The Drive: The drive went through what I can only describe as cabin country. Every hundred feet their is a rustic wooden signpost declaring the invariably Scandinavian name of the cottage's owners. Olson, Ericson, Nelson, Larsson, Carlson, Anderson, Andersen, Andersson. And just in case you didn't realize that Sven Bergson has Swedish heritage, his next sign will say Välkommen and bear a surprisingly unoriginal cherry red Dalecarlian horse. This theme climaxes as you tour the edge of Big Sandy Lake where pseudo-Scandinavian vacation communities manage to create a nostalgia for a time and place that arguably never actually existed. Beware, however, this can be dangerously endearing and if you're not careful, you may just find yourself nailing your very own rosemaled sign right next to Ole Bergström's.
The Park: Savanna Portage State Park is another pine/aspen mixed park that contained just enough maples to burst forth in glorious color come autumn. Straddling a continental divide (considering the noticeable lack of elevation, there are a surprising number of continental divides in this part of the state), this park feels remote. There is actually a section of the park officially named "Remote Solitude," although the fact that they had to name it may say something in itself. It fills my requirements of having loons, lakes, dead pine smell, and low light pollution that defines a northern park. The portage itself, which is part of the hiking club trail and connected the Mississippi water trails to Lake Superior via the St. Louis River, even adds a historical aspect, summoning up visions of voyageurs and crazy trappers. It really seemed like a perfect park, yet there was one think so overwhelmingly negative that I only gave the trail a 2 out of 5 on my Incredibly Arbitrary Trail Rating System.
The Trail: I though I knew mosquitoes. Minnesota mosquitoes, I thought, aren't that bad. I've been outside in Minnesota my whole life. I'm tough, so I can handle anything. My bug spray will protect me. I knew that the mosquitoes were bad this year, but I thought I knew what I was up against. I was wrong. The Savanna Portage trail is 5.3 miles, the longest of the seven hikes I did on the aptly named mosquito route (which I named primarily because of this hike), and I decided to do it at dusk right after I arrived at the park. I bathed myself in my natural picaridin bugspray (actually not natural since picaridin is apparently just another lab produced chemical) and was off to what may very well be the most miserable experience of my life.
The trail is a relatively strenuous one with steep inclines and drops into wet marshy areas, but the mosquitoes thrived everywhere. The pictures I took for this blog were literally paid for in blood because stopping long enough to snap an iPhone picture resulted in a solid layer of black insects on much of my exposed skin. They swarmed, buzzed in my ears, bit through my shirt and jeans like they weren't even there. Reapplying bug spray gave 5-10 minutes of relief, but they would soon be at it again. At one point, I considered just curling up on the side of the trail and letting them have me, but that didn't seem like the best solution for the problem. After all, you can deal with five miles of just about anything. Even if just barely so.
I have to admit that my bug spray worked well. I probably got one bite for every thousand bugs swarming me. Since I exited that horrible hike with several hundred itchy red lumps forming like a constellation across my body, you can easily calculate the number of demons I had to deal with. I could barely enjoy the towering pine stands or appreciate the historical significance of the savanna portage section (which truly is a testament to my distraction). I barely even stopped to take a picture of a beloved bog which I passed though. I imagine this hike would have been fantastic in other circumstances, but just to be safe, I'm not going back to check until I can do it on snowshoes.
Cumulative Miles Hiked: 13
Cumulative Miled Driven: 445
Hike Type: Pine Forest, Bog, Continental Divide
Arbitrary Rating: 1/5 (see explanation)
The Mosquito Route