A Thru-Hike of The North Country Trail                                 -Strider-

Journals

Mon. 9/3/12 - Labor Day  
Trail Day 000
Miles hiked: 05
Mackinaw Bridge

Well here it is, Labor Day 2012, the day I complete the first official five miles of my North Country Trail thru-hike. A new policy went into effect January 1st of this year stating that thru hikers are required to hike the Mackinaw Bridge on Labor Day for it to qualify as a true thru-hike. So here I am a year early to complete the task. Personally I don't think they should require hikers to complete the bridge walk because it is such a huge inconvenience. I'm lucky that I live close enough to make a weekend trip out of it. However, most hikers would not have that luxury and any potential thru-hikers would likely need to spend lots of money and time just to get out here to complete this 5-mile segment. The task is made more complicated by the fact that the bridge is only open to pedestrians one day a year, that being Labor Day. Hikers who have completed the trail prior to the establishment of this policy are grandfathered in as complete thru-hikers and many of them did not complete the bridge walk, and fewer still completed every single section of offroad trail. Being denied recognition of completing the entire trail because of a 5-mile roadwalk that is open on one day a year seems like an unnecessary hardship. The trail is difficult enough to thru-hike in one year as it is and I would sincerely request that the NCTA and the Long Distance Hiking Committee consider abolishing this rule. A year from now on my thru-hike I will be in either Pennsylvania or New York on this day depending how fast my pace is so coming back to do this on the one day it is open would be impossible. I didn't have any plans this year so I decided way back in May to come out here and do it this year, and my mother and brother decided to join me.

I actually made a nice trip out of this long weekend, most of it taking place somewhere along the NCT. We drove from my home in central Minnesota on Thursday afternoon and spent the night at Copper Falls State Park in Wisconsin, one of the places the NCT passes through. I even took a little hike down to the falls early in the morning before hitting the road again to get to Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore in the upper peninsula of Michigan. We had set up a reservation for a boat tour at two, surely a highlight of the trip. The scenery in this park is absolutely spectacular and I look forward to coming back here next June and experiencing it in a whole new light. That night we camped at Chapel Beach, right on the NCT. Saturday we left Pictured Rocks and headed to Whitefish Bay to check out the Shipwreck Museum at the old light station before finally reaching Straits State Park on the north side of the Mackinaw Bridge. We decided to stay here for two nights, intending for Sunday to be a relax day but I took the opportunity to do some scouting. I located the trail within the park and followed it south to the bridge to find the starting line for the walk on Monday, then turned around and hiked in the opposite direction, following the trail into downtown St. Ignace. It was a nice hike, lots of white cedars growing in the park which happens to be my favorite tree species.

The bridge walk starts at seven am from St. Ignace in the Upper Peninsula to Mackinaw City in the Lower Peninsula. We are there right on time. It is only a 15 minute walk to the bridge from our campsite via the NCT. I snap a few photos and videos during the walk to document the experience. The place is mobbed with people, the scene being similar to a marathon. The north-bound lane of I-75 across the bridge is closed to permit walkers (and one hiker) to cross safely. Along it's entire length National Guard troops are stationed to ensure the safe passage of the walkers. We complete the five mile walk in about two hours and receive certificates at the finish line that state we successfully completed the challenge. Getting back to St. Ignace costs six bucks for a trolley ride which we gladly pay to avoid waiting in an extremely long line for a bus. Unfortunately tomorrow is a school day for me and I need to get back to Minnesota to complete my last semester of college. We promptly say goodbye to the Straits and complete the long ride home, about nine hours. The trip to the "Mighty Mack" was short, but it was a good experience.


Wed. 3/27/2013
Trail Day 001

Miles hiked: 09

Sakakawea Motel - Pick City, ND


I enjoy being an early riser, and this morning was no exception. I was up at 4:30am to load the car with supplies, for 10 days. The reason being that for the first leg of my hike I will have a support crew to help me get through the areas of North Dakota that have no camping available. I will be staying in hotels during this time and having support will allow me to slack pack for this first leg and cover more ground.
It's about a seven hour drive from my home in central Minnesota to the trail's western terminus at Lake Sakakawea State Park and we are there by 2:00. I have been in contact for the past few weeks with the park manager John Tunge getting information about snow conditions and letting him know that I am arriving today. We arrive and find that the visitor center is locked, no one is around. John had mentioned that we should try the maintenance building if this happened. Sure enough we find John supervising a small construction crew and before we know it he has let us in to the visitor center and we are looking over maps of the trail that I will be hiking today. He offers to drive us along the route before I start hiking and we accept. As we are preparing to leave John pulls a book out from his desk and hands it to me. I have heard about this book and I quickly realize how significant it is. This book is a special trail register that only the folks who have come to hike the North Country Trail have signed. Many of the names I recognize: Ed Talone (first NCT thru-hike), Chet Fromm (end-to-ender (not a thru-hike)), Andrew Skurka (second thru-hike), Joan Young (end-to-ender (first woman)), and Nimblewill Nomad, whom I know personally (third thru-hike). To this register I add my name and as I hand it back to John it is time to start my hike.
The trail begins just a stones throw away from the visitor center, a big wooden sign declares that this is where it begins. It's picture time in front of the sign before I finally turn and take my first steps on this 4600 mile journey at 3:01pm. Thank You John for making this an extraordinary beginning to a grand adventure.
I hike the nearly 2 miles of trail in the park in no time and soon myself at the Garrison Dam, there to begin a road walk that will take me across the dam, through the town of Riverdale and along some backroads to end the day about a mile south of Wolf Creek Campground. In total about 9 miles hiked today.


Thur. March 28
Trail Day 002
Miles hiked: 25
R&H Motel, Trailer Park & Bait Shop - McCluskey, ND


I got a late start today, didn't get going until 8:45. I got dropped off where I ended my hike last night and began a long stretch of road walk through Audobon National Wildlife Refuge. I made a slight detour to visit the visitor center and told the people there about my hike. They informed me that the auto tour route would take me along the lake for the entire trip through the refuge. So I take the auto tour route but unfortunately the dense fog blocked my view of the lake. What I did see where dozens of pheasants, even after I left the refuge. A few miles east of the refuge I came to the second segment of certified trail in North Dakota. This segment follows along the McCluskey Canal using service roads most of the way. I hike 6 miles of this segment before calling it a day.


Fri. March 29
Trail Day 003
Miles hiked: 29
R&H Motel, Trailer Park & Bait Shop - McCluskey, ND


Today was a pretty uneventful day. I started hiking at 8:40 this morning, my entire trek today following along the McCluskey Canal. I passed a few old farmsteads and saw about 50 deer. Towards the end of the day's hike the canal opens up into a series of lakes known locally as the chain of lakes. I pass many campsites along the stretch of trail. I end my hike at Hecker's Lake.
The hard surface of the canal towpath did a number on my feet today. The first blister is forming and my body is sore, so first thing I do back at the hotel is get a nice soak in the tub, then a good night's sleep.


Sat. March 30

Trail Day 004
Miles hiked: 24
R&H Motel, Trailer Park & Bait Shop - McCluskey, ND


Today is my last full day of hiking along the McCluskey Canal. I'm looking forward to hiking through Lonetree Wildlife Management Area to give my swollen feet a break from the continuous pounding of the gravel towpath. The views along the canal have been better than I expected and have made for many good photos. This morning I got a good one looking across New Johns Lake.
I got the first five miles of my hike in pretty good time until I hit the eastern edge of the lake and the re-emergence of the canal where I encountered some snow. It was the kind of snow that is deep enough to make your progress slow and treacherous but not deep enough to warrant using snowshoes. This unfortunate obstacle makes the going today painfully slow. Despite starting at 8:00 this morning I don't have enough time to make it to my pre-determined end point so I bail out three miles sooner than I intended.
Back at the motel I'm informed that an editor from the McCluskey Gazette wants to interview me about my hike. An hour later I meet Allan Tinker and we have a fun-filled interview about the trail and my inspiration for hiking it. She has also brought me some homemade goodies, including some meatball soup and wheat bread. What a joy to be treated to some trail magic so early in the hike. Thank You Allan for your kindness.


Sun. March 31 - Easter
Trail Day 005
Miles hiked: 22
R&R Hotel - Harvey, ND


Today was the first day I had to use my snow shoes. As a result my progress is again slow. It takes me most of the day to reach the end of the canal and the entrance to Lonetree Wildlife Management Area. I take a picture of the sign and head on in. In the summer the trail through Lonetree is a mowed path and I am able to see a white ribbon where there is no vegetation sticking through the snow. The trail is also marked with carsonite posts along the entire route so I easily find my way. During the day the sun is blazing overhead and I can feel it burning in my face. I quickly come to the painful realization that while packing for these first few weeks in winter I completely overlooked packing sunscreen. I'm sure by the time I get back to the motel my face is going to be in pretty bad shape. I end my hike at the Jensen Campground after watching 50 deer dash away as I arrive.


Mon. April 1
Trail Day 006
Miles hiked: 22
R&R Hotel - Harvey, ND


There was a foot of snow all along the trail today, making for another slow day. Today's hike takes me through Lonetree WMA.  There wasn't a whole lot to see because of the snow but I did pass a few campgrounds, some sunflower fields and I took a video at Sheyenne Lake. Unfortunately there was some illegal snowmobile and ATV use on the trail near the campgrounds. Just as I passed the sign declaring the eastern edge of Lonetree WMA a large Jackrabbit scampered away towards the New Rockford Canal where I hiked a few miles before calling it a day. I discovered that my lower lip actually got the worst of the sunburn from the past few days and my legs took a beating today from the continuous use of snow shoes so I am very sore at the end of the day. A nice hot soak in the tub and a cold beer go a long way.


Tue. April 2
Trail Day 007
Miles hiked: 26
Bison Lodge - New Rockford, ND


I started late today as an attempt to get better rest from the hard day yesterday. Despite starting at 10:00 I still managed to make good time and get 26 miles in by 7:00. The New Rockford Canal is much straighter and snow-free than the McCluskey Canal so it is an easy hike. I see a fox scamper away early in the day as I hike along the incredibly flat towpath, marking my only sighting for the day.


Wed. April 3
Trail Day 008
Miles hiked: 28
Bison Lodge - New Rockford, ND


Today is my last day hiking along the New Rockford Canal. It also happens to be my last day hiking a long continuous segment of trail stretching from the western end of the McCluskey Canal to the eastern end of the New Rockford Canal, with Lonetree WMA between. I start out going at a pretty good pace, making it the 15 miles to the end of the canal by 2:00. From the canal it is a roadwalk all the way to Lake Ashtabula where the next segment of certified trail awaits. The roadwalk today brings me through the town of New Rockford and right by the motel where I stop in for some tune ups. My ankle is bothering me and I have another blister forming so it's Biofreeze and Moleskin time. Continuing on the roadwalk I pass an abandoned farm and right along the road, right where I need to hike, is a skunk. This is bad news as I dont want to get sprayed, and I've heard if you're close enough you can actually go blind. I'm not taking any chances so I get a little closer, shouting as I do so, unable to get his attention. I resort to picking up a piece of gravel from the road and throwing it at him, landing it about six inches from his face. Now I've got his attention and he slowly scampers off, a few more rocks gets him out of firing range and I am safe to pass.
A half mile further down the road I spot another critter along the road, what'ya know it's another skunk. I have to go through this all over again. This one didn't seem to notice me as I threw rocks; he decided to chase after them rather than retreat. It takes a near-direct hit to finally get him to notice me and he eventually scampers away, tired of being bombarded by projectiles. Now safe from any unpleasant smells I continue on the road walk until my feet have had enough and I get picked up at the 28 mile mark. On the way back we spot three raccoons at the same spot I encountered the skunks not an hour before. Looks like the old farm isn't abandoned after all. Another hot soak in the tub and I'm ready for bed.


Thur. April 4
Trail Day 009
Miles hiked: 28.5
Westside Motel - Cooperstown, ND

Today's hike is all a roadwalk from where I left off yesterday to where I end the day a few miles west of Binford. The hike starts out on gravel roads taking me past a few old farms and eventually turns to pavement. Along my route today three locals stopped as they drove past and asked if I was in trouble or "just getting some exercise." Everyone I've encountered so far on this trek has been so nice. The sunburn I received last week has finally taken its toll as my face has begun peeling causing great discomfort most of the day. I'm still in good spirits despite some discomfort in several places. After downing a whole pizza at the pizza ranch in Cooperstown and a hot shower I'm ready to relax and drift off to sleep. 


Fri. April 5
Trail Day 010
Miles hiked: 31
Westside Motel - Cooperstown, ND

Today's hike is entirely a roadwalk on paved roads. I started near Binford where I ended yesterday and made pretty good time until the weather turned sour. First a strong wind out of the south shows up and tries to blow me off the road, then the snow comes and I put on some blaze clothing because the visibility has become so poor. Luckily it only lasts for an hour and I'm in Cooperstown before long. A nice little trail town if there ever was one in North Dakota. It's got everything a hiker needs; a grocery store, some restaurants, post office, and some cheap motels. I stop in to our motel for lunch since the strong wind and a busy state highway with no shoulder discouraged me from eating earlier. It's about 4:00 and I realize I only need to hike two more miles to make it a 25 mile day. I decide to try and get a little ahead on the mileage and I head out the door. After nearly three hours of fighting against the wind I finally call it quits in front of a small church and claim victory; 31 miles hiked today. 


Sat. April 6
Trail Day 011
Miles hiked: 19
Super 8 Motel - Valley City, ND

Getting up this morning was not easy. My feet are sore from the hard pounding of the pavement and I'm exhausted from the long hours yesterday. I still manage to get going a little after 8:00 and I make good time on the last seven miles of roadwalk I have today. The remainder of the day is spent hiking along the third certified segment of trail in North Dakota, Lake Ashtabula. The lake and surrounding land is controlled by the Army Corps if Engineers but much of the land is also used for cattle pasture and there are landmines everywhere! There are many fences to cross, hence today I come to my first stile of this trek. By the end of the day I will have encountered 13 of them. Before long the snow gets too deep and I need to wear the snowshoes again. The stuff around here is over a foot deep in some places making for very slow hiking. A point of interest I encounter today is a highline railroad bridge that crosses the lake. I happen to walk under just as a train is passing over and I get some good video footage. From this point it is five miles to Sibley Crossing, one of two possible pick up points today. To my dismay I find that the deep snow coupled with the rugged terrain only allowed me to hike 11 miles in the last 7 hours of the day. I am forced to bail off here four miles away from my planned pickup point for the day as the daylight fades away.



Sun. April 7
Trail Day 012
Miles hiked: 17
Lake Ashtabula, about a mile south of Kate Olson's Landing

Waking up in a warm comfy motel and knowing you have to trudge on out into the cold is not a pleasant feeling. Even worse is knowing that you have to do it alone, no support crew to pick you up at the end of the day. Alas, today is my first day as an unassisted hike. My mother was kind enough to use some vacation days to shuttle me out here to North Dakota to get me started on this trek o'er the North Country Trail. Between the Garrison Dam and Lake Ashtabula there are no places to camp besides one area along the McCluskey chain of lakes so thru-hiking this portion of the trail is impossible without a support crew. She has 12 days available to spend with me and today is the last one, so here about a mile south of Sibley Crossing it is time to say goodbye. Some photos are taken, some words spoken, some tears shed, and then I turn and start hiking. The first quarter mile is uphill so I pause at the top and take a last glance back. I look towards the car and lift my trekking poles high, remembering a quote from a documentary we watched about the Pacific Crest Trail "Be Unstoppable". Thank You Mom for driving me out here, taking care of me and making the first leg of this trip more enjoyable. 

It isn't very long until I need the snowshoes today, but then I don't need them for long. The trail today is very "patchy", short stretches of deep snow followed by longer stretches of no snow, so progress is again very slow. Early in the hike today I face my first obstacle, a frozen creek with no crossing visible. I search for a safe place to cross and finally find one that looks suitable, about four feet wide. As I take my first step into the snow on the opposite side of the creek I lose my balance as my leg plunges down into water up to my knees. I had not made it to the other side after all, it had only appeared that way because of the snow. I've been on my own only a few hours and already my feet are soaking wet and cold. I have no choice but to hike on and since my feet are already wet I decide to do without the snowshoes most of the day. After hiking through miles of cow pasture I can see a row of houses appearing in the distance. I expected the trail to travel around them since these houses are right on the lakeshore, but no, as I arrive I discover that the trail goes right along the lake through people's backyards! I have to weave my way around boat trailers and fishing docks  behind people's houses to hike this trail. In all the years I've been hiking I've never hiked on a trail like this before, it's a very goofy situation. I hike about a mile beyond this weird place and pitch near a fence line for the night.



Mon. April 8
Trail Day 013
Miles hiked: 19
Super 8 Motel - Valley City, ND

It was very cold getting up this morning, but once the feet get pounding on the trail they warm up pretty quick. I have a five mile hike to the Baldhill Dam where this segment of trail ends. I need the snowshoes the whole way so it takes a few hours to get there. The Army Corps of Engineers have an office here at the dam and I stop in to introduce myself. Here I meet Scott Trehy, I forget what his title is, he's one if the head guys, and we have a nice chat. He's hiked most of the trail between Lake Ashtabula and The Sheyenne Grasslands so he gives me the rundown on what I can expect the next few days. I fill up my water bottle and it's time to move on. It's a ten mile roadwalk from the dam to Valley City and I make it there in a few hours. Once across the Sheyenne River another certified segment of trail begins and wanders through the city for about four miles. The highlight of the day was crossing the many bridges across the river, including the Alumni Bridge at Valley City State University. This same bridge was sandbagged about four feet high when Nimblewill Nomad passed through in 2009 due to flooding. Luckily the river won't reach flood stage for awhile and it remains open for me to cross. After passing through VCSU the trail climbs the rim of the valley and enters Medicine Wheel Park providing a great view of the city. It's only a few blocks from here to the Super 8 Motel where I will be spending the night so I head on in. Once settled into my room I give Deb Koepplin a call. Deb is the president of the Sheyenne River Valley Chapter of the NCT, I had called her a few days earlier inquiring about a possible shuttle from Baldhill Dam into town but I ended up not being able to make it there because of snow. After our initial conversation she wanted to meet me so we arrange a meeting at a diner across the street and we have a nice chat about the trail and conditions I will encounter further south. After downing a burger and two sodas (thanks Deb) it's time to head back to the motel and get a good night's sleep. 



Tue. April 9
Trail Day 014
Miles hiked: 20
Clausen Springs Park

I slept in this morning, didn't get out of bed until 7:30. It was my last night in a motel for a long while so I wanted to make the most of it. I only had to hike 20 miles to reach my destination at Clausen Springs. For breakfast I grab a cup of orange juice and three donuts and down them all while packing my gear. In about an hour, after eating, applying Biofreeze to my ankle, and sending a few emails, I am out the door and hiking south out of Valley City. The route is mostly a roadwalk until it leaves the backroads and heads south on field roads. At the place where the trail leaves the gravel there is an interesting abandoned structure that, if acquired and a little work done, could make a fine shelter for the NCT. Another segment of certified trail begins at this point and heads south to Clausen Springs using field roads and a "chute" between two fence rows. Clausen Springs has several developed campgrounds and a day use area for fishing. The scenery is different from what I've encountered so far, a lake, some wetlands, and many pine trees all around. When I arrive the freezing wind has picked up to about 40 mph and with the ground completely frozen there is nowhere to drive a tent stake, making it impossible to pitch a tent without it blowing away. The temperature feels like it is dropping by the minute and I am getting desperate for warmth. There is only one structure nearby with walls and it happens to be a restroom facility. I check the door and it is unlocked, luckily it appears to have been cleaned recently. I decide that taking shelter in this structure is a better choice than being out in the howling wind so reluctantly I make a place for myself on the floor using my sleeping pad as a mattress. Though I am out of the wind it is still frigidly cold and getting to sleep proves to be difficult. 


Wed. April 10
Trail Day 015
Miles hiked: 24
Mineral Springs Campsite - Sheyenne State Forest

I awoke in my little "shelter" to find that everything had frozen during the night. My food, my water, and my wet shoes. It takes all the strength I have to get my frozen shoes to fit and then I'm out of there and back on the trail.
From Clausen Springs there is a four mile segment of trail leading to the town of Kathryn along an abandoned railroad grade. I've hiked several rail grades back in Minnesota and am used to them having a crushed limestone surface so my hopes are high for a quick start to the hike. I arrive at the beginning of the trail to find that the surface is ballast which makes for slow hiking. Ballast is basically the original railroad bed with the rails and ties removed, leaving behind large chunks of loose rock. I have to calculate each step to avoid rolling an ankle. I make it to Kathryn, there to begin a roadwalk along the Sheyenne Scenic Byway to Fort Ransom State Park. Two locals stop along the way to wish me well on my hike. Along the roadwalk today I see the first cedar trees of the hike, which happen to be my favorite tree species. The terrain here is pretty rugged compared to what I've encountered so far. Lots of rolling hills with heavy tree cover. The scenic byway leads me directly into Fort Ransom State Park. Here I meet John, park manager. He takes my picture under the NCT Arch and we stop into the office and have a nice chat. Unfortunately I will miss most of the trail in the park because it is a dead-end segment. Hopefully if I finish my hike before the snow flies I will be able to hike this section in the fall. From the park it is about a mile and a half to the small town of Fort Ransom where I stop in at the Old Mill Grill for a burger and a few beers with the locals. From the bar it is about a three mile hike to the Sheyenne State Forest where I pitch for the night. 


Thur. April 11
Trail Day 016
Miles hiked: 14 
Super 8 Motel - Lisbon, ND

I woke up this morning with snow all around me. It feels warm enough out, nothing in my pack is frozen, the snow is just a light dusting so I pack up and head out with no trouble. The Sheyenne State Forest has a three mile section of NCT, the first to be certified in the state. Unfortunately it is also a dead-end segment so working it into a thru-hike is not practical. I also plan to come back in the fall and hike this section. There is a waterfall at the end of this section of trail that I do not want to miss seeing. From the forest it's about 14 miles to Lisbon where I have my first food drop waiting. After only a few miles though the snow starts to pick up intensity and visibility becomes poor. Then the wind picks up and the snow keeps getting deeper making the trek even slower. Despite leaving before 8:00 I don't reach Lisbon until almost 1:00. Enroute to the post office a woman in a van pulls over and shouts over to me. "Are you the hiker?" "Yes" "Would you mind stopping in to the Ransom County Gazette for an interview?" I agree but let her know that I need to retrieve my package first. She informs me that the newspaper office is right around the corner from the post office. Once I arrive to retrieve my package I find that I am a few minutes early, they don't reopen til 1:30. I turn around and the same woman walks through the door, hence I meet Jeanie. She offers to take me out to lunch at a cafe down the street where she will conduct the interview. Now this I just can't refuse. It only takes a few minutes to retrieve my box then I'm off to the cafe. I order a Philly sub with a lemonade and work on demolishing them both during the interview. While I'm still eating the main course she leaves for a few minutes and comes back with a large piece of chocolate cake. By far the best cake I've ever tasted. She asks me a few more questions then it's time to continue on. On the way out I find that my meal has already been taken care of, and the hostess wishes me "happy travels." Thank you Jeanie and the fine folks at Hodenattes. The generosity and kindness you've shown me will be hard to match. I have another 15 miles to reach the Sheyenne National Grasslands where I planned to spend the night but with the pace I've been going so far and with the storm not letting up there is no way I can make it there by dark. I decide to spend the night in Lisbon and hope the storm blows over by morning. I check in to the Super 8 in town, open my package, and catch up on journal entries. With any luck I can get an early start in the morning and make up some lost mileage caused by the storm.



Fri. April 12
Trail Day 017
Miles hiked: 26
Sheyenne National Grassland


I got up at 6:00 this morning so I would have time to pack my gear after letting it dry, take a shower, and eat breakfast. A few incoming phone calls delay the process but I am still out the door before 8:00. The roadwalk to the trailhead at the Sheyenne National Grasslands was slow going through the town of Lisbon because of the icy roads. Once on the gravel backroads though I'm able to make good time, covering the 15 miles to the trailhead a few minutes after 1:00. I'm surprised to find that the snow in the grassland is not deep enough to snowshoe so my feet are wet most of the day. The trail is fairly easy to follow with large wooden posts marking the trail. Along most of it I can see evidence of a gravel tread way, I assume to keep the trail from being destroyed by cattle. More landmines to watch out for today. The highlight of the day was passing through a fairly large pine plantation, it reminded me of the great north woods back home. After a few more hours the sky starts to darken and I pitch for the night just outside a stand of oak trees.


Sat. April 13
Trail Day 018
Miles hiked: 28
NDSU Ekre Grassland Preserve


My shoes are frozen as I leave my tent this morning. I have about 17 miles to go to reach the eastern end of the grasslands and I realize that I have overslept so I better get moving. A few miles into the hike I discover that this isn't going to be an easy day. The snow is deeper out here than it was when I entered the grasslands. So the snowshoes come out and the going becomes slow. After a while the snow thins out a little and we're at the awkward stage again just like along the McCluskey Canal; the snow is too shallow to need snowshoes but too deep to hike normally. The snowshoes come off again and my feet are wet the whole day.  Several times I post-hole up to my knees causing great discomfort. I am so sick of hiking through this stuff and it's affecting my progress and my mood, and today is definitely not a good day for either of them. I don't reach the eastern trailhead until about 5:00 and I have a choice to make. I could pitch here for the night or push on to the next campsite which is more than 10 miles away. I decide that stopping here would be too short of a day and I want to get away from this snow covered slosh bog so I push on. I'm still about four miles away when it starts to get dark. I'm hiking along busy ND-18 now so I put on my headlamp to make me more visible. I've been hiking in the dark for almost an hour when I finally see a marker for the Ekre trailhead. The campsite is across the street along a field road but being so dark and covered with snow there's no way I'll be able to find it, so I have no choice but to pitch right in the trailhead. It was a long stressful day and I'm definitely ready for bed.


Sun. April 14
Trail Day 019
Miles hiked 10
Home of Tony and Mary Boehm - Colfax, ND


My time camping in the trailhead last night was short lived. I carry a Delorme inReach device with me in case I get into trouble and when I got in my tent last night I received a message that said there was a severe winter storm coming in early tomorrow. I consider my options: there is a ranch less than a quarter mile away that I could seek refuge in as soon as I awoke in the morning, or I could try and alert someone from the trail community about my plans. There is one person I know of that lives nearby so I give them a call. I feel guilty cause it's now after 11:00 and I'm surprised when someone answers the phone. I explain my situation and that I wanted to alert someone of my plans in case I got stranded. They decide they won't let me spend the night in the cold and offer to host me for the night. I pack up all my gear and within a few minutes a van pulls up to the trailhead. Hence I meet Tony Boehm, a teacher from Colfax who is actively involved in developing a six mile stretch of trail between Walcott and Colfax. We arrive at his home and I meet his wife, Mary, whom I spoke with on the phone. We spend the next hour having a nice chat about my trip so far, my future plans, and the local trail segments. They offer me a spot on their couch and within minutes I'm out.
I awoke this morning to find that the storm had not occurred. After checking the forecast it appears the storm has been delayed and won't hit til about 1:00. I decide to avoid making this a zero mile day and hike as far as I can until the storm hits. Tony drops me off at the trailhead I was going to camp at the night before and I begin my hike. The short segment of trail I am hiking this morning is on an old ranch that North Dakota State University now maintains and uses as a field research station known as the Ekre Grassland Preserve. The short segment of NCT plus about two miles of loop trails were all built by Eagle Scouts last summer so I am the first long distance hiker to use this trail. From the ranch it is a 10 mile roadwalk to Walcott. Unfortunately I only hike about three miles until the storm does hit. I have no choice but to push on to Walcott as my hosts will not be back til noon. After three hours of trekking through raging wind and snow I arrive at downtown Walcott where a section of newly created trail begins and Tony arrives at the same time to pick me up. What a relief to be out of the cold. Enroute to the Boehm household we stop for a pancake breakfast at the community center in Colfax and I waste no time devouring several plates of eggs and pancakes. A bunch of local kids hear my story and ask for my autograph, I hope they will get out and enjoy this great trail once it warms up. The rest of the day is spent resting and planning the next few days. I will spend the night here at the Boehm household again tonight and keep trekking in the morning, hopefully making it to Abercrombie at the Red River, then cross into Minnesota on Tuesday morning. Tony and Mary have been such wonderful hosts. Thank you dear friends for sharing your home with me during this horrific winter storm. I am extremely grateful for your hospitality and your kindness. God bless.


Mon. April 15
Trail Day 020
Miles hiked: 16
Aber Park - Abercrombie, ND

The storm has finally passed this morning. I'm treated to a fine breakfast of toast and fresh fruit, then it's time to say goodbye and hit the trail. Tony drops me off in Walcott and I begin my hike south along the railroad tracks. There is certified trail along the side if the tracks all the way into Colfax, making a six mile long continuous segment of trail. It is still being developed but there are plenty of blazes available to follow, most of them tacked on the sides of the old telegraph poles. The snow is deep because of the storm so I need the snowshoes to traverse this segment. About one half mile north of Colfax I come to a newly built campsite complete with a privy and picnic table, all the result of hard work by Tony and his FFA crew. Nice work guys. Once I reach town it is a roadwalk to the town of Abercrombie located right on the Red River, the boundary between North Dakota and Minnesota. I stop in at the Fort Saloon for a few drinks and a hot meal. On the tv the tradgedy in Boston is all over the news. A guy at the table across from me sees my gear and has questions about my plans. I tell my story and where I'm headed and he seems very impressed. After downing my meal Tammy, the bartender informs me that my meal has been paid for and another beer provided by this same guy. She informs me that he is a local named Jon. This is incredible, I've known Jon only ten minutes and he wants to pay for my meal. Thank you very much Jon for your generosity. I linger for a few hours watching the news story and making some phone calls. When I go up to the bar to pay for my drinks Tammy informs me that the last one was on her. This is amazing, thanks so much Tammy. I head back outside and walk the few blocks to Fort Abercrombie State Park. This reconstructed fort marks the boundary between North Dakota and Minnesota. Tomorrow I will cross the Red River and enter Minnesota. For tonight I pitch at the Aber Park campground across the street.


Tue. April 16
Trail Day 021
Miles hiked: 24
Comfort Zone Inn - Rothsay, MN

From Fort Abercrombie it's entirely a roadwalk to get to Rothsay and I'm out at first light. The highlight of the day was finally crossing the Red River into my home state of Minnesota. The roadwalk brings me past a large drainage ditch with a berm on one side, reminding me of my journey along the McCluskey and New Rockford Canals. At first glance it appears that this berm could provide an opportunity for a section of off road trail, I believe it should be investigated as an option. Today is the first day I was able to shed some layers and still be comfortable. I get to Rothsay a little after 4:00 and check into the Comfort Zone Inn for the night.


Wed. April 17
Trail Day 022
Miles hiked: 00
Comfort Zone Inn - Rothsay, MN

Another snow storm came in this morning and I woke up exhausted so I decided to take a zero mile day, wait out the storm, and get re-energized. Hopefully I can continue on tomorrow. 


Thur. April 18
Trail Day 023
Miles hiked: 29
Pelican Motel - Pelican Rapids, MN

I awoke at the crack of dawn to ensure I could make the 29 miles to my destination and I am hiking by 6:30. Today is mostly a roadwalk except for about four miles of trail through Maplewood State Park. As I leave the motel the storm is still raging, the wind trying to again throw me off the road. Once I reach the little town of Erhard I take a break under the overhanging roof of the liquor store to have some water and snacks. A few miles down the road I am at the south entrance to Maplewood State Park. In the park I pick up about four miles of trail , snowshoes needed the whole time. Once I reach the north entrance to the park it is a roadwalk along scenic Hwy 108. The snow has stopped but the wind hasn't relented. Unfortunately this road has no shoulder and in many places it is a causeway between two lakes. At these places the snow has blown across the road and caused ice to form, additionally visibility is poor. I am forced to move over far into the ditch to give passing cars plenty of room. Despite being in mortal peril for most of this segment the scenery is spectacular; many lakes, islands, and glacial hills. This scenic highway leads me to the town of Pelican Rapids, home of the world's largest pelican. This little trail town has everything a hiker needs all on the same street. I had planned to stay at the municipal campground in town but I arrive to find that there is still two feet of snow in the campground and the wind is still howling. After traversing a fancy pedestrian bridge from the campground and stopping to admire the giant pelican statue, I decide to push on the extra half mile and stay warm, cozy, and dry in the Pelican Motel on the north side of town. 


Fri. April 19
Trail Day: 024
Miles hiked: 24
Motor side Inn - Frazee, MN

I had intended to get up nice and early to start hiking but I was exhausted and ended up sleeping an extra hour. I don't hit the road until 8:00, and yes today is entirely a roadwalk to the small town of Frazee. The route takes me through the small town of Vergas enroute to Frazee and I snap a picture of the world's largest loon. I get another photo of a giant bird as I cross the highway 10 overpass and enter the town of Frazee where I see what has to be the world's largest Turkey. I have a food drop in town and I notice that it is almost 4:00, the post office closes at 4:30. I increase my pace hoping that the door will not be closed when I get there. I arrive and pick up my package with 15 minutes to spare. Back out on the street I give Hank Ludke a call. He had emailed me and told me to call him when I reached Frazee. A few minutes later a car pulls up and I meet Hank, the mayor of Frazee. He is very enthusiastic about my hike, wants to hear all about it. He has already set me up with a motel room and a hot meal at The Hornet afterwards. So he drives me a few miles out of town to the Motorside Inn. He tells me he'll be back to pick me up at 6:00 and we'll go have dinner. I waste no time in unpacking my gear, drying my wet socks, and getting a hot shower. Sure enough Hank is there to pick me up at 6:00 at we head to The Hornet for dinner. Also to dinner comes Barbie Porter, editor for the Frazee Forum. She had sent me an email awhile back requesting an interview and I had spoken to her during my day off in Rothsay but she wanted to come down to meet me and get a photo, so the three of us have a wonderful chat. Afterwards it's back to the motel, Hank says he'll pick me up in he morning for breakfast. Sounds good to me. I give Matt Davis a call. Matt is the Regional Trail Coordinator for North Dakota and Minnesota. He said he would be happy to give me shelter under his roof for tomorrow night and we make a plan to meet near a road crossing. Now, off to bed.


Sat. April 20
Trail Day 025
Miles hiked: 21
Home of Matt and Stacy Davis - Detroit Lakes, MN

Hank picks me up at the motel and we're off to have breakfast at a cafe. I order the sausage mushroom and cheese omelet with orange juice and devour them quickly. Several customers stop to wish me luck on my hike. A few of them have been following my journal. After breakfast Hank makes sure I have some of Frazee's famous Turkey Jerky and some smoked fish to go. This is unbelievable, thank you so much Hank for your generosity and enthusiasm. I had a great time in your friendly town of Frazee. 
From Frazee it is a fourteen mile roadwalk to the beginning of the certified trail in Minnesota, and the beginning of a continuous segment of trail stretching from the southern border of Tamarac National Wildlife Refuge all the way to MN-6 just north of the town of Remer at the edge of the Chippewa National Forest. The roadwalk itself is very scenic; before long after leaving Frazee I can tell I am now in the North Woods. Pine trees are found in great abundance all around. I enjoy the smoked fish and the turkey jerkey for lunch on the side of the road just before entering the refuge. I'm glad I stopped there on the side of a little hill free of snow because where I stand now, at the entrance to Tamarac National Wildlife Refuge, the trail is obstructed by at least two feet of snow. Oh boy, I will need the snowshoes for quite awhile on this one. After snapping some photos and taking a video I head in. The snow today is pretty hard so my pace is not hindered too much. At one road crossing I see a bunch of cars parked and there are many people ice fishing out on the lake. A ranger pulls up next to me and rolls down his window. He asks where I'm staying tonight and how long it will take me to get there. "The refuge closes at 10:00" he said. As soon as he leaves another ranger on foot comes off the lake and asks me the same questions. These Fish and Wildlife Service guys sure are strict about their no overnight use rules. I know the rules though and I planned accordingly. In about an hour I reach the point where Matt said he would pick me up. The trail doesn't actually cross here but the road is only about 200 feet from it at this spot so I bail off and bushwhack around a beaver pond, up a hill and down the other side and onto the road just as Matt pulls up in his car. What awesome timing! It's about a half hour drive to Matt's home in Detroit Lakes where I will be spending the night and possibly the following night. When we arrive he shows me the room thy have made ready for me and then I head to the kitchen to cook one of my meals over the stove. I meet Matt's wife Stacy and their four children, who seem fascinated with who I am and what I'm doing. Matt and Stacy have both hiked the AT and relate many if their experiences, we have a nice chat. Before too long it is time for bed as I am overly tired from all the snowshoeing and I'm off to sleep in no time.


Sun. April 21
Trail day 026
Miles hiked: 12
Home of Matt and Stacy Davis - Detroit Lakes, MN

I awoke fairly early this morning and Matt has me at the trailhead by 8:00. The going is fine at first, the snow is crusty from freezing overnight. After a short time I come to an area I recognize, two bridge crossings followed by a nearly 1000 foot long boardwalk through a Tamarac Bog. I helped construct these bridges back in October during a day off from college. Shortly after the Tamarac is a trailhead where I stop to have lunch. Just as I am getting ready to continue on a truck drives past, stops, then pulls in to the trailhead. Two Fish and Wildlife Service officers exit the vehicle, one if them was one if the officers I had talked to yesterday. "Did you spend the night out here last night?" he asked. Again I told him where and by whom I got picked up yesterday and what my plans were for today. Fellas I promise you, I am not stealth camping in your refuge. 
After my encounter with the officers I continue on and it begins snowing almost immediately. The flakes soon become larger than quarters and it's a total whiteout... in April. "This is rediculous" I say out loud. Within a few minutes the trees are completely covered in snow and I can no longer see any blazes. At some point I take a wrong turn and end up at a fence line. This is a wildlife refuge, this shouldn't be here. I check my GPS and discover that I have walked a half mile in the wrong direction. I find the next waypoint and navigate to it by bush whacking over the fence and through brush. Almost an hour later I have managed to find the trail again and continue on. Then the rain starts, softening up the snow so I sink down even with my snowshoes on. This makes for very slow hiking and I am forced to cut my day significantly shorter than I had planned because it is starting to get late. I am out of the refuge now and had planned to get to Elbow Lake road but have to bail off at County 35. I give Matt a call and he is there at County Road 35 to pick me up. Only 12 miles hiked today, this is not good.


Mon. April 22
Trail Day 027
Miles hiked: 14
Home of Ray and Lynette Vlasek - Bad Medicine Lake

Matt dropped me off this morning at county 35 where I ended my hike yesterday. He and his son William hike with me for a ways, then after taking a video, they turn and leave. The hiking is a little better than yesterday but still very slow with the soft snow. I make it to MN-113 and make a call. Ray Vlasek is the president of the Laurentian Lakes Chapter and emailed me a few weeks ago saying he would be interested in hosting me for a night. It's supposed to be very cold again tonight so I take him up on his offer. Within about a half hour he is there to pick me up and he takes me to his place on Bad Medicine Lake. Here I meet his wife Lynette and the three if us have dinner. The interior of the house is incredible, Aspen lumber on the ceiling, birch on the floor, complete with a wood stove and a view from the dining room across Bad Medicine Lake. After dinner I retire to the guest bedroom and am asleep in no time.



Tue. April 23
Trail Day 028
Miles hiked: 17, +2
Home of Ray and Lynette Vlasek - Bad Medicine Lake

I got up fairly early this morning and Ray drops me off at the trailhead on MN-113. The snow is crusty again so I'm able to make decent time. Today my goal is to hike 18 miles to a shelter in Itasca State Park, then to hike to the visitor center in the morning where I have another food drop waiting. Shortly before entering the park I come to another trailhead with a kiosk and a trail register. This is the first register I have seen since entering the Sheyenne Grassland in North Dakota. I sign my (trail) name in the book and continue on. Soon it becomes obvious that I have entered the park because the trail is now about 12 feet wide and shared for some distance with snowmobile trails. At a junction with a major snowmobile trail I have only a few miles to go to reach the shelter I plan to stay in. I continue on, blazes still easy to follow. The trail traverses over many ridges, along lakes and over a causeway with water on all sides when I come to a halt. The trail in front of me does not look like a trail at all. Hundreds of blow downs and thickets of brush block the way. I am standing right next to a blaze so I know I am in the right place, but something isn't right about this. I am only a mile away from the shelter now and it will be getting dark soon. With the snowshoes still on I trudge on ahead through the blow downs and brush, my trekking poles becoming useless, getting tangled in the brush. If there ever was a trail here it's been completely obliterated. It takes me a half hour to reach the other end of this mess and then more confusion occurs. I appear to be standing at the end of a peninsula, water is visible in front of me, indicating that the ice is very thin. The map shows this as solid land, a causeway between two lakes. I don't see a bridge either, and if there is one it is buried under two feet of snow. No blazes in sight, no sign of a trail, nothing. I consult my GPS and it says the next waypoint is right in front of me, but all I see is snow, penetrated in spots by water. If I try to cross on snowshoes here I might take a misstep and fall through the ice. I take several minutes to consider my options, and I decide to go back and circle around the smaller lake and find the trail on the other side. I nearly lost my balance trying to navigate the blowdowns on snowshoes the first time so I take them off hoping for more stability. I take my first step and post hole past my knees. I lose my balance several times and fall on my face. With much struggle I make it back to the other side of the blowdown where that last blaze is clearly visible. I get my snowshoes out again to put them back on so I can walk around the lake and to my horror they have frozen. They will not fit back on my feet until they thaw. Panic starts to set in now, it's getting dark, I have only a half hour left to get around this lake and find the trail but without snowshoes it will take much longer. I decide to start heading back the way I came and look for a place to camp. I sink in almost every step loosing my balance several times, and finally I take a nose dive. I'm down, face in the snow, trying to get up. I bring my hand around to brace me, it falls through the snow, I try my other hand, it falls through, now my knee, same thing. I finally escape by rolling over on my side and using my poles for support I manage to get back on my feet. I take another step, posthole and fall again, catching myself with my hands. I lay there for a few seconds, and the tears start to flow. "Why is this happening? This isn't fair. I've dreamed about this trek for three years and now I have the worst conditions imaginable. Why is there still two and a half feet of snow in late April? I can't take this anymore!" All these thoughts run through my head as I struggle to regain my balance. It's almost dark now, the temperature is dropping and I am soaking wet. I decide there is only one thing I can do. I give Ray a call. I tell him my situation and he agrees to pick me up again at a gated access road in the park. It's only two miles from where I am but it takes me nearly an hour to get there, post holing most of the way. I finally reach the road where Ray is waiting and I thank him for bailing me out. Thus I get to spend another night indoors after a traumatic experience. Thanks again Ray, I'm very grateful.  



Wed. April 24
Trail Day 029
Miles hiked: 18
Home of Bruce and Linda Johnson - Park Rapids, MN

The past four days have been extremely challenging. The huge amount of snow and relentless winter conditions have caused so many problems and I am getting overwhelmed. I've had to use snowshoes off and on the entire trek so far, almost a month. The continuous use of them the past four days has caused my feet to swell up and the skin on my toes to be scraped off. I'm tired of being wet, being cold, being so exhausted at the end of the day because of using twice the energy to go only half the normal distance. I feel betrayed, defeated, lost, alone. This morning I consider getting off the trail and walking on roads until the snow clears and before leaving Ray's house that's what I decide to do. He drops me off at the Itasca State Park visitor center and I go inside to retrieve my package. Here I meet Vicki and Lori. I had been in correspondence with them regarding my package prior to my arrival and now they are here to greet me. Also here to meet me are many other park employees who are busy getting the place ready for spring. After meeting and greeting everyone I get started on sorting and packing my food box and I'm treated to a fine cup of hot cocoa. Vicki drops by again and says she wants to make a contribution to my trip and hands me a 20 dollar bill. Thank you so much Vicki, and all the kind folks at Itasca State Park. 
I begin my hike for the day on the park roads and then head east on MN-200. There is a little gas station/cafe called Itasca Junction close to the park and I had heard good things about their pizza. So naturally I stop in and order a 12" for myself. I enjoy a delicious homemade pizza and manage to eat almost the entire thing and take the rest for a snack later. I continue the roadwalk and make it to the small village of Lake George, where I stop in at a gas station to use their facilities and charge my phone. While here I check my voicemail and receive a very unexpected call, but it was the one I needed. I call the number back and within minutes I am talking to none other than Andrew Skurka, the second person to thru-hike the NCT. We spend awhile talking about my situation and he relates his own experiences to me from when he did the trail back in 2005, and he hiked it in the winter. His advice was just be patient and the weather will change in your favor. Thank You Andrew for your advice and taking the time to call and give me a boost when I needed it. After considering everything he told me I decide to head back to the trail and face what's left of winter head on.
After making my decision to continue I give Bruce Johnson a call. Bruce left a note for me at Itasca saying he would be interested in hosting me for a night and I take him up on his offer. We make plans for him to pick me up at County 91, about an eleven mile hike from where I am right now. I head south out of Lake George on County Rd 4 and reach the trailhead there. I sign the register and trudge in. The sun is out today and the snow is starting to melt, I need to shed some layers to stay cool. On the hike today I pass several vistas and lakes. About two miles out from County Rd 91 I meet Bruce coming down the trail toward me. We enjoy the time hiking back to his truck talking about the trail and future plans for the area. We arrive at the truck just as the snow starts to fly again. He brings me back to his home near Park Rapids and I meet his wife Linda. I am treated to a fine spaghetti dinner and a beer and then I'm off to bed, exhausted.


Thur. April 25
Trail Day 030
Miles hiked: 11
Waboose Lake campsite - Paul Bunyan State Forest


I woke up at 7:00 to have breakfast, Bruce made some nice French toast. He asks when I would like to get back to the trail and I decide to take half a day and try to get some extra sleep, as I am totally exhausted. I manage to get a little sleep and then Bruce drops me off on the trail at noon. Today's hike is very strenuous, especially on snowshoes, lots of ups and downs. It takes me until nearly 8:00 to make it to Waboose Lake where I will be camping tonight. The lake now has a spur trail going all the way around it forming a loop from the NCT, hard work accomplished last year by the Itasca Moraine Chapter and an Americorps crew. The tent pads are not yet clear of snow but I manage to find a fairly dry spot to pitch for the night.


Fri. April 26
Trail Day 031
Miles hiked: 12
Home of Darrel Rodekuhr - Walker, MN


I overslept this morning, still tired from the night before. I don't get going until nearly 9:00. Another strenuous hiking day, many ups and downs. Many frustrations also occur today; several clear cuts have popped up on the trail and I have to guess which direction the trail goes. Most of the blazes I encounter today are faded and hard to see. Some critical intersections are not marked and I end up taking a wrong turn at the county line where the Chippewa National Forest boundary is. This leads to a mile long bushwhack through knee-deep snow to find the trail again. The lakes are also still frozen so getting water is quite a challenge and with the strenuous hiking, the warm weather ( it got passed 60 degrees today) and the extra energy needed to get through the snow on snowshoes I've been drinking alot. Luckily I had arranged to get picked up again today along county road 12. Hence at the end of the day I meet Darrel from Walker. Darrel had emailed me earlier saying he would be interested in hosting me for a night and I took him up on his offer. Back at his house, which has been in his family since 1939, I am treated to a fine meal of Salmon, baked potato, salad, and a glass of wine. Afterwards he invites me downstairs and he pulls this strange looking instrument out of a case. He then tells me his story of how be spends his free time. He plays the bassoon in several orchestras. We spend the rest of the evening talking about the trail and future plans and then I'm off to bed.


Sat. April 27
Trail Day 032
Miles hiked: 14
Just north of Woodtick Trail - Chippewa National Forest

I awoke at the crack of dawn and had my pack all ready to go by 6:45. Darrel said he would treat me to breakfast downtown at a local diner so we are there by 7:00. I waste no time in gulping down an entire entree of an omelet, pancakes, an orange juice, and a side of sausage. On the way out I meet the owner of the diner who after hearing my story gives me some complimentary cookies for my trip. Fine folks here in Walker I tell you. Darrel drops me off at the trailhead and I'm hiking by 7:30. In no time I need to shed layers as it has turned very hot (relatively speaking). The highs for today are in the 70s and I need to drink lots of water to stay hydrated. The snow is starting to melt faster now but it is still incredibly deep. It is at the point now that even with snowshoes on I posthole down about a foot because the warmth has softened up the snow so much, pushing it to the brink of the slush phase. Hence the second half of the day is very slow, my pace a whopping 1 mile per hour. At the crossing of MN-371 there is a van parked and a woman with a camera taking pictures of me as I emerge from the woods. Hence I meet Gail Deboer, writer for The Pilot-Independent in Walker. We go across the street to a picnic area and she asks me some questions about my hike, my thoughts, and feelings so far. Unfortunately today was a very frustrating day and I fear I may have been biased toward the negative side of things. After the interview I refill one of my water bottles (thanks Gail) and I'm hiking again. The snow appears to get thinner the further east I travel. Many spots east of 371 had standing water in them rather than snow. According to my map I passed a few campsites today but was unaware of it because they are not marked from the trail. Lucky for me I am now in the Chippewa National Forest where dispersed camping is allowed anywhere. I find a dry spot just off the trail and pitch for the night.


Sun. April 28
Trail Day 033
Miles hiked: 21
Crown Lake Campsite - Chippewa National Forest

I awoke this morning and got going right away. I am hoping to make it to the crossing of MN-84 today but if the snow is deep it will be a long shot. As I am hiking it is apparent that the snow is melting rapidly, many more puddles to cross today. Eventually I come to a spot with no snow, the trail is completely clear and dry. I take off the snowshoes to give my feet a break and continue hiking. I am amazed to find that the next half mile of trail is completely clear. When it appears again the snow is only about three inches deep, so I decide to leave the snowshoes off. What a welcome change. At a road crossing I spot a plastic bag laying on the trail with my name on it. Inside are two candy bars, a bottle of water, and a note telling me to leave any trash behind in the bag so I don't need to carry it all the way to the next town. My first care package! Unfortunately there was no name on the package so Thank You to whom ever left it there for me, it was much appreciated. 
The snow depth varies throughout the rest of the day but the snowshoes stay off. Towards the end of the day I come to an area that has had a very recent logging operation and most of the trail has been cut-over, no blazes remaining. Luckily someone has been through recently and flagged the route so I am able to find my way through the debris with little trouble. With little time to spare I finally make it to the MN-84 crossing and there at the trailhead is a note posted. It is addressed to me and again lays out instructions to retrieve a care package. This one was hanging in a tree by a rope and when I get it down I am amazed at the contents. Inside are four bottles of water, a soda, some packets of hot cocoa mix, and many types of other goodies. Inside is also a note, signed Erica Stennes. This is amazing. Thank You Erica for taking the time to deliver this amazing bundle of trail magic. As I am packing away my new trail food two police cars pull into the trailhead. They seem suspicious of why I am here and I tell them my story, where I have hiked from, where I am hiking to, and my experiences so far, and I explain the garbage bag that I have just hung back up in the tree. The two officers wish me luck and then depart, I wonder if they are looking for someone? It's almost dark now and it is almost two miles to the next campsite. This particular road crossing is surrounded by private land and is not part of the National Forest so I can't just walk into the woods and pitch anywhere. Also I'd rather not pitch right here in the trailhead as I am certain those officers will return to see if I have indeed left, so I have no choice but to push on. Right on the other side of the road I encounter two stretches of trail that are submerged under deep water so I finish the day with wet and cold feet. It's past dark when I finally reach the campsite and pitch for the night.


Mon. April 29
Trail Day 034
Miles hiked: 20
Remer Motel - Remer, MN

I awoke fairly early and enjoyed a breakfast from the contents of my care package. A cold soda and a bag of Doritos are hard to come by on the trail. I am in high spirits today because of the generous care packages and the improving weather conditions. The snow is melting rapidly and despite being a foot deep in some places I do without the snowshoes today. My progress has become slower because of many blowdowns I encounter, over 30 of them, many nearly impassable. I cross several forest roads on the hike today and a few miles north of one of these crossings I come to a halt. There is a very large blowdown across the trail in front of me. I look for a way around and I am discouraged to find that both sides of the trail are also impassable from the many years of clearing the trail. So I am now in a position where I am boxed in with blowdowns on three sides of me and the only direction to go is backwards. "Well shit" I say to myself. I take out my map to come up with a plan and I decide to backtrack the last two miles to the last road crossing and follow the forest road all the way to county road 4 and hike that down to the little town of Remer. I am disappointed because a short distance past where I encountered the severe blowdown there is a segment of trail called the Milton Lakes Esker that I was looking forward to hiking. Unfortunately it was impossible to continue on the trail from this point on and I have to hike this portion as a roadwalk. I reach the town of Remer before nightfall and check in to the Remer Motel for the night. I get a nice warm shower and head down the street for a drink at the bar. I am given a warm welcome by the locals and after finishing my drink I return to my room and crash for the night.


Tue. April 30
Trail Day 035
Miles hiked: 27
Itasca County Fairgrounds - Grand Rapids, MN

I was more tired than I thought, I slept in til 9:00. I quickly get ready and am out on the road at 10:00. It's a four mile roadwalk along MN-6 to the point where the NCT crosses the road. This spot marks the end of the certified trail in Minnesota. There is a 10 mile segment that extends further east but it dead-ends at the Chippewa National Forest Boundary, not practical for a thru-hike. Once the Arrowhead Reroute gets approved (more on that later) this segment will become a spur trail because it goes the wrong direction. I get a quick video of the sign at the crossing and continue on. Later in the day I am walking along the Tioga Trail, a paved bike trail that parallels the road for much of its route, when a car pulls over. A man gets out and walks toward me and I recognize him instantly, Matt Davis. Matt had some business in Grand Rapids and happened to drive by as I was walking the trail. We exchange some short greetings and then part ways again. Within an hour I make it to the town of Grand Rapids where I plan to spend the night at the county fairgrounds. This is where the Mesabi Trail begins, a paved bike trail that is completed in segments between Grand Rapids and Ely. I will be hiking this trail over the next several days as the first of four trails that make up the Arrowhead Reroute. I arrive at the fairgrounds just before dark and pitch for the night beneath a row of pine trees. 


Wed. May 1
Trail Day 036
Miles hiked: 24
Nashwauk city campground - Nashwauk, MN

I got a good night's sleep last night so I'm up fairly early. I can tell it is going to be a cold day, the sky is completely overcast. The beginning of the Mesabi Trail is at the opposite end of the fairgrounds a short walk away. I get a video at the golden archway that marks the beginning of the trail. These arches are also present wherever the trail enters a town so I encounter several of them today. Only a few miles after leaving Grand Rapids though I take a slight detour from the Mesabi Trail to hike some newly constructed trail by the Arrowhead Chapter. I know there is a 1.5 mile segment that starts at a power line and rejoins the Mesabi Trail on its northern end. I arrive at the power line and start walking. According to my map the trail starts about a mile down the power line but I'm having trouble locating it. After a mile and a quarter there is still no sign of a trail, no flagging, no blaze, nothing. I make a phone call to the only person I know that has hiked this trail recently. I'm on the phone with "Windigo" Doug Boulee, a section hiker from Michigan who did the Arrowhead Reroute last fall. We have been in contact the past several months via email about my hike and the trail, so we're talking now about what I should be looking for to locate this trail. Within a few minutes I find the entrance and feel a bit dumb. I had only needed to walk another hundred feet to see the blue blaze on a tree and the carsonite post marking the trail. It was nice to finally get to talk to Doug though so I have no complaints. Thanks Doug for your help. 
After hanging up the phone I head in and expect to encounter more snow but to my relief it has mostly melted, only a few pockets remain. This short segment of trail travels around old mine tailings piles so the terrain is pretty rugged, I am reminded instantly of hiking on the North Shore of Lake Superior. Very fine trail constructed by the Arrowhead chapter. After rejoining the Mesabi Trail for a half mile and crossing the Prairie River I see another carsonite post off to the left, another segment of trail that I had no idea existed. I head on in despite having no idea where this trail goes, and find a pleasant hike along the river. This new segment is very short and currently ends at a county road and finding my way back to the Mesabi Trail is no problem. The rest of the day is pretty uneventful as I follow the Mesabi Trail up to Nashwauk where I have a drop box waiting. Unfortunately I don't arrive until 5:00, the post office closes at 4:00. Looks like I'll have to wait til morning to get my package. I head to the gas station for some supplies then I decide to get my camp set up for the night. I start pitching my tent in the city park when a police officer pulls up. "Am I in the wrong spot?" I ask. He then explains that the tenting area is across the street and that I can set up over there. He then asks me where I'm headed and I tell my story. He seems interested and wishes me luck as he drives away on patrol. I pitch my tent in the area he pointed out and call it a day.

Thur. May 2
Trail Day: 037
Miles hiked: 24
McCarthy Beach State Park

It's very cold when I wake up this morning and it's hard to get up and get going. I cook a hot breakfast first thing then head on down to the post office to retrieve my package. I arrive to find that they don't open til 9:00. I kill some time by organizing my first camera memory card and all the maps I have used so far to send them home. At 9:00 I take care of business and am finally able to hit the trail. More hiking along the Mesabi Trail today, and one of the attractions of the day is an overlook into the Hull Rust Mahoning Iron Ore Mine, supposedly one of the largest of its kind in the world. It's a bit hard to see things as the overlook has become somewhat overgrown but I take a good video nonetheless. A few miles further up the trail is the town of Hibbing where I stop for a quick snack and make a phone call. On the other end of the line is Zach Johns, a fellow SHT volunteer that I met last year while installing the new bridge over the Encampment River. He lives in Hibbing and wanted me to call when I got close so we make plans to meet later. A few miles up the trail I pass underneath US-169 and see a guy walking toward me. Zach stopped by to visit and get a few photos of me on his way home. He takes my empty water bottles to fill up at his house and says he'll pick me up in Chisolm and shuttle me to nearby McCarthy Beach State Park for the night which happens to be one of his favorite spots. It's about four miles into Chisolm from where I now stand so I'm there in about an hour. As soon as I arrive at the trailhead Zach pulls up with a Sammi's pizza in the back seat. "Your dinner," he says. Best pizza I've ever had Zach, thank you. We spend the 15 or so minutes it takes to get to McCarthy Beach State Park talking about various hiking adventures. Zach informs me that the Encampment River Bridge has been washed out again because of the high meltwater. This is very disappointing to hear, it was a lot of work to get that bridge into place. This would mark the fourth time in half a decade that the bridge was destroyed. Anyway, in a short while we arrive at the park and Zach sets me up at his favorite spot. It appears we have just narrowly missed an amazing sunset as a bright red stripe is visible on the horizon, quickly giving way to darkness. Zach takes another picture of me finishing my pizza and then he heads out for the night, he'll be back in the morning to pick me up and shuttle me to the trailhead in Chisolm. After stuffing myself with pizza I secure my food safely in the nearby picnic/warming shelter and crawl into bed.



Fri. May 3
Trail Day: 038
Miles hiked: 19
Lakeshore Motor Inn - Virginia, MN

I'm shivering when I wake up this morning. Luckily I had brought my boots into my tent and wrapped them in a raincoat underneath my sleeping bag so only the sides are frozen. I waste no time in breaking camp and heading over to the shelter to cook breakfast and wait for Zach to arrive. About ten minutes after I have finished eating and am getting my gear packed up he arrives, more stories as he shuttles me back to Chisolm to pick up where I left off yesterday. He takes another photo of me to post on Facebook and then we part ways. Thank you Zach for the amazing dinner and setting me up for the night at one of your favorite spots. The hike today is pretty uneventful and I make it the 19 miles into Virginia by 4:00. Once in town I give Jean Cole a call. She's the editor of the Hometown Focus newspaper in Virginia, she sent me an email a week ago requesting an interview so after getting directions to her office I pay her a visit. I'm treated to some nice snacks as she conducts the interview and even offers to put me up at her place tonight. I politely decline as I have already made plans to stay at the Lakeshore Motor Inn, which happens to be right across the street from her office, in order to soak my feet and take a nice hot bath. There is also freezing rain in the forecast for tonight and I decided I did not want to be out in a tent in that kind of weather if I had a choice. I head across the street to the motel after the interview and relax for the night. Thank you Jean for your kindness, it was a pleasure meeting you.  


Sat. May 4
Trail Day: 039
Miles hiked: 25
Mesabi trail at MN-135

Virginia is a very hiker-friendly town and quite pleasant. There are motels, grocery stores, and restaurants all within a short walk of each other, nestled between two lakes bustling with birds of all sorts. As I leave my motel this morning I am glad I decided to stay inside as there is a coating of ice in the parking lot and on all the cars outside. It is warm enough now that the freezing rain has turned to just rain but the morning is still very chilly. Within a few miles of Virginia I pass a familiar spot along the Mesabi Trail. There is a paved access road leading up a mountain via switchbacks to a visitor center. I am curious so I hike the short detour to the top and am faced with quite a scene. Perched on this little mountain top with a spectacular view down into the town of Virginia is a small tourist information center with a gift shop surrounded outside by many relics of Iron Range mining history, chief of which is a giant dump truck parked at the very edge near the entrance. I remember the place instantly, we stopped here on a family vacation when I was about seven years old. By the looks of the place it hasn't changed at all since then. I head over to the door, it is unlocked. I feel ashamed I do not remember the name of the man who greeted me at the desk. I pray our paths will cross again so I can give him a proper recognition. He informs me that this is the first day they are open, I am the first visitor of 2013! Imagine that. I sign his guest book and tell my story. He is absolutely thrilled about my hike and before I leave he takes my picture in front of the giant behemoth outside and wishes me safe travels. Back on the Mesabi Trail the rain has intensified and I am cold for most of the remainder of the day. Eventually I end up at Giants Ridge Resort, a ski resort that was still active only a week ago. I stop at the entrance to the lodge to get out of the rain and study my map. The Mesabi Trail ends five miles east of here at MN-135, after that it is a roadwalk all the way to Ely with only two places to camp in between that I know of. Unfortunately the nearest one is about 12 miles away and I know I can't make it there before sundown. I could ask to pitch right here on the resort campus but I feel like that would be too short of a day after just 20 miles. I decide to push on and at least get to the end of the Mesabi Trail before dark and hope there is somewhere nearby to pitch a tent. Right off the bat I am faced with an obstacle. The new bridge for the trail over the lake is flooded, two feet of water blocking the entrance. I have no choice but to plunge in and get my feet wet. I hike the last five miles of the Mesabi Trail and reach the end shortly before dark. There is nothing here. No kiosk, no bench, nothing. No houses anywhere in sight either. It is still more than seven miles to the next available campground and that is several miles off my route. It is getting dark fast and the road has no shoulder and hiking it in the dark would be extremely dangerous. Reluctantly I decide to find a place here at the end of the trail to pitch for the night and I find a small patch of trees tucked between a pile of rock on one side and an intersection of two gravel roads on the other. This will have to do. 


Sun. May 5
Trail Day: 040
Miles hiked: 38
Adventure Inn - Ely, MN

I woke up this morning to the sound of traffic on MN-135. I get right out and get moving and am hiking by 7:30. It is 15 miles to the town of Tower where I take a short rest and check the time. It is only noon. I have a choice to make: I could stay here at the last available place to camp before reaching Ely or I could push on to Ely 23 miles away, likely getting there after dark. I'm already behind schedule and it is only noon so I could not justify stopping here and taking another day to reach Ely. "I'm going for it." I stop in at the gas station to grab a pop tart and a Powerade which I quickly demolish and then begin my long haul to Ely. Three miles down the road is the small town of Soudan where I look to the north and catch a glimpse of the Soudan Underground Mine facility, now a State Park. More memories pop up in my head as I think back on the two times I visited this park. The first time was on that same family trip that we visited the Iron Range visitor center when I was about seven, and the second time was just last summer when I stopped in while on a weekend trip to visit the new Lake Vermillion State Park right next door and beautiful Bear Head Lake State Park a little further down the road. Both parks may host a section of North Country Trail in the future once the Arrowhead Reroute legislation gets passed. Enroute to Ely a guy in a pickup pulling a trailer stops and asks if I was hiking on purpose or if I needed a ride. I tell him that I am just out for a hike and he continues on his way. That ride sounded very good though, I'm now at mile 28 and my feet hurt. After several hours I am finally able to see the water tower in the distance, only a few miles to go. Just west of town a guy with a long beard driving a van pulls over in front of me. He saw me walking along the road and turned around to make sure I have everything I need to get where I need to go. I quickly tell him my story and he wishes me luck as he drives away. Only a few moments later I am walking down the main drag of Ely, along MN-1/MN-169. I don't stop til I reach the far end of town where I have a reservation at the Adventure Inn. I arrive and head in, the woman at the desk knows who I am instantly. She gives me the key and informs me that my package has arrived and is waiting in my room. I bring all my gear inside and close the door. I made it. It's not quite 8:30 yet, the sun is still out, and I am standing in my hotel room in Ely, feet extremely sore and with one fresh blister from the long roadwalk. I take a few minutes to unpack my gear and then I'm out, exhausted from 13 hours of hiking, a whooping 38 miles hiked today. I will be taking two full days of rest here in Ely so I am fully charged and at 100% when I tackle the Kekekabic Trail.


Wed. May 8
Trail Day 040
Miles hiked: 24
Kekekabic Trail - south of Snowbank Lake, Superior National Forest


I have noticed that I counted my first zero mile day as a trail day which I did not intend to do so I have made the correction here. I had a good rest here Ely but now it is time to move on. The woman at the desk at Adventure Inn told me about a place called Britton's downtown that has a good breakfast menu so I head there first thing, I'm sitting down at the table by 6:30. I order an omelet with toast and within a few minutes it is there in front of me. A very delicious breakfast to start off this day. Back at the motel it takes awhile for me to gather all my things and pack them away. I'm not out the door until 8:30, yikes, I'm running a bit behind. Though my pack is loaded with a little extra food it is much lighter than the previous week. The deep snow is basically gone except for the far eastern end of the Border Route Trail (BRT) and the northern end of the Superior Hiking Trail (SHT) where I will be hiking in about a week's time. I decided to ship my snowshoes ahead to Heston's Lodge right on the BRT, about a day's hike in from the Gunflint Trail. The snowshoes together weigh over four pounds and it is such a relief to have that weight off. From Ely it is a 20 mile roadwalk to the beginning of the Kekekabic Trail, where I will hike for 42 miles through the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness to the Gunflint Trail, where the BRT begins. Before I get to the beginning of the "Kek" though I make a small detour, but one that was well worth it. A few miles east of the small village of Winton is the Kawishiwi Falls hiking trail. It consists of a loop trail just over a mile long that brings the hiker past an amazing waterfall just downstream from a hydropower dam. I hike the loop trail down to the falls and stand to admire the magnificent view in front of me. Since I bypassed the small waterfall segment in the Sheyenne State Forest back in North Dakota this is the first waterfall I have seen on this trek. There are a few other people out enjoying this trail today as the weather is again pushing 70 degrees. From here I hammer out the remaining roadwalk to the trailhead off Snowbank Lake Road, just as the rain starts to fall. I get a picture of the sign and then head in. As I hike the rain constantly changes between drizzle and downpour. I only get about three miles of the trail done before the sun sets and I pitch for the night on a hilltop. 


Thur. May 9
Trail Day: 041
Miles hiked: 9
Kekekabic Trail - south of Alworth Lake, Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness

I awoke this morning several times. Confused? Let me explain. I woke up first right at day break and decided I wasn't ready to get up yet. As soon as I laid my head back down I was asleep again. This happened about five more times until the sun shone brightly through my tent door. Ok, now it was way past time to get up. It was a very weird feeling. Every time I awoke I wanted to get up and get moving but couldn't muster the energy to do so. It was as if some kind of spell lie over me that couldn't be broken until the sun hit it. When I finally did get going the trail was easy to follow but also made for very slow hiking. The trail has received more use in recent years and a very faint sign of a tread is visible. However, none of the stream crossings have boardwalks or bridges and dozens of blowdowns obstruct the trail, causing the painfully slow pace. Early in the day I come across a group if three hikers out doing the Snowbank Lake Loop. They are impressed with my hike and wish me well. One point of interest passed today is an old band saw blade left out in the middle of the woods. It now serves as a marker for a spur trail leading to a campsite. After covering only nine miles it is getting dark so I pull off into the pine and pitch for the night.


Fri. May 10
Trail Day: 042
Miles hiked: 15
Gabimichigami Lake campsite - Kekekabic Trail

Another spell lie over me this morning as I struggled to get going. To my dismay I discover that my boots have frozen during the night and I need to struggle with them to get them on. I thought these mornings were behind me, you would think approaching mid-May that the weather would have turned nice by now. Today has many more blowdowns and many deep stream crossings to contend with. I get a nice video at a river crossing so dangerous it necessitated the construction of a bridge out here in the middle of the wilderness. Thank goodness the bridge is there, it would not be possible to cross this thing without it. Today I managed to briefly lose the trail once at a beaver pond where the flags and all signs of a trail suddenly stop. I saw faint evidence of a tread leading off to the left so I follow it around a corner only to discover that it gets fainter as it goes up a mountain and the brush and blowdowns get thicker. "This isn't right" I say to myself, and I backtrack to the beaver pond where I was pretty sure I was on the trail. I take a closer look and see evidence of the trail heading straight through the shallow pond. All the fir and spruce trees straight ahead are missing their lower branches on one side, indicating they were trimmed at one point. I plunge in and get to the other side where the trail picks up again on dry land. The next section if trail brings me to higher ground that has been completely burned over. It is possible to see for miles in all directions. I see one little island of green along a lake and it happens to be the location of the campsite where I pitch for the night.


Sat. May 11
Trail Day: 043
Miles hiked: 22
Heston's Resort - Gunflint Lake, BRT


I woke up this morning extremely cold. Every piece of clothing I brought I have on and still feel very uncomfortable. The sun manages to come out for the first part of the day. Less than a mile into my hike it starts to drizzle, not rain, but little tiny ice pellets. With my rain gear on and the sky temporarily overcast visibility is somewhat reduced and I lose the trail near where it crosses a portage. I use my handy GPS to navigate to the next waypoint and while enroute I find the trail again. It turns out I had only been off trail by about 100 feet. The sun shines in and out the entire day, and it is shining when I come to a trail junction. I have reaches the spot where the Centennial Trail diverges from the Kek and heads back on a loop to the Gunflint Trail, the paved road that provides one of the few access points to the Boundary Waters. This means I am only a mile from the eastern trailhead. In no time I arrive at a completely empty parking lot with a kiosk but no trail register. This is it, I've put the Kekekabic behind me.
Just up the road from the Kek is the beginning of the Border Route Trail, which travels for about 65 miles along the Canadian Border to the northern end of the Superior Hiking Trail. It's the afternoon now. I take a picture of the sign and head in. This trail so far is well marked, blue flagging tied on trees every 50 feet or so. Soon I reach another burned area and it is here that the snow starts to fly. Snow, on May 11. It is also at this time that I come to a landmark in the BRT known as Magnetic Rock. This 20 foot chunk of vertical rock stands alone on a hilltop surrounded by miles of pine saplings trying to fill in the burned area. Check the photos for this section of trail, it certainly is a sight to see. The snow doesn't let up all day as I continue on, the trail eventually connecting to a series of ski trails making the hiking easier. I'm surprised to see several gravel road crossings along the route today as well as several signs labeling the BRT. I begin to worry that I won't make it to my destination tonight as the sky is turning dark. No sooner have these feelings sunk in that I come to a trail junction. To the right is typical hiking trail tread with a sign saying BRT, Bridal Falls and straight ahead is the ski trail with a sign saying Hestons .5. Thank goodness I have made it at last. I follow the ski trail to a power line and look for the resort I was heading for. It's almost dark and only one house nearby has its lights on so I head there and knock on the door. A man opens the door and I ask "Hi, am I in the right place? I'm looking for Hestons Resort."
"Well, you're kind of in the right place, Barb is here." He opens the door wider and I see a woman coming toward me. Hence I meet Barb Gecas, one of the owners of Hestons Resort. Her husband Greg is here too, and their son Paul . It turns out they are at their neighbors' for dinner. The man that let me in is Dan and his wife Carolin is at the table. They have just finished eating dinner and they invite me in for some leftovers, pasta and fish. Dan also offers me some red wine which I gladly accept. Then it's time to tell my story as everyone has questions about my hike. Greg informs me that I will not need my snowshoes as the past few days have made a huge difference in the snow depth. I am glad to hear this news, this winter has lingered on long enough. After dinner Barb says she will get one of the lodges ready for me to spend the night in. It happens to be the same one that Nimblewill Nomad stayed in four years ago while on his thru-hike. While Barb is getting things ready Paul hands me my food drop and shows me to the lodge, a very fine establishment indeed. Within only a few minutes it is warm and cozy inside, and I have had a very long day so I am ready for bed.


Sun. May 12
Trail Day: 044
Miles hiked: 13
Partridge Lake East campsite - BRT


I slept in last night, didn't roll out of bed til 9:00. I needed the extra rest though as I had a long day yesterday and all the blowdowns and stream crossings on the Kek were quite an energy drainer. The first thing on my agenda is to take a shower, the warm water feels very good. Next I spend the next hour cooking, eating, and organizing my food drop. This one was a little overloaded and it is not possible to fit it all in my pack. I eat as much of it as I can for breakfast but am still forced to leave a good chunk behind. I also decided to leave my snowshoes behind as Greg was certain I would not need them. I am glad, I am tired of lugging around that extra weight. After all is taken care of I head outside to a bright sunny day, however it is still very chilly. I head over to the house to thank Barb and Greg for their generosity but find that they have left to run some errands. It's almost noon and I've already lingered long enough so I leave a note for them and attach it to the door. Very fine folks here at Hestons, Thanks Barb and Greg for your kindness. It was a pleasure meeting you, your family, and your neighbors.
The trail leading out from Heston's brings me past Bridal Veil Falls. The trail is well marked, most intersections have a big sign pointing which way the BRT goes. Also on the trail today are lots of Moose droppings, some of them are very fresh. Whatever left these passed through here no more than a few hours ago. Soon enough as I ascend a rise and come to a brushy area I come face to face with one of these amazing animals, a cow moose staring at me from about 30 feet off the trail. After taking a moment to study me she quickly scampers off into the brush, no time for a picture. This was the first time I have seen a moose in the lower 48 states (I've been to Alaska). Not long after this encounter darkness is approaching and there is a half  mile long spur trail leading to a campsite just ahead. The short trek is surprisingly strenuous, lots of ups and downs. The campsite was worth the extra effort though, as I pitch on a tent pad nestled among great cedars and pines.


Mon. May 13
Trail Day: 045
Miles hiked: 13
North of Clearwater Lake - BRT

I woke up this morning to find my shoes frozen again and it remains cold all day. After forcing my shoes on and getting out on the trail a light drizzle begins. The highlight for today was visiting a place called Stairway Portage Falls. I think the name pretty much speaks for itself. The BRT intersects a portage near a river crossing and the steep contour of the north end of the portage necessitated the construction of stairs. A splendid waterfall can be seen from these stairs and I stop here to have a snack. The rest of the day is pretty uneventful except for a few patches of remnant snow, some over a foot deep still. I make it through these without issue and soon I'm back on higher ground which is entirely snow free. I pitch for the night in a small clearing and get some sleep.


Tue. May 14
Trail Day: 046
Miles hiked: 16
Two miles west of McFarland Lake Trailhead - BRT


My campsite last night was bare of any trees large enough to hang a food bag from so I had to get creative in hiding and securing my food. The best thing I could come up with was to wedge it between a rock and a fallen tree and cover it with branches and leaf litter. I know I was taking a chance burying my food like that as bears have incredibly powerful noses but I had no choice under the circumstances. Luckily it was all still there when I awoke this morning and after cooking breakfast I continue on. Progress is slow because of remnant snow over a foot deep in places. I have to inch forward being very careful where I place my feet. The BRT is a very rocky trail and with the tread obstructed by snow it would be very easy to roll an ankle. Unfortunately I fall into this scenario three times during the day despite being very cautious. Luckily I was spared from having a severe sprained ankle, but nonetheless I feel great discomfort most of the day. After making it through the rest of the snow the trail parallels a small stream, marking the border between the US and Canada. The trail along here runs unbelievably straight only a stone's throw away from our friendly neighbor to the north. I have a suspicion this may have been an old railroad at one time. Eventually the trail heads back to higher ground and I manage to take a wrong turn, twice. There are several places along the BRT where portages cross and for some reason the crossings I encountered today were not marked in the usual fashion. After taking a moment to study two different maps and consult my gps I figure out which way the trail goes and hike the rest of the day without incident. Despite the mishaps encountered today the scenery is spectacular. The past few days, and especially today I passed through several "cathedrals". As I've mentioned before cedars are my favorite trees, specifically the northern white cedars native to this region. In many places here great stands of these trees are clumped together, shading the ground beneath, not allowing any undergrowth to establish itself. The deep shade allows the sun to seep through only in very narrow rays, the great trunks like pillars of a great cathedral. It is quite a sight to behold. After climbing out of one of these cathedrals I pitch for the night on a ridge top, only the trail separating me from a sheer 200 foot drop off on the other side.


Wed. May 15
Trail Day: 047
Miles hiked: 22
Jackson Creek campsite - SHT

I actually got a good early start this morning. Within a few miles I come across two hikers out on the trail for a long weekend. Hence I meet Matt and Eric. They ask where I'm coming from and I tell them my story. They have heard of the NCT and seem impressed that I have made it this far. They wish me luck as I continue on. After only a half mile I come to the first trailhead since Magnetic Rock many days ago. This last segment of the BRT brings me to the Pigeon River, the border between the US and Canada. The trail parallels it for a good distance then steers south toward the Swamp River. Soon I come to a bridge and spend a few seconds examining it. The approach has been washed out in the recent past and the bridge has been tilted in the middle. No railings are attached and the approach on the far side is a slippery ramp. I proceed very carefully, arms outstretched for greater balance control. I make it across without incident but have to cross the river again shortly. The second crossing is nearly identical to the first so I take my time. I now have only a few miles to go before reaching the end of the BRT. The trail is steadily climbing as I hike on, several overlooks provide a good view over the forest below. Halfway up the final overlook as I am ascending I turn a corner and am startled to a halt. Lying in the middle of the trail is a fully grown moose. The corpse is fully intact, couldn't have been dead more than a few days. The scavengers haven't even gotten to it yet. I give the animal a wide berth as I continue up the mountain to a trail junction. To the right is the main trail and to the left is a spur trail to the last overlook, known as 270 overlook. I take the spur to the overlook and am given a great view 270 degrees around. Directly to the north the Pigeon River can be seen only a few miles away, just a narrow ribbon separating our two great nations. In the distance I can see a cell tower so I check my phone, I actually have a signal. I make a quick phone call home to make plans for the next week. My family has a cabin along the North Shore of Lake Superior and my mother is again going to be my support crew so I will have another opportunity to slack pack and get some more ground covered. I am now only a few days out from Grand Marais, where the first pick up will likely happen. As a matter of fact this overlook I am at is not only the BRT, but as of this year it is also the northern terminus of the SHT. There are no markings yet, no blazes to indicate that this is the SHT but I assume that's because trail work has been delayed because of the weather. From this overlook it is only a mile and a half to the end of the BRT. Once the arrowhead reroute gets approved this little one and a half miles of tread will be three trails in one! (BRT, SHT, NCT). In no time I am at the trailhead, where I stop to stock up on water before continuing on. The first trailhead for the SHT is less than a quarter mile away and when I arrive there is only one car. The trailhead is marked with the classic wooden signs, blue lettering indicating the mileage to the next few points of interest. There is also a trail register which I take time to sign and express my joy in finally arriving here. The SHT has a very special place in my heart and many memories were born from it. Two years ago from this very spot I took my pack on a test run over Labor Day weekend. It feels strange now being back here, having walked all the way from the middle of North Dakota, nearly 1000 miles.
The hike down the SHT starts out fairly flat, and very wet. There is standing water in many places. Soon however, the trail winds and climbs up, steeply at first then more gradual. This brings me to the highest point on the SHT, a place known as Rosebush Ridge. Just around the corner from this spot the trees open up at a vista and I can see Lake Superior for the first time on this trek. A smile forms on my face as I look across this vast expanse of water, the largest freshwater lake in the world. "I'm home" I say out loud to myself. I get the same feeling that Thorin Oakenshield must have felt during The Hobbit when he sees the Lonely Mountain for the first time, and that's exactly the scene that popped into my head at this moment. There is a little haze out on the lake but in the distance I can barely see the outline of the Greenstone Ridge, the low mountain range that makes up the spine of Isle Royale. I spent a week there last summer preparing for this trek, and more memories come pouring in. I remember getting on the boat at 6:30 am, the two hour ferry ride from Grand Portage to the island. I remember Sam the ranger telling me the route I had chosen was the hardest on the entire island and the knee pain I had the second day of my trip. I remember strolling into Windigo a day earlier than planned and meeting Paul and Jamie, two coworkers from Lansing who were kind enough to share some of their delicious food with me, and their shelter. I linger at this spot for a few minutes then push on the last few miles to the next campsite along Jackson Creek. A large patch of snow is covering one of the tent pads but there is still plenty of room for a tent nearby. I pitch here and call it a night.


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
The Shack

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
The Shack


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 Shack


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
The Shack


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
The Shack


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
The Shack


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
The Shack


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
The Shack


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
The Shack


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.

Thur. May 30
Trail Day 062
Miles hiked: 33, +3
Trail head off West Mail Road - Moose River (St. Croix National Scenic Riverway)


I'm up at first light and after a quick breakfast I’m heading out of the park. I hike the first mile or so of trail within the park again and peel off at the intersection to Little Manitou Falls. I snap several pictures of the magnificent waterfall before bailing out onto WI-35 and hiking south. The rest of the day is entirely a roadwalk and last night I made a decision to put the pair of sneakers I brought with me to good use. So far I have had these with me as a spare pair of footwear for walking around in camp or in town after a day on the trail to keep my feet dry. Since today is entirely a roadwalk I decided to wear the sneakers today to take some weight off my feet. By the end of the day I would regret this decision, my feet being used to the hiking shoes but not the sneakers.
Today is also my first day of summer, it’s at least 75 degrees and the bugs are out. After awhile the trail leaves the paved roads and heads into the woods along some logging roads. I wish this segment of the trail was blazed because towards the end of the logged segment I make a wrong turn and hike over a mile in the wrong direction, ending up at a landing for the logging trucks. Realizing my mistake I backtrack to where I made the turn and continue on east. Soon I come to another turn that I take and turns out to be the right one. I had simply turned one intersection too soon, as the turn I took was not on the map.
Back on track now I still have many miles to go before reaching my destination for today at the entrance of the St. Croix National Scenic Riverway. Besides some of the heavily logged areas on the county forest land there is no public land between Pattison State Park and the Riverway, meaning I have to make 34 miles today to reach a legal camping place. Along the gravel roads still up ahead some movement catches my eye. I look up quick enough to catch a small black bear scurrying across the road as fast as it can run about 50 yards ahead of me. This is my first bear encounter on this hike, but not my first ever. Seeing this bear brings back the memory of my first solo hike on the SHT. I was 14 years old and hiking the section just north of my cabin. I had only two miles to go to make it back and as I came over a rise there was a small black bear foraging for some food about 30 feet ahead of me. I remember how scared I was at the time being only a young kid and having this animal only a stone’s throw away. I remember my concern as it wasn’t a very big bear, meaning its mother could still be around. I waited for ten minutes as it slowly wandered off down the next rise and I quickly made my way down the trail away from the bear in case its mother happened to be around. Shortly after I made it back to the cabin our neighbor down the road from us stopped over for a visit. When I told him the story of my encounter he didn’t believe me, saying encounters like that are extremely rare.
Right after this sighting it starts to rain and continues to rain the rest of the day. Shortly before dark I come to a large yellow gate with the unmistakable National Park Service logo, and right next to it the NCT logo. I have arrived at the entrance to the newly constructed segment of trail through the St. Croix National Scenic Riverway. I pitch my tent on the other side of the gate and head into my tent. To say that I regretted wearing those sneakers today is an understatement. Both of my feet have larger blisters than all those early days in North Dakota from the continuous pounding of the roads and the towpath of the McCluskely and New Rockford Canals. This is surely going to hurt for awhile and I wont make this mistake again.


Fri. May 31
Trail Day 063
Miles hiked: 14
Swanson's Motel - Solon Springs, WI


I could hear the swarming of the mosquitos outside my tent all night. Summer has definitely arrived. The first thing I do after getting up is put on my bug shirt and my head net to prepare for the buzzers today. Then after a quick breakfast at the bridge I am off down the newly constructed trail along the scenic St. Croix River. After a few miles I come to an old cabin that is currently due for rehabilitation. This would be a great asset for hikers and paddlers on the river if the National Park Service fixed it up and put some bunk beds inside, like a two story hiker shelter. Then a fire pit outside in the clearing and an outhouse is all you would need to make this one of the best campsites on the entire trail.
It’s a pretty thick jungle along the riverbank but once the trail veers away the forest starts to open up and soon I’m standing on the edge of a prairie-like pine barrens. At this point a nice breeze comes up and allows enough relief from the buzzers that I’m able to take off the long sleeves and the head net. As I am stopped under a grove of a few dozen pine trees I notice dozens of ticks climbing all over me, half of them the infamous Lyme-disease carrying deer tick. By the end of the day I will have picked off over 50 of the little buggers, stopping every 20 minutes to check myself and pick off the ones I can find.
Today is another warm humid day but the ticks aside, this section of trail is quite enjoyable. The soil here is quite sandy so my feet get some relief on the soft tread. I pass three campsites along this section with trail registers made from ammo boxes. I take time to sign each one, the last site having a large group of people currently staying in it. If I had to guess I’d say they are a trail crew out building new trail somewhere nearby.
At the crossing of US-53 I’m on the edge of Solon Springs and I take a break at the bench outside of the Laundromat. Once I decide to get going again I stop in at the DQ across the street from Lucius Woods Park for a blizzard, it seems like forever since I’ve had one of these. With my ice cream in hand I hike through Lucius woods and am surprised when I meet a couple coming down the trail towards me and the man asks, “Are you Strider?” Floored me. This is the first time someone has recognized me on the trail. It turns out these two have been following along with my progress since the beginning. They snap a quick picture of me and then continue on their way.
Once I have consumed my blizzard I make a quick detour to the post office to pick up my next food drop. Across the street is a restaurant with a small patio so I head over there to empty my box and transfer all the goods to my pack. I am still hungry after that blizzard so I decide to stop in at the grocery store for some fresh fruit before leaving town. I am only in there for a few minutes and pick out a nice box of strawberries. When I get to the register to pay I suddenly hear a loud tapping noise at the glass door. Golf ball sized hail came out of nowhere and is now falling from the sky at an incredible rate. Lucky for me I just happened to be inside when it hit. With nowhere to go I find a spot in the corner of the store and crack open my box of strawberries. The storm only lasts a few minutes so I am out the door in no time. The pavement outside is steaming from the earlier heat of the day and before long most of the water has evaporated. Still hungry I decide to head in to the restaurant, KD’s Diner, for lunch. The server/bartender comes and takes my order, and so I meet Taylor. After downing my first glass of soda while I’m waiting for my food I answer several voicemails on my phone regarding National Trails Day tomorrow. The Brule St. Croix Chapter of the NCTA is having a hiking event tomorrow at the DNR fish hatchery in Brule, and they have invited me to come by for a few hours and talk about the trail. I get ahold of Peter Nordgren, the chapter president and let him know that I am not sure where I will be staying tonight yet, so I will get back to him later tonight once I know for sure.
Soon my food comes and I chow down on the delicious burger. After awhile as I am starting to slow down Taylor comes over and sits at the table with me. She tells me that when she saw me walk in she had a feeling that I had a story to tell, and she wants to hear all about it. I find out that she has never heard of the NCT, even though it crosses the road literally one block down the street. I tell her about my travels so far, about the horrible winter conditions in Minnesota and the amounts of ticks I had just this morning. I give her the link to my website so she can follow along after I leave here and find out more about the trail in the process. “Awesome, Thanks!” she says before a few customers show up and she heads back behind the counter.
Eventually I finish my meal and shoulder my pack to head out again. “Be safe out there”, Taylor shouts to me as I open the door. The sky has really darkened since I went into the restaurant and I only make it a few blocks down the road when it starts to pour. “Well this sucks,” I say to myself. I decide that it’s not worth it to head out into a storm and get all muddy and soaked when I have an event to be at tomorrow so I turn around and head back. Within a few minutes I’m back in KD’s Diner soaking wet, “Do you have a phone book?” I walk back over to my table and Taylor brings me the book. One of the voicemails I received earlier was from a couple here in town that knew about me and knew that I was close to Solon Springs. They were hoping for a chance to meet me or just to wish me luck if they didn’t. I call the number back and am on the phone with Debra King. Her husband is the one that left the message and unfortunately he is not home right now. I tell her my situation, that I was basically calling to say that I have some time now if they wanted to meet me and if there is any place to stay in town. She recommends a famous place, Swanson’s Motel on the edge of town. I thank Debra for her help and after getting off the phone with her I look up the number for Swanson’s Motel. I am on the phone with Charlie, the owner. I tell him I am hiking the NCT and looking for a room tonight. He says they have plenty available and even offers to pick me up right here at the diner in about a half hour. Wow, this is amazing, thanks Charlie.
I kill some time in the diner waiting for the half hour to pass. Many more locals are here now for an early dinner. Soon Charlie arrives so I load my gear into his car and we head for the motel. When we arrive I am surprised to find that it is not so much a motel than a group of individual cabins. Yes, this will do nicely.
When I get to the office to check in I meet Jan, the co-owner. I explain that I am hiking the whole NCT end-to-end and because of the storm I decided to stay in town tonight. As soon as the words came out of my mouth she tells me about another fellow that came through a few years ago doing the same thing. Yes, I have stumbled upon yet another establishment that Nimblewill Nomad visited on his epic journey in 2009. They give me a cabin all to myself near the main building for a hiker trash rate and request a photo in front of their office before I turn in. Fine folks here at Swanson’s Motel.
The first thing I do when I get inside is take a nice shower and then enjoy some time watching tv and catching up on a few journal entries before finally drifting off to sleep.


Sat. June 1 - National Trails Day
Trail Day 064
Miles hiked: 14
Highland Campsite


Last night I got ahold of Peter Nordgren and he said Tim Mobray would be coming to pick me up this morning and shuttle me to the fish hatchery for National Trails Day. I cook myself breakfast before heading out this morning and no sooner have I checked out and thanked Charlie and Jan for letting me stay at their wonderful establishment than a truck pulls up and I meet Tim Mobray. I load my gear into his truck and we head for the hatchery.
Just outside Solon Springs we spot an NCT tool trailer belonging to the Brule-St. Croix roving crew lead by Wisconsin Regional Coordinator Bill Menke. His crew must be out building some new trail. Hopefully I will get a chance to meet some of them as I begin hiking today. On the ride over Tim fills me in on what I can expect the next few days until reaching the Chequamegon National Forest. It sounds like I can expect well marked and maintained trail.
Soon we arrive at the Brule fish hatchery and I bring my gear over to the NCTA booth. The goal of today is to educate locals about the NCT and hopefully recruit some new members. I’m here to share my story with them and mingle with the local chapter members.  Later on there will be some guided hikes on the trail but I will be gone before that occurs.
At the booth I meet volunteers Chuck Zosel and Phil Anderson, both active members. There is a spur trail behind the booth leading to the main trail about a quarter mile away so after a little mingling Chuck and I decide to scout it to make sure it is in decent enough shape for the hike. We manage to stay on course but the DNR has not mowed it this year so it has almost disappeared. The only visible marking are little blue circles on some of the trees. It’s a good thing we went ahead and did that, the chapter brought their trailer with them so they can mow the trail before the hike with their DR mower.
I decide to stay for lunch and head over to the grill for some brats. One of the volunteers warns me about some of the trail coming up in the UP of Michigan. Some of the trail in the Porcupine Mountains is apparently in bad condition and hasn’t been cleared in awhile. I’m glad for the heads up, though it’ll be hard to tell exactly where on the trail he is talking about.
After lunch Tim shuttles me back to Solon Springs and I begin my hike for the day. I have a short roadwalk to reach the first section of trail today along the Brule Bog. This section is a very impressive example of boardwalk construction. Over the past four years the chapter has built a two mile long boardwalk through a remote cedar swamp. This must have taken major funding and a dedicated crew to get it completely in such a fashion. After coming out the other side it becomes apparent that the new trail being built must not be connected to the existing trail yet. I never saw the tool trailer again, nor the spot near the railroad tracks that it was sitting on.
The next section of trail is another fantastic section along the Brule-St. Croix portage. This specific section of trail has been used for hundreds of years by native americans, voyageurs, fur trappers, and many others before now being incorporated into the nation’s longest scenic hiking trail. All along the portage there are large boulders with plaques honoring some of the famous travelers to the area. There are a few names I recognize: Henry Schoolcraft, Johnathan Carver, Greysolon  DuLhut. What an impressive and inspiring piece of trail.
Despite my break this morning I feel very tired today so I decide to take a short day and pitch at the next campsite, located near the Highland Township Hall.


Sun. June 2
Trail Day 065
Miles hiked: 25.5
About two miles east of County Road A - Chequamegon National Forest


I slept in until 9:00 this morning. For whatever reason I was extremely tired. It was a chilly one last night, I had to put on everything I have to stay warm. The first order of business this morning is to get some water from the town hall nearby. When I get there I find the water has not been turned on yet so I will have to ration what I have, no hot meal today. As soon I start hiking the weather warms up fairly quickly and before too long the buzzers are out in force. I need to wear my bug net all day to keep the blood-thirsty mosquitos away. A few miles out I come to a large sign that is the first I’ve seen of its kind along the trail. It has the usual mileage features but at the top there is an arrow pointing to the left with an ND and an arrow pointing right with an NY. A very neat sign.
The rest of the day is pretty uneventful, a few good overlooks along the way as I head toward the Chequamegon National Forest. Once inside I find a spot and pitch for the night. Getting to sleep proves a little difficult as I happen to pitch my tent near two screech owls. I saw one fly over as I was setting up but now that it’s dark and I’m in my tent there are two of them hollering back and forth to each other. My tent is right between them and it feels a bit creepy as there screeching noise continues for what seems like hours.


Mon. June 3
Trail Day 066
Miles hiked: 23
Lake Owen picnic area - Chequamegon National Forest


After the owls stopped screeching I managed to get some sleep and woke up this morning earlier than I expected. Within a few hours I’m standing at the edge of the Rainbow Lakes Wilderness. Being a wilderness it has the same rules as if you were in the Boundary Waters in Minnesota, no blazes, no markings, no permanent structures. It’s a small area but one unique enough to be worth protecting and the tread is fairly well traveling so it’s easy to stay on track. There are many gorgeous lakes all around and I stop at many of them to take in the view.
I was short on water yesterday and so wasn’t able to eat any of my dehydrated meals. There is a town up ahead a few miles off the trail where I plan to get stocked up and rehydrated. I reach the first paved road and head on down to Drummond, a little berg in the middle of the forest. At the gas station I fill up on water and use their wifi to check my email. I make a few phone calls and then head across the street to the Bear Country Inn for a meal. I’m the first person here this morning as the place has just opened. Inside I’m greeted by Tiffany who sits me down at the bar and hands me a menu. I order soda with water to keep well hydrated. While the cooks are working to prepare my burger Tiffany asks the usual questions. She is familiar with the trail but has only hiked a few miles on it. She also warns me there may be some bad thunderstorms tonight.
After awhile some of the locals come in and the bar is pretty busy. Many of the people around see my pack and ask the usual questions. A few of them have heard of the trail and think it’s neat that someone is hiking all the way through. Fine folks here at Bear Country Inn.
Back on the trail I try to get as far as possible before the storm hits. The section leading out of Drummond has been completely obliterated by recent logging. No evidence of the trail exists anywhere but luckily someone has come out recently and painted some key blazes to navigate through the mess. I reach the picnic area on Lake Owen and decide to stay here for the night. There is a small shelter here that I could get to quickly if it started to hail. I filter some water to keep fully stocked and read a few pages of Tolkien before drifting off to sleep.


Tue. June 4
Trail Day 067
Miles hiked: 25
Beaver Lake Campground - Chequamegon National Forest


The storm last night wasn’t as bad as they said it would be, just a good soaking. I begin my day hiking through the Porcupine Lakes Wilderness, another small but incredibly pristine area. Many more lakes and rocky outcrops abound. It is also fitting that I should see a porcupine while in the Porcupine Lakes Wilderness, waddling off the trail and up into a rocky ravine.
Outside the wilderness boundary I’m in some of the weathered down remains of the ancient Penokee Mountains. The topography and visual quality is very similar to the Sawtooths along the North Shore in Minnesota, and they should because the two are actually closely related. Back in college I did a term paper on the geology of the North Shore and discovered that an ancient mountain range once stretched across the continent where the Great Lakes are located now. Over millennia they have been weathered down by fire, wind, and ice to a fraction of what they once were. These mountains stretched from the edge of North Dakota all the way to eastern New York. Remnants of this ancient mountain range include, yup - the Sawtooths and Misqua Hills in MN, the Penokees in Wisconsin, the Porkies in Michigan, the Laurentians in Quebec, and the Adirondacks in New York.
Located within one these ancient mountain valleys are the remains of an old Swedish settlement and an Adirondack Shelter located nearby. These shelters are everyone along the Appalachian Trail, about every 10 – 12 miles from what I hear. At this point I am roughly 1500 miles into my hike and this is the first one I have seen. They get more common the further east you go but I should like the opportunity to stay in a few of them to get the full experience.
After a few strenuous uphill climbs I reach the campground on Beaver Lake and pitch for the night.


Wed. June 5
Trail Day 068
Miles hiked: 20
Copper Falls State Park


It rained most of the night and it continues to rain off and on the whole day, the icy cold kind. I need my rain jacket to keep myself warm and dry underneath. Along the trail today in a pine grove I see a note tacked to a tree. It’s from Mike T, addressed to me. It says there is a side trail leading to his house and I should feel free to stop by if I need anything or want to spend the night. I decide I should at least head over and thank him for the offer if he’s home. I follow the spur trail and end up at Mike’s front door. I knock and soon the door opens and I am greeted by Mike, Vice President of the Chequamegon Chapter. He invites me in for a cup of hot chocolate which I gladly accept.
At the kitchen table now we make conversation, talking about the trail, what’s going on in the local area, and a recap of my adventure so far. It turns out the folks in Mellen were trying to get ahold of me and wanted to know my approximate eta so they could get an interview for the paper and maybe take me out for lunch. It just so happens that I will be reaching Mellen today within an hour or two. Mike says that he was planning on going into town anyway so he will let everybody know that I am close and try to get something organized. With plans in place I take my leave of Mike and head on down the trail again headed for Mellen.
Within a few hours I arrive, a little behind schedule because of the rain, but I made it. Mike is there at the intersection where the trail follows main street through town. Our first stop is the local paper for an interview. At the office to conduct the interview is Jim Christl, Mellen Weekly – Record. Soon his wife Sandy arrives along with many members of the chamber of commerce, city council, and a few NCTA volunteers. Hence I got a chance to meet Carol, Linda, Betty, Thom and his two kids Tommy and Elizabeth. We snap a photo in front of city hall and then head across the street for dinner, courtesy of the kind folks here in Mellen. I order a large pizza and then sit at the table in good company and relate the experience of my journey so far and answer the usual questions. The food comes and I down most of the pizza before taking the rest in a box before hitting the trail again.
I plan on staying in Copper Falls State Park tonight and in order to save time Mike has offered to reserve a spot for me while I hike the last few miles there in the pouring rain. Mike also takes my pack so I can travel lighter and hopefully save some of my gear from getting completely drenched.
I hammer out the last few miles in no time and meet Mike at the entrance to the campground. It turns out the park rangers, after they had heard my story, gave me a spot in the campground free of charge. Wow, what an incredible day of trail magic this has turned out to be. Mike shuttles me to the site and I quickly set up my tent doing my best to keep things dry. Afterwards Mike brings out a small cooler and he asks me to pick out one of the unique flavors of beer he has and we enjoy a cold one together before it’s time to say goodbye and try and get some sleep. Thanks for everything you’ve done today Mike, it was a pleasure meeting you.


Thur. June 6
Trail Day 069
Miles hiked: 22
Iron County Forest north of Upson, WI


The rain stopped in the middle of the night but everything is soaked when I emerge from my tent early in the morning. The first thing I do is retrieve my leftover pizza and consume it for breakfast before changing back into my wet clothes to begin the day.
I got a message from Beth Henkels at NCTA HQ a few days ago about an interview with Dave Carlson from the Northland Adventures TV Series in Wisconsin. I called Dave back last night and set up an interview for today so he will be here at my camp site first thing for an interview. As soon as I am all changed back into my wet clothes I hear a truck pull up and I meet Dave in person. He asks me a few basic questions as I start packing my gear and then pulls out the video camera to film the process I use when packing. Afterwards he says he wants some action shots with a scenic background so we make plans for him to meet me at the bridge crossing a short distance down the trail.
Sure enough when I arrive there is Dave all ready to go with his big camera in hand. We hike to the bridge overlooking the Falls and take a few action shots and a few stills before he wishes me luck and I continue down the trail. Thanks for taking the time to come out there Dave.
The trail through the park is well marked and well maintained and is a very popular section. I’d have to say it’s one of the my favorite places I’ve hiked through in Wisconsin, reminding me of the North Shore in Minnesota. The section of NCT through the park used to be a dead-end until last year when the Wisconsin DNR acquired a substantial chunk of land adjacent to the park specifically for the trail. In the future it will become part of Copper Falls State Park. In the mean time the Heritage Chapter has gone out to the new addition, flagged a route for the trail and started building a good portion of it. It’s still technically a dead-end but now there’s at least a flagged route through the woods to get over to near Wren Falls. I follow some newly constructed tread for about a mile until it ends. Here the trail has been blazed for a good distance and cleared but no tread has been built yet. I need to watch my step for roots and stumps but
it’s not too difficult to navigate through. It does become difficult where the trail crosses a steep gorge over a river and with no tread no bridge has been built. I spend a few minutes eying up the flag line down one side of the gorge and up the other side, trying to figure out how I can best navigate through this. It’s not as difficult going down but climbing up out of the gorge is a real challenge with a full pack on. I takes me about twenty minutes to get up safely out of the gorge and continue to follow the flagged trail through the thick forest. Soon I emerge onto what appears to be an abandoned logging road. The trail follows this for a short distance and heads back into the woods.
Along this old road I come around a corner and stop dead in my tracks. Not 25 feet in front of me is a giant black bear, the biggest I’ve ever seen. I would not be surprised if it weighed in over 500 pounds. It’s currently turned with its side facing me, its head down in the grass looking for grubs. After about ten seconds it sees me and turns in my direction. We both stand motionless not sure of what the other will do. This staring contest continues for what seems like forever, but probably was not more than twenty seconds. Finally the bear puts his head down as if taking a defensive posture and at that moment I wave my arms in the air has high as I can and shout as loud as I can and the bear turns and runs off the trail into the woods. Boy am I glad there were no cubs around, it could have been a much different story.
After the encounter with the Great Bear I continue following the flag line until it disappears. I spend the better part of a half hour walking in a general circle looking for the next flag but I am unable to locate it. I continue walking in what I think is the proper direction and end up getting lost in a maze of field roads. After following one of the roads and ending up close to a posted private parcel and decide to get off the path and bushwhack to the east until I hit a road. After a half mile bushwhack I emerge onto the road and get out the GPS to figure out where exactly I am. I am pretty close to where I should be so I continue on down the designated road walk. From here there is one more certified section of trail leading to Wren Falls, but it’s currently a dead-end and afterwards the trail follows some ski trails and some abandoned logging roads almost all the way to Michigan. I did a lot of research about this area before my hike and this is appears to be of those trouble spots. I decide to follow the road instead of following the ski trail and end up walking WI-77 to Upson. I’m totally exhausted and it will be dark soon. From here I head north back to the connector trail and find a spot to camp just as darkness descends and a thunderstorm rolls in.


Fri. June 7
Trail Day 070
Miles hiked: 14
Advance Motel - Ironwood, MI


I’m not sure why but I’m up and at it early this morning, perhaps from the excitement of putting another state under my belt. It’s about 14 miles to Ironwood, MI where I have my next food drop. I’m there before noon and head to the post office first thing. I actually have two packages coming here to Ironwood, both really important. The first is my regular food drop with all the maps I will need for Michigan and the second is another GPS unit from NCTA to use to navigate through Michigan. The GPS I have been using to this point only had enough data for the first three states so I will be sending this unit back to them and exchanging it for the next one. When I arrive I am nervous when they only bring out one package, my food drop. The GPS hasn’t made it here yet. I hope it arrives by tomorrow otherwise I will have to burn a day and hang around here in Ironwood.
With nothing left to do I head to the north end of town and check in to the Advance Motel and spend the rest of the day relaxing, sorting through all the supplies in my box, and catching up on journal entries.


Sat. June 8
Trail Day 071
Miles hiked: 21
Black River Harbor Recreation Area - Ottawa National Forest


The post office doesn't open til 10:00 and I need to spend some time organizing afterwards. This package from yesterday contained all the maps I will need for getting through Michigan but there are too many to carry at once so I have to sort them out and send some home. I am relieved when I arrive at the post office and the other package is there. I kept the maps that will get me through Marquette and will send the rest home with the GPS to be used later. I don't get hiking til after 11:00.
My route out of Ironwood today begins on the Iron Horse atv trail for the first few miles and then takes to the roads. It's about a 15 mile hike to get to the beginning of the certified trail in Michigan just north of the Copper Peak ski hill. It's a nice day for hiking but the bugs are out in great profusion, requiring the use of my bug net. The trail leads through a small chunk of the Ottawa National Forest passing several spectacular waterfalls; Conglomerate Falls,
Nawadaha Falls, Potawotami Falls, and Sandstone Falls. I end the day at the campground near the mouth of the Black River where it empties into Lake Superior and take a campsite with a great view of the lake. I am the only camper here tonight, even the host is gone. I had the sunset over the lake all to myself.


Sun. June 9
Trail Day 072
Miles hiked: 24.5
Greenstone Falls campsite - Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park


I woke up fairly early this morning and broke camp right away. I decided to take advantage of the location and eat my breakfast at the picnic area at the river mouth only a quarter mile hike from my campsite. There is a small safe harbor, a fancy picnic shelter and a fine suspension bridge (certified NCT) across the river. After breakfast the hike begins across the bridge and takes me past Rainbow Falls, probably the most spectacular waterfall I've seen yet in Michigan. A little piece of trail magic occurs today enroute to the falls in the form of free beer! As I am hiking I come across four cold unopened cans laying near the trail. Clearly someone was out for a fun night on the river and dropped some of their goods enroute to their camp. I take one for the road and leave the rest. After passing the falls the quality of the trail decreases quite a bit. It follows what appears to be an overgrown abandoned logging road all the way to the boundary of Porcupine Mountain Wilderness State Park. The tread is a narrow strip of mud clay through tall grass and brush, not the best hiking. Before long however I emerge onto a paved road that brings me to the entrance of the state park where finely groomed and maintained trail picks up again. The scenery is spectacular, the Presque Isle river flows below, cascading through narrow canyons and over falls. It reminds me very much of the North Shore where I was hiking only two weeks ago. The terrain is pretty rugged, but then they wouldn't call them mountains without a reason. I pass several cabins on the hike today and I was hoping they would be first come first serve like the shelters but I discover that they are all locked and a reservation is required. I am disappointed that the cabins are not accessible but I ended up finding a nice campsite right by a small waterfall. Several other campers are already there when I arrive and I pitch my tent near the others. They seem to be having a good time so I let them be, and enjoy my Snickers bar and my magic beer before heading to bed.


Mon. June 10
Trail Day 073
Miles hiked: 25
Lake Gogebic Motel - Bergland, MI


I awoke this morning to the sound of other campers leaving with their dog. I decide that now is as good of time as any to get up and start the day. There is still one other tent pitched nearby which means the group I saw last night were in fact two small groups. Darn, I wish I would have joined them now. I head on over to the fire pit to cook breakfast and study my maps for the day's hike. About halfway through my breakfast a woman gets out of the other tent and walks over for a morning chat. Hence I meet Sarah from Indiana, out on a trip with her friend Tom. I tell her my story and about the trail and she is very interested. She leaves for a little while but comes back with Tom after their gear is all packed away and we finish our breakfasts together. More questions as Tom is filled in on what I have been up to the past few months and where I am headed. It turns out Tom and Sarah are heading back home today so they offer me two bananas, some dried fruit, and a Clif bar for the road. Thank You dear new friends for your trail magic.
After saying goodbye to Sarah and Tom it only takes me about 15 minutes to finish my usual business and then I too am off. I pass another cabin on the way out of the park this morning. It is occupied, a fire is burning in the pit and there are some matches and a hatchet nearby but I don't see anyone. Soon I am out of the Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park and again in the Ottawa National Forest. The bugs are terrible today, just stopping for a few seconds results in being covered head to toe with the little buzzers. Unfortunately the bugs are not my worst problem today. After only about three miles from the state park boundary I lose the trail. The faint tread and the blazes simply disappear into the brush. I take out my gps and make for the next waypoint. This leads me to a river crossing. It is shallow and narrow so I decide to jump on in and follow it for awhile as it seems to be heading in roughly the direction I need to go. After awhile the river turns the wrong direction so I get out and try overland to find the trail again with no success. I even crossed it twice and could see no sign of it. The rest of the day turned into a very long, frustrating bushwhack through the forest totaling about 13 miles. The thick brush and blowdowns made the going very slow and painful, literally. I stumble several times and on the last one I managed to smash my head against a tree trunk. Amazingly there was no blood but my head keeps pounding the rest of the day. After an entire day of bush whacking I finally emerge onto MI-64, in the wrong place. I have managed to steer myself way south of where the trail crosses the road because of the terrain and specifically a very large beaver pond right at the end. I look at my map to try and figure out how far I am from the trailhead and I discover that there is actually a little town at the opposite end of this road and the hike there would only be a few miles longer than hiking back north to the trailhead. So, not knowing what kind of condition the next segment of trail is in, and with barely any energy left at all I decide to head south toward the little town of Bergland and get out of this mess for a night. I arrive late, luckily there is a grocery store still open and a motel to spend the night. My head seems ok except for a large bump where it hit the tree but it's still pounding. After a nice hot shower and a cold can of Arizona Tea I go to bed totally exhausted.


Tue. June 11
Trail Day 074
Miles hiked: 34
Old Victoria Shelter


I slept in late this morning which is very unfortunate because I have a very long roadwalk to get back to the trail, about 19 miles. Luckily once I arrive the trail is easy to follow, none of that frustration from yesterday. It is however very strenuous, the most strenuous section I think on this entire trail so far. I have to stop to catch my breath several times. After nearly 10 hours of walking 34 miles I finally reach my destination for the day, the hiker shelter at Old Victoria. This is the site of the original town of Victoria, a few historical buildings remain and act as a museum and historic site now. It is closed this year because of construction on the Victoria reservoir nearby, lots of truck traffic going in and out. However, behind the old buildings back in the woods about 100 feet is a shelter built for hikers right on the trail. This is a blessing as the shelter has a screened front and the bugs were bad again today so I don't have to set up my tent in misery. I eat a few more snacks on the floor of the shelter and suddenly become very uncomfortable as the very strenuous hike of the day causes a painful cramp in my leg. I set up my sleeping pad and sleeping bag on one of the bunk beds and as soon as my head hits the pillow I'm asleep, totally exhausted.


Wed. June 12
Trail Day 075
Miles hiked: 14.5
O Kun de Kun Falls - Ottawa National Forest


I had a very comfortable sleep in the shelter and I'm up at 8:30. The hike today begins on another mile of trail until it crosses the road, then the trail splits into two different routes. The first route continues straight across the road back into the woods, however there is an unbridged river crossing that can be dangerous to cross in the spring time. The second route turns left onto roads for 11 miles and returns to the trail on the other side of the river. This is the high water route and it passes through the little town of Rockland where I have a food drop waiting. I make it into town by 10:00, retrieve my package, then head over to Henry's Inn for a hot meal. I'm a little early, they don't serve food til 11:00. Here I meet Sally, Henry's wife and the cook today. She is very interested in what I'm doing and asks many questions about my adventures. She takes my order: 1/2 pound ground round burger with fries, a plate of garlic bread, a soda and a milkshake, all homemade. I find out from her that Nimblewill Nomad actually took a day off in the apartment upstairs when he came through four years ago. Soon my order is ready and I am in heaven as I bite into the best burger I have ever had in my life. Thank you Sally, you are a great cook. After my fantastic meal at Henry's I take a quick trip over to the little grocery store for a Powerade and a box of fresh raspberries. On this trek I have developed a craving for fresh fruit so I get some any chance I can. I linger in town for awhile organizing my food drop and looking over my maps. The day has grown very hot, the thermometer in town reads 85. I only have seven miles to go via roadwalk to get back to the trail but the heat proves to be a big obstacle, I am worn out pretty quickly. I take a break about halfway at a little rest stop. I fill up my water and take a short nap on a shaded picnic table before continuing on again. Within an hour I have reached the trail again, where I have a short hike to reach O Kun de Kun Falls, and the last reliable water source for some time. I decide to pitch here for the night and call it a short day as I am totally exhausted.


Thur. June 13
Trail Day 076
Miles hiked: 22
About a mile east of forest road 1500 - Ottawa National Forest


I regret not pushing a little further yesterday but at the time I felt a shorter day could be good for me. My muscles were tired yesterday and needed to relax a little. What I really need is a day off, I am far over due for one. However the next suitable location is Marquette, still five days away at least. I have no choice but to push on as best I can.
The hike leading out from O Kun de Kun Falls is harder to follow than the trail the day before, and it gets worse as the day goes on. Soon I come to a road crossing which is also the high water route, as the river on this next section is not bridged so it's a "cross at your own risk" kind of deal. I stay on the trail and after a mile I hit the river. The water is dark brown because of the mud-clay soil in this region so it's impossible to see the bottom. I try the crossing and after two steps I'm already past my knees. There's no way I can make this crossing safely, so back up the trail I go. Once I hit the road again I follow it around to the other side of the river, there to pick up an atv trail back to the NCT. The Mosquitoes are out in huge numbers now, I can hear the constant buzzing all day long as they try to keep up and get a bite out of me. Once I find the trail again it's less than a mile before I lose it. It's the same crap as before: no markings, no tread, no maintenance to speak of. I get out my gps again to try and find the trail and my path leads me down into a shallow bog, thick pine trees on all sides. I can't see any way through. To my surprise I can't seem to find the way I came either, I am trapped in a small enclosed space, the Mosquitoes descending on me relentlessly as I struggle to find a way through. I begin to lose hope. If the rest of Michigan is in this kind of condition there is no way I will have the energy to finish. For the first time on this hike the thought of failure seems like a good possibility, that I won't be able to go any further, that I will be defeated by the trail and never make it to Vermont. Tears start flowing as this bitter reality sinks in and takes hold. While aimlessly looking around for a way out I find a gap in the trees big enough to crawl through and then I am in much thinner brush on the other side. Eventually I manage to find the trail again but this next segment is nothing but relentless blowdowns. It makes the going incredibly slow and dangerous as I fall several times. I am generally a very positive person but this is a time where I truly have to complain. Clearly the people in charge of these Ottawa National Forest segments don't care about their trail. There is no maintenance, insufficient blazing, incomplete or missing boardwalk and puncheon, no markings at road or trail crossings, and completely overgrown tread with impassable blowdowns. This is not what a National Scenic Trail is supposed to be, and no hiker should have to put up with this for days at a time. I am very disappointed, annoyed, and just plain angry at the lack of care this trail has been given here. This is ridiculous!
Toward the end of the day I come to a trail junction. There is a spur trail to a forest campground, which I decide to visit because I am low on water. It is a bit of a detour, a mile and a half one way to the campground and when I arrive the place is deserted. Of course it's pretty obvious why no one is here at this time of year, the Mosquitos here are the worst I have ever encountered. After quickly filling up my water at the hand pump I head for the outhouse for shelter. Once inside I drop all my gear and spend the next few minutes squashing all the buzzers that made it inside with me. Then I settle in a corner and finish my rations for the day in a place I had hoped would not be necessary to take shelter in again. I think back on the night I spent in a bathroom in North Dakota because the weather was bad, and now here I am again taking shelter in a bathroom, this time to escape the armies of mosquitos. I can hear them outside the walls, so many the sound of my own chewing is drowned out. It takes all the courage I have to open the door and head out again. I hike on for only a few more miles with great frustration as more blowdowns have covered the trail, some almost impassable. What little energy I have left is quickly depleted so I stop for the night and find a place to camp. In the process of hanging my food my bear bag hanger gets snagged on a branch and I try with all my strength to get it down but it won't budge. There are no rocks, no large sticks, nothing around to use as an anchor to get my rope up in a tree. I have no choice but to once again bury my food and hope a bear doesn't get it. I go to bed totally overwhelmed by defeat, more tears have developed. "I'm done. I can't take any more of this shit."


Fri. June 14
Trail Day 077
Miles hiked: 27.5
Big Lake Campground - Copper Country State Forest

I had a dream last night that helped lift some of the grief and frustration from my mind. I saw a green mound with wall ruins nestled on the edge of a gorgeous lake. The shadow of a great suspension bridge is seen in the background crossing over the lake. Three men are standing in front, the sunset streaming across the sky behind them. One of the men steps forward out of the shadows and I recognize him as Andrew Skurka. "We're waiting for you Strider," he says to me, and in that moment Nimblewill Nomad is revealed to be one of the other men. "You were meant to do this," he says to me. The third man remains hidden and I assume him to be Ed Talone, who I have never seen before. The wall ruins I determine have to be Crown Point, the official terminus of the North Country Trail, and the bridge must be the Lake Champlain bridge crossing into Vermont. As much as I wish this scene was real, I know it's a dream because the bridge from Crown Point faces the east so seeing the sunset where it appeared is impossible because it sets in the west. I awake in my tent to the sound of hundreds of mosquitos buzzing around outside trying to get in, a few stuck inside filled with my own blood. I suddenly feel a surge of new energy, a drive to get going, a desire to chase down the dream I just had and be the fourth person to hike the NCT.
I eat breakfast in my tent and get going right away. The mosquitos are horrible at first but thin out over the course of the day. To my relief the trail is easy to follow today and I experience a change in the environment around me. Soon the soil becomes very sandy and tree cover becomes thinner and thinner. I have now entered a region known as the Baraga Plains and it is very desert-like. The day has turned very hot and I need to stop in the shade several times to rest. My water is already getting low but I know there is a campground at the end of the day where I can fill up again. Eventually the Ottawa National Forest comes to an end and I am hiking on state land for the rest of the day. Unfortunately there was a wild fire here several years ago and all the trees have been burned and wind thrown, there is no shade to speak of for many many miles. At about 4:00, the hottest part of the day I realize that I am getting very tired, thirsty, and a slight head ache is developing. Heat exhaustion is starting to affect my body and if I don't get to some shade soon I may be in trouble. Luckily there is a shelter nearby in a shaded cove along the Sturgeon River where I stop to take a rest. This shelter is also screened so I have relief from the bugs. I take out my food, take off my clothes, have a quick snack, drink some water, and take a nap. I awake two hours later feeling refreshed, and push on the last six miles, past Tibbets Falls, to the campground where I stop for the day. After setting up camp I down an entire liter of water and within minutes I am asleep, totally exhausted.


Sat. June 15
Trail Day 078
Miles hiked: 34
Craig Lake State Park


I awoke early this morning, cameled up on water, and got going right away. The bugs are out but it is a nice hike through the remainder of the Baraga Plains. Eventually the trail enters the woods again and follows the Sturgeon River for many miles through fairly rough terrain. Many little waterfalls start popping up along the river. Eventually I pass a very large rock cairn right on the river. Whoever built this had lots of time on their hands. Immediately after this the terrain gets very steep and the riverbed morphs into a deep canyon. Many stone fences have been built along overlooks near the largest of the cascading waterfalls. Canyon Falls is the name of this place and it is quite spectacular. From here the trail ends at a rest stop off US-41 and it's a long road walk into Craig Lake State Park from here. As soon as I begin the rain comes, I put on my rain gear and my head lamp to make me more visible to the oncoming traffic. In a matter of minutes I am totally soaked but the rain eventually quits. A few hours later I arrive at a place called Nestoria, where I heard there is a great burger joint called Cozy Inn that I plan on eating at. To my dismay I arrive to find that it has closed down, and this is very unfortunate because I have not eaten all day in anticipation for this meal. Right across the street is the access road to Craig Lake State Park and I begin the hike in but I am so hungry and the bugs are so bad I dare not stop or they will overwhelm me. I decide to turn around and try to hitch a ride into Michigamee about eight miles further east to get my hot meal before hiking into Craig Lake. I stick out my thumb and the third car that passes me stops. Hence I meet Josh, a young guy no more than a few years older than me that is on his way home from a backpacking trip himself. His loaded pack is in the back along with many homemade bottles of wine. He drops me off at Mt. Shasta Restaurant and gives me one of his bottles of wine for the road. Thanks for the ride Josh, and for the wine. Once inside the restaurant I order a chocolate milk first and then a beer as I wait for my burger. Within a half hour I have consumed everything, including a fantastic piece of chocolate cake (it is my birthday tomorrow). I head across the street to a candy shop to get some extra trail rations and then head towards downtown to try and hitch a ride back to the trail where I left off. After passing the second house I hear a voice "Where are you hiking to?" I turn and see a man and a woman in their backyard enjoying a few beers. "Vermont" I say. They seem very interested and invite me over to chat for awhile. Hence I meet Charlie Brown (no really, that's his name) and Melanie. I tell them my story, where I'm heading, where I've been so far. Charlie offers me a beer during the conversation which I gladly accept. Another guy comes out of the house and I meet Sean, I'm still not sure if he's a relative or a friend. It turns out that Charlie's family owned the Cozy Inn until last winter when it closed. What a strange turn of events this has turned out to be. After having another beer with these nice people they give me a ride back to the trail in their van. They wish me well as I shoulder my pack and head into the park. After walking the gravel roads to get to the trailhead the trail within the park is well marked and easy to follow. In no time I arrive at the first campsite where I had planned to spend the night. However, with the recent turn of events today I am in high spirits and feel energized so I push on the few extra miles to the next campsite. When I arrive the place is bustling with people. A church group from the Grand Rapids area has come here for a long weekend of canoeing and fishing in the park and this is their base camp. I let them know that I will be pitching nearby for the night and soon I am telling a few of the trip leaders my story. I spend a good half an hour talking to Jeff Van Winkle, an attorney that spends a lot of time doing business in Chicago. He's hiked a lot of the trail in the lower peninsula and in Pennsylvania and is very interested in my hike. He gives me his business card after hearing that my plans to return home involve a train ride with several hours of waiting in Chicago for a connector train to arrive, and he tells me to call when I arrive. I will certainly do that Jeff, it was nice meeting you. After talking to the trip leaders it is pretty late so I call it a day and head to bed.

Sun. June 16
Trail Day 079
Miles hiked: 24.5
Silver Lake Basin


I slept in a little this morning as yesterday turned out to be such a long day. I can hear the camp bustling outside so I get up and retrieve my food bag. The bugs are not too bad this morning so I decide to take the time to cook a hot meal. As I am doing so the other group offers me some coffee, which I decline because I don't drink the stuff, as well as some leftover food from breakfast including some sausages and some dried apricots. Thanks for the energy boost guys. After cleaning up and packing away my gear I emerge from the pines where I had pitched my tent and find that everyone has gone out on the lake for the day, so I leave the camp quietly and without a trace. The trail is easy to follow as it winds through the park around Craig Lake and eventually leaves the park and heads east. Soon afterwards I come to a trailhead with a sign posted "Wilderness." I have arrived at the McCormick Wilderness, an isolated unit of the Ottawa National Forest. I am very nervous, almost reluctant to enter this wilderness given my previous experience in this forest. However, I find out later that this segment is used fairly heavily and I had no problem finding my way through. I emerge on the other side to more blazes that eventually lead me to a maze of logging roads. I lose the trail once by missing a turn but manage to find my way back. Eventually the trail enters the woods again and is well marked as it reaches the edge of the Silver Lake Basin where it suddenly stops. The trail has not been completed here yet and a short bushwhack is needed to get around to the other side. I was prepared for this one however and I find my way around easily enough. The flagged route is visible at times but many of them have been destroyed. I have almost made it to the beginning of the roadwalk on the other side when it gets dark and I decide to call it a day.


Mon. June 17
Trail Day 080
Miles hiked: 28
Home of Lorana Jinkerson - Marquette, MI

It was very chilly when I woke up this morning, I needed to bundle up to start the day. The first thing I need to do is finish the short bushwhack to the beginning of the roadwalk. According to the gps I am only a few hundred yards away from it, but that ends up turning into a frustrating two miles. I finally arrive at a logging road and discover that the waypoints on the gps are too far south and I have been walking parallel to the road by a quarter mile. From here it is a long roadwalk using this logging road, then transitioning to a wide sandy gravel road past some summer homes and many tree farms for the next 15 miles or so, where the certified trail picks up again at a narrow two-track. After a short distance the trail leaves the track and goes back into the woods where I find a care package sitting on a stump. Two cans of Keewenaw beer are sitting in the shade with a note attached, courtesy of Dana Sherry. The day has grown fairly hot so I decide to take a break here and enjoy one of the beers. Thank You Dana for your care package, it was very refreshing.
The trail follows along the banks of the Little Garlic River for a good distance before terminating at a trailhead where a short roadwalk is needed to connect to the next segment. This next segment is spectacular as it follows along the shoreline of Lake Superior. This is the first time the trail has come right down to the lake since the lakewalk in Duluth. There is a nice cool breeze coming off the lake and I am able to take off my bug net for the first time since crossing into Michigan. The trail here winds through Presque Isle Park for several miles and it is near the south end of it that I decide to call it a day. I give Lorana Jinkerson a call, she is the president of the NCT Hikers Chapter and offered to host me for a few nights once I reached Marquette. I let her know that I am still about eight miles north of town but that I am extremely tired and would like to take tomorrow and the next day off to rest. She agrees to come pick me up at Wetmore Landing, just a mile or so up the trail. I begin to get suspicious as I hike on for over a half hour without seeing any sign for a trailhead. Soon I arrive at a trail junction for Hogback Mountain, which is south of where I want to be. Somehow I went past the point where I was supposed to turn off to get to the trailhead. I turn around and head back as quickly as I can, find the turn, and head up to the trailhead where I find Lorana's car in the parking lot. Crap, she hiked up the trail to meet me but I was in the wrong place. I drop my pack and start running back down the trail, hoping she didn't get too far. As soon as I reach the lakeshore I see a woman walking toward me and recognize her as Lorana. I explain what happened and she tells me that someone had stolen the sign marking the turn to the trailhead. What a fiasco that caused! Back at Lorana's car she informs me that she has already taken care of dinner: two hot pasties in the back seat. Pasties are a special item unique to the UP and I have been anxious to try one. When we get to her home she shows me my room first, the same room that Nimblewill Nomad, Andrew Skurka, and Joan Young all stayed in, among others. There is a loft and a bunk bed in the room so I have my choice of comfort. I choose the bottom bunk for simplicity. Afterwards I chow down on my pasties and get the scoop on the activities of the local chapter. Soon though it is time for bed as I am almost completely out of energy, hopefully two days of rest will be enough to re-energize me.


Wed. June 19
Trail Day XXX
Miles hiked: 00
Home of Lorana Jinkerson - Marquette, MI

Lorana has a spectacular house. It is built into the side of a hill, so that all but the southeast wall is underground. Being the Tolkein fan that I am I can't help but make a comparison to Bag End. 
Yesterday after waking up Lorana treated me to a late breakfast at a spectacular Mexican restaurant, chicken quesadillas are hard to come by on the trail. Afterwards we stop at the grocery store so I can get myself some provisions for the next two days while I'm resting. Soon afterwards I have a tv interview with abc10 that goes fairly well. I'm informed that another hiker "Wolverine" is only 10 miles out of town and will also be spending the night at Lorana's house. He is hiking Governor Snider's proposed trail from Belle Isle to Ironwood, which follows the NCT through the UP. I've known about Wolverine for awhile and it's good to know that we will be crossing paths in Marquette. It'll be nice to talk to another long distance hiker and find out what is in store for me as I head east. Soon I decide to take a nap to regain my energy and when I wake up I can hear people entering the house. I go into the living room and meet Chris Hillier "Wolverine". He has thru-hiked the AT and the PCT and is considering attempting the CDT next year. As we are greeting each other the reporter from abc10 comes in with his equipment, it's time for Chris' interview. Afterwards we spend some time talking trail and then Lorana takes out to dinner to meet some of her chapter members. We arrive at an Italian restaurant called Casa Calabria where we meet John and Marge Forslin, Dana Sherry and his two sons, and Jan Lindstrom. I thank Dana for leaving me the beer, and answer many questions about my trip so far. Chris tells many stories about his AT and PCT hikes, it was a very enjoyable evening. Back at Lorana's Chris and I both have a tall PBR and discuss troubling spots on the trail that we encountered, me the bushwhacks and Chris some beaver flooding. Then it's off to bed for a second day of rest.
This morning I was up fairly early. Right away we have an 8:00 breakfast at a place called Jeffrey's where we meet Jeff and Sarah Fisher, Roger Barry, Cliff Stammer and Eric Rehorst. It turns out that Jeff and Sarah had come looking for me at Craig Lake a few days ago and I had only missed them by about two hours. We have a nice meal talking about the trail, many other trips, and other things. Next on the agenda we head to Walmart to get a few supplies before heading back to Lorana's house for another interview. Jennifer Perez from Channel 6 arrives and interviews me first, then Chris, then does a segment on both of us together talking about the trail and discussing our gear. Unfortunately I will not be able to see the result because we have yet another dinner reservation tonight, but I'm sure it will be posted online in time. Before our dinner however a writer for the Mining Journal comes to conduct an interview via tape recorder. It lasts about a half hour and soon afterwards we head to dinner at The Vierling. There we meet Jim and Norma Matteson, Jane Pajot and Rich Johnson. The usual routine commences as we are asked many questions about our travels. Everyone is very enthused and are thrilled that we are out here using the trail. 
After saying goodbye to everyone we take a quick drive to see the ore dock and then head back to the house for a last comfortable night of rest. Thank You Lorana for being such a wonderful host and trail angel.


Thur. June 20
Trail Day 081
Miles hiked: 24
Lakenenland Sculpture Park Shelter

Chris and I awoke at almost the exact same time this morning, time to hit the trail again and get a good start. By 8:00 we are already on our way to drop Chris off at the Michigan welcome center a few miles south of town where he had been picked up by Lorana on Tuesday. We take a photo at the NCT sign with Lorana and then Wolverine is off down the trail. Next Lorana drives me to Wetmore Landing a few miles north of town where she picked me up Monday evening. I thank her for being such a wonderful trail angel, few people would go out of their way to make hikers feel at home the way she has. I say goodbye and then I too am off down the trail. It's only about eight miles to downtown Marquette from where I started today so I make it there in a short time. Once close to the lake again the trail connects to a paved bike path that travels many miles right along the lakefront all the way to the welcome center where Wolverine started today. I have to send some things home including my photo card which I haven't yet gone through and divided up into albums so I decide to find a place to sit down and go through my photos. I check my phone and there is a text from Chris, he is only a few blocks from me at The Ore Dock Brewery. I head over there and we have another chat, mainly about trail stuff. Soon however over an hour has gone by and it's time to hit the trail again. I say goodbye to Chris and wish him luck on finishing the rest of his hike. I make my way to the post office and send a package home with my photo card and all the maps I no longer need and then I'm back on the bike path leading out of town. Once at the welcome center the paved bike path ends and a crushed limestone surface snowmobile trail begins which still makes for easy hiking. The NCT follows this for a good ten miles or more before heading back into woods and then onto a narrow sandy two track. Soon I come to a trail junction with a fire pit and a hiker shelter. Pointing off to the north is a sign that says "Lakenenland". I have reached my destination for the day. Lakenenland is a sculpture park created by a man named Tom Lakenen to share his vision with the world. All the sculptures where made by his own hand and he charges no fee for visiting his park. He allowed the NCT access across his property and he built the hiker shelter (complete with a patio door!) just last year, all out of the goodness of his heart. I follow the sign to a spur trail that brings me to the entrance of Lakenenland. I take the tour and snap photos of the most interesting masterpieces Tom has created. At the end of the trail is a parking lot and there is a guy forming up a slab to be filled with concrete very soon. Hence I meet Tom Lakenen himself. I tell him my story about my hike and thank him for building the shelter along the trail. I find out from him that he is building a pavillion, hopefully to be finished this year. Thank you for your hard work Tom, and for supporting the NCT. It was a pleasure meeting you. Afterwards I head back to the shelter and make a spot for myself on the floor. It's such a relief to have a glass door between me and the buzzers. Thanks again Tom.


Fri. June 21
Trail Day 082
Miles hiked: 29.5
South of Au Train Lake - Hiawatha National Forest

I slept in really late this morning, courtesy of a restless sleep. It is raining outside and as I am making breakfast several lightning strikes make contact very close by, extremely loud thunder following after. I am a little nervous about hiking in these conditions but I go out anyway, there's nothing I can do about it in the end. After a few miles though the thunder and lightning passes but it rains for awhile longer before quitting. The trail today is easy to follow and brings me into the Hiawatha National Forest where it winds it's way first southeast, then northeast again towards Munising. I call it a day shortly after a road crossing south of Au Train Lake.


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.


Sun. June 23
Trail Day 084
Miles hiked: 21.5
Sevenmile Creek Campsites - Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore

The rain came again last night and it gets more intense when I start hiking. It's only about a mile to the first major landmark, Miner's Castle and when I arrive it is bustling with people. This quickly changes as the rain intensifies into a thunder storm. I have no choice but to keep hiking through it. Luckily after about an hour the rain ceases and the sky clears. I can finally see the great scenery this park is known for. Unfortunately it also turns very hot and I need to take several breaks during the day. During one of my breaks I meet a group of four hikers at Grand Portal Point while also stopping for a break. They are interested in my travels and they seem impressed when I tell them my story. One of them, Lisa, takes my picture standing on a rock outcrop. They wish me well as I continue on towards Chapel Rock. This is the same place I camped at last year when I came up to do the Bridge Walk and I have been looking forward to returning. Chapel Rock is an amazing formation, when looking at a picture of it you find it hard to believe that such a place could exist. Yet here it is, a "chapel" carved out of the rocks by the forces of nature. When I arrive the place is crowded with people, I miss an opportunity to take any decent photos. Luckily I had taken plenty when I was here last so I decide not to worry about it and push on. My mind drifts back to that weekend last summer when myself, my brother, and my mother camped at this spot our second night, and were completely blown away by the sight of it. Such a fun weekend with the family. 
The last landmark I pass today is Spray Falls. It's not a large waterfall by any means, but from a distance it is still quite a sight, a narrow spout of water shooting out of the face of the rock and plummeting down into Lake Superior below. Before long I arrive at the seven mile creek campsite, my destination for tonight. There are three other campers here enjoying a fire to escape the Mosquitoes and the black flies that just appeared today. I decide to head down to the beach instead, there are a few flies but the Mosquitoes are nowhere to be found. I enjoy reading a chapter of Tolkein while watching the sunset over the lake.


Mon. June 24
Trail Day 085
Miles hiked: 19
Backyard of Ed Bowen - Grand Marais, MI

The buzzers are out again when I wake up this morning and I need to start the day in my "bug suit". After a few miles however an opportunity arrives to visit the beach again where I stop to have my breakfast. There are no Mosquitoes down here and it is really hot today so I decide to walk the beach to avoid the bugs for as long as possible. I'm in an area known as Twelve Mile Beach, which is exactly what it is, a twelve mile long beach. Along the beach I pass many remains of shipwrecks that became beached long ago, only the ribs remain. After walking for several hours in the blazing sun I decide to stop and take a swim in the lake's icy cold waters to cool off. I've had a tradition of swimming in Lake Superior at least once every year, despite the lake rarely being warmer than 50 degrees. After about five minutes I feel satisfied, and refreshed, so I continue on to Au Sable Lighthouse. This is the point where the beach ends and the shoreline again changes into steep sided cliffs. There is a staircase that leads up to the light station where I take a video. In the distance the Grand Sable Dunes can be seen stretching to the east almost as far as one can see. From here it is back to the woods, and the buzzers and with it being so hot I would rather not put my long sleeves back on. Instead I decide to grab a snack for the road and don't stop hiking until I reach the Grand Sable Visitor Center, more than eight miles away. Before long though I arrive and head inside to get some respite from the heat and eat my lunch. Here I meet Judy, the ranger working at the desk today. She knows a lot about the trail and is thrilled that I am hiking the whole thing. After dealing with some visitors she comes over and hands me an apple and a piece of chocolate. Thank you Judy, for your trail magic and your enthusiasm. It was a pleasure meeting you.
A short hike from the visitor center is Grand Sable Falls, and indeed grand it is. Shortly after this the trail heads back down to the lakeshore and into the little town of Grand Marais. I stop in at Grand Marais outfitters and meet Dennis and Kim Weaver, owners. They have been expecting me and are happy to see that I made it here in good time. They are also two of the nicest people I have ever met. I got into town less than an hour after the post office closed and I have a package waiting. Kim called in to the post office to see if they would let me get my package while Dennis did some repairs on my pack. One of the straps has been frayed for most of my hike and I didn't think it would hold up for the rest of my journey so Dennis stitched the strap back together by hand to reinforce it. While this is going on a man and his wife walk in and I meet Ed Bowen, Superior Shoreline Chapter. Ed has a place right on the harbor and he offers me a place to pitch my tent for the night. He did the same thing for Wolverine a few weeks back and I gladly accept his offer. Just then Kim walks in with my package from the post office and Dennis hands me a T-shirt with a blue blaze on the front and the NCT logo on the back. Wow, this is unbelievable trail magic happening all at once. Thank you Dennis and Kim for your generosity, and thank you Ed for letting me camp in your yard tonight. 
After meeting everybody at Grand Marais Outfitters I head across the street to a picnic pavilion where I work on organizing my food box. I have a brief conversation with a guy from downstate, up here on an atv camping trip with his son. After all is finished I head back across the street to the pub where I heard they had excellent homemade pizza. Boy did I hear right, possibly the best pizza I've ever had. Dennis comes in for awhile and sits with me and I meet Erin, the bar owner. Such nice people here in Grand Marais. Soon Dennis informs me that he has to take off and I find out from the server that he covered my meal. Thank you so much Dennis, for everything you have done here today. God Bless. On a full stomach I walk the half mile to Ed's house and pitch in his back yard near the harbor. While composing notes for my journal I realize that today is the first day on this entire trek that I didn't see a deer.


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
Alba, MI


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.


Sat. July 27
Trail Day 118
Miles hiked: 24.5
Cemetery on Auglaize River near BT


I slept in this morning, exhausted from the long day yesterday and from not having a decent rest day since leaving Mackinaw City way up at the north end of the Lower Peninsula. Today’s hike is mostly a roadwalk with a few isolated segments of off-road trail. Leaving Defiance I pass by a large berm on my right, on the other side is the Defiance Reservoir. The trail keeps to the road though I suspect in the future it may be moved to the top of the berm. Many people are out along the reservoir walking or running, enjoying the day. The few off-road segments today are along the former towpath of the Miami Erie Canal and at the north end of the longer segment there is a sign marking the place where another canal joined with this one before making its way to Lake Erie near Toledo. At this trailhead there is a car parked and a man comes out to meet me. Hence I meet Sam Bonifas, BT trail supervisor of the Delphos Section. He heard I was coming through and wanted to meet me and give me some pointers on possible camping spots along his section. He also wants to set me up with an interview with the Delphos paper when I pass through tomorrow. Thanks for coming out to meet me Sam, your advice was helpful.
Along the off-road segment now I come to a stile crossing that is blocked by a large herd of cattle. I take the road around the cattle pasture and get back on the trail in the woods on the other side. Here I find the first official campsite for the Buckeye Trail at the remains off Lock 21. I stop here for a break and have lunch before continuing on. As I leave the shelter of the woods and come back out to the road the sky is pitch black to the west and the wind is so strong that my hat is blown right off my head. I couldn’t have been at the campsite more than a half hour and a large storm has rolled in. I pick up the pace and follow the blazes south until I reach a road intersection with a gas station, a place called Charloe according to the map. I look back and the storm is now directly north of me, I managed to hike my way out of its path. Along the roadwalk I pass the site of Fort Brown and stop here for a moment. Sam mentioned this was a possible place to camp but I feel like I’m here a little early, I have enough daylight to make it many more miles. I decide to push on and make it to the next segment of towpath trail which is unfortunately overgrown. There is a cemetery nearby so I make my way there and pitch for the night, glad I decided to go the extra miles.


Sun. July 28
Trail Day 119
Miles hiked: 34
Old Acadia Park - Spencerville, OH


I am up at the crack of dawn and hike nine miles into Ottoville where I head into the local subway for breakfast. From here it is a 10 mile roadwalk to Delphos where just outside of town Sam Bonifas passes me in his truck. He has set up an interview with the local paper and will be waiting at the city park once I reach town. When I arrive I get a chance to sit down at one of the picnic tables and give a brief summary of my journey so far for the local paper. Afterwards Sam asks me how far I’m planning to go today and I tell him it would be nice to get to Spencerville. He tells me there is a city park there where they don’t allow camping, but says he knows the Sheriff and will find out if he can get permission for me to stay there. Thanks Sam, that would be great.
On the way out of town I stop at The Creamery, Delphos’ famous ice cream place. I walk up with my big pack on and order a large cone and of course the pack generates many questions from the ladies inside. When I give them the brief rundown of my hike to this point they are very enthusiastic and very amazed. One of them even asks me for my autograph, while another tells me that she “feels special” that I stopped here. I sit down to enjoy my cone and as soon as I take my first bite I come to the conclusion that this may be the best ice cream I have ever tasted. Nice work ladies. Nearby many locals also see my pack and the usual questions come in. None of them have ever heard of the trail even though it follows the street right in front of this fantastic ice cream establishment. I point out the blue blazes on the telephone poles nearby and explain what they mean, just like I did for the kind folks back in Prairieville, MI. Then as I am getting ready to leave my phone rings and Sam is on the other end. He tells me he got permission from the Sheriff’s office in Spencerville for me to camp in Old Acadia Park for the night. Wow, thanks Sam. I really appreciate it.
I’ve still got many miles to go so I follow the BT out of town along the canal towpath and make it to Spencerville before dusk. I pull into the picnic pavilion at Old Acadia Park and cook dinner before setting up my tent beneath a small locust tree and heading off to sleep.


Mon. July 29
Trail Day 120
Miles hiked: 23
Back lot of McDonald's - Minster, OH


Hiking along the canal towpath has made for some easy hiking the last few days. This environment through western Ohio is not the most scenic but it does allow for high mileage days and easy access to services. I have passed through at least one town every day since crossing the border from Michigan. From here until I reach Cincinnati I wont need as many food drops because I can pick up most of what I need right on the trail in the small towns.
Today the surface of the towpath changes from grass to dirt, then to crushed limestone. Also along the trail today are remnants of the old locks, by the end of the day I will have passed 21 of these old relics. Just outside the town of St. Marys I come to a culvert underneath Hwy 33. The trail uses this to cross under the highway. These are quite common on some other trails but this is the first for me on this hike. From here the trail leads into St. Marys, a nice trail town. There is an old canal boat still floating in the canal downtown across from the city park. I take a break here for lunch before continuing on.
A few miles south of town I find a spur trail leading away from the canal to a newly formed park complete with a new trail shelter built by some Eagle Scouts. I stop in to see the new shelter and to take a quick break before making the final push for the day. There is another man here and he walks over to talk as soon as I sit down. Hence I meet “Tall Drink”, another hiker. He is not following any particular trail, but making his way from San Diego up to Maine. Instead of a backpack he pushes his gear around in a backcountry stroller, much like Bart Smith did when he hiked the trail over a few years on his quest to photograph all eleven National Scenic Trails. Tall Drink is going further than I am but he is still very impressed when I tell him about the North Country Trail and my attempt to thru-hike it. We spend a few minutes talking trail and after signing the guest book at the shelter I shake his hand and move on.
I finish the day following the canal towpaths through New Bremen and Minster. I linger for awhile in Minster to have dinner at the McDonalds and use their wifi. As darkness descends I head out and pitch for the night in the clump of trees next to the drive-thru. 


Tue. July 30
Trail Day 121
Miles hiked: 34.5
Roadside Park north of Piqua, OH


I am up at first light and make my way back to the trail along the canal towpath. Most of the day is easy walking. I pass through Lake Loramie State Park and then the village of Lake Loramie where I have a food drop waiting. I arrive a little early and have to wait until the post office opens to get my package. Afterwards I stop to enjoy some treats that were sent in my box and as I am sitting there I get a call from Andrew Bashaw, the Executive Director of the Buckeye Trail Association. He is hoping for an update on some of the trail conditions I have encountered the past couple days. He also informs me of a few volunteers that know about me and want to help out any way they can so I take down their contact information. This is great news because over the past few days I have noticed that my pack is coming apart at many of the seams and after telling Andrew of my situation he gives me the number of some contacts in Dayton that may be able to help me out with that. He also informs me that a section of the trail through the Wayne National Forest will be going through a rehabilitation and will likely be closed when I arrive there in a few weeks. He concludes my telling me to stop by the BTA office in Shawnee when I pass through. Thanks for the help Andrew, I hope I get a chance to meet you during my trek through Ohio.
The easy walking continues until I reach the village of Newbern. At this point the towpath becomes overgrown in spots and I become lost when I arrive at the Lockington Dam. There are some blazes missing in critical places and the description on the map is not enough to navigate without them. Before I know it I miss a critical turn and end up walking extra miles. I stop to look at my map and find a way back to the trail. After a short time I realize that I missed another turn and ended up going even further in the wrong direction. I can’t believe the same thing happened twice in the same day. Eventually I do figure out where to go but it ends up being a five mile long detour to get back to an identifiable spot on the trail. With my feet on fire and totally exhausted I find a roadside park right across the street from where the trail heads into Piqua. Below the picnic shelter along a creek is a nice flat spot out of sight of the road where I decide to pitch for the night, not able to walk any further.


Wed. July 31
Trail Day 122
Miles hiked: 29.5
Super 8 Motel - Vandalia, OH


I had a nice night of sleep in my little spot on the edge of the creek. At first light I’m up and back on the trail across the street. I stop in at the gas station in Piqua for some convenience store breakfast. In Piqua the trail turns from grassy canal towpath to paved bike trail and continues all the way down to Cincinnati. It’ll take me a few days to traverse this segment through suburban Ohio.
The bike trail brings me through Troy and Tipp City with a surprising amount of historic sites. There’s an abandoned nuclear plant in Piqua, remnants of old locks and locktender’s house in Tipp City. I reach a short off-road segment of trail through Taylorsville Metro Park where the NCT leaves the bike trail and heads into the woods and through the remains of an old abandoned village. Somewhere toward the end of this stretch I miss the turn into Vandalia where I plan to spend the night at the Super 8. Much like my experience at Lockington Dam the turn was not marked and I walked right past it. By the time I figure it out I need to backtrack four miles on dangerous Hwy 40, no shoulders and high-speed traffic. With much frustration I make it safely back to Vandalia and check in at the motel. I enjoy a nice shower and hot meal before catching up on a few journal entries and heading off to sleep.


Thur. August 1
Trail Day 123
Miles hiked: 17
Comfort Suites - Dayton, OH


The thing I enjoy most about spending the night in motels is the continental breakfast. I get a chance to pig out on sausage, eggs, and waffles, something different from my dehydrated meals and trail snacks. The first thing I do this morning is head on down for another breakfast and then hit the road. I have quite a few miles on the road before hooking back up with the trail a little ways south of here. I decide to take an alternate route from the one I took yesterday because of the heavy road traffic and the busy highway with no shoulder and a bridge crossing. Between me and the trail there is a steep hillside and an active railroad so I find the next road crossing on my map and head for it. Shortly after crossing I-70 along the shoulder of the road I suddenly feel a sharp pain in the bottom of my foot. I limp across the road to the sidewalk on the next street corner, drop my pack and take off my boot. My sock is covered in blood and I see a piece of glass embedded inside. I am horrified when I pull the thing out and it’s almost an inch long. Immediately I take off my sock and as I do so blood starts oozing out of the puncture wound. I reach into my pack and grab my first aid kit and proceed to clean and bandage the wound as best I can right on the sidewalk. This is the first time I’ve had to use the medical supplies besides the blister kit and at this moment I am very grateful I have it. I clean the wound as best I can with water and disinfectant and bandage it up with gauze and duct tape.
Back on my feet again the first few steps are painful but like a batch of fresh blisters, once your feet get into a rhythm the pain isn’t so bad. On the paved trail today I pass through several metro parks into the very heart of Dayton, Ohio. At one of them I stop in at a picnic table for a break and make a phone call. On the other line is Brent Anslinger, works for Five Rivers Metro Parks. He is the contact Andrew Bashaw gave me regarding getting my pack looked at. Brent has been expecting me and is glad to hear that I am in Dayton. I tell him my pack situation and he says he and his coworker will meet me in Eastwood Metro Park. With plans in place I continue on through Dayton, even arriving at the entrance to downtown right as the large fountain goes off. I snap many pictures and stop for a few minutes to admire the water show. From this point the trail turns away from downtown and heads east along the river and soon I am in Eastwood Metro Park. Within a few moments I see two people walking toward me down the trail and so I meet Brent and his coworker Angie. We walk together for awhile toward the trailhead where their vehicle is parked. I planned on taking a short day today and getting a motel in town and there happens to be one right off the trail about a mile ahead. Brent says he’ll hike there with me and Angie says she’ll take my pack and bring the car up to the motel. She snaps a photo of me in front of the Buckeye Trail sign and then we head off down the trail. It takes us all of about fifteen minutes to hike to the end of this section of trail, right behind a Comfort Suites Motel. Well this is convenient.  We head on inside into the lobby and Angie is there with the pack. Brent knows some people at GoLite as he used to work in the backpack business so he makes a call. Through some negotiation he manages to get my pack to the top of a long waiting list for maintenance. On top of that he has about five packs of his own that he no longer uses and says I’m welcome to use any one of them until mine gets repaired and sent back to me. Wow, this is just incredible.
We make plans to meet here again tomorrow morning, Brett and Angie head back to work and I head upstairs to my room. After a nice shower I take a good look at my foot. The wound appears to have closed and there are no signs of infection. So far so good. Next I order some dinner to be delivered to the room then I spend the good part of an hour making some travel arrangements. You may notice that I have not taken a zero mile day since Marquette. So far I have taken one day roughly every 500 miles so I am well overdue for one, having come over 1000 miles since my last one. Part of the reason I have not is that a few days from now I plan on taking a brief break from the trail. My good friends Tony and Ashley are getting married next weekend and I have decided to fly back to Minnesota for their special day. I couldn’t commit until now because I had no idea where I would be, but now it is only a week away and I will be within range of Cincinnati. I had planned ahead and posted a request on the Buckeye Trail group facebook page about volunteers for a possible shuttle and I got a few responses. In my motel room now I am on the phone with Byron Guy, trail supervisor of the Old Man’s Cave Section. He volunteered to pick me up and drive me to the airport so we are making plans now. He knows a fellow hiker on the outskirts of Cincinnati he can leave me at and they can take me to the airport the following morning. With plans in place I purchase my ticket and then spend the rest of the night relaxing. Short days like this are nice when you’ve gone over 1000 miles with no rest.


Fri. August 2
Trail Day 124
Miles hiked: 24
Oldtown Reserve north of Xenia, OH – Buckeye Trail



Another continental breakfast to kick off my morning and then Brent and Angie are back in the lobby with a few packs. I find a Gregory one that fits pretty well, but it’s quite a bit smaller so I actually have to ditch some of my gear. I hand my pack off to Brent and he will send it in to GoLite headquarters to get repaired. Thanks for all your help Brent and Angie. You’ve done this hiker a great service and made Dayton a nice memory.
It’s another hot day here in southern Ohio and the entire hike is along roads and paved trails. I pass through the town of Fairborn to the east of Dayton and then take a temporary turn away from the blue blazes. When Nimblewill Nomad came through in 2009 the NCT continued all the way to Springfield but since then that section has been abandoned. Luckily for me it allows me to cut off a good chunk of mileage and avoid going in the opposite direction. I get back on the trail a little ways north of Yellow Springs, a very fine trail town if there ever was one. There are lots of little mom n pop places to eat, I end up having dinner at a place called the Corner Cone. I don’t linger in town long as I still have a few miles to go and it is already late evening.
As I am leaving town where the trail parallels the road I hear someone call out in load voice, “Strider!!!!!!!” I turn to see a jeep pass by, slam on the breaks and rip a U-turn then to pull up on the side of the road. Hence I meet Dave, on his way home from work. He has been following me on facebook for awhile and instantly recognized me when I was walking by. Apparently meeting me is the highlight of his day, he snaps a picture and wishes me luck as he jumps back in his jeep and moves along. I continue on until I come to Oldtown Preserve to the north of Xenia where I pull off into the trees and pitch for the night.


Sat. August 3
Trail Day 125
Miles hiked: 29
Morgan's Riverside Campground – Little Miami Scenic Trail (BT)


I’m up at first light this morning and stop in the grocery store in Xenia for some breakfast. After downing my fruit and muffins I continue on down the trail. Here in town the trail comes to a confusing junction at a place called Xenia Station. The trail can go one of many ways but none of them are explicitly marked as the BT or the NCT. I study my map closely trying to figure out which way is the correct one and ultimately decide on a direction. Luckily for me I chose right and make my way to the next trail junction on the edge of Caesar Creek State Park. At this point the Buckeye Trail heads off the paved trail and through the park and the NCT continues south along the bike trail. I pass through the towns of Spring Valley and Waynesville and eventually for Fort Ancient Memorial where I begin to look for a place to camp. Within a few miles I spot a campground across the river and luckily there is a road bridge up ahead that I can use to get to it. I check my map and decide that this must be Morgan’s Riverside Campground. I head on in and get a tent site right on the river for tonight.
After setting up camp I head back over to the concession stand and order a rib sandwich for dinner. As I am enjoying my food at the picnic table nearby the woman at the stand asks me many questions. She saw my pack when I checked in and has many questions about my travels. Hence I meet Lauren, co-owner of the campground. With the Little Miami Scenic Trail and the BT/NCT right across from the campground they get plenty of hikers and bikers in here every summer but I am surprised that she has never heard of the NCT. I tell her that it follows the Buckeye Trail through most of Ohio but that it starts way back in North Dakota and ends in New York. Many questions follow and I give the usual story of my trek so far. After I finish eating it is well past nightfall so I say goodbye to Lauren and head back to my campsite. Just as I am about to enter my tent I see movement at the edge of the bushes and shine my light to find a raccoon scurrying through my campsite. I chase it off and finally head into my tent and drift off to sleep.


Sun. August 4
Trail Day 126
Miles hiked: 25.5
Terrell Park Shelter – Milford, OH


I awoke early determined to have a quick breakfast and hit the trail right away. I open my odor-proof food sack and find my daily ration pack missing. I always keep the food that I will need for the day in the side pocket of my pack and I always put it with the rest of my food in the stuff sack at night. Then I suddenly realize what happened. Last night I completely forgot to put my food for the next day in the stuff sack so I left it in the side pocket of my pack. That’s why the raccoon was in my camp last night, those little buggers came and stole my food for the day in the middle of the night. Realizing it was just a dumb mistake I don’t think too much about it and simply transfer some food into a Ziploc bag for the day, I will just need to replace my daily food sack at the next opportunity.
The Little Miami bike Trail is packed with bikers today. I would be willing to bet that at least 1000 people pass me by the end of the day. In Loveland I stop for lunch at Paxton’s Restaurant for a great burger. The lovely hostess Carissa makes sure I’m well hydrated on this hot August day and makes friendly conversation. After awhile a couple sitting at the table behind me come over and ask me a few questions. They overheard my conversation with Carissa and are curious about my journey over the NCT. Hence I meet Barb and Tom. They know many people that have hiked the AT over the years so they are very intrigued that a sister trail comes right through Ohio. I really enjoy sharing the trail with people as I hike along. It’s nice seeing such positive reactions when they find out this amazing resource passes right through their backyards that they didn’t even know about. It’s a great feeling to know that many folks will now get out for at least a day and go for a walk in the woods and enjoy this national treasure. 
After gorging myself with the fantastic meal I hit the trail again. Many more bikes pass by, though the numbers are thinning now that evening is coming on. At some point a woman sees me with my big pack on and asks me a few questions. Hence I meet Heather, a Buckeye Trail member and volunteer. She figured I was most likely doing a thru-hike of the BT but is blown away when I tell her No, in fact I am thru-hiking the NCT. She wishes me luck on the rest of my trek and continues on down the trail. Not a mile further down I have a similar encounter with Betty, a local just out for an evening walk. People sure are curious when you walk through a populated area with a giant pack on. By the end of the evening I reach the town of Milford, my destination for today. Milford has the designation of being a crossroads for many thousands of miles of trails and the only official trail town for the BT at this time. From here the Little Miami Trail continues south about 12 more miles to a park in downtown Cincinnati and the NCT turns and crosses the river through Milford and along the southern tier, sometimes only a stone’s throw away from the Kentucky border. Milford is often called “Trail Town USA” as supposedly over 20,000 miles of trails converge here. The Buckeye Trail, North Country Trail, American Discovery Trail, Sea-To-Sea Route, Little Miami Trail and Underground Railroad Cycling route are the more popular ones locally among a few others, including a popular water trail right on the river. To take advantage of this unique designation the city has built an Adirondack Shelter right in town at the small city park where I set up camp for the night. It’s amazing to think that I have hiked almost 3000 miles on this hike and this is only the third shelter I’ve stayed in.


Mon. August 5
Trail Day 127
Miles hiked: 23
East Fork Lake State Park - BT


I had a comfortable night of sleep in the shelter last night. It was surprisingly quiet despite being right in the middle of a town with a busy highway nearby. For breakfast I head downtown to the local diner. There are a few locals inside otherwise the entire town is still asleep this morning. The outfitter right on the main street is still closed when I leave the diner, I was told by many BTA folks that I should stop in when I get to Milford but it looks like I wont get the chance.
I follow the blue blazes along the sidewalks to the edge of Milford where I come to a newly constructed off-road segment. I follow it as it zigzags around what appears to be an abandoned farmstead along a nice mowed path and come to end of the segment as it dumps back out to the road near the school. From here it is a roadwalk all the way to East Fork Lake State Park where I plan to spend the night. The roadwalk along Round-Bottom Road is very dangerous. There is no shoulder and I have to stop every 30 seconds and pull off into the ditch, many places filled with poison ivy to give the autos a clear space to pass. During a lull in the traffic a car pulls up next to me and a woman calls to me. “Are you hiking the Buckeye Trail?” I respond that I am hiking part of the Buckeye Trail on my way to thru-hike the NCT. Hence I meet Laura, she hiked the AT a few years ago and is familiar with the NCT. She offers me a ride as she tells me this road is incredibly dangerous and I respond that I would like to but I really can’t as I need to hike every section of trail to the best of my ability. She understands completely and tells me to stop in at the Cincinnati Nature Center up the road a ways where she works if I need a break. Thanks Laura, will do.
Not even ten minutes after Laura drives away the traffic flow increases again and I almost get hit by a car twice, missing me by mere inches. One idiot actually swerves closer to me and turns away at the last minute. I don’t know what the BTA was thinking routing the trail onto this road but I need to get off it as quickly as possible. Man, if I would have known this road was this dangerous I might have taken Laura up on her offer for a ride. Finally I see the sign for the nature center and anxious to get off this road I cross and head on up the hill to the nature center for a rest. Unfortunately this road isn’t much better but the amount of traffic is much smaller. Soon I arrive at the gate and the woman at the toll booth tells me to head on in. As I make it to the parking lot Laura is there and walks with me into the visitor center. At the desk I am greeted by Lester and soon another employee, Paula, walks over with a camera to take my picture. I take off my gear and rest for a bit while I make conversation with the employees at this fine establishment. Laura mentions that she once tried to get in touch with the BTA about possibly bringing the trail through the nature center to avoid most of the dangerous roadwalk. They already have a system of hiking trails and even have some abandoned bunkhouses that could possibly be restored to allow hikers a place to stay. If nothing else it would be possible to build a shelter at the same site or even just a place to camp. I am glad to hear that she is interested in making this place accessible to hikers and I will definitely pass on the information to the BTA once I get to their office in Shawnee.
Soon a man walks over and Laura introduces us. Hence I meet Bill Hopple, the Executive Director of the Nature Center. Paula takes a few photos of the three of us together for their newsletter and then I spend a few more minutes relating the story of my hike so far to everyone present. After an hour at the center I need to hit the road again so I fill up all my water bottles and even receive some trail magic from the staff. Lester hands me five dollars to help with my hike, Paula offers me some left-over brownies from a meeting this morning and Laura hands me a Hershey bar from the vending machine. Wow, kind folks here indeed.
Laura can’t be gone for too long but she does offer to drive me back down to Round-Bottom Road which I gladly accept to avoid backtracking on the narrow road. I find out on the short drive that she hiked the AT with her husband a few years ago and that she too has a trail name, “Sundance.” As I unload my gear from her car she wishes me luck and turns back around to work. Thanks for all your help Laura, I appreciate it.
I follow the roadwalk into Batavia where there is supposed to be a grocery store. I originally had a food drop here but since I will only be on the trail for three more days before taking a break it didn’t really make sense to send an entire box so I decided to just buy three days’ worth of food here in Batavia. Unfortunately I find out that I was given bad information and that the main part of town where I am now does not have a grocery store, only a post office. Batavian residents happen to live several miles south of here in a residential area where all the stores are. So I need to take a detour several miles out of the way to reach the grocery store in Amelia. There is a Walmart here so I head on in and pick out enough food to last three days. I end up lingering in town a little too long and don’t make it to East Fork Lake State Park until nearly dark. I don’t have enough time to make it to the campsite so about a mile and half in I pull off the trail and pitch for the night in the trees nearby.


Tue. August 6
Trail Day 128
Miles hiked: 25
Home of John and Theresa - Williamsburg, OH


The trail through East Fork Lake State Park starts off decent, past the first campsite and the first trailhead. The rest of the day is hit or miss depending on the section. Much of the trail within the park is open to multiple use and is in really bad shape from some recent horse traffic in wet conditions. The going becomes painfully slow over deeply rutted trail and some poorly marked intersections. I take a wrong turn several times by the end of the day. Along some intersections today I see the first markings for the American Discovery Trail that coincides with the BT until the Wayne National Forest. At one point the trail leaves the woods and wanders straight through a farmer’s cornfield. I feel very out of place, thinking for sure I have taken another wrong turn. However I soon come to a small clearing in the middle of the field with a few small rocks and one of them has a blaze painted right on it. By sheer dumb luck it appears I have managed to stay on the trail in an area with no markings, save this one lonely blaze. Eventually I do manage to find the trail where it enters the woods once again. To add to the confusion, in a lot of places the trail is crossed by large cobwebs, I have to stop several times to clear the sticky stuff off my gear and trekking poles. By the end of the day as I emerge onto the road from the woods I feel like I have just passed through Mirkwood and the webs of the giant spiders from Tolkien’s great work.
Back on the road now I come to an intersection and realize I have taken yet another wrong turn. I had intended to take the alternative route into Williamsburg for some dinner but instead ended up taking the shorter route that completely bypasses the town. With much frustration I backtrack over a mile to Williamsburg where I stop for dinner at Grandmas Pizza. Afterwards I head up to the gas station to refill my water once again, as today was another hot day and I have consumed most of my supply. On the way out of town I decide to linger at the bar for awhile and charge my devices while studying my map looking for a possible place to pitch tonight. After my first beer a man at the table across from me asks where I’m headed. Hence I meet John and his wife Theresa. They are familiar with the Buckeye Trail as it is currently routed on the road right in front of their house down the street. I find out that they have a son and daughter that did the AT a few years ago. They are very enthusiastic when I tell them my story and that the BT is just a small part of my journey to Vermont from North Dakota. John offers to buy me another beer, and offer I can’t refuse and Theresa asks me where I’m planning on staying tonight. I tell her that I’m not sure, but the only spot that looks feasible is the city park across the river. She responds by telling me I am welcome to spend the night at their home. I accept her offer and thank them tremendously.
It’s pretty late when they are ready to head out so I load my gear into the car and get a ride to their place, only a stone’s throw away from where I began backtracking into Williamsburg as I came out of the park. I bring my gear inside and set it by the door. John and Theresa say I’m welcome to use the shower and they will set up a mattress for me in one of the spare rooms. I don’t hesitate one second and after a shower I settle down onto a soft mattress on the floor. It feels nice to be clean again.


Wed. August 7
Trail Day 129
Miles hiked: 27
City Park Gazebo - Russellville, OH


I slept in a little later than I would have liked but I needed a little extra sleep after staying up late last night. Theresa is up right behind me and cooks me some eggs and bacon for breakfast. Afterwards I take a few minutes to change back into my dirty hiking clothes and I find some trail magic in the top of my pack, a package of licorice and some granola bars. Thank You John and Theresa, it was a pleasure meeting you.
Another humid day as I continue on my way through southern Ohio. The entire day is a roadwalk except for a short segment near a historic covered bridge. By the end of the day I make it to Russelville where I stop in at the local bar for dinner. The server asks me many questions about my hike and asks where I’m planning on staying. I respond that I have no idea. She suggests that I could sleep in the gazebo at the park next door and no one would bother me. She even takes the extra step to notify the sheriff that I will be staying there just so they know. She says it wont be a problem and I can feel free to set up there once I leave. She also says she will be here early and invites me to come back for breakfast, on the house. Wow this is incredible, I will definitely be back tomorrow! I leave the bar and head to the gazebo in the city park next door. I unroll my sleeping pad right on the floor and prop my gear against the wall and settle in for a night of sleep in my gazebo shelter.


Thur. August 8
Trail Day 130
Miles hiked: 17.5
Home of Bruce and Denise "Ladybug" Hill – Indian Hills, OH


I had a bit of a restless sleep last night, lots of semis driving through all night long. I still managed to get up early and head back to the bar for breakfast, on the house as promised. Leaving Russelville the hike is once again entirely a roadwalk to Bentonville where I end my hike for the day. I had arranged for Byron Guy to pick me up here today and bring me to Cincinnati so I can board a plane first thing in the morning to get me back to Minnesota for my friends’ wedding. There is nothing here but a vending machine outside an apartment, right where the two roads come together. Luckily the apartment has free wifi so I grab a sofa from the vending machine and enjoy some time browsing videos on youtube after answering some emails as I wait for Byron to arrive.
Around 3:00 Byron pulls up in his car we meet face to face. I load my gear into his car and we head to Cincinnati where we will have dinner with a local hiker who will bring me to the airport in the morning. We spend time talking trail on the way there, Byron gives me a heads up on what to expect on the upcoming sections of the BT leading up to his section through Hocking Hills. We pass through Milford where I was only a few days ago and shortly before dinner time we arrive to the outskirts of Cincinnati where I will be spending the night. At the door we are greeted by Denise “Ladybug” Hill, a 2011 BT thru-hiker and a friend of Byron’s. She gives a quick tour of her home before her husband Bruce arrives with dinner. Ladybug has also thru-hiked the AT and PCT as well as part of the CDT before an injury forced her off the trail. The room I am standing in now is filled with everything for the hiker; maps on the walls, books on the shelf, all related to hiking America’s great trails. Shortly afterwards Bruce arrives with dinner and Ladybug introduces us. Dinner tonight is take-out from Skyline, a Cincinnati tradition. I get a double order of the delicious stuff, pasta and fries drizzled with melted cheese, a hiker’s dream.
After dinner Byron has to head back home but says he will definitely see me again as I hike through the Hocking Hills. Looking forward to it Byron. Then it’s time for me to get cleaned up and enjoy a nice evening with a fellow hiker. On top of the beer I had with dinner Ladybug was prepared for my arrival and has many sodas in the fridge just for me. We spend a good while at the table talking trail, about my NCT thru-hike attempt so far, and about her own experiences on the AT and PCT. I thank Ladybug tremendously for allowing me to stay here tonight, and for letting me stash my gear here while I’m away for three days. I turn in for bed early as I will have to get up quite early for a morning flight to Minneapolis.


Fri. August 9
Trail Day XXX
Miles hiked: 00
Jordan Family Home – Minnetrista, MN


I’m up at 5:00 and Bruce has me at the airport by 5:30 where I have about an hour to catch up on journals. My short trip this morning actually allowed me to cross into another state on this journey. The Cincinnati International Airport is actually a few miles across the river in northern Kentucky, another state I have never been to. So I get to cross another one of my list. The flight from here to Minneapolis is pretty short and when I arrive Roxanne is there to pick me up. She is happy to see me and we talk about my travels and recent developments here in Minnesota on the drive home. When we arrive I actually feel out of place. This is my first time in my house since I left for Lake Sakakawea way back in March, over four months ago. Everything somehow seems small and close together, even the trees outside seem like their encroaching on the house. It’s a very strange feeling and one I did not necessarily expect. There are lots of goodies waiting for me as I look through the cupboards and the fridge. Fresh fruit, candy, pie, you name it. I don’t think my family quite realized I was only going to be here for a day and a half, but I’ll try to consume as much of it as I can while I’m here.
Right around noon Karlee pulls into the driveway and stays for a long visit. We enjoy a nice chat in the yard waiting for lunch to be served. We spend a good deal of time talking about my recent experiences in southern Michigan and Ohio and about her recent trip overseas to Croatia. After lunch to conversations continue until about 4:30 when more people start showing up. First my dad comes home from work, followed shortly by Matt and Trevor, all excited to see me. Around dinner time a few friends, relatives, and neighbors come over for a campfire cookout while I tell of my travels since leaving four months ago. Many questions and much laughter follows as I recount the highlights (and lowlights) of the hike and how much further I have to go. Based on the maps I estimated that when Byron picked me up in Bentonville I was right around the 3000 mile mark, which means I’m 2/3 of the way thru.
After dinner a few people head back to their own homes gearing up for a busy weekend. Around 6:00 Karlee says goodbye once again and I’m reminded of the day she left back on the SHT at the Fox Farm Road trailhead where this long journey I’m on had its roots over three years ago. The same sad emotions come to the surface and after a hug she is gone.
Back at the fire there are a few of us left, my family and a few friends from high school. Some of us end up talking late into the night and my planned day of rest turned out to not be a day of rest at all. I don’t get to bed until after 2:00 in the morning. Despite my derailed plans for recovery I have a feeling this will be a night I will remember long into my years.


Sun. August 11
Trail Day XXX
Miles hiked: 00
Home of Bruce and Denise “Ladybug” Hill – Indian Hills, OH


I’m back in Ohio after a nice weekend in Minnesota. It was a gorgeous wedding I attended on Saturday, and I was grateful to be able to see my two best friends start their lives together. Most of my closest friends from college were there as well so it was a nice change of pace from the day-to-day grind of the trail. There was a lot to catch up on after being absent for four months. I spent the night with friends and left for home the next morning in time to take care of some last minute planning for the remainder of the hike. I enjoyed listening to music in the car on the way home, music never sounded so good. Also the feeling of driving a car 70 mph on the freeway for the first time in four months was definitely a strange experience. I got to spend a few more hours with my family before catching my flight back to Cincinnati. Bruce was there right at 7:00 to pick me up and we headed back to his place for another home cooked meal from the Hills. After looking over some maps with Ladybug and packing my gear to prepare for the trail tomorrow I head off to sleep.


Mon. August 12
Trail Day 131
Miles hiked: 25
Pavilion at House of God Church & Cemetery near Shawnee State Forest


I didn’t get near enough sleep last night. I down an entire box of cereal before loading my gear into Bruce’s car and heading for Bentonville. Despite downing most of a soda after breakfast I am still incredibly tired and end up sleeping most of the way there. Before I know it we arrive at the intersection with the vending machine, the only landmark in town. I shoulder my pack, Bruce snaps a picture of me and shakes my hand as he wishes me luck. Then I turn and begin the roadwalk toward the Shawnee Forest. The entire day is a roadwalk through hilly country, before long it is clear that I have entered Appalachia and the foothills of the famous mountain range. There are lots of angry dogs to fend off today as I pass farmhouse after farmhouse. These trekking poles are great for efficiency and balance but in times like this they also double as a weapon. I end the day at a church with a picnic shelter nearby where I decide to spend the night. Across the street is the entrance to the Shawnee State Forest where tomorrow morning I will enter and make my way to the next off-road segment of trail.
Today has been a strange day. I thought I would be more excited to be back on the trail but today is somehow different. After spending three days back home with the best people I’ve ever known and to come back here to southern Ohio where so far the trail has been less than ideal with little redeeming value made for an ugly transition. For the first time I’m not looking forward to the next section of trail. Instead I’m looking back on the places I’ve been so far, places like the Manistee National Forest, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore and Porcupine Mountain Wilderness State Park. I’m picturing my first day on the trail at Lake Sakakawea State Park and the snowy transition I had to make to finally reach the Superior Hiking Trail where I set my eyes on Lake Superior once again, the setting of so many fond memories. I remember what it felt like to see my friend come up to the cabin to visit me, how it felt to see them leave, and that I’ve missed them every day since then. Today that feeling was magnified and I just feel empty inside.

Tue. August 13
Trail Day 132
Miles hiked: 28, +5
BTA property off Mt Unger Rd.


Despite getting to bed early last night I slept in this morning later than I should have. I down a quick breakfast and head across the street to the Shawnee State Forest. After a short roadwalk I reach the access point for the off-road trail and find it to be over grown. There is a bypass route that would take me around this section directly to a campsite and would save me half a day of hiking but I head on in and give the trail a try. The first few miles are not in the best shape but after awhile the trail becomes better maintained. There are lots of blow downs to contend with on this section.
After the first road crossing the trail changes drastically. Bull dozers have been in here recently and have widened the trail to about eight feet. There are also no switchbacks on this section, the bulldozers simply drove right up the mountains and back down again. I say mountains here because that’s exactly what they are. This region of Ohio includes the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains and are known locally as the “Little Smokies.” The name fits, as many of the over-looks provide a great sweeping view but in the distance the view becomes hazy.
At the base of the first climb I am surprised to see a water spigot in the middle of the woods. There is no campground nearby or anything, it’s just here by itself. After the first climb I can tell this will be a tough section, the trail heads straight up the bulldozer track and straight down the other side. This goes on for many miles until I reach the edge of Shawnee State Park where I stop at a picnic table to take a break and cook dinner.
There are a few people enjoying the park today, most of them walking or fishing. As I pass through I look straight ahead at the mountain in front of me and after reaching the entrance I head on in, and up. After a few miles I come to a confusing intersection along on old road. I take out my map and figure out where I am, I decide that I need to turn left here. After a few miles it has become apparent that I made the wrong turn. With no blazes or markings on the trail whatsoever I had mistakenly misplaced my position on my map and walked in the completely wrong direction. After almost two hours I am standing at a point I have already passed once, near the road crossing. Well this is just great. It’s going to be dark in a few hours and I now have to re-hike a very challenging section and hope that I don’t get lost again. I wish I would have taken the bypass route. If I had known how poorly marked this section was I may have done that to save myself this
frustration and heart break.
I decide to head back down to the parking lot and refill my water before attempting to continue on. Frustrated, I take one last look at my map and prepare to head out. Just then a fisherman walks by on the way to his car to head home for the day. He asks where I’m hiking to and I explain my situation, how I was supposed to make it to a campsite but now I have no idea where I’ll be because I wasted two hours walking in the wrong direction. He tells me to show him on the map where I’m heading and after he realizes where it is he tells me to get my gear, he’ll drop me off at the other end of the road.
Wow, this is great. Assuming the road is clear I can get dropped off very close to the point where I initially took the wrong turn and continue on from there. This will save me lots of backtracking. It takes us awhile to get there by car, all the roads are very windy and narrow. We make conversation as we go, I tell him why I’m out here and my ultimate goal of reaching Vermont. As I explain where I’ve been through Ohio so far he makes a few comments. He asks if I have a snake bite kit, to which I respond “No.”
“Ohio is really bad for that. You need to watch your step.” That’s very curious because I’ve been watching where I step constantly and have seen no evidence of snakes anywhere to this point. He also makes sure I know that this part of Ohio does have black bears which a lot of people don’t realize. I didn’t know for sure, but I have been hanging my food just in case. It turns out my driver, Tyler, is a fisherman and hunter. He is very knowledgeable about Ohio wildlife and thus why he know so much about the snake bite issue and the bear population.
Before too long we start seeing blazes along a narrow gravel road so I know we’re on the right track. Eventually we reach a junction with an old road that has to be where the trail comes out. Tyler drops me off here and wishes me luck as he drives away.
I am now very close to where I got lost in the first place and I have many miles to go to reach a legal camping spot on a piece of BTA property on Mt. Unger Road. I manage to make it there just as darkness descends and I have to set up my tent with my headlamp on. No time to hang my food tonight to I throw I find a low branch in a cluster of trees and hang it so it is at least off the ground away from my tent. Today was a very long and frustrating day and I’m glad it’s over.


Wed. August 14
Trail Day 133
Miles hiked: 23
Woodlot behind high school - Peebles, OH


The hike today is mostly a roadwalk and quite an eventful one. Right off the bat this morning I have a short walk from the BTA property to the small berg of Wamsley and on the way there I pass a home with many animal cages. As soon as I come into view I know instantly that they are all filled with dogs, I count at least 25. To make matters worse the five largest ones are not in cages or chained up and in an instant they are out in the road to intercept me. I turn to face them as they try to circle me, my trekking poles the only thing keeping them at bay. This face-off continues for a good five minutes as I slowly hike backwards down the road not to take my eyes off the aggressive attackers. Finally after having metal poles swat at their faces for long enough they give up and walk back to their home. Wheew, of all the wildlife encounters I’ve had so far, this was probably the most dangerous.
From Wamsley it is a long roadwalk on country roads, still with no shoulder all the way to Davis Memorial. This turns out to be a very cool place. It’s a state unit owned by the Ohio Historical Society that contains a network of natural dolomite formations with groves of cedars and surrounded by groves of native bamboo. It’s a pool of incredible diversity, I never even know bamboo occurred naturally outside the tropics. I take a break at the stone shelter at the far end of the park to get rehydrated and have some lunch before continuing on.
After a short walk along the gravel road the trail heads back into the woods on another bulldozed trail. The climb is very steep and I need to take a break halfway up. At the top the trail flattens out and follows the ridge line for a way before dipping back down into the next valley. At this point the blazes stop and I get turned around again. I walk back and forth a few times to try and find any evidence of the trail. It would be easy just to follow the skid trail, the only problem is at this point there is more than one of them. There has been a recent logging operation up here on the ridge and many paths converge in the clearing. I finally make a decision to follow my gut feeling and take the straightest path down into the valley. The damage from the logging operation has not been cleaned up yet, as even on this skid trail I need to walk over, under and around large blowdowns (or cut-downs). At the far end I come to an opening in the trees and it brings me right to a back yard of a house. There is a woman nearby hanging laundry on a clothes line. She looks over at me and I speak to her, “Am I still on the Buckeye Trail?”
She responds, “Yup, you’re in the right place.” Wheew, thank goodness. I continue walking across her yard and spot a carsonite post right at the road edge. I head towards it and spot the Buckeye Trail logo right at the top. It looks like my gut was right and I navigated the mess up on the ridge accurately.
From here the rest of the day is a roadwalk into Peebles where I’ve got a food drop waiting. I arrive too late and will need to wait until tomorrow. With nothing left to do I head down to the McDonald’s for dinner and use their Wi-Fi to find a place to camp tonight. As darkness descends I hike a mile and half to the wooded lot next to the high school and pitch for the night.


Thur. August 15
Trail Day 134
Miles hiked: 25
Butler Springs Christian Camp


I’m up at first light and head to the post office to wait for my package. I cook myself breakfast in the parking lot while I wait and read a few pages of Tolkien. Once the post office finally opens I waste no time in getting my package and hitting the road.
It is very hot today as I hit the pavement and head for Serpent Mound. On the way there I pass many houses and I spot a guy sitting in a lawn chair in his front yard. He sees me approaching and heads into his house. As I pass his driveway he comes back out with an ice cold bottle of water in his hand. “Here, you might need this today.” Thanks sir, I really appreciate it. This hot weather is certainly not fun.
Before too long I reach the entrance to Serpent Mound State Historic Site. The name speaks for itself, the main feature of this park is an ancient Native American earth work, a giant mound in the shape of a snake. The mound is certainly massive. I estimate it’s about a half mile hike around the entire mound. Right in the park there is a fire tower where one can climb to the top and see the entire thing. I head up and get some great photos from the top.
After checking out the mound I linger for awhile as I eat lunch and then I leave the park on a newly constructed piece of trail. Right next door is a property owned by the BTA where it is possible to camp. From what I hear, the plans are to build an Adirondack shelter here in the near future.
More trail magic as I hit the road again heading toward Sinking Springs, a guy mowing his lawn stops as I pass and hands me a cold bottle of water. I need to stop several times today and take a break from the heat. I take a break in Sinking Springs where I stop in at the convenience store and enjoy a cold drink and a slice of pizza. I finished the day by hiking through the off-road section of trail through Fort Hill State Memorial. More spectacular dolomite formations remind of the Davis Memorial I hiked through yesterday. At the main parking lot I stop for a break and check my map. Fort Hill ends just up the trail a short distance and the map shows a campsite located outside the boundary. I decide this would be a good place to stay tonight. Less than a mile from the parking lot the trail climbs a ridge and I notice a spur trail going off to the right and I can see a structure down below. At a closer look it is revealed to be a ropes course.
I stop for a minute and my mind drifts back to a week in sixth grade. Every year the sixth graders at my school would head up to Wolf Ridge for a week in the winter time for a week of “survival” training. Our activities included things like rigging a shelter from scraps, snowshoeing lessons, a rock climbing wall and ropes course. This was back before I knew about the Superior Hiking Trail and it’s funny to think that the trail crosses through Wolf Ridge, and that we bought a cabin literally across the street a year after I was there with my sixth grade class.
The ropes course at Wolf Ridge was much larger than the one I’m standing in front of now, but I must be at the right place where the map showed the campsite. I continue down the trail and come out into a large clearing and see a full setup of recreation activities. This is clearly some sort of summer camp meant for young kids. There are cabins across the clearing from where I am now, tennis courts, and bikes available for rent. I see a house right next to me so I head over and knock on the door. The owners of the resort are home and I explain that I am thru-hiking the trail and am wondering if I could camp here tonight. They point out a broad area between the road and the shower house where it is pretty quit and I can feel free to set up anywhere I want. I ask about the fee and they tell me not to worry about it, I can camp for the night free of charge. I thank them and find a spot on the lawn to pitch for the night.
Afterwards I take a shower and cook my dinner under the nice shelter complete with patio furniture. It’s nice to cook dinner on an actual table whenever the opportunity arises. I have enough quarters for a soda out of the vending machine and I enjoy a nice hot meal. I finish the night by reading a few pages of Tolkien and finally settling into my tent for a night of sleep.


Fri. August 16
Trail Day 135
Miles hiked: 19.5
Pike Lake State Park


I’m up and back on the trail at first light. After crossing OH-41 the trail conditions are not as good and I need to pay attention to stay on track. The hike today is very choppy, short sections of trail follows by short roadwalks. At one point the trail was not clearly marked and I missed a turn along a roadwalk and ended up taking a longer detour before I realized it. Along the detour I pass by Cave Lake Family Campground where I stop in for a break on another very hot day. As I am sitting on the front porch of the camp office I notice that my ankles are very dirty and have a bunch of red spots. I noticed this in the shower last night and thought I may have been cut somehow. Suddenly I feel like one of the specks of dirt is moving and as I examine it closer I find that is a tiny tick crawling around on my ankle. It’s so tiny I thought it was a speck of dirt and didn’t notice it until it started moving as I was sitting still. I don’t recognizethe tick as one I have seen before, it doesn’t appear to be an ordinary wood tick or a deer tick and it is far smaller than either of them. I start scratching to remove some of the dirt from my ankles and within a few seconds I am horrified as the reality of my situation sinks in. There isn’t dirt on my ankles at all, only ticks, hundreds of them! No wonder they didn’t come off in the shower, they’re already bitten in, every single one of them. I start picking them off as best I can but many of them are simply too small to grab even with my finger nails. I get an idea and reach into my pack for some duct tape. With no other tool to use I rip off a large strip of tape, tape it to my ankle as tightly as possible, and then rip it off in one swift motion. To my surprise it actually worked, the tape was strong enough to remove many of the ticks. I spend the better part of an hour doing this before finally deciding to move on. I got most of them, if there are any left they are impossible to see at the moment. 
I hit the road again, following busy OH-124 with no shoulder for many miles to the small town of Latham. There is a gas station here where I head in and stock up on Gatorade. I have no idea how long those ticks where embedded into my skin but there’s a good chance they were there long enough to infect me with any disease they may have had. I need to stay well hydrated until I get to more populated areas in case any sickness comes over me.
My cell phone has no signal here but there is a payphone outside the gas station. You don’t see many payphones around anymore, but here is one in the middle of Appalachian Ohio. I take this opportunity to call home and inform Roxanne of my situation. I tell her not to panic, but to research every tick species in the Appalachian Mountain Region and send whatever she finds in my next food drop.
I get back on the trail north of Latham but soon myself in a maze of poorly marked trail. To make matters worse horses have been out here recently and the trail is just a mud hole. I can’t tell which trail is the BT and which isn’t so I use my best judgment again and eventually find my way to the road that will bring a hiker into Pike Lake State Park. I soon pass a carsonite post marked with the BT sticker so I didn’t come out at the right spot but at least I know I’m back on track now. I reach the park campground and stop for a few minutes at the dam and study my map. If I hike a few more miles I can reach the Pike State Forest and pitch there for the night instead of paying for a site within the state park. Just as I am about the leave a woman flags me down. Hence I meet Cheryl “Questseeker” Winningham, currently thru-hiking the BT. She asked if I am the guy that’s thru-hiking the NCT and when I respond that in fact I am she is very excited. She brings me back to the campground where she introduces me to Dan and Ruth Dorrough of New York, currently section hiking the whole NCT. They are shuttling Cheryl around on her thru-hike while they hike other sections on their quest to hike the whole trail. After a few stories they offer to host me at their campsite tonight so I don’t have to pay for my own. I accept their offer and set up my tent behind their van.


Sat. August 17
Trail Day 136
Miles hiked: 25.5
Home of Mike and Connie – Richmond Dale, OH


I’m up at a decent hour this morning and enjoy a nice breakfast with the kind folks that invited me to share their camp last night. Ruth and Dan tell me many stories of their own adventures over the NCT so far. After breakfast it’s time to leave so I say goodbye to my new friends and head past the dam and up the trail.
The trail heading out of the park is in nice shape but after about a mile or so it quickly deteriorates and becomes overgrown. It proves to be a very frustrating day. I find another hundred ticks around my ankles by the end of the day that I need to stop and remove with the ol’ duct tape. Once I’m out of the Pike State Forest I have a long roadwalk to a short segment of trail on private land. I can tell this segment is going to be rough going as it hasn’t been cleared this year but to get around it would be an impossibly long road-walk, so in I go. This segment is the worst maintained trail I have encountered along this trail so far in this journey. It’s short but I spend the entire time fighting my way through rose bushes taller than myself and waist-high poison ivy winding up many of the trees. By the end of the segment my arms and legs are severely scratched up from all the multi-flora rose bushes, an invasive species. At the very end I have to scramble over a pile of debris at the edge of someone’s field and follow a fenced corridor down to the highway. The only problem is at the very end of the corridor is a fence crossing with no stile and right in front of it is dog house with two large dogs chained up right on the trail. As I approach they see me and start barking up a storm. I’m not getting close to these guys, so I take a wide detour around the perimeter of the fence through the yard of the nearest house and follow their driveway down to the road.
A short roadwalk brings me into the Scioto Trail State Forest where I follow the Bridle Trail a short distance and then finish the day at a 5-way road junction. Yesterday as I passed through Sinking Springs I had a message from Bruce Matthews at NCTA HQ. A couple along the Scioto Trail section heard about me and offered to help out anyway they could. While I was in town I gave them a call and they agreed to pick me up at this road junction tonight and host me at their home. I am not waiting very long when a van appears and pulls over to the side of the road. Hence I meet Mike and Connie, my hosts for the night. We load my gear into their van and head back to their home in Richmond Dale.
When we arrive they show me around and direct me to the guest room in the basement where I will be staying. After a nice shower and the removal of a few more ticks I head back upstairs for dinner.
Mike and Connie have hosted many hikers over the years, most of them travelling westbound on the American Discovery Trail. They also hosted Andrew Skurka for Thanksgiving during his C2C hike back in 2004. Here, yet again, I am following the tracks of a previous thru-hiker. We share many stories during the delicious meal and the question of my next food drop comes up. My next food drop is in Londonderry which I will reach tomorrow. The problem is it is Saturday, so tomorrow it will be closed. Luckily Connie knows everyone at the post office and says she’ll make some calls for me.
After dinner Connie comes out with good news. She tells me she will run over to the post office first thing in the morning, someone will be there with my package. This is truly amazing. Despite the harsh nature of the trail in Ohio I’ve had some of the best trail magic here, and when it is needed the most. Thanks Connie.


Sun. August 18
Trail Day 137
Miles hiked: 25
Home of Joe – Blue Lick Rd


Since I can’t get my package until a little later this morning there is no harm in sleeping in. Before leaving for the post office Connie made a nice breakfast and I downed it pretty quickly. When she returns with the package it takes only a short time to rearrange my gear and then we load into the van again and Mike and Connie shuttle me back to the 5-way junction where they picked me up yesterday. So now once again I say goodbye to some dear new friends, wonderful people along this NCT. “If you need anything in the next few days just give us a call.”
The trail today starts off well maintained and very nice. There’s very little underbrush to contend with. The decently maintained trail comes out to a road above the Scioto River and I’ve a short roadwalk across to reach the next segment at the base of Hang Gliders Hill. Getting to the top is no problem but once I’m there I’m disappointed to find once-again a lack of maintenance. There are no marking up here, no blazes, and no visible tread. I follow the only discernable path as I fight my way through eight-foot tall rose bushes. More bloody arms and legs as I slowly fight my way through. Soon the trail becomes lost in a thicket of these multi-flora monsters and I am forced to turn back. I backtrack the way I came to the base of the hill and begin a long roadwalk around this section eventually coming through Richmond Dale and Londonderry where I stop for a break. This huge detour has wasted several hours of forward progress and it’s almost dark now as I sit outside the gas station in Londonderry consuming a Gatorade.
I can’t stay here so I have no choice but to push on in the dark until I reach the state forest boundary outside of town. While passing by the local donut shop a guy sees me and waves me over. His name his Monk, lives right on the BT just up the road and offers me a place to camp in his yard. He gives me directions on how to walk there and before darkness falls I find my way down Blue Lick Rd where I should be. The houses are numbered a little weird so it’s hard to tell which one is which. I single out the one I think must be Monk’s and knock on the door. It turns out it is not the correct house, but I happened to knock on door of Joe, his son. Joe’s wife answers the door and when I explain how I came to be here she invites me in. Joe comes out to meet me and says I can pitch in the yard outside. It turns out I am not the first hiker that has stayed here, they’ve had many hikers pitch in their yard over the years. Joe’s friend Scott is visiting this evening so after I set up my tent he invites me inside for a few beers and I relax as I watch Joe and Scott battle it out on Wii Golf. They ask many questions about my hike as they play and seem very entertained by the adventures I’ve had. After enjoying a few drinks and some company I thank Joe again for his hospitality and head out to my tent for some much needed rest after this difficult day.


Mon. August 19
Trail Day 138
Miles hiked: 26
Hocking Hills State Park


Yesterday as I was relaxing in Joe’s house he mentioned that he had recently been up the trail behind his property and into Tar Hollow State Forest and it was not in very good shape. He recommended not wasting my time and hiking around it and getting back on in the Old Man’s Cave segment. Not wanting to have a repeat of yesterday I take his advice and hike up OH-327 on the edge of Tar Hollow and pick up the trail again where the Old Man’s Cave Section begins.
This segment starts off on a bridge and a privately held road and that has allowed access for hikers. At the top of the ridge the unmaintained road intersects with an ATV trail and the BT follows this for a good distance before heading back to the road just north of Eagle Mills. The rest of the day is mostly a roadwalk and pretty uneventful, with the exception of a strange piece of trail art, a tree with every branch capped with an empty can of PBR. With all the places I’ve eaten at, all the bars I’ve stopped into, and now this, PBR definitely appears to be the beer of the trail.
On the far side of Pretty Run as I am hiking along a car pulls up next to me. It’s Jamie, Byron Guy’s brother. He had heard I would be passing through here today and wanted to let me know that his place is available to stay at tomorrow. We make plans for him to pick me up at the end of the Old Man’s Cave section. He hands me a piece of paper with his contact information on it and wishes me luck before driving off. Soon the road walk descends into a valley and suddenly I feel like in the north woods again. I have reached Hocking Hills State Park and I can tell this will be a special place. All around there are large pine and fir trees, even a few cedars here and there. I haven’t seen them in this large of a cluster since leaving the Manistee National Forest. I appear to be in a small canyon, there are sheer dolomite cliffs and towers on either side of me. Before long I reach the trailhead for Ash Cave and stop here to have dinner. A few folks passing by on their way out stop to chat, wondering where I am headed. They all seem amazed when I tell them I walked here from North Dakota and still have two full states to go to reach my journey’s end. One couple offers me a fresh peach from their cooler before they load up their vehicle and drive away.
The park in Hocking Hills is gorgeous. The temperature is cooler in this canyon and there are caves and waterfalls all around. I take many pictures at Ash Cave before continuing on. As I reach the next parking lot the sun is beginning to set rapidly and I find that a newly constructed barricade is across the BT here. A sign says that the trail is closed and to follow different trails around to Cedar Falls. I’ve had bad luck in Ohio so far when it comes to detours so I decide to stick to the trail regardless of what the sign says. I hop the barricade and head on in a few hundred yards and find a spot off the trail to pitch for the night. I find a cool flat spot right on the edge of a ravine with a sheer drop on two sides and after hanging my food I am off to sleep.


Tue. August 20
Trail Day 139
Miles hiked: 27
Home of Jamie Guy - near Logan, OH


Nobody bothered me last night in my spot on the rim of the ravine. I’m up at first light and hike the trail to Cedar Falls. I quickly see why this segment was closed, a bridge got washed out so now one must pick their way through a mess of boulders in a stream bed. The stream is now bone dry so it’s very easy to pick my way through and I arrive at the other barricade with no problem and rejoin the open trail at Cedar Falls.
The trail through the park is well marked and I have no doubt this will be the highlight of Ohio, especially considering the condition of the rest of the trail in southern Ohio. Before long I’m at Old Man’s Cave with swarms of people running around, despite being a Tuesday. I stop here for awhile to have a snack and take some good photos. As I am sitting here a couple comes up and asks me some questions about my hike and other nearby listen in as I tell my story. Hence I meet Don and Pam Fouse. They live near Lisbon where there is some certified NCT and I will be hiking through there in a few weeks. Don hands me his contact info and offers to help out any way he can. 
On my way out of the park I stop at the visitor center concessions for an ice cream cone. It is very hot today and from the pack I’ve got a short roadwalk to the next section of trail through the Hocking State Forest. This section is just as gorgeous as the park itself. There are plenty of cool dolomite formations, cliffs, gorges, and north woods tree species. Some of the cliffs here are tall enough that there are some rock climbers out here today. Unfortunately there is some horse damage on this section of trail but otherwise it’s a very well maintained and gorgeous trail.
The rest of the day is mostly a roadwalk with a few short off-road sections in between. There is a cool trail register of the ammo box variety that is painted blue and marked with the symbols of all three trails I am currently on: NCT, BT, ADT. I am a little bit behind schedule because of the heat today and the last segment of trail across private land proves to be a challenge because it has not been mowed this year so I need to watch my step and navigate around debris. I finally make it to the church at the end of the Old Man’s Cave Section and Byron and Jamie are waiting for me. We quickly load my gear into the vehicle and we head to Jamie’s house for the night. Byron orders a few pizzas for dinner and after I’m done with a much needed shower I head to the kitchen where we wait for dinner to arrive.
Jamie recently got back from a hike of the AT so we spend some time swapping stories, and Byron is curious to hear about my adventures since he saw me last week. The weather is supposed to be brutal, the past few days were just the beginning of a massive heat wave that is supposed to linger over the area for at least a week. After hearing the bad news the pizza arrives and we spend the rest of the night relaxing.


Wed. August 21
Trail Day 140
Miles hiked: 21.5
BTA Office - Shawnee, OH


Yesterday sometime before dinner Byron put a call in to the BTA office letting them know that I will be passing through tomorrow. He told me they are ready to have me, I can even spend the night if I want. This morning I am dropped off at the church where Byron and Jamie picked me up yesterday. We snap a few photos before we shake hands and I thank them for hosting me last night. Then I shoulder my pack and head down the road.
The day is mostly a roadwalk, mostly paved roads until I reach the boundary of the Wayne National Forest and then mostly gravel once I enter. The day starts off hot but before I make it to the first section of off-road trail the temperature drops rapidly and the sky turns dark. Within a few minutes a big thunderstorm rolls in as hike along a wide gravel road. Up ahead is a pretty big exposed hill and lightning is flashing overhead. I decide it’s time to take cover so I bail off the road and head into the forest, a good 15 foot drop from the road bed. I find a nice clear spot to put my pack down, sit on it and wait for the lightning to pass. I’m in this spot for over a half hour before the lightning gets far enough away that I can continue on. With my rain coat on I head back to the road in the pouring rain and hike on.
This road section isn’t blazed very well and I miss a turn. I figure it out at the next junction and make my way back to the trail. At one point along this unintended detour I pass by a trailer house a good distance off the road and am startled when an angry dog barking at the top of its lungs come charging out at me clear into the road. I have a few rocks in my pocket and not wanting it to get close enough for me to use my trekking poles I lob one and land it right in front of him. No sooner did this occur than an angry voice comes booming out from the trailer. The owner had seen the encounter and warned me not to throw another rock at his dog, it will get me in big trouble in these parts. Excuse me dude, but your dog attacked me while I was on a public road, I have a right to defend myself. Not daring to turn my back on the savage animal I continue walking down the road until it is out of site and then I turn and pick up the pace. I’m not sure but I thought I heard a door slam as soon as I turned my back and I have this strange feeling like I’m being followed. I reach the next road intersection and cross Salt Run on a bridge and pick up the trail again there. Just as I make the corner some headlights come into view and not wanting to find out if it is the pissed off dog owner I make a dash for the trees and lunge myself a good distance into the brush and lie flat and still. The truck passes by and doesn’t stop. If it was the angry guy behind the wheel he didn’t see me. My mind is probably just going into survival mode, but for the first time on this trek part of me wishes I had a gun to defend myself from potential encounters like this.
I continue on with the nagging feeling I’m still being watched, or maybe hunted. At the next road crossing I quickly dash across just as a bolt of lightning comes out of nowhere and hits the ridge right above me. The rain quickens again and right on the edge of a creek I stop once again and hunker down with my pack until the lightning passes.
After 45 minutes or so the thunder and lightning passes on and I am finally able to keep going. I’ve got a few more miles to cover here in this part of the Wayne and once I hit busy OH-93 I bail off and follow the road into Shawnee where the BTA office is located. I find the place and knock on the door. It is after hours and no one appears to be around. I backtrack a little and make my way to the gas station and grab something to drink. As I am sitting outside my phone rings. On the other end is Richard Lutz, GIS Coordinator for the BTA. He is wondering where I am and I tell him that I just arrived in town and am waiting at the gas station. He will be here in a few minutes to pick me up. Sure enough in a few minutes a car pulls up and I meet Richard in person. We load my gear into his car and he shuttles me to the BTA office where I will be staying tonight, the top floor is actually an apartment where he currently lives. After grabbing a shower we head back down to the gas station for some freshly-made subs and soda and head back to the office for some trail talk. He is curious to hear my thoughts about the trail conditions so far and gets out his maps. I spend the next ten minutes pointing out all the areas where I had difficulty navigating because of poor blazing, unmaintained trail, or confusing intersections. I also take the opportunity to inform him about my visit with the folks at the Cincinnati Nature Center and how Laura was interested in talking with the BTA to see if they could route the trail across the property. Richard’s face lights up with excitement, it turns out he has been hoping that opportunity would come up for many years now. I guess someone just needed to be in the right place at the right time to make it happen.
I purchased most of my maps for this hike almost two years ago and many of the ones I have for the BT are the older additions. Richard takes a few minutes to print me off a new set of the areas I haven’t been to yet so they are more up-to-date and easier to read. After talking over the changes it’s pretty late so I head upstairs to the guest room and drift off to sleep.


Thur. August 22
Trail Day 141
Miles hiked: 20
Home of Andrew and Claudia Bashaw - Glouster, OH


Just as I am getting ready to leave this morning Andrew Bashaw comes into work. We spend awhile talking trail, he is interested in my feedback on the BT. He cringes as I relate my story of the tick infestation, and how I am watching very closely for signs of sickness. He also informs me that the trail in the Marietta unit of the Wayne is not open yet. That combined with the likelihood of me getting sick from a sudden tick illness I decide it would be safer to bypass the long roadwalk through Marietta and instead take the alternate BT route through the AEP Recreation Lands. If the 35 miles of trail in the Wayne is not open then there is no point in walking 150 miles further on remote forest roads just to walk past it when I can instead hike almost 40 miles of alternate existing trail that is in good shape with a shorter roadwalk and still end up at the same place. The past few days I’ve felt a little off, if I do get sick it’s going to be sometime in the next four or five days and being in the remote corner of the Wayne would be the worst possible place to be when it happens.
Andrew asks what my plans are for tonight and I tell him I can probably make it to Burr Oak State Park. He gives me his cell number and says I can stay at his house tonight if I can’t make it there. Before leaving we snap a picture in front of the historic building downtown and then Richard drives me back to the trail. After the first few miles the rest of the day is mostly a roadwalk except for a small segment of trail through a horseback resort and a wildlife area. In a small unit of the Wayne outside Burr Oak State Park I follow the last chunk of off-road trail to a style crossing to find that a large trees has fallen on it and there is no way to get over or around it. Additionally the fence is too high to climb over so I have no choice but to turn around here and road walk around. As I backtrack to where I left the road I notice dark clouds overhead. I give Andrew a call, looks like I wont quite make it to the park after all. He says he’ll pick me up near Tom Jenkins Dam in about an hour. To get around the impassable stile crossing I need to walk along busy OH-13, again with no shoulder. It starts to rain again a half hour into my trek to the dam and just as I approach the entrance Andrew pulls into the driveway. What good timing! We load my gear in the back and head for his house in Glouster.
When I arrive I am introduced to his wife Claudia. My first order of business it to take a shower and then catch up on some emails before Claudia has dinner ready. Afterwards Andrew gets a call from Herb Hulls, one of the volunteers with the BTA. My pack has been repaired and Brent Anslinger has sent it to him to be delivered to me. We make arrangements for Herb to meet me in Stockport day after tomorrow at the old hotel in town to make the exchange. I’ll be getting my own pack back and handing off Brent’s pack to Herb to be returned to him later.
After talking trail for a little while Andrew sets up the fold-out couch in his living room and I drift off to sleep.


Fri. August 23
Trail Day 142
Miles hiked: 30
Home of Ken and Karen Peters - Chesterhill, OH


This weekend is the BTA Annual meeting at the century barn in Deersville so the Bashaw family will be dropping me off enroute this morning. After a nice breakfast they shuttle me back to Jenkins Dam. I thank Andrew for his hospitality and after shaking his hand he drives away.
A short walk from the dam I cross into Burr Oak State Park. Very pleasant scenery along the route today, right along the shore of the Burr Oak Reservoir. The trail here is well maintained, a nice change of pace for southern Ohio but it is pretty slippery from the rain. All the moisture from the storms doesn’t help the heat situation at all, the humidity makes hiking in this heat unbearable. I need to stop frequently for breaks to stay hydrated. Despite the nice scenery in this park it brings back memories of passing through East Fork Lake State Park east of Milford. The reason, the cobwebs are back today and are just as thick, if not thicker than they were back then. If East Fork was like Mirkwood, then surely I must be in Shelob’s Lair today. During my frequent breaks I’m ripping the sticky netting off my body, my clothing and my gear. At one point while hiking along I feel something crawling on my neck. I reach back and pull a large clump of webbing off and am shocked when I inspect it. There, clinging to the strand of sticky web is the unmistakable black widow. I always thought they were a southern species but as I edit this now I have discovered there is a northern subspecies, and southern Ohio is along the edge of its range. I avoid getting bitten and watch myself more carefully after the discovery.
After leaving Burr Oak the rest of the day is a roadwalk and I stop for a break at a place Richard told me about, a tall hill near a water tower with a pavilion. The heat wave is definitely back in full swing, and I have a few text messages on my phone from Andrew regarding local trail angels who would be happy to help out. I also have a voicemail from Ken Peters in Chesterhill. Apparently he and Andrew talked last night and Ken wanted to offer to help out anyway he could. I give him a call back and he doesn’t answer but he did include his address in the message he left. In a few hours I complete the roadwalk to Chesterhill and easily locate Ken’s home based on the information he left me in his message. I knock on the door and a woman answers. It’s Ken’s wife Karen, and she happily lets me in. She knew I may possibly be stopping by and the first thing she does is sits me down at the kitchen table and brings me a pitcher of ice water. We talk for a few minutes and then Ken comes in from his work on the guest house next door. It’s a work in progress, not finished yet, so I will be sleeping in a guest room upstairs tonight. So I meet Ken in person and we spend a good amount of time talking about my adventure and future plans for the trail. Ken tells me he hopes to host a section of trail and a campsite on his property in the near future for hikers to use.
Karen says she will have dinner ready soon so the next thing I do is take a shower so I’m not completely disgusting during the meal. Once I’m finished I’m treated to more ice water and a delicious dinner. The evening is finished after more story-telling, then I head upstairs to the guest room for a comfortable night of sleep.


Sat. August 24
Trail Day 143
Miles hiked: 21
North of Onion Run Road - AEP Recreation Lands, BT


I sleep in a little this morning and then Ken shuttles me into Stockport to retrieve my next package. On the way back to his place we make a detour to a historic site a ways off the trail where the Indian Wars began. Ohio sure does have lots of history despite the poor trail conditions. Back at Ken’s house Karen serves some extra food for breakfast and after thanking the Peters’ for a lovely stay at their home I hit the road.
Another blazing hot day on the roadwalk to Stockport. Along the way I get a call from Herb, my pack was delivered to his house this morning. We make plans to meet in Stockport in a few hours. At a fork in the road, literally in the road, is a well with a freshwater spring. I roll on into town and stop at the gas station for some Gatorade and a rest in the shade. No sooner have I finished than I get a call from Herb. He has just reached town and is wondering where I am, to which I respond I have also just arrived in town. Another case of perfect timing.
I head on down to the old Inn on the river and meet up with Herb. He’s a dedicated member involved with both the BT and the ADT. My pack looks great, almost new. I spend a few minutes switching gear from Brent’s Gregory into my GoLite. Herb gives me a few pointers on the section of trail I will be hiking the next two days between here and Belle Valley. He says there is a nice camping spot a few miles up the trail where they plan to install a shelter next year. So my goal for today is to make it to that spot. I thank Herb for taking the time to bring my pack to me and he wishes me luck on the rest of my hike.
I decide to linger for awhile in the shade in front of the old Inn before continuing on. The rest of the day is almost entirely a roadwalk to the beginning of the next off-road segment on the edge of the AEP Recreation Lands. At this junction the wilderness loop, known locally as the “stupid loop”, continues along remote gravel roads and a 40 mile segment of off-road trail in the Wayne on a strange 150 mile detour to Belle Valley. Up ahead on my route I have 40 miles of off-road trail through recently reclaimed AEP lands to reach Belle Valley day after tomorrow. Why the NCT takes the long detour to Marietta over some historically poorly maintained trail a stone’s throw from West Virginia when this chunk of existing good quality trail is here I will never understand.
I head on in and up the finely maintained trail to the first ridge. I lingered too long in Stockport so I wont make it to the camping spot Herb spoke of so I find a nice flat spot up on the ridge just off the trail and pitch for the night.


Sun. August 25
Trail Day 144
Miles hiked: 20
Bicentennial Campground – BT


I’m on the trail fairly early this morning but it remains a slow day. The heat has really intensified and it’s showing no signs of letting go anytime soon. Parts of the trail through some of the open areas are overgrown with weeds up to my waist, but the sections through the woods are nice. There is a small dolomite cave early on the hike this morning and there are some nice views of some nearby lakes. The woods around here have a north-woods feel to them. I pass a trail register along an open stretch and figure that this must be the site of the future shelter. I stop here for a quick break before continuing on.
The afternoon sees the trail following some mowed service roads through previously mined land. It hasn’t been mowed in awhile so the grass is up past my ankles and unfortunately some ATV’s have been out here and created some muddy rutted areas. Along this stretch my time scanning the ground for snakes finally pans out but what I find isn’t what I expected. Across the trail ten feet in front of me is a huge black snake, so large in fact that the seven-foot corridor I am hiking through now can’t contain its entire body. I freeze, as the horror of what I’ve stumbled upon sinks in. I’ve mentioned before that I’m not a fan of snakes, when I was younger in fact I had a near-phobia of the buggers. Where I stand now that fear takes hold again. I stamp my feet hoping the vibrations will scare it off. No movement. I edge a little closer continuing to stamp my feet but nothing happens.
I stand motionless for what seems like forever trying to control the fear and think rationally about how to navigate around this. The brush is too thick on either side to make an easy time getting around so I am left with little choice. I close my eyes, take a deep breath, and count to five. Eyes closed and the fear temporarily contained I take a leap and hit the ground running, literally. Not daring to open them knowing the fear will take hold again if I see the massive beast moving I run the length of half a football field before opening my eyes. The trail here is wide and straight so there are no worries of running into a tree. Miraculously I didn’t step on the beast or stumble on a rutted ATV track and made it to the base of a gentle uphill climb. I follow this to a gated entry off a paved access road leading to the nearby campground and stop here for a break.
My water is almost gone from the heat of the day so I head on down the road to the campground and fill up. This heat wave has really wore on me and I can tell my strength is starting to diminish. I decide to take a nap here in the campground on the picnic table at one of the empty sites. Nearly two hours go by before I wake up and decide to cook myself a hot meal once I realize I’m hungry.
After a good meal and rehydrating I hike a few more mils and finish the day at the Bicentennial Campground where I get a spot and pitch for the night.


Mon. August 26
Trail Day 145
Miles hiked: 25
Property of Jerry Marolt - Buffalo Hills Resort


It’s only a few miles to the end of the trail through the recreation lands and then a short roadwalk to the small town of Belle Valley where I have another food drop waiting. When I arrive I am disappointed to find that it doesn’t open until 1:00 so I now have several hours to kill. I decide to consume some of my extra food and catch up on some journals to pass the time. There is a gas station across the way and today is another blazing hot day so I purchase more Gatorade to stay well hydrated.
At 1:00 the post office finally opens and I can get hiking again. The day is mostly a roadwalk except for a small section through Wolf Run State Park. There is a nice section over an earthen dam and then a few more cobwebs to contend with at the end of the section.
Along the roadwalk is another historical site-one of the many crash-sites of the USS Shenandoah, an American zeppelin that was ripped apart by severe thunderstorms and rained down on the countryside below. The trail passes by one of the sites of the wreckage, I snap a photo of the sign marking the spot.
Later on I pass through an Amish community on the way to Buffalo Hills Resort. At the resort I head on into the office to possibly see about pitching my tent somewhere on the grounds away from everyone else. My map says the resort is private and permission of the owners is needed. Unfortunately the woman at the counter wont let me stay so I have no choice but to push on. I follow the BT through the huge campground, many campers and small cabins are occupied. I find the gate where the BT leaves the resort and heads into the woods but it is currently blocked by a large tree that has fallen right behind the gate. I look for a way around but there doesn’t appear to be one. I wander around looking for a place to leave the resort and get out onto the highway on the opposite side but there doesn’t appear to be a way out. As I am wandering I pass an occupied site with a pavilion and a camper and the occupant flags me down as I approach. Hence I meet Jerry
Marolt, the tenant of this lot. After a brief conversation he offers his lot for the night, I can set up my tent anywhere. He was quite frustrated when he heard the woman at the counter wouldn’t let me camp here. Well this certainly worked out and was extremely helpful, Thanks Jerry.
Before I can get my tent set up completely Jerry has to leave for awhile to meet with some friends but he tells me to make myself at home and enjoy his pavilion. There is a wall on one side with a fireplace and some patio furniture around to sit on. I relax in one of his chairs as I enjoy some dinner and read some pages from Tolkien. After awhile Jerry returns and offers me a beer. I gladly accept and he gets a fire started as we start chatting. He is familiar with the BT and the ADT but the NCT is a mystery to him. He is excited that I am here and when he learns there may be more like me in the future he tells me he would be willing to open his lot up for hikers to camp in, and even set up a register box. I will definitely pass on your request to BTA headquarters Jerry. Many drinks with Jerry and many hours later it is far past time for me to get to sleep. I thank Jerry for his generous hospitality and head into my tent for a night of sleep.

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 FouseLock 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.


Sat. September 14
Trail Day 163
Miles hiked: 30
Dudley Motel - Salamanca, NY


It got very cold last night and it’s still cold this morning. I have to put on my fleece to stay warm. I don’t waste any time in getting up and out this morning and I begin my trek through New York in Allegany State Park. Soon the sun comes out and it turns into a very nice day. I’m low on water again so I head to the developed campground nearby to camel up and enjoy a nice breakfast. Lots of people are out camping this weekend, almost every site is full. Also along the trail today I pass several Adirondack shelters, the most I have seen in such a close proximity. Despite being on the final leg of this journey I have only seen a handful of shelters along the NCT, most of which were in Pennsylvania. The Finger Lakes Trail is supposed to have lots of these shelters and I am looking forward to using them. 
I make good time and make it to where the trail comes out near I-86 and crosses the Seneca Indian Reservation for a few miles before coming out on private land on the other side. I’ve been hearing gun shots for the past few miles and it is clear to me now that they are coming from the reservation, hunting season is right around the corner. I decide to not travel across the reservation and instead take the hunting bypass route to Salamanca and get a motel for the night. It’s more than eight miles from where I now stand which will make for another 30 mile day. I make it to Salamanca just as darkness descends and I check in at the historic Dudley Motel. The woman at the desk sees my pack and knows I have a story to tell and she cuts me a hiker trash rate. Back in the room I order dinner from a flyer lying on the desk and in a half hour I am enjoying some delicious calzones delivered to the room. It’s been a long day and I have no problem falling
asleep.


Sun. September 15
Trail Day 164
Miles hiked: 24
Telemark Motel - Ellicottville, NY


I greatly enjoyed my stay here at the historic Dudley Motel. After a continental breakfast I pack my gear and hit the road to hike back to the trail in Bucktooth State Forest. After this the trail crosses through some private land where the trail is in bad shape. It mostly follows an old rutted logging road with standing water in most places. This is a disappointment as I have heard great things about the FLT, but it isn’t off to a great start.
Eventually the trail emerges out onto a country road past a golf course and continues off-road in Rock City State Forest. This is an improvement over the section I was just on. Along this section of trail I meet two hikers coming toward me. Hence I meet Keith and Cindy, out for the weekend. They have been working on hiking the entire FLT end-to-end in sections. I am pleased to find out that they know about the NCT and they seem impressed with my story of attempting to hike the entire thing. After snapping a photo with me we part ways and I discover how this forest got its name. There is an old CCC camp located here complete with an actual rock city and the trail goes right through it.  From here the trail passes through Holimont Ski Area where the trail winds among and across the many ski trails. The markings here are few and far between and I manage to lose the trail a few times. Eventually I get back on track and hike on down to NY-242, where I turn and head to Ellicottville. I have a food drop here and today being Sunday I’ll have to wait until tomorrow morning to get it. In town I find that most of the “motels” are actually restored Victorian style houses, well out of my price range. To find an affordable motel I need to hike over a mile further to the south end of town to the Telemark Motel. Once inside I give Irene Szabo a call. She is the editor of both the FLT and NCT quarterly newsletters. I had been in contact with her a few days earlier and she wanted to come down to meet me and take me out to dinner. I tell her where I am and she says she will be here in about an hour. I get a nice shower in and then watch some tv as I wait for Irene to arrive. Before long she is outside to pick me up and we head to the brewery in town for a nice burger and great beer. We have a nice conversation about my trip so far, my estimated schedule through the rest of the FLT, and what I plan to do when I finish. Irene is going to try and set up a few more interviews for me once I arrive in the Watkins Glen-Ithaca area to help promote the trail. Afterwards Irene drops me back at the motel and she heads back home. Thanks for the delicious dinner Irene, it was nice meeting you.


Mon. September 16
Trail Day 165
Miles hiked: 20
Boyce Hill Shelter - FLT


I slept in this morning for some much needed rest. I head across the street to Burger King for some breakfast first thing. Then it’s pack shouldered and I’m hiking back into Ellicottville to retrieve my package at the post office. After getting everything squared away it’s time to hit the trail again.
The hike begins on private land with some gorgeous trail. This section has lots of switchbacks to ascend and descend the sides of large hills and bluffs. After a brief roadwalk the quality of the trail decreases again with more rutted and wet logging roads. The next section is again in good shape across land donated to the FLTC, complete with a campsite. Then the trail follows NY-242 for over a mile then turns into Boyce Hill State Forest. As I am looking for a place to pitch my tent I come across a shelter that isn’t marked on the map. It must have been built very recently, as there is also scrap lumber lying around. Oh yes, this will do just fine.


Tue. September 17
Trail Day 166
Miles hiked: 28
Sixtown Creek Campsite – FLT


It got very cold last night and sleeping on the floor of the shelter was no comfort. I didn’t sleep well so getting out and going is difficult. Before leaving camp I find a small piece of lumber that will work great to replace my bear anchor I lost back in Cook Forest. I’m heading back into the heart of bear country now so I will need it if I expect to keep my food to myself.
After an hour of hiking the sun comes out and it warms up quite nicely. Some nice well-maintained trail takes me through Bear Creek State Forest and some private land until I reach Kingsbury Hill Road. At this point the trail is again unfortunately a victim of low maintenance. It hasn’t been cleared or mowed in some time and I am faced with more swarms of bees. I make it through this time without being stung but have a difficult time navigating this section. Once inside Bush Hill State Forest a temporary reroute has been marked by flagging and shows up on my map but I am only able to find the first flag. The trail goes somewhere across a wide open field and it’s anybody’s guess as to exactly where it leads. After heading straight in the direction I think the trail most likely goes and keeping my eyes peeled for flagging I become lost and have to bushwhack back to the road. In the process I become tangled in brush and severely cut up by multi flora rose. After crossing a barbed wire fence and a rather deep, muddy drainage ditch I make it back to the road. I take a moment to drop my pack, wet my handkerchief and wipe the blood off my legs.
Taking a break now I look at my map and find the best way to hook up with the trail again at the entrance to Farmersville State Forest. Pack shouldered again I roadwalk the next several miles to find the trail and head in. I am pleasantly surprised to find the trail through Farmersville nicely maintained. After this I have a long roadwalk to Swift Hill State Forest where I plan to pitch for the night. It is evening now and I have almost completed this section but there is a designated campsite on private land only a few miles further that I could make it to before dark if I hurry. I decide to go for it and follow the trail out of the forest onto an abandoned rail grade and on the outskirts of the little berg of Higgins. I pass along the edge of several farms and find the blue-blazed spur trail that leads to the campsite. This little trail takes me past a small private waterfall and through a guy’s front yard before crossing the road and arriving at a small campsite. I arrive right at dark, set up camp, hang my food and drift off to sleep.


Wed September 18
Trail Day 167
Miles hiked: 19
Hesse Private Shelter – FLT


There is a picnic table at this campsite so I cook breakfast first thing this morning. Looking at my maps there appears to only be one spot to camp within the next 30 miles of trail so today will be a shorter day to make use of the shelter located there. Heading out this morning I follow the blue blazes out to the road where I am immediately greeting by two angry dogs at the house where the trail crosses the front yard. With no way around I decide to take the high water route to avoid an unpleasant scuffle with these dogs that are not happy about me being there. After the bypass route I join the trail again off county road 19 and head on in, or should I say up. The trail through this area is all on private land, mostly along field edges and fence lines. For the most part this section is decently maintained so navigating it is not a problem. At Camp Sam Wood I stop at the shelter there to take a break before continuing on. The trail leading away from here is a little dangerous as the trail follows very closely to a fence line… an electric fence line. I have to walk slow as there is less than four feet between the hedge and the fence and I don’t want my pack or my trekking poles to brush against the hot wires. I navigate around without being shocked and hike the rest of the way to reach the Genesse Valley Greenway. The Greenway is an abandoned towpath that has been converted into a trail for hiking and biking and leads into Portageville where it joins the Letchworth trail to bring a hiker around a loop through Letchworth State Park. Along the Greenway now I am making good time but soon am confused as the maintained path suddenly ends. To this point the path had been freshly mowed but here suddenly it stops and is overgrown with lots of poison ivy. Careful not to get too much of it on me I tiptoe through the tree line separating the Greenway from the service road and hike the rest of the way into town
on the road. In Portageville I stop in for a late lunch at the Tavern where I am one of only a few people here. I order a full meal of burger and fries and the bartender, Seth, asks me where I’m headed. Like so many before him I tell the full account my journey so far and he responds by paying for my first beer, a nice cold PBR. Thanks Seth, I appreciate it.
After enjoying my nice meal a few more locals come in, most ask me the basic questions. Then it’s time to move on, hiking across the highway bridge and picking up the trail again on private land with some fine overlooks of the country side. I end the day at the private Hesse Lean-to and make myself at home for the night.


Thur. September 19
Trail Day 168
Miles hiked: 24
Pond Campsite - Gas Spring State Forest - FLT


I had a nice rest in the Hesse Shelter and I waste no time in getting going this morning. The hike leads me through private land and out to a short roadwalk where I bail off and head to the convenience store in Dalton. I need to refill my water supply before continuing on and this is the last reliable source that I know of. From here it’s a long roadwalk to the little berg of Swain where the trail again takes to the woods on an old rail grade. Many blazed loop trails exist in this area and I’m not quite sure what the purpose is, the only visible purpose are a few archery targets, indicating this may part of an archery range. Whatever the case may be I make good time on the rail grade.
The next chunk of trail is very interesting as it is all on private land and goes directly up a creek. Not beside the creek, but directly up the creek! I’ve been hiking a lot of places but I’ve never been on a trail like this before. The creek bed is set in steps, varying in width and height, and the trail follows this for about a quarter mile. It is slow going because even though the water is low the creek bed is still slippery, most of the rocks being incredibly flat and smooth.
Out of the creek now, shortly I come to a trail intersection. A spur trail leads from here to Bossard’s Cabin, available for hikers to use except during hunting season. I want to check it out but I still have a long way to go so I hike right on past. Right after this there are many electric fences that need to be crossed through some cattle pastures. Luckily gates have been installed to allow hikers to travel this section more easily but I still need to be very careful not to get zapped while unhooking the gates. I make it through the gates and over a few stiles without incident. Shortly after traversing an old tractor road past an old barn the trail heads uphill toward an open meadow with great views looking behind. I can definitely tell I am in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains and have been for the past several days. Soon the trail reaches Gas Spring/Klipnocky State Forest and I make it to the campsite located adjacent a small pond where I
call it a day and pitch my tent among the pine needles.


Fri. September 20
Trail Day 169
Miles hiked: 29
Burt Hill Shelter - FLT


Over the course of my hike through the great state of New York so far I have noticed the pattern of the Finger Lakes Trail. Many of the area’s public lands are little specks of state forest land and the trail weaves its way from one speck to the next, crossing private land to connect one forest to the next. I have also noticed that the sections through the state forests are all very well marked and maintained and the private segments haven’t had nearly as much care. The diversity of this trail certainly is one of the more interesting things about it and makes for a very enjoyable hike.
Today’s hike brings me through a nice long segment through Klipnocky and Bully Hill State Forests followed by a roadwalk into Hornell where I stop for a break and some surprisingly good pizza at the gas station. The day has turned very hot and I have an uphill climb leading out of Hornell so I need to be well hydrated. While at the gas station I take time to check my email and send in a call to Bruce to let him know of my location. Folks who have been following along with my hike are expecting me to finish sometime in the next few weeks so I let Bruce know where I am and where I expect to be the next few days. I also take time to check the weather; a thunderstorm is due to hit sometime tomorrow shortly after noon. I should get as far as I can today to try and beat the weather if possible. So instead of spending the night in Hornell I push on for a few more hours. The trail leads me across some private land and into Burt Hill State Forest where I stop
for the night at the shelter there.


Sat. September 21
Trail Day 170
Miles hiked: 17.5
Super 8 Motel - Bath, NY


I’m up fairly early and get hiking right away to try and beat the impending storm. The trail today is entirely on private land and half on roadwalk. After an hour or so I stop at the edge of a farmer’s field to have a quick snack and glance at my maps. As I am studying the map I see something move in the corner of my eye and look over to see what caused it. I am completely surprised to see a lynx standing in the middle of the trail staring at me, less than 20 feet away. I’ve never seen one in the wild so this encounter is a real treat. If you’ve never seen one, a lynx is basically a giant house cat with a short tail. It spends a few seconds staring at me, as with the pack I’m sure I look strange. After realizing I’m a person it quickly retreats into the corn nearby and vanishes. The quick encounter didn’t allow enough time for a picture, for which I am greatly disappointed.
The rest of the day proves to be largely uneventful, a short section along a probable esker allows for some terrain changes and then a short section through an active archery range adds to the experience. At NY-415 I turn from the trail toward Bath and manage to reach town a little before 1:30 and check into the Super 8 Motel. No sooner have I reached my room on the third floor than the thunderstorm begins.
Yesterday when I checked my email I had a message from Peggy Coleman, Vice President – FLTC. She said she would like to help me out when I reach the Hornell area so I give her a call. I let her know that I have made it to Bath right as the storm hit and that I am staying in town tonight. She says she wants to take me out to dinner and we make arrangements for her to pick me up in an hour. When she arrives we head toward Hammondsport to an authentic Mexican Restaurant. While waiting for our orders Peggy asks me some interview questions about my hike so far. She hopes to get me some more interviews in Watkins Glen once I arrive there in a few days. Once back at the motel I say goodbye to Peggy and she wishes me luck as I continue on the final leg of my journey. Thanks Peggy for your encouragement and treating me to that fine meal.


Sun. September 22
Trail Day 171
Miles hiked: 22
Just south of Rhinehart Road – Sugar Hill State Forest, FLT


I slept in this morning to recover as much as possible before hitting the trail again. By the time I have had breakfast and packed my gear it is almost 11:00 by the time I am out hiking. On my way out of town a woman pulls over in her car and rolls down her window. “I saw you walking and thought you could use this.” She hands me a 20 dollar bill. Hence I meet Karen. She asks me my story and I give her the quick rundown and she seems very inspired by my journey. She has a dream to hike the AT one day, once both of her kids are in college. After a brief conversation she is gone. Thank You Karen for your generous donation. I wish you the best of luck on your future AT thru-hike.
Today’s hike is mostly on private land but is very well maintained for the most part. I reach the highlight of the day fairly early where the trail follows some field roads around sunflower fields to a sheltered bench with great views to the south. After stopping to admire the view I sign the trail register nearby and continue on. Some interesting features of the trail today is a short segment along an abandoned railroad (with rails still in place) and a short section through some vineyards. The day ends with a long roadwalk where I make good time and I make it to Birdseye Hollow State forest and pitch for the night. Despite the late start I manage to get in a solid 22 miles.


Mon. September 23
Trail Day 172
Miles hiked: 26
Twin Shelters – Birdseye Hollow State Forest, FLT


Today’s hike takes me through some finely maintained trail through many state forests, with some roadwalk connectors in between. Within the first few miles I pass by Birdseye Hollow County Park and an old foundation. Once out of Birdseye Hollow State Forest I have a long roadwalk to bring me into South Bradford State Forest where I reach an intersection with the Great Eastern Trail. This is the northern terminus of the GET, which parallels the AT on the west side of the Appalachian Mountains. After snapping a picture of the sign I turn and follow this trail a short distance to the Moss Hill Lean-to where I stop for a break. In the log book inside I discover a note addressed to me. It is from a fellow Minnesotan, Jo Swanson, who earlier this year completed a thru-hike of the GET. We had spoken once before I began my hike back in March and she was very excited to hear about my trek over the NCT. Like me she is also a regular on the SHT and heard about my hike at the annual meeting. More unusual is the fact that she has family in my home town, which doesn’t even show up on most maps. What a small world we live in. Inside is included a coupon, “valid for one free beer.” Thanks Jo, I will keep this and cash it in sometime whenever our paths may cross.
The hike continues through Goundry Hill, then Sugar Hill State Forests. At the northern most point of this section the trail passes by a very old cemetery atop a hill, providing a great view north toward Lamoka and Waneta Lakes. I have a cell signal here and I have a text from Peggy. She has a tv news crew set to meet me in Watkins Glen around 11:00 tomorrow and she will be there as well. With that in mind I need to make it as far as I can today to minimize chances of being late tomorrow.
I finish the day hiking through Sugar Hill State Forest, passing one shelter where I originally intended to spend the night. Instead I push on another mile and a half to a pair of shelters complete with picnic tables and a fire ring. I am a little surprised to be the only person here, this site is clearly intended for groups. Excited to finally reach Watkins Glen State Park tomorrow, I manage to cook my dinner and hang my food just as darkness descends and I settle into one of the shelters for a night of rest.


Tue. September 24
Trail Day 173
Miles hiked: 20.5
Dunham Shelter – Finger Lakes National Forest, FLT


I managed to have a very restless sleep last night as the cold descended and it was hard to stay warm. As a result I got a later start than I wanted, and I’m not sure if I’ll be able to make it to Watkins Glen by 11:00. I feel guilty now, as I have an entire group of people depending on me to be there. With nothing to do but hike I get started as soon as I am able, hiking as fast as possible to reach Watkins Glen State Park.
I have been looking forward to reaching this place since before starting my hike. During my research while planning my hike I came upon many fantastic photos and videos of this place, and ever after I have waited to experience it for myself. When I arrive I am not disappointed, it looks even better in real life. This three mile segment of trail I am on traverses Glen Creek, which is actually more of a river. Lots of CCC history can be found here, the entire trail through the gorge has been literally carved into the side of the gorge. Stone steps, caves, and bridges are abundant to allow access to view the many spectacular waterfalls. As I descend into the gorge and reach the lowest level I am immediately reminded of Rivendell, the hidden valley where the Elves dwell in Tolkein’s great works. This place is absolutely breathtaking. I wish I could spend more time here, but unfortunately I have a time crunch and need to be moving on. I have no doubt this 3-mile section of trail will be the highlight of the entire Finger Lakes Trail, and one of the best highlights of the entire NCT.
Right at the end of the gorge is the town of Watkins Glen, a fine trail town if there ever was one. I had texted Peggy earlier to let her know I would be an hour late and sure enough I arrive at the Chamber of Commerce just before noon. When I arrive I am surprised to find three separate camera crews there, all ready to hear my story. A few newspaper editors are there as well and after taking a few moments to find a good spot the interviews begin. It’s a strange feeling, being in the woods for days and suddenly be in the middle of civilization with cameras and microphones shoved in your face. I don’t mind it the least bit, as my goal to raise awareness and interest in the trail is dependent upon interviews like these.
After the interviews are over I head to the post office to retrieve my next supply package. As I am heading into the building Peggy flags me down.  With her is her coworker, Kim, and they say they would like to take me to lunch while I am here in town. There’s no way I can say no to that. We find a nice establishment with some good food and excellent beer, and I give Peggy an update of my hike since I saw her a few days ago, and my planned itinerary for the next couple days. Kim has many questions for me. She just graduated college a few years ago and still has the adventurous spirit in her. What a fun time we had in Watkins Glen.
Back at Peggy’s car it comes time for another sad goodbye, as her and Kim need to hit the road and head back to work. Thanks Peggy for all you have done for me the past few days, and thank you Kim for tagging along to meet me.
I decide to linger in town for awhile before moving on. I find a nice ice cream joint right near where the trail exits the park and find it to be some of the best ice cream I have ever tasted. I make conversation with Pete, the owner, and he wishes me luck on my journey. I finally leave town and follow the trail along the shore of Seneca Lake, one of the Finger Lakes. A short section of trail just outside of town takes me past a nice creek gorge complete with a waterfall. Most of the remainder of the day is a roadwalk to the Finger Lakes National Forest. I stop outside the bar in Burdett for a quick break and as I am leaving I run into Melven, a local. He just saw me on the news, wants to know more about my hike. Wow, that was fast. The interview was mere hours ago, incredible. I finish the roadwalk and begin my hike through the Finger Lakes National Forest. I am only about a mile from the shelter there when I lose daylight, have to find the shelter in the dark. With my head lamp on I make it there without any trouble and settle in for the night.


Wed. September 25
Trail Day 174
Miles hiked: 25
Riemann Woods Campsite - FLT


I was up and moving very early this morning, it was still dark. I begin the hike early trying to get as far as possible today. The hike leads through Texas Hollow State Forest before crossing NY-228 at the Veterans Memorial Park. I stop here for a break to refill my water before continuing on. The next stage of the hike brings me through Connecticut Hill Wildlife Management Area, passing through a nice gorge and over the summit of Connecticut Hill, the highest point for about 40 miles in any direction. After that is a most enjoyable section through Stevenson Forest Preserve with giant Hemlocks. I stop underneath one of these giants to have a last snack of the day before hiking the few more miles to the Riemann Woods Campsite where I call it a day.


Thur. September 26
Trail Day 175
Miles hiked: 31
Shindagin Shelter - FLT


Today’s hike brings me through Robert H. Treman State Park. It’s not nearly as impressive as Watkins Glen, but it has many of the same features; lots of carved stairways into the side of the gorge and many impressive waterfalls. Unfortunately the main route through the gorge, the Gorge Trail, is closed for repairs. This is very disappointing but I’m still able to see most of the main attractions from the Rim trail. There are only a few people out and about in the park today so it is a very peaceful hike. From the park the trail crosses lots of private land before reaching Danby State Forest. The trail through the state forests continues to be well marked and maintained. Exiting the forest the trail heads on private land and over Eastman Hill and along a high cliff edge for a good distance. With all the trees blocking the view it’s hard to see just how far down this cliff goes, it has to be a few hundred feet straight down.
Crossing NY-119 the trail follows an abandoned rail grade for a short distance before turning east and heading through Shindagin Hollow State Forest. I reach the shelter there after dark and spend a little time filtering water from the nearby creek before calling it a day.


Fri. September 27
Trail Day 176
Miles hiked: 34
Home of Jon and Jennifer Kozlowski


I’ve got a drop box waiting for me in Blodgett Mills, a good 43 miles from here. I’m going to have to get in some serious miles to make it to the post office there before noon on Saturday so I’m up and hiking at first light. After leaving Shindagin Hollow State Forest the hike is mostly a roadwalk with a small section of trail around Potato Hill State Forest, then around a trailer park to Robinson Hollow State Forest. I take a break at the Kimmie Lean-to before continuing on through Hammond Hill State Forest, along some field edges and past a microwave tower. Once in Kennedy State Forest I pass many opportunities for loop hikes: the orange blazed Spanish loop, the blue blazed Swedish loop, the yellow blazed Lithuanian loop, green blazed Irish loop, and orange blazed Virgil Mt. loop. After crossing the Virgil Mt. Loop for the second time the trail turns north and loops back around over Greek Peak and Virgil Mt. before descending down to the road. I stop on the corner at The Gatherings Restaurant and Cabins for a break. I’m just about to leave when a guy pulls up in his truck and on his way inside stops to chat with me. Hence I meet Justin, lives just down the road and was going to get some takeout at the restaurant to bring home. He recognizes me right away, as it turns out one of his classes at the local college has been following my progress. I tell him my plans about getting to the shelter just a few miles up the trail and leave early so I can make it to Blodgett Mills in the morning to get my package. He then invites me back to his place for dinner, says he will drop me off back on the trail early morning, as he needs to head to Pittsburgh for the weekend anyway. I accept his offer and we load my gear into his truck and we head not even a mile down the road to his place.
When we arrive I am greeted by two more people: Jenn and Jon, owners of the house. Justin is renting a room upstairs and says I can crash on his couch for the night. Justin explains to them who I am and how he ran into me at the restaurant and they are excited to host me for the night and hear my story. Before long I am invited out back to their patio complete with a nice fire pit and I am served a nice glass of red wine. As dinner is cooking Jenn and Jon give me the tour of their backyard. The creek runs right through their property and they explain to me the recent history of the area and how recent floods have changed the terrain of their land. Just as darkness is descending I am served a great meal of steak and potato wedges while I converse with my new friends. Jon gets a fire going and after dinner we all sit around and have s’mores with their two kids. I haven’t had a s’more since my night at the schoolhouse back in White Cloud, MI, what a treat. Jenn hands me her business card before her and the family retire to bed. I am close behind and Justin shows me the way upstairs to his apartment where I crash for the night on his couch.


Sat. September 28
Trail Day 177
Miles hiked: 25
Home of Bill and Mary Coffin - Chittanengo, NY


Yesterday as I was sitting outside the Gatherings Restaurant I made a phone call to Mary Coffin. She is involved with both the Adirondack Mountain Club (ADK) and the Central New York Chapter, NCT. She wanted to host me for a day as I approached the Onondaga section of the FLT, which is about a day’s hike away now. We made plans for her to pick me up at the end of today somewhere in Taylorsville State Forest at one of the two trailheads there. Right when I got off the phone with her is when I ran into Justin and the events of last night transpired.
I didn’t sleep well last night. On top of getting to sleep pretty late and getting up really early this morning, all in all I only got about four hours of sleep. Justin fixes us a quick breakfast and then he drops me back on the trail at 6:00. We shake hands and he wishes me luck as he drives away and heads to Pittsburgh. The hike begins in Tuller Hill State Forest, I need my headlamp for the first half hour or so as it is still dark. When I reach the Woodchuck Hollow Lean-to where I planned to spend last night I take the headlamp off and put in my pack. With it light out now I make good time to the north end of the forest then through a section on private land and reach West River Rd. The next six miles are on roads and I make it to Blodgett Mills before 10:00 to retrieve my package. I take a break outside the post office and make a few phone calls. Bruce left me a voicemail so I call him back first thing. He tells me about an opportunity to do some serious networking at the upcoming National Scenic and Historic Trail Conference in Tucson, AZ. There is a scholarship program available for college students or recent graduates to attend the conference as a trail apprentice and learn how to get into the trail business, and to provide their own insight about the needs of the younger generation.  He wants to know if I would be interested in applying so he can get the paperwork started while I am still on the trail. It sounds like a great opportunity so I tell him to go ahead and get started.
After an hour I am ready to continue on, so I shoulder my pack and head out of Blodgett Mills on a roadwalk to reach Hoxie Gorge. At the creek I navigate around several blowdowns and lose the trail in the process. After spending 20 minutes walking around in circles trying to find the trail I finally get back on track, frustrated as I discover it was a badly marked turn that threw me off track.
The next section of trail is through some private land to Baker Schoolhouse State Forest. At the trailhead a sign is posted. Apparently the trail dead-ends at the forest boundary ahead because the landowner on the other end withdrew his permission for the trail recently. Looking at my map I realize it will add several miles to detour around this section. After walking along busy NY-41 for several miles I find the trail where it heads up a steep embankment on some stairs into private land. Soon I am in Taylor Valley State Forest and am climbing up Mt. Tego. Towards the top I have a cell signal so I give Mary a call. With the short sleep last night and the extra miles hiked today I don’t have enough energy to make it over the next ridge to the second trailhead where we planned to connect, so I ask her to pick me up at the first one instead, which is just a few miles away. I hammer finish out the last miles and reach the trailhead off Cortland-Two Rd. I’m there no more than a minute or two when a car comes down the road toward me and stops. Hence I meet Mary Coffin in person. We load my gear into her car and enjoy a nice chat enroute to her home in Chittanengo. When we arrive I bring my gear inside and meet her husband Bill. Mary shows me to the room where I will be staying and I unload my gear and get a hot shower in before dinner. At the dinner table I am served a delicious bowl of beef stew with a cold beer, and even apple crisp for dessert. During our conversation at the dinner table Mary mentions that the Onondaga Chapter of ADK is having a reception for me tomorrow at Highland Forest County Park. This means I will be able to sleep in tonight and get some much needed rest. Before I turn in for the night Mary says it’s fine if I use her computer to check email and anything else I need to do. I take the opportunity to fill out all the paperwork that Bruce has forwarded to me about the National Trails Conference and within an hour have it all filled out and sent in. Fingers crossed this works out in the end.


Sun. September 29
Trail Day 178
Miles hiked: 12
Rose Hollow Campsite - FLT


It was so nice to sleep in this morning. Immediately when I get up I am treated to a great sausage and egg breakfast. After that I spend awhile sorting through my gear and looking over my maps to make a tentative plan for the next few days. Around 10:00 we load the car and head for Highland Park for the banquet. The Lodge where the banquet will be held is an impressive facility. There is a large balcony on the north side that provides a sweeping view of the countryside. Quite a few people have shown up to meet me and hear my story, most of them members and volunteers of ADK, FLT, or NCT. We enjoy a nice spread of food while sharing stories about the trail. After it all we all stand on the balcony for a group photo. It was a pleasure meeting everyone who attended: Anne and Bill, Mike, Tony, Kathy, Peg, Brian, Laurie, and Lucy. I apologize for leaving anyone out, a few names are escaping me. There were perhaps five others… again, sorry.
It surely was an enjoyable afternoon. After a few hours it is time for me to hit the trail however, and I say farewell to everyone as Mary and Bill load me into their car and we head back to Taylor Valley State Forest. I say goodbye for now, but I will be seeing them again in a few days. It is after 2:00 when I get hiking again. After following the trail through the forest and over Mt. Roderick it follows the road for the next mile before heading back into the woods. Along the road segment I meet a few horseback riders out for an afternoon ride. They clearly don’t know that the NCT is not meant for horses, even though there are “no horses” signs at almost every road crossing but I don’t have time to stop and argue with them so I let them by and continue on my way.
Back in the woods the trail crosses a neat stone bridge made out of large flat boulders to cross a creek before crossing the road and entering Cheningo Day Use Area. Many switchbacks lead out of the day use area and toward Allen Hill where the trail leaves the forest. A brief section across private land leads into Cuyler Hill State Forest where I will be camping for the night. I pass the first campsite along Wiltsey Glen with an impressive fire pit, but continue on to the second site to use every amount of daylight I have. Soon I come to an orange-blazed spur trail leading to Rose Hollow campsite where I will pitch for the night. No sooner do I set up camp that darkness descends and I turn in for the night.


Mon. September 30
Trail Day 179
Miles hiked: 26
Backyard of Eric and Camory Eaton - near DeRuyter Lake


I am excited to wake up this morning. I have less than three miles to go to reach the beginning of the Onondaga Trail that the NCT follows away from the main FLT. This is exciting because it means I am just one step closer to reaching the end of my hike on the edge of Adirondack Park, however it also means I will be leaving the FLT behind, which has been one of the best highlights of this trek overall.
I hike the three miles within an hour and am standing at a road crossing where I see the blazes change from white to blue. It’s nice to have the company of the familiar blue blazes again. The Onondaga Trail begins on private land where it mostly follows along the wooded field edges, a few small cemeteries included. Just outside the village of Cuyler the trail follows the road for the next two miles before again entering private land on a tractor road behind a farm and heading uphill into the woods. I stop toward the top to take a break and enjoy the nice view to the southeast.
From here the trail travels through Morgan Hill State Forest for the remainder of the day, taking me past several campsites, a shelter, and right on the rim above Tinker Falls. I originally intended to hike the spur trail down to the falls but I simply have no time now. Within Labrador Hollow Unique Area I stop at the summit of Jones Hill to admire the view. The land drops off steeply at a cliff just in front of me and this is designated as a hang-glider launch point. No gliders up here today, just a young couple up enjoying the view. I have a cell signal up here so I give Eric Eaton a call. He emailed me a few weeks back saying he would be interested in helping me out when I was in this area. We have a brief conversation and I tell him my situation. If he would be willing to pick me up at the end of the day at a road crossing I wouldn’t need to take a shorter day to camp within the forest boundary. He is very enthusiastic to help me out so we make plans for him to pick me up at the end of the day.
The rest of the day is a very enjoyable hike along well marked trail, mostly through the state forest and the rest on private land. Some wetter areas on the private land had some boardwalk with wire mesh stapled on top to provide traction. Good thinking by the volunteers who maintain this section. I am only about a mile away when darkness descends and I have to pick my way carefully to avoid getting caught in a fence or going off track along the field edges. I make it down to the road without incident and hike a few hundred feet to an intersection and see a truck waiting on the side of the road and two guys talking in a farm driveway. Hence I meet Eric, here to pick me up and shuttle me to his home near DeRuyter Lake. Also here is Scott Bowen, owner of the farm and maintainer of the section I just passed through which happens to cross his land. It turns out it was his idea to put the mesh down on the boardwalk to give extra traction. Thanks for allowing the trail to cross your land Scott, and for keeping it well maintained. After conversing for a few minutes along the side of the road I load me gear into Eric’s truck and we head for his home. He explains that some of his children are currently sick with a flu so he says it’s up to me if I want to stay in the house or camp out in his yard. With the hike through the Adirondacks coming up in a matter of days now would be the worst time to get sick. I decide to play it safe and pitch my tent in his backyard for the night. When we arrive I find a nice level place between his back door and his fire pit. As I am setting up camp he gets a fire going first thing accompanied by two of his young children. With the fire going he tells me to relax while he gets some dinner ready. Within a few minutes I am served a delicious warm bowl of soup from his wife Camory. We spend awhile around the campfire sharing stories about the trail, the kids seem fascinated with my gear and the stories of my hike. Eventually it is bed time for the kids and I decide to turn in as well. Eric says he will be ready to go at first light as he has to be at work at 7:00, works fine for me. I end the night by putting out the fire and settling in for a comfortable night of sleep.


Tue. October 1
Trail Day 180
Miles hiked: 31, +1
Home of Bill and Mary Coffin - Chittanengo, NY


I slept well last night so getting up early is no problem. I’m all packed up and ready by six. We load my gear into Eric’s truck and he drops me off in front of Scott’s farm where he is out and about. Eric hands me an apple to take for a snack and with a hand shake he is gone and off to work. Thanks for letting me stay in your yard last night, it was a pleasure meeting you and your family. One final “good luck” from Scott and I am hiking down the road toward Highland Forest County Park. When I arrive I am disappointed to find that a dense fog has settled in so I am robbed of the great view from the balcony. I stop in to refill my water and then continue on.  A little ways east of the Lodge I manage to take a wrong turn and don’t realize it for the better part of a mile. Luckily for me all the intersections are numbered so I am able to look at the park map and find exactly where I am. I backtrack to the point I lost the trail and pick it up again, I simply wasn’t paying attention and missed the point where it turned from the main path. Exiting the park the trail is a roadwalk passing along the north shore of DeRuyter Lake. The fog has lifted somewhat and the sun has pierced the clouds and I am reminded of Minnesota, Land of 10,000 Lakes. Such a pretty scene.
After passing through DeRuyter State Forest I take a detour into the village of New Woodstock, as the next trail section is now closed for hunting. From here it is a roadwalk to the boundary of Tioghnioga WMA where the trail follows the east boundary. I am disappointed to find this section overgrown in many places but I make it through without too much difficulty. Coming out onto a service road I have reached the end of the Onondaga Trail and will now turn right onto the Link Trail that will lead me to Canastota and the Old Erie Canal Trail. I have officially left the Finger Lakes Trail behind.
The Link Trail starts off as a roadwalk then crosses some private land to an old rail grade that has been maintained to a nice six foot wide path. More roadwalking leads to a section through some private land and a very interesting sculpture park. Like Lakenenland back in Michigan, the owner of this park has displayed his artwork just for the enjoyment of the public and has allowed the trail to pass through it. This segment brings me into Cazenovia where I stop for a break. I give Bill Coffin a call, as we were planning on meeting up again tonight. We make plans for him to pick me up at the end of the off road section north of Cazenovia in about two hours. With no time to waste I shoulder my pack and continue on.
The trail leading out of Cazenovia is yet another Gorge Trail, the third for this state. It is aptly named as it parallels the river and has a few small waterfalls and rapids along the way. This is a most enjoyable hike mostly on abandoned rail grade that has been well maintained. I pass many people along this stretch, some walking, some on bikes, and some out for an evening jog. I’m able to make good time and make it to within about a hundred yards of Freber Road when I recognize Bill hiking down the trail towards me. Well if this isn’t good timing I don’t know what is! We load my gear into his car and we head to Chittenengo for dinner. At the restaurant we talk about my experience on the trail the past few days and my immediate itinerary for the next two days. Bill takes the opportunity for some trail publicity by informing our hostess about my hike. She asks me a few basic questions and seems impressed by my journey. I am again disappointed that she has never heard of the NCT even though it is right here in her back yard. Hopefully one day we can change that and get more people interested in the NCT.
We head back to Bill and Mary’s house where I will again be spending the night. Mary offers one of her smaller packs to use tomorrow so I can travel lighter. I accept her offer gladly as my goal is to make it to Rome which is a good 34 miles away. I head to bed pretty early so I’m rested for my long day tomorrow.


Wed. October 2
Trail Day 181
Miles hiked: 34
Quality Inn - Rome, NY


I’m out and hiking fairly early this morning with a lighter pack to make it easier to cover the long miles. I hike the Link Trail the last 11 miles or so along farm edges and into the town of Canastota where I have a drop box waiting. This box is important as it contains all the maps I will need to get through Adirondack Park. Adirondack Park is mostly a wilderness area roughly four times the size of Yellowstone, only it’s controlled by the state which makes it unique. To navigate this vast area I got the wonderfully detailed waterproof National Geographic Maps, five of them to cover the entire park. Back in the planning stages of my hike I had the luxury to make my own route through the park, as the final plan for the NCT has not been finalized. I hope to reach the edge of the park day after tomorrow and at least get a few miles in before dark.
At the post office now I receive my package and send a few things home, including a few souvenirs I received at Highland County Park and all the maps from here clear back to Watkins Glen. The clerk can tell I have a story to tell so I give him the quick rundown of my hike and that I am now about two weeks from finishing. He is very impressed and wishes me the best of luck, even covered the cost to mail my package home. Thank you sir, every bit of trail magic is precious.
The rest of the day is spent along the Old Erie Canal Trail, mostly a crushed limestone surface canal  towpath clear from here all the way to Rome. This section proves to be mostly uneventful except for the unseasonably warm temperature, hovering around 85 degrees. In the middle the towpath is interrupted for a hike along dangerous NY-46 and afterwards I happen to witness a barge go through the canal at Lock 21. The hard surface of today plus the long miles I’ve put on since crossing into New York have put a number on my feet, they are screaming by the end of the day. At the Old Erie Canal Village on the outskirts of Rome Mary and Bill are there to intercept me. I exchange packs with Mary, getting my big heavy one back. Thus it is also time for another goodbye. Thank You Mary and Bill for all you have done for me these past few days.
I hike the remaining few miles into Rome and make it to the Quality Inn right as darkness descends. The rest of the night is spent laying in bed and caring for my feet. I am planning on sleeping in tomorrow, I haven’t taken a break since Lisbon, Ohio and have covered long miles since then. I am overdue for a break. However, I have only a few more days until I am in Old Forge which is my next resupply point, where I planned to take one last rest day before hammering out the remaining miles of this amazing trail.


Thur. October 3
Trail Day 182
Miles hiked: 25
Headwaters Motor Inn - Boonville, NY


I am definitely overdue for a rest day, I slept in until almost 11:00 this morning. With much reluctance I get some food in me and head out with pack shouldered to another unseasonably hot day. Today is almost entirely a roadwalk and my feet are screaming right away. Right across the street from the motel is Fort Stanwix National Monument, a reconstructed Revolutionary War fort that the trail passes through. I have to bypass the fort however because of the recent federal government shutdown, in effect until further notice.
I have nearly 18 miles of roadwalk along NY-46 to reach some off road trail just south of Pixley Falls State Park. Along the roadwalk I can see for the first time the Adirondack Mountains in the distance. From Pixley Falls to Forestport the NCT follows the Black River Canal Towpath, mostly a grass trail intended for skiing in the winter. I enjoy this section as it is much easier on my poor feet with the soft grass cushion. All around most of the trees’ leaves have turned red and some have already dropped their leaves. Fall is definitely in full swing now. It is already dark when I finally enter Boonville and make my way through downtown and stop in a bar for a drink to get rehydrated. A few of the locals see my pack and ask the usual questions. They wish me luck and continue on with their conversation. I linger for awhile and then ask the bartender where the motel is in town and he says it’s down the road about a half mile on the outside of town. With nothing left to do I make my way to the Headwaters Motor Inn and check in. For dinner I order a few calzones from the brochure in the room and after gorging myself and looking over my maps to plan for my entry into Adirondack Park tomorrow I crash and instantly fall asleep.


Fri. October 4
Trail Day 183
Miles hiked: 29, +2
Gull Lake Shelter - Adirondack Park


I woke up early this morning to get an early start to make up for lost time. After a quick breakfast I'm out the door and hiking before 6:00. The trail heads out of Boonville on the BREIA Canal Path but it is still dark outside and I am unable to find where the trail leaves the covered bridge in Ester Park. I decide to not waste time and just hike this portion on roads. It will be roughly the same distance by road, possibly a little longer. Right as the sun comes up the rain begins, not a downpour, but just enough to make everything soaking wet. Within a few hours I am in the town of Forestport and I find the trail where it follows one of the village streets to an intersection with a diner on the corner. I look around and see no more blazes. This may be the last blue blaze I will see on this trek as the rest of the trail between here and Crown Point is unofficial.
The rain letting up for the moment I stop outside the diner for a break to let my feet rest and a guy from the power company whose truck is parked on the street walks over, wants to hear my story. I tell him my story so far and how I am now only days away from finishing. He congratulates me and gives me a piece of fruit from his lunch box to tide me over this morning. He also points me in the right direction to get to North Lake Road where the trailhead to enter the park is located. It turns out it’s the same road I am on, it’s just a different name here. Thanks for your help sir.
A few miles up the road is a small grocery store where I stop to purchase a small box of raspberries. This will be my last chance for real food for at least a week. Kind folks working the counter here. The rain coming down again I continue on and soon cross the “Blue Line” into Adirondack Park. Shortly after I am standing at the trailhead for the Stone Dam Lake Trail, planned to be the NCT someday. I sign the trail register with my intended itinerary before heading on it. Many people are rescued from this vast wilderness every year, I’d prefer not to be a victim myself.
The trail starts out in nice shape making for an enjoyable hike. However after a few miles I run into trouble. There is supposed to be an intersection up ahead where I should turn left to head towards the shelter on the shore of Gull Lake. However I am greatly confused when the trail I am on dead-ends at the Chub Pond Shelter. According to the map I missed the turn almost a half mile back. Carefully I retrace my steps but hike over a mile the other way until I again turn around and hike back to the shelter. I do this two more times before finally becoming frustrated to the point of tears and stop where I am and just sit on the ground. I can’t believe this is happening. I’m only three miles in to what is supposed to be the best part of the whole hike and I am utterly lost. If the trail is here it is not marked at all and is lost amongst the brush. Realizing I may have no choice but to hike back out the way I came and hike to Old Forge on roads I take one last look as I head back and spot a small trail marker on a tree in the middle of a beaver pond. Suddenly it hits me; the trail intersection I was looking for has been completely swallowed up by a beaver pond as a result of a recent dam. The trail I was on was a reroute around it to get to the shelter. Keeping my eye on the marker I begin to carefully wade my way across and make it to the other side without falling in. Once on the other side it takes only a short search to pick up the trail again. Thank goodness, I am back on track. However I wasted an hour walking back and forth to try and find this trail that I now have very little daylight left to hike almost four miles to the shelter. With no time to lose I pick up the pace only to find that trail conditions here have decreased quite dramatically. Unfortunately the section I am on now is open to snowmobiles in the winter and so it is very wide and wet. With all the rain we just had the wet spots are pure mud, I sink up to my knees in some places making the hiking very slow and sloppy. I hope my entire hike through the Adirondacks isn’t like this.
Despite the setbacks and my temporarily crushed spirits I make it to the shelter just as darkness descends. I hang my food and spread out my gear in the shelter just as the rain comes again, glad to be in for the night with a roof over my head.

Sat. October 5
Trail Day 184
Miles hiked: 18
Adirondack Lodge – Old Forge, NY
 
As I wake up in the shelter this morning I can’t see more than five feet out. An extremely dense fog has rolled in. I spend some time to cook breakfast and then head out as soon as I am ready. From the heavy rain last night the trail is once again a mud bog, more sinking up to my knees as I struggle to make it through the low areas. After a few hours however I finally make it to the McKeever trailhead parking lot. From here it will be all a road walk along NY-28 to reach Old Forge where I will be taking a much needed rest.
There is a constant stream of traffic heading into the Adirondacks today. Everyone is coming up to see the last of the fall leaves. A few miles short of Old Forge I begin to feel a sharp pain behind my knee. I try to slow my pace but it’s not helping much and the pain is getting worse. What a heck of a time to score an injury. I should have taken a rest day back in Rome or even Watkins Glen, and now I regret not doing so. This may not have happened otherwise. With much painful struggling I do manage to make it to the edge of Old Forge but I need to stop on the side of the road for awhile to give my leg a rest. As I am just getting up to make the final push into town a car pulls up and stops. “Need a ride?” Hence I meet Veronica, up here for the weekend to do some day hiking. I am only a short distance from the place where I plan on staying and I need to get some supplies before settling in. I find out from Veronica that the grocery store is clear on the other side of town, a few miles. So without any further thought I accept her offer for a ride to the grocery store. Along the way she asks me where I’m heading and I give her the rundown of my journey, how I walked here from North Dakota and am now about 10 days away from finishing. She is very excited and congratulates me on a job well done. As she pulls in the grocery store I unload my gear from the back of her car and as I am leaving she hands me a piece of paper with her number and email address on it. “I’ll be in the area all weekend, let me know if you need anything.” Thanks Veronica, it was a pleasure meeting you.
At the grocery store I stock up on fresh supplies to last two full days. Being Saturday the post office is now closed so I will have to wait until Monday to get my package. After walking out of the store with enough to happily gorge myself over the next 48 hours I take a break outside and enjoy a fresh orange juice and a box of cookies before finishing out the day by walking back over a mile to the Adirondack Lodge where I will be staying. On the way there a woman flags me down and comes over to chat. Hence I meet Michele, a local. She saw me along the road and could tell I had a great story to tell. We spend a good while talking about both of our experiences; mine on this long journey I am on, and hers about a quest to hike all the 46ers in the Adirondacks. Adirondack Park has 46 mountain peaks that are at or above 4000 feet elevation and it is a goal of many to eventually conquer all 46 of them, Michele being one of them. She can tell I am exhausted so she doesn’t want to hold me up but she wants to hear more about my journey. She hands me a piece of paper with her number on it and says she wants to treat me to dinner tomorrow night. That is awfully nice of you Michele, I will definitely take you up on your offer. After parting ways with Michele for the time being I finally make it to the Adirondack Lodge. I took time while I was in Rome to reserve a room here for two nights and it is all ready to go when I arrive, got a room on the upper level. No sooner have I checked in than a thunderstorm rolls in and lingers the rest of the night. After unpacking all my gear to let it dry out I take a nice warm shower and settle in for a weekend of rest.


Sun. October 6
Trail Day XXX
Miles hiked: 00
Adirondack Lodge – Old Forge, NY

The Adirondack Lodge is a nice place. The structure is designed with that north woods feel. Good continental breakfast, spacious rooms with balconies on the upper level, they even have a heated indoor pool. Yes, I sure picked a good place to take a day off. My legs hurt in various places; a lot of strain has been put on them from pushing on this past month with no rest. Mostly shin splints and a strained muscle behind my knee, but not nearly as bad as it was yesterday. It rains the entire today so I am unable to enjoy the balcony outside my room. I spend some time looking over the maps for Adirondack Park trying to find the quickest way through. Originally I had planned a route that would get me through the park while staying on trails for about 90 percent of the time. This adds some mileage but it’s more true to the experience of a thru-hike. However, after being about two weeks behind my original planned itinerary and my strength being depleted little by little every day I am no longer comfortable taking the longer route. As soon as I leave Old Forge I will be starting the most difficult part of my entire hike, right at the end. Winter could come any day now and I definitely do not want to get stuck in a bad situation. I find a new route leading out of Old Forge on roads to the Northville Placid Trail (NPT) where I can pick up my original route that will take me into the High Peaks. By doing this I can still see the major highlights that I intended and I can cut out an entire day of traveling. With my mind made up I make a call back home to inform my family of the changed route so they know where I will be if anything bad happens. Afterwards I give Michele a call. She regrets to inform me that she will not be able to make it tonight like she hoped but she still wants to treat me to dinner. She has a gift card for a nice pizza joint down the road that she wants me to have. After getting off the phone I head downstairs to the lobby and she is there with the card in hand. After a brief conversation she wishes me luck and is gone. Thanks for your generous donation Michele, and for your kindness. It was a pleasure meeting you.
 

Mon. October 7
Trail Day XXX
Miles hiked: 00
Adirondack Lodge – Old Forge, NY

Last night at midnight the severe weather sirens went off. I realized when I woke up that I definitely need another day of rest so right away after breakfast I check in for another night. The woman at the desk informs me that we are in a tornado watch for the rest of the day, very unusual for this time of year and for this area in general. At the moment it is warm and sunny so I head to the post office to retrieve my package that will get me through the rest of New York. Inside is my winter gear, enough food for a week, and a bear canister. Hikers traveling through the High Peaks are required to use bear canisters for their food. They are heavy and bulky so for the next week I will be a little heavier than usual.
As soon as I get back to the lodge the wind picks up and the rain comes again. It’s definitely not a good day for hiking. Toward evening though the rain quits and I take the opportunity to use Michele’s gift card and get a fine dinner at Tony Harper’s Pizza Shack. Back at the Lodge I stock my bear canister full of food and pack up my gear in preparation for the final leg of my journey.  
 

Tue. October 8
Trail Day 185
Miles hiked: 26
Golden Beach Campground – Adirondack Park

I decide to sleep in this morning but still get going at a decent time. After one last nice breakfast I head out and hit the road, literally. The entire day is a road walk as I head east out of Old Forge on NY-28 through the little village of Inlet and along many lakes. It is nice today; sunny, fairly warm, and no rain. It is a very enjoyable hiking day. As dusk approaches I pull off into the trees amongst a few removed sites of Golden Beach Campground right on the shore of Raquette Lake where I pitch for the night.


Wed. October 9
Trail Day 186
Miles hiked: 23.5
Catlin Bay Shelter #1 - NPT, Adirondack Park

I woke up this morning to a banging sound out by the road. As I emerge from my tent I strain my eyes through the trees to see many large yellow trucks parked barely a stone’s throw away from where I am. The Department of Transportation must be doing a last minute project along the roadway to prepare for winter. Fearing of getting in their way or being blocked from getting out I break camp as quickly as possible and hit the road again. Like yesterday the hike today is almost entirely a roadwalk, my goal being to reach the first shelter out of Long Lake on the Northville Placid Trail by nightfall. Despite the long road walk I am provided many nice views along the way. I stop for a break outside the Adirondack Museum in the little berg of Blue Mountain Lake. Lots of tourists are out and about today enjoying the nice weather.
Once I reach the village of Long Lake I stop for one last break before hiking the last few miles to the trailhead for the NPT. At a house across the street I see a guy with his dog and another hiker standing in his yard talking. The dog owner flags me over as I pass by. As I walk up he explains what he is trying to do. He recently got the new dog and is trying to familiarize him to hikers so he wont chase them every time one walks by. What a good idea, I wish the folks down in Ohio would have gotten the memo to do this.
After spending a few minutes with the dog the other hiker and I turn away and head up the street to the trailhead. Hence I meet Max, currently on a thru-hike of the NPT and one of the few long-distance hikers I have seen this entire trek. We reach the trailhead and sign in to the trail register where we part ways. We both had planned to stay at the first shelter on Catlin Bay but I have just enough daylight to make it to the second one instead, and Max noted that my pace was much quicker than his so he probably wont catch up to me. Happy Trails Max, I wish you luck on completing your journey in a few days’ time.
The first few miles of the NPT are in very good shape, decently marked and maintained, very good quality for a wilderness trail. I am excited to see what the next few days have in store. I reach the second shelter (which is actually marked Catlin Bay #1) just as darkness descends and I am officially in the High Peaks Wilderness.


Thur. October 10
Trail Day 187
Miles hiked: 24
Duck Hole #2 Shelter - NPT, Adirondack Park

Breakfast this morning is some good ol’ power bars. I made a decision not to carry any meals that require cooking into the High Peaks. It saves space allowing for more dry foods like power bars and saves weight by not having to carry any fuel or the meals themselves. As a bonus it saves time, breakfast is quick and then I am on the trail at first light.
I am impressed with the NPT as I head east, deeper into the High Peaks. It has many nice views of lakes and rivers, is well marked and maintained, and is for backpacking only so I don’t have to worry about deteriorated trail because of bikes or horses. This trail was also the first one established in the Adirondacks, and possibly the first in the entire state of New York. From being well known it is fairly well-travelled and the tread is easy to follow. At one point I come to a place where the beavers have been at work again. The trail ahead is completely submerged by at least two feet of water. Rather than getting my feet completely soaked I decide to detour around which takes some time and carefully planned footing to avoid slipping and falling into the newly formed pond. On the other side I come across two hikers hiking the opposite direction. Hence I meet Luke and his father Steve out on the NPT for a few days. They ask if I’m thru-hiking and I say, “Yes, but not the NPT.” I tell them my story and they are utterly surprised and impressed at my accomplishment. They seem interested in finding out more about the NCT so I give them my website address before continuing on. After a firm handshake from both of them I continue on down the NPT.
The highlight of the day occurs while crossing two rivers. Some very impressive suspension bridges have been constructed to allow hikers to pass over the river gorges safely. The one over the Cold River is really impressive as the water rushes over a short waterfall and some intense rapids right underneath your feet as you pass over. Right on the other side is an Adirondack shelter where I stop for a break to admire the view. I have no doubt this is probably one of the best shelters in the area and I can tell it is also heavily used.
Later in the day I run into an obstacle in the form of many blow downs. This is a classic situation in which most of the trees are too high to climb over but too low to crawl under. Luckily someone has been through here recently and has marked a very narrow reroute through the debris with pink flagging. For the better part of a mile I pick my way through this maze, ducking under trees and climbing over others until coming out on the other side. The rest of the day proves to be uneventful as I make it to a pair of shelters known as Duck Hole where I call it a night within view of an old wooden dam. 

Fri. October 11
Trail Day 188
Miles hiked: 14.5, +1.5
Feldspar Shelter – High Peaks Wilderness, Adirondack Park


I slept well last night. Good thing too, as I will surely need my energy today. The trail continues the steady climb I have been taking since approaching Old Forge and it gets steeper as the day goes on. Within a half mile of leaving the shelter I come to a trail junction where I turn right and leave the NPT behind and head east into the center of the High Peaks and towards the highest of them all, Marcy. If I make good time today I can summit and make it to the shelter on the other side before nightfall.
The hike today is gorgeous, lots of cascading waterfalls and some interesting wooden suspension bridges to cross. There are many trail junctions to contend with as well, but so far I have managed to turn the right way and stay on track. The trail in this area becomes increasingly rocky and choked with roots, and mud. I have no doubt this trail once allowed horses in the not-so-distant past. In a lot of places a narrow rutted track weaves its way between large boulders and amongst large tree roots. As I reach Lake Colden I have another trail junction, complete with a ladder leading straight down the side of a short ledge and onto a wooden dam. From here I am provided my first up-close view of Mt. Marcy, very impressive indeed. I encounter lots of hikers along the trail today, probably out to enjoy the last few decent warm days this year.
Late afternoon I am on a steady yet steep uphill climb toward Mt. Skylight where I will turn left and head up and over Marcy. I meet a group of many day hikers coming down, asking if I am heading toward Marcy. They tell me to make sure to turn left at Lake Tear of the Clouds instead of right, they made that mistake and had to backtrack. As I reach the edge of the Lake I see a trail leading off to the left, but no sign. So far most of the intersections have been marked with a sign but this one doesn’t have one. Taking the hikers' advice I take the left turn and start hiking up again. Before too long I can tell this trail is not the correct one. It is too steep in many places for even a day hiker to clamber up, and there are no markings of any kind. As I reach an opening in the tree canopy I look northeast in horror as I am still looking UP at Marcy. Yup, I turned too early and ended up on the adjacent mountain. “Well shit.” I was doing so well at staying on track and then right at the critical moment I take a wrong turn. I turn back with a heavier heart as I retrace my steps to the point where I left the main trail. With the time wasted scaling the wrong mountain I don’t have enough time left in the day to make it clear down the other side of Marcy. Unfortunately I am above 3500 feet now, and there is no camping allowed at this elevation unless at a designated campsite. With no options left to me, I turn right and head back down the trail to the latest shelter over a mile away. At this stage in the hike there is no worse feeling than climbing down a mountain knowing you have to climb back up in the morning.
I find going down to be harder than going up and after scrambling over boulders and through pools I make it to the Feldspar Shelter where some other hikers are just preparing dinner. Hence I meet Mark, Chris and Steve, three friends out for the weekend to bag a few 46ers. I ask kindly if they wouldn’t mind if I bunked with them for the night and they respond by making plenty of room for me to move right on in. This is the first night on this entire hike that I have had to share a shelter with other hikers. Strange, being this close to the end. While we are enjoying our dinners we share hiking stories. They ask where I hiked here from and I spend a brief time telling them my story and that I expect to finish on Monday. They seem impressed and congratulate me on a journey nearly completed. We spend some more time swapping stories until darkness sets in and we settle into the shelter at our own pace. I am the first one out, as I have a big day tomorrow.


Sat. October 12
Trail Day 189
Miles hiked: 25.5
Chapel Pond Tent Area – Dix Mountain Wilderness, Adirondack Park


I am the first one awake this morning, and as I retrieve my bear canister and start chowing down on breakfast everyone else starts to roll out of bed. By the time I have my gear all packed and ready for the day the other guys are just getting their breakfast going. Steve insists they take a picture with me before I head out so they have proof they met the youngest guy to hike the NCT. After a firm handshake from each of them I turn and begin my ascent to the top of Mt. Marcy only a few miles away.
When I reach the first trail junction where I am to turn left to go up Marcy I realize how I got thrown off track yesterday. The hikers I came across were not clear with their instructions. They told me to turn left at Lake Tear of the Clouds where they should have said turn left AFTER Lake Tear of the Clouds. The intersection was clear on the other side of the lake from the trail I took by mistake yesterday. I am here now however, and I turn and begin my climb up New York’s highest mountain.
The climb to the top is very steep, I need to stop for a short break many times. Before too long I am above timber line and I have a sweeping view to the east. With no trees to block the wind it gets more difficult to climb uphill as the wind is constantly pushing me sideways. The trail here is bare rock, nothing to nail a marker too. Instead there are a few paint blazes right on the rock face and at places where the trail turns some very large rock cairns have been built to help guide hikers to the top. The mileage from the shelter was not much over two miles but this climb seems to go on forever, by far the most difficult climb I have hiked in my career.
About halfway up I meet another hiker coming down. He says he has scaled Marcy many times but never from the north side, so he’s trying it the other way this time. He appears to be the only one out here besides me. Finally at a little after 9:30 I am standing on the summit of Mt. Marcy. The wind is very intense up here and it gets cold very quickly. There are a few more hikers up here taking a rest behind some boulders to get out of the wind. Within a few minutes lots of people arrive from the other side, I ask one of the women from a passing group to take my picture. After several nice shots I stop and admire the magnificent view. Being the highest point in the entire state at 5344 feet I have a 360 degrees view all around. Most of what I can see are the other 46ers but in the distance behind many of the peaks I can see a wide light ribbon. Alas, I set my eyes on Lake Champlain and the finish line for this hike, nearly 40 miles away. Day after tomorrow I expect to be standing on the very shore of that lake at Crown Point, the Eastern Terminus of the NCT.
My trip through the High Peaks in these gorgeous Adirondack Mountains will no doubt be the highlight of this entire trek, a very fitting end to this long journey. Unfortunately future NCT hikers will not have the same experience I have had. Currently there is no official route for the NCT through the Adirondacks. They have been conducting a routing study over the past ten years and are now close to a final solution, however the route will not go anywhere near the High Peaks. For whatever reason, the current stewards are worried that routing the NCT over Mt. Marcy would damage the area due to over-use. This makes little sense to me, as the NCT will never be as popular as the AT, where thousands of people attempt it every year. To put it in perspective, the NCT has been around for over 30 years now… and I am only the 4th thru-hiker. It’s a shame that future NCT hikers will be robbed of this grand opportunity due to a misconception about the use of the trail. I can only hope that in the future those in charge will change their minds, and the NCT can be routed over the path I have taken through this vast wilderness.
The climb down is much harder. I have to go slow to avoid falling flat on my face. I encounter lots of people on their way to the top, of course it must be Saturday. By the time I get to the bottom my knees are on fire. I’ve gone this entire hike without many aches and pains and now here at the very end are my knees not the least bit pleased. I have more intersections to contend with on the far side of Marcy. My original plan was to bag five more of these 46ers on my way out to Port Henry, but with the time it took to get over Marcy with my heavier-than-normal pack on, and the fact that there are no campsites between here and there I decide to take a detour to ensure that I will have a legal place to camp at the end of the day. My detour will add some mileage but it will have much less elevation change making for an easier hike. The trail is still in rough shape in some places, more mud holes and large boulders to contend with. By the time I reach the Johns Brook Lodge (a large cabin right on the trail) the trail has turned into a nice gradual downhill descend to a trailhead parking lot just outside of Keene Valley. The trailhead is swarming with people, most of them anxious to get out and spend this fantastic weekend in the High Peaks. I stop here to take a break before continuing on to Keene Valley. I am not surprised to find the little village also swarming with people. It’s late afternoon now and everyone is out and about looking for a place to have dinner. I decide that isn’t such a bad idea and find a nice little diner across the street. As I go in I am surprised that I am the only backpacker here and there appear to be no open tables. Just as the booth nearest to me opens up a group of three is in line to take it. They notice me as they are just sitting down and they ask if I want to join them. There’s no way I can turn this down. I set my pack outside on the porch and then join them at the booth. Hence I meet Darlene, Ben, and Caroline, on their way home from a day hiking in the High Peaks. We spend lots of time talking about our hiking adventures, they seem very impressed with my accomplishment. It turns out they are from just a little south of Rome, so they knew exactly where I was two weeks ago when I had to bypass Fort Stanwix because of the government shutdown. Soon our food is served and we chow down. To my amazement they offer to cover my tab. Thank you dear new friends, I really appreciate it.
I have only a few miles left to go to reach a designated tenting area right along Hwy-73. After saying goodbye to my new friends I arrive just before sundown and set up camp, only a few other campers settled nearby.


Sun. October 13
Trail Day 190
Miles hiked: 27
Crown Point State Historic Site - Eastern Terminus of the North Country National Scenic Trail


Looking at my maps in my tent last night I realized I have only 27 miles go to reach the end of the trail at Crown Point. From here it’s almost completely a roadwalk, mostly downhill. There’s no stopping me now, I am finishing today.
I am up at first light after a quick breakfast and heading south along NY-73 on my way out of Adirondack Park. This turns out to be one of the most scenic roadwalks I have had along the entire trail. After crossing underneath I-87 I get onto country roads and reach a trail head for the Crowfoot Pond trail. I take this trail across to Crowfoot Road on the other side, there to hike straight into Port Henry. The trail is fairly flat but with nearly all the leaves being down now I need to watch my step to avoid falling on my face as every rut and rock is hidden. Despite this I manage to make decent time and emerge from the end of the trail onto a gravel road right along the lake. After passing probably a dozen homes the road widens out and the sun comes out, making it fairly toasty. Soon an ATV comes driving up the road and the operator stops right next to me.
I wont go into a lot of detail about what transpired, but apparently I had been trespassing on private property when I emerged from the Crowfoot Pond Trail. The guy on the ATV is a landowner who lives on this road, said he would report me for trespassing. I tell him I had no idea I was trespassing, as the map shows the trail coming clear out to the road, and said nothing about the road itself being private. If I had known I would not have taken that route. I always respect private property ownership. He asks me where I am parked, and he has a rather awkward expression when I reply “North Dakota.” I show him the map as proof of my intentions, the route clearly marked on the map. I only chose this route because it was the most direct route to Port Henry. If I had known it was private, I would have gone around, sparing me from this very uncomfortable and confrontational experience. After talking with him for more than ten minutes I humbly apologize for trespassing, and let him know I intend to inform the Adirondack Mountain Club of my experience, and tell them they should remove that trail completely. One day people less experienced than me are going to come along and get into a bad situation with these angry landowners. So please, ADK representatives, I advise removing the Crowfoot Pond Trail completely so there is absolutely no confusion for future hikers.
After parting ways with the landowner I pick up the pace down the rest of the ‘private’ road. The guy warned me about his brother who also lives on this road and isn’t as “nice” as he is and I would like to avoid any future confrontations. I manage to make it within sight of the intersection that will bring me onto paved county roads right around a corner and just then a large black pickup pulls onto the road. Trying not to draw any extra attention to myself I just stare at the ground hoping they will pass me by. As it speeds past I hear the brakes come on just a few paces behind me. Not daring to look back I continue on until I step onto the pavement and county property. On the alert and ready to both fight or flee if it came down to it, I continue the fast pace all the way into Port Henry, nearly six miles. Once there I finally get a chance to sit down and have a break outside a gas station. The town of Port Henry is right on the shore of Lake Champlain and as I arrive in town it is clearly visible in the background. I have only 7 miles
to go now to reach the end of the trail at Crown Point. I need to catch my breath though so I take time to enjoy some comforts (ice cream) and rehydrate in the shade.
I am amazed at how warm it still is up here in the mountains in mid October. It is not at all uncommon for it to have snowed many times by this time of year. I am not complaining, I enjoy the nice weather and I am no lover of winter. I’m glad it stayed away long enough for me to reach Lake Champlain on a nice sunny day.
After my extended break I hammer out the remaining seven miles to Crown Point. I am greeted by one final NCT marker at the entrance and then follow the trail up to the old British fortification. I scamper along the old ramparts getting several good shots of the fort and the lake in the distance. On the far side of the fort I arrive at a kiosk overlooking the lake and the Lake Champlain Bridge leading into Vermont. On the Kiosk is a map of the entire NCT with the caption “Eastern Terminus.” I’ve done it; I’ve hiked the North Country National Scenic Trail from end-to-end. It seemed like an impossible task, way back in the snow-covered plains of North Dakota over six months ago. Back then I had doubts I would ever make it to the end, I knew I would just give it my best effort. But here I am, after 201 days of hiking, I have made the 4600 mile pilgrimage through seven northern states to this spot near the New York/Vermont state line.
It’s approximately 4:30 in the afternoon; there is one tourist near the kiosk to take my photo in front of the bridge and kiosk. I have mixed emotions as I stand here. There is no one here familiar, no one to shake my hand, no one to share this moment with. Without any further delays it’s time to give my family a call back home. 
 I give my family a call, telling them I have made it to the end. There is much excitement on their end, but mixed feelings on mine. Next to call is Bruce at NCTA HQ. He’s very excited as well, both for my accomplishment and with the good news that I have received one of the scholarships to attend the National Scenic and Historic Trail Conference in a few weeks out in Tucson, AZ. Wow, the good news just keeps coming in. With one last call to make I get ahold of Chris Maron, from Champlain Area Trails (CATS). He sent me a voicemail about a week ago and told me to call him back. He was hoping to hike with me as I approached Crown Point. Unfortunately it’s too late for that, but we make plans for him to come meet me tomorrow morning as I cross the bridge into Vermont. Across the street from the fort is a state park campground where I head over and pitch for the night. I am provided a nice view across the lake to the North with the bridge directly in front, all lit up with the coming of evening. Those last few phone calls completely depleted my battery so I let it charge for about an hour in the bathhouse while I enjoy my dinner. Afterwards I read some more of Tolkien before retiring to bed, full of mixed emotions.


Mon. October 14
Trail Day 191
Miles hiked: 22.5
Inn on the Green - Middlebury, VT


I am tired this morning, as I had a restless sleep last night. As I emerge from my tent I am grateful I finished the trail last night as opposed to today. The sky is completely overcast with a light drizzle off and on and the air is much colder than yesterday. To make matters more gloomy, last night as I made camp I realized that today is Columbus Day, so the post office will be closed. Therefore I will have to wait until tomorrow until I will be able to retrieve the package I have waiting back in Port Henry and hope that someone in Middlebury will be willing to shuttle me there in the morning.
After a quick breakfast I head over to the guard station by the Lake Champlain Bridge and wait, as Chris Maron of Champlain Area Trails will be joining me shortly. As I am waiting a reporter shows up with his camera. Hence I meet Alvin Reiner, here to get a quick story about me. He takes a few photos of me in front of the NCT Terminus kiosk and asks a few questions as more people start arriving. Here to meet me and walk with me across the bridge are Melinda Chapman, Elizabeth Lee, John Davis, and Chris Maron. Melinda and Elizabeth both brought some trail magic with them, a package of delicious brownies and a bottle of freshly made apple cider. With all greetings exchanged and trail magic in my pack we all set off across the bridge into Vermont.
You’re probably wondering why I am hiking into yet another state, and one that the NCT doesn’t go through. It turns out the original plan for the trail when it was laid out in 1980 was to have it continue into Vermont and connect with the Appalachian Trail via the Long Trail (LT). At the time however, the Green Mountain Club who is charge of maintaining the LT was concerned about over-usage and so they pulled their support for the trail and forced it to end at Crown Point. Now it has been a generation later and they have changed their minds and are actually quite enthusiastic about the idea of establishing the original route. I decided way back in the early planning stages to hike the proposed extension to the AT rather than quitting at Crown Point. I need to get home somehow anyway, and there happens to be an Amtrak station in Rutland only a few miles off the AT. May as well make it official, rather than just hitching a ride or roadwalking the rest of the way. So for the next several days, I will be hiking in the great state of Vermont.
On our trek over the Lake Champlain Bridge the group is anxious to hear about my journey so far. As we cross I share as many of my experiences as possible in the small amount of time we have before reaching the Green Mountain State. On the other side of the bridge is another historic site known as Chimney Point and in the parking lot is a vehicle with a man waiting outside. Hence I meet John Derick of the Middlebury Area Land Trust (MALT). He is here to talk with me about the route through this area and give me some maps that will help get me to the Long Trail. At this time the group I came over with needs to head back as they have jobs to get to on this Monday morning. I say goodbye to the nice people I just met as they turn and head back to New York. I spend a few minutes talking with John as he describes the route to get me in and around the town of Middlebury before heading to the Long Trail. MALT has their own set of maps for a loop trail they have been developing over the last decade that completely circles the town known as the Trail Around Middlebury (TAM). My route will take me over the northern and eastern half of this trail but first I need to find my way there and for that John has printed me a special map that includes the temporary roadwalk to the first trailhead. After thanking John for his help in navigating this area I shake his hand and I am off to chart new territory.
The roadwalk begins down busy VT-125 right along the shore of Lake Champlain. After a few miles I come to an intersection and turn east onto Town Line Road toward Snake Mountain. Along this road a car pulls up and down goes the window. It’s a local, Jim, who is wondering if I need anything. I tell him I know exactly where I’m going and he wishes me luck as he drives away. Before too long I reach the base of Snake Mountain, a solitary peak standing between the Adirondack Mountains of New York and the Green Mountains of Vermont. There is a short section of existing trail here that I was looking forward to hiking. John had warned me that a portion of it has not been maintained in many years but that I could probably find my way through if I was looking for a challenge. I decide to go around as I don’t have enough time today to risk losing the trail. Circling the base of the mountain I find my way to the other side where I pick up a new section of the TAM completed just last year in anticipation of the NCT being extended through Vermont. I am pleasantly surprised to find the trail well marked despite being mostly along and even through farm fields, there are even a few blue blazes. After only two miles I come to a trail intersection, a spur trail leads off to the right to Bittersweet Falls. I drop my pack and walk the short spur but arrive to find the waterfall completely dry. I take a few photos and head back, noting that there is a perfect spot for a future campsite right near the falls. The trail continues along farm fields to another trail junction, this one being the original TAM; I take the north fork. After crossing a stile through some pasture guarded my many cattle and along a few more fields I arrive at the Otter Creek Gorge Preserve and enter the woods. As I enter I am again pleasantly surprised with the quality of this trail. Here in the woods it is very well marked, official TAM markers are tacked to the trees every few hundred feet. Suddenly I emerge onto a narrow suspension bridge hanging above Beldens Falls. What a spectacular little trail this TAM is turning out to be.
The last section of trail takes me along the river’s edge among some large boulders through Wright Park. On the south end of the park I have a roadwalk that will lead me into town where I will need to find a place to spend the night. As I arrive downtown I am surprised to find John Derick waiting for me in front of a little café. He seems surprised that I have made it here so soon, despite it being almost evening now. We spend a few minutes talking and he mentions that he wanted to offer to drive me to Port Henry tomorrow to pick up my package. Thanks so much John, I greatly appreciate it. After we set a time for him to pick me up in the morning he points me in the direction of a few motels and he leaves for the evening. I decide to spend the night at a place called Inn on the Green, located very close to main street. The Inn is actually a restored Victorian style house, and it doesn’t appear to be too busy at the moment. I head on in and ask about pricing, having no doubt it is well out of my range. I decide it is worth the stay though, I have spent much less money on this trek than I thought I would and I have only three days left to go. I head on in, got a room on the second floor. Even the inside of the old house is just like it was back two centuries ago, although now has modern amenities (TV, running water, Wifi). The kind woman behind the desk hands me a menu and she explains that at this Inn the guests have the option of being served breakfast in bed. I’ve never had this experience before. I take a few minutes to fill out what I want and then it’s shower time first thing. After charging my phone I check it and find that I have a voicemail from Ron Strickland, founder of the Pacific Northwest National Scenic Trail and the Sea-to-Sea route (C2C). He is currently in Boston, heard about my hike and wants to meet up with me somewhere on the Long Trail. Wow, another opportunity to meet a trail legend. I call him back and we make plans to meet at Maine Junction, the point where the AT and LT diverge (if you are north-bound on the AT). Just as I am about to start my dinner there is a knock at the door. The housekeeper has just made a batch of chocolate chip cookies and she offers me one. Oh boy, if these aren’t the most delicious cookies I’ve ever tasted I don’t know what are. I spent the rest of the night unpacking my gear figuring out what I can cram into the bear canister to send home and then drift off to sleep.


Tue. October 15
Trail Day 192
Miles hiked: 21
Sucker Brook Shelter – LT


I decided to sleep in last night and I am awoken by a knock on the door, my breakfast has arrived. As I open the door a young woman brings a large tray full of various pastries, some cereal, yogurt, and juice right to the foot of my bed. This is just strange, never in my life have I had this kind of service, and oh my is the food ever good! After finishing breakfast it’s time to head out and meet John out on the street so we can head to Port Henry to retrieve my last food drop. During the ride John gives me the history of the TAM starting with his involvement as trail coordinator. He includes plans for the future of the trail, including getting the section through Snake Mountain opened up, and connecting the TAM to trails currently in existence in the Green Mountain National Forest. The NCT will one day be routed over these trails to reach the Long Trail which it will then follow south to its junction with the AT. Hopefully this will all become a reality in the next few years.
We arrive at the post office in Port Henry just as it opens, my box is there. I grab it and we go again, the drive taking longer than it should because the road between town and Crown Point is down to one lane as they have the other lane completely torn up for some road work. We make it back to Middlebury where we stop in at the MALT office. Here I meet Carl, the Executive Director, Jon and Joanie. They are pleased that I am using their trail as part of my cross-country journey and are looking forward to working with the National Park Service in the future to complete the extension of the NCT once it gets approved. Joanie takes a few notes from our conversation for a short article in their newsletter. After my brief visit it is time for John to drop me off back at the Inn so I can continue on with my hike. I thank him for everything he has done for me the past two days and after a firm handshake he is gone.
It takes me about a half hour to get everything packed and then I am out the door. First stop on my way out of town is the post office so I can mail home my bear canister and get rid of a lot of extra weight from things I will not need these last few days. After a brief roadwalk I’ve got an uphill climb on the TAM through Chipman Hill Park followed by a gradual descent into Means and Battell Woods. On the south side of Battell Woods the TAM crosses busy VT-125 into Jeffrey Murdock Nature Preserve, but I need to head east so my journey on the TAM will end here. I turn left onto the busy highway and head east into the Green Mountains. After a few miles I reach the small community of East Middlebury where a guy in a pickup flags me down. “You hiking the Long Trail?” I respond that I am on my way to it. He then asks if I need a ride and seems rather confused when I decline his offer. “You know it’s about 15 miles from here right? Uphill the whole way.” I thank him again for his offer but kindly refuse. He wishes me luck as he drives away. No sooner do I leave the little village than the uphill climb begins and I am in the Green Mountain National Forest. Man, I wish I could have taken that ride. The constant uphill climb has already worn me out, and the road here has no shoulder and a steep drop-off into a river far below on one side. Luckily there are not too many cars out on the road today.
About halfway to my destination I pull off into a little wayside rest and inspect my pack. Since entering the Adirondacks one of my shoulder straps somehow became frayed and started to slowly come apart. It’s to the point now where it could snap at any moment. Rather than risk it failing while out on a rocky trail I take the time here to patch it up as best I can. I only need to make it for two more days so a little duct tape will do the trick.
After ten minutes of pack bandaging I am hiking uphill again. Late evening I finally arrive at a trailhead for the Long Trail and see the infamous white blaze. There are a few cars parked here and some people taking photos of the entry sign. The Long Trail was the first long-distance trail in the US, designated in 1910. Stretching from Massachusetts to Canada, the AT is superimposed over it for nearly half of its length. According to the sign I have 4.6 miles to go to reach the first shelter where I intend to spend the night. I have maybe an hour of daylight left so I need to move fast. Without any delay I take a large gulp of water, snap a photo of the entry sign and head on in, or UP I should say. I now know how the LT got its reputation, it is well marked and maintained but very challenging. The rocky trail makes it treacherous to hike, especially when wet, but the scenery is spectacular. I manage to make it to the shelter just as darkness descends and I am greeted by two other hikers who have already set up for the night. Hence I meet Dave and Brooke, out on their last day of a several day trek. I hang my food and head back to the shelter where we swap some hiking stories. I tell them of my journey and how I am now basically on my way home, just taking a detour to hike as much trail as possible before boarding that train home. They tell me they are greatly inspired by what I have just accomplished and are so glad they had the chance to meet me. Thank you dear new friends, it was great to meet you as well.


Wed. October 16
Trail Day 193
Miles hiked: 17
Rolston Rest Shelter - LT


I’m up at what appears to be first light. It’s hard to tell as the sky is completely overcast. Dave and Brooke are up as well and we all get moving at exactly the same time. Unfortunately we are heading in opposite directions so I will not see them again. I snap a picture before shaking both of their hands and wishing them well as they reach their destination. Happy trails new friends. It was a pleasure.
The sun tries to peek out but it remains overcast the entire day as I hike through and then out of the Joseph Battell Wilderness. The trail is very rocky most of the way and choked with roots. Like the AT this trail gets so much use that in many places the tread is a deep ravine, worn down over the years by thousands upon thousands of hikers traveling its length. There is a lot of elevation change today but towards the end of the day the trail does level out quite a bit and I’ve got a gradual downhill to the Rolston Rest Shelter where I set up camp for the night. I’ve still got some time left before it gets dark so I enjoy a nice dinner and after hanging my food spend some time reading some more from Tolkein to pass the time. About a half hour before nightfall I hear voices coming down the trail from the south. I look in their direction and see two women hiking toward me. As they enter the cleared area around the shelter they greet me with a standard “Hi” and look for a place to set up their tents. I’m a little confused by this, as these shelters are designed to fit eight people and it saves the trouble of having to set up your tent at all. When they seem unable to find a level place behind the shelter I ask why they are setting up their tents when I am the only other person here, and I explain that these shelters are designed for eight people, and we are all supposed to share. Hence I officially meet Maggie and Sarah, out for a two day trek on the LT. Apparently they thought since I was here first that the shelter was all mine, but I correct them on this and they happily decide to move their things into the shelter rather than pitch their tents. Good thing too; just as darkness descends a light rain comes and continues most of the night. From my experience on the FLT, these shelters are a lot drier than your tent when you wake up in the morning. We spend a little while talking, and they begin by asking me where I am coming from and where I am heading. They seem flabbergasted when I explain that I have walked here all the way from North Dakota and that I will officially be done tomorrow when I reach Maine Junction. I find out that Maggie is from New York and Sarah is from Maine. Every so often they decide to meet somewhere between them and go for a long hike. This time it happened to be this section of the LT.
Before too long it is time to settle into bed and as my head hits the pillow I am suddenly hit with the realization that tonight is my last night on the trail. All the mixed emotions I had when I reached Crown Point come rushing back and I am filled with sadness. Hiking this great trail for the past 6 and a half months has become my life, and a life that I have grown to love. This is it, tomorrow it’s all over. This is my last night on the trail.


Thur. October 17
Trail Day 194
Miles hiked: 06
Red Roof Inn - Rutland, VT


I awoke fairly early this morning but I only have six miles to hike today so I take my time getting moving. I retrieve my food bag first thing and eat most of what’s left of my food while conversing with Sarah and Maggie as they cook their own breakfast over a stove. Around 9:00 I’m finally out on the trail and hike the five miles to Maine Junction where I reach the white blazes of the infamous Appalachian Trail. This is the end of my hike as this will likely be the future Eastern Terminus of the NCT once Congress approves the extension. I’m here before noon so I have about an hour to wait, Ron Strickland is heading out to meet me at this spot around 1:00. I snap a few pictures and take a video here at the sign and then set my pack down and use it as a chair. I have a cell signal so I use this time to make my Amtrak reservations for the ride home, day after tomorrow. In the meantime I enjoy sitting in front of the sign here on the AT and reading many pages of Tolkein. Soon Maggie approaches and says hi, on her way out the same way she came in. She stops to chat for a few minutes while she waits for Sarah to catch up. She takes my picture in front of the sign just as Sarah comes down the trail. As the two of them depart back towards their car Maggie hands me a piece of paper with her number on it. “I’ll be in town until 5:00 or so,” she says, and with a smile she turns and hikes away.
A few minutes later I hear two men coming up the trail from the south and I recognize one of them. Hence I meet Ron Strickland face-to-face and he has brought his friend Walter along that lives in the area. We take many pictures in front of the sign and exchange greetings. We’ve got a mile to hike on the AT to reach the trailhead parking lot off of Hwy 4 so we head out and talk along the way. Ron has been busy for a long time. He founded the Pacific Northwest Trail (PNT) that goes from Glacier National Park to the Pacific Ocean in Washington State and since then he has been working on a much more ambitious project. He envisions a coast-to-coast trail that will allow hikers to literally travel the width of the entire continent from one ocean to the other and he calls it the C2C route. The plan is to one day connect the PNT to the NCT, one of only two gaps in the proposed trail’s area, the other being the gap I have just hiked between Crown Point and Maine Junction which is seemingly very close to being approved. Only two hikers have completed the entire proposed route, Andrew Skurka and Nimblewill Nomad.
I’ve known about the concept of this trail from doing research for this hike and it is a fascinating idea. The current plan is actually to extend the NCT further west into Montana to connect with the PNT there in Glacier National Park. I am opposed to this idea for several reasons. Once you leave Lake Sakakawea in North Dakota, there are no more lakes, no more forested lands. These are characteristics that define the North Country for what it is. As soon as you go west from Lake Sakakawea you are no longer in the North Country, you are in Big Sky Country. Extending the trail westward I think would diminish some of the character of the NCT, and at 4600 miles long it is already impossible to hike the entire thing having fair hiking weather the entire time. It would make more sense to me to create a new trail between the two existing trails, one that is more definitive of the character of the region. Ron and I agree on this idea and have come to call it the Big Sky Trail (BST).
We talk about a few more issues regarding the National Trail System in general and he seems pleased when I inform him that I have won a scholarship to attend the National Trails Conference in Tucson in a couple weeks. We arrive at the trailhead off of Route 4 and he informs me he has a gift for me in his trunk. He hands me two books that he has written himself, one being the new guidebook for the NCT, the other being a book called Pathfinder. Pathfinder outlines the work that goes into creating a new trail, based on his experience with the PNT. He takes a few moments to write some encouraging remarks and sign them before handing them to me. I see some papers sticking out of the cover of the NCT guidebook and I discover that it is all the information he has gathered about the future BST. At this point he needs to get back to Boston so once again I must say goodbye to a new friend. Thanks for the gift Ron, and driving all this way to meet me. It was an honor meeting you and I hope our paths cross again. 
Walter shuttles me into Rutland where I have a reservation at the Red Roof Inn. After checking in I immediately strip down and take a hot shower. My muscles are extra tight from the intense terrain I’ve been hiking the last week and the hot water does much to relieve some of the pressure. Afterwards I check my phone, it’s almost 4:00. I give Maggie a call, she is still in town and she suggests we have dinner together. We make plans to meet in 15 minutes at a restaurant across the street from my motel. I arrive a little early but only find myself waiting about five minutes before Maggie shows up. We are seated right away as the place is completely empty. We both start off with a beer and spend the next several hours talking about our many adventures. Maggie has been to all but four states, Alaska being one of them. I relate to her the crazy adventure I had there while on an internship for the BLM and Forest Service working on a historic preservation project a few years back. I went into detail of how the nearest town was almost two hours away, how the only way to get to the site was by river, how we managed to get caught in a 100-year flood while working on our project, how the road we came in on got washed out so we took a nine hour detour through Canada to get back to Alaska, how some of us didn’t have passports, how we spent three nights in a hostel in a small town in The Yukon Territory during a music festival and each drank the Sour Toe cocktail, how after only three hours of sleep I had to drive an old Volvo station wagon with a leaky tire and a manual transmission six hours through a foreign country, and how I had the chance to take the first stage of the inside passage cruise (where I think I saw the fin of a whale) to Juneau and then fly home. Long story short, if you ever get a chance to go to Alaska, take it.
As it turns out we have visited a lot of the same places and even met some of the same people. Maggie tells me how in 2010 (while I was in Alaska) she was wandering through parts of the Pacific Northwest, particularly Idaho and Wyoming working on various projects. She met some of the same people there that I met a year later when I was working on another internship. Talk about small world! As I finally realize it’s dark outside and the restaurant is now full of people, I know we have to be well over time for her to make the long drive back to New York. She doesn’t seem to mind, and we stay a little longer. Finally after 7:30 we get up and leave, a whole line of people waiting to get into the restaurant. Oops! In the parking lot I walk Maggie to her car and it is time for another sad goodbye. Even here at the very end of this hike, the partings are no less difficult. It was a great pleasure meeting you Maggie. Thank you for making this last day on the journey of a lifetime even more memorable.



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