Thur. May 16
Trail Day: 048
Miles hiked: 22
Judge C. R. Magney State Park
An amazing thing happened last night. As I was about to doze off I decided to check my phone and I had a signal in my tent! That has never happened before this far up north. A new tower must have been put up recently. I took the opportunity to send a few texts to some friends who are planning to come visit in a few days before I finally dozed off.
When I awoke in the morning the sun was shining. After a hot breakfast I hit the trail and after a few miles I make it to Hellacious Overlook. Isle Royale is clearly visible in the distance and I once again think back on my adventure there last summer. Soon after this the trail becomes dotted with many obstacles; blowdowns and patches of deep snow, some up to two feet deep. At one point right at the base of a hill I encounter a four-foot deep drift and without snowshoes to navigate over it I sink up to my waist. Coming down the other side a bridge over a stream has been washed out and the only way to cross is to carefully pick your way across slippery boulders. I make it across without any trouble and for most of the day trail conditions improve. After descending some steep steps the trail comes out only a dog sled training trail and follows it for several miles allowing for a brisk pace. After this the trail flattens out and emerges onto gravel Camp 20 Road, which the SHT follows for four miles to the boundary of Judge Magney State Park. The trail through the park is fantastic, paralleling the Brule River, allowing access to great views of many waterfalls. One in particular is known as Devil's Kettle Falls. In the summer months the river forks at the top of a bedrock cliff, one fork flows over it and another plunges down into a large kettle never to be seen again. The saying is that scientists still have no idea where the water from the kettle comes out, I would imagine it would be somewhere underneath Lake Superior. Unfortunately because of the recent snow melt the river is raging and the Devil's Kettle is completely submerged, but the raging falls are still impressive. Leaving this spot the trail climbs several hundred stairs almost straight up to the top of the canyon ridge and there leads to the campground where I will be spending the night. When I arrive I take a look around and many more memories flow over me. The last time I camped at this park I was seven years old. I remember meeting Mike and his family at the campsite next to us who offered us shelter under their tarp when a rain storm came in. I remember Mike joining us for a hike to the kettle and him and his family leaving shortly after. I remember our car dying at Grand Portage the next day and having to get towed back to the campground and then to Grand Marais to await repairs for a few days.
I check my phone again, I got a decent signal so I call home to confirm plans for a pickup tomorrow near Grand Marais to start slack packing for a few days. I also get a call from some friends that are planning on joining me on the trail in a few days, it'll be nice to have some company for once. I set up camp and crawl into bed excited about the days to come.
Fri. May 17
Trail Day 049
Miles hiked: 25
The Family Cabin "Shack" near Finland, MN
I'm up early this morning and hiking by first light. The scenery today is some of the best the SHT has to offer. For the most part the trail follows the ridgeline of the Sawtooth Mountains overlooking Lake Superior but today for about a mile and a half the trail comes right down to the shore on the "Lakewalk." I stop here to have breakfast as I did not eat before leaving the park. Next I descend into the Kadunce River Gorge. This is one of my favorite spots on the SHT though I don't come here nearly as often because it's so far north. A spur trail leaves the main trail and follows the rim of the gorge for a mile, allowing a hiker to witness a narrow but incredibly deep canyon. Bypassing this trail and passing by several good campsites I arrive at the next trailhead and see a familiar vehicle. As soon as I appear my mother Roxanne emerges from the driver seat and gives me a big hug. She is overjoyed to see me as she has not seen me since dropping me off near Sibley on Lake Ashtabula almost two months ago. I stop here to take a break as she has some trail magic for me, cold pizza and fresh fruit. I spend the next few minutes recapping my journey through the Boundary Waters. Soon I must push on though as I have still have alot of ground to cover today. We make a plan to get picked up outside Grand Marais near Pincushion Mountain. I switch my pack out for a nice light day pack that makes me feel like an astronaught as I continue down the trail.
The trail immediately plunges down to the banks of Kimball Creek and then back up again as it takes to the ridge top. I encounter a large group of hikers on a weekend escapade, about ten people most of whom have too much gear. I pass them by and keep bounding down the trail with my astronaught pack making good time through gorgeous trail. I pass through a patch of nice mature pines along the rim of the Devil's Track River Gorge before descending into the gorge past a group of campers and out the other side toward Pincushion mountain. I'm surprised when I get close that the entire area is a maze of multiple use trails so I have to keep a careful eye out for blazes. A spur trail leads out to a bald rock outcrop overlooking Grand Marais where I take a few minutes to rest before finishing the final stretch along a ski trail. It is here that I hear something scampering quickly down a tree and a get just enough of a glimpse of it to tell that it is a pine martin trying to avoid detection. Roxanne is waiting for me in the parking lot and we head down to Grand Marais for a good Subway dinner, which I have been craving since leaving Ely. Then it's an hour drive down scenic MN-61 to the family cabin which has come to be known as "The Shack", and is how I will refer to it here after. For the next week this will be base camp as I slack pack the SHT and hopefully make up for some lost time.
Sat. May 18
Trail Day 050
Miles hiked: 17.5
It was nice to wake up inside a heated room this morning. It's drizzling when I get back to the trailhead in Grand Marais and it continues to rain all day. I'm hiking along the North Shore State Snowmobile Trail for a good distance today and it's here that I encounter the first distance-hikers of the season. Bob and Mike are out finishing the entire SHT after hiking half of it last year. I tell them where I'm headed and they seem very enthusiastic about the concept of the NCT. We exchange greetings, talk for a few minutes about gear and planning, and then part ways. The rest of the day is pretty uneventful until I reach Cascade River State Park. Like most of the parks on the North Shore, the main attraction is a big river gorge with the SHT running parallel to it for many miles. The sides are incredibly steep in places and the trail is very narrow. At one of these points I encounter a very large ice flow. I stop and take several minutes to study it as there appears to be no way around. With closer examination I find a route that is possible using tree branches as handles to climb around the inside edge of the canyon. I make it around without incident and continue on without further issues. I arrive at the trailhead quite early in the afternoon and I would like to go further but the next road crossing is ten miles away so I probably could not make it there with this terrain before dark so I call it a day. After heading back to "The Shack" and having some dinner I hear a car horn outside. My friends Tony and Ashley have arrived to hike with me tomorrow. This is the first time I have seen them in two months and I am overjoyed to be with them again. We spend the rest of the night talking about events back home, having a few drinks, and planning the hike tomorrow.
Sun. May 19
Trail Day 051
Miles hiked: 21.5
Everyone is up fairly early this morning and we are excited for the day. Last night we decided to drop Tony and Ashley's car at Lutsen which means they will be hiking with me for about 15 miles today. Everyone packs raingear as it is drizzling when we depart. After dropping of the first car we all hop in Mom's car and we head for Cascade River State Park where I left off yesterday. After taking a group picture at the first waterfall we depart, making our way up and out of the gorge. After only a short distance the rain intensifies and thunder starts rolling in. As we are ascending one of the higher peaks a bolt of lightning crashes across the sky near us as an instantaneous flash and loud boom is heard. We all cower down for a few seconds in terror and then cautiously continue on our way. Before long however, the thunder rolls away and the rain stops allowing for a more comfortable hike. The trail is now following the ridge again and a fog has rolled in obscuring most of the view of the valley below but also provides a unique opportunity for good pictures. Eventually the sky clears and it's good hiking the rest of the day. Eventually we reach a gorgeous section along Lake Agnes, where we pause for awhile to take in the scenery and beauty of the place. After a few more miles we arrive at the trailhead where Tony and Ashley's car is parked and it's time for another goodbye, as I am pushing on another 7 miles to Oberg Mountain. Alas, I had so short a time with these friends before they had to leave, but I'm grateful they were able to make it up here, even if only for a day. Take care dear friends, you will be missed. After parting ways I make my way through Lutsen ski resort, up Moose Mountain and down the other side ending the day at the Oberg Mountain trailhead where Roxanne awaits and it's back to the cabin to rest for the next day.
Mon. May 20
Trail Day 052
Miles hiked: 24
The next two days I'll be hiking trail that I've already hiked in the past. There is a loop around Oberg Mountain that I have hiked multiple times, and I've hiked all the sections of the SHT between here and Tettegouche State Park in their entirety. Never the less it will still be a very enjoyable hike, I never get sick of the trail up here. It's like my home.
The trail today brings me over Leveaux Mountain, Britton Peak, and Carlton Peak before heading into the Temperance River Gorge. I pass a few people out for a day hike despite the wet and chilly weather. Once I'm down in the Gorge I'm not surprised to find the place fairly busy with people. This park is very popular with tourists, easy access off Highway 61. The trail here parallels the gorge on both sides of the river with old walls built by the CCC between the drop off into the gorge and the trail. After leaving the gorge the trail meets up with the Cross River and follows it for several miles displaying gorgeous river-front scenery. The trail eventually leaves the river and wanders southwestward and this part of the trail is very wet from the recent snowmelt. This slows my pace down somewhat and as a result I don't reach the trailhead on Sugarloaf Road until much later than I anticipated, and I decide to bail off here instead of pushing on to Caribou Falls where I originally intended to end the day. It'll be nice to get inside The Shack today and warm up as it was a very wet and chilly day.
Tue. May 21
Trail Day 053
Miles hiked: 26
It's raining again this morning as I begin my hike and continues to rain all day. I make the few miles from Sugar Loaf Road to Caribou Falls pretty quickly and take a few moments to enjoy the view of the falls. A spur trail leads to a large winding staircase that leads to the base of wide river gorge where the falls pour over a tall cliff. It's a very impressive site especially from the fresh snowmelt. As I continue on I am displeased to find most of the trail in this area is completely flooding. Most of the boardwalk I encounter today is either floating or completely submerged depending on how it was constructed. This makes for a very treacherous journey as everything is extremely slippery. I don't even bother trying to keep my feet dry because it's not possible. Most of the hike today takes me through George Crosby Manitou State Park which has some very steep climbs now slushy with mud. Even the larger bridges here are flooded, separated from land by a few feet of water on both sides. I don't think I've ever seen this much flooding up here. The rest of the day is a pretty relaxing hike with rolling terrain, nothing too steep. I pass a fur trapper's cabin and several nice campsites, including one right across from Lilly's Island. This is a unique feature of the SHT as it is simply an small island connected to the main trail by a narrow boardwalk. On it can be found several stone platforms to allow access to the lake for swimming or filtering water and there is also a trail register, which I make sure to sign before moving on. After a few more miles the trail starts to go uphill again and the trail finally drys out somewhat. I pass a familiar spot on the trail and another memory comes into my head. One of my first solo hikes was when I was 14 years old, and it was on this very section of trail. I had been gone for several hours and was on my way back to The Shack when at this very spot I encountered my first black bear. Being a 14 year old kid I wasn't quite sure how to react. It was a smaller bear, so I was a little worried that Momma Bear might be around somewhere. It knew I was there but took it's sweet time leaving the area but once it was out of sight I continued on and made it back to the cabin soon after. With this memory running through my head I emerge from the woods onto a gravel road, turn and take a short walk down the road and reach my cabin, a perfect place to end the day.
Wed. May 22
Trail Day 054
Miles hiked: 23
Today I get an earlier start as I don't have to drive anywhere, I just walk out the door and begin my hike. Today I'm hiking a portion of the trail know as Section 13, the first section of SHT that I ever hiked. When my family purchased the land back in 2003 and we built our cabin, the first thing we did after finishing was take a day hike on this section of trail. Now it's ten years later and I'm finally hiking the whole trail in its entirety. Section 13 has alot of highlights. There is an old logging camp, a large beaver dam with a boardwalk built over it, a large glacial erratic the size of backhoe, and several bald mountain peaks with no names. This section also passes through Wolf Ridge Environmental Learning Center. To add even more history to this trail... every year the sixth graders from the middle school I attended come to this very environmental center for a week in February to learn about different aspects of the outdoors. As a sixth grader I was here in 2002 for a week with my teachers and classmates, and then a year later my family buys land literally across the street. How does that happen?
The section through Wolf Ridge is fairly rugged, but the real challenged today comes in Tettegouche State Park. The trail crosses the Baptism River on a large suspension bridge and then climbs steeply up a gully known as the drain pipe, and it is aptly named as there is water trickling down it as I climb. After this it climbs directly over Mt. Trudee and Round Mountain before skirting along a cliff edge looking out across Bean and Bear Lakes. I pause here for a few moments to take in the beauty before continuing a general downhill descent toward County Road 5 where I am being picked up today. I'm about a mile and a half away from the trailhead when I pass a spur trail to a campsite and see a sign tacked to a tree. "Strider NCT Party" with an arrow pointing down the spur. I take the trail and arrive at the campsite and see a familiar face. Hence I meet for the fourth time Dave Frey, aka "Diablo." He is a fellow SHT volunteer that was also on the Encampment River Bridge project last year and he hiked the AT in 2007. He was hoping to meet up with me when I came through this area and it turns out he timed it pretty well. We share stories of both our hikes while having a few beers. After about 40 minutes I decide to push on as I don't want to be rude and keep Roxanne waiting. We shake hands and then I head back to the trail. I'm exhausted as I reach the trailhead as today was a very tough section.
Thur. May 23
Trail Day 055
Miles hiked: 26
I'm very excited this morning because soon I will have another friend joining me for a few days. On top of that the weather has improved and it looks like it's going to be a very nice day. The hike begins at the trailhead on County Road 5 where I ended yesterday. Just as I am about to begin Diablo emerges from the woods on the way back to his car. He informs me that we forgot to take a picture yesterday and he is right. Luckily there is a guy in the parking lot ready to go for an ATV ride that is able to take our photo. After shaking hands with Diablo again I start off down the trail. After I few miles today I am hiking along the Beaver River which has several fantastic campsites. I pass a few day hikers on this stretch out enjoying the day. Soon the trail climbs uphill to Fault Line Ridge where I get a view a few hundred feet down into a wide canyon. There are quite a few blow downs along the ridge and I pass a trail steward doing maintenance clearing the fallen trees. Thank you sir for your hard work. I take a rest once I reach the ridge above the Split Rock River and I have a grand view all around. I can see Split Rock Lighthouse off to the northeast, the mouth of the river to the east, and of course the grand view of the Lake fading out into the distance. I continue on and the trail descends into the gorge crossing a bridge over the raging river. On the west bank I come face to face with The Split Rock, the land form that gives the river and the surrounding area it's name. It's basically a large slab of rock that has somehow been cloven right down the middle. Littering the forest floor our hundreds of pieces of loose rock, but unlike ballast they are flat and smooth and are not nearly as treacherous to walk on. After clearing this area I have a few more miles to go to reach Gooseberry Falls which is my destination for today. This park was always my favorite as a kid until I got older and the park got more crowded at which point my favorite became Tettegouche, but I still enjoy coming to this spot time after time every year. I get a good video of the falls and then head to the visitor center to await my friend who should be arriving soon. No sooner do I arrive and sit down that I get a text message, she has just arrived and is on her way down. Impeccable timing! Within a few moments I stand up, she comes around the corner and I am face to face with Karlee, a great friend from college. She has decided to come and hike with me the next few days and it will be so nice to have company again. We decide to catch up a little before heading to the cabin so we decide to hike the short loop around the falls. On the way to her car we pass two women coming down the trail and I recognize one of them as Gail Coyer, the Executive Director of the Superior Hiking Trail Association. I say hi and she recognizes me from all the times I volunteered on the trail work crews. We have a short chat and she asks me how the trail has been so far and I talk about the bridges that were washed out and the flooded trail north of here. She wishes me luck and then we part ways.
When we arrive at The Shack I show Karlee around and introduce her to Roxanne who has got dinner ready to go in the oven. We spend the next couple hours enjoying dinner, catching up on events back home, and then planning the hike for tomorrow. Karlee is a marathon runner and did the ultra marathon on the SHT last year, so we decide to do a solid 21 miles tomorrow. I have no doubt she will do fine.
Fri. May 24
Trail Day 056
Miles hiked: 21.5
Today is going to be a very eventful day. It is Memorial Day weekend so my entire family will be up at the cabin this weekend to see me and work on a few additions. The forecast calls for another nice sunny day, perfect to finally dry everything out. Roxanne has prepared some lunches for Karlee and I to bring along on the hike today, including sandwiches and some fruit. How nice it is to get some relief from the same old granola bars, trail mix, and dehydrated meals. We shuttle Karlee's car to the Reeves Rd. trailhead and then get dropped off at Gooseberry Falls, where we will begin our hike today. Coincidentally this is where the ultra marathon starts so everything we will be seeing will be new trail for her. The trail heads north out of the park and follows the Gooseberry River for a long ways before finally breaking off and heading southwest. Early on we encounter a porcupine right on the trail out for a morning stroll. I've never seen one this close before so it is a fun start to the day. After leaving the river the trail climbs gradually uphill and provides some nice views of Lake Superior near a place known as Wolf Rock. Shortly after this we will need to take a detour. The next segment of trail includes the Encampment River Bridge which got washed out a few weeks ago so a temporary roadwalk has been designated to take hikers around this segment and join the trail again on the other side. It adds maybe a little more than a mile to the hike so it doesn't add that much distance, plus there is not much traffic so it makes for a nice leisurely hike. We encounter another backpacker along this stretch, who after we exchange greetings indicates he is going "all the way" to the end of the SHT near the Pigeon River. Several places along this roadwalk also have a foul lingering smell which we soon discover are several deer carcasses finally decaying after the warm up. Luckily we don't have to be exposed to it for long and soon find a nice shaded spot among several large boulders to have lunch before rejoining the trail a short distance down the road. The trail from here follows Silver Creek most of the way between here and Reeves Rd. and includes a very nice campsite. We stop here to take a break before pushing on up one final climb that includes some interesting rock art. The last section of trail is incredibly straight, likely falling on property boundaries and is densely shaded with evergreens. Eventually the trail emerges out onto the snowmobile trail which it follows the last half mile to the trailhead.
When we arrive at the cabin there are many vehicles parked nearby. When I emerge from the car a guy comes walking toward me from the cabin. My friend Trevor has come up with my father and brother to help install a new refrigerator and to see me. We embrace and he comments that I look strong for having walked for so long, and indeed I do feel strong. Inside the cabin everyone else is moving about, they seem to not have realized that I have arrived. When I open the door "Luke!" is the first thing I hear as my family sees me for the first time in almost two months. They can tell that I have lost some weight, but that I do look strong and healthy. They wanted to know about the Kek first and foremost because that's the section of trail they were most worried about me getting off track. I give a brief description of my hike since leaving Ely, and they seem amazed that I made it through with such little difficulty. Afterwards I introduce Karlee to the family and am relieved that they get along well. We spend the rest of the night having dinner, talking about things on the trail and things back home, and then sit around a camp fire with a few drinks. When everyone is finally ready to retire for the night Karlee and I make plans for tomorrow's hike and then get some rest.
Sat. May 25
Trail Day 057
Miles hiked: 24
I'm not surprised to find that I am the first one up this morning. Almost everybody had quite a bit to drink last night, even before we got back from our hike, and so this morning they are sleeping in. I have some time to myself to catch up on journal entries before Roxanne wakes up and again prepares lunches for Karlee and I to take on the hike today. Shortly afterwards Karlee wakes up and we have breakfast before gearing up for the day. It's going to be a longer hike than yesterday so I'm hoping to start a little earlier. We decided last night to drop her car at Fox Farm Rd. and hike there from Reeves Rd. where we finished yesterday, making a good 24 miles today.
The hike today passes through Lake County Demonstration Forest where the forest environment changes frequently providing some interesting diversity. In some places the majority of trees are evergreens, in others they are primarily oaks with open grassy spaces underneath the canopy. There are many places where the trail passes near several open areas where the beavers have been at work. After awhile hiking this morning I realize that something is off, despite feeling strong and healthy the day before today I feel somewhat sluggish and very tired. I'm intrigued when I find out that Karlee feels the same thing and for a long stretch neither of us says anything, just focusing on not tripping on rocks and falling on our faces. After awhile though we get a chance to rest for awhile and after eating a nice healthy lunch we feel somewhat re-energized and the rest of the day is much more lively. We pass a small waterfall where we stop for a break and I notice several small fish trying to clamber up to the other side. We watch for a good five minutes as none of them have the strength yet to make it. Later on we pass a large group campsite where several tents are set up and people are wading in the stream nearby. Soon we come to a bridge where I am shocked to see a large sheet of ice on the far side, still clinging to life in constant shade. After crossing this obstacle we have only a few miles to go to finish out this hike and we are provided with one last view of the Lake before reaching the trailhead.
Back in the car we have a few snacks, some fantastic monster cookies that Karlee made and brought with her, and I find out that she has never actually been to the shore of the Lake. I convince her to stop at Flood Bay wayside on the way up so she can experience why I come up here so often. We hang around for a few minutes despite it being frigidly cold this close to the Lake and then finish the journey back up to the cabin, where we enjoy another fine dinner and more camp fire chats before again retiring to bed.
Sun. May 26
Trail Day 058
Miles hiked: 27
My heart is a little heavier as I wake up this morning. The company I have had the past few days will be completely gone by the end of the day. Everyone is up fairly early and we head down the road to our favorite local restaurant bar for breakfast. The place is called Our Place right on main street in Finland, and I have had many enjoyable meals here. After breakfast it is time to say goodbye to the men of the family, as they will be packing up today and heading back home. I take a few moments to address each of them separately and say goodbye. This is the last time I will see them until I complete my hike in October. I climb into Karlee's car as I watch the other vehicle drive away. Karlee drives me to the Fox Farm Road trailhead where we ended yesterday and then it is time to say goodbye to her too. I've enjoyed her companionship for the past few days and I am very sad to see her go. After a hug and a goodbye I enter the woods with a heavy heart and a teary eye as I hear the car pull away.
The trail I am hiking today is significant as I helped construct part of it. In fact the first section today from Fox Farm to the Sucker River is the very first section I ever worked on, and is what I was working on when I first heard about the NCT. All day long I pass familiar landmarks; a set of stairs I helped build, a stretch of trail I remember benching into the side of a hill, a section of boardwalk in helped lay out, a large boulder I remember working around with my mattock, even the trailhead off Lismore Road that I helped clear so the loader could get in with gravel and actually construct the parking pad. This section today is where this thru-hike I am on now had it's foundation three years ago. It was just completed last year finally filling in the final gap to make the trail complete from Jay Cooke State Park to Canada. It was fairly difficult because of mostly private land the trail needed to cross and in some places it still hasn't been completely resolved, as alot of the trail towards the end of the day is superimposed onto ATV and snowmobile trails. At one spot I encounter several young kids on ATV's and dirt bikes going faster than they should. In another spot the trail wanders through an archery range where a few people happen to be out practicing. I manage to make decent time and arrive at the trailhead at Martin Road where Roxanne is waiting. I can tell she is heavy-hearted, as this is the last time she will be picking me up at the end of the day. She too is heading home tomorrow, which also means tonight is my last night at The Shack. The air somehow seems darker as we make our long trip back to the cabin. We even have the opportunity to see the beacon at Split Rock Lighthouse shining for unknown reasons. As we leave it behind I realize that today was the first time I have felt truely alone on this hike since my rough patch in Itasca State Park over a month ago.
Mon. May 27 - Memorial Day
Trail Day 059
Miles hiked: 22
Willard Munger Inn - Duluth, MN
I can tell that Roxanne is upset as I am getting ready this morning. She seems very gloomy, of course because in a few hours she will have to leave me once again and watch me hike away into the distance not to be seen again for many months. My pack feels unbearably heavy this morning. Of course I've been slack-packing for the last nine days so that is to be expected. From here on out I will be on my own until the very end.
I got a text yesterday from a friend from college who recently moved up to Duluth saying she was available today and wanted to hike with me for a ways so we made arrangements to meet at the trailhead on Martin Road. It takes us about an hour to get there as Martin Rd. is on the very outskirts of Duluth. We arrive a few minutes early and have some last moments alone in the car before another vehicle arrives. I get out and start unpacking my gear as my friend Kelsey walks over ready to go hiking. It is a bit chilly today so we need to bundle up somewhat. I make some last minute adjustments to my pack and am dismayed when one of the buckles snaps and flies off. Luckily it wasn't vital to the functionality of the pack so I don't have to get an immediate fix. We take a few pictures in front of the sign at the trailhead then it's time to say goodbye. With a last hug I turn and begin hiking. Thanks Mom for everything you've done for me so far on this hike.
The hike starts out in some pretty developed areas and the hiking is fairly easy. Kelsey and I catch up as we hike along, discussing my adventures on the trail so far, how things are going for her and her husband in Duluth, and what my plans are after this. After passing through the developed areas the trail passes through Hartley Nature Center before reaching the University of Minnesota Duluth campus. After a short roadwalk the trail descends into the gorge of Chester Creek which is quite impressive. If it were not for the houses visible on the ridge above you would think you were in the backcountry again. In the gorge we stop for a snack break near a waterfall and talk more about college and some of our favorite professors. We soon continue on down into the gorge and eventually emerge out the other end onto city streets. From here the SHT follows sidewalks down to the Lakewalk trail which it then follows all the way through Canal Park. Shortly before reaching the Lakewalk we take a short detour and stop in at the Portland Malte Shoppe. I first heard about this place four years ago and have come here every summer since, to date it is probably some of the best ice cream I have had. The cute red-haired girl at the window is shocked when she sees my pack and finds out my story. After getting my malt we continue down the Lakewalk into Canal Park. This park is the heart of tourism in Duluth. Located right on the waterfront, many restaurants, shops, and hotels are in the immediate area. The biggest attraction is the aerial lift bridge which allows large ocean and lake freighters to pass underneath into the harbor. Being Memorial Day I am amazed at how few people are out and about, the place is basically a ghost town. I get rather annoyed at the few people that are around feeding the seagulls, even though there are signs everywhere that say "Don't feed the birds." That is blatant ignorance of the rules and it's ticking me off, especially now that there are thousands of birds swooping around putting other people in harm's way. We make it past the mob of birds and follow sidewalks around the canal museum, the aquarium, and the DECC arena and after taking a pedestrian overpass across I-35 we begin on more off-road trail to climb towards Enger Park. This park is quite popular among tourists, there are many gardens, lots of overlooks, and of course Enger Tower. The trail passes right by here but we don't climb it as we have both been here many times already. The trail passes behind some residential areas with some surprisingly great views overlooking the harbor below. After reaching a place called Piedmont Knob we take a few pictures and then it's time to say goodbye to Kelsey. There is a spur trail leading away from here to another parking lot where she has another car stashed. Thanks for coming out to hike with me Kelsey, it was great catching up.
After leaving Piedmont knob the trail descends again into a valley and I come to a road crossing and I sign that says "trail closed." I am now at Haines Road where everything has been torn up as they are doing an improvement project and the plans include putting in a culvert for the trail so hikers no longer have to cross the road. With all the destruction I am unable to see where the trail picks up on the other side of the road so I make my best guess and pick my way across slowly. It is Memorial Day so there are no workers around to keep me out. I am pleased to discover that I correctly guessed where the trail picked up and continue on with no trouble. I end the day hiking down into the Kingsbury Creek gorge where evidence of the terrible flooding of last year is visible. I take the spur trail down to the trailhead and hike the extra quarter mile to the Willard Munger Inn where I plan to stay tonight. Andrew Skurka and Nimblewill Nomad both stayed here on their thru-hikes so I figure I should keep the tradition going. I check in and head to the room to update my facebook status thanking all the friends that came to hike with me this week, also noting that today marks two months since I began my hike back in North Dakota and with that I drift off to sleep.
Tue. May 28
Trail Day 060
Miles hiked: 22.5
Jay Cooke State Park
I woke up this morning and headed straight to the lobby for breakfast. I haven't had cold cereal in quite awhile so enjoy devouring several bowls of it before I feel content. Afterwards I head back to the room and get all my gear packed up and ready to go and then head back to the lobby to check out. Also in the lobby at this time are Bill and Sally, Bill being a direct descendent of Willard Munger himself. They see my pack and ask the usual questions and we spend quite a good deal of time talking before I finally hit the trail around 9:30.
Along the trail today is more evidence of last year's terrible floods. I hike past Spirit Mountain to Magney Snively Park where I get one last look back towards Duluth. Spirit Mountain has the only camping spot between Duluth and Jay Cooke State Park but hiking through Magney Snively makes me think that this would be a great place for a future campsite, or even a shelter. There is very little underbrush most of the way and the floor is covered by soft grasses making for a very pleasant hike. Eventually the trail reaches the base of Ely's Peak and a spur trail leads to the top, providing a great view almost 360 degrees around. After Ely's Peak the trail descends into the Mission Creek Gorge where some of the trail has been repaired since the flooding. There is an old historic bridge on the creek that the trail uses and right after this there is a sign that says "trail closed." I dare not go any further after this sign because at some point I know it will dead-end, as the trail beyond here leading into Jay Cooke State Park is completely obliterated, mudslides having wreaked havoc on it last spring. At this point I follow an ATV trail to the paved Munger Trail and follow it into the park. Along this stretch of trail is (former) Forbay Lake, which is now completely drained after the dam burst and released all the water into the countryside. Right after this the trail enters Jay Cooke State Park, my destination for tonight. I follow the Munger Trail spur to the park headquarters and get a campsite for the night. After setting up camp I head over to the site of the famous "Swinging Bridge" which was certified NCT. It was originally built by the CCC in 1935 and had been washed out only once before in the 50s, where it was raised a few feet to its current height. It is a very iconic and historic structure, being considered the gateway to the North Shore. The bridge is gone now because of the flooding and it is the only crossing of the St. Louis River for several miles so tomorrow I will need to take a large detour to get around the park and cross the river. As I am standing here at former approach I can see that work has already begun to repair and replace the bridge. The north side of the bridge has been completely removed and the horribly mangled metal frame is lying there. The south side of the bridge is still mostly intact and has been stabilized by cables. Seeing all the damage done to this historic structure brings tears to my eyes, as this park was always one of my favorites and I have many childhood memories here. To think that water had enough power to completely destroy a stone and metal structure is just incredible. Despite being a very sad moment this is also somewhat of a proud moment for me, as this bridge also marks the southern terminus of the SHT, which means today I finally accomplished a goal I've had since I first set foot on the trail ten years ago. Back then our family cabin was freshly built, the trail crossed our road only 400 feet away, and I made a goal to hike the entire trail within ten years. As of today, mission accomplished. I head back to my camp and head off to sleep with a heavy heart, it is my last night in Minnesota.
Wed. May 29
Trail Day 061
Miles hiked: 29
Pattison State Park, WI
I'm up fairly early this morning and get a good breakfast cooking before finally packing up and heading down the trail. Today's detour adds about eight miles to my hike but I have no choice, as this is the only off-road option with the bridge being destroyed. I follow the Munger Trail out of the park and through the towns of Carlton and Wrenshall before it finally starts heading southeast. It has turned out to be a very nice day, more typical for this time of year. I am hiking in only a t-shirt and it grows quite hot. The scenery is very pleasant along this paved trail, nice views of wetlands, a few cool rock outcroppings, and some nicely constructed benches to sit and have a rest once in awhile. After a few hours I reach the point where the trail reaches MN-23 and the trail forks, one fork going uphill to join the road, and the one fork heading straight to pass underneath the highway. To reach the Wisconsin border I need to take the straight fork, which at this point is no longer paved, but a grassy two-track with a ballast surface. Luckily because of the long winter the grass is not long yet so I am able to navigate the last few miles with no difficulty. Soon the trail comes out to a service road paralleling a railroad track and I follow this south for a half mile before hitting paved county road 4 and crossing the railroad tracks into Wisconsin. After snapping a picture I take a last look back at my home state, turn, and continue hiking.
The rest of today is completely a roadwalk to reach Pattison State Park where I plan to spend the night. After a few miles at a road intersection a county vehicle pulls up with two county workers inside. They stop and ask me where I'm headed and we spend a few minutes talking about where the trail passes through this area. It turns out that we are right across the railroad from a future segment of NCT in the Macquarrie Wetland Preserve, owned by the University of Wisconsin Superior. I had heard about the construction of this segment before leaving to begin my hike but it is not slated to be completed until next year so I am not able to hike it at this time. The two workers wish me luck as they pull away and I continue down the road. The next several miles are on backcountry gravel roads and after finally reaching the last paved road that will bring me into the park I come to a trail crossing. I am now standing on the Gandy Dancer State Trail, which is the same trail I encountered Nimblewill Nomad last year when I crossed paths with him on the last day of his Ice Age Trail thru-hike. The trail down there was a crushed limestone surface on an old rail grade and was very nice hiking, but up here this far north it has deteriorated into an overgrown and rutted two-track, with signs indicating the trail is closed until further notice. I stand here for a moment as the memories of that day last August when I finally met the guy that inspired me to do this hike come into my head.
I remember camping on the shore of the St. Croix River the night before and beginning my hike on the Gandy Dancer Trail north toward the place where my car was parked. I remember running into a familiar face at a road crossing and discovering that it was a fellow SHT volunteer I had met earlier that year that was also there to try and intercept Nimblewill. His name was Gray Ghost and is a very experienced hiker. After catching up for a few minutes I remember seeing three hikers coming toward us and knew that I was in fact going to meet the legend. The three hikers stopped to talk to us and I was surprised to find that Nimblewill already knew who Gray Ghost was. The two other hikers were Nate and Paul, who had already thru-hiked the Ice Age Trail and came to accompany Nimblewill on his last day. I remember Nimblewill himself turning to face me and I introduced myself and told him what an inspiration he was to me. We spent probably 15 minutes talking about my plans for the NCT, and his future plans for that year to complete the New England Trail after the Ice Age Trail. He gave me several pointers about planning, and also about not letting the long roadwalks discourage me. It was a great experience, one that will live long in my memory.
I continue hiking down the road and shortly before entering the park I come over a rise and look to the north and am surprised at what I can see. Way in the distance almost on the horizon line I can see the city of Duluth and a faint glimpse of the Lake. Just around a bend in the road from this point I see the state park boundary sign and a trailhead comes into view. I turn left onto the park trail system and hike down to Big Manitou Falls where I stop to take in the view. These falls are pretty impressive as they fall over a sheer cliff and into a large valley with sweeping views to the west. After enjoying the view I pass through a hiker culvert under WI-35 and enter the park campground where I make camp. I made better time than I expected and so take the opportunity to see all of the NCT within the park. The section through Pattison is currently a dead-end segment as it is surrounded by private land so a thru-hiker would normally be only a small portion of it before turning right past Little Manitou Falls and back out to the road, but now since I have some extra time I decide to hike all the NCT within the park, about four miles round trip. Most of it follows closely to the river making for a very pleasant hike. On the way back I am startled by a porcupine running across the trail right in front of me and quickly scampering up a tree to escape me. I snap a quick picture and continue on, giving the porcupine a wide berth. Right after this I hear a high-pitched screeching noise and look around wondering what in the world it is. Suddenly a large bird comes into view right in front of me and I duck as it flies right past me, screeching angrily. I got a good enough glimpse of it to identify it as a goshawk. I keep moving down the trail hoping to avoid another fly by but it seems intent on hurting me as it continues to fly up into the canopy and then swoop down angrily at me. It does this eight times I run, dodging between trees as I go to avoid being hit. Luckily I escape unscathed and hike back to the campground wondering what I did to provoke it. I come to the conclusion that it must have had a nest somewhere nearby and didn't like that I was that close. After getting a soda from the park vending machine I cook a meal and take a good look at my maps for tomorrow. After making a plan I read some more of Tolkein before settling into bed.
Sat. June 22
Trail Day 083
Miles hiked: 21
Cliffs Campsites - Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore
It rained most of last night and it is already humid as I begin my hike this morning. The trail is pretty easy to follow until I come to a trailhead at the Valley Spur ski lodge. Here I am faced with three different trails going in three different directions all marked with blue diamonds. Oh boy what a mess this is. With no indication of which way to go I try the most travelled route which turns out to be a loop trail. I decide to backtrack to a turn in the trail and then bushwhack to the nearest road, MI-94 which the trail does eventually come out to and then terminate. From here it is a roadwalk into the town of Munising. Enroute I pass by Wagner and Alger Falls. Munising is a great little trail town, lots of restaurants, cheap motels, and a nice Marina. I decide to stop by subway for lunch and treat myself to dessert at DQ. Afterwards I head down to the Marina to restock my fuel and water. I also give Tim Hass a call. Tim is the president of the Superior Shoreline Chapter and wanted to meet me. Within a few minutes he arrives with his wife Ellen. I tell them about my trip so far and then they spend the next several minutes warning me about what is to come on the far side of Pictured Rocks. There was a large fire last year and apparently there are a lot of trees still standing that could fall at any moment. Tim warns me to watch out for the ones with the roots burned away, those could fall at any moment since they are no longer anchored to the ground. Thanks for the warning Tim. I say goodbye to Tim and Ellen and then head to the ranger station to get a permit to enter Pictured Rocks. Everyone at the station knew I would be coming in and they are all excited when I walk in. I briefly tell about my trip so far and then head out to the trail. There is a visitor center a few miles east of town at Munising Falls and this is where the certified trail picks up again. There are lots of people at the trailhead but once I get passed the falls I don't see a single person. Soon a fog roles in and I am robbed of some good views over the lake. I still get some fine scenery though as there are a few stream crossings and I see beech trees for the first time on this trek. Their smooth silver bark reminds me of the Mallorn trees of Lothlorien in Tolkein's stories. After seven miles of Pictured Rocks I call it a day at the Cliffs Campsite.
Tue. June 25
Trail Day 086
Miles hiked: 24.5
Muskallonge Lake State Park
I woke up to the sound of Mosquitos buzzing around my tent, gotta put the bug clothes on before going into town. It only takes me a few minutes to break camp and hit the road to head back to downtown Grand Marais. I need to mail a few things home including my first pair of shoes which are very tattered and my thick fleece pullover, so I need to stay until the post office opens. I'm here a few hours early so I eat my breakfast at the picnic pavillion on the harbor. No bugs around here. As I am getting some of my things in order and taking a look at my maps a guy walks by with a cup of coffee and stops once he sees my gear. Hence I meet Mark, a visitor to Grand Marais for a few days. He asks about my gear, the food box operation, and where I'm headed. I tell him the story of my hike so far and he is very impressed. He wishes me luck as he returns to his motel across the street. About ten minutes later as I am still sorting through some things to send home Mark appears again. First he shows me a brochure of the trail that he picked up yesterday, and wants me to confirm that it is in fact that same trail I am hiking. I tell him yes, and point out a few highlights I've encountered so far on the brochure's overview map. He then hands me a brand new bandana for me to add to my gear list. I accept it gladly as mine is getting pretty tattered. He wishes me luck again and leaves. After a few minutes he returns a third time with a laptop in his hand. He first apologizes for interrupting me again (It's ok Mark, I'm just killing time) and then he says that he found me on the internet. He shows me the screen and displayed on it is the home page of my website. I then explain why I created the sight, to allow others to follow along and hopefully increase awareness and interest in the trail. Afterwards Mark is thoroughly interested and absolutely impressed with my journey and says he will be following my progress from now on and that he will try and get out and hike some segments of the NCT. He shakes my hand and disappears for the third and final time. Almost immediately afterwards a car drives down the street and stops right next to the pavillion. The window rolls down and I recognize Judy, the park ranger from the Grand Sable Visitor Center. She asks if I need anything and tells me to take care before continuing on to work. The town has finally started to wake up and businesses are opening for the day so I head over to Grand Marais Outfitters to thank Dennis for paying for my meal last night. Afterwards he lets me fill up my water from his sink and then it is time to hit the post office and then the trail.
The trail leading out of Grand Marais is well marked and after awhile heads back to the lakeshore. My feet hurt today as I am now wearing my second pair of shoes. Additionally the day has turned quite hot so I need to take more frequent breaks to ease the pain and discomfort. Towards the end of the day I reach Muskallonge Lake State Park. I have the energy and the time to push on but my feet are on fire and I am worried about pushing too hard the first few days with new shoes. Additionally a picnic table and shower would be nice so I decide to end the day and camp in the park. As I arrive at my site and start setting up camp several people ask where I'm headed and where I've been, including two ladies on bicycles and the guy camping next to me with his family. After brief introductions and story telling I get a nice hot shower, cook dinner at the picnic table, and call it an early night.
Wed. June 26
Trail Day 087
Miles hiked: 28
About a mile west of forest road 500 - Lake Superior State Forest
I lingered too long in camp this morning. I decided to cook a meal for breakfast to take advantage of the picnic table and so didn't get hiking until well into the morning. The guy next door wishes me luck as I finally depart. By 10:00 it has already turned very hot and the sun is out in full force. I noticed last night at my camp that I mis-calculated the last food drop and I am actually a day short on provisions and won't have enough to make it to St. Ignace. Luckily there is a little convenient store a few miles from the park in the Deer Park Township. I head there first thing to get the provisions I need and to take a break from the blistering hot sun. Soon I am back on the trail and the going is incredibly slow, most of the tread way is nothing but sand. The trail zigzags back and forth from the lakeshore back to Coast Guard Road, nothing but a sandy two track, several times before finally staying fairly close to the lakeshore. It is at this point that the area Tim Hass warned me about in Munising comes into view. As far as the eye can see the ground, the trees, everything is scorched black. Of course there is also no shade so this stretch of trail is unbearably hot. I heed Tim's advice and watch the roots of the trees as I approach but there is no wind and none of the trees seem to be in immediate danger of falling over. After several hours I finally get a chance to stop as I approach a campground at the mouth of the Two Hearted River. A great suspension bridge straddles the river from the beach of Lake Superior and brings the hiker into the campground on the other side. At the end of the bridge a man is standing admiring the view of the river and he sees me coming across. He asks about the condition of the trail between here and Muskallonge Lake and I inform him about the vast burn area. He then proceeds to ask me how far I have hiked and when I tell him my story he invites me to his camp site for a beer which I gladly accept. Hence I meet Art, out on a week long camping trip with his son who is currently taking a nap in the van. We have a nice chat about previous trips we've both had and what I'll encounter as I head south. After I finish my beer I thank Art for his kindness and continue on.
I'm finally clear of the burned area and I'm in the woods for the next several miles but I take another break at the next campground on Culhane Lake to cool off and camel up. After this the trail heads south away from the Lake and the Mosquitos are out in full force. Within minutes they become so thick that I am swimming through a cloud of them. My bug clothes and head net are back on but because of all the bush whacking I had to do earlier in the UP my head net has holes in it so it no longer prevents the buzzers from getting in. My hands are the only thing exposed and there are so many mosquitos that I shove my hands in my pockets to spare them some of the torment. This doesn't last long as I need my hands to swat the ones that have penetrated the bug net. Of all my years hiking in the north woods of Minnesota these are by far the worst mosquitos I have ever encountered. It takes every ounce of what little energy I have left to keep from screaming in agony. I am exhausted and need to stop for the day but the bugs are such a torment I push on until dark, hoping to find a place where they aren't so bad, but there isn't one. Finally I have no choice but to stop and I pitch my tent as quickly as possible and jump inside. I haven't eaten in the past several hours and I am starving so I eat my remaining rations for the day in my tent to avoid the horrendous Mosquitos. It is very unpleasant, my hands are completely covered in blood, it looks as if I have just given surgery. My clothes, my tent, everything is stained. I have been bitten so many times that my body could no longer handle it and an allergic reaction occurred as a result of mosquito overdose. My hands are covered in swollen bites which has never happened to me before. I got a pretty good sunburn today as well from the lack of forest cover at the beginning of the day and I can feel the effects of heat exhaustion taking hold. I am definitely overheated and over-exerted. After stashing my food pack away I lie down in my tent and get what rest I can, the heat making it difficult to sleep.
Thur. June 27
Trail Day 088
Miles hiked: 26
Rivermouth Campground - Tahquamenon Falls State Park
The sound of thousands of buzzers outside my tent is the first thing I hear as I wake up this morning. Oh how I do not want to get up out of this tent. I have to get going sometime though, and I'm only a few miles from the boundary of Tahquamenon Falls State Park where hopefully the Mosquitos will be thinner. I pack up as quickly as possible and head out. After a few miles I come to a trail junction with a sign of a park map, I've made it to the park but still have many miles to go to get to the visitor center where I can get some respite from these mosquitos. After a few hours I come to a road crossing, MI-123, so I know I am close. Sure enough about a mile further south the trail emerges from the woods and comes out to a wide paved trail and the stairway to the Upper Falls. I skip the falls for now as the visitor center is only a quarter mile further and I need something to eat. When I arrive I am amazed at what I see. This place is more than just a visitor center, it is also a gift shop, concession stand, and a brewery which is actually a full-blown restaurant! I waste no time going inside and trying one of their four specialty brews before they start serving food. As soon as the kitchen opens the server takes my order and it isn't too long before she comes out with my appetizer, a whole plate full of nachos. No sooner have I downed these than my burger arrives and I enjoy it. I get several refills of soda to quench my thirst and after I've finished gorging myself I head outside to the large patio to see what else is going on, and to let my stomach settle. Lots of people see my pack and want to know my story including a guy named Tyler. He thru-hiked the American Discovery Trail (ADT) in 2011 with a friend of his. I will actually be on that same trail for some distance in Ohio where the ADT coincides with the Buckeye Trail (BT). He is particularly fascinated with my trip and wishes me luck. Here I also meet Shannon, one of the servers at the brewery. She remembers Wolverine stopping in here about two weeks prior and I explain to her how we crossed paths in Marquette and ended up at the same place for two nights. I'm having a hard time tearing myself away from this fine establishment but alas it is time to hit the trail again. I drop my pack at the trail junction and head to the Upper Falls with only my camera. The view is spectacular and several people have flocked here to see it. After taking some good photos and a video I head back to the trail and hike the seven miles to the Lower Falls, encountering relatively few people along the way. The day has grown really hot and humid and it starts to drizzle several times. At the Lower Falls I encounter many of the same people I saw at the Upper Falls. Many of them commented that they wished they could have hiked the whole way between the two. I said it was only seven miles, but I guess to them that was a long way to go in the heat. At the lower falls there is a gift shop and a concession stand where I decide to have a late lunch; a hot dog and an ice cream cone. By the time I'm ready to get going again the rain has intensified and the thunder rolls in. I have no choice but to go out in it. After about an hour the storm ends and the sun is out again, making it very hot and humid. Also the bugs emerge once again and I scramble to get my bug net on as quickly as possible. After many miles of rolling terrain the trail emerges onto a gravel road and heads east towards the lake passing many summer cabins. A van pulls up and stops and a woman opens the window. "Are you hiking the North Country Trail?" I'm totally surprised that she knew this roadwalk was the trail. She then asks if I need anything. I'm all good so she wishes me luck and they continue driving. The road I am now hiking on ends at Lake Superior at a day-use picnic area and when I arrive the van that pulled over earlier is parked there. Hence I meet Doug and Sarah Fauser, and their kids who have just finished swimming. We talk for awhile about the trail and about my hike so far, especially about the horrendous mosquitos in this area. They say they may have something to help with the mosquitos and they hand me a tin container with contents that look like a bar of soap. It's a type of bug repellant that you rub on your skin. "Whatever it is, they hate it," says Doug. I thank them for their donation and as they prepare to leave they leave me their phone numbers in case I run into trouble. Thank you dear friends for your generosity, it was a pleasure meeting you. Afterwards a young couple that was nearby and overheard our conversation ask me a few questions about my adventure. They seem impressed and tell me that they are staying at the River Mouth Campground just down the street. Unfortunately they came to this picnic area to escape the bugs at the campground. It's getting dark though and there is nowhere else to camp for at least ten miles so reluctantly I head over and get a spot at the campground right next to the shower house, which I happily take advantage of before hitting the hay.
Fri. June 28
Trail Day 089
Miles hiked: 20, +12
IGA Apartment - Trout Lake, MI
I awoke early and left the campground by first light. I hike the few remaining miles of roadwalk to connect to the next certified segment of trail which heads back into the woods and to the Lake Superior shoreline for a short while before departing the Lake for the last time and heading south. I don't make it very far however as the Mosquitos are horrendous once again. I've been in these horrid conditions for several days now, and several weeks before that, and they only seem to be getting worse. I decide to bring my hike to the roads for the rest of today to get some relief from the buzzers. It helps a little but it is also very hot today, the hottest day so far this trek, and the road provides little shade. I drink plenty of water but I feel dehydrated and extremely tired. After awhile I can tell that I am not feeling well and that heat exhaustion is definitely taking its toll on me. I have to get inside out of the heat and the bugs for awhile or I could end up getting sick or worse. Reluctantly I stick out my thumb, intending to hitch a ride into the next town. To my dismay nobody stops, after five hours of hiking along the road with my thumb out over 200 cars drive by and not a single one stops. At one point I pass a nicely shaded driveway where I decide to stop and take a nap, physically unable to hike any further. I awake two hours later and continue attempting to hitch a ride with no luck. Eventually I reach the intersection of MI - 123 and MI - 28 where I was hoping to find a gas station or something but arrive to find only a small engine repair shop. They have a picnic table out front where I decide to stop and rest. A woman walks by and asks how I'm doing. I tell her about my day so far and by the look on her face I can tell she seems concerned. She offers me a nice cold bottle of water which I gladly accept as well as a nice cozy armchair to sit on inside the shop to rest for a bit. After a few minutes she comes out and says she will give me a ride to Trout Lake about twelve miles down the road. Hence I officially meet Becca, co-owner of the machine shop. She leaves her daughter in charge if the shop as we climb into her van and she shuttles me into town. We have a nice chat along the way, she relates to me how disappointing it is how nobody stops anymore to pick up people in need. Soon we arrive in Trout Lake, not much here, a motel and restaurant, an IGA, and an ice cream shop. We head for the IGA, Becca knows a woman there who rents an apartment above the store. She was not there but Becca shows me the right person to talk to to get me a room for the night. I thank her for everything she has done today and after a firm hand shake she is gone. I talk to the woman behind the counter about spending the night and she talks me through the process. She hands me two keys, each opens a different bedroom, and I get to pick which one I want before settling in. I head upstairs to see what the place is like. I am pleasantly surprised to find a three bedroom apartment complete with a kitchen and a living room with satellite tv. Only one of the rooms has a window in it so naturally I choose that one. After settling in I bring the unwanted key downstairs and pick out something for dinner tonight before heading back upstairs. There are currently no other tenants so I have the place to myself. After a shower and gorging myself with as fine of a meal as can be had from a convenience store, I jump in my bed and instantly crash from heat exhaustion and fatigue.
Sat. June 29
Trail Day 090
Miles hiked: 28
Carp River Campsite - Hiawatha National Forest
I slept for over 12 hours, waking up at mid morning. The first thing I do is make breakfast before settling on the couch to watch some tv and rehydrate. I'm in no rush to get going this morning as I want to make sure I am fully energized before heading back out into the heat. I finally get going at 11:00 and head east along county road H40 to get back to the trail. The most direct and time-efficient route would be to head south on MI-123 and pick up the trail there but I choose to take the longest way possible back to the trail without backtracking to add mileage to make up for the section I had to skip yesterday. After a few hours I finally reach the trail and head on in. I still need my bug clothes but they are not as bad as the past few days, perhaps the new bug repellent from Doug and Sarah is working. After a short distance blazes become scarce and I lose the trail. I spend the next few minutes walking around in a circle and backtracking trying to find the trail. I manage to find it again without too much trouble and soon the trail opens up a little more and becomes easier to follow. The rest of the day is a fairly pleasant hike as the trail heads through some damp areas and skirts along the edge of the Mackinaw Wilderness. I encounter lots of puncheon through this section as well as the first raspberries of the season. I end the day after crossing the Carp River and discovering the campsite that has been built there. After setting up my tent I roll inside and fall fast asleep.
Sun. June 30
Trail Day 091
Miles hiked: 25
A few miles northwest of St. Ignace, MI - Hiawatha National Forest
I slept well last night, considering the turmoil my body has been through since leaving Grand Marais. I eat a small breakfast before hitting the trail early this morning. Today’s hike has lots of ups and downs through some more sandy dry areas. At the campground at Brevoort Lake I stop at the picnic area to cook lunch and refill my water. I pick a table right on the lake shore to eat and take a nice long rest as I read a few pages of Tolkein. The lake is bustling with people, lots of tubing, water skiing and sailing going on. I consider going for a swim myself but eventually decide not to just as a large family comes barreling down from the parking lot and takes up almost the entire beach area where I am sitting, being loud and obnoxious. I decide to move on and make my way back to the trail. More ups and downs as I head east now toward St. Ignace, some of the hills being very steep. At the top of one particular uphill climb I can see the top of the Mackinaw Bridge and a glimpse of Lake Michigan way in the distance. Tomorrow I will be in St. Ignace, I can pick up my next food drop and get another respite from the mosquitos. Feeling a sudden spurt of energy I hike the rest of the day without any difficulty and make it to the end of the certified trail in the Hiawatha National Forest, where it intersects with an ATV trail. I still have about an hour of daylight left and most of the ATV trail is still within the Hiawatha National Forest so I continue on until nightfall. About a mile from the I-75 freeway overpass I find a nice flat spot between the trail and the road just large enough for a tent to squeeze into. Looks like this is home tonight.
Mon. July 1
Trail Day 092
Miles hiked: 05, +5
Vindel Motel - Mackinaw City, MI
Last night was a restless night of sleep. I don't know if it was the excitement of finally reaching the Mackinaw Bridge and crossing into the Lower Peninsula or what, but as a result I am up at 5:00 and reach St. Ignace before 6:00. The place is like a ghost town, a stark contrast from when I was here on Labor Day. Only one place is open for business, a little diner, so I head on in for breakfast. A few of the locals are in for coffee but otherwise it's a nice quiet morning in the diner on Lake Huron. After enjoying my meal I make a call back home to plan the next couple food drops and then I just sit and wait for the post office to open so I can get my next food box. After taking care of business I hike the remaining two miles of trail in the UP, passing through Straits State Park where I camped last year while preparing for the Bridge Walk.
As I reach the bridge now I head to the booth for the Bridge Authority, where I pay three dollars for a ride across the bridge. I wait about five minutes until an Authority vehicle pulls up and I hop in. On the other side of the bridge I decide to take the rest of the day off, but not before seeing the historic Fort Michilimackinaw. I have always enjoyed places like this, old historic forts, some rebuilt some original. I spend over an hour walking around inside amongst the buildings and along the palisade wall before finally heading to the south end of town where I check in at the Vindel Motel. This will be my first nero day (near-zero mileage) for this hike. I’m not complaining, as I feel taking the rest of the day off to rest will do wonders for me considering the shape I was in not two days ago. It’s a good thing too, as today is again very hot, probably the hottest day of this entire trek. As I get everything settled in my room I realize I am very hungry and an idea strikes me. A tradition began on the AT long ago that somewhere around the half-way point of the hike, hikers will attempt the “Half Gallon Challenge.” The idea is to eat a half gallon of ice cream in one sitting. I’m not halfway yet, but it’s close enough and I don’t know when I will get another day off like this so to the gas station I go to find some ice cream. I find that they only sell it here in pint containers, meaning I will need four of them to get the half gallon. Basic flavors tend to be easier for the challenge but they only have three chocolates, I guess the fourth will have to be cookies n’ cream. Back in my motel room I turn on the TV and start chowing down. In less than 40 minutes I have all four containers empty. My stomach is not happy, but I did it. I ate a half gallon of ice cream in one sitting (without throwing any of it up afterwards). Now I can say I did it and never have to do it again. After my “lunch” I lie down and take a nice long nap, catching up on rest.
Tue. July 2
Trail Day 093
Miles hiked: 32
Mackinaw State Forest
I’m well rested as I get up this morning. After spending a few minutes packing my gear I check out of the motel and head down the street to Burger King for breakfast. After downing two breakfast burritos I pick up the trail across the street where it follows a paved bike path for a good two miles or so. After walking a quarter mile or so without seeing any more blazes I stop and check my map. The NCT makes a sharp right off of this paved trail so it would be easy to miss. I backtrack and sure enough there it is, newly built trail leading off to the west. This section brings me to a nice stretch along French Farm Lake with many drive-in campsites right next. From here the trail heads west toward and into Wilderness State Park. I must be careful where I put my feet along this stretch as there is lots of poison ivy growing on both sides of the trail. Before too long I reach the park access road and take a detour to the campground to use the facilities and hopefully find a place to cook a meal. As I am at the water pump filling up my bottles I am dismayed to find not a single camp site open to use. This shouldn’t surprise me, as it is only two days from July 4th.
As I am preparing to leave a guy comes out of the shower house and stops as he sees my gear. Hence I meet Greg, here with his girlfriend Courtney for a few days. He asks me where I’m headed and after I tell a brief version of my story he invites me over to his camp for lunch. I can’t pass this up so I accept and he directs me over to his site. As I am unpacking my food and cooking supplies Courtney emerges from their tent and Greg introduces me. Then they both watch in amazement as I cook an entire serving of homemade quinoa chili in less than 10 minutes on my tiny “supercat” stove. As the chili is cooking Greg hands me one of his recently cooked homemade pork chops to tide me over. Well done Greg, this is delicious. They then ask many questions about my journey so far, why I am doing this, where my final destination is, etc. They seem amazed that I have walked this far and I’m not even halfway there yet. Then they tell me a little about out
their experiences in the outdoors. Greg is a hunter and fisherman, has been his whole life. It turns out he and Courtney are from northern Ohio, only about twenty miles east of Defiance where the Buckeye Trail passes. I will be in their area in a little under a month if all goes well.
Before I know it over an hour has gone by and I need to get going if I am to make my goal. My next food drop is in Kalkaska and by taking yesterday off I will now get their on Sunday morning and have to wait an entire day to get my package. To avoid this I’m going to try and hike 30+ mile days for the whole week to cut out an entire day and make it to the post office before they close on Saturday. I shake hands with Greg and Courtney and with my pack shouldered again I head back to the trail. Thanks for your hospitality new friends, enjoy the rest of your trip.
On the south end of the park there is a large parking area with a boat ramp right on Lake Michigan. I stop here for a short break as I take in the view and see a few kayakers heading in from a paddling trip. The man is the first one up on shore and as he helps his girlfriend get hers up he turns and heads for the car to back it down to the landing so they can load their kayaks. As I am sitting there on the beach the woman turns to me and sees my gear. I meet Jessica, we have a brief conversation about my hike before I load up once more and head south into the Mackinaw State Forest.
At the next road crossing I have a decision to make. It’s over six miles to next section of trail and the area in between is a roadwalk through private land. I have to decide whether to pitch here for the night on the edge of the forest or push and try and make it to the next section before nightfall and risk getting thrown off track. Deciding that I need to hike as far as I can to make it to Kalkaska in time I push on. Not stopping for the entire six and a half mile stretch I make it back into the Mackinaw Forest and pitch my tent a few hundred yards from the road.
Wed. July 3
Trail Day 094
Miles hiked: 28.5
Home of John and Dove Day - Petoskey, MI
I am up at first light this morning and head out after a cold and quick breakfast. I have many miles to hike through the Mackinaw State Forest before taking to the roads a few times for short roadwalks, first through the tiny berg of Pleasant View then again through Conway as I prepare to pick up the paved bike trail to Petoskey.
As I arrive into Conway I spot the trail behind a nice little diner and cross the street toward it. As I reach the other side I look over and see a table with two women sitting at it, and one of them is waving trying to get my attention. I head over and meet Karen and Nancy, meeting at the diner before heading off to a bike ride. Nancy tells me that when she saw me she knew I had a story to tell. So at the request of Nancy and Karen I spend the next several minutes relating to them my trip specifically over the last few days. As I am handed a glass of water Karen asks if I am hungry, which I reply “Yes.” She leaves and heads into the diner. They stopped cooking about 10 minutes ago as this is a breakfast only joint, but when she comes out she says the chef agreed to cook me an omelet. Wow, this is fantastic. I order one with everything on it and continue telling my story to the two nice ladies. Before too long my omelet has arrived, complete with a side of hash-browns and an ice cold lemonade. I tell the waitress to thank the chef immensely for going out of their way to serve me. On top of that, Karen has covered the cost. Thank you Karen, I greatly appreciate it.
As we continue talking Nancy gets a phone call from a friend. When she hangs up she relates the conversation to us. As it turns out her friend has been following my hike online since I started, and happened to call right as I was sitting with Nancy. Talk about small world.
Soon we are joined at the table by a guy on a bike. Hence I meet Mark, Nancy’s husband. We spend a few minutes getting him caught up on what has transpired. Then Karen makes a call. She knows a family in Petoskey and requests that they give me a cold beer when I pass through town, as it has been pretty hot the past few days and will continue through the weekend. I realize again that I have been here more than an hour, I need to get moving again. With much reluctance I inform these nice people that I have to get moving on or I will never reach my goal. Before leaving I take a picture with each of them on the street corner and after a few hugs and a handshake I turn and head town the trail toward Petoskey. Thank you dear new friends for making this a great day.
I follow the paved trail for the better part of two hours, hiking right along the shore of Lake Michigan before arriving right in downtown. First thing I do is get a smoothie at the ice cream shop on the corner before continuing on. Karen gave me a description of the house where her friend Patti Chapman lives. I spot it right from the trail and call the number I was given. Patti answers and comes out to her back patio when I tell her I am down on the trail and looking for a way up the bank to her house. She gives me instructions for the quickest way up and around and after hanging up I am at her front door in minutes. She invites me in with much enthusiasm and introduces me to her family as I enter. First I meet Dillon, Patti’s son. He is particularly interested in my hike and has many questions for me. I am offered a spot at the bar in their kitchen where Patti opens a beer for me. Next Patti’s husband Andy comes in and has many questions for me. It turns out Andy is a former professional soccer player, both in the US and the UK. A few minutes later Dillon’s girlfriend Becky walks in, back from a recent trip. They all gather around as I tell my story so far, and that I hope to make it to Kalkaska by Saturday.
As I am sitting enjoying a rest and another cold beer Patti asks me where I plan to stay tonight. Then it hit me, I hadn’t made a plan for tonight. After already having burned another hour I check my map and see that I am still a good eight miles from the next section through the state forest, and it is already evening. Then as I am thinking of what I could do I remember an email I received a few days ago from a guy near Petoskey offering assistance when I came through this area. I get online and check it again, find out he lives only a few miles from here right on the road walk section between Petoskey and the state forest. Now if only I could get ahold of him. I send him an email telling him of my situation and leave my number so he can call me. I hope he checks his mail tonight.
After informing Patti of my plan I decide to head out, not wanting to waste any more time in case the call never comes and I have to push on in the dark. After taking a picture with the Chapman family in front of their house I say goodbye to everyone and shoulder my pack once again.
The trail through Petoskey is a combination of sidewalks and a river park trail making for some quick hiking. Not even a mile down the trail from the Chapman’s home the phone rings. On the other end is John Day, he received my email and called me immediately. In my email I asked if it would be ok if I pitched my tent in his yard for the night, but he tells me on the phone that he already has a room for me in his house. I tell him where I am and he says it shouldn’t take me more than an hour to get there.
On the south end of town the trail crosses the North Central Michigan College campus and the woodlot that it operates around it. At the end of the property the trail ends and takes to the roads. Along the first part I encounter a porcupine scurrying across the road to get away from me. By the look of its back it has been in a fight recently and didn’t escape without losing many quills. Poor guy. As I make my way along the roadwalk I spot a sign with my name on it and a cooler sitting beneath it. I have arrived at my destination, and John and his wife have left me some trail magic. I snap a picture of the sign and within seconds I am greeted by two people. Hence I meet John and Dove Day, dedicated NCT members who have been following my hike pretty closely. They bring me up to their home where they have a fire going and I meet their two kids. For dinner tonight are hotdogs over the fire plus some goodies from the care package these kind folks left for me. I am pleased to find a beer and an Arizona Tea in the cooler, they have been paying attention to my journals. Also inside is an envelope with my name on it. I open it to find a note and a photo of the Lake Champlain Bridge, what lies ahead at end of the trail in New York. They explained that they got the idea after reading my post about my struggle in the Ottawa National Forest and how my dream that night gave me a surge of inspiration that was enough to keep me going. Now I had an actual picture of my destination and what I was striving for, and I could look at it whenever I felt like giving up if that sensation where ever to come upon me again.
I feel spoiled as I am sitting in a lounge chair in front of the fire with a hot dog in my hand and Dove brings me a strawberry smoothie. During dinner they ask many questions about my hike and I relate the full story of my journey up to this point, as my posted journals ended about two weeks ago. As darkness descends John lights off some fireworks as nearby some other folks are having pre-fourth of July celebrations themselves. I end up staying up later than I should have, but definitely don’t regret it. Once inside Dove says that I can take a shower and leave anything I want washed outside my door so it will be ready in the morning. After getting cleaned up I settle into my room for the night, grateful for another night in a soft bed. With a smile on my face I think back on the events of today, three separate events of unbelievably generous trail magic all in the span of one day. A good fourth of July celebration if there ever was one.
Thur. July 4
Trail Day 095
Miles hiked: 40
I am served a nice warm breakfast as I prepare to depart this morning. I’ve enjoyed spending the night here with John and Dove, I do hope I will see them again someday. In a short time I have my gear all packed, my freshly cleaned cloths on and I am ready to depart. We take a few photos together and after a handshake and a hug I am off.
The trail this morning starts on private land before entering the Mackinaw State Forest. This section is finely groomed and maintained trail. Early on I am faced with the longest gradual uphill climb I have ever encountered, by my estimate stretching almost two miles. I thought I was in decent shape, but this climb kicked my butt. They should have a bench halfway up and one at the top, holy smokes! Today the trail is interrupted by many short roadwalks, some paved but mostly gravel. I’m not sure why but my feet are not happy today. After turning onto another gravel road I cross a creek running along the edge of someone’s yard. No one appears to be home so I get off the road and take a rest on the bank. I slip off my shoes and dip my feet in the water for a good soak. I also take this time to filter some water and have a lunch.
After a good 15 minutes of soaking my feet I slip my shoes on and begin hiking once more. My feet are much happier now, the cold water did wonders to ease some of the pain.
The trail continues down more gravel roads and some sandy two tracks and into the woods again before emerging out onto busy Hwy 131. The trail here looks to not have been maintained in awhile but I head on in to try it out. Maybe a half mile in I lose the trail. The brush has not been cut back so the tread is no longer visible, and I can see no blazes up ahead or on either side. I spend a good ten minutes looking around for any sign of the trail but am unable to locate it. I don’t have time for this, I need to be in Kalkaska by Saturday morning and this section has not been kept open. With nothing left to do I backtrack back to the road and begin a long roadwalk along the busy highway. There is a DNR fish hatchery a few miles down the road where I can hopefully pick up the trail again. A good distance down the road as I am walking I am surprised at how dark it has gotten already. I check my watch and am amazed that it is already late evening. I completely lost track of time focusing on doing as many miles as possible. Within about 20 minutes I need to get out my headlamp as it has grown too dark to walk safely along this road. I hike in the dark for what seems like hours until I notice a little cluster of lights on my right. As I get closer I realize that I have arrived in a small town, Alba. Having a strong sinking feeling that I have missed a turn I take out my map. Yep, I missed the turn to the fish hatchery in the dark and walked right past it all the way into Alba. This means I overshot my target for the night and missed a section of certified trail that I was looking forward to hiking along the Jordan River. With nothing else to do I keep walking to the far side of town and start looking for a place to set up camp. The plot of land behind the gas station is completely empty, a nice flat spot covered in long grass with a few trees to provide cover. This will have to do for tonight.
Fri. July 5
Trail Day 096
Miles hiked: 34
Near Wheeler Lake Road - Pere Marquette State Forest
Despite my incredibly long day yesterday I am up early this morning. To save time I don’t bother preparing breakfast but just pack up my gear as quickly as possible and decide to have breakfast on the go from the gas station. As I am paying for my snack the woman behind the counter asks where I’m headed. I tell her I am hiking the North Country Trail and I am surprised when she says she has heard of it. It turns out she knows the person in charge of maintaining the northern section along the Jordan River, the area that was impassable yesterday. She says she will pass on the maintenance issue and get it resolved and she gives me directions to the quickest way back to the trail.
The trail is only a mile out of town on a gravel road and I reach it in no time. Here I have a choice to make, continue on from where I am or go back and try and hike as much of this trail as possible. I decide with the latter, as I feel somewhat guilty for missing the certified trail yesterday despite it being an honest mistake. I head back north on the trail to the nearest trailhead, there to drop my pack and carrying only my camera I head back up the trail as quickly as possible to at least see some of the Jordan River before continuing on. I snap many good photos along this stretch before turning around again. By the time my detour is done I have hiked eight miles but have made zero forward progress. It is quite frustrating, but at the time I felt like I needed to do it.
Pack shouldered again I head south, finally making some forward progress. The off-road trail is well marked today and I have an easy time staying on course. The trail winds around a few lakes on its journey through the Mackinaw and Pere Marquette State Forests. It is very hot today so I take frequent breaks to avoid getting another dose of heat exhaustion like I had back in the UP. Toward the end of the off-road portion I take a break at a state forest campground to take a rest and restock on water to stay fully hydrated. I spend a half hour sitting on a picnic table at one of the campsites snacking and drinking water. The campground is pretty crowded, I am at one of the only open sites. I get really annoyed when some guys on dirt bikes come speeding in and out of the campground while exploring some of the trails in the area. Technically it’s not illegal, but you would think some people would have the decency to not make so much noise when a
campground full of people is right there trying to relax in peace and quiet… rude.
When the half hour is up I set out again and begin a long roadwalk out of the state forest. This brings me through the tiny village of Darrough where I stop at the gas station for another rest on this hot day. Inside I am pleased to find a small kitchen where they make homemade pizza and serve ice cream. I decide to indulge myself in both and no sooner have I sat down to enjoy my dinner than people start pouring in. This must be a favorite spot for the locals. Many of the people see my pack and ask where I’m headed. When I tell them about my adventure I am pleased to find that about half of them have heard of the trail.
I still have many miles to go and it will be dark in a little over an hour so as soon as I am done eating I shoulder my pack and head out again. I manage to make it to the next section of off road trail right at the forest’s edge just after dark where I am greeted by a swarm of mosquitos, the first since leaving the UP. I take off my pack to grab my headlamp and the mosquito netting so I can hike the last mile or so in the dark and find a decent place to camp. I find a place where the trail comes out into a clearing where a pipeline crosses the forest. A sandy two-track is located immediately adjacent so I make sure to find a spot well away from this in case any vehicles come by in the middle of the night. I find a small clearing just inside the trees and set up my tent. As I am driving in the stakes I notice that I have just pitched my tent on the edge of a large patch of poison ivy. At this point I am too tired to care so I just do my best to minimize exposure and hang my gear in a tree off the ground. We’ll see in the next few days if I managed to avoid getting it all over me.
Sat. July 6
Trail Day 097
Miles hiked: 14
Guernsey Lake Campground – Pere Marquette State Forest
I had another restless night of sleep, much like the night before reaching St. Ignace, probably from being worried about over sleeping and missing the deadline for getting to the post office in Kalkaska before they close. I have managed to make it within five miles of the town so to miss it now would be a shame. At 5:00 I am awake and decide to just get up and go. I hike the five miles into Kalkaska by 7:30 and make my way towards the post office. They don’t open for awhile so I find a small diner right on main street and head on in for breakfast. I spend some time lingering, enjoying my omelet and a few glasses of soda before heading out. I am at the post office as soon as they open and retrieve my next food drop, enough food and supplies to get me to White Cloud. By 9:30 it is already very hot. It’s already 90 degrees and tomorrow is supposed to be the same. Yup, I’m getting into the thick of it now.
I definitely need some time to rest before continuing on in this heat so I spend a few hours hanging out downtown, stopping for ice cream at the local joint and then heading to Burger King to use their WiFi to check email. Early afternoon I decide to finally get moving again. Heading out of town the NCT follows the TC to K trail through the Pere Marquette State Forest for a few miles before splitting off. I reach the Guernsey Lake Campground where I decide to head in and set up camp. Today was a short day, but given the heat and the intense miles I’ve done over the past week I think it’s a good idea to take it easy the rest of the day. I set up my tent and sit down at the picnic table to have one of my hot meals. After dinner I relax at the table and read many pages from Tolkein. After awhile a man from the adjacent campsite comes walking toward me. Hence I meet Tony. He had seen my pack earlier when he walked by to get some water. He is here with his family and they are just finishing dinner and wanted to offer me the leftovers. I can’t say no to that so I head on over to his campsite where I meet his wife Kelly and his son Max. They hand me a plate full of macaroni, corn, and a chocolate chip cookie. I spend the next several minutes telling them my story so far and where I am headed after this. They seem interested in the trail and I hand Kelly a link to my website so they can check it out once they get home. Thanks for the fine dinner folks, it was nice meeting you.
I head back to my campsite and head to bed early to catch up on rest from the past few days.
Sun. July 7
Trail Day 098
Miles hiked: 21
Home of Mark and Tamal Lindsay - Kingsley, MI
Despite heading off to bed early last night I still managed to sleep in pretty late this morning. I decide to cook another meal for breakfast before hitting the trail again. As a result I get a late start but my pack is now that much lighter from consuming another meal which in this heat makes all the difference. Heading out I pass by my friendly neighbors and Tony wishes me luck as I pass. Leaving the campground the trail passes through the Sand Lakes Quiet Area for several miles, I pass several isolated campsites loaded with people out for the weekend. The trail in this area is a variety of widely groomed trails and some sandy two tracks. After a few hours my phone rings and I am talking to Mark Lindsay from Kingsley. He had sent me an email awhile back showing interest in hosting me for a night and he has called me this morning to set up a meeting place. We make plans to meet at the end of the day near the point where the NCT crosses Hwy 186.
Despite the heat I manage to make good progress and make it through the forest and out to a short roadwalk where Mark plans to pick me up. I get maybe a half mile down the road when a van pulls up. Of course it is Mark here to pick me up for the day, what excellent timing. He says he will turn the van around and meet me down a half mile where the road forks and I can pick up there in the morning. In a few minutes I am loading my gear into his van and we head west a few miles off the NCT into the town of Kingsley where Mark lives. When we arrive I am introduced to his wife, Tamal, and pointed in the direction of the shower where I can finally get cleaned up. Dinner is ready shortly afterwards and I get the chance to sit down and meet Mark’s family. I am asked many questions and spend a good deal of time telling my story so far and Mark’s kids seem very impressed. Afterwards his kids disperse and I am left conversing with Mark and Tamal at the table. Mark relates his experience four years ago when Nimblewill Nomad stayed at his house on his thru-hike and what an inspiration it was to him. Mark hopes to one day have the opportunity to hike the whole trail. We share several other travel stories as Tamal disappears and comes back with a box of Klondike bars for dessert. I have never had one before so my taste buds are in heaven when I finally bite into mine.
After dessert I spend the next hour conversing more with Mark and Tamal and then it’s time for bed. I head to the basement to my spot on the couch and within a few minutes of shutting off the lights I am off to sleep.
Mon. July 8
Trail Day 099
Miles hiked: 30, +1
Unmarked campsite near 15 Road – Pere Marquette State Forest
I am up early for a quick breakfast before Mark needs to head to work. In no time I have my gear packed and am ready to go. Mark has me back on the trail by 6:30 where I say goodbye to another new friend. Thanks Mark for your hospitality and sharing your stories with me. I hope our paths cross again.
As I set out this morning the rain sets in and stays around most of the day. I am not hiking for very long when a thunderstorm rolls in. After awhile as I am making my way along a ridge above the Manistee River the lightning gets closer and closer until one hits less than a mile away. It is so close that I can feel the ground shake as I see a blinding white flash and hear a horrendous explosion directly over my head. This isn’t good, I’m in an area where the forest is thinner and I have these metal trekking poles. I decide I need to get to lower ground as quickly as possible to avoid becoming a lightning rod. Luckily near this spot the trail descends into a creek bed and I decide to hunker down here on the edge of the river until the lightning passes. My rain coat has managed to keep me mostly dry to this point so I decide to get out my rain fly from my tent to rig up a temporary shelter to wait out the storm in. As I am setting up I am surprised when two hikers come down the trail toward me. Hence I meet Dave and Patty Warner out for a morning hike. They are members of the local chapter and were hoping to meet me at some point as I hiked through this area. Despite being completely soaked they appear to be having a good time. We talk for a few minutes and then they continue on down the trail.
As I am just sitting under my rain fly I take the opportunity to have a snack and study my maps. After the lightning has subsided for ten minutes I decide it is probably safe to continue on. Before too long I come to a gate and a gravel road on the other side. I have a short roadwalk from here to connect to the next segment of trail. The road is supposed to turn within about a mile and I get concerned when I am hiking for more than 20 minutes with no sign of the road. I decide to hike on a little further hoping that the map may just be wrong. Soon I hear a vehicle slowing down behind me. As I turn and the window comes down and I recognize Dave and Patty. It turns out I was going the wrong way. On the map the gate was facing the wrong way so I was misled into hiking the wrong direction. Luckily Dave and Patty were here to get me back on track. I hop into their van and they drop me back on the trail at the correct place. They wish me luck as they drive away. Thank you Dave and Patty for helping me out today. If you hadn’t shown up when you did I would have wasted time and many miles trying to find the trail again. It was nice meeting you.
The thunderstorm has passed but the rain continues off and on for the rest of the day. During a break in the clouds the sun manages to come out for a short time and I stop where I am along the Manistee River for a break. As I am cooking one of my meals a van pulls up on the sandy two-track adjacent to the trail. Down goes the window and I meet Terry. Turns out he has been following my progress on Facebook so when he saw a hiker with a big pack sitting on the riverbank he knew it had to be Strider. Before he leaves he snaps a picture so his family will believe that he got to meet me and after wishing me luck he is gone.
Continuing on, the trail parallels the Manistee River for the rest of the day. Towards the end I am again faced with lots of poison ivy lining the trail on both sides. I am careful not to let any of it touch my ankles if it can be helped. Just before nightfall I come to a nice little campsite that is not marked on the map. Here on the trail it is marked with the friendly tent symbol, and it even has a small bridge leading right to it. I pitch here for the night and settle in for a nice night of sleep.
Tue. July 9
Trail Day 100
Miles hiked: 24
Home of Loren Bach and Dave Martus – Irons, MI
I decided to sleep in this morning, I’m not hiking until after 8:30. From my campsite it’s maybe a half mile to the next trailhead, there to begin a roadwalk into the town of Mesick. I’m there by 10:00 and I stop at Ellen’s Corner for breakfast. A few slices of freshly baked pizza does just fine to satisfy the stomach. As I am sitting outside enjoying my breakfast a man comes around the corner with a bag of cherries in his hand. “Here’s something for the road,” he says. Hence I meet James, a local who saw me sitting outside with my large pack and walked across the street to a fruit stand to get freshly picked cherries. He is familiar with the trail and is amazed that I intend on hiking the whole thing. We talk for a few minutes and then he is on his way to begin the day. Thanks for the treat James.
Before leaving I fill up my water and head into downtown, there I run into a guy outside the grocery store with his dog. Hence I meet Brian, out walking his dog enjoying the nice day. He asks a few questions and then is on his way. I head to the library to use their WiFi so I can check my email. I also take this time to call Loren Bach, president of the Spirit of the Woods Chapter. She left me a voicemail about a week ago asking me to call when I reached Mesick. She lives not far from here and wants to host me and try to set up a few interviews with the local news outlets, hoping to raise some awareness for the trail. We make plans for her to pick me up at the end of the day at the crossing of the Coates Hwy in the Manistee National Forest. Plans made, I shoulder my pack and hike on, reaching the Hodenpyl Dam and the northern boundary of the Manistee National Forest. The hike along Hodenpyl Dam Pond is very pleasant. The view is wonderful, no underbrush to block the view. It is easy to see 100 yards or more into the forest most of the time. Along this stretch there are a few small campgrounds located right on the lake. At the Northern Exposure Campground I take a short detour and head up the road a quarter mile to Nate’s Country Store. Mark Lindsay told me stop in here when I passed through to try some of their ice cream so here I am. As I walk in a man comes out to the counter, Nate himself. “You must be the hiker,” he says. He grabs an envelope tacked to his bulletin board with my name on it. It turns out one of the local trail maintainers left six dollars for me to use to get one of the famous ice cream cones. Thanks very much to the generous donor, it’s just what I needed on a hot day like this. Luckily there was enough money left over after the ice cream to buy one of the Arizona Teas I’ve come to enjoy. I sit at one of Nate’s tables to cool off and get rehydrated after downing my ice cream. Soon Brian walks in, here to use Nate’s WiFi. “Hello again.” After finishing my drink I decide I could still benefit from some more hydration so I get up to purchase a gatorade to bring along for the road. As I am ready to check out a group of three men walk in, all local trail maintainers. They recognize me right away and have many questions about my travels. They are particularly interested in their section, if I had any problems getting turned around or if I thought it needed any additional maintenance. Everything is good from my eyes guys, thanks for all your hard work.
At the counter now I pay for my drink and am ready to leave when Nate tells me to wait a second. He reaches down, pulls out a 50 dollar bill, and hands it to me. Wow, thanks Nate for your generous donation. I will use it well. After thanking Nate and saying goodbye I head out once again, still many miles to hike before day’s end.
Shortly after leaving the campground the NCT meets a junction with the Manistee River Trail which basically parallels the NCT on the opposite side of the river. I’ve heard good things about it. Currently both routes are acceptable for a thru hike but I decide to stick to the blue blazes. I am greeted by more nice trail, again no underbrush to block the view and the soil is fairly sandy making it much softer on the feet. Early evening I reach the Coates Highway and after waiting only about seven minutes a van pulls up and stops. Hence I meet Dave Martus and Loren Bach, here to shuttle me to their place near Irons for the night. On the ride over we make nice conversation about the trail in the local area, they give me a summary of what to expect in the days to come.
We arrive at their lovely home and I am directed to the guest house where I will be spending the night. I am then shown the way to the shower so I can get cleaned up and then we all sit down to a nice meal. Afterwards I am inclined to retire early as I am very tired from the longer days and the heat. I make my way up to the guest house and crash as soon as my head hits the pillow.
Wed. July 10
Trail Day 101
Miles hiked: 29
Home of Loren Bach and Dave Martus – Irons, MI
Last night I decided to spend another night with Loren and Dave after they offered, so we made a plan for me to get picked up at the end of the day near the Freesoil Trailhead. After breakfast I am back on the trail at Coates Hwy where I ended yesterday. The hike today is very pleasant. It starts off on a nice mowed trail through an open meadow with views of the Manistee River below. Back in the woods now I’m on many switchbacks winding up and around a steep incline. I pass a few bikes on this section today as this is one of the few areas where the trail is open to multiple use.
After a few hours the trail crosses the “High Bridge” and leaves the Manistee River to head south. At the Udell Trailhead I see a man walking toward me. Hence I meet Dave Yarnell, a reporter from the Manistee News Advocate. He is here to interview me about my trail experience so far, and he has even brought a chair for me to sit in. For the good part of a half hour I am in an interview talking into a camera to be posted on the Manistee News website. Afterwards I pose for a few pictures and thank Dave for taking the time to come out here. Immediately afterwards I get a call from Brian Mulherin of the Ludington Daily News, and so I have another interview. I don’t mind it in the slightest, I can’t think of a better way to raise awareness for the trail than getting an article in the local paper or on TV.
The second interview went a little quicker so after a good hour of sharing my story I am on the trail again hiking south. Before too long I get a call from Loren Bach. She informs me that a few of the chapter volunteers will be stopping over at the house tonight and one of them will be driving right by where I will need to get picked up. I inform her that I’m a little behind schedule so I will need to stop a few miles early at the crossing of Tyndall Rd rather than at Freesoil. With the new plans in place I hike on for a few more hours, ending the day with a long boardwalk section with a swarm of mosquitos. I emerge onto the road and there is a car waiting for me. Here to pick me up is Joan Young, one of 10 people that has completed the entire trail, and an active member of the Spirit of the Woods Chapter. I hop into her car and relate some of my experiences so far.
Back at the house I hop in the shower first thing and then head in for dinner. I am introduced to chapter members Ed and Nancy Chappelle, here to meet me and hear some stories. I enjoy a fine evening with these folks. Before leaving Joan hands me a bag with some trail goodies for the road. Afterwards I sit down for dessert with Loren and Dave and get a call from Bruce Matthews at HQ. Tomorrow there is a dedication ceremony for the town of Lowell. It will become an official trail town and since I am not far away they want me there if possible. We make plans for one of the staff to pick me up tomorrow around noon and bring me down to Lowell for the night. With all the excitement of the past few days I am definitely tired so I head up to my spot in the guest house and settle in for another night of comfortable sleep.
Thur. July 11
Trail Day 102
Miles hiked: 16
Home of Beth Keloneva - White Cloud, MI
Last night during dessert Loren told me to stop by a little convenience store just off the trail and talk to Anne, the owner. She was interested in meeting me. I load my stuff into the van and Dave drives me to Tyndall Rd where I will continue my journey south through the Manistee Forest. Thanks for the lift Dave.
The hike today is absolutely gorgeous, one of the nicest sections in the Lower Peninsula so far. The forest is thicker here with many oaks and pines growing together, but still very little under brush. I enjoy places like this, the tall red pines constantly reminding me I am still in the north woods.
Before too long I reach a short two and half mile section of roadwalk and watch for where the trail turns back into the woods. I locate it and then continue on down the road for another quarter mile to stop in at Anne’s store and introduce myself. I find the place, located right off the shore of a lake and head on in. There is a woman at the counter who I’m guessing must be Anne. I introduce myself, “You’re the hiker!” she says. She directs me over to the counter where she has a glass case full of many different flavors of ice cream. She asks which flavor I want, I respond with Mackinaw Island Fudge. I had this flavor back at Nate’s Country store and it has become a favorite of mine. I bring my large cone up to the register and Anne tells me “it’s on the house.” Wow, thanks Anne.
The day has turned very hot so before leaving I decide to grab a cold Gatorade for the road. In the fridge I see that Anne has a fine selection of beer as well, including almost all varieties of the Keewenaw Beer from the UP. I decide to grab one of those too, the blonde ale, to enjoy before leaving. I pay for my drinks and say goodbye to Anne, thanking her for her kindness.
About two hours after leaving Anne’s store I come to the crossing of Centerline Rd where I was planning to get picked up. I find a note on the ground tied to a small stump. It’s from Dave, NCTA, says he went up to the next road in case I hadn’t gotten this far yet and that I should wait here for him to come back. I’m not waiting more than ten minutes when a car pulls up. Hence I meet Dave Cowles from NCTA HQ, here to bring me down to Lowell to partake in the festivities of the day. We load my gear into his vehicle and begin the journey south, a good two hour drive.
On the way to Lowell we talk about many things regarding the trail; maintenance and markings, favorite sections, and future plans among other things. From hiking the trail these past many months I have seen the trail through a thru-hiker’s perspective and have come up with many ideas that I think could attract more users in the future and I share many of these with Dave and plan to share them with Bruce as well. We arrive in Lowell mid-afternoon with plenty of time to prepare before the celebrations start. Dave drops me off at Bruce’s house where they have already allowed for me to get cleaned up. When I arrive I meet Bruce’s Wife, Linda. She invites me in and shows me the way to the shower were I can get cleaned up. Afterwards I head back out into the kitchen where Linda pours me a large glass of juice on this hot summer day. She asks many questions about my hike so far and is glad that I was able to make it down here for the dedication ceremony. She then tells me how to get from here to the NCT headquarters only a few blocks away and I make my way there. I find the place easily enough, located right on main street near the flat river. I head on in and I am recognized as soon as I enter. Most of the staff are there at the moment. The first one I meet is Tarin Hasper. I have spoken with her many times, mostly before my hike began to coordinate supplies like maps, apparel and the GPS unit they have been kind enough to allow me to use. Next I meet Jill Decator, Beth Henkels, Andrea Ketchmark, and Bruce Matthews. After brief introductions I head back with Bruce into his office. First thing he does is pull up a video from the Manistee News Advocate, my interview from a few days ago has been posted and he wanted me to see it. It turned out better than I thought. We spend the next several minutes talking trail, I mention to him many of the ideas I have to attract more users and improve the trail in general.
Afterwards we head outside for a quick walk down the street. On the outside of the NCT headquarters building a new attraction has just arrived. Some of the local students spent much of the school year painting a mural of the NCT on three large palates that are now attached to the outside of the building. It’s a very clever way to raise awareness of the trail. It will play a part in the dedication ceremony happening shortly. Before long people start gathering on the street. A podium is set up outside the building and a few people with cameras arrive. I am brought aside for a quick interview for the local paper. Also here to capture the whole ceremony is Brandon Mulniks. He is an ultra runner and frequently does his workouts on the trail nearby. He has even done the ultra marathon up on the Superior Hiking Trail that happens every fall. He hands me his card and tells me to give him a call when I officially come through the area, about a week from now.
Soon the ceremony begins, lots of people are gathered on the street. The mayor of Lowell and Bruce are at the podium. All the NCTA staff including the National Park Service representatives are here. The mayor gives an opening speech welcoming the NCT, and the NCTA to Lowell. Bruce then gives a brief presentation about the trail followed by the Superintendent with the park service, Mark Weaver, who talks a little about the trail’s formation back in 1980 and the partnership with the NCTA. The presentation concludes with an official ribbon cutting and Bruce calls me up to do the honors. With a scissors in my hand, after Bruce gives an introduction about my adventure I cut the ribbon and Lowell is made a trail town of the NCT. To finish off the ceremony, the coordinator of the mural project comes up and introduces all of the artists who contributed to the great piece of art. Afterwards I stick around for many pictures. I then get a chance to meet a few of the local trail maintainers. First I meet Beth Kelenova from White Cloud who has agreed to put me up at her place tonight. Also here is the president of the Western Michigan Chapter, Chuck Hayden. Chuck gives me a short rundown of what I can expect the next few days as I enter his chapter’s area. Soon the party moves inside and there is a table of food in the back. Here I meet a few others, including Matt Rowbathom, the GIS Coordinator for the NCTA, and Jeff McCusker with the National Park Service. I thank Matt for the new maps he provided me, they have worked very well so far and are more up-to-date than the current retail maps. I can’t stay too long as I need to be mindful of Beth’s schedule so after meeting everyone I head to Bruce’s house to retrieve my gear and load it into Beth’s van. We head back to her place in White Cloud and she gives me the tour of her nice home. Her house is right on the back side of a small lake, complete with a dock. My feet were bothering me a little bit today so I decide to hang my feet in the water for awhile. Beth comes out and hands me a beer and we sit for awhile and talk about the trail. Afterwards it is time for bed, I have another long day tomorrow.
Fri. July 12
Trail Day 103
Miles hiked: 25.5
Near 96th St - Manistee National Forest
For breakfast this morning is a nice homemade meal from Beth and then it’s off to the post office to retrieve my next food drop. I call this one my “halfway” box as I am now very near the halfway point of the trail as it exists right now. Enroute to the trail we make a quick stop at the local bakery for some fresh donuts by Beth’s recommendation. Looks like we’re having Second Breakfast today. Before long I am back at the trail where it crosses Centerline Road. Beth waits patiently as I unload the contents of the box into my pack. This one seems heavier than usual and I soon find out why. My family has sent a few extra items in celebration of crossing the halfway point, including letters from all my family members, some candy, and a tiny bottle of wine. Thanks, Mom.
Pack shouldered and ready to hit the trail again I say goodbye to Beth, thanking her for being a trail angel. She snaps a few photos of me and I turn and continue my long journey south through the Manistee National Forest. After about six miles I reach the Timber Creek Campground where I stop to have lunch and stock up on water. A few hours later near Bowman Lake I stop for a rest and check my email again. I remember receiving an email many weeks ago from someone in this area and sure enough here it is. I call the number they have given me and I am talking to John Levings who has a cabin nearby. He is happy to help me out any way he can and he says he’ll meet me where the trail reaches Bowman Lake. I’m only a short distance away as I made the call so I am surprised when I arrive to find that he is already there waiting. It turns out his cabin is literally across the street from the trail so we head over there where he has a nice patio overlooking the river below. The day has grown quite hot and humid so it feels really nice to sit down in the shade. Before I can say anything John brings out a beer and a plate with some smoked salmon for a snack. Now this is some trail magic, I take smoked salmon whenever I can get it. We spend awhile talking and I find out that John has traveled all over the place, he’s been to Mexico and South America many times to a point where it’s almost become an annual occurrence. He comes back up to Michigan for the summers to pass the time away up here in the woods. After awhile we head to the nearby town of Baldwin for a burger at the local pub. John then drops me off at the trail again and I have a few hours yet until it gets dark. I finish the day hiking a fantastic boardwalk through the Sterling Marsh. I am instantly reminded of the Brule Bog back in Wisconsin, as this boardwalk is of a similar length, though it is chopped up into about six segments rather than being one continuous structure. Immediately adjacent in many spots a private landowner has put up fences and flagging to keep hikers away. Despite a few delays, I make it just past the sterling marsh before it gets dark and I pitch my tent on a low hill above the trail.
Sat. July 13
Trail Day 104
Miles hiked: 25
NCTA Schoolhouse - White Cloud, MI
Today is more hiking through the beautiful Manistee National Forest. I am up early and hike for several hours before taking a spur trail into Highbank Lake National Forest Campground to fill up on water and use the facilities. Despite filling up my water yesterday the humidity is very high today and I need to drink more to stay properly hydrated. The rest of the day is very uneventful as I make my way through the forest past many lakes. Early evening I come to a white-blazed spur trail that should lead me to the NCTA Schoolhouse. I take the spur trail, intent on checking out the former headquarters for the trail. On my map it looks as if the spur is no more than a mile long so after a half hour of hiking I get concerned when I haven’t crossed any roads yet. Soon I come to a sign that indicates the schoolhouse is still a mile and half from here to the north and a campground to the south. Totally confused I dig through my maps and find the new waypoint-added maps issued to me from HQ and realize my mistake. The trail I am on is an entirely new trail that doesn’t even show on the older map. I took a spur trail that took me three miles out of the way in a semi-circle around the schoolhouse.
After another half hour I finally arrive and find a few people camping outside in the back yard. They are volunteers from the Western Michigan Chapter, out here for a weekend of trail maintenance. Here I meet Paul and Jim, both friends of “Windigo Doug”. They invite me over to the picnic table to share in some appetizers before dinner so I sit down and enjoy snacking on some veggies and a nice cold beer. Soon a few other volunteers arrive and we spend some time exchanging stories. I tell the story of my hike so far, and they tell me of local happenings on the trail. This year they are working on a loop trail that will connect the main NCT to the town of White Cloud, making it eligible to be a trail town in the future. They’re hoping to have it done this year.
As we are talking Paul gets a call on his phone, it’s Beth and she is on her way. Paul hands me the phone and I’m on the line with Beth. She asks if there’s anything I want from town before she heads to the schoolhouse. I’ve been craving subway for the past few days so I tell her my favorite sandwich called the spicy Italian. Pepperoni, salami, pepperjack cheese, with some lettuce, spinach, black olives and mayonaise, delicious! In no time Beth arrives and hands me my dinner, a delicious subway sandwich. Another call on Paul’s phone, it’s Windigo Doug himself. He was originally planning to come out and work this weekend but his plans changed. Instead, we make plans for him to pick me up near Lowell in a few days and host me for a night. Looking forward to it Doug.
Afterwards we all head over to the fire for some smore’s and more trail talk before one by one dropping off for bed. I shouldn’t stay up too late, I have a long day tomorrow and they’re saying it’s going to be a hot one. I head into the schoolhouse with my gear, plop a mattress down on the floor and head off to sleep.
Sun. July 14
Trail Day 105
Miles hiked: 29
Home of Mike and Jane Hennes - Newaygo, MI
As I woke up this morning I took a few minutes to look around the inside of the schoolhouse. The seven state map of the whole trail is still up on the far wall, a table is set up with all the brochures. This schoolhouse at one time served as the headquarters for the NCTA. The HQ has since moved to Lowell but they still maintain this schoolhouse and it’s available for hikers to rent for a night or two if they wish. It also serves at a good staging area for the Western Michigan Chapter’s trail work weekends such as the one this weekend. Yes, surely a nice asset to the trail.
I’m out pretty early on a roadwalk to hook back up with the trail a few miles from here. After three miles I approach the first road crossing and I spot a cooler sitting on the side of the trail. My name is written on top. As I open it I find a note inside along with many trail goodies; water, Gatorade, fruit, and cookies, left here by Tracy, no last name given. Thank You Tracy for your generous care package. This road crossing is Hwy M-20 and the supposed half-way point for the trail as it exists right now. I snap a photo of the trailhead sign and continue on. A little ways down the trail as I approach the White River I stop suddenly in my tracks, a slight movement on the edge of the trail caught my eye. I focus my vision and realize I have just come face-to-face with a large blue racer, one of the fastest snakes on this continent. I’m not a fan of snakes, and this is the largest one I have seen in the wild so far, close to four feet long. It’s laying halfway across the trail so I nudge it with the trekking pole hoping it will scurry off, but instead it responds by raising its head in a defensive position. I move a little to the left looking for the best way around and it inches closer to me, head still raised. Finally I back off a few feet, take a wide turn to give it plenty of room, and get back on the trail. As I do so it darts in the opposite direction and I lose sight of it in less than a second. I guess the rumors I’ve heard about racers being aggressive are true. Shortly afterwards I can hear the sound of a mower coming down the trail and sure enough, here comes a small crew of trail volunteers lead my Jim at the head operating the mower. He smiles and gives a wave as we pass each other.
In less than an hour I can feel it, the heat has definitely settled in. I take frequent breaks to stay properly hydrated. At one point I hike a short spur trail down to the roadside park off highway 37. Here I take some time to have lunch and as I am preparing a meal a car pulls in and honks. It’s Jim, the trail crew has broken for lunch and he has driven down here to enjoy the shade of some of the many picnic tables. And so I get to enjoy another conversation with Jim before he heads back to work on the trail and I decide to eventually start hiking again.
The rest of the day includes hiking through Coolbough Natural Area and ending at Kimball County Park at the Croton Dam. This is the end of the Manistee National Forest, and the end of the north woods. For the next 1000 miles or so I will be hiking through open countryside through agricultural, suburban, and some urbanized areas through the rest of the Lower Peninsula and Ohio. I won’t get back into the north woods again until I cross into Pennsylvania.
With the heat today I am definitely exhausted and once at the dam I take another break. I received an email a few days back from a couple in Newaygo who were interested in helping me out if I needed it, and I think now might be a good time to accept their offer. I make a call and soon I am talking to Mike Hennes from Newaygo. He says he can pick me up any time. We make plans for him to pick me up somewhere along the roadwalk section south of here so after hanging up I get going. I manage to make it a few miles to a restaurant parking lot. As soon as the place is in view a truck pulls in and slows down. I walk over to the parking lot of Hit-the-Road Joes and meet Mike. We throw my gear into his truck and he drives me to his home in Newaygo where I meet his wife Jane. They offer me their shower and some delicious soup for dinner. Afterwards I head into the living room and just lie down on the floor exhausted. They ask me many questions about my hike and tell me stories of many of the trips they have taken on the trail in Michigan. They have hiked most of the trail within the forest, and some of the smaller sections further south. They tell me of the time they were hiking through the Manistee a few miles north of the Dam and Mike unknowingly stepped over a Rattlesnake, not even noticing it was there, freaky.
After awhile it’s getting late and they give me a few souvenirs for the road before we all head off to sleep. Mike will drop me off at Hit-the-Road-Joes first thing in the morning.
Mon. July 15
Trail Day 106
Miles hiked: 26
Home of Doug Boulee - Grand Rapids, MI
Mike had to be on the road early so I’m back at Hit-the-Road-Joes at 7:00. Within a few minutes they open so I head on in for breakfast as I haven’t eaten yet. After downing my patty melt and a few glasses of water I hit the road.
Today is mostly a roadwalk except for a smaller chunk of certified trail through Rogue River State Game Area. By 8:00 I can already feel the heat, today may be my first triple digit day for temperature on this hike. I take frequent breaks whenever I can, usually in people’s front yards beneath a tree for shade. It’s definitely in the 100s as I stop for another break early afternoon. I take a few minutes to check my small notepad. Back at the schoolhouse in White Cloud Paul gave me the number of a woman who lives near the entrance to the game area. She is always happy to help hikers. With this extreme heat I decide it would be beneficial to get inside for awhile, especially with the hottest part of the day approaching. Soon I am on the phone with Barb Cazier. I tell her my situation, “You’re only a few miles from my house,” she says. Unfortunately she also tells me she is out of town at the moment and doesn’t expect to be back until the end of the day. I am amazed when she offers me to stop by the house anyway, let myself in, and use the shower, sink, anything I need. Thanks for the offer Barb, but I would feel a little awkward if no one is there, I hope I get a chance to meet you in the future.
Continuing on now I finally make my way to the entrance of Rogue River State Game Area, seemingly the only forested place in this entire area. As hot as it is the heavy tree cover doesn’t do much to relieve the heat. It is nice to get a break from the baking of the pavement though. Somewhere in this forest there is a visitor center where I can hopefully rest for awhile but I am unable to find it at the road crossing where it is supposed to be. Just as I enter the woods again I get a text message on my phone. It’s from Barb, she is on her way back and wants to know my location. I let her know I’m almost through Rogue River and will be at the Red Pine trailhead soon. She responds that she will be there in 15 minutes. I arrive at the trailhead and am waiting less than ten minutes when a car pulls in. Hence I officially meet Barb Cazier. After a brief introduction we load into her car and head back to her house, but not before stopping at a convenience store for her to grab a few things. Before getting out she asks what my favorite drink is. I respond that I drink pretty much anything but I’ve been craving chocolate milk lately. She heads in and in a few minutes comes out with a half gallon of chocolate milk in one hand. “For you,” she says. Thanks Barb.
We arrive at her house, literally down the street from the north entrance of Rogue River SGA. I leave my gear by the door and sit down at the kitchen bar. Barb pours me a large glass of chocolate milk first thing and then we start a long conversation while she walks back and forth across the kitchen making preparations. She is ready to prepare dinner as her husband will be home soon and she invites me to stay. I gladly accept, happy to be out of the heat for awhile. Soon her husband Glenn comes home and we have introductions. Barb and Glenn have done a lot of traveling together over the years, and they both ride Harleys. I am also not the first hiker they have hosted. Many hikers have eaten or stayed here over the years, including Nimblewill Nomad back in 2009. Glenn and Barb share the story of when they hosted Nimblewill on his thru-hike over dinner. Nimblewill wandered in looking for the trail and a temporary respite from the skeeters. Barb ended up
fixing him a steak dinner with potatoes, and she tells me how he came to call her T-Bone Barb. She has a copy of his book nearby that recounts that night from Nomad’s point of view, the same book I have on my own shelf back home and have read many times. I hope to one day turn my own experience into a book as well, to share the magic of all the great happenings on the NCT and make it available for future hikers to use a resource.
After the delicious meal prepared by Barb it’s time for me to hit the trail again. We take a few pictures on their front porch before heading out. They take a few minutes to show me access points for the trail a few miles down the road as there are a few tricky ones that are hidden from sight. Then it’s back to the Red Pine trailhead where I say goodbye to these dear new friends. Thanks for your kind hospitality Glenn and Barb, it was a great pleasure meeting you.
There are a few patchy segments of off-road trail on the southern end of Rogue River. The first entrance was a little hard to find, but thanks to Glenn and Barb I knew right where it was. On this short segment I emerge from the trees into a wide meadow and am surprised at what I see. All around me, growing in large clumps and individually are thousands of prickly pear cacti! This is very unexpected, but a nice blast of diversity on this great trail. Apparently the soil is so sandy and dry here that these cacti are able to grow and survive even in the winter months. I’ve now traveled through a transition zone into a new environment and from here on out I will be in Rattlesnake territory until I get clear through Pennsylvania. They are not particularly numerous but I will need to stay more alert and watch my step on off-road segments.
Back on the road now there are no more cacti, being completely contained within the game area. I cross busy Hwy-46 and enter Long Lake Park on the paved road. Crossing the park takes only a few minutes and soon I am in some residential areas making my way east along farm country roads. Along Indian Lakes Road I am looking for a small cornfield on one side with an active sprinkler. I am getting picked up today at this location and before long I identify the house and head on up the driveway. I see three people sitting in the front yard enjoying a few drinks and one of them stands up and comes to meet me. Hence I officially meet “Windigo Doug” Boulee in person. Back at the schoolhouse when he was on the phone with Paul we made arrangements for him to pick me up today and bring me to his home in Grand Rapids for the night. It turns out he has friends who live on this road so that’s where I am now. After we shake hands he brings me over to where the
chairs are gathered and introduces me to his friend Randy and his wife Laura. They offer me a chair and a nice cold beer which I gladly accept and we spend the better part of an hour talking. A quick thunderstorm rolls in and after it passes it is time to move on. We say goodbye to Randy and Laura, load my gear into Doug’s van and we head for Grand Rapids. Once there I get cleaned up as Doug starts to prepare dinner. In his kitchen are framed pictures of the various hikes he has done on the NCT. He is on a quest to hike the entire NCT, hiking about 300 miles at a time. I recognize most of the places on his wall. Later Paul comes over as he lives just across the street and we enjoy more trail talk. All filled up and tired from the long days I retire to bed.
Tue. July 16
Trail Day 107
Miles hiked: 26
Main Street Inn - Lowell, MI
Doug has me loaded into the van pretty early as we head back to Randy and Laura’s house. He pulls into their driveway and helps unload my gear. After a firm handshake I turn and begin hiking. Thanks for your help Doug, it was great to finally meet you.
I have a short roadwalk to a crossing of the paved White Pine Trail that will bring me into the town of Rockford. It is an enjoyable hike but even this early in the morning I need to rest a few times from the heat. Rockford is a wonderful trail town if there ever was one, plenty of fine restaurants, ice cream shops, beautiful green space, and much more. I’ve already consumed a lot of water despite only hiking for two hours so I take the opportunity to stock up on some Gatorade and spend time in the shade. Just as I am ready to hit the road again a nice little ice cream shop on the corner opens up so I head on in for a cone. With some extra calories stored up now I hit the road again. It is extremely hot today and I feel like I’m taking a break every 20 minutes. The hike today is almost exclusively on paved roads and I’m often pulling off into people’s yards to enjoy a small speck of shade beneath a tree to rest. At one point towards the end of the day a woman comes out of her house, gets in her vehicle and pulls out as I am sitting at the end of her driveway beneath a large tree. She spots me on the way out and stops, “Are you okay? Need anything?” No I’m fine ma’am, just taking a rest in the shade, thanks for the offer though. I sure have met some kind folks on this trail, total strangers concerned for the well-being of others, very refreshing.
By the end of the day I make it to a gravel road just north of Fallasburg Park where Andrea Ketchmark from HQ will be picking me up shortly. I’m not waiting more than five minutes when she arrives, ready to haul me and my gear into Lowell for the night where the newly opened motel in town has a room set aside for me. On top of that she also took the time to pick up my resupply box at the post office in town, Thanks Andrea! She drops me off at the motel and tells me to head to the Flat River Grill down the street in 30 minutes for dinner. Not wasting any time I head on in and check into my room. This new motel is very nice, freshly furnished rooms and a nice balcony at the back right on the river. I enjoy a nice cool shower first thing and after changing into my fresh clothes I head down the street for dinner. Here Andrea is waiting for me and soon after I arrive a few others join us. Jill Decator and her husband Darl are here as well as their daughter. Also here is Andrea’s boyfriend Ted, and we have an enjoyable time talking trail over some delicious food. Afterwards I head back to my room for some much needed rest. Today it reached a scorching 103 degrees and I got quite sunburned, no wonder I feel so worn out.
Wed. July 17
Trail Day 108
Miles hiked: 25
Home of Gail Lowe – Lowell, MI
Last night after I had already fallen asleep I received a text message from Andrea. Since leaving the Manistee National Forest there has been a lot of roadwalking and with these hot temperatures it is definitely not the most pleasant place to be. On her way back from the restaurant last night she stopped by the motel to give me an NCTA ball cap to use for the rest of the hike to help with the heat better but the doors had already been locked. She left me a note saying she left a cap behind the flower pot outside on the street so last night I went out and retrieved it. Thanks again Andrea, this will definitely be a valuable item in the coming weeks.
I have quite a busy morning ahead of me. I kept my word and gave Brandom Mulniks a call last night. He is available today and wants to hike some with me, so we made plans for him to pick me up here for breakfast and then shuttle me to Fallasburg Park where he will park his car and then come join me. On top of that, a few days ago I received an email from a woman who lives near Lowell that wanted to help me out while I’m in the area. She offered an opportunity that will allow me to slack-pack these next two days while I spend the nights at her house and use her smaller pack during the day to cut down on the weight in this heat. She is meeting me her this morning to make the pack exchange so I’m out on the sidewalk in front of the motel at 6:00 and before long a van pulls up and I meet Gail Lowe. Unfortunately I don’t have long because Brandon will be here soon to pick me up so I waste no time in taking everything I will need from my pack,
transferring it into hers, and then loading all my gear into her van where it will stay until she picks me up at the end of the day.
Within a few minutes of completing the exchange Brandon shows up and we head to a diner down the street for a nice healthy omelet breakfast before hitting the trail. Brandon drops me off at the spot were Andrea picked me up yesterday and shuttles his car back to the trailhead at Fallasburg Park and he will hike back this direction to meet up with me. It’s about a two-and-a-half mile roadwalk along a gravel road to reach the trail in Fallasburg Park and along this stretch Brandon meets back up with me and hikes about 10 miles with me, all the way back to Lowell. Fallasburg Park is a pretty stretch of trail right along the Flat River, complete with an old historic covered bridge, the first of this hike. I make sure to snap a picture with the bridge before continuing on. Along our joined hiked today we pass through Lowell State Game Area talking about the trail itself and our running careers. Brandon is an ultra marathon runner and has done the Superior Ultra up on the Superior Hiking Trail in Minnesota. He relates his experience from the many races he has done over the years as we hike along and before we know it we are back in Lowell where I again stop in at headquarters. I say goodbye to Brandon at this point, thanking him for his company today and after a firm handshake is off to retrieve his car.
While here at HQ I have a few quick errands to run, a trip to the post office to mail a package home and quick meeting with Bruce before heading over to the rotary club meeting for lunch. Afterwards I have a meeting with Howard Myerson, a journalist writing an article for the Grand Rapids Press, at Flat River Grill. He’s here to get a detailed interview about my experience for the paper. While we are sitting in our booth enjoying some more delicious food Dave Cowles and Jeff McCusker happen to walk by. We have a brief conversation before we all need to get back to our tasks. The interview lasts for over an hour and then it’s time for me to hit the trail again. I thank Howard for his time and interest in the trail and then I head out the door.
I hike the short section in town through the Kent County fairgrounds and then it’s a roadwalk the rest of the day. After several hours I pass a new section of trail built this year on some property owned by Trout Unlimited but unfortunately it is currently a dead-end segment so there will be no hiking it on this trek. After passing this segment I give Gail a call, letting her know I will be at my destination shortly. After this I pass the Maher Audubon Preserve and reach the next segment of trail, a narrow two-track at the entrance to Middleville State Game Area and my target destination for today. I’m not waiting too long when Gail arrives. I hop into her van and we head back towards Lowell, where we have dinner at the Honey Creek Inn before finally heading to her house. After showering from another hot day on the trail I head down to the living room where we spend the next few hours talking trail over some beer and ice cream. Gail has done many hikes, she’s done the AT twice, the PCT, and the SHT. She’s been following my journals since I began and she is hoping to do her own thru-hike of the NCT next year, providing she can find a dog sitter for her friendly companion. That’s exciting news indeed.
After downing the pint of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream it’s time for bed, I have another potentially long day tomorrow in the heat.
Thur. July 18
Trail Day 109
Miles hiked: 15.5
Home of Gail Lowe – Lowell, MI
I decided to sleep in an extra hour this morning, feeling no need to get out extremely early. After taking a few moments to prepare my gear in the much lighter pack we load Gail’s van and we drive down the road for breakfast at the Gristmill. Then it’s back to the narrow two-track at the game area to begin today’s hike. I am now hiking through Middleville State Game Area and this stretch I am on now is on the south side of a shooting range. This morning I decided to wear my blaze orange bandana over my hat while I hiked through this section just in case anyone is out there with a gun so I am much easier to spot. Within a couple hours I am approaching the town of Middleville and as I am making my way towards downtown the phone rings. On the other end is Jean Lamoreax, I met her at the Lowell trail town dedication last week and she told me to stop in when I came though, amazing timing. Within a few minutes I make it to her office and she then gives me the tour of Michigan’s first official NCT trail town. For lunch we stop in at the local bakery where she shares my story with the servers and most of the locals nearby. Fine folks here in Middleville. After lunch Jean walks me down to where the trail leaves town following the paved Paul Henry Trail. She snaps a picture at the trailhead and away I go. Thanks for your hospitality Jean.
Along the bike trail now the mosquitos are back. In fact they are the worst I’ve encountered so far since leaving the UP. I pick up my pace to try and outrun the little buggers with little success. Finally as I emerge at the other end into a wide open clearing that serves as a trailhead I take a break in the shade at a picnic table. Today is another scorching hot day and I can feel weariness coming on. I give Gail a call, tell her to pick me up a little earlier, I’m doing a half day today. She’ll come out to get me in about two hours at the next trailhead a few miles down the road so I decide to take a little nap to kill some time. An hour later I wake up and after drinking many full gulps of water I am on the road again. The trouble with these roadwalks is unless you’re in a heavily developed area with access to a gas station or other public facility there are very limited places where you can safely do your business. Luckily just down the road is a church, I stop in and sure enough the door is open. I head on in and the kind lady at the table kindly shows me the way. When I come out there is a bucket of ice sitting on the table with two full bottles of water. Wow, this is some timely trail magic. Thanks folks.
Only a few miles to go now I make it to the next off road segment of trail just as Gail calls. She is having trouble finding the turn to get here. Of course, back at the last corner the street sign was completely obscured by a large tree that had not been pruned in the recent past. Using my maps I give her directions how to get here and I continue on down the road to the trailhead just around the corner so I am easy to spot. Just as I approach the van pulls up behind me. I hop in gladly, glad to be out of the sun on another hot day. I’m kind of bummed about taking a shorter day but under the circumstances I think I need it. These last few days have been in the 100s along mostly roadwalk sections and I haven’t taken a full day off since leaving Marquette over a full month ago. It’ll be nice to rest for a few extra hours to get my strength back.
Tonight Gail plans to bring me along to her usual Thursday night festivities, dinner at a comedy club in Grand Rapids. I have never been to one of these clubs so I am enthusiastic for something new. Grand Rapids is Michigan’s second largest city, behind Detroit. This is the first large city I have been in for many months so seeing all the lights, the traffic, the tall buildings, it’s all a bit of a culture shock. The evening was very enjoyable though, and back at Gail’s house I waste no time in packing my heavier pack once again and preparing for tomorrow. Now off to another night of sleep.
Fri. July 19
Trail Day 110
Miles hiked: 25
Hickory Corners, MI
I’m out the door fairly early this morning. For breakfast we swing through the McDonalds drive thru on the way to the trail. At the trailhead I snap a photo of the two of us together then it’s time to say goodbye to Gail. Thanks for slack-packing me Gail, I truly appreciate it.
The hike begins through Yankee Springs Recreation Area. Many lakes and tall trees are all around. This is a gorgeous stretch of trail, reminds me of the North Woods back home. There are many trail junctions to contend with but for the most part they are well-marked and color-coded, different colored carsonite posts indicate which trail you are on. I navigate through this area without incident. After a six mile stretch through Yankee Springs I’m in Barry State Game Area for a little while before emerging out onto a gravel road. At this access point there is a note posted: Trail ahead not maintained, turn west here to Norris Rd and follow down to designated roadwalk. It looks like this segment has been recently abandoned, so I follow the detour. This brings me through a little area known as Circle Pine Center. I was curious about this place on the map and I quickly discover what it is, a summer camp for kids. It looks like they have been busy recently, a brand new picnic pavilion complete with a running drinking fountain. Across the street a set of small houses and cabins, one likely belonging to the care takers of this property. Off in the woods I think I see what appear to be trails zig-zagging around in various directions. I stop at the picnic shelter for a quick rest and to refill my water at the drinking fountain. Within a few minutes a large group strolls up, most of them appear to be kids between the ages of 10 and 12. They must be getting back from a hike. One of the group leaders spots me and comes over. Hence I meet Josh, around my age. He seems a bit curious why I’m lingering here. I tell him my story, why I’m here, where I came from and where I’m headed. He seems surprised and wishes me luck as he heads back to his group. As I continue on down the road I get maybe a quarter mile away and I hear my name being called. I turn around and I see Josh jogging toward me. He says the group is just getting ready for lunch. “The caretakers know you’re here and said you can stay for lunch if you want, we have plenty of food.” I thank Josh for the offer but explain that I need to continue on if I am to make the mileage I want to get to tonight.
After this encounter the rest of the day is entirely a roadwalk. Before long I reach the little berg of Prairieville, it shows on the map as a single icon, a restaurant. I find the little diner situated at an intersection of two roads and I head on in. Questions start coming instantly. This appears to be a family run business. They can tell I have traveled far, and are still surprised when I explain where I came from. They bring me a glass of water and ask what I might want to eat. I inquire about any fruit they may have, they respond that unfortunately the closest thing they have is jello is small quantities. My eyes light up, “Would it be possible just to get a big bowl of jello?” “Sure,” they reply. Within a few minutes a bowl is placed in front of me filled to the brim with jello. Afterwards I decide to get a burger as well and choose the Olive burger, it sounds intriguing.
As I am waiting for my food some locals come in for dinner, all mighty fine folks interested in my travels. I take the opportunity to tell my story, and not surprisingly they haven’t heard of the NCT. I point out the blue blaze on the telephone pole across the street and explain that the trail is marked by these for all 4600 miles of its length, from North Dakota all the way to New York. They had always wondered what the blue marker meant, and when they found out they were very excited. “Well, I learned something today!” says the waitress.
As I am enjoying my delicious olive burger I find out from the locals that some bad weather is coming tonight. They are saying hail for sure, possible tornadoes. Darn, looks like I should get going to try and get to the next sheltered spot before it hits. One of the locals says he is heading to Battle Creek and offers me a lift. I thank him for his offer but explain that I really can’t take rides to skip any trail unless it is life threatening, which this is not. I tell them I can make it to the next town before the storm hits. So back on the road now I pass a beautiful piece of property on my right called the Lux Arbor Preserve, owned by Michigan State University. I imagine it must be a similar concept to the Ekre Grassland Preserve back in ND, kind of a summer research station for students in environmental or outdoor programs. It would be cool if the trail could pass through this property, just from the road it looks amazing. I end the day at the little berg of Hickory Corners. Not much here, a diner, a church, a gas station, and a handful of houses. I head over to the diner and take a seat in the bench on their front patio. I can see the storm building to the north, it’s definitely going to be a bad one. As I am sitting out front composing some of my journal entries, waiting to see what happens with the weather a few of the locals passing by stop to talk to me. A few of them stay to chat once I explain what I’m doing, they seem interested in the trail. At one point a woman comes walking down the street and asks where I’m headed. I tell her I’ll be in Battle Creek tomorrow but I’m here now to wait out this impending storm. She says she happens to know the fire chief in town, she will go ask if he will let me in to the fire station for the night. After I agree to that idea she disappears and never returns. About 20 minutes later as I am sitting outside the diner talking on my phone two young cops show up and walk right up to me. As I hang up the phone they load me with questions and ask to run my ID. I spend several minutes explaining what I am doing, where I’m headed, why I’m here and the fact that there is an impending severe thunderstorm literally a few miles away. Apparently I was labeled as a suspicion person by a few of the locals (I suspect that woman) and these young cops clearly took advantage of the opportunity to find some trouble. After running my ID they came up with a bogus story that someone from Detroit with my name had a criminal record and they thought it may have been me. After explaining that I’m a Minnesota native only passing through to get out of this storm they said I couldn’t stay here in town, and asked me to move along. I don’t argue with them and simply shoulder my pack and head out. This is ridiculous. Cops are supposed to protect us and help us, not force us out into a thunderstorm on foot with no cause. I’m sorry boys, but you leave me no choice. I wait until they’re out of sight then I hang a left turn to walk in a semi-circle around the outer edge of town. I circle back to the church and unfortunately it’s locked, however I find a semi-secluded spot behind the storage shed between the church and the cemetery where I decide to pitch for the night. It’s the only spot that has any reasonable cover from wind, debris or possible falling power lines. If this storm is as bad as they are saying the church may be my only chance for survival. Hence tonight it looks like I’ll be stealth camping, hoping like hell I don’t get swallowed up in the storm.
Sat. July 20
Trail Day 111
Miles hiked: 29
Ott Biological Preserve – Battle Creek, MI
I was woken up several times last night by pelting rain against the rain fly of my tent, coupled with pools of water forming inside the tent. I had decided last night to leave everything in my pack accept for the tent itself in case I needed to make a quick getaway, then everything would be in one place. I’m glad I did now because if my sleeping bag had been in the tent with me it would have gotten soaked. It was so humid I really didn’t need it anyway.
As I officially wake up this morning I can tell that it rained pretty hard but there is no sign of hail damage. The storm swung east pretty early on so the worst of it just missed us. I reckon many of the towns east of here got pelted pretty hard though. It’s first light now so I don’t waste any time stuffing my tent into my pack and hitting the road early. Before long I have made it to the next segment of trail at Kellogg Farms. Much of it is in the woods near the edge of the property, around some field edges and some open meadows. At the southern end is a biological forestry station, with a visitor center and another one of those historic covered bridges, this one has the NCT logo attached right to the front of it and is now only open to foot traffic. What a neat place. The trail heads south from here along the edge of a field all the way down to the town of Augusta where a short roadwalk connects to another segment through Fort Custer National Cemetery. While in town though I spot a restaurant across the street from the trail and head on in. The name of the establishment, The Barking Frog. I enjoy another fine olive burger before continuing on. Just outside of Augusta a car pulls over to the side of the road. Down goes the window and guy asks “Are you Strider?” Totally caught me off guard. It turns out this guy has been following my progress on my website and on the NCTA’s facebook page as well. He wishes me luck and then continues on his way.
After hiking through Fort Custer Cemetery the trail follows the paved Linear Park bikeway through the city of Battle Creek. Riding in a car through Grand Rapids was one thing, being in a big city now on foot is a great culture shock after being in the woods for three months. There are people everywhere, music playing in people’s cars as they drive by, lights, noise, distractions. I hike through this section as quickly as possible and by evening I’m clear through the other side and hiking through a wooded section through Ott Biological Preserve. There is one motel nearby and I am disappointed when I find out that there are no rooms available. Looking for a place where I can pitch for the night I hike to the next section through Kimball Pines County Park. When I arrive I am utterly confused by what I see. If there were any pines here in the past, there are none here now. All that remains is a very narrow path through nothing but brush and lots of wooden debris. There is a gravel parking lot a short ways in where I could pitch but the remnants of recent campfires with alcohol containers scattered about makes me think twice. This has clearly become a party spot for the local kids. I decide to head back to the road, there is a Mcdonalds right on the trail where I can duck in and use their Wi Fi and maybe find a place nearby where I could camp. Just as I emerge back onto the crowded street a guy walks out of a gas station and flags me down. He is familiar with the trail, saw my pack and came to the conclusion that I must be out for a lengthy trek on it. When I tell him I am attempting to hike the whole thing he is greatly impressed. I learn from him that Kimball Pines was destroyed by a tornado back in 2011, and the country hasn’t started the full rehabilitation yet. Currently all that exists are the bathrooms and a roughly cut trail through the middle of the debris. I tell him my issue of not having a place to stay since the motel is closed and he recommends I pitch in the Ott Preserve. “It’s pretty quiet, no one will bother you in there.” Thanks for the tip Sir, I will take your advice. So with that I head back into the Ott Preserve, bushwhack a good distance off the trail and pitch for the night.
Sun. July 21
Trail Day 112
Miles hiked: 26
Days Inn - Albion, MI
I’m up at first light and hiking out of town. After passing Bridge Park the rest of the day is mostly a roadwalk. Within a couple hours I reach the outskirts of Marshall, and as I am turning a corner a car pulls up to the side of the road. Hence I meet Jim Moome. He knows about the trail and is curious where I’ve come from. He is amazed when I tell him I have walked here from North Dakota and am heading all the way to New York. He snaps a picture of me before wishing me luck and continues on his way.
In Marshall there is a small section of trail, a riverwalk maybe a half mile long. It winds through some small woodlots and ends at a decent sized dam. After this the rest of the day is a long roadwalk into Albion. This is the only town within walking distance that has a motel and there is no public land in this area so naturally my options for lodging are limited. When I arrive I find Albion to be in a state of disrepair. Many of the buildings on the outskirts are abandoned, windows are broken or boarded up. There is debris lining the sidewalks, weeds growing up through the cracks. The center of town is better, but still not a very pleasant place to hike. I head over to the Days Inn for a room and the woman at the desk seems very annoyed. When I get to my room I find that it hasn’t even been cleaned yet, there is still trash in the garbage cans, the beds are not made, nothing has been cleaned. Disgusted I head back downstairs to the desk and explain the situation. The woman hands me another room key and when I get to this room, same thing. Well this is just pitiful. Finally the third time does the trick, the woman at the desk getting extremely impatient, hands me a third room key, and this one is finally clean. What a terrible experience, the worst I’ve ever had in a motel. NCTA, if it all possible I would urge you to avoid bringing the trail through Albion. For me it was definitely an eye sore and it’s not a very hospitable place for hikers.
Mon. July 22
Trail Day 113
Miles hiked: 28
America's best value inn - Jonesville, MI
I’m happy to leave this motel this morning, I hope there aren’t any more incidents like this on this trek. Today’s hike is entirely a roadwalk except for a small section in the village of Homer where there is a short pedestrian walkway crossing a river. I stop here in town for a break and a refill of my water and then move on down the road, passing through Litchfield and ending the day at Jonesville where I check into a motel a short distance off the trail. I check my email and there is a message from Dave Turner in Hillsdale. He was interested in hosting me for a night when I came through town and wants to interview me for the show he has on his youtube channel. I send him a response saying I will be passing through Hillsdale tomorrow and would be glad for any assistance he could provide. So at some point tomorrow I will be meeting with Dave in Hillsdale. Today ends with a little bit of trail magic as I head to the vending machine outside with just enough change for a single soda but when I click on the selection it gives me two! How about that. Afterwards I write a few journal entries and then head off to sleep.
Tue. July 23
Trail Day 114
Miles hiked: 26.5
Student rental house - Hillsdale, MI
From Jonesville the NCT follows an unmarked bike trail into Hillsdale. Where the bike path ends I lose the trail as it has not been marked through town. I have a very hard time locating where the trail is supposed to go and eventually end up at the school. At this point I give Dave a call, asking for directions. He says he’s nearby and will pick me up for lunch. That sounds good, it’s another hot day today and it’ll be nice to get out of the sun for awhile. Within a few minutes Dave shows up and we head to a nice pizza joint for lunch. He asks me about my experience so far, particularly along the Chief Noonday and Chief Baw Beese chapter’s segments where I’ve been for the past several days. This segment was all good until I got to Hillsdale, no blazes or markings of any kind through town. After lunch we head over to the city park where Dave sets up his video camera for an interview. He has a show on youtube where he posts occasionally about enjoying the outdoors. He has several videos from various NCT hikes he has gone on and now he wants to add to it by interviewing me. We spend about an hour filming in the park, talking about the trail itself, various hazards and planning logistics, gear and other things. After it’s all done Dave shows me where to go through town and says he will pick me up again at the end of the day.
After finding my way through town the trail is clearly marked again on the far side where it returns to more traditional tread. The trail passes by lovely Baw Beese Lake and through the little berg of Osseo before heading through Lost Nation State Game Area. This is the last off-road segment in Michigan so the rest of the day is a roadwalk straight south along farm country gravel roads. Late evening I give Dave a call and tell him I am ready to get picked up. He will be out in a half hour so I manage to get in about two more miles before he picks me up at Camden road, just a few miles short of the Ohio border.
Back in Hillsdale he brings me into an empty house. It turns out Dave is involved with a local church and they own a house that is rented out to college students during the school year. Being summer, there are no tenants currently living in it so Dave has set it up for me to use for the night. Thanks Dave, I appreciate it.
After taking a nice shower, downing my leftover pizza and half a bottle of Gatorade I’m pretty tired so I settle in for a nice night of sleep in a quiet house.
Wed. July 24
Trail Day 115
Miles hiked: 29
Rotary Park - Wauseon, OH
I’m up early this morning, in fact it’s still dark. Dave has breakfast to go and he drops me off back at Camden Road at first light. Thanks for all your help Dave, it was nice meeting you.
It’s about 3.5 miles to the Ohio state line at Territorial Road. When I arrive I snap a picture of the sign and continue on. In a few hours I reach the town of Aldvorten where I have my next food drop. I’m here a little early, the post office isn’t open yet so I have to wait about a half hour until I can retrieve my package. Afterwards the roadwalk continues into West Unity where I pick up the Wabash-Cannonball Trail. It’s a multiple use trail, at this point beginning as a two-track. I encounter two woman on horses a little distance down this trail and I find out that horses do not like packs, in fact they are afraid of them. The women had to dismount and let the horses sniff my pack so they would know that it was harmless. I suppose to a horse, a human with a giant pack on doesn’t look like a human anymore but rather some strange animal. The quality of this trail is hot or miss, some of the open sections have been kept decently cleared, other places it is over grown with branches hanging into the treadway. Right before entering Wauseon the trail turns to ballast and then becomes paved a few miles through town. This is as far as I will go today so I need to find a place to camp. There are only a few pieces of public land here so I hang around the pond at the Rotary Park, wait until dark and pitch my tent in the woods.
Thur. July 25
Trail Day 116
Miles hiked: 32
Young Cemetery - Liberty Center, OH
Before leaving town this morning I head over to the grocery store first thing, hoping for some fresh fruit for breakfast. I find a nice batch of fresh strawberries and raspberries and spend a few minutes out in the front of the store enjoying them. As I am sitting here a woman walks over and hands me an ice cold bottle of water. “Here, I got this for you.” She must have seen me while she was walking in and wanted to make sure I didn’t overheat. I don’t even know her name, I simply know her as “The Woman in Red.” Thank you very much madam. What a nice way to start the morning, with a bit of trail magic.
Not far out of town the pavement ends and the Wabash-Cannonball Trail turns to ballast once again. Soon the ballast stones become bigger and more difficult to navigate. It is very slow and unpleasant to walk on and at a railroad crossing the trail appears to narrow and then disappear. At the next road crossing I get off trail and take to the roads for awhile to get around this mess. A few miles down the trail again turns to pavement so I will get back on at that point. My detour takes me through the town of Delta where I stop for a break under the shade of a gas station awning.
I pass by many orchards along the roadwalk today, and a few miles outside of Delta I get another small dose of trail magic when a pickup truck pulls up next to me as I am passing one of these giant gardens and down goes the window. “Are you hungry? Would you like a fresh peach?” A woman reaches out her hand with a giant peach and hands it to me. Wow, this is amazing. Finally I make it back to the Wabash-Cannonball Trail where it is once again paved and continue heading east. I am now in Oak Openings Metro Park, located near the outer suburbs of Toledo. Within a few moments I spot a carsonite post with the NCT logo on it and a foot path heading into the woods. This trail is not on my map but I decide to follow it anyway and I find that it is well marked and maintained. Oak Openings is a pretty park indeed, lots of giant trees, well-maintained trail and some very neat picnic shelters made of stone. I stop at one of these to enjoy dinner before continuing on.
On the south end of the park I emerge onto a road and spot another carsonite post across the street. Again this section is not on my map but I decide to follow it. This leads me into a chunk of the Maumee State Forest. I’m not sure what this area is meant for, but the trails I am following now are very wide, wide enough for a two-lane road and markings become sparse. Soon I regret my decision to enter this place as following the road would have been much safer as far as getting lost is concerned. Many of the intersections in this place aren’t marked and I end up having to consult with my gut feeling on many of them, hoping I turn the right way. In the end it turns out I made all the right decisions because I emerge onto the next road and figure out exactly where I am. If they build some single-track trail away from these strange wide, open clear cut trails and build some quality single track this forest would actually be a good spot for an Adirondack shelter in the future, as this area of Ohio has very few campgrounds and even fewer right along the trail. This first stretch of Ohio may be a challenge to find adequate hiking spots, we’ll have to wait and see.
After a short roadwalk I am back on the Wabash-Cannonball Trail heading southwest now towards Neapolis. Just outside of town the pavement ends once again and the trail becomes a grassy two-track. This section is generally better maintained than the northern section and along this stretch the mosquitos come out and I need to put on my bug shirt for the first time in many weeks. Eventually the trail ends where an abandoned railroad begins and I finish off the day with a short roadwalk into Liberty Center. Back in Jonesville I took the opportunity to scout ahead online for any spots of public land I could use to pitch a tent in this part of Ohio and I found a cemetery in Liberty Center. I never thought about cemeteries as possible options until I heard about Ed Talone camping out in a few back during his thru-hike in 1994. It’s actually a clever idea if you think about it, most cemeteries have running water and a bathroom, and technically speaking it’s public land. So with my campsite identified I run into the gas station to grab some snacks and once darkness settles in I head to the cemetery and find a spot in the corner between the fence line and a mound of gravel, well away from the headstones. This will be an unusual night.
Fri. July 26
Trail Day 117
Miles hiked: 28
Super 8 Motel - Defiance, OH
I’m up at first light hiking another roadwalk. This leads me to Hwy 424 and the first blazed trail in Ohio, segment of canal towpath. This section is well maintained and ends on the outskirts of Napoleon where another roadwalk begins. On the way into town I find that my passage is blocked by road construction. The road into town has a bridge crossing over a creek and they just happen to be working on it. I spend a few minutes inspecting the area looking for a way around because otherwise I would have to backtrack and take a detour many miles around. After much contemplating a find one place where some debris as piled up enough into the creek to allow me to pass without getting wet. I move as quickly as possible to avoid getting in the workers’ way, scramble across the creek and make it safely to the other side. I make my way to far side of town and find more blazes, these being of the Buckeye Trail (BT) which I will follow through Ohio for about 700 miles. From town is a long continuous stretch of trail along the Miami/Erie Canal Towpath. It’s wide, flat and makes for easy hiking. Today the mosquitos are out but nothing like they were up in Mighican. Along the way are many benches installed by Eagle Scoutes over the years. The main attraction of the day is the stretch through Independence Dam State Park where another roadwalk begins that brings me into the town of Defiance where I check into a motel for the night.
I wanted to reach out to you and let you know that I have not given up on completing the remaining journal entries. I assure you, they are coming and I am doing the best I can under the circumstances. I know I am well overdue to have them completed, I expected them to be completed within a month or so of finishing the hike. As it turned out I got my old job back until my current job started in March. I thought I would be unemployed until March and would have all the time in the world to just sit at home and ramble off 10 to 12 journal entries daily. That ended up not being the case at all. I deeply apologize for taking so long to follow through with my intentions, and I ask that you continue to be patient with me as I work toward completing this overwhelming task.
Due to a fresher memory of the ending of the hike I will be completing that first, and then going back and filling in the middle that I have skipped over for the time being. The journals continue below as I struggle to overcome a deadly heat wave in northeast Ohio.
Tue. August 27
Trail Day 146
Miles hiked: 22
Salt Fork State Park
Staying up late last night means I'm sleeping in this morning. After breakfast I say goodbye to Jerry, thanking him for letting me stay on his lot, and then hit the road. The entire day is a roadwalk and my goal is to make it to Old Washington. The massive heat wave that began a few days ago continues and I heard there was a motel in town so I'm going to try and stay out of the heat as much as possible. I arrive to find that there is no motel, there isn't anything. I ask one of the locals about nearby lodging and they tell me there isn't anything for at least 11 miles down the freeway. Exhausted and with nowhere to camp in town I have no choice but to push on another seven miles to Salt Fork State Park. When I arrive I find that the trail at the back of the group campground is impassable and I encounter the worst Mosquitos since leaving the UP. With nothing left to do I pitch my tent here and struggle to get a good sleep, thoroughly exhausted and overheated. I can’t tell if this is the heat or the possible impending tick infection, or maybe a combination of the two, but I definitely feel off and am dazed and disoriented. I am getting really tired of Ohio.
Wed. August 28
Trail Day 147
Miles hiked: 27
Piedmont Lake Inn
I awoke this morning after a very restless sleep. Even in the dead of night it was still an unbearable 90 degrees. On top of that in the middle of the night about 1:00 I see lights as a vehicle pulls up and stops at the front gate of the campground. I thought it may have been rangers from the park until I heard a loud gunshot and watched as the lights turned and passed away as the vehicle peeled out of the driveway. Some hooligans had pulled up in the driveway and fired a round at the entrance sign. I wondered if they had seen me when they pulled up, I was camped behind the sign a good distance away on the edge of the tree line. Luckily their shot did not hit me and I got through the rest of the night with more restless sleep.
Since the trail leading out of the campground through the park is impassable I will need to roadwalk around this segment. Almost the entire day is a roadwalk in fact. Last night while looking at my maps I discovered that there is a B&B further down the trail that I may be able to reach and maybe get out of this heat for a night, so that is my goal for today. The hike starts out on mostly gravel country roads and field service roads. One of these roads travels through an impressive stone gateway, two giant stones propped facing each other forming a sort of half arch. Shortly after passing through this arch I leave the designated roadwalk and head for paved US-22 hoping to save time by walking on pavement instead of gravel and not risk getting lost on the often unmarked back roads. Like most of the roads in Ohio however, there is no shoulder and it is heavily travelled by large trucks. I have to hop off the road repeatedly to avoid being hit. This road turns out to be a workout as it descends into and then out of a large valley, the upward climb out being longer and steeper. Along this roadwalk a pickup truck slows down and pulls up along-side me. Hence I meet Mike, out doing his rounds working for DirecTV. He asks me where I’m headed and indicated that he passed me along the road yesterday as I was leaving Old Washington. He wishes me well and continues down the road. Not an hour later I see a truck stopped on the side of the road in a pull-off and recognize the driver as Mike as he calls over to me. I cross the road and wander over to his truck where he hands me a bottle of water and a banana to get me through the rest of the day. Thanks for the contribution Mike.
I finish the day with a short off-road section along the shore of Piedmont Lake before finally making it to the Piedmont Lake Inn, the B&B I discovered on the map last night. A sign on the door lists a number to call to request a room as it is after lobby hours. Just as I am about the make the call a truck pulls into the parking lot and man gets out. It happens to be Tom, the manager of the Inn. I tell him my situation and ask if he has any vacancy. He regrettably informs me that he doesn’t have any rooms available. He is currently renovating the place and the few rooms he does have available are currently being rented by some of the oil workers in the area. I then proceed to ask him if I can pitch my tent behind his place and he responds by telling me “No, but you can stay in the lobby tonight.” I gladly take up his offer and he lets me in and shows me around, telling me I can use the shower and laundry machine if I want. He then tells me the nearby places I can get some dinner, the one that’s just down the road is not very good but he tells me of a great pizza place a few miles away in the next town and he offers to drive me there. I gladly take up his offer and soon we are in the town of Freeport where I order a large pizza with everything on it and bring it back to the Inn. I thank Tom tremendously for everything he has done for me today, allowing the use of his air-conditioned lobby, driving me get dinner, and for letting me sleep on the couch in the lobby free of charge. Tom leaves shortly after and I enjoy watching tv while enjoying my delicious pizza. Folks following my hike were worried about how I was faring in this incredible heat wave so I give Bruce Matthews at NCTA a call and let him know that after seven days of being in the constant heat I finally made it inside and got some relief. After touching base with a few people back home I watch a little more tv as I rehydrate and then I settle down on the couch and drift off to sleep.
Thur. August 29
Trail Day 148
Miles hiked: 25
Home of Mary Hamilton - Dover, OH
I woke up surprisingly early this morning and enjoyed the left over pizza for breakfast. I glance over my maps looking at the mileage for today. I received a call last night from a trail angel named Cathy that heard about my struggling with the heat and wanted to extend an invitation to help out. She agreed to pick me up at the end of the day near Tappan Lake Dam. After packing up and rehydrating I take a few moments to leave Tom a nice note in his guest registry for allowing me to stay the night. Pack shouldered I take one last glance around the room to make sure I didn’t forget anything and then turn as the door locks behind me.
It is already hot this morning as this monstrous heat wave continues. A half mile down the road I stop at the convenience store there to get more Gatorade before turning onto back roads on another roadwalk. Eventually I hit another paved road, OH-799 and follow it to some off-road trail providing nice views of Glendening Lake. Many fisherman are camped right on the road bridge enjoying the day. I stop for a break near a boy scout camp entrance before continuing on. More roadwalk brings me to a fork in the road where I take a detour into the small town of Deersville. I had heard they had some pretty spectacular homemade ice cream here at the general store so I head there to try some. Easily some of the best ice cream I have ever had, so I stick around to have seconds and enjoy some more time in their AC. Also nearby is the BTA barn where the BTA holds their annual meetings. Unfortunately I’m not quite sure where it is and decide I can’t waste any time trying to find it so I hike back out of town and continue on the road walk toward Tappan Lake where more certified trail awaits. When I arrive I am disappointed to find that most of it is overgrown, lots of multi flora rose around to scratch me up pretty good. There are also many blowdowns many of which are too large to get over or under, and so I must go around and through the impenetrable brush. Only a few miles left to go I arrive at a boat landing and find the trail out of here is suddenly in good shape. After this nice change of pace I make good time to Tappan Lake Dam where a van is pulled up and I meet Cathy. We exchange greetings, load my gear into her van and head for her home in Dover. When we arrive I am introduced to Mary, Cathy’s mother, and am able to do laundry and enjoy a nice cooked meal. From being exposed to this heat for over a week non-stop I am utterly exhausted and have no trouble falling asleep.
Fri. August 30
Trail Day 149
Miles hiked: 22
Home of Mary Hamilton - Dover, OH
I awoke well rested this morning and was treated to another home cooked meal for breakfast. It was decided last night that I will spend another night here and so Mary has decided to loan me a day pack to use for the day so I don’t need to carry all my gear with me. I happily accept as it makes all the difference in this heat. After packing what I need for the day she shuttles me back to Tappan Lake Dam where I ended to night before I continue on from there. An uphill climb on some last certified trail for the day brings me to the road where I will remain the rest of the day. Not having my heavy pack on makes all the difference as I can tell I am not getting fatigued as fast even in this heat. I make decent time into Bowerston and after passing through town decide to diverge from the designated route and take more direct paved roads. This brings me through the town of Sherrodsville where I stop to rest at the city park picnic shelter. Feeling the effects of the heat once again I decide to lie down and take a rest. I wake up nearly two hours later and continue on at a much faster pace now to ensure I make it to the rendezvous on time. Mary intercepts me at the end of the Bowerston section of the BT, the 3-way intersection off Hwy 212, and I call it a day.
Sat. August 31
Trail Day 150
Miles hiked: 26
Home of Sam Ferguson - Magnolia, OH
I am excited to get going this morning because today I leave the Buckeye Trail behind and head east on true NCT. After a quick breakfast I finish packing my gear and am out the door. Mary drops me off at the intersection where I left off yesterday, telling me not to hesitate to call if I run into trouble. Thanks Mary, it was a pleasure staying with you and your family.
Today is mostly a roadwalk except for a short segment just south of the village of Zoar where the BT and NCT diverge. I have only 11 miles to go to reach that spot so I expect to be there around noon. Right after being dropped off a guy pulls up in a van and asks if I’m hiking the BT. I let him know that this is actually my last on the BT as I head east to New York. He wishes me well as he drives off. A short distance further down the road I pass a house with a woman sitting on her front porch. As I approach she comes out to the road to meet me. Hence I meet Barb who is here to offer me some fruit and a cold bottle of water. It turns out the guy that pulled up in the van was her husband. He called to let her know I would be hiking by. This is turning out to be a nice day so far.
After saying farewell to Barb I continue on the roadwalk and after almost an hour I find it very strange that I haven’t turned north yet. The road I am on continues to bear southwest. After crossing an intersection I check my map. Yup, I missed a turn that wasn’t marked over two miles ago. Great, even the last day on the BT can’t seem to be a normal day. After figuring out how to get back to the trail I continue on, mostly uphill. At an intersection after seeing a blue blaze on a telephone pole I know I have made it back to the trail but only after going five miles in the wrong direction. At last I reach the last chunk of certified NCT along the Buckeye Trail, nice towpath with crushed limestone surface. Here the trail diverges from the BT and crosses an old bridge over the Tuscarawas River into the historic village of Zoar. At the convenience store at the far end of town I stop to rest and rehydrate on more Gatorade. I check my phone and receive a message from Bruce at NCTA HQ. Don and Pam Fouse are trying to get in touch with me to offer assistance as I reach their area. As it so happens I still have their number from when I met them at Hocking Hills a few weeks ago. I give Don a call and tell him that I wont make it much past Magnolia tonight but I will be in his area tomorrow. We make arrangements for him to pick me up at the end of the day tomorrow.
I still have a long roadwalk left to make it to Magnolia so I hike on and make it to town a little before dark. I spend the little day light I have left searching for a possible place to camp. The only suitable place appears to be a cemetery but unfortunately the police station is right across the street. With nowhere to go I decide to head into the bar to relax and get a break from the heat. I’m the only customer here for the moment so I find a seat right at the bar. Here I meet Cheryl, on bartender duty tonight. I order a beer with a glass of water to start off. She sees my pack and asks the usual questions. I give her the entire story of my hike so far, where I’m headed, what I’ve experienced. She congratulates me on making it this far and then goes back to work getting the place ready for the evening rush. Before long people start coming in, many of them noticing the pack and asking me about my hike. I realize I’ve been in here more than two hours and I’m getting hungry. I order a large order of spicy nachos to tide me over for the evening with another beer. After I am finished Cheryl comes over and mixes two drinks right in front of me. “Since you’ve come so far, I need you to be able to say you had a wizard in Magnolia.” She hands one of the glasses to me and then it’s bottoms up. “Cheers.” I have no idea what a wizard is, some sort of a large shot, but it was definitely tasty. She asks me where I plan to stay tonight and I tell her I have no idea. I thought there would be a park or something nearby but arrived in town to find nothing. She mentions to me that I may be able to crash with her tonight if I have nowhere to go. Thanks Cheryl, meeting you has been the highlight of my day.
Soon I am surrounded by locals and a guy sits next to me and asks me my story. Hence I meet Sam, who happens to live a few blocks away. After telling him my story and that I still have almost 1000 miles to go to finish my hike he invites me to spend the night at his place down the street. At this point it is getting late, I am exhausted and I don’t think I can wait until 2:00 when Cheryl gets off work. So I take him up on his offer. He says we can leave whenever I am ready. Another guy had overheard our conversation and he insists on buying me a drink before I leave. I’m sorry sir I forgot your name, but I thank you for my final drink of the night. After 11:00 now I’m ready to go. With pack shouldered I say goodbye to Cheryl, and after a firm handshake I am out the door and following Sam to his house down the street. He has a nice open living room with a couch for me to sleep on. Sure beats sleeping on the ground.
Sun. September 1
Trail Day 151
Miles hiked: 28
Motorhome of Don and Pam Fouse - Lock 30 Woodland RV Campground - Lisbon, OH
I woke up surprisingly early this morning, probably anxious to get out of Ohio and into Pennsylvania. After rehydrating and filling up my water bottles I am out the door and ready to start the day. Sam decides to get his workout in for the day and ride his bike ahead of me. He knows a shortcut through and old strip mine that is now reclaimed forested land that will shave more than a mile off my hike so I follow him in. In no time we are following remnants of an old rail grade into the town of Waynesville. Sam stops and points me to the correct road to lead me out of town and with a hand-shake he turns and rides back to Magnolia. Thanks for your hospitality Sam, it was a pleasure meeting you.
I haven’t eaten yet so I decide to stop for breakfast at the Waynesville Grill before continuing on. It’s still early morning and it is already scorching hot and the rest of today is all a roadwalk. In Malvern I stop for a blizzard at the Dairy Queen in town and then head over to the picnic shelter in the park next and take a short nap to escape the heat. A few miles outside of Hanoverton I give Don Fause a call. I tell him where I am and what roads I will be hiking on and he says he will be around in an hour to pick me up. After one last push to get as many miles in today as possible and totally exhausted I see a vehicle slow down and pull up beside me. Don has arrived to pick me up and shuttle me to an RV campground near Lisbon where he and his wife Pam have set up their motor home for me to use for the next two nights. When we arrive we check in at the registration station to let them know that I will be staying here. At the motor home Pam is inside and has some snacks prepared for me. Don shows me where everything is and how to work all the appliances before they return to their home. This is just an incredible thing Don and Pam have done to help this hiker out, allowing me live in their motor home for two nights and recuperate. This heat wave has taken everything out of me and I have no energy left to continue. I am going to take tomorrow off from hiking and take a rest day.
Tue. September 3
Trail Day 152
Miles hiked: 32
Home of Rick and Sherry Eiler - Darlington, PA
Don and Pam picked me up and shuttled me to their house for dinner last night. What a fine cooked meal that was. Pam had baked me a tray of brownies with my name on it for dessert. They are here again this morning to drop me back off at the trail. Alas it is time for another sad goodbye. These folks have been so good to me the past few days. I will surely miss them. The day starts off with a road walk and then a short segment of bike trail leading into Lisbon. Here I take a detour to the post office to pick up a drop box with more food and the maps for Pennsylvania. My goal for today is to make it the 30 miles to the Pennsylvania state line so I don’t waste any time after getting resupplied.
The next segment of the hike is a long road walk past the RV camp ground and to the entrance of Beaver Creek State Park where a six mile segment of certified trail begins. The trail inside the park is in much better condition than most of the trail in Ohio has been, a good way to finish off the state. The trail follows along the Beaver Creek and past some old canal structures before reaching a road on the other end. Along the road walk I get a call from Don. Yesterday he had gotten the contact information from a guy at the campground who apparently lives near the trail in Pennsylvania and he wanted to give me his contact information. In a few minutes he shows up in his car and hands me a piece of paper with a name and number on it, as well as a final care package from Pam. Thanks again Don for your help. Right after this a guy in a truck slows down and pulls alongside me. He asks me if I need any help and says he lives right down the road and that I should stop in if I need anything.
I have only a few more miles to go now before I am out of Ohio and into Pennsylvania and my pace picks up as the excitement gets pumping. Then up the hill comes the same guy on an ATV. He pulls it off into the woods and comes out to meet me. Hence I officially meet Brad Bosley, president of the Great Trail - Sandy Beaver Canal Chapter. He has just returned from a trip out of state and knew I would be coming through. He decides to hike the rest of the trail through Ohio with me. Before long we pass his house where he mentions he wants to one day provide a campsite for hikers.
Only a few miles from the state line now we come to the last segment of certified trail in Ohio, an old rail grade through Sheepskin Hollow Nature Preserve. This is not typical rail grade as the ties have not been removed and many of the spikes are still in place. It still makes for an enjoyable hike and before long we emerge onto a road segment bringing us past a golf course and finally to the Pennsylvania state line. When we arrive there is a welcome party waiting for us. Rick and Sher Eiler live nearby in Darlington and knew I would be arriving today so they have come out to meet me and invite me to stay at their home tonight. We take a few pictures and then load the vehicles as I say goodbye to Brad and head to Darlington with Rick and Sher. At their home I am amazed to see a homemade banner attached to their mail box with the sole purpose of welcoming me to Pennsylvania. After snapping a picture their daughter Candice and her husband Bobby come out to meet me as well. They say they have pizza on the way for dinner so I unpack my gear and Rick shows me where the shower is so I can get cleaned up and join everyone for dinner upstairs. Also here for dinner is Dennis Garret from the Wampum chapter and his wife Karen. Dennis has a bunch of maps and information for me regarding the trail in the Wampum chapter area. He also offers to pick me up at the end of the day tomorrow and drive me to Moraine State Park where they have a cabin available for me to rent. I take him up on his offer so we plan a place to meet tomorrow before everyone heads out for the night, as it is now well past dark. The couch down stairs is very comfortable and I am happy to be inside on the supposed last night of this deadly heat wave.
Wed. September 4
Trail Day 153
Miles hiked: 25
Davis Hollow Cabin - Moraine State Park
Rick and Sher have fixed me a nice breakfast before heading out this morning, including a care package for the road. It’s a short drive to the trailhead at Gameland 285, where I ended my hike last night at the OH/PA state line. A crumbling cement obelisk marks the boundary between the two states. Rick takes my picture at the sign, a big smile on my face as I put Ohio in my rearview mirror and begin my trek through Pennsylvania, the sixth state of this trek. The hike today will bring me right by Ricks and Sher’s house so Rick tells me stop by again as I hike through.
The beautiful trail through the gameland is a nice change of pace. Along the way I pass a spur trail to a newly built shelter on private property. I stop in to admire the work done by the Wampum Chapter volunteers and consume one of the snacks from Sher’s care package. After this another spur trails leads off to the left to a place known as Indian Rock. Some very nice trail through this section indeed. From here it is a roadwalk to the town of Darlington and beyond. Soon I come to the Eiler’s home where they are getting ready to leave for work and there are some people with them. Their neighbors had intended to come over last night but they were unable to make it so they are out here this morning to meet me and wish me luck. Then with one last hug from Sher and a hand shake from Rick I continue on down the road. Within a short distance I’m passing by a home construction site and woman flags me down. Hence I meet Beverly Young, a local who knows about the trail and asks if I’m hiking the entire thing. I tell her my story so far and she snaps a photo of me and wishes me luck.
In Darlington I get a call from Dennis. He has my third pair of boots from the post office in Wampum and wants to know where he can find me. I tell him I am in Darlington and within minutes he is here at the gas station to meet me. We make plans for him to just keep them until I see him again tonight at Moraine State Park.
The road walk continues across two busy four lane highways, one with no legal crossing, before I reach the next segment of trail through Gameland 148 which will lead me into Wampum. After this I have few more miles of certified trail before I reach the point where Dennis will pick me up off Snake Run Road. This section brings me past an old Lime Kiln and an abandoned house locally known as the haunted house. I finish the day on schedule where Dennis is waiting for me. He loads me into his car and we drive to Moraine State Park where we have gained admission to a meeting of the Butler Country Recreation Club, most of them also members of the Butler County Chapter, NCT. Here I meet among others, Joyce Appel (President BCC) and Dave Galbreath. Dave mentions he lives near Clarion and would be happy to help me out when I reach that area. After the introduction by the Club and the group meal Dennis drives me to the Davis Hollow Cabin where I will be spending the next two nights. Like the NCTA School house in Michigan, this cabin was at one time the headquarters of the NCTA. Now it is available for campers and hikers to rent. The inside has been beautifully restored and decorated with all kinds of hiking club merchandise. The upstairs is complete with two rooms full of bunk beds, and I have the entire place to myself. Before settling in Dennis says he will be here around 7:30 to pick me up. Joyce stops by after the meeting to give me some contact info for the remaining chapters in Pennsylvania and also informs me that tomorrow we will be having dinner here at the cabin with the park manager and some others. With that she wishes me good night and I settle in for a cozy night of sleep in the Davis Hollow Cabin.
Thur. September 5
Trail Day 154
Miles hiked: 25
Davis Hollow Cabin - Moraine State Park
Last night before I went to sleep I spent some time unpacking my gear, sorting my drop box, and studying my maps. From where I ended my hike yesterday to this cabin is 25 miles, a good full day. So I will be spending another night here. I decided to leave the gear I won’t need today behind so I can travel light. Dennis is at the driveway early with some breakfast from McDonalds. After we eat he hauls me back to the trail and here it is time to say goodbye, as I will likely not see him again. Thank Dennis for all your hard work, and for helping me out the past few days.
After hiking a short section of trail on private land the route becomes a roadwalk to the border of McConnells Mill State Park. At the trailhead there are a few picnic tables so I stop to have a snack before heading in. The trail through the park is gorgeous, following the river most of the way. Lots of fir trees along the rocky ridge. I am surely in the north woods again. The hike is only about seven miles through the park but it is slow going because of the difficulty of this tread. Large boulders the size of basketballs and larger are all over the place. I have to be careful that I don’t take a bad step and sprain my ankle. Before long the trail emerges onto a road and uses a covered bridge over the river and then brings me right to the old mill. Here I stop to take a video and a few minutes to rest before continuing on. From here it is a short roadwalk to Moraine State Park through mostly residential area. Once inside the park I am pleasantly surprised at the quality of the tread. It has been widened out and some of it covered in woodchips to keep the weeds from coming up. On top of that it is well blazed and easy to follow. The gorgeous trail follows along the shore of Lake Arthur for a few miles before turning more inland. I reach the spur trail that will take me to the Davis Hollow Cabin and I hike it on down and find a few cars in the lot out front. Joyce is there, with a reporter here to interview me, and Jake Weiland, Park Manager. After meeting everyone we head inside and I am surprised by what lies before me. They had gone to Slippery Rock earlier and brought back a full meal and a pitcher of beer, courtesy of North Country Brewery, where the annual meeting was held this year. We spend the next hour or two enjoying the fantastic meal and talking about the trail, my journey thus far and what my long term goals are. They are pleased to find out that my main goals are to raise awareness of the trail and increase usage and interest in the trail so it can be better protected. After the interview is done it’s time for more goodbyes. Thanks Joyce for helping me out the past few days, and thanks to you Jake for allowing me to stay in your beautiful cabin free of charge.
Fri. September 6
Trail Day 155
Miles hiked: 22
Tamarack Campsite – Gameland 95
Joyce left me some breakfast in the fridge last night so I linger in the cabin to enjoy it before packing up and heading out. The cabin is pretty much in the middle of the park so I have many miles to cover on finely groomed trail. Once outside the park the trail connects immediately to trails within the Jennings Nature Center, a fine hike indeed. This section ends at the Old Stone House, a historic landmark of the area. After this it’s a roadwalk of several miles to reach Gameland 95 where there is one campsite. I pitch for the night on one of the tent pads and call it a day.
Sat. September 7
Trail Day 156
Miles hiked: 24.5
Super 8 Motel - Clarion, PA
I woke up and had a nice breakfast on my stove this morning. Then I was out and going as quickly as could be. Today’s hike is mostly a roadwalk except a small section through Gameland 95. This section is very nice, lots of cool rock outcroppings and some creek beds. Once I reach the town of Parker I have a decision to make. First, another heat wave has just settled in today so I have needed to stop more often. Also between here and Clarion there is no official place to camp so I need to decide if I should stay here in town or try and find a way to get through some of the area. I decide to call Dave Galbreth, who I met at the meeting of the Butler County Recreation Club. I tell him my situation and he agrees to pick me up at the end of the day in Callensburg, where he will shuttle me to a motel in Clarion. I plan to stay there the next two nights and slack pack tomorrow.
After getting off the phone with Dave I stock up on Gatorade before leaving town. The trail follows a pedestrian walkway along a big blue highway bridge over the Allegheny River. On the other side I pass the Allegheny River Trail, a bike path that makes a big loop towards Clarion. This is a suggested route for the NCT but has not been made official, and the maps given to me by the NCTA do not include it, so I take the straighter route through Callensburg. Along the road walk I have to fight off many more dogs with my trekking poles. One dog is so adamant on getting to me that he even crosses the busy highway with cars going full-bore. The owners scream as he is almost hit multiple times. Eventually he backs off and I can continue on my way.
I reach Callensburg where Dave awaits at the local convenient store. We load up his car and he shuttles me into Clarion where I get a room at the Super 8. We make plans for tomorrow and then he heads home and I enjoy a nice air conditioned room for the night.
Sun. September 8
Trail Day 157
Miles hiked: 18.5
Super 8 Motel - Clarion, PA
It was so nice waking up in an air conditioned room on a soft bed this morning. After a nice continental breakfast Dave is here at 8:00 to shuttle me back to Callensburg. The day begins on a roadwalk through some small Amish communities before turning off onto backroads through more gamelands. This is one of the nicest roadwalks I have had this trek, providing some great views. After the gamelands the roadwalk continues through some residential areas, across I-80 and finally meets the certified trail through some private property. Soon the trail reaches PA-322 only a few miles west of Clarion. On the other side of the road the trail enters Gameland 72 with lots of rocky and open areas. I was warned by Dave to watch the trail closely as this area has the largest population of venomous snakes in the county. I heed his advice as I have heard from many AT thru-hikers that it was in Pennsylvania where they saw the most snakes. I’m not as concerned with this as I made it through the entire state of Ohio without seeing a single rattlesnake or copperhead. I hike the few miles through the Gameland and am close to the trailhead off Breniman Road when Dave appears around a corner hiking towards me. We hike the short distance back to his car together and he shuttles me back to the motel. It is now mid-afternoon but the heat has intensified and I decide to take a shorter day and recuperate as I will be on my own now at least until reaching New York. Dave drops me off at the motel and I enjoy some Applebees car-side to go for dinner before catching up on some journal entries and preparing for the next few days on the North Country Trail.
Mon. September 9
Trail Day 158
Miles hiked: 20
Cook Forest State Park
I was more tired than I originally thought. Getting up this morning was the slightest bit difficult. After the continental breakfast I pack my gear then make a quick trip across the street to get some supplies at Walmart. The odor proof bag I keep my toiletries in has ripped open so I need to replace it as best I can. Back at the motel I check out, shoulder my back and walk the two miles or so into town to retrieve my package at the post office. There is no sidewalk for the first mile and the highway is very busy with traffic, not the safest place to be. When I arrive Dave is waiting for me and he has brought a reporter from the Clarion news. So after retrieving my package we have a quick interview out front on the sidewalk. Then I repack the box with my old shoes as they are now worn out, and I hope to make it the rest of this trek with the pair I now have on, my third pair.
After one last stop at the gas station to grab some Gatorade to get me through the hot weather Dave drops me off at the edge of Gameland 72 where I finished yesterday. Thus comes another goodbye that has become so common this trek. Thanks Dave for all you have done to help out this tired hiker.
The hike today begins on private land, well maintained trail. However the tread in this area provides a challenge as all the blowdowns have been cut very narrow to keep out horse traffic. They are so narrow in fact that my fully loaded pack cannot fit through without shaving the sides off my sleeping pad. After a few miles of this the trail opens up into a former strip mine as a little drizzle sets in followed by lightning. I keep a close eye on the sky as I am now more exposed and an easier target. All around me there are piles of trash, mostly metal and other recyclable materials. Apparently this place has become a trash dump for the locals.
After a few minutes the rain stops and I hike the short roadwalk to bring me to Gameland 283. This section has been well maintained and well marked, and has many ups and downs. From here the trail enters Cook Forest State Park where I hope to reach a shelter for the night. Through the park the NCT follows the Baker Trail, the blazes painted half yellow and half blue. As soon as I cross the boundary the rain comes again in a steady downpour. This makes the going really slow because a lot of the trail is solid rock and everything is slippery. The trail through the park is gorgeous, mostly following along the banks of the Clarion River. Trees that I have never seen before grow here in large numbers. As the trail turns away from the river I have a steep uphill climb to reach Cook Forest Fire Tower. About halfway up the slope I have to scramble among the rocks to keep my footing as the trail is slippery. Suddenly I feel a sharp pain on my wrist and draw it up to see what has happened. Is this it? Have I made it all this way to be bitten in the end by an unseen copperhead? As I look at the burning hand I see instantly a single puncture wound with puffy red edges. Then I turn as I hear a buzzing noise and see a very large yellow jacket flying away down the slope. I’ve never had a bee sting hurt this much. My hand still on fire I hike the rest of the way up the slope to the fire tower and there stop to take a break. My entire arm around the immediate area of the sting has swelled up. I’ve been stung many times before but I have never had a reaction this intense. I wonder if this is a different variety of hornet than we have in Minnesota. Whatever the case may be I keep a close eye on it and listen to my body to make sure there are no severe complications. An allergic reaction can happen at any time and I am not taking any chances. I drink plenty of water to keep my body fully efficient. After a few more miles it is getting dark and I am forced to pull off into the trees and pitch for the night, unable to make it to the shelter.
Tue. September 10
Trail Day 159
Miles hiked: 25
Campsite east of Kelletville - Allegheny National Forest
I woke up surprisingly early this morning, so early in fact that it is still dark when I emerge from my tent. The first thing I do is retrieve my food bag that I hid among some logs last night as my bear anchor got stuck in a tree I was trying to hang my food in. That’s the second time that has happened this trek, I think they are simply too light to be of any real use. I need to find something heavier to hang my food with. After packing up my gear I head straight for the visitor center but arrive to find not a visitor center at all, just an old cabin, a few shelters and a picnic area. I decide to stop and cook breakfast here at the picnic area before heading out today. As I am finishing up some tourists arrive and they are just as confused as I was when I emerged from the woods to this place. They ask me if I know where the visitor center is and I reply that I thought it was supposed to be right here, so I don’t know.
Finally getting moving I am still on the Baker Trail that takes me out of Cook Forest State Park onto some section lines following gas pipelines. I follow these for a few miles before reaching the southern boundary of the Allegheny National Forest.
The hike through the Allegheny starts out nice, but after awhile the trail starts to deteriorate. Multi flora rose is present in many spots, the trail has not been mowed in at least two months. Eventually the trail travels through some more open areas and the weeds are over waist-high. It is September now and many wild flowers are growing in profusion and the waist-high foliage presents a hazard: yellow jackets. The stretch of trail I am on now is full of them, buzzing everywhere from plant to plant gathering what pollen they can. I have no idea how I am going to get through this without being stung. With nothing else to do I raise my trekking poles and run. I run until I am clear to the other side of the meadow and back in the wooded hill sides. I managed to get stung only four times. I am a little worried now as I have again swelled up, each sting more swollen than the one before it. I take a few minutes to rest on top of a large flat rock to rehydrate before continuing on. The trail winds through a few rock cities before finally coming out onto a forest road that in a few miles will lead me into the little berg of Kelletville. There are many campsites along the river here so I set up camp for the night.
Wed. September 11
Trail Day 160
Miles hiked: 17
Minister Creek Area - Allegheny National Forest
I woke up this morning totally exhausted, and not surprisingly. Another heat wave has come through, the past two days have been unseasonably hot. I pack up camp as quickly as can be and hike the short distance down the road to the Kelletville public campground where I stop to have breakfast and camel up on water. I check my phone and don’t’ have a cell signal but luckily there is a payphone at the back of the campground. I give Keith Klos a call. He is the president of the Allegheny National Forest chapter. I tell him my situation, about the extreme heat, and how tired I have been and he says he wants to take me out for breakfast tomorrow. We make plans to meet at the next road crossing tomorrow morning, which is a full day’s hike away.
I waste no time in getting moving again but after hiking only a short distance I can tell this is going to be a rough day. After an hour I am already exhausted, the steep terrain not making the hike any easier. Early afternoon I decide I simply can’t go on like this. I need to stop and rest. I find a spot near Minster Creek to pitch my tent and struggle to get as much rest as possible. Heat exhaustion is definitely taking its toll on me again.
Thur. September 12
Trail Day 161
Miles hiked: 34
Red Bridge Campground - Allegheny National Forest
With much difficulty I actually managed to get some sleep and stay asleep for much of the night. I hope this heat wave vanishes soon, or I will need to take another zero to recover my strength. Quitting early yesterday means I need to get up early to make it to Henrys Mills, where Keith is supposed to meet me. It’s over 10 miles so I am up at 4:30, hiking with headlamp on, watching every step trying not to trip and fall on my face. This early in the morning it is already unbearably hot, makes me wonder what is coming later in the day. I manage to make it to the trailhead in Henrys Mills without incident and just relax until Keith arrives. He is there in only a short time and he shuttles me into Sheffield to have breakfast at the bowling alley in town. We have a nice chat waiting for our order. Keith talks about his time working on the NCT, the recent developments in his chapter and in Pennsylvania in general. He tells me that the trail ahead has been rerouted because of recent oil drilling in the area. He gives an example where cooperation between the trail and other organizations is crucial. When contacted about the issue of impacting the trail, the oil company responded by actually helping reroute it and get it on the ground, amazing. He also informs me that the heat wave is supposed to break this evening and that it will cool off quite dramatically over the next few days. Now there is some good news!
After breakfast Keith gives me a few things to take along with me, including an NCT bandana, which I have gotten into the habit of collecting. I have quite a few now. Keith drops me off back at Henrys Mills and we snap a picture at the trailhead. Then with a firm handshake and words of encouragement from Keith I am pack shouldered and heading uphill on the trail. Shortly after getting dropped off the rain starts and continues off and on most of the day. This doesn’t impede my progress much as it actually lowered the temperature making the hike much more enjoyable than yesterday. Keith had told me about a good place to have dinner in the little berg of Blissville just off the trail so I head there and make it just before dark. The place is fairly empty and I am served right away. Fine folks here at Bob’s Trading Post. I waste no time in ordering a large homemade pizza for myself before settling down at the bar for a nice glass of cold soda. Soon I get asked the usual questions by a woman behind the counter. Hence I meet Pauline, co-owner. I tell her my story so far and about where I am headed. From this point it is 30 miles to the New York state line, and I intend to do my best to make it there tomorrow. She has hiked most the trail in this area and says the last section along the Allegheny Reservoir is pretty rough, lots of ups and downs. “You have a shot, but it will be tough.” Challenge accepted.
Soon my pizza arrives and I waste no time in digging in. If this isn’t the best pizza I have ever had I don’t know what is. During the course of my meal I am talking more with Pauline, and her daughters that are running the kitchen. They are very impressed with my hike and enjoy hearing my stories, specifically the ones about the many animal encounters I have had. At this point I am the only customer left in the place and it is a half hour from closing time. Another man walks in and it turns out to be Jeff, Pauline’s husband and co-owner. Pauline asks me what my shirt size is and after I tell her she returns with a Bob’s Trading Post T-shirt, promoting the Allegheny National Forest on the back. “A souvenir to remember us by.” As if that wasn’t a kind enough gesture, as I am ready to pay for my meal Pauline says “It’s been covered.” She then goes on to ask me if I want a ride to the campground . She tells me it’s two miles away over a bridge, has no shoulder, and it’s dark outside. With no more persuasion needed I accept her offer for a ride. These have to be some of the nicest folks I’ve ever met. Thank you so much Pauline, and kind folks at Bob’s Trading Post. All full and ready for a good night’s sleep I load my gear in Jeff’s truck and he drops me off at the Red Bridge Campground, where I make camp and manage to get in a nice hot shower to end this amazing day.
Fri. September 13
Trail Day 162
Miles hiked: 30
Allegheny State Park - FLT, NY
Keith was right about the temperature cooling down, it’s cold when I get up this morning. I need to put on a layer of fleece to keep warm. I slept in a little later than I wanted to, as I have 30 miles to go to reach New York. However I don’t let that discourage me and I enjoy my leftover pizza for breakfast. With a good breakfast like that I should have enough energy to get me through the entire day.
The hike today brings me through a gorgeous section of the Allegheny National Forest. Pauline wasn’t kidding about the terrain though, there are many ups and downs, and steep inclines. About halfway through the day the trail reaches the Allegheny Reservoir and follows along the east bank clear up to Willow Creek Road. This section of trail is gorgeous. It reminds me a little of the Manistee National Forest back in Michigan, there is very little under-brush to obscure the view. Thin soft grass grows between all the trees. This section will probably be my favorite for Pennsylvania.
Along the trail today I spot a man, woman, and two dogs hiking toward me. As they approach they stop. “I know who that is,” the man says. His name is Ian, he’s been following my progress online and thought I would be past here by now. I explain my reasons for falling behind, but also that I am gaining lots of ground back, and still hope to get through New York before the snow flies. He wishes me luck and we part ways.Early evening now I reach Willow Creek Road, where the NCT leaves the Allegheny Reservoir. From here it is only a mile and a half to the New York state line. So close to my goal for the day I push on the final distance, nearly all uphill, and reach a large wooden sign that reads “Allegheny State Park, New York.” I’ve made it. Despite all the odds, all the mishaps and the bad experiences, I have made it to the final state of my journey, the seventh. From here the NCT will follow the white-blazed Finger Lakes Trail for about 420 miles before again diverging and heading more northeast toward the Adirondacks. I pitch my tent a few yards from the sign and call it a day, happy to have reached my goal.