“I’m not ready to take that hike again, should we stop somewhere else?” my friend asked. We were at the tail end of a craft beer marathon session in north central Minnesota. The threat of a hike back to camp loomed heavy in our minds. “We should stick close, it’ll be night soon and I’d prefer not to walk back in the dark” I replied. “Has anyone been to Rendezvous Brewing?”
The sun waned above us, casting a long shadow across the pavement with Birch Lake at our backs. We’d been in the sun for hours, our modern natures craved conditioned air. Hackensack is what my dad used to call a “poke n’ plumb” town. Poke your head out of the window and you’re plumb out of town. With a population in the 200s it’s a testament to craft beer—and the up north lake community—that such a small city can support a brewery. The bike traffic on the Paul Bunyan State Trail could play a role, only a stone’s throw from the front door of Rendezvous.
My friends entered the taproom while I took photos and poked around across the street. It was a quiet day— weather warm—yet nobody in sight. I was anxious to tick another brewery off my list, but even more for what awaited us after we left. I pushed those thoughts out of my mind and into the brewery before me.
By the time I entered everyone was sitting at a table with their beer. An old couple read a book to their grandson in the corner and a mother sat with her son at the bar, his eyes glued to a phone. The rest of the taproom was quiet, a silence that didn’t help my mind forget what followed our visit. I approached the bar. The COVID plexiglass screens reminded me that Rendezvous was one of the few breweries that opened during the pandemic. Things must have been going alright for them, our visit coming almost exactly a year from their grand opening. Their tap list behind the bar, displayed on a series of white sign posts, told a tale of easy drinking approachable styles. Nothing fancy for the locals and lake crowd.
With my flight in tow I drifted to our table. The group looked weary. I couldn’t tell if it was the day of drinking or if they too were nervous for what was to come. Those tiny thoughts kept crawling into my brain and I kept throwing them away. Our gusto for a new brewery had faded on the short car ride. Now it was only a matter of time, and the group felt it.
Yawning, head in hand, head on table, rubbing eyes, we made our way through the beer. Each drink pushed us that closer to our inevitability. We drank in silence, we drank in fear. The truth is, we all knew what was waiting for us. We all dreaded it.
I’m a planner. When I get in a car I like to know where I’m sleeping that night. Some folks can live with that uncertainty. My friend Sean was one of them. When I loaded my tent and sleeping bag in his car, I had no idea where it would be setup, or if it would be at all. We had a loose target. The Chippewa National Forest is massive, there would be a spot for our camp. But where? We didn’t know. The previous evening, after a 2 mile hike on a trail with grass above our knees, we found out.
It was a normal campsite, but there were others there with us. Unseen, but everywhere. A few minutes after setting our things down and scouting for tent pads, I heard the first warning. Matt yelled and I looked over at him. To my horror, he was in that tell tale half crouch, his hands combing through leg hairs in a desperate search. Ticks. Our brains went into creepy-crawly detection mode. They were everywhere. Hundreds of ticks between the five of us and you can never get them all. That night I woke up and snatched one out of my beard. A true nightmare.
I looked at the group during the the last few drinks of my flight and saw signs that those thoughts were encroaching on them. A rub at the back of a neck, a brush of a calf, a quick scratch of hair. We rose to leave in silence, each of us knew the gauntlet that lay ahead. It took us hours to find all of the last time. The dusky hike would yield legions of mini-hitchikers. The only question was how many.