended up working perfectly, as it made it possible not to slow down at all to spend an extra second in conversation. I know a lot of people like to argue, but I prefer pizza. The Acknowledge and Ignore method allowed me to get what I wanted in the most efficient way. Once my pie was in the oven, I was free to chat with other people outside the bar about more interesting things than masked politics.

But I digress.

My late 2020 hike was a simple seven mile walk on Jackson Box Road through the Empire Swamp grouse management area. The only eventful thing that day was to pass a woman who stopped and chatted enough that I learned that we are living reversed lives. She was walking north and her husband would pick her up later. I was walking south and my wife picked me up later. These kinds of interactions often happen on a national trail system, but this was the only time I spoke with someone else who bothered to hike the roads connecting the trail network, so I feel a special connection with a woman I spoke to for two minutes on a gravel road in a swamp.

Jackson Box Road could be considered more of a trail than a road. I walked from end to end and saw a hiker and no automobile.

The vast majority of the first 53 miles of the North Country Trail on the West Side of Wisconsin is highway hikes where no trail has yet been built. My first trek in 2021 would finally get me off the road and into the woods. I had just under two hours of freeway hike left, however, before I reached the Moose River trailhead, and there will still be more freeway segments to come, but after Moose River the roads don’t. interrupt the path only jerkily.

After crossing the Moose River the trail follows the St. Croix River and suddenly the real hiking experience sets in. I am in the woods, in nature, far from traffic, and for almost a kilometer, I walk without seeing another human being. Then, in the distance, I can see a woman in a pink hoodie, wading up to her ankles in the river. She appears for a moment in my field of vision, between the trees, and is soon out of sight as I continue.

My thoughts drift away and very soon I forgot everything about her, but then I look up and see that I am approaching a log and stone cabin. Did I leave the official track by mistake? There’s an old man sitting at a picnic table, and the woman … well, she must be there too, maybe even in my peripheral vision, but I can’t pay attention to her because the man at the picnic table is wearing green underwear.

“Oh, I’m sorry, did I lose track by mistake? I ask as he looks up and notices me.

“Eh?” is his typical old man response.

“I was hiking a trail and ended up here,” I repeat, trying to verify if I entered private land and interrupt one afternoon at a family cabin. “Did I stray from the trail?” “

“I don’t know,” he said. “We have just arrived.”

I take this answer as an indication that the cabin is not his and he entered just like me. He had to wade in the river with the woman before I got there, and that’s why his pants were taken off.

Taking a moment to look at the cabin, I notice that it is quite old, but also large and well built, with a massive porch. I’m starting to feel like it’s abandoned and left for hikers to explore, but suddenly showing up to an underwear party leaves me uncomfortable and I decide to follow the trail. The last potential lost opportunity hits me just before I disappear into the woods, so I stop to take a photo of the cabin.

The Gibson cabin on the Sainte-Croix river.

A little online research tells me that what I came across is known as the Gibson Cabin. Apparently it was from a Duluth family, over a century old, and the door is wide open for explorers. So I clearly missed a chance to search an abandoned cabin.

After an 11 mile day I met my pickup by the side of the road, but returned the following weekend to camp at Gordon Dam and hike another six miles.

View of Leo Creek in the Douglas County Wildlife Management Area.

Failure to read about the area or carefully study the maps led to critical errors on both hikes. If I had known the cabin existed, I could have explored it. On my last hike in 2021, I knew I was going to come out of the woods on Hwy 53 and follow it to Lucius Woods County Park. What I didn’t know was that there is a road in the business district “Old Highway 53” that I was supposed to walk on. Instead, I walked in the ditch along the main national road, which is obviously a fearful thing and also stupid.

It’s easy to skip the advanced search, or “pre-search” as I call it, because you feel like the adventure will never begin if you focus too much on preparation. There’s also the feeling that it’s more adventurous to plan for surprises rather than knowing what’s going to happen before it happens. After all, the moral of the story here is if all I was doing was hiking there wouldn’t be a story. We need wrong turns and green-grundy surprises to keep life interesting.

North Country Trail in Wisconsin Index
Part 1: Wooden tick apartments
Part 2: Nemadji River Valley
Part 3: Crossing the border
Part 4: Summit City

About Marc Womack

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