Saturday, June 3, 2017

Day 8: Burma Road to St. Ignace

June 3, 2017

Ed's foot was a tiny bit better today, but still nowhere near hike-worthy. I headed southwest on Burma Road, walking the first stretch. I was clad head-to-toe in my bug suit. Last night I kept waking up and feeling like I had a tick on me, so I wasn't taking chances anymore.

I jogged the next few sections as well, which were all in lovely pine forests and featured lots of rolling hills. It was just lovely. The trail ran by Brevoort Lake, which was quite pretty.

Then more snafus. After a lovely picnic lunch, I headed east on a 4.9-mile stretch that ended at Castle Rock Road. I wanted to take my pack so I had plenty of water, but at the last minute I decided not to. Well, the mapping for this section is very poor. This segment does NOT end at Castle Rock Road, as indicated on the map. It just parallels it -- from atop a really steep hill. 

Ed was on the road, at the bottom of the hill, and we were yelling back and forth trying to figure out what was going on. Eventually we figured it out and realized I had to continue hiking the next segment, which was another 3.4 miles. I was low on water, but at least it wasn't hot out.

Ed drove ahead, parked the car, and met me on the trail about .5 miles in to replenish my depleted water supply. From there it was 6.3 miles to St. Ignace and Straits State Park. Since the day's total was +27 miles, we decided I'd hike to the northern edge of the city and stop there, a move that would cut 2-3 miles.

So that's what I did. And thus ended our first foray on the North Country National Scenic Trail! We had a fantastic experience (except for the tick I found in my bed tonight -- so I wasn't imagining it last night!), and are anxious to explore more of this phenomenal trail.

Snowshoe and Cheese Ed

Day 7: Pine River Campground to Naomikong Overlook

June 1, 2017

Today started out great. The morning was cool and sunny. Ed and I headed north along the trail, and we were an hour or two in when we met Bill Courtois, a trail angel who was freshening up blazes. We chatted for a while, then pushed on.

After meeting Bill, the trail got lumpy and bumpy -- sort of like a farm field. This really bothered the bottoms of our feet. The scenery was beautiful, though. The forecast was for a sunny, warm day, but by late morning the clouds moved in and the wind picked up. It began sprinkling on and off.

For the next few hours I kept putting on and off my rain pants and backpack cover. It was really annoying. Every time it seemed like it was ready to really dump on us and I suited up, the weather would change within the next 5-10 minutes. Oh, well.

We did get to tape a Beer Mile video for Tim's Hash House Harriers group, so that was fun.

Around the time we hit H-28 in the mid-afternoon, Ed was hurting. Both of his feet were quite sore from our high mileage. Then he twisted his ankle. That did him in. I had him wait with our packs where the trail crossed Salt Point Road, and then I jogged the last 5.2 miles to our car, parked at Naomikong Overlook. 

Luckily the trail was pretty runnable, so I made good time -- just over an hour. I picked up Ed, who decided he probably couldn't finish the next/last two days of hiking. So we grabbed my car, parked at Pine River Campground, and took both cars to our motel in St. Ignace.

This was totally a bummer, as was finding a few ticks on us and in the car. UGH.

Snowshoe and Cheese Ed

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Day 6: Naomikong Overlook to Taquamenon Lower Falls

May 31, 2017 

It wasn't fun to learn that rain was forecast for the morning after yesterday's misadventures. But you can't expect sunny days every day. 

We began hiking west from Naomikong Overlook on Lake Superior's Taquamenon Bay. It was raining. The path wasn't too bad initially, but there were several spots that were pretty overgrown and wet.

The worst part came when the trail pushed us onto what was labeled a dirt road. We envisioned a wide, flat path that was easy to hike. How wrong we were! The rain from the last few days swamped the first quarter-mile or so of the path, so we inched along, stepping on downed logs, circling around in the brush and so on. Our feet got soaked anyway.

Eventually this path became reasonably decent, which meant we still had to skirt huge puddles every 100 yards or so, and the overgrown vegetation still soaked our feet. But at least we could walk somewhat steadily.

The trail next went onto Highway 123, which wasn't that busy, so it was a decent hike. The rain stopped, so we began to dry out. Lunch was at a wayside at the point where the trail hitched west toward Taquemenon Falls. There were even restrooms and garbage cans. Score!

The afternoon was great. The rain stopped and it was cool (48 degrees) and windy, which meant virtually no mosquitoes. We weren't hot and sweating. The scenery was beautiful. We saw a giant crane in the woods -- definitely a novelty. I've only seen them before in farm fields or near water. Saw lots of geese and goslings. We ended the day at 6:30 p.m.

There aren't any restaurants where we're staying (Paradise, Michigan). The closest place is a bar nine miles away. Sounds good, except after hiking all day and then showering, we crash. So we ate snack foods again -- bread, instant mashed potatoes, cheese, nuts. Looking forward to real food tomorrow night, when we stay in St. Ignace.

Snowshoe and Cheese Ed

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Day 5: Taquamenon Lower Falls to Culhane Lake

May 30, 2017

Our errors and mishaps are starting to be funny. Today we had roughly 20 miles to hike from Taquamenon State Park's lower falls to Culhane Lake, where we started yesterday.

We got to the state park and I immediately noticed the maps in their kiosks were different -- one was right-side up and one was upside-down. But I didn't take the time to check which one was which because, well, I tend to be a bit hyper and anxious to get going. So we started hiking east from the park instead of west.

Ed and I noticed this after two hours of hiking (we take snack breaks every two hours), which was about six miles in. Fortunately, there was an access road nearby that led to Highway 123, which is the main road with access to various spots on Taquamenon State Park. 

We hiked three miles up to Highway 123. I prayed that we'd find a kind soul who would not only stop for us, but take us right to the spot where my car was parked in Taquamenon State Park (it was .6 miles from Hwy. 123 down a park road to my car). 

Sure enough, a trail angel appeared who drove us there. She wouldn't take money for her kindness, but simply asked that we pay it forward. WE WILL!

So now it was noon. We had hiked nine miles the wrong way. We started off on our intended hike of roughly 21 miles. We ran into trouble right away, in that there was a .9-mile detour on the route. Then, the section that led to the Tequamenon Upper Falls was extremely technical. Our normal three-mile-per-hour pace was much slower. 

Somewhere in here it started to rain.

We hiked about six miles in the rain, plus faced lots of mud, flooded paths and muck. We couldn't move quickly.

I have to add that cell service up here is poor. We couldn't get WiFi and a weather update in two days. The last we'd been able to see, today was supposed to be nice. WRONG.

It rained a lot. I didn't have my rain pants. By the time we hit a road and had 12 miles left to hike, it was after 5 p.m. and we were soaked and the temperature was dropping. If we eschewed the trails and hiked the roads to our car, it would still take us until 8 or 9 p.m. I was worried about hypothermia. 

As we were adding layers and eating a snack, a truck drove up and the driver asked us if we needed help. We swallowed our pride and said yes, our car was 12 miles up the road. And we'd take a ride as many or few miles up the road as they were willing to go.

Again, a trail angel! The man was intending to go halfway up this road, then cut over on another. But he took us all the way to our car. We had to sit in the truck bed, as there wasn't room in the cab. But that was fine, and actually exciting. We tried to pay him for his efforts, but again he said to just pay it forward.

By the time we got to our car, I knew we'd made a very wise decision. The temperature had dropped and it started to pour. We already both felt hypothermic. 

All good!

Snowshoe and Cheese Ed 

Day 4: Culhane Lake Campground to Muskellonge Lake State Park

May 29, 2017

Oy, the things that can turn you around! So today was a short, 20-mile jaunt from the Two-Hearted River area back west to Muskellonge Lake State Park. I'd given Ed directions for the spot to drop off our car, then began working on my laptop. Again, long story short, Ed missed a key turn and we lost about an hour.
We started out hiking with mosquitoes in full force. I donned my head-to-toe bug suit for the first time. It worked awesome! Our first several hours of hiking were interesting. We hiked through some clear-cutting areas that looked like moonscapes, and also some areas with storm damage that also looked pretty sobering.

But in the midst of that we were periodically treated to phenomenal views of Lake Superior! The Great Lakes are so amazing. I'm biased, as I grew up along the Lake Michigan shoreline. But honestly, I don't know how anyone can't be amazed by any of our Great Lakes.

It rained on and off during the afternoon. The trail would traipse along the lakeshore, then dip down to a road, then back up again. Some of the roads were sandy logging paths that were really difficult to walk on. The bugs were horrendous, on and off. 

We finished the day at 4:45 – yay! But we had to drive back to our dropped car, and due to the rain and the poor quality of the dirt roads, it took us two hours round-trip (would have been less than half that on paved roads). Oh well, that's hiking!

There is a laundry in this small berg. The owner agreed to open it up at night just to accommodate us. This is what I LOVE about small Midwestern towns!

Snowshoe and Cheese Ed

Day 3: Muskellonge Lake State Park to Just East of Grand Marais

May 28, 2017

Because we lost our shuttle at the last minute, we realized it would be most efficient to keep hiking westbound. Sort of backwards. We'd drop one car at the western end of our hike, then drive to the eastern end and hike back to the one car. Then drive forward and on to our next lodging.

Today we drove to Muskellonge Lake, ready to hike west back to the spot just east of Grand Marais where we began on Friday. We had heard from trail folks that there has been a lot of erosion along the lakeshore bluffs. This is where the trail often runs, and thus the path disappears in spots wherever a chunk of the bluff erodes completely. The long-term plan is to move the trail about 100 feet (or yards?) in from the bluffs, but for now there are rudimentary detours.

The spot where we were hiking today wasn't yet cleaned up for the season, so we were warned the path might be lost/eroded away in spots. We started off from the Muskellonge Lake State Park in high spirits. We were going to do this! Well … ha! 

We did follow the path very well for the most part, but there was one spot where the trail was eroded away and there happened to be a path back to the road, which was what the map showed. To make a long story short, we headed to the road, walked back and forth a bit, then went back up into the woods and discovered we had to hike past/around the eroded spot a short distance to pick up the real path back to the road. 

All of the back-and-forth cost us about 3 miles, or an hour's hiking. In the midst of this, I must add, it started to rain.

We had another snafu a few hours later, in an area with logging activity. We haven't had a chance to ask locals about this yet, but lots of the logged areas are marked in blue, with blue paint on the trees and blue ribbons hanging from some branches. This is extremely confusing, as you often can't tell if this is NCT markings or logging. So we lost more time in one trail segment due to this.

But all is good. Tonight we are staying in a man's rental home, which is designed like a caboose. It's quite charming. 

Snowshoe and Cheese Ed

Day 2: Grand Marais to Coves Campsites

May 27, 2017

Ideally, to an orderly, logical person like me, we'd section-hike the NCT in some sequence. (Although section-hiking means you can hike sections of the trail in any order.) But that's not what's happening here, due to a variety of factors. 

What that means for our hike today is that we again headed west, this time from Grand Marais about 25 miles through the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore and into Beaver Basin Wilderness. 

We were told the path through Pictured Rocks was perfectly signed. Um … not quite. Blue blazes are the sign for the North Country Trail. But in Pictured Rocks, there are wooden sign posts for the trail at the intersection of the trail with major points of interest, but not one blaze otherwise. Okay, that's not too difficult to figure out.

But at the very end of our long, 26-mile day, we were looking for Coves Campsites, from which we'd take a connector trail back to our car. Coves was right after Beaver Creek Campsites, but in between were a wealth of side trails around Beaver Lake. Suffice it to say we never found the path we were looking for, and were told by several others that they found all of the signage confusing. We ended up hiking an extra 2-3 miles, which was tough.

But that's life on the trail! The scenery was gorgeous and we had an excellent day.

Snowshoe and Cheese Ed