Day 6: Effigy Mounds National Monument, IA + Afton State Park, MN by Wookie Kim

I began the day with the luxury of being able to use a real kitchen. I was at my friend Laura's place in Chicago. I'd been on a streak of making Birch Benders pancakes, so why not extend that streak? And why not add in some Justin's almond butter? Laura, coincidentally, is from Vermont, so we had excellent maple syrup to round out our breakfast.

Today, I was headed for Effigy Mounds National Monument, just across the Wisconsin border in Iowa, on the same latitude as Madison. As I drove through Wisconsin, I thought about stopping to try cheese. I really didn't have time though. Instead, I compromised by stopping in Mt. Horeb, a town that appeared to be themed around trolls. I stopped in Grumpy Troll Brewing for some pre-run nutrition. This was, after all, my first real run since running the Twisted Branch 100K only a few days earlier. I needed all the fat, protein, and carbohydrates I could get.

I ordered a bunch of boneless wings, and a flight of beer.

I then consumed all of it.

I was fueled to run! A couple hours later, I'd arrived at the visitor center in Effigy Mounds. One of the rangers helped me figure out which trail to explore. He recommended the North Unit because it had more scenic views, though it had fewer effigy mounds to see.

What's an effigy mound, you ask? I had no idea what it was either, but now I know. It's a mound of earth shaped in the form of something else. Some mounds would be geometrical shapes, like cones and lines. Others would be in the form of animals including most notably, bears. Native Americans living in the area had built these mounds for religious regions. Effigy Mounds National Monument was unique because it contained a significant proportion of extant effigy mounds.

I began my run. The trail was soft--the perfect surface to run on after a hard ultramarathon.

The trail quickly turned into gradual switchbacks away from the visitor center. I walked these.

As I ascended, the forest would open up every now and then, and I could see some of the effigy mounds, even if they were hard to spot.

I reached the first lookout point. I could see the Mississippi River and, across from it, Wisconsin.

There was also a pretty humorous (and overly dramatic) warning sign.

Because there were no observation towers, it was actually quite hard to see the effigy mounds properly. After struggling to identify several mounds, I gave up. I decided to run to the vista at the end of the trail--Hanging Rock.

A couple miles later, I was there. It was cloudy out, so the view wasn't incredibly picturesque, but it was nice to see the grand Mississippi.

I knew I still had a long way to drive before getting to my campsite for the night. I was headed for Afton State Park in Minnesota, just east of the Twin Cities. I hustled back to the visitor center.

On the way up to Afton, I took US-61 along the banks of the Mississippi. It was a beautiful, windy drive. As the sun began to set, I couldn't resist pulling over and trying to capture it.

I ended up arriving at Afton long after the sun had set. I hadn't realized that my campsite was a remote backcountry hike-in site. It was over a mile from the nearest parking lot, and involved several hundred feet of elevation gain. Being the camping novice, I stupidly decided to bring practically everything in my car. Moreover, because it was dark, I couldn't tell exactly which trail I was supposed to follow (try telling me you can follow this ridiculous map!), so I ended up taking a wrong turn. As a result, I trudged an extra 1.5 miles with all of my unnecessary gear. It took me over an hour to get to my campsite. I was drenched in sweat, dotted with mosquito bites, and covered in red marks from all the straps on the bags I was carrying. I learned my lesson that night: when camping, pack light.