Running the Boreal Trail – Part 4

A series of guest blog posts from trail enthusiast Russ Hodgins. Past posts: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3

Before I made it out to the main road, I went past Wolf Bay campsite but to get there, I had another creek to cross. Life being what it is, this was another challenge thrown in for good measure. It took a couple of false starts but I finally noticed the logs crossing the channel behind me and to the left in the photo. They got me onto the old beaver dam that ended at another homemade bridge. Despite hamming it up in the photos, I enjoyed these little navigational challenges because I knew the trail was there, I just had to find it. I might have been less receptive had it been cold and wet but the weather was fantastic.

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The bridge is shown below and when I made the step down off the dam towards it, my foot encountered nothing but fresh air under the tall grass and my legs straddled the logs. Before I could congratulate myself on a one point landing, the logs underneath became alive with wasps. My tired legs instantly found energy and I sprinted up and off now what shall be called “yellow jacket creek” and into the calf deep water beyond. Only got stung once so I consider that a victory.

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I waded over to dry land and this is the view looking back from whence I came:

If the brush was cleared off the old beaver dam and a slightly better bridge put in minus the yellow jackets, it would be an easy trip across with the option of keeping the feet dry.

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About a half mile away from Wolf Bay, I came to another skidder trail and walked, ran and tripped my way to Wolf Bay, F- bombs included as I wondered what kind of an idiot would try to run through this stuff. In the picture below, I believe the trail sign in the background is the trail to the campsite but I didn’t go exploring and continued out to the road.

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When I got out to the road, I had covered close to 40 km for the day and was looking forward to a nice run down a trail on the north side of the main road.

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A guy can dream because after only 100 yards down the old road on the north side, I got tired of ducking under alders as the trail was totally overgrown. I made the decision to walk through the bush out to the main road while it was still close by as I just wasn’t up to a long slog through the brush.

Pam had texted me shortly before saying they were riding the bikes out to meet me. I texted back that I had given up on the trail and was out on the main road. (the cell service was amazing on the west end of the trail, not so good farther east) She missed the text and they went the distance down this goat trail, passing me going the other direction and proving they were far tougher than I to make it through there with bikes. So for the record, from their experience I can say that the first part of the trail as it heads west is fine but about the last half to two thirds suck. Lauren’s comment as they fought their way through the brush was “I’m going to kill somebody!”  I’ll take that as meaning it wasn’t much fun.

They caught me as I was baking out on the road with Kellen arriving first with Pam and Lauren shortly after. Pam and Kellen went on ahead as I was walking up a long hill but Lauren stayed and walked with me. Much as I will love Kellen forever after he brought me cold water at the end of day 1, I shall love Lauren forever for this welcome support when I was going through a bad stretch.

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Once we arrived at the point where the trail goes into the bush to back country campsite BT 4, Lauren went on ahead on the main road back to the campground. I’m happy to report that the section from the road to BT 4 is in good shape and an absolute joy after frying out on the gravel road.

It is a very sheltered site close to the lake and had I been tenting and given the choice of being here or in the busy main campground just over a mile to the east, I would take the privacy of this place, thank you very much.

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As said earlier, it’s only slightly over a mile to get to Murray Doell campground from BT 4. How hard could that be? But before starting the last short run in, I actually found myself not really wanting it to end so I sat in the shade for a bit and just enjoyed the bush before pushing off. This close to the campground, I assumed the trail would get more foot traffic and be in decent shape.

Well, it did get more foot traffic but that was from bears and the odd beaver.

It started out ok…………

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Then not so ok…………………………..

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And then it disappeared and I found myself on a beaver trail heading down to the water. I circled back and found the very overgrown trail:

It’s in the center of the photo below…….really! That was the trail. Thankfully, this was a very short section and the trail improved greatly as the campground got closer.

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And then I came to the last creek crossing before Murray Doell Campground. It was here that I learned that the cold water really makes the blisters on your feet hurt. Maybe I should have stood in the creek longer to make them go numb but I was starting to be more like a horse getting closer to the barn and wanted to pick up the pace. Pretty spot though:

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It turned out that the creek was the reason the foot traffic stopped. Past the creek, it was a well-used trail back to the campground. (don’t quote me on this but I believe there is now a bridge over that last creek crossing)

And then the final run in where Pam, Kellen, Lauren and Anna had walked in part way up the trail to meet me.

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I was happy to be in and somewhere about here, my muscles started telling me they weren’t very happy about what I had just put them through, go figure.

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A dog bed can be very comfortable given the circumstances (the salt and vinegar chips tasted great also!):

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I’m happy to report that I did drag my sorry butt off Anna’s bed. A long shower improved my disposition tremendously, a great meal prepared by Lauren replenished my energy, the compression socks did their magic once again and I even did the dishes that night. I shall be forever thankful to Pam and the kids for their support that allowed me to have this incredible adventure. They went through a lot including swimmers itch so I could have this run. Another thank you goes to Murray Doell himself (a good friend, lost in a helicopter crash many years ago). When it started to hurt at certain points, I thought about him and how I was running to his campground. I couldn’t let him down and maybe borrowed some of his strength. However it worked, each time I thought about Murray, things got easier. Thanks buddy.

Looking back, now that the blisters on my feet have healed, I wish at times I would have had the energy to gut out the overgrown sections just to see them but it gives me a reason to go back and do it all over again. The trail has amazing potential and with some work, all the sections can be runnable or a really fantastic hike. It’s the longest trail in the province and a work in progress for the park staff. With all the fires this past summer, I didn’t expect the trail to be perfect so in a normal year, it would have been much better. Hats off to the people who made this trail a reality. The longest trail in Saskatchewan is well worth the effort to see it in its entirety.

Running the Boreal Trail – Part 3

A series of guest blog posts from trail enthusiast Russ Hodgins. Past posts: Part 1, Part 2

*This would be the best section to bike, about a 10 mile ride to Sandy Beach subdivision.

As I mentioned before, the magic of compression socks is something to behold. After Day One’s efforts, I had staggered off to the shower, had a good supper and even did the dishes before putting on the very tight and fashionable knee high socks and getting some rest. The theory is that they push the lactic acid up out of your legs. I have no idea if that’s what they do, but I am living proof that wearing them after a long run means you wake up the next morning with legs that feel almost OK. And that’s what happened. I woke up at 6 a.m., my legs felt great (as compared to how I expected them to feel) so it was a quick breakfast and tea and then Pam shuttled me to the west end of the trail near Cold Lake.

I wore the “fashionable “compression socks to run in as some say they actually help ward off tiring of the muscles. I have tried them before and am not convinced it works, but was willing to try it again. I’m still not sure if they slowed the rate of muscle fatigue but they did protect my ankles from the lower shrubbery for the half day I wore them, until I switched into a dry pair of socks. It is quite the look! Especially on a day that got up to 28 degrees.

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If you ever get up to Meadow Lake park and are going to hike part of the trail, this is the part you want to do. It’s 10 miles from the start shown above to Sandy Beach. The trail goes through a diverse variety of forests, running along the Cold River for much of it and the trail is fantastic. It has two back country sites, BT 1 and BT 2. Both are nice but BT 2 might just be the best site on the entire trail. This section is by far, my favorite part of this trail.

Near the start, it’s open poplar forest with a bit more understudy but easy to run.

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A short three miles in and the trail takes you to the river and BT 1, shown below. A very nice site on a ridge overlooking the river. There is a fire pit and a bear locker and lots of great sheltered spots to put your tent but still open enough so if there is a breeze, it will keep some of the bugs at bay. (the river would be off to the right in the photo)

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From BT 1 to BT 2, the trail goes through more of an open forest and goes along a ridge in one part with the river on your left and a small lake on the right. The views are amazing.

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These trail signs were very helpful. It was nice to see how far away I was from the next place I was trying to get to and it saved dragging my map out of my pack. The aerial photo was a nice touch so you could see what was coming as you went forward.

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This is the campsite at BT 2. It’s a sandy point, excellent tent sites, nice beach area and I could see this as a place worth returning to. The only down side is it can be reached by 4X4 and it appears many folks forgo the walk in and just drive. Having said that, other than a couple beer cans along the trail, the site was clean.

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BT 2 is just a couple hundred yards off the main trail so after a short stop to check out the site, I was off again on a beautiful trail with great views of the lake and I kicked up several deer in the next section.

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A short time after the above photo, the trail goes out to the road to bypass a wet area and then after a short run, ducks back into the bush and back to the lake shore again. You then have the option of doing a longer loop or follow the shore to the Sandy Beach boat launch. I opted for following the shore line and came to a muskeg right before Sandy Beach. The beavers had been busy, there was no signage (probably a result of the many beaver felled trees) and after several failed attempts thwarted by deep water, I finally located the right trail which took me to the shore of the lake. A short run down the beach, a hop over a small stream and I was at the boat launch. I had cached some extra grub and water just off the road so after picking that up, I had a 1 km skidder trail before I joined the Humphrey Lake Trail which goes past the lake and to a lookout tower. The Humphrey Lake Trail is a nice section of single track and more like one would think about when talking hiking trails.

This is Humphrey Lake from the trail:

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The Humphrey lake tower:

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I was out there so long, I grew a beard (sorta), which is impressive considering that I have been shaving since I was 12 and cut myself both times.

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I took a few pictures from the top, did the touristy enjoy the view thing and then was off. Of interest, on the way in to the tower, I ran past two people hiking in to the lookout. I’m sad to report that they were the only people I would see on the trail in my travels.

The trail was still good after the Humphrey Lake tower, more of an ATV trail but in good shape. It wasn’t that far and then it went out onto an old road. This was also a nice but short section and areas along the road had been cleared for cattle grazing some time back. From the look of the current growth, my guess is that this area is no longer grazed.

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This old road joined another much straighter and heavier used road that went out to the main road. This was where things started to heat up as there no longer was any shade. The main road is down at the far end in the photo below:

If you look at the sign below, I had come out on Highway 21 just south of the junction to Sandy Beach (and lower down than the “you are here” on the sign). The trail runs parallel to the road and was very overgrown. The thought of a long run through knee high brush didn’t inspire me as I was tired for some reason. In hindsight, I wish I had fresher legs and had run it  but instead, I opted to go down the road so the trail may have improved but I never got to see it.

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The trail followed the road to cross the bridge over the channel between Pierce Lake and Lepine Lake and the next section along the shore of Lepine was brand new. I was hoping it wasn’t another skidder trail but I wasn’t so lucky. I should note here that it had been a busy fire season which most likely diverted time away from trail maintenance and also, it would be easier to hike these sections than run them.

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The trail was fine when I first left the main road but when I got closer to the lake, the area had been burnt and my shade disappeared.

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This is BT 3. I took advantage of the river out front to take my shoes off and lie down in the water for a 5 minute break. This is the view from the site down to the water:

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The burn went on for a bit longer and then I got into some green timber for a much needed break from the hot sun.

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I then came to a creek crossing where a handy beaver dam and a short homemade bridge kept my feet dry.

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The trail past here was an old road and another nice but short section:

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The trail then goes out and crosses the main road through the park. I had high hopes for this section north of the main road as I knew it was an old road so hopefully, it would make for good running.

Running the Boreal Trail – Part 2

A series of guest blog posts from trail enthusiast Russ Hodgins. Past posts: Part 1.

After I left the road, my next point was the back country campsite BT 5 which was about 8 km away through the bush. But first I had to follow a faint trail through the trees which led to an old gravel pit and then at the far end, the trail vanished. It took about 20 minutes trying different routes and circling through the bush until I found an old trail marker. The trail got better and then became an old road but then went off on a right angle and back to searching for fallen down trail markers. This part slowed me down a bit.

(I later learned from park staff that a resident bear had taken to using the trail markers as scratching posts and knocked many of them over. That explained why I found so many lying on the ground and propped them up against trees so others could see them)

This is heading off the road and back into the woods:

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This is the narrow trail I was following after leaving the road and the gravel pit. She was a bit overgrown but way better then what came next.

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Just when I thought it couldn’t get worse, I came to the new part of the trail. That should have been a good thing. Instead, they had taken a skidder and a hydro axe mulcher to make the trail. This chewed up the first foot or so of soil while crushing the wood so it was like running on a trampoline covered with broken branches:

(After I got back, I suggested to the park that they take an ATV, drag some tires behind it and pack this section down. By now, this should be a well packed part of the trail but on that day, it was less than inspiring)

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The other part is that unlike a hand cut trail or using an ATV dragging tires to make a trail, a skidder needs a wide area between trees so this new trail went left then right, left, left, right, left, right, left, left….. you get the point. It was like they let a drunk guy loose on a skidder in the forest and I was on some overgrown forestry trail. In a couple words: it sucked. Probably had a lot to do with the fact that I had been on my feet for about ten hours at this point and really wanted an easier trail. What a wimp! The other part was, I needed to head west but because of the zig zag through the forest, I was going south and east as much as I went west.

Despite the trail condition, it was a scenic section and I arrived to find that BT5 is a very nice camp spot with a beautiful beach as shown below. There were a few families there in their pontoon boats having a few (too many) drinks while their kids swam and they looked at me like I was an alien. I snapped a quick photo of the beach but didn’t notice the guy emptying his bladder until later.

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After BT 5, the trail was OK for a short stretch and then came to more of the skidder trail. At this point, I had an option to take another trail out to the main road and as the Boreal Trail also headed out to the road, I took the other slightly shorter trail and bypassed the mulch. On a side note, I even saw a bear earlier on the zig zag trail but it ran the other way. Must have been the smell, I was a little ripe.

Once on the road, it was a short run to join the trail back in the bush. This part was single track and nice running.

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This section joined up with the campground’s interpretive trail and then I came out at the beach. Our son Kellen was waiting for me when I arrived and rode his bike to our campsite, returning with a cold bottle of water for which I will always love him.  And then after what seemed like a really, really long walk, I was back at our site and moving like a very old man.

Anna was happy to see me:

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Day 1 was over! I had seen a bear and about 3 deer up close. The kids had spent the day swimming and learned that swimmers itch exists in the north. This was followed by a trip to Goodsoil by Pam, where she was able to get calamine lotion and they had a few itchy days after that. They blame me as I was the one with the big idea to come up there and run the trail so they are pretty much right.

So best I can tell (cuz I wasn’t keeping that much track of the time), using the time Pam dropped me off and when I got to the site, I was on the go for about 12 and a half hours to cover what looks like 50 miles (80 km) according to the park maps. Now, just to figure out how I was going to get up tomorrow and cover the next 30 miles (50 km). I was really thinking about not doing it. Thankfully ,Pam knows me well and knew I wouldn’t be happy and would want to return until I got it done. Thus, she left me no choice and told me I was doing it! I thank her for that. It was just what I needed at the time. That and compression socks. They work magic on tired legs when you wear them overnight between long runs.

Running the Boreal Trail – Part 1

A series of guest blog posts from trail enthusiast Russ Hodgins.

Under the category of “it seemed like a good idea at the time,” here is what I did on my summer vacation:

I had a dream of running the Boreal Trail across Meadow Lake Provincial Park and thought about attempting it in one long run but navigating by headlamp on an unknown trail isn’t high on my to do list, so plans were adjusted to run over two days and thanks to my supportive family it came true.

Day 1

My wife Pam shuttled me to the start in the early morning hours of Aug. 9th, dropping me off at the east end of the trail. After the obligatory photo, I was off. Any dreams of keeping my feet dry ended immediately as it was a cool morning with a heavy dew, so within minutes me feet were soaked. Oh well, how sad, never mind.

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Shortly after starting, I came to this bog and as the trail runs parallel to the road, I hiked out, ran down the road and then bush-wacked back in to the trail and carried on. It was too early to get that wet but my joy was short lived. A few miles later while crossing a much shorter wet section, I stepped into what I thought was a shallow puddle but it went up very high on my body. It officially became a trail run.

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The first seven or so miles were kind of like this. The grass and shrubs were halfway to my knees and I didn’t realize it as the legs were fresh, but it was hard work dragging my feet through this stuff. At one point, the trail ran down the power line and I ended up in neck high reeds and ankle deep water. Once again, it was quicker to detour out to the road and bypass this short section.

The trail eventually took me to Kimball Lake, which has a large campground and cabin subdivision. Heading east after Kimball, the trail gets much better and suddenly it’s fun again. From here, it goes to Tall Timbers Riding Stables (where I had cached some extra food and water on our drive out) and then the trail is an old road going down to a Chalet which is also part of the snowmobile trail. This 33 km section from Tall Timbers to the park entry gate was the longest stretch, with no road access, so along with my Camel Back hydration pack, I carried two extra water bottles. Even with that, it was a warm day and I ran out of liquid a mile short of the park gate where the next water cache was stored.

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The chalet was my stopping place where I changed into dry socks inside and got away from the winged motivators. The mosquitoes were ever present, but not really a problem unless you stopped completely. Having said that, a nice cool September day with fewer bugs would be a much more pleasant time to wander on this trail, so I should probably go back and test that theory.

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From the Chalet, it’s a hair under four miles to the first back country campsite came to called BT 7. Much of this section runs along the Waterhen River and at one point, I scared up four sandhill cranes. This was probably the best section of the trail in terms of good footing/easy running on day one. It didn’t hurt that it was very scenic with great weather.

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The trail after BT7 comes to an area where cattle graze and runs just outside the fence. It was grazed down inside the wire so I jumped over and ran in the pasture which was parallel to the trail. After leaving back country campsite BT 7, the first sign of the grazing was crossing through a cattle gate. After this point, I had a fence on my right and after a certain point, an overgrown trail under my feet. Seeing as the cattle had done such a good job of mowing down the grass, I hopped the fence and ran on the grazed side as it was much easier.

(I have since learned that the access to BT 6 is near here but the sign wasn’t up two years ago. I’m sure it is there now)

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The cattle also make nice trails to run on but the bad part was I missed the sign that would have shown me where the back country campsite BT 6 was, thus I never got to see it.

As I was running, the trail eventually came inside the pasture and all was going well until I caught a glimpse of a trail sign on the other side of the gate. It went a short distance and ended at the water in a muskeg.

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The water looked deep enough to swim in but not all that inviting. Swamps tend to have beaver dams and after a short search and a ten minute bushwhack, I was crossing on the beaver dam to circle back and pick up the trail on the other side.

This is my view from the dam back to the trail:

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After the muskeg, the trail was decent but overgrown. There were markers about every km and as I got closer to the main road and the park entry gate, the trail became more of a road and the running got easier. That was good news as about a mile or so from the road and my next water and food cache, I downed the last fluid I had with me and was getting mighty dry in the 26 degree temperature.

And then I was there! I had also left a chocolate bar as part of the reward of crossing this 30 km plus section and Pam was waiting for me when I arrived. She had rode her bike out and joined me for a short, much needed rest.

Best I could tell, I now had 16-18 km to go until I was back at our campsite in Murray Doell Campground. What I didn’t know was what the trail was like in front of me. I knew they had built a new section but had no idea what it would be like. It’s probably a good thing that I didn’t know…

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