Running the Superior Hiking Trail
by Britt Aamodt
Alicia Hudelson had a job waiting for her in London. But first she had one goal: to run-walk the 205-mile Superior Hiking Trail in record time.
A website, fastestknowntime.proboards.com, listed a record of four days, three hours and 43 minutes by Eric Kaitala in 2005.
So, Labor Day weekend 2008, Hudelson set out from the northern terminus.
"I made a couple mistakes," she said. "I didn't understand you should have a pacer with you. And I started in the afternoon."
Early September, the days were still long, but when night hit, an impenetrable darkness crept out of the woods. Hudelson's headlamp revealed what looked like a giant deer. Closer, she realized it was a moose and it was hopping mad.
Hudelson bolted and deciding to throw in the towel.
That might've been the end of Hudelson's Superior Hiking Trail story. But for whatever reason, she couldn't shake the trail. It nagged her all the way to England.
In May 2009 she returned to give it another shot. Only when she woke the morning of May 23, she had the flu. Her father, who'd driven up with her, convinced her to try the first eight miles. If things weren't going well, he'd drive her back to Duluth.
At eight, she didn't feel optimal but when did you ever on a long-distance run?
"Usually with a run like this you start out feeling great and then feel worse and worse. But because I started out feeling awful, I felt pretty much the same all the way through," said Hudelson.
From her last experience, she knew the first leg was going to be wet. She wrapped her shoes in garbage bags.
"But the water sloshed inside and soon I was carrying wet garbage bags."
Day one's highpoint came at 7 p.m. A couple, camping along the trail, invited Hudelson to crash in their tent. She did for 20 minutes, long enough to refresh herself. She reached Cascade 6:30 a.m. and found the tent and food she'd stashed on the drive up.
Day two, temperatures soared. She struggled with the heat. In Lutsen, she used her food box as a pillow napping on a cool patch of grass. Then it was on to Moose Mountain.
"Sleeping and eating is calculated into the time," explains Hudelson. She calls this kind of race an ultra-marathon, "except that I was only racing myself." And the record.
Day three, she was hours off the mark. She woke with a second wind and ran 15 miles. Maybe she could break the record after all. But the spurt caught up the next day when it took an hour to go one mile. Her goal now was just to finish.
May 26: day four and counting. Hudelson reached Split Rock by 3:30 and Gooseberry by 5:10, where she made a wrong turn and lost precious minutes.
"I remembered there was a McDonald's in Two Harbors and I wanted to get there before it closed for the night," she remembered. So with a pair of gleaming arches to drive her onwards, Hudelson mustered her inner resources and flew the last miles on numb legs to the finish in Two Harbors.
Her parents were asleep in the car. Hudelson woke them and the trio dashed to McDonald's where the long-distance racer celebrated with a quarter pounder and fries. Maybe she didn't beat the record time, but she logged the fastest women's time for the trail: four days, 17 hours and 26 minutes.
Future plans? The trail had been added to since her last run, and she's been thinking that maybe it's time for a return visit.