Dedicated to Mara's travel and hiking adventure journals as well as her words of wisdom and suggested resources for hikers and travelers.
Hiking the pinky
Manistee National Forest, Michigan, October, 2004
Itís been a few months since I posted about my Mid-state trail hike.
In August, I got a call from someone at a company that I had done some consulting for while at my last company. That job had entailed spending a week in Chihuahua City, Chihuahua, Mexico. This time, the idea was that I would go out to Michigan for a couple of days. Well, while there, it was apparent that two days wasnít going to do the trick.
So far, Iíve been back to two more times. On my third visit, I managed to work in some extra time. I met up with some hiking friends and did a two day backpack along the North Country Trail and Manistee River Trail in the Manistee National Forest (if Michigan is a mitten, this area is where the pinky would be). I had only met these people face-to-face once before, for dinner, on my second trip to Michigan.
I knew them from the geartesting group Iím involved with so I had some idea what types of gear they would be carrying, but I didnít know all that much about their own hiking styles or the trail conditions in Michigan. To be perfectly honest, I didnít really know anything about the hiking trip. I just knew where I was going to meet up with my ride. I didnít know who was going to be coming, where we were going to be hiking, or how far we were going to hike. I just brought my backpack with all gear necessary for the type of weather I thought we might encounter in Michigan during the last week of October.
In some ways, I was relishing the not knowing part of the hike. When I planned my AT thruhike, I completely overplanned. Since then, Iíve ensured that Iíve had the necessary gear and maps on my hikes, but I read far fewer trail guides and enjoy the trails Iíve been on for whatever I find along the way. I have, previously, relied on the preparation of friends for having trail guides, but this time, I was relying on the preparation of people I had met just once before and knew only from on-line.
In the grand scheme of the present day take on personal safety, some people would think I was crazy. In reality, I knew I was perfectly safe and was really enjoying the prospect of going hiking in an area new to me without having to deal with all the usual research.
I worked in Flint from Tuesday to Thursday and then went to Chelsea, a town near Ann Arbor to spend the night at my friend, Sueís, place. I knew Sue, originally from on-line, but over the years, from many AT thruhiker gatherings and events. She was even the trail angel that brought me back to Atkins after Trail days while I was on my thruhike in 1999. Through the Great Lakes hiking club, she knew the hikers I would be with over the weekend. As a matter of fact, they had all been to her house on at least one occasion.
Sue and I mostly just hung out at her place Thursday night and Friday morning. We had hoped to go for a walk in the morning but a violent thunderstorm, complete with local power outages, ensured we stayed safe and cozy in the house. After the storm cleared, we did make our way back to the town center for lunch at ZouZouís before I headed back to Detroit to drop off my rental car.
At 2:30, I met Andy at the car rental place. We transferred all of my gear to his car and got on our way. The first stop was to his house where we dropped off my "town" gear, picked up his wife, Elvira, and their dog, Keila. Then, we made our way to the kennel where they left the dog for the weekend. Our next stop was Lansing where we met up with Dennis and Lisa. The five of us had dinner in Lansing then we said goodbye to Lisa, who, pregnant, decided not to join us.
It was then a three-hour drive to the Red Bridge trailhead along the Manistee River. This trailhead is also a boat launch facility along the river. We arrived around 11:00pm and, in a situation new to me, we set up our tents on the ground near the trailhead. Most of the trailheads Iíve been to in the US explicitly prohibit camping that close to the trailheads or boat launches.
Andy and Elvira worked on their tent. Dennis found a couple of well-spaced trees from which to hang his hammock. I found another patch of ground to set up my tent. It was 60 degrees and calm as we set up our shelters. I didnít worry too much about how well I pitched the tent as I would only need to be in it while sleeping.. There was a convenient outhouse nearby and a raccoon and bear proof garbage pail.
It wasnít long before we said goodnight and crawled into our respective shelters. It was 11:30.
It was midnight when a massive gust of wind moving down the river blew at my tent, pulling one of my stakes out of the ground. I quickly scrambled out and set about restaking my tent and tightening the pitch. I noticed both Dennis and Andy had also been called out of their shelters to deal with the potential complications caused by very high winds.
Over the course of the night, the winds remained strong, squirrelly, and intermittent. To complicate matters, we also had rain. For only the second or third time since I got the tent in 1999, I eventually had to reset the awning to the half-staff setup in order to prevent the rain from blowing into the tent with the swirling winds. While it wasnít the most comfortable of nights, I did catch little snippets of sleep between blows from the storm.
Since we had car camped, I had only brought limited equipment into the tent. The rest, I had left in the car. Thankfully, the rain let up in the morning and I was able to pack my backpack in the dry weather. The only wet item I had to pack was my tent, and even that had dried significantly while we were eating breakfast and packing the rest of our gear. Even though we had camped at the trailhead, having gotten there so late, and then having had to deal with the storm, we didnít get going until 9:15.
It was a cool day with temperatures in the 50s and dropping rather than rising. We had an eight-mile stretch of trail with no water. Not knowing what terrain to expect, I camelled up and packed 2.5 liters of water.
The windstorm continued through the day. We were walking north from the bridge along the North Country Trail on the west side of the Manistee River. The terrain was hilly but the treadway was fantastic. It is mostly sidehill that contours around the hills with the occasional climb to the ridgeline. The trail looked like it had been blazed yesterday.
The wind was the story of the day. While we were in the lee of the hills, it was really nice, easy hiking. There were times when we were on the ridges or on the exposed side of the hills when the wind raged around. We could hear tree branches cracking and the occasional branch would blow down near us. The time a limb came down just a few feet from us had me wondering if continuing the hike was the right thing to do. But, all of us wanted to hike so we just kept going.
We were leapfrogging with a group of seven men. As each of our groups took breaks, the others would pass. There were a few bicyclists on the multi-use trail that passed us on the way out and back.
The 2.5 liters of water I had packed ended up being much more than I really needed. Having camelled up and then with such cool temperatures, I wasnít doing much sweating.
It was past peak foliage season here but there were still pockets of beautiful foliage here and there. Geese flying overhead would occasionally have us stopping to watch as they flew by. Their presence was reflected in a passage from a book I just happen to be reading right now:
"Out of the clouds I hear a faint bark, as of a far away dog. It is strange how a dog cocks its ears at that sound, wondering. Soon it is louder: the honk of geese, invisible, but coming on.
The flock emerges from the low clouds, a tattered banner of birds, dipping and rising, blown up and blown down, blown together and blown apart, but advancing, the wind wrestling lovingly with each winnowing wing. When the flock is a blur in the far sky I hear the last honk, sounding taps for summer."
- Aldo Leopold, "A Sand County Almanac"
The four of us mostly hiked together. The few times we did spread out a bit, we never got out of sight of each other. One of the biggest surprises I found were the bugs. They were still out and they were still biting. Somehow I just never thought to pack any bug dope. I was the only one hiking in shorts so I was the only one being bothered. Oh well... Live and learn. They werenít bad while we were moving.
As we approached the northern end of our hike, we passed a stream. It was incredibly clear with a sandy bottom. This remained true for all of the streams we would pass over the weekend, and even the river, too. When we got to the northern end of the hike, there was a dirty campsite at an area with a trailhead and a truck in the lot. Knowing there were additional campsites on the far side of the river, we crossed the suspension footbridge and started south on the Manistee River Trail. Not being as popular as the North Country Trail, the trail wasnít in as good condition. The reality was that the trail followed the river much more closely on the east side of the river and the trail was built on flatter terrain. Therefore, drainage wasnít as good and there were a few muddy stretches of trail and a few places where the trail had eroded. I wouldnít have even noticed the condition of the trail except Dennis and Andy had mentioned this trail as not being as good. From my perspective, it was still better than almost any trail in the northeast.
This side of the river has a series of established campsites. We soon found one on a tidal flat. There was a small copse of trees perfect for Dennis to string his tent and a couple of flat spots for Andy and Elvira to set up their tents. We left a nearby larger flat area with a fire ring for the group of men we had been leapfrogging with.
With the rain and drizzle that had been on and off during the day, and the dropping temperatures, we quickly set up our shelters and piled on all available clothing to fend of the hypothermia inducing weather.
The men soon arrived and though they did set up camp there, we had surprisingly very little interaction with them. After they set up camp, they disappeared for a while. It was only later that we realized they had probably gone hunting for wood for a campfire.
It was early for dinner, but Andy and Elvira made themselves some soup. Then as they were eating their soup, Dennis made some for himself. Not being a huge fan of soup, I had just been hanging out. But, I was getting hungry and the thought of a warm meal was appealing, so I soon started my own dinner.
Being a geartester, I was testing a stove system called the Clikstand. Itís an integrated pot stand and windscreen designed to be used with a .9 liter Evernew pot or any similar sized pot. It is designed to be used with a Trangia alcohol stove or any similar size alcohol or solid fuel stove. For purposes of flying in this post 9/11 world, I left the alcohol stove at home and took my Esbit, solid fuel stove.
When you go hiking with a bunch of gearheads, you tent to talk gear a lot. When you have interesting gear to look at, you end up doing a bit of show and tell. Such was the case with the Clikstand. It, not surprisingly, attracted the attention of Dennis and Andy. So, they came over and watched while I set up stove and started cooking. They were also interested in the Esbit tablets as they still arenít very widely used. It was also windy and since they take quite a bit of effort to light, and it was windy, it took even a bit longer than usual. But, I didnít have any real problems. Just had to keep the lighter lit and not drop the tablet too hard onto the stove.
After I ate, Dennis ate, and then Elvira and Andy ended up cooking their dinner. Andy and Elviraís tent was a two person tent made spacious by a huge vestibule. As they finished cooking, they invited Dennis and me into the tent. I grabbed my sleeping pad and joined them. The four of us on the pads were quite comfortable hanging out in the two person tent.
The tent was positioned so that with just a bit of the door zipped open at the top for ventilation, we could get a view of the guyís camp. It was still very windy and the guys, on the open flat, were building a fire. Well, they had wet wood, too much of it, and a lot of wind. They did succeed in getting the fire built, but they built it much too high, the sparks were flying everywhere, and the smoke from the wet wood was chasing all of the guys around the fire. The fire alternatively flared up and died down for quite a while.
Meanwhile, the four of us lounged in Andy and Elviraís tent, worked on an old Games magazine crossword puzzle, and then got silly, very silly. Canít wait to see the pictures.
Once again, it was very gusty but this time, with more forethought, I had set up my tent so it wouldnít matter too much.
It rained again as we went to sleep and rained on and off overnight. I slept much better this night regardless of the rain and wind and woke up much better rested than the previous night.
Once again, we were slow to get out in the morning but there seemed no reason to rush.
My observations about the trail conditions yesterday continued to hold true today. Additionally, where hills were negotiated with well graded trails yesterday, the hills today are shorter and steeper with a bit of sketchier footing than yesterdayís. There are numerous small feeder streams on the east side of the Manistee River. Each time we crossed one, there was a nice little footbridge. Some werenít quite flat so we did take them slow in the wet weather.
As we were much more closely following the riverís edge, we frequently had views of the river and the hills beyond. There were numerous oxbows along the river and it was apparent how many would soon be cut off. There were also oxbows that the river had already left behind. The river was also seemingly mostly uniform in width and depth, making me want to use a canoe for a lazy paddle downstream. The water was mostly slow or quick, but never fast or white.
With the well graded, easy trail, my knees havenít given me any problems. Of course, Iíve got a bit of shin pain on this second day. But, the discomfort in manageable.
Back at the trailhead, Dennis and Andy identify a woman hanging out at the trailhead. They recognized her from her pictures posted on their Michigan hikers mailing list.
Our first stop on the way back was at Burger King. Then, a stop at an orchard for cider donuts and cider. We dropped Dennis off in Lansing and were then off to pick up Keila. We were disappointed to find the kennel closed so we left her for another night in the kennel and got home just in time for tail end of the trick or treaters.
We were unpacking and spreading out our gear. Before I knew it, Andy had grabbed my shoes and dumped them in the sink with his and Elviraís for a thorough washing. And I mean thorough. Complete with laundry detergent. Then, with a handy attachment in their dryer, we even got to dry them. Well, my shoes hadnít been so clean since I bought them, and Iím sure theyíll never again be so clean. LOL
We had pizza for dinner, gabbed for a while, and then hit the sack.
Andy dropped me at the airport in the morning.
I must thank Dennis and Andy for pulling together this wonderful weekend and introducing me to Michigan hiking. It was great to meet Lisa and have Elvira along on the hike, too. One of these years, Iíll make it to the Upper Peninsula, but Iíll be taking more than a weekend to do so.
Last updated, February 20, 2005.
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