I was overcome with a feeling of warmth as I walked into the cabin. The midday sun cheerfully kissed the log walls as I breathed in the comforting scent of the previous night’s fire. I couldn’t help but picture myself sitting next to a fire in that very wood stove someday.
While I remember it like yesterday, that day happened more than a decade ago. During a long hike at Tettegouche State Park, my husband, Jer, and I wandered into the historic Tettegouche Camp for the first time. As we explored—imagining what it must have been like during its heyday—we ran into a park employee doing maintenance on the cabins. We chatted about the park and how much he loved his job there. Then he offered to give us a tour of one of the cabins.
“This is the best one,” he told us. “You’re right on the water and tucked away from the other cabins.” He unlocked the door and welcomed us in with pride. Without saying a word to one another, Jer and I knew that we would one day call this cabin home for a long weekend.
A LONG JOURNEY
Back then, it wasn’t easy to secure a reservation along Minnesota’s North Shore of Lake Superior. But we usually found ways to stay at all of our dream locations. As the years progressed, and we collectively became more prosperous and flexible—and as these special places became popular on platforms like Instagram and YouTube—trying to secure weekend reservations feels like going out to try and capture sasquatch. Nevertheless, I decided last summer that would be the year we finally stay at the wonderful and remote Tettegouche Camp.
Whether a long beach vacation in the southeast United States or an extended weekend at a remote cabin, we’ve been sneaking away over the December holidays for many years. I find that getting away from the city and “real life” helps me make a more mindful transition into the new year. It reminds me of what’s truly important as I plan and set goals for the upcoming year.
I knew that securing the cabin we wanted on a holiday weekend was a stretch, so we discussed going in a couple of days early to try and beat the high demand. I scheduled a notification in my calendar for 10 minutes before our dates would be available for booking. Then we eagerly waited to make this decade-old dream come true.
When the day came, I logged on and was crushed to see that all the cabins were already booked. I called Jer, defeated and disappointed. Sounding a bit flattened himself, he reassured me that we’d stay there when the timing was right.
We discussed other options and I began working on Plan B immediately. Discovering Plan B was completely booked, I moved onto Plan C, which to my delight was available. But when I tried to book it, I received an error. I called Jer and had him try, only to get the same error. I called the reservation line next, to see if they could book it for me. They had the same issue and submitted a ticket, telling me that someone would be in touch in seven to 10 business days. I continued to try and book the cabin until one day I found that it too was booked for the dates we wanted.
Again, I called Jer frustrated. “How was someone else able to book this?,” I asked. We discussed our options and settled on Plan D. I logged in to book our stay and, again, I got an error message. I called the reservation center and explained my frustration to the gentleman on the other end. He went above and beyond to try and figure out why I wasn’t able to book anything. He eventually discovered that the issue was booking into the new year. So, he opened another ticket and I waited.
A few days after the initial booking fiasco, I was scheduled to start my Superior Hiking Trail Thru-Hike. I’d been chipping away at this challenging but breathtaking trail for years. I knew I wanted to wrap it up so I could start exploring new trails. But I went back and forth between the easiest option—section hiking the last few sections—and the most difficult option—thru-hiking the entire trail. Considering the chaotic start to the decade, I decided a thru-hike would be a great way to challenge myself and gain new perspectives on what truly matters as we move forward in life.
I was indeed challenged on that hike—more than I could have imagined. But those struggles taught me some very important lessons I’ll never forget.
I wrote about one of those lessons in a piece I wrote for Quetico Superior Foundation Wilderness News. In a section titled, “My most important piece of advice,” I shared this story.
“‘Are you thru-hiking?’ a young woman asked enthusiastically late one afternoon on one of my more challenging days. ‘I am,’ I replied. ‘I’m thru-hiking in two weeks,’ she continued gleefully. ‘I’m so excited. Has it been amazing?’ Not quite sure how to respond, I sort of grunted as she joyfully hopped down the trail. Ugh, you should say something more encouraging I thought to myself. So, I shouted back, ‘It’ll be the adventure of a lifetime.’ ‘I can’t wait!’ she exclaimed.
I thought about that interaction a lot as I made my way to camp just as the sun was beginning to set. I worried that I came off negatively and beaten down. It really is the adventure of a lifetime and I would never want to discourage anyone from doing it. So, I wondered, if I could give prospective thru-hikers one piece of advice, what would I say?
For the next hour and a half, I pondered that question as I made my way to camp. I reviewed my joys and struggles, the things I did right, and things I would have done differently. I also thought about all the experiences that were within my realm of control and those that were not. Aside from staying warm and dry, the next piece of advice for a successful and enjoyable Superior Hiking Trail thru-hike would be this. Let go of any expectations of what you think it should be.
It’s not that I necessarily had a lot of expectations for what my thru-hike should have been. But I was certainly disappointed in the way some things shook out. I knew I’d have unfavorable weather. I expected and prepared for it. I’ve experienced rain, cold, and strong storms on previous backpacking trips. For me, though, it’s a very different experience when you’re on a three to five-night hike versus a 23-day thru-hike.
When it rained for two and a half days straight on a previous section hike, I made the best of it. I reassured myself that I’d be done on Friday and at least I had the trail and all the campsites to myself. Being cold, wet, and uncertain whether or not your gear will ever be fully dry, while having nearly two weeks of hiking left, is a different experience.
Before my hike, I envisioned having time to journal and take notes about the trail and my experience at the end of each day. But when I was on the trail, I had just enough energy to set up my tent and get some calories in me before I crashed at the end of the day. As someone who is more introverted, I counted on having more campsites to myself so I could quietly process the day’s events. Even though I targeted less popular sites, I was rarely alone. I thought I’d listen to a lot more audiobooks and have countless ah-ha moments of clarity. But I was mostly focused on putting one foot in front of the other. As I look back, I realize that if I were more open to allowing the experience to be what it was, I would have enjoyed it a whole lot more.
I suspect we all do this dance to some extent. Especially in this technology-rich social media era we live in. Outside of the news, much of what we see on YouTube and social media seems to be filtered through rose-colored glasses. I suppose that’s a good thing if it’s motivating and inspiring people to get outside, challenge themselves, and try new things. If you then add this one piece of advice—let go of your expectations of what you think it should be—you’re sure to have the adventure of a lifetime.”
Before this hike, I understood all the ways my life would improve if I could let go of all of my expectations. But as with most things in life, it was easier said than done. This experience, however, made this lesson stick and I’ve been more open to allowing things to unfold as they will ever since.
It had been six weeks since I tried to make that reservation for our log cabin dream. The seven to 10 days on my open tickets had come and passed many times. Since we had another epic adventure on the horizon, I decided to let it go. We’ll make it work when the timing is better, I told myself.
Before crossing the task of booking that cabin off of my quarterly to-do list, I quietly gave it one last look. Shocked at what I was seeing, I hit refresh. How could this be, I wondered.
“You’re not going to believe this,” I said to Jer. “All the cabins in Tettegouche Camp are available for the weekend we’re trying to book.” “You should book it,” he replied. “But I just talked myself out of it,” I said with a laugh.
It turns out the entire Tettegouche Camp was closed the previous summer for some much-needed renovations. Not sure when they’d be ready to go, the park had removed them from the booking calendar. And I just happened to give it one last check on the day they were re-released. So, we booked that cabin we fell in love with 10 years earlier and began planning for our dream to finally come true.
Having learned such an important lesson about expectations during my Superior Hiking Trail Thru-Hike, I tried to not get ahead of myself this time. But if I’m honest, visions of watching the Northern Lights while snowshoeing across the frozen lake, danced in my head from time to time.
Expecting a good amount of snow, we purchased a pulk to haul our gear down the two-mile trail. We even upgraded the old snowshoes we bought on Craigslist many years ago. With rumors of a strong El Nino this winter, I kept my eye on the weather. From time to time, I checked in with friends who live along the North Shore. “No snow yet,” they said as the trip drew nearer and nearer.
The weekend before we were ready to leave, there was still no snow. So, Jer removed the sled portion of the pulk and replaced it with a cart. Although it’s gorgeous, snow can be a bit messy, so we were a contented sort of bummed. Still, knowing how unpredictable the weather along the North Shore can be, I packed the sled and our snowshoes in the bed of my truck just in case.
As we enjoyed our coffee around the wood stove that first morning in our log cabin, we looked out the windows on the north side in unison as the wind picked up. “Maybe we should’ve gone hiking first thing in the morning,” I said to Jer. We continued to enjoy the leisurely start to our day. Then, as we got up to prepare brunch, it started snowing. We were delighted by this unexpected gift and eager to get out and play in it.
After we cleaned up from our delicious brunch, we bundled up for a snowy hike. We marveled at the beauty of the trees and plants painted with a fresh coat of soft snow. The trail we hiked that day is minimally maintained and sees very few people. And given the surprise winter storm, we only saw one other couple during the entire seven-mile hike. It was magical. And completely unexpected.
By letting go of expectations of how I thought it should be, our long-awaited weekend at the Tettegouche Camp was more amazing than we ever could have imagined. Which says a lot considering this dream was 10 years in the making.
While I’ve learned, firsthand, the beauty of letting go of expectations for how you think things should be, I’m far from perfect. During our stay, a large group of adults and children took over the camp. They were loud, erected a hot tent in the middle of the camp, and someone even stole the trashcan from the restrooms. Even though I was annoyed, this was a great reminder of how much happier I could be if the next lesson I learn is how to let go of my expectations of others.