Odyssey 2009 Journals

Sunday–March 22, 2009

Trail Day–001

Trail Mile–24.9/0025

Location–Riverdale, North Dakota

What a great benefit to have Gordon’s (Gordon Smith) support again. He came to my home, just like last year, picked me up, and hauled me up here, to Stanton, North Dakota, the Knife River Indian Villages–where I passed during my outbound Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail hike in ’04.

We had time to spare yesterday so we did a bit of recon on the trail, where I’ll be hiking the next few days. Oh, lots of snow, and industrial mud now that the temperature is above freezing during the day. This area of North Dakota has had 100-150 inches of snow this past winter and all of it has stuck–up until a few days ago.

Gordon also drove me by the Sakakawea South Shore, where I’ve many friends. I didn’t get to see John and Renee Lindemann, from Golden Valley, as they’re wintering in New Mexico, nor was I able to track down Debbi Biffert, a dear friend from Halliday. But I did spend some time with Allan and Gail Lynch from Dunn Center, the folks who own the land where is located the Knife River Flint Quarries. If you haven’t read my account of this remarkable and historic site, please go back to Odyssey 2006 and check it out–pretty amazing.

The hike today begins at the Knife River north of Stanton. From here, it’s a roadwalk to the beginning of the North Country National Scenic Trail at Lake Sakakawea State Park near Pick City. Gordon has me to the Indian Villages by eight. I shoot a few stills, and a video, and I’m off into the cold wind–and a cold drizzle.

The hike is clicking fine. In a mile or so I stop for another video shot where the road crosses Knife River–jammed and flooded with snowmelt and ice. Here I pause to say a prayer for safe and successful passage, this odyssey.

By three I’m standing by the sign that marks the beginning of the North Country Trail at Lake Sakakawea State Park. Sarah, who’s been out to the overlook with her boyfriend, takes some shots of me standing by the trail sign.

From the sign, in the park, there’s close to two miles of certified trail. I give it a go for maybe a couple hundred yards–till I start postholing clean up to my waist. On down the trail I can see ten foot drifts–not good. I know that John, Lake Sak Park Ranger will be disappointed that I was unable to hike his trail. I did try, John, just too much snow, like you told me!

Late afternoon I manage the three-mile crossing of the Garrison Dam–in 40-50 mph winds. Gordon is waiting at the Honey Hole Convenience Store, on the hill in Riverdale, where I call it a day.

Back at the little Sakakawea Motel in Pick City, just enough time for a hot shower before enjoying a great evening with Wayne and Myra Axtman, more dear friends from Hazen (Lake Sak South Shore). They drove up and treated Gordon and I–a grand evening.

It’s so good to be on the trail again. The news: “Two American journalists captured by North Korean soldiers–Japan mulls missile shield for North Korean rocket.” Sure won’t miss the likes of all this sad news for the next six months.

“I just wanted to do this while I could.

I know it’s going to be a hardship financially,

but I probably wouldn’t be able to do this when I’m 60.”

[Ed Talone, NCT thru-hiker, 1994]

Monday–March 23, 2009

Trail Day–002

Trail Mile–24.6/050


I’ve a roadwalk this morning, from Riverdale on up to the Audubon Wildlife Management Area. While I’m heading in that direction, Gordon goes ahead to check conditions for us. In awhile, he’s back to intercept me along the road. “No use hiking up that way today.”Gordon says. “Or anytime soon, for that matter. Rangers at Audubon tell me the tour route through is closed, will be until sometime next month. The road is impassable, with deep drifts around the dikes.”he continues.

Since starting out this morning, the wind has really come up, and it’s turning very cold. Don’t know what the wind chill factor might be for the low thirties and wind velocities gusting to 40-45 mph, but it tends to set a definite chill to things.

We’d taken a look at the McClusky Canal, where the trail passes, on our way up last Saturday. Drove out to one of the road crossings. Muddy conditions and drifted snow by the canal cuts.

We’ve been listening to the weather report and it isn’t good. Blizzard conditions are forecast to begin late this afternoon. We can see it, it’s coming. Gordon suggests I stick to ND200 and keep heading east. That’s what Ed Talone and Gordon’s sister, Sue, did when finishing their westbound NCT hike under similar conditions back in October 2004. So stick to ND200 it is.

By four, the wind is gusting to near 50. The sky is black–and it COLD. A fellow running an eighteen-wheeler out of coalmines stops his rig by me, jumps out, and runs around. “There’s a blizzard coming in. You gotta get off this road and find shelter.” Wide-eyed look on his face. I explain that Gordon will be picking me up and I’ll be okay.

And Gordon comes none too soon. The ranger at Audubon had told him about a little motel off the beaten path in Underwood. We head over there. One room left. Thank you, Lord. We’re no sooner in than the freezing rain begins.

Saw many deer today, more than a few were roadkill. Many pheasant and grouse, too, along with a roadrunner and a big fox. Don’t know how anything manages to survive up here in these frozen barrens. I guess the Canadian geese just don’t migrate anymore. They’re everywhere here, thousands of them, all apparently healthy and happy.

Gordon had done a little grocery shopping for us before picking me up this evening. Our room is more of an apartment, complete with separate bedrooms, a living room, kitchen and dining room. We’ll be here, looks like, for at least two days, perhaps more, before the roads are open again.

It’s late evening now. There’s a half-inch of ice on everything, and the snow is just beginning. Spring is officially here now, but this ain’t it!

“The melancholy days are come, the saddest of the year,

Of wailing winds and naked woods and meadows brown and sere.”

[William Cullen Bryant]

Tuesday–March 24, 2009

Trail Day–003

Trail Mile–00/050


It is daylight, time to lift my pack and go. But today is no day to be hiking this trail. It’s 23 out, wind chill near zero, and the wind is already gusting to 25 mph–and it’s still snowing. In my pack I am carrying the most minimal of “three-season” gear. This day is a very depths-of-winter day, not like those of early spring.

Forgive me dear friends, but I will not venture forth this day. I will stay inside where I might remain warm and dry. Oh yes, I want to go, I do want to go. What a discouragement, right at the beginning of this great adventure.

Now is, indeed, the time for patience, the time to remain confident and strong in both my determination and my commitment to this great task. Above all, I must keep a positive attitude, remain resolute of will.

“An inexhaustible good nature is one of the most precious gifts of heaven,

spreading itself like oil over the troubled sea of thought,

and keeping the mind smooth and equable in the roughest weather.”

[Washington Irving]

Wednesday–March 25, 2009

Trail Day–004

Trail Mile–00/50


What a true blessing, being out of this blizzard. Sid, owner/innkeeper here at Lincoln Park Motel in Underwood has taken us in. We’ve been under his roof for the past two days now and will remain here for two more, as this storm lingers–more snow, driven by brutally cold winds. North and South Dakota are gripped in a weather crisis. Areas are under national emergency. Rivers are jammed with snowmelt and ice dams, folks are being displaced from their homes–a sad situation. Yes, a true blessing to be in and out of it, to be safe and secure.

I want nothing more than to head out again, to follow the wind, whither it may lead, but this has not been the day to go.

“What hope shall we gather, what dreams shall we sow?

Where the wind calls our wandering footsteps we go.

No love bids us tarry, no joy bids us wait:

The voice of the wind is the voice of our fate.”

[Sarojini Naidu]

Thursday–March 26, 2009

Trail Day–005

Trail Mile–00/050


Another day to wait, holed up in Underwood, though we do make an attempt. I try getting out this morning, in the wind, the snow, with wind chill around zero, but turn back due to concern about Gordon and the van. With street tires it’s hard getting the van to go, and when rolling, it’s scary trying to haul ‘er down. The roads have been scraped but remain pretty much solid ice. We had a half-inch of freezing rain before the snow came in last Monday. Over a foot has since accumulated and it’s near white-out again as I write this. US83 is ice, as is ND200. There’s been no sanding or salting, even at the intersections. Vehicles are in the ditches along–a very bad situation.

I knew I was rolling the dice, starting this early. Spring conditions were shaping great until this blizzard hit–and the forecast isn’t rosy, more bitter cold days, high winds, even more snow. It’s day-to-day. We’ll keep our spirits up, knowing the trail is waiting for us out there–then take a look at conditions again tomorrow.

“Touch passion when it comes your way…It’s rare enough as it is.

Don’t walk away when it calls you by name.”

[J. Michael Straczynsky]

Friday–March 27,2009

Trail Day–006

Trail Mile–48.8/098

Location–ND200, McClusky

No, I’m not hiking 49 miles today. That would be the total mileage from point A to point B if I stayed the McClusky Canal rather than ND200. The canal runs back and forth, sorta like your pup does when you take him with you to the woods. Today’s hike is an even 25 miles, by road, to near McClusky, half the canal miles. I have not the winter gear to endure this depths-of-winter snow. All the county secondary roads are impassable due to snow, so Gordon would be unable to get anywhere near the canal. So it’s head east on the highway.

I’ve decided to stay with the mileages calculated for my itinerary, for ease of keeping track day-to-day. I’ll deduct the excess off the mileage at the end. By then there’ll probably be many more miles anyway.

The temperature is in the single digits this morning. The roads are pure ice, vehicles still in the ditches. Gordon inches along, finally dropping me by the side of the road east of Underwood, where I ended the day, four days ago. It’s bitter cold, but I’m bundled up best I can be, with every layer of clothing I’ve got, short sleeve, long sleeve, down vest, fleece jacket (not in my gear list, but brought it along just in case–smart move), and my great new GoLite Goretex jacket.

I’m no sooner on the highway heading east than I hear this incredible grinding noise. It’s a snowplow coming toward me. I can see it a mile away, the ice and snow making a great cloud as the plow approaches. I move to the other side of the road and manage an amazing video as he passes. Check the video album in a week or so. I’ll be getting this card off to my Webmaster, CyWiz, tomorrow.

Nothing is moving out here today, no bunnies, no birdies, no wildlife of any kind.

The sun finally starts melting the sheet of ice that’s built up on the highway, even though 19 is the high for the day. It is absolutely merciful there’s been no wind. Remarkable, too, the sun has shone all day. Have managed to keep my core temperature up, but have become dehydrated. Water in my water bottle has frozen solid in my belt pouch.

We take a break for lunch at Bev’s Cafe in Turtle Lake, then it’s back to the frozen tarmac to hammer out the afternoon miles. Gordon collects me at six, five miles west of McClusky. We stay at the neat little R&H mom-n-pop motel run by Darliss in McClusky.

“People take different roads seeking fulfillment and happiness.

Just because they’re not on your road doesn’t mean they’ve gotten lost.”

[H. Jackson Brown, Jr.]

Saturday–March 28, 2009

Trail Day–007

Trail Mile–50.1/148

Location–ND200 west of Goodrich

Another fudge-the-mileage day. The canal runs pretty much south to north, making little headway east. ND200 runs east!

We’re out at eight-thirty. No sense starting any earlier in this cold. It’s single digits as Gordon drops me off at Center Avenue, the geographical middle of North Dakota. The sun’s out and the wind is calm, which makes for a little better conditions–but not much. Single digits be single digits!

This roadwalk will be 25 miles again today, to a point a few miles east of Goodrich.

Before I’m out of North Dakota this time, and with the miles hammered on ND200 during my L&CNHT treks, I will have hiked ND200 across nearly the entire state of North Dakota, from Grassy Butte in the west, to near the Minnesota State line in the east.

The sun stays with me most of the day. The wind comes up–and cuts, but not so bad, as it remains below 20 mph. Another okay day, though unbelievably cold, up here on these plains of North Dakota.

Oh, I’ve crossed the McClusky Canal a couple of times now; got some pictures. Sure glad I decided not to try and hike along that way–entirely too much snow to bust through.

Gordon is waiting at mile marker 247, the end of my 25 for the day, and we’re back in our snug (and warm) little room in McClusky by six.

“Few people know how to take a walk.

The qualifications are endurance, plain clothes, old shoes, an eye for nature,

good humor, vast curiosity, good speech, good silence, and nothing too much.”

[Ralph Waldo Emerson]

Sunday–March 29, 2009

Trail Day–008

Trail Mile–27.9/176

Location–ND200, Sykeston

This’ll be a pretty even-mileage day, roadwalking ND200 compared to wandering along the canals. On the highway I’ll be hammering another 25.

Really great stay in McClusky at R&H Motel, Darliss, Innkeeper. Gordon drives me the 20 back east and deposits me on the road right at nine. Not the makings for a great day. Fog–couple 100 yards visibility is it. Temperature is 21, and of course, no sun. Looks like it might burn off, but the fog hangs most of the day, and when it lifts, well, now it’s overcast clouds. Some wind, out of the east, of course, but not too bad.

At six miles, Gordon is waiting. I walk up looking like Santa Clause, pure white beard, fully iced up from the moisture-laden fog.  Gordon looks at me- wide-eyed. “Take my picture, Gordon.” He gets a neat video (just the least unsteady).

Received a nice email from Delores, lives here in North Dakota–much encouragement. She comments about the first robins to arrive. Saw one this morning, staggering around in the snow, post-holing up to his butt. Poor fellow had a devil of a time getting airborne, problem de-icing I suppose. Anyway, Delores, thanks for your kindness–I sure feel much better seeing the robin, ’cause I’m obviously not the only dufus that’s arrived in North Dakota way too early!

By five I’ve got the 25 done. Gordon collects me a little west of Sykeston, and we head in to the little berg. Great local pub. Get permission to park the van out front. Thanks Kenny. I rearrange things to make room in the back of the van, and move in. Gordon cranks the engine, gets the interior nice and toasty. Oh yes, this is home!

“…intrepid spirits seek victory over those things that seem impossible…

It is with an iron will that they embark on the most daring of all endeavors…

to meet the shadowy future without fear and conquer the unknown.”


Monday–March 30,2009

Trail Day–009

Trail Mile–24.8/201

Location–ND200, Carrington

Another equal-mileage day. I’ll pound another 25 out, out here on ND200. I’ll end the day in Carrington, pretty much due south of New Rockford, where the canals end. So, after today, it’s pretty much a roadwalk either way, up there or down here.

A very comfortable night in the van, next the bar in Sykeston. Got a chance to meet a few of the locals. One interesting old chap, Alvin, now 80, discovered the first natural gas pocket here in North Dakota. It’s on his land, well, his son’s land, land that came down through the family. Should see his eyes light up when he tells the story–showed us a painting of a pipe sticking out of the ground, all torched up, huge gas flame. The find hasn’t panned out as of yet, but T. Boone Pickens, down in Texas, is sure interested. Good luck with your wells, Alvin. Yup, neat little town, kind folks.

First order of business this morning is to open up the Country Cafe. More locals, the klatch, more fun–and a good breakfast to get me going.

And Gordon finally gets me going, a tad past nine, about seven miles west of Sykeston.

The hike today, the 25 into and past Carrington, is setting to be a tough one. Hard wind, very cold, driving much snow, is quartering me front-left, from the northeast. Not a pleasant place to be today, ND200. However, from the report, seems we’re lucky. Just south of us I-94 is closed around Bismarck, so too, I-29 east of us near Fargo.

The driving snow eases off some by noon, but the wind remains relentless. I’m unable to breathe through my mouth, lungs burn, must slow down and breathe through my nose. Gordon checks on me often, usually every hour, every three miles or so. More neat videos today. It’s spring, the end of March now. But you couldn’t tell these days from those more common to the dead of winter. No surprise, not much being said lately, from that loud congregation, those who worship at the altar of the Church of Global Warming.

By five the day has turned from driving snow to driving sleet. I’m relieved when I reach mile marker 297, the 25s in the bag.

Gordon is waiting. We return to Carrington, the Stop’n’Go. We’re given permission to park the night, where the big rigs park the night, out back.

“I am restless. I am athirst for faraway things.

My soul goes out in a longing to touch the skirt of the dim distance.

O Great Beyond. O the keen call of the flute.”

[Rabindranath Tagore]

Tuesday–March 31, 2009

Trail Day–010

Trail Mile–50.3/251

Location–ND200, Glenfield

The roadwalk is certainly much shorter again today. On ND200, I’ll cover only 22 miles.

But as the day progresses, do these 22 miles become the most difficult extended miles I’ve ever had to endure through the cold.

Temperature’s started out in the low 20s, with heavy snow, driven by a northeast wind that quartered me from the left front–25 per, gusting to the high 30s, all day.

Gordon stayed with me for a few miles, until the heater fan in the van quit. I continued the road as he returned to Carrington to have it repaired.

To Glenfield, from where Gordon turned, is 17 miles. I’m out here in it with no support. I’ll not detail the next five hours for you. Folks don’t take much delight in listening to other’s misadventures. Suffice to say, and no doubt, you’ll find the videos I’ve managed quite remarkable. I’ll get this latest camera card off to my Webmaster in the next day or two.

“Living one day at a time; Enjoying one moment at a time;

Accepting hardships as the pathway to peace…

That I may be reasonably happy in this life

and supremely happy with Him forever in the next.”

[Reinhold Niebuhr]

Wednesday–April 1, 2009

Trail Day–011

Trail Mile–27.9/279

Location–ND1, near Hannaford

The highway miles on ND200 and ND1, from Glenfield to just north of Hannaford, add up to 24.

Another cold day fighting the wind-driven snow. High temperatures haven’t gotten above freezing for many days, with nightly lows dropping to the mid teens. Seems there’ll be no sign of spring anytime soon. Looking for an APRIL FOOL? I’ll be yours this year!

The scene today is pretty much lined-up power poles, to a dim point on the horizon–when the wind and snow let up long enough to enable that much visibility. The sun actually makes a show for a few short moments, before the gray shroud returns. Not a great day for hiking the highway, but here it is. I make the best of it.

Late afternoon, my long eastbound hike o’er ND200 ends as I turn south toward Valley City on ND1. No shoulder and much traffic. Not the most exciting place to hike. Aw, come on old man, get your head straight!

As the wind and driving snow intensify, Gordon collects me–and another spring day trekking North Dakota comes to an end.

“Ninety percent of this game is half mental.”

[Yogi Berra]

Thursday–April 2, 2009

Trail Day–012

Trail Mile–49.7/329

Location–CR21/117th Avenue, north of Valley City

We’ve quit making any attempt to get up and out early, early being any time before nine. But this morning is there streaming this strange light–the sun is shining! So we hustle and Gordon has me back on the road a little after nine. A cold morning, 22 degrees, but with the sun up and no wind, even at nine, it’s already the most pleasant day.

An hour on the road brings me to Hannaford and the Stri-King Cafe. Oh yes, we head in for breakfast–then manage to burn an hour.

A distance south of Hannaford I leave ND1 to head over to Astabula Crossing, the bridge across Astabula Lake, some ten miles distant. Here I cross an official, certified section of the NCT–totally snowed in. The view from the rim, down to the lake, is the highlight for this the day, also the climb of the hike so far, back and up to the rim on the far side.

In the evening, after a fine 25-miler, we head on down to Valley City and the Hilltop Truckstop. From the cafe in Hannaford, I’d sent an email to Deb Koepplin, NCTA Valley City Chapter contact. She was able to stop by and we enjoyed the evening together.

“The cold is a good counselor, but it is cold.”

[Antonio Porchia]

Friday–April 3, 2009

Trail Day–013

Trail Mile–22.7/352

Location–CR21, south of Valley City

Breakfast at Hilltop Truckstop. Very cold this morning, 11 degrees, but I’m out and hiking toward Valley City a little after nine. It’s a virtual wonderland as I begin, hoar frost on everything, the grass, the trees, the barb-wire fence lines, everything. I stop for many pictures.

In awhile a fellow comes from his truck to greet me. He’d pulled off by one of the half-section roads. Josh, a local, is interested in what I’m up to. He’s familiar with the NCT, gives me encouragement–and a handful of tangerine Emergen-C packets, the same high Vitamin C energy supplement that Carolyn, my personal trainer, has me taking.

I reach Valley City a little before one, just as a CPR freight trains is crossing above, from one rim of the valley to the other, some 100 feet above the Sheyenne. I cross the Sheyenne River at the north city limits. The river is really up, nearly over the road. Not a good sign, as the roadwalk follows the river along for a number of miles, in the valley south of Valley City, where the river is crossed a number of times.

There’s a certified section of trail through Valley City, but it’s not accessible. The Sheyenne River is wreaking havoc to the city. Both sides of the narrow river have been sandbagged and protected as best can be with dirt dikes. The pedestrian bridge across the Sheyenne has sandbags over four feet high blocking both approaches.

Machinery is everywhere, dump trucks, backhoes, frontend loaders–the streets and sidewalks are a muddy mess. Very unsettling for the locals, I’m sure, as Valley City looks to be a neat, clean town.

I head south, out of town, staying on CR21. There are five crossings of the Sheyenne between Valley City and Kathryn. At the first four, the river has risen to just below the bridge pavement. At the last one, it’s over the bridge.

The road leaves the valley just the other side of the bridge. I can see the road where it climbs to the valley rim. But here we are, at the last crossing, and no go. A four-wheel drive pickup, local fellow no doubt, ventures on into it. He makes it through, a distance of some 200 yards, but not before going in over his hubs. He’d put ‘er in four-wheel drive, a wise decision.

Gordon and I decide no way we’re going to try taking the van through. So, to keep this trek intact, it’s time to do some fording, over and back. I’m in up to my knees before I know it. The water is freezing cold, and it’s really moving. Seems to take forever to cross. No feeling in my feet anymore. On dry land, the other side, I turn quickly, to return, before changing my mind. I must fight the current going back. I become very fatigued–and greatly relieved to get back to the van.

Gordon turns around and we head back to Valley City, a 30 miler recorded in the journal for today.

In the morning, Gordon will drive around by another route to get my day started, on the other side of the bridge.

“If you can find a path with no obstacles, it probably doesn’t lead anywhere.

[Frank A. Clark]

Saturday–April 4, 2009

Trail Day–014

Trail Mile–22.6/375

Location–SR27, east of Ft. Ransom

The forecast was for more snow overnight, but it hasn’t arrived yet. I say yet, because the day starts cold, overcast, and windy, a snowy kind of day up here, so I’ve learned.

Gordon has figured how to get me to the other side of the flooded bridge, the one I forded to end the day last. He has me ready to hike at ten.

The road leads right up and out of the Sheyenne Valley, to the little village of Kathryn. On the way I cross a designated section of the NCT, an abandoned railgrade. I stop to take a few pictures and get some video footage–and to think about how all this snow, the flooding, have caused me to pass a different way. The old grade leads through Kathryn and back down into the valley of the Sheyenne, not the place to be hiking right now. You’ll understand what I mean when you see these latest videos in a week or two–all the flooding. So for now I have no choice, it’s stay the paved roads closest to the trail, and keep trekking east.

As the day wears on, so too, the weather. It’s turning much colder, the wind now a steady 25 per, gusting to thirty, not a pleasant situation. It’s another dead-of-winter day here in North Dakota. I cannot imagine how winter can continue sustaining itself like this, but here’s another day of it. A blessing, though, for the folks here–the slower all this ice and snow melts, the less severe will be the flooding.

Gordon keeps close tabs on me all day, waiting patiently, making sure I turn at the right places. By six, with the cold wind really doing a job on me, I call it a day, another 25. I’m happy with that. Gordon collects me and we head for the little mom-n-pop motel in Lisbon. 100-200 deer along the valley road, an amazing number to see in a single day.

“Past and to come, seems best; things present, worse.


Sunday–March 5, 2009

Trail Day–015

Trail Mile–51.7/427

Location–ND27, Sheyenne National Grasslands, east of Lisbon

Talked to a local during dinner last, at the Steak Out next our motel. His family runs cattle on the Grasslands–the NCT crosses nearby. He was very familiar with the trail. “No way to hike through there now,” he remarked, “drifted snow, ice, flooding, too risky–you couldn’t find the trail.”

Oh my, so okay, way it looks now folks, North Dakota will be a total roadwalk. I did hike, oh maybe 100 yards of certified trail by the sign at Lake Sakakawea–that’s it!

It’s another winter day as we head out, more wind, more cold. But it’s back to the tarmac to keep hammering east. I’m hiking around nine.

A very difficult day today, the wind, 25-30 per from the north, the cold, below freezing–again. Since beginning this trek there’s not been a 24-hour cycle where the temperature’s remained above freezing. In fact, for most of the days, the highs haven’t gotten above freezing. Tends to wear on a fellow. My lips, my cheeks, badly chapped and sore.

Aw, more whining!

We break in Lisbon for lunch, then it’s back to the cold, driving wind for another six hours.

I hang it up a little after five, 25 for the day, and we return to Lisbon.  Forecast is for more of the same tomorrow.

“For fate has wove the thread of life with pain,

And twins ev’n from birth are Misery and Man!”

[Homer, Odyssey]

Monday–April 6, 2009

Trail Day–016

Trail Mile–25.0/452

Location–CR4, Colefax

A fine stay at Island Park Motel in Lisbon; thanks Theresa!

Breakfast is at Lisbon Cafe, downtown, where we enjoyed their great Sunday buffet last.

A little before ten, Gordon has me back on ND27 in the Sheyenne Grasslands. The sun is shining, but it will prove little benefit this day. We’re starting out with 23 degrees, a north wind grinding across the ice at 25 per. Nope, the sun will be no help.

The two-mile jog north, from ND27 to CR4, is wicked. As I turn east again, the wind is relentless, gusting to well over 30, pushing me hard. My trekking poles are of little use as the wind whips them horizontally.

I can remember my first morning eastbound on ND200 near Grassy Range, Odyssey 2006, western North Dakota–the klatch at the cafe there–one fellow lamented, “It’s too wet to plow, and too windy to load rocks.” It’s that kind of day here, my last full day (for now) in North Dakota.

And so, tomorrow I’ll enter Minnesota, leaving this North Dakota winter behind. But for this NCT thru-hike, no way I can be finished with North Dakota. I’ve hammered some 350+ miles of tarmac, so for sure I’ve got the roadwalk done. But as for trail, those certified sections proudly built and maintained by the three North Dakota Chapters, NCTA, I’ve not set foot on any of them, save a bit of that short segment in Lake Sak SP. There was just no way to trek any of them.

And so the dilemma, which is certainly self-inflicted. I was sure told more than once, early-on, by folks who know, that I was starting this trek way too early. But, but, but–spring was coming along just fine, until the first blizzard hit, followed by the second. Anyway, how was I to know this spring would turn out to be the worst in recorded history for North Dakota? Well okay, so now what smart guy–who was so set on doing an eastbound thru-hike o’er the NCT? Hey/hey, the Nomad’s got a plan, folks, that is if he can just hike into some decent weather soon, say before reaching Ely in a couple more weeks, then it’ll all work out. All’s needed is for summer to creep the least bit into fall, like winter has now invaded spring–and everything’ll be fine. Late September, early October I’ll have time to return, for the eight or ten days needed to backfill all the certified section in North Dakota–which I dearly wish to do.

It’s a grueling day on the road today. The north wind is brutal. I manage to get to Colefax, the Outpost Bar, and on east to the Colefax Cafe, where we’re permitted to park for the night.

Here are the certified section of North Country Trail in North Dakota:

  1. Lake Sak SP — 1.8
  2. McCluskey Canal — 73.6
  3. Lonetree WMA — 26.3
  4. New Rockford Canal — 40.3
  5. Lake Ashtabula — 25.6
  6. Valley City — 4.6
  7. Ft. Ransom SP — 2.5
  8. Sheyenne Natl. Grasslands — 25.0

Total certified trail, ND — 200.0

“If all misfortunes were laid in one common heap

whence everyone must take an equal portion,

most people would be content to take their own and depart.”


Tuesday–April 7, 2009

Trail Day–017

Trail Mile–27.5/20/488

Location–West of Rothsay

Got a visit from the sheriff last night around two. He wasn’t aware that we had permission to park in front of the cafe.

The morning klatch begins rolling in a little after six. We finally roll out around seven. Warm greetings from Becky, owner/cook/waitress/dishwasher, Colfax Cafe. Great breakfast, fine night’s rest–thanks, Becky!

Today is shaping to be much better then yesterday, but that’s not saying much. The sun is up again and just might warm things a bit. Little wind (thank you, Lord), temps in the high 20s. I’m hiking before nine.

Late morning I reach the Red River Bridge at Ft. Abercrombie and cross from North Dakota to Minnesota. The plains of North Dakota and the winter there are now behind me. Hopefully, here in Minnesota, spring will come soon.

A long, uneventful day hammering the highway. My legs seem to be coming back under me again, one more time, a true blessing. Each year, each odyssey, I’m a year older, so it’s ever a concern. I have been suffering shin splints to a minor extent, some lower back pain, but otherwise I’m moving into this trek with no difficulty (save frostbite on my nose and  cheeks, and totally windburned lips).

“A violent wind does not outlast the morning;

a squall of rain does not outlast the day.

Such is the course of nature.

And if nature cannot sustain her efforts long,

how much less can man!”


Wednesday–April 8, 2009

Trail Day–018

Trail Mile–25.6/046/514

Location–CR24, East of Maplewood SP

Many truckers coming and going this morning. We’re into the truckstop for breakfast at 7:30, to a packed house. I’m back hiking the road to Rothsay a little after eight. Dense fog, hoar frost on everything, again, a veritable wonderland–just so very cold.

The road east, out of Rothsay, is closed due to flooding. Locals direct us around. The terrain is changing rapidly now, from the plains, the prairie, to wooded, rolling hills. It’s certainly a welcome change. There are actually places where the wind doesn’t blow!

Fellow from Fargo’s been following my journey, wanted to meet me. Made arrangements and he came down and spent the afternoon with us. Ragnar, a retired postal worker, kind fellow, a fun time.

There’s a bit of designated trail in Maplewood SP. I hike over that way, but then go on past. Western Minnesota’s had lots of snow, and most of it’s still around. No way to hike the park trail; park roads aren’t even plowed. Just keep hammerin’ the roads, old man. Spring’ll get here, sooner or later-later.

Legs, knees, feet, all manage the day okay. Back feels a bit weak and is complaining the least bit, but I’m very thankful for such remarkable endurance and strength–for sure a blessing.

Gordon hauls me into Vergas for supper. Ragnar joins us. We end up parked on a city street for the night, by Vergas Gas.

“Health is the thing that makes you feel that now is the best time of the year.”

[Franklin Pierce Adams]

Thursday–April 9, 2009

Trail Day–019

Trail Mile–25.6/072/540

Location–North of Frazee

Weather forecast is for a carbon copy of yesterday, sun, high in the mid 40s, north wind 8-10. Compared to what’s been dealt us so far, this is glorious weather.

And so does the day pretty much turn. Wind kicks a bit harder toward noon, but that’s okay, as I take a short break while passing through Vergas for a sandwich and a bowl of soup.

Hank, the mayor of Frazee has been in touch, would like to meet us, do a short interview. He has a room for us at the motel in Frazee–oh yes, that’ll work. Matt, NCTA Trail Coordinator for Minnesota has also contacted us and would like to spend some time this evening.

I get the 25 in a little before six. Gordon loads me and we head down to Frazee.

Mayor Hank stops by; very enthusiastic about the NCT. He’s an active member. We have a great time. Matt reviews all my maps for the trail work that’s been done in the Itasca State Forest. He’s full of energy and enthusiasm too–about the future of the North Country Trail.  Great evening.

“To be without some of the things you want is an indispensable part of happiness.”

[Bertrand Russell]

Friday–April 10, 2009

Trail Day–020

Trail Mile–25.9/098/566

Location–Tamarac NWR

Kind, generous and caring folks in Frazee, Mayor Hank having set the example. A most quiet, peaceful night at Morningside Motel–plus breakfast at the Palace Cafe downtown, all compliments of Mayor Hank. Barbie, News Reporter, Frazee – Vergas Forum came with some questions for me. We talked about the blessings of good health, about life–and a little about the North Country Trail. Got our picture taken by the big turkey up on the hill, in the Lion’s Club Park. Yup, great folks, neat town; thanks, Hank!

Talking with Matt last, found out we have many mutual friends. He and his wife hiked with both Sheltowee and Slider during their northbound AT trek in 1998. Also, Kentucky Greybeard, who Sheltowee, Slider and I hiked with for many days this past summer served as a ridgerunner along the AT. Matt was his “boss” at the time! Ah yes, it was great meeting Matt and sharing trail stories!

By the time we’re finished getting our picture with the turkey–and Gordon has me back on the road, it’s nearly ten. I’ve a 26 to hammer today, so gotta stay steady at it. By two we’re at the Headquarters/Visitor’s Center, Tamarac National Wildlife Refuge. I find it well worth the time to view the exhibits and learn about Tamarac. For example, I now know that the “Tamarac lies in the heart of one of the most diverse vegetative transition zones in North America, where northern hardwood, coniferous forests and the tall grass prairie converge.” This diverse habitat supports a remarkable number of birds, over 250 species. Today I saw a magnificent pair of trumpeter swans, also a bald eagle.

Randy and Sheila at Tamarac Resort and Campground welcomed us in the evening.

“When a man can live tranquilly in the out-of-doors,

without fear of anything on earth or in space,

not because he is a savage, but because he is thoroughly civilized,

he has arrived through himself at the ultimate, that is to say the primal,

having rid himself of all that is useless and unserviceable.”

[Juan Ramon Jiminez]

Saturday–April 11, 2009

Trail Day–021

Trail Mile–27.1/125/593

Location–Itasca SP

Not so cold last night but still below freezing. Good to be in the van, not on the ground–that’ll come soon.

The roadwalk is interrupted today by a break for lunch at Elbow Lake. By early afternoon I reach the first certified section of trail in Minnesota. It’s new, having been flagged and brushed out with no blazes up as yet. I head in, into much snow. Slow going for sure–two hours to cover under four miles. Doesn’t take me long to get lost. I become confused at a woods road and snowmobile crossing. Not sure where the trail goes. End up bushwhacking a few tenths to get to the end of the section.

Gordon’s waiting. I water up and head back in. More snow than dry trail. Well, actually, there isn’t any dry trail. Where the trail is free of snow and slush ice, the tread is so sloppy that forward progress is fretfully slow–same as wading through the snow.

I bail out at Bad Medicine Lake Trail, hike it down to SR113 where Gordon is waiting patiently. There I call it a (slow) day.

Two eagle sightings, no photo opportunity but am sure one will present before I clear the Itasca, Paul Bunyan and the Chippewa.

We end the day at the Lobo Bar and Grill just outside the north entrance to Itasca SP. We’re allowed to park out front for the night.

“A man who loses his dream is old,

one who has it is perennially young.”

[Sigurd Olson]

Sunday–April 12, 2009, Easter

Trail Day–022

Trail Mile–00/125/593

Location–Itasca SP (Rustic Inn, Park Rapids)

Being Easter, also being the final day for Gordon to be with me, the decision is to take a zero.

Out from the Lobo, we head for Itasca SP, source of the headwaters–where the mighty Mississippi River begins as the outfall from Lake Itasca. A very quiet morning; we’ve got the whole park to ourselves. Even the Visitor’s Center is closed. Just below the lake outfall, rangers have place a split log across the fledgling stream, the first bridge across the great river. Neat place; great photo and video ops.

From Itasca, we roll on down to Park Rapids, to the Rustic Inn, where we’re given a hiker-trash rate for the night.

What a blessing, being invited to Easter dinner by Ray and Lynette, to their beautiful home situated on the shores of Bad Medicine Lake. We’re taken in as family. Ray’s mother, Mary, welcomes us, as do neighbors Gary, John and Karen.

Ray is the Laurentian Chapter contact for the NCTA, the fastest growing of all the NCTA chapters. We enjoy an absolutely memorable afternoon. Thanks dear new friends!

Evening now, and back at the motel, comes time to move out of the van, load my pack with things I need, and box up the rest to bounce on up the trail or send home. Not a pleasant chore, as Gordon will be leaving me tomorrow. He’d made a promise long ago to support Troll and his son, Oblivious, as the youngster sets out to become the youngest triple crowner. The fourteen-year-old has already hiked the AT and the PCT. Gordon and his father will be helping him take on the CDT this year. Good luck, son; my prayers for a safe, successful and joy-filled journey go with you.

It’s ten before my pack is set with what I need, the boxed gear separated. Guess I’m as ready as I’ll ever be to head out on my own.  Sure gonna miss you Gordon!

“You will never do anything in this world without courage.

It is the greatest quality of the mind next to honor.”


Monday–April 13, 2009

Trail Day–023

Trail Mile–29.6/155/623

Location–Paul Bunyan SF, Near Lake George

We’re both awake by seven, but neither of us is moving. This is gonna be a bummer day, no matter how we shake it–Gordon’s leaving this morning after he puts me back on the trail in Itasca SP.

We manage to get loaded and moving–a bite for breakfast, a trip to the post office, then the grocery.

Gordon pulls off the road, by the gate, where the woodsroad leads back to the trail. Some last busy talk, a firm handshake, then I turn, lift my pack and go. I hear him pull away, and in a minute, that familiar salute, a couple beeps on the old horn, which always means “Have a great day.”

More snow on the trail. Really makes the going tough, what with some weight in my pack for a change–probably somewhere around 12-15 pounds with food and water.

By the time I reach Lake Hernando DeSoto, I’m really pooped. Ray had mentioned, and I remember him saying, that this section past DeSoto Lake was the best of the trail in the Itasca. Doesn’t take me long to realize he’s right. A most remarkable setting, from a high point as it is–and no snow on the tread (for a change). Gives me a good lift, much needed.

Buy a little after five I break out of the woods by the south entrance to the park. From here I head north on MN71, toward Lake George.

At the Itasca Junction Store I stop to send Matt an email, as he would like to meet up with me the next day or so and do a little hiking with the old Nomad. By seven I’ve got half the miles to Lake George completed. So I bail off under the pine for the evening. Peanut butter sandwiches, and the rest of the turkey jerky Mayor Hank from Frazee gave me–not a bad meal at all.

Oh, part of the miles, reflected in the total for today, would have been the hike up to the headwaters of the Mississippi and back. Since Gordon drove me up there yesterday, I was able to hike past that detour.

Sure gonna miss Gordon not being here at the end of the day, sure gonna miss him. Ah, but I’ve long managed “…that cold, lonesome track,” and I’ll find contentment in that solitude once again.

“Be able to be alone.

Lose not the advantage of solitude, and the society of thyself.”

[Sir Thomas Browne]

Tuesday–April 14, 2009

Trail Day–024

Trail Mile–25.4/180/653

Location–Paul Bunyan SF near MN64

Camp broke, pack up, haulin’ by a little after seven. A cold morning.  Snowing as I enter Lake George.

Head for the Lake George Cafe for breakfast. Great food, nice folks. Darrel from Walker, one of the Itasca Moraine members tracks me down. I’d sent an email to Matt from Itasca Junction last evening. Matt soon arrives, too. Also Jenny from Lakeland Public Television, Bemidji comes to get an interview for the evening news. After, I hike the road on down to where the trail leaves MN71. Jenny is there for more footage. Also awaiting my arrival is Judy Merritt from the Northwoods Press, in Nevis. In a few more minutes, Randy, from Learning-Information-News-Channel 14 arrives to do another TV interview. It’s 11:30 before I’m able to get on the trail.

The Paul Bunyan has gotten much snow. Toward evening I’m having much difficulty. The trail is almost totally covered now, up to a foot or more in some places. I finally give it up and jump over on Steamboat Forest Road and hike it on down to MN64.

See many deer today, also tracks left by a turkey and a wolf. Oh, and what a great sign of spring–butterflies, lots and lots of butterflies!

“April prepares her green traffic light and the world thinks Go.

[Christopher Morley]

Wednesday–April 15, 2009

Trail Day–025

Trail Mile–25.9/206/679

Location–Chippewa NF, near Teepee Lake

Hard frost last night. Tough getting out in it this morning. The nightly freeze has sure helped the snow situation though. I can walk right on top of it without post-holing, that is, until around nine-thirty.

By eleven I’ve beat the trail down, over to MN34. Thumb out, I’ve got a ride right away with John and Shirley, to downtown Walker, the Outdoorsman Cafe. The pulled pork sandwich special is so good I have two–and drain their coffee pot in the process. Struck up a conversation with Guy, the owner. He’s Hiker Trash. Just returned from Arkansas where he hiked some of the Ozark Trail.

Lunch finished, I give Darrel a call. He lives in Walker. Yesterday he’d offered to help me if needed, and he’s right here to haul me back to the trail. Time for another interview, with Darrel’s friend, Jeanne, Park Rapids Enterprise. Phone interview this time–worked fine.

Darrel has me back on the trail by one. He’d asked me to give Jerry, President, Itasca Moraine Chapter, a call when I reached MN50. He lives down that way and is interested in hiking a bit with me. I give him a call, he comes out and we have a great time. As we hike along, I learn all about the nearby rivers, and a bit of history about the discovery of the Mississippi River headwaters.

Toward evening, the trail really gets mushy. With the last two day’s snowmelt, there’s a lot of flooding on the trail. I finally give it up and hike the remainder of the evening along Woodtick Trail Road. Meet some locals out for their evening walk, Mark and Liz. They give me directions. We have a fine chat about the carefree life, about following your dreams.

I Pitch for the evening near (south of) Teepee Lake.

“To believe in yourself and to follow your dreams,

to have goals in life and a drive to succeed,

and to surround yourself with the things and the people that make you happy

this is success.”

[Sasha Azevedo]

Thursday–April 16, 2009

Trail Day–026

Trail Mile–30.5/237/710

Location–Chippewa NF, near CR4

A very cold morning. Hard to leave the warm sleeping bag to put on wet shoes.  finally make it a little after seven.

A bright, sunny morning warms things quickly. The last few days I’ve been able to peel down to my tees and hike without gloves. Sure hope this weather holds, that’d be a real blessing

The snow is going, but it ain’t gone. Certainly not the problem it had been, but there’s still plenty on the trail to deal with.

Lots of grouse drumming today. Must have heard or seen near a hundred. Deer, too. All are out and moving. No sign of bear yet. Peepers are starting to sound off in the low areas (and the eastern Chippewa has plenty of low areas). With the snowmelt, most of my hiking today is through mud and water, not the most pleasant of conditions when doing a long-mileage day.

Sure tired by the time I reach MN4. There’s a very fine high spot under the pine, with water nearby (water has been constantly nearby).

Tomorrow I’ll hike the remaining section of certified trail on over to MN6, north of Remer.

A long, grueling day.  Glad to be in my tent, content and warm in my sleeping bag. I’m not long for this world.

“Out beyond the lights of town lies a land of intense wonder and beauty and it is surprisingly easy for you to step into this world. It’s like you’ve always lived here in the woods but just stepped out for a minute or two. Why? Because of your genetic memory. All of your ancestors were born here, lived here and died here. Welcome Home!” [Hugh SOLO Hickman]

Friday–April 17, 2009

Trail Day–027

Trail Mile–48.4/285/758

Location–Grand Rapids

A very mild night for a change temperature-wise. Much easier getting out and going. I’m hiking at seven. I’ve a little less than 11 miles of certified trail left to hike in Minnesota, on over to MN6 northeast of Remer. I’d planned on hiking the dead-end section, some ten-plus miles on past to the southeast, but Matt said to stop at MN6. Since the trail in Minnesota will soon (hopefully) turn northeast from Remer, to go into the Arrowhead and the Superior National Forest, no more work has been done southeast of Remer. And so, the very high mileage listed above for today. I didn’t hike that section, but again, in order to stay with my cumulative mileages listed in the itinerary, I’ve included those miles. I’ll make the adjustment at the end.

From my camp just west of CR4, I hike the certified trail on out, to break out on MN6 at 10:30. A few yards from the highway, I stop to get a photo of what I hope will be the last snow along this trail. Hopefully, by the time I reach the Keck Trail east of Ely, the snow will be all but gone.

And so, thanks Matt, NCTA Trail Coordinator for North Dakota and Minnesota, and all dear new NCTA friends, thanks so much for all your help!

Sure, I’ll be hiking much more trail here in Minnesota, but it won’t be North Country.

So much for the solitude of the north woods–I’ve a roadwalk on into Grand Rapids, 32 miles for the day. I’m totally beat by the time I reach town, my feet quite sore from walking 21 miles of road shoulder, with wet feet.

“Solitude, though it may be silent as light, is like light,

the mightiest of agencies;

for solitude is essential to man.

All men come into this world alone and leave it alone.”

[Thomas De Quincey]

Saturday–April 18, 2009

Trail Day–028

Trail Mile–25.3/310/756

Location–MT, Near Nashwauk

Grand Rapids is THE “Trailtown.” Very enjoyable stay. Reasonable motel rate, a “Hiker Trash” deal for sure. Restaurant right next. Ten blocks on down this morning, to downtown–grocery, drug store, post office right there handy. And by the turn to head up to the Mesabi Trail, a great mom-n-pop stop for breakfast. Oh yes, a fine community.

For the next three or four days I’ll be hiking the Mesabi Trail, a paved rail/bike path that leads from Grand Rapids to Ely (not near finished all the way to Ely). It passes through the iron ore belt of Minnesota, the gob piles (that’s what they call the huge mined wasteland in West Virginny)–and the pits (are the pits). The greater of the iron to make our ships, tanks and armament for WWII came from this region. But for the great “Land of Mesabi” we’d all be speaking German or Japanese today. Kind of sad passing through, certainly memory-jogging–all the old rusting remains of the mining era machinery scattered about, trees growing up through. Huge old steam shovels, miles of pipe, giant pumps, ore haulers (Diamond Reo). When was the last time you saw (a) Diamond Reo. Today, don’t we think of Diamond Rio as more than one–and it ain’t a truck! Don’t think they haul rock, guess they just rock. But why they can’t get the spelling right?

A cold, gloomy day, not unfitting. Three cyclists, all, that’s it. By eight I’m just shy of the little berg of Nashwauk where I pull off in the pine, and call it a day.

“The only thing we can do is play on he one string we have,

and that is our attitude…

I am convinced that life is 10% what happens to me and 90% how I react to it.”

[Charles Swindoll]

Sunday–April 19, 2009

Trail Day–029

Trail Mile–27.0/337/783

Location–MT, Near Buhl

Another cold and very gloomy day. My fingers are sticks before camp is struck. A short hike on into Nashwauk, to the 24/7 store right on the trail. Fingers wrap just fine around a steaming hot cup of coffee–oh yes! Egg biscuit, donut, more coffee and I’m good to go.

Find my first coin this trip. Afraid I was going to get skunked, but here it is, a skinned up penny, right on the trail. I’ll save it, mail it home, to add to my second quart Mason jar of coins picked up along the trail.

More memories, more melancholy today, brought on by the moldering old hulks and masses of rusting machinery scattered about. I was born in ’38, so I was old enough to remember the war. Not many of us born during those hard times, the clouds of war looming the horizon. It was sure no baby-boom era.

The war years were rough, not only for our troops and their families, especially for the families of those who never returned. My family sacrificed too. I well remember the rationing. I remember the mill, a little plastic coin–took ten to make a penny. The great faith, the profound positive attitude within my family and our little community, certainly helped us all cope. The church bells, all the churches around, ring loud and clear in my memory, that day the war was finally over.

It’s dark when I arrive Buhl. I track down the little store and go straight to the deli. Hot, homemade calzone. That does the trick!

I pitch in the cold, dark woods just out of town.

“To be worth making at all a journey has to be made in the mind

as much as in the world of objects and dimensions.”

[Ted Simon]

Monday–April 20, 2009

Trail Day–030

Trail Mile–27.8/365/811

Location–Lodge at Giants Ridge, MT, Biwabik

I wake early, break camp and get on the trail just after six. This will be my final day on the Mesabi Trail, as it is incomplete beyond Biwabik.

A cold, windy day with sleet and snow off and on in the afternoon. More small communities to pass, all seemingly passed up by time, Kinney, Mt. Iron, Gilbert. A little bustle in Virginia, but not much. The Iron Range has seen many a boom and bust. Mostly, the bust shows.

By nine after four I’m in Biwabik. I know the time exactly. The time on the clock in the post office–through the locked door. Yup, they closed at four. Had some cards to mail–later.

At Alden’s Restaurant I meet Patti and Alden, the owners, and their son, Brian. They’re closed but Patti takes me in, then stokes me with a steaming bowl of soup and a fine sandwich, their gift to boost this trek along. Thanks, friends!

It’s five more miles up to Giants Ridge and the ski and golf facility there. I’d called them earlier and talked to Sue. They’ll take me in–Hiker Trash rate. Beautiful facility. Sure great to get in out of it–the sleet and the wind.

“Challenges are what make life interesting;

overcoming them is what makes life meaningful.”

[Joshua J. Marine]

Tuesday–April 21, 2009

Trail Day–031

Trail Mile–29.4/394/840

Location–Superior NF, near Burntside

Absolutely the finest accommodations at Giants Ridge Resort, friendly folks to boot. Reminds me, on a slightly smaller scale, of the glorious old lodge at East Glacier NP, huge timbers (actually whole trees), which rise vertically and cross-brace, support the massive structure. With the winter sports season over and the golf links not yet completely clear of snow–sure the off season–I have the place nearly to myself. The restaurant is closed but a fine continental breakfast has been set, so I “make do” with that, a few bowls of cereal, some fruit and muffins. At the front desk, I get a picture of Sue. She takes mine in front of the magnificent eagle carving that graces the hall. I could never have afforded a stay at Glacier (I did try), but the kind folks here at Giants Ridge Resort took me in. Thanks, Sue, thanks Jessica, for your thoughtful kindness; it’s been one of the most memorable stop-overs for me, ever!

Sure no problem lingering. By the time I get my pack organized then stop a moment to thank Sue, it’s 10:30. I’ve an easy, quiet hike on up Giants Ridge Road (the Mesabi Trail ends at the lodge) to MN21. From there it’s a short hike over to Four Corners, a fine restaurant, at MN135, where I take lunch–hot ham sandwich, mashed spuds and gravy, chicken potpie soup (um-umm), all polished off with a full quarter section slice of cherry-rhubarb pie! I waddle out of the place and head on up toward Tower.

There has come up a persistent, stiff, cold wind today, out of the north. Yup, I’m trekking north.

I am much looking forward to reaching Ely tomorrow, home of Sigurd Olson, my favorite outdoor writer from the 20th Century. Sigurd had a cabin on Burntside Lake west of Ely that he named Listening Point. It is now on the National Register of Historic Places. I plan to hike by there.

To visit Listening Point, if I can’t take a shortcut, will require an additional six- to eight-mile roadwalk, plus a backtrack the same distance. Problem with the shortcut: I’ll have to cross private property, right up a driveway and past a house. I’d explored this possibility last winter, looking down from Google Earth. I made a copy of the aerial and brought it with me, just in case. I had shown the aerial to Matt, when we met a few weeks ago in Frazee. He said he had friends in Ely and would look into it. Well, would you believe, and this is just incredible, Matt knows the folks who own the property over which I’d like to shortcut! He’s contacted Steve and Nancy and they’ve consented to let me hike across their place–amazing, just amazing!

And so, tomorrow, I’ll take the shortcut to Listening Point. As for Sig, he wrote about many things, articles and short stories for the magazine, Field and Stream. He often mentioned “The Singing Wilderness.” More specifically, he spoke with much emotion, most eloquently, about “The Pipes of Pan.”

When I was young, early-on, I often heard the pipes. I never really understood. I knew it wasn’t the wind in the pine, the gentle rill of the passing brook, the bugle of the elk, the call of the loon–it was none of those. It was a strange call, always faint, always far away.  It was, more than anything, the lure of the wild, a far off beckoning–the call of the wilderness, from beyond the horizon. When with others, when I would hear the faint, far-off pipes, I would stop and ask my friends to listen. But alas, their reply was always the same–“that’s just the wind in the trees; that’s just the brook below.” But it wasn’t.  It was the sound of the pipes–and only I heard them.

When I read Sig’s writing, I was vindicated. I found that I was not the only person tuned in to the pipes. Thanks, Sig! Since reading your fascinating stories, I’ve learned the distinct relationship between listening and hearing! And, so, tomorrow, I will visit Listening Point.

By sunset I’m seven miles west of Sudan, well on my way to Listening Point–and Ely. I pull off in the pine, pitch for the night, and enjoy the whisper of the wind.

“In some men, the need for unbroken country, primitive conditions and intimate contact with the earth is a deeply rooted cancer gnawing forever at the illusion of contentment with things as they are. For months or years this hidden longing may go unnoticed and then, without warning, flare forth in an all consuming passion that will not bear denial. Perhaps it is the passing flock of geese in the spring, perhaps the sound of running water, or the smell of thawing earth that brings the transformation. Whatever it is, the need is more than can be borne with fortitude, and for the good of their families and friends, and their own particular restless souls, they head toward the last frontier and escape.” [Sigurd Olson]

Wednesday–April 22, 2009

Trail Day–032

Trail Mile–04.3/398/844


I pitched for the night last not 200 yards from a huge microwave tower–yet I’ve no signal. I just don’t understand now these cell phones work!

It’s a very cold morning and I have a fretful time getting out and going. Sure got a hitch in my gitty-up; just can’t seem to work it out. The warm sun sure helps, but the wind is cold, cold.

On a ridge some distance west of Ely I finally pick up a signal. There’s a message from Steve with directions on how to get across his property.

I’d set a waypoint for his driveway and am now heading for it. First a turn onto Wolf Lake Road, then the winding road around, easy enough. At Steve’s driveway I turn to cross the bridge to his place, over the outfall from Burntside Lake. A trail leads behind his house some three-quarters of a mile to the road on Burntside, the site of Listening Point.

I don’t know why I didn’t fix a waypoint for Sig’s cabin, but I didn’t. There are numerous drives leading to homes and cabins on the lake, none marked, save the fire department IDs. Down by the lake, along one of the many drives, I chance to meet Chuck. Come to find he’s the caretaker for Listening Point. Had I found the cabin right away, I wouldn’t have met him, nor would I have had the opportunity to view the inside of Sig’s cabin. Thank you, Lord, for the patience granted. Chuck gives me the tour. I get to see Sig’s duck hunting canoe, his paddles, his snowshoes. Quite an emotional time. Chuck gets my picture standing by Sig’s old chair, right next the fireplace. To me, very special. Thanks, Chuck!

By six I’ve hammered the roadwalk down, on into Ely, to the Canoe On Inn. Teresa takes pity on the old Nomad, and sets him up in a fine room (with a bathtub), at a true Hiker Trash rate. I’m in for two nights. Yup, gonna burn a day, let the old bones rest a bit, and get ready for THE wilderness, the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. I’ll enter that great stillness and solitude Friday.

“Wilderness should be sacred and quiet, just as the Indians felt in designing certain places as spirit lands where no one talked. I have written about the Kawashaway River country of ‘no place between,’ where the Indians always traveled quietly and spoke only in whispers…two of the greatest values of wilderness travel, solitude and silence.” [Sigurd Olson]

Thursday–April 23, 2009

Trail Day–033

Trail Mile–00/398/844


Sheridan is the main drag leading through Ely. Most of the businesses are located there. Of course, the post office is hid a couple blocks down a side street, but other than that, the town’s easy enough to get around in. Great steak house at the top of the hill, right on Sheridan. Shot right up there last evening. Neat cafe for breakfast this morning, block down from the library, just off the main drag. Yup, Ely’s a hiker town!

Piragis Northwoods Company is just down from Canoe On Inn. Piragis is the Steve I’ve been talking about, the fellow who let me cross his land. Big canoe outfitter, tours here and in Canada, the full operation. Fully-stocked store. Great folks all. I met most of them while talking with Steve this morning–except for Nancy, Steve’s wife. Got my trekking poles repaired (thanks, Aaron!), and a snap of Steve and me, for their website, taken by Tim. Also got to meet and chat some with (the other) Steve, Delana, and Michelle. Steve, all at Piragis Northwoods Company, thanks for your kindness to this old man.

The remainder of the day is spent sorting my bounce box and getting it on to Two Harbors, my next mail drop. Also washed clothes, worked journal entries, stopped by the grocery store (right downtown), the library–and hit the steak house another lick.

A gloriously warm, no-wind, spring day.

“The first day of spring is one thing, and the first spring day is another.

The difference between them is sometimes as great as a month.”

[Henry Van Dyke]

Friday–April 24, 2009

Trail Day–034

Trail Mile–23.6/422/868

Location–Kekekabic Trail, Superior NF, Drumstick Lake

I’ve had a very restful stay here in Ely, made new friends and have gotten prepared for the next segment of this hike, a trek through the Superior National Forest, the trails being the Kekekabic, the Border Route, and the Superior.

A stop at the little mom-n-pop for breakfast, a pass by the post office and I’m hiking east out of Ely. First stop is at the U. S. Forest Service Kawishiwi Ranger District offices, Superior National Forest on MN169. Here, also, at The International Wolf Center, are the offices for the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, where I’ll obtain my permit to hike through the wilderness. Kevin is the West Zone Recreation Director. He takes time to explain the three distinct sections of the Kek, the westernmost clearcut, the central storm damaged, and the easternmost burnover. Thanks, Kevin, there will certainly be some challenging hiking ahead.

Indeed, I’ve been forewarned by all whom I’ve spoken with about the notoriety of the Kek, the destruction and devastation the trail has suffered over the years. Last fall, two hikers from Duluth got lost while attempting to hike the Kek. They were finally rescued after being reported two days overdue.

To best prepare for this challenge I’ve equipped myself with the latest and most comprehensive maps offered by McKenzie. Also, using my DeLorme software, backed up by Google Earth, last winter I painstakingly set waypoints for at least every mile along the route. Now, and after the long trek out Fernberg Road, then up Snowbank, I have the opportunity to check the accuracy of my first waypoint, which I’ve set here at the Kek Trailhead just off Snowbank Road. I find I’ve fixed the coordinates dead center in the parking lot; what a great relief! Now I can rely on my other points along, many of which I’ll no doubt need.

At three I snap a picture of the trail entrance sign and plunge in. I say plunge because that is precisely what I must do. Two minutes and my feet are completely soaked and cold, a harbinger of what’s to come. In a short while I enter the first clearcut described by Kevin, a waterlogged pick-up-sticks mess. Had these clearcuts not been flagged, I’d never have found my way. Between two of them I enter a “wet” area. A three-plank walkway has been built some 50 yards through the lowest part. The entire walkway is covered with 8-10 inches of snowmelt. I slow to a shuffle to keep from slipping and going in. The water is frigid and I lose feeling in my feet.

By late afternoon I’m past the clearcuts and into the western fringe of the storm damage, an indescribable maze of blowdowns. Root-wads, huge masses of roots, rocks and dirt comprise the landscape. Trees that haven’t been blown completely down have their tops sheared off. And through this destruction and devastation winds the trail. It’s slow going, over, under, around and through the blowdowns. Here the treadway is quite evident, easy enough to follow. With the open canopy, and a few years aging, underbrush has taken over in profusion. It’s everywhere, even in the very middle of the trail. Save the fact that I’m back in snow again (oh yes, one to two feet at regular intervals), the trail otherwise submerged in snowmelt, I’m in here at the right time. For, once this tangle of brush leafs out, no way will it be possible to find the trail.

It’s been a cold, clear day, but by dusk the clouds move in, it turns very cold–and the rain soon sets. Near Drumstick Lake I find a reasonably flat, rock-free spot to pitch. By the time I get settled and try (with no success) to get my feet warmed up, the snow has begun.

“The Superior National Forest was established on February 13, 1909 by President Theodore Roosevelt. One of the largest Forests in the national forest system, the Superior boasts a unique and rich legacy that has been largely influenced by its boreal forest ecosystem and glacially-carved landscape with myriad inter-connected waterways.” [Superior National Forest Website]

Saturday–April 25, 2009

Trail Day–035

Trail Mile–21.3/443/889

Location–Kekekabic Trail, Superior NF, west of Howard Lake

Not an easy task getting out and moving when it’s very cold (think I may have said this on other occasions), after struggling first thing with wet socks and shoes. A good dusting of snow throughout the night; the ground is white all around. More deep snow on the trail, as much as two feet in places–persistent now. Where the trail isn’t inundated, the tread is likely submerged in slush ice and snowmelt. My feet are quickly 32 degrees again.

Through the Kekekabic Lake area I’m in the thick of the storm devastation. The going is incredibly slow, and the tread has become more faint. To stay on trail I must constantly look for axe or saw evidence. More often now, that’s the only sign. In many places there is no tread. Also, today I am faced with some very scary stream fords, what with the snowmelt runoff at near full tilt. My feet get hardly a moment’s rest from the ice cold water.

Time was, I’m sure, perhaps back in the 90s when Ed Talone hiked through here, this would have been most pleasant. But not anymore. I find little redeeming value, little enjoyment in hiking this trail, and I’ve been looking hard. But late afternoon comes the canyon of the Agamok, and the Agamok Bridge, which spans the narrow canyon between sheer rock walls. The roaring thunder of the mighty falls and rapids can be heard at a great distance. A quite impressive site I must say, what with the river running at near flood.

It’s been a blessed clear, but cold, day. As the sun begins setting it turns bitter cold. I’ve entered the burnover now–in what’s left of the blowdown area. The fire that consumed these woods was intense. Nothing much remains but rocks and char, little dirt. I must pitch directly on the trail to find a reasonably rock-free spot. It is cold. I am cold. My feet are very cold.

As soon as I entered this burnt area, the tread, faint as it was already, became very difficult to follow. Where I had been relying on axe and saw evidence, that is now very confusing. It is near impossible to tell if the ends of charred blowdowns were cut or if they just burned off–all are round on the end.

From the little I’ve seen this evening, I have a very strong hunch that tomorrow will be one of the most challenging days ever, anywhere, on any trail. My GPS has been my faithful and constant companion, showing the perfect way. On it I can hopefully continue to rely. I’ll trust the Lord Almighty to the rest. I’m just too cold and exhausted to worry over it anymore tonight.

“The Boundary Waters was recognized for recreational opportunities in 1926, named the Superior Roadless Area in 1938, the BWCA in 1958, and federally designated under The Wilderness Act in 1964.  It wasn’t until October 21, 1978, The Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness Act was established to provide specific guidance for managing the million plus acres of the Superior National Forest.” [Superior National Forest Website]

Sunday–April 26, 2009

Trail Day–036

Trail Mile–25.5/469/915

Location–Border Route Trail, Superior NF, Heston’s Lodge and Country Store

I am having a very fretful night. It is now barely pre-dawn. Everything I own is in some stage of WET. My sleeping bag is a 24-degree down bag. Despite my diligence, it’s been impossible keeping it dry. As the dampness works it’s way in, the warmth works its way out. What I have now is probably closer to a 40-degree bag. And to my dismay (and I know it is well below freezing), as I roll over, I find my socks and shoes frozen rock solid, right next to me here in my tent. So, to make matters even worse, and what I know I must do (but certainly don’t want to do) is bring them in with me, into my cold, mushy sleeping bag. I quickly find that what little heat I’m able to generate is totally absorbed by my shoes and socks. I thrust my hands in my groin to try and keep them warm. It takes forever for my socks and shoes to limber up enough to put on. A strange thing: As I’m into accomplishing the dreaded task, my feet just don’t seem to complain anymore.

The day dawns clear and bitter cold. The sun on the horizon (there isn’t a thing out here to block it) brings some blessed warmth. I stand, turn, and direct my face to it, my black rain pants, black fleece jacket, black gloves, they soak it in. What an absolute blessing. It’s a painfully slow process breaking camp with sticks-for-fingers, but I finally manage, and I’m out and into what I know will be a memorable, adventure-filled day.

East of Howard Lake, from here, where the trail might go is pretty much anybody’s guess. It’s a very agonizing (say–constant guessing) process, trying to convince myself that I’m really looking at a burned off blowdown nub in the middle of nowhere, not a sawed off one signifying trail.

To interrupt this frustration, and as the sun warms things the least bit, I take a break, empty my pack of all its belongings and hang everything on the brush around me to dry (no problem finding hangers).

As I repack my (two pounds lighter) gear, clouds loom the horizon. Used to, I’d wonder, when I saw clouds on the horizon, I’d wonder if they were coming my way. Really intelligent, eh? Okay, smart guy, if they weren’t coming your way, then how did they get on the horizon to start with–duh! And so, not long, the sun says bye-bye and is gone. The day again turns very cold–and the rain comes once again.

I’ve my GPS in hand more than in pocket. Without it, without the aid of following my frequently set coordinates, their would be no way of traversing this no-man’s-land. And that’s exactly what this place is, a no-man’s-land, total desolation, not a living thing, save the constant, annoying, clinging tangle of brush. Oh, I have seen repeated sign of deer, moose, and wolf, their tracks (and poop) in the snow and on the “trail” along–no bear sign yet (smart fellows). Where there is any tread to speak of, it’s mostly track maintained by these dwellers of the woods, as they continue following the previously man-made path of least resistance. Tromping down the moose tracks has greatly aided me through the deepest of the snow, up to two feet in places. I just must set and adjust to a very long stride. This causes me to fall a lot, a LOT. Rocks under the snow, they constantly throw me off. In the process I manage to break both the lower and middle sections of my right trekking pole (here, moose, you try using them), and bung up my right knee.

It’s really hard to say if I’ve gotten lost any given time today, or if I’ve even been off-track the least bit. Places like, say, above Seahorse Lake and by Chub River, more than not, there simply is no trail, an occasional, piddly two- or three-rock cairn, a scrap of flagging underfoot, or the guess at a blowdown sawcut–that’s it. In these places, and as I search intently, there’s nothing to be seen but brush, rocks and char, nothing else, no tread, certainly no evidence that man has ever set foot here. Yet, as I fix on my next waypoint, perhaps (for example), the 45-rod portage at Fay Lake, I read that I am .75 miles west of there at 38 degrees, which places me smack dab on top of the ridge north of Seahorse, which, at that moment, is exactly where my McKenzie map shows me to be!  And there is no tread here, nothing, save the jumble of rock and blowdowns–utter “unspoiled” desolation.

The highlight of this day (ah, and does the Lord not uplift and provide) is hearing my first loon. And he/she is mine, as the marvelous bird soon spots me, lifts from the small patch of open water and flies gracefully to the top of a tall, blackened snag overlooking Bingshick Lake, from there to serenade me for the longest time. I stop, to just watch and listen, totally entranced. What a confusing call, one that constantly shifts from mournful to gleeful. Ah, is this not the true, undeniable call of the wild? What a great moment, what a wonderful uplifting moment here in this wilderness! Why is it we find that nature can be so unmerciful, so terribly cold and cruel at times? Yet, and at the same moment, she can be so fickle, so remarkably warm, gentle, and comforting! Ah yes folks, here is my payoff, here’s my reward for enduring this day, this “trail,” as Mother Nature now welcomes me to her bosom. Never mind the cold, forget the ice and snow, forget the flooded trail, forget the rocks and this charred, pitiful landscape, forget it all. What an amazing experience, what a spiritually rewarding and uplifting revelation, a brief glimpse into the eternal mystery of it all!  Yes, this loon, for this magic moment–this loon is mine.

A few more waypoint fixes, a few more miles of staggering the puzzle and chaos–through the constant downpour, and I “emerge” at Gunflint Trail, the paved road to Grand Marais. It’s five-twelve. I’ve put the Kekekabic behind me.

“Wilderness is more than lakes, rivers, and timber along the shores, more than fishing or just camping. It is the sense of the primeval, of space, solitude, silence and the eternal mystery…Life in the wilderness, especially when one is alone, is a continual contemplation and communion with God and Spirit regarding eternal values.” [Sigurd Olson]

Monday–April 27, 2009

Trail Day–037

Trail Mile–00.0/469/915

Location–Border Route Trail, Superior NF, Heston’s Lodge and Country Store

Heading toward Heston’s last, as it grew later and later, I became concerned more and more that Barb and Greg would begin worrying about me. The BWCAW is a bad place to turn up missing (in), or late getting out of, especially when you’ve told folks to expect you. I had figured on reaching the lodge late morning, certainly by early afternoon. That’s what I’d told Barb. What I didn’t know at the time was what I’d be getting into–the lingering winter conditions in the wilderness. Barb did say there was still quite a bit of snow, but I shrugged that off. I knew it would be slow going, but I hadn’t expected so much snow, along with such an incredible amount of flooding, the harsh, winter-like weather.

I’d corresponded with Barb on a number of occasions, early-on. Ed (with the great Border Route Trail folks) recommended I stop by Heston’s on my way through, and so, my plans. I had called Barb from Ely last Thursday, the evening before departing for the Kek. I told her to look for me sometime early Sunday.

So, there I was yesterday, limping up the highway, in the cold, rainy gloom of dusk–worrying about them worrying.

Ah, but wouldn’t you know, after half-an-hour, along came the first vehicle. It slowed, then stopped right by me. Down went the passenger window, there the lady’s warm smile. “You okay? Need a ride somewhere?”she asked,”I’m Sue.” I explained my situation, that I’d just come off the Kek and was headed for Heston’s. “It’s a long way over there.”she replied. “Sure you don’t want a ride? I’ll take you.” I thanked her for her kindness, then asked if she’d mind doing me the favor of calling Barb as soon as she got home, to let her know I was out of the wilderness and on my way to her place. “Yes.”her reply. Then a final, glancing expression: (“You ought to take the ride, dummy.”) and she was gone.

Sue was right, it was a fair distance to Heston’s, the last place up the road, way back on Gunflint Lake. It was turning dark by the time I arrived; Barb was watching out the window for me–and was obviously much relieved.

She and Greg took me right in, sat me down next their fire. “We’ll put you in Tamarack, the cabin next door. I’ll go over and get a fire going for you.”she said with a concerned look. “You stay there and get warm.”

When she returned I asked when they’d be going to town again. “Probably no sooner than Tuesday afternoon.”said Greg. I asked if they’d mind if I remained till then, to ride in–and they both said, “Yes.”

So, here I am, resting in the little Cabin Tamarack, Heston’s, one hiking stick down–and a bummed up knee.

I was unable to get to sleep until six this morning due to intense (hit your crazy bone kind of) pain in both my feet. As soon as I settled in here, I’d moved a chair in front of the fire, there to prop my feet. After an hour, the feeling began returning. That’s when I finally realized why they hadn’t complained yesterday morning–they were saving up for last night! It’s late morning now, and the  pain has finally relented. But does there remain a lingering, tingling feeling in all my toes. Looks like I may be dealing with some nerve damage.

So now, wise guy, what’s the plan?

If I continue, if I go up on the ridge above Heston’s here, to the Border Route Trail, the only difference as to conditions will be that I’m out of most of the blowdowns and the burnover, and I’ll be hiking marked, well-maintained trail. There’ll still be two feet of snow in places along, plus the ice-cold runoff and flooding. Folks, my feet can’t take any more of this. I can’t take any more of this. Okay, so now what?

Well, after much thought, seems the only way to salvage this trek is to skip some trail. Sure, I skipped trail in North Dakota, but at least I hiked through there. Another degradation, another step down in the plan now. More compromise in accomplishing a west-to-east thru-hike o’er the NCT. Well, it just ain’t gonna happen. As to a hoped-for early spring, favorable hiking conditions–didn’t happen. Rolled the dice–craps!

And so, I’ll take the ride down to Grand Marais with Greg and Barb tomorrow. I’ll have Dwinda overnight another trekking pole and my maps for Two Harbors, east–to Two Harbors. I’ll hitch down there from Grand Marais–and continue my hike on east from Two Harbors. Come fall, after Lake Champlain finally shows up, I’ll return and get the Border Route and the Superior trails hiked out. By then, folks up here who work the trails will have the Border Route groomed, and the damage to the Superior (there’s been considerable damage to that trail due to an ice storm) will, hopefully, be cleaned up. Ah, but then there’ll still be 200 miles of certified trail left to do in North Dakota! Patience, and a little more confidence, old man, isn’t that what you need right now!

To set me in the cabin last, Barb put together a bag of canned goods, some fudge brownies, and a big square of homemade sourdough bread. Got my energy back up now and am feeling much better. She also gave me an Ace bandage to wrap my right knee. Then, this evening, she and Greg had me over for supper!

Delicious moose burgers, country fries, slaw, beans, more homemade bread–oh, and I got to meet Addie, Greg and Barb’s lovely daughter. Takes after her mom. Also a great cook; scrumptious blueberry cobbler, hadn’t she made, from their own berry stash!

A memorable evening visiting and chatting, as if this busy family had nothing else to do. Barb brought out a huge map, one that showed the progression of the Ham Lake Fire. She explained how it nearly encircled them, but spared this special place, this Heston’s Lodge–that’s been in the family since early last century.

Gracious, kind, and gentle folks; oh my, yes!

So I’ll miss a couple days of hiking. So what? Go back and review your ditty about the mystery of all this foolishness, old man. You’re forgetting what it’s all about:

“It’s the PEOPLE, the places, the pain and the trials.

It’s the joy and the blessings that come with the miles.

It’s a calling gone out to a fortunate few,

To wander the fringes of God’s hazy blue.”

[N. Nomad]

Tuesday–April 28, 2009

Trail Day–038

Trail Mile–280/749/1195

Location–Two Harbors

A wonderfully, warm, restful night in the little Tamarack Cabin at Heston’s. The rack of firewood next the stove has been taking a major hit. Oh no, I’m not wasting it, but I’ve sure kept the woodstove pumping out the heat. The little cabin is cozy and very comfortable. When I told Greg I was flat going through his firewood, he said, “Burn it; that’s what it’s for.” So, time now to load another stick!

The swelling in my right knee has started going down some. Keeping my feet up, not jolting and hammering through the snow and rocks, has been a big help. I’ll be on it some this afternoon as I hitch from Grand Marais down to Two Harbors, but the effort won’t compare to my recent ricocheting through the woods up here.

Time to get my pack together, straighten up the cabin. The remainder of the morning I work my journals and get caught up on way-behind correspondence.

Barb is ready to head for Grand Marais a little before two. Greg is not going, nor is Addie, so time for one of those unavoidable, sad, goodbye moments. Greg, Addie, thanks for your kindness; I’ve had a most memorable stay here at Heston’s Lodge. Barb loads us and we’re off to Grand Marais.

In an hour, we’re in downtown Grand Marais. In an hour, comes again another no-fun time. Barb takes a couple more pictures, me by the lakefront–and then comes a good, solid hug. As I turn, I blubber out a promise to return to Heston’s again.

Not much traffic on MN61, the state highway running along the Lake Superior North Shore. Everything’s pretty much shut down yet, all the seasonal touristy places. I’ve my thumb out a half-hour or more between hitches, each one getting me down to the next little lakeside village. By dusk, I’ve managed it to Beaver Bay, to the Inn there, where the kind lady inkeep takes pity on the old Nomad, cuts him a Hiker Trash deal.

You may have noticed that in the stats for this day, I’ve posted 280 for the daily mileage. Ha, sure didn’t do 280. Actually, didn’t do any trail miles at all today. The 280 represents the combined mileage for the Border Route and the Superior Hiking Trail(s), both of which I am now skipping past due to unfavorable (say–unhikable) trail conditions. The Border Route is still buried in upwards of two feet of snow or is flooded with snowmelt, and the Superior is buried by treetops and blowdowns from a winter ice storm. The devastation from the ice storm could be seen yesterday and this morning as I hitched down. It is extensive and quite remarkable. Whole trees have either been broken entirely to the ground or their tops ripped completely off. And this destruction can be seen all the way from Lutsen to Two Harbors. One can only imagine what the trail looks like up on the ridge above. If maintenance crews are able to clear the trail by late summer it’ll surely be an accomplishment. Maybe by fall, perhaps by then, conditions will again be favorable for a thru-hike o’er the Border Route and Superior Trail(s).

Anyway, the mileages–I’m posting these mileages in order to simplify stats-keeping (same reason as for North Dakota mileages). It’ll all shake out in the end.

As I’ve mentioned, for now, this skipping around creates a compromising situation, my so-called NCT west/east thru-hike. But short of flat-out quitting, there’s really nothing else I can do, so I’ll move on east past these two trails and hike on. Hopefully, this journey will soon warm up and smooth out the least bit.

“April is a promise that May is bound to keep.”

[Hal Borland]

Wednesday–April 29, 2009

Trail Day–039

Trail Mile–00.0/749/1195

Location–Two Harbors

I hate down (zero-mile) days like this; but there’s nothing I can do but wait. Dwinda has overnighted me another right trekking pole, along with the maps I’ll need to hike on into Wisconsin and Michigan. But overnight to Two Harbors is more like two days. So, though my bounce box is here, I gotta hang another day waiting for the box from home.

What a kind young lady at Lou’s (Fish House) Motel, right on MN61. She listens patiently to my little short story (finances), and grants pity on the poor old hiker. Two Harbors is an oke-e-doke trail town. Five minute walk from the motel to the post office, also the library, less than five to the cafe. Kind, friendly, and helpful folks, all.

Another welcome (and needed) day to rest my right knee. Timing (if there’s ever a good time to bung up your knee) is perfect.  Anyway, it’s nasty/rainy, windy, and cold, certainly a welcome change to be in, lookin’ out!

I’ve time to sort my bounce box, drain the next door convenience store’s coffee pot–and just flat-out (as in out flat) rest.

Hope to be back on the trail again tomorrow, headed to and through Duluth.

Dang, but don’t I hope summer shows up soon.

“Long, stormy spring-time, wet, contentious April,

winter chilling the lap of very May;

but at length the season of summer does come.”

[Thomas Carlyle]

Thursday–April 30, 2009

Trail Day–040

Trail Mile–22.3/749/1195

Location–MN61, Southwest of Lester Park, Duluth

You may notice that I’m doing a 22-mile day today. However, the cumulative mileage remains the same as for yesterday. Somehow, when preparing my itinerary, I failed to include this day from Two Harbors to Duluth. So, even though I hiked the 22, it appears as a zero-mile day. Again, it’ll all shake out in the end, that is if I can remember all these changes.

Seems the weather up here just wants to stay mad, throwing tantrums and fits. Yesterday afternoon and evening the clouds kept churning until they worked themselves into a total frenzy, finally, with nowhere else to go but to ground. Fog, dense fog, and rain, heavy rain at times, in waves all night. The cold wind had its play as the waves of rain passed. What a blessing to be in and out of it, warm and dry.

Conditions are little better this morning, plenty of fog left over, but the wind has given it up for awhile, leaving a dismal, steady drizzle.

To the post office again. My care package from home has arrived–yippee! In it are my maps for the next section, a new right trekking pole, my o.t.c. meds, some cards and goodies–and my old tent. Yes, my old tent. Sorry, Christian, this new super lightweight Cuben fiber marvel you’ve constructed for me has some bugs that have just got to be worked out. Mainly, the fly just doesn’t provide enough coverage to keep the elements (rain and snow) completely out.

By ten, I’m pack-shouldered and headed for Duluth. On the way out of town I stop at the Superior Hiking Trail Association headquarters, a neat old house right on MN61. The two ladies are very busy preparing for an upcoming meeting, and I am obviously distracting them from their work, so I don’t tarry. I do find that my decision to hike on by the Superior Trail for now was certainly the right decision, as I learn that the damage from the ice storm is much worse than I’d originally been told.

River Road, the scenic route to Duluth is the way to go, and I turn there to follow the North Shore of Lake Superior. But all I see this day is fog (visibility to 50 yards at times) and rain. By four the fog finally burns off and I get to see Lake Superior for the first time today. The clear skies don’t last long, though, as the wind, coming from the southwest (yes, I’m hiking southwest) comes up, gusting to 35 per, bringing in more overcast and threats of rain.

I reach Duluth in good order around six, a short (as my hiking days go) 22-miler–my right knee complaining only the least bit. Where River Road returns to the main highway at the Duluth city limits I had expected to find at least a convenience store, hopefully a little mom-n-pop cafe, but there is nothing, save a sign warning “Residential Area Next Three Miles.” I stare at the sign in total disbelief. The main drag coming into Duluth from the north, and it’s a residential street–for three miles! So, I trek on, as all I’ve in my pack to eat are some (care package) M&Ms and Milk Duds.

Yup, residential all right and sure enough a thousand houses, at least, semis whizzing past. At the end of the three miles, still no commercial district, as the street changes from passing by the dwellings of live residents to that of dead ones. You’re familiar with these big city park-like cemeteries, ten-foot high medieval stone and wrought iron gates, walls, and pediments. This goes on for another two miles. So now, my short hiking day isn’t so short anymore, and by the time I finally reach the commercial district, my right knee is definitely complaining.

The wind is still whipping, and it’s turned cold. Along, and after another mile or so, I find a little motel, KFC right across, and I call it a day.

“A little suffering is good for the soul, it is true, but I have no desire to become a saint.”

[L. Jean Marsch]

Friday–May 1, 2009

Trail Day–041

Trail Mile–24.9/774/1220

Location–Willard Munger Inn, near Magney Snively Park, Duluth

Well it’s time to turn another page on the old calendar. In the process, and hopefully, there’ll be a turn in the weather as well. I’m sure hopeful winter is behind me.

Through Duluth, the NCT (when the Arrowhead relocation is finally blessed by the powers that be) will probably follow the Superior Hiking “Trail” through/around town. That route is partially dirt tread and partially paved, a bicycle/rollerblade/jogging path. Definitely, as hikers/backpackers, we’re the stepchildren through the paved part, a fine exercise path for the Duluth folks.

As to the why and how of this Duluth section, The Superior Hiking Trail, at least as to the history–as best I can figure–had to do with the considerable opposition (the mentality of our trail-building experts) to the proposed Arrowhead relocation–because of metro Duluth. “You can’t take the trail up Superior, you’d have to go through Duluth,” I’d guess was the argument.  Could never consider going straight through town, oh no. And so, did the fine folks of Duluth step right up to solve the problem!

Okay, where’s this going (ramble, ramble)? Well folks, I really don’t much care what our trail building experts think. As for me, and right now, I’m sitting in the Coney Island Diner having breakfast. The Coney Island Diner is smack in the middle of downtown Duluth, right on Superior Street, the main drag. The little, shoe-horned-in establishment is quite remarkable, certainly an historic place, established as it was in 1921 (make sure and check out the photos in a week or so). But again, I digress. Anyway, I’ll hike most of the trail through/around Duluth, all the while keeping in mind that I’m on the NCT, not the SHT. That’s an important distinction, as the NCT route can pretty much go anywhere my fancy happens to send it! And so, and please remember folks (you too Nimblewill), “It’s the people, the places…” and the people don’t all have to be four-legged ones, nor do all the places have to be (our trail experts say it’s gotta be) “The Green Tunnel.”

Had I stayed true to even the metro section, the Riverwalk, we’d have missed getting to know Leif Erickson and Jay Cooke (their bronze likenesses are downtown, not on the river), we’d have missed the opportunity to apply for a job as an “Ice Cream Server,” we’d have never known there was a building just for we intrepids (called the Intrepid Building), we’d have missed the Whizzer motorbike in the display window, the most magnificent two-wheeled creation of all time, and danged if we wouldn’t have missed getting “Booped” (as in Betty) at the Original Coney Island Diner! And though I’ve missed some, I’ll still trek a good chunk of the Riverfront and the remainder of the “trail” about!

In the harbor I get some shots of the museum ship, the USCG Cutter, Sundew. Oh, and I learn that my old ship, the USCG Cutter Mackinaw, WAGB 83, is now also a museum ship, stationed in Mackinaw City, where I’ll be passing. Can’t wait to see her again!

I stay Superior, which turns to Grand, and I hike Grand on down to Willard Munger Inn, where I meet Innkeeper, Willard Munger, Jr., son of Willard Munger, namesake for one of the Duluth trails I’ll be trekking tomorrow. Willard expressed genuine excitement to hear of my ramblings about–cut the old Nomad a deal; thanks Willard!

“Awake, thou wintry earth –

Fling off thy sadness!

Fair, vernal flowers, laugh forth

Your ancient gladness.”

[Thomas Blackburn]

Saturday–May 2, 2009

Trail Day–042

Trail Mile–23.0/007/1259

Location–Saunders, WI

Willard, here at Willard Munger Inn, has offered to drive down the road and fetch me this evening, allowing another fine evenings stay. I take him up on that, a no-brainer. I’ll get in most of my intended miles, and I can slackpack (leave a bunch of my stuff in the room).

Seven-thirty, Willard has the waffle iron hot, plenty of batter. I stoke up.

At eight-thirty, I head across the road to Willard’s approach trail, a groomed path, which follows along the Duluth Zoo fence then up Kingsbury Creek to the Superior Hiking Trail near the top of the ridge. From here to Grand Portage at Jay Cooke State Park is around 15 miles. By the time I claim the ridge, I’m able to remove my jacket and gloves! A reasonably clear, reasonably warm day, and the trail is dry, no flooding or mud. What a change–for a change!

By noon, this little jaunt today is turned grand. I’m following well marked, well maintained trail, the very best so far this journey. Some ups and downs, some rocks, but some easy ridgeline hiking, some grass greening up, and the first flowers of spring, so dainty. Also of note, some fine overlooks, and two really impressive old (very old) stone bridges. I meet the grandson of one of the bridge builders, Mark, Spirit Mountain Rental Manager. And today, after over 1,000 miles on this trail, I chance to meet two other backpackers. They pass me on the ridge; we exchange greeting. Out for no more than an overnight, I’d say.

By a little before four, Willard sends Ryan out to lift me off the road. I’ve just crossed the St. Louis River Bridge into Wisconsin.

Oh, and don’t I pray about this weather today, that it isn’t just one spring step ahead before two winter steps back–again.

“The sun was warm but the wind was chill.

You know how it is with an April day.

When the sun is out and the wind is still,

You’re one month on in the middle of May.

But if you so much as dare to speak,

a cloud comes over the sunlit arch,

And wind comes off the frozen peak,

And you’re two months back in the middle of March.

[Robert Frost]

Sunday–May 3, 2009

Trail Day–043

Trail Mile–28.0/035/1287

Location–Hunter’s Trail

Willard found he had other time commitments last, so he had Ryan, one of his friends, come fetch me. On the way back to the inn last, Ryan offered to haul me back out this morning. Easy enough decision; I give Ryan a call–at six-thirty. He accepts my offer for breakfast. Neat little mom-n-pop back toward town a ways. Great biscuits and gravy (and eggs); I’m tanked!

On the return to the Wisconsin line I get to know a bit about Ryan. He tells me about how his life back in Iowa had been chugging right along very nicely, for over six years. A loving wife, a beautiful son, nice house, mortgage paid way down. Then one day, out of the blue, the “d” word got dropped on him.

So now, Ryan is up here in Wisconsin, where he’s spent time as a child, trying to sort it all out. And so, we talk about life after divorce, the “sharing” of a child, the whole tragic, heartbreaking time-out, right in the middle of life. And Ryan’s in the middle of that time-out now,trying to sort it all out. Ryan, I’m glad we had the chance to talk about it some. Thanks for confiding, for letting me share my thoughts with you–during this toughest of times. Thanks, also, for letting me share this with my readers, that we might include you and your family in our prayers.

By eight, Ryan has me back on the road and I’m headed for South Superior. Not too many states I haven’t trekked through with a backpack on. Counting Minnesota, I’ll pick up three this trek, the second being Wisconsin. And to begin Wisconsin, it’s a roadwalk today, and a beautiful day it is, cool and clear, no wind; I start without jacket or gloves–a first for this trek. In South Superior, I stop at the little grocery there for a few supplies, enough to get me on to Solon Springs some 50 miles from here.

The roadwalk continues, save a short section of certified trail through Pattison State Park. By one, I’ve hiked the trail there, past Little Manitou Falls. Mostly today the hike has been along busy state roads, but by two I turn onto a little-used gravel road cutting across to County Road A, which leads me to the narrow washed-out Hunter’s Trail.

This has been a very long day, mostly hammering the hard, unyielding tarmac. My pitiful right knee remains very tender and swollen. I’ve kept it tightly wrapped with the Ace bandage given me by Barb. It’s really no worse, but it’s certainly no better. I know it will get better, as (just for this day) I have prayed for the strength and the will to endure–just for this day.

“I know God will not give me anything I can’t handle.  I just wish that He didn’t trust me so much.”

[Mother Teresa]

Monday–May 4, 2009

Trail Day–044

Trail Mile–25.2/060/1312

Location–Solon Springs, Swanson’s Motel, Cabins, and Campground

I had pulled off in the pines last, there to pitch on level, rock-free ground for a change. I was actually able to drive my tent stakes all the way down, usually an easy enough task, but not up till now, what with the frozen, rock-hard ground west of here.

The snow, I believe, is finally gone; I’ve seen none now for at least the past three days. And today I begin again without jacket or gloves. The trees and bushes all about are budding, pale yellows, light greens, the deep reds. And in the low-lying areas, the black flies are already starting. Oh yes, a sure sign of spring! However, the streams are still running near full tilt, very tannic here, from the forests about.

I will try to hike as much certified trail as I can here in Wisconsin. However, for the thru-hiker it’s very problematic. The official route for the NCT through Wisconsin has been pretty much determined, and trail along that route has been constructed. Much, though, is not yet complete. Where the longer, uninterrupted sections have been finished, there is no problem. It’s the orphaned (isolated sections) and dead-end sections that creates the dilemma. Getting to them, hiking them, may require trekking many extra miles, and include backtracking, just not practical for hikers who must continually cover the miles. To thru-hike the NCT in a single season absolutely means long-mile days, very long-mile days, day after day. In my case, somewhere around 180 25s. So, I’ll trek what I can of the trail that’s been certified; I’ll do the best I can.

One of those dead-end segments I’ve been speaking about I decide to pass by today, the bit of certified trail south and west of Solon Springs. To hike into Solon Springs from there, when the trail is finally finished all the way through from Pattison State Park, will be both practical and easy for the thru-hiker. But to hike this section now would require a diversion of around 12 miles. Just not practical.

And so, I hike it on in to Solon Springs following County Road A, to close the gap between here and Pattison. I arrive Solon Springs a little after three.

Lovely town, friendly people. First stop, the bank. Helpful folks–I’m able to get some cash without having to pay the (usury) ATM fee. Then it’s over to The Little Gift House for some postcards. Here I meet owners, Amy and Jan, and Jan’s husband, Charlie. Jan is most inquisitive about my hike. I tell her that I am hiking the trail that passes through her town. Then I ask her if she knows the name of that trail. “Well, sure,” she says, “It’s the North Country National Scenic Trail.” Floored me! Most folks never heard of it, but Jan and Charlie certainly know about it–they’re members of the NCTA and are local trail maintainers!

When I mention that I’d like to spend the night in Solon Springs, but feared I couldn’t afford it, Jan said, “That problem’s solved. We own a motel here. You’ll be our guest for the night.” Amazing, and what a true blessing. My poor right knee will sure appreciate the rest!

Great little mom-n-pop cafe right next the bank. The grocery sits the other side of the bank. Post office and library right across the street. And all great folks, just great folks. Cathy at the post office gives me a plain box (one she’d been saving for just such an occasion) so I might lighten my pack by sending some winter items home. Oh yes, great trail town, Solon Springs.

In the evening, at my little cabin at Swanson’s, stops by David, Bruel-St.Croix NCT Chapter contact. David gets me up to speed concerning his chapter’s section of trail. He and his father maintain the trail I’ll be hiking tomorrow. We enjoy a grand time.

Journal entries done–now write some cards.

“Above all, do not lose your desire to walk.

Every day I walk myself into a state of well-being and walk away from illness.

I have walked myself into my best thoughts,

and I know of no thought so burdensome that one cannot walk away from it.

[Soren Kierkegaard]

Tuesday–May 5, 2009

Trail Day–045

Trail Mile–27.5/088/1340

Location–East of Erick Lake

A most memorable stay at Swanson’s Cabins. Swanson’s is another interesting place up here in the northwoods. As is Heston’s on Gunflint Lake in Minnesota, Swanson’s here in Solon Springs has been in the same family for three generations. Jan is the granddaughter to the builder of the original cabins, one of which I had the pleasure of staying in last. At breakfast this morning, which I’ve insisted they allow me to treat, Jan has brought some old black and white photos to show me. One is of her father and grandfather working, setting the homemade trusses for the three cabins. In that picture her father would have been in his early twenties. My cabin last, as I mentioned, one of the original, has been kept up and maintained over the years with much loving care. Just a charming old structure.

Oh yes, Solon Springs is a fabulous trail town! Everyone I met, all were most kind and caring. Thanks, Jan and Charlie, thanks Cathy; I will long remember your generosity and kindness to this old man.

Those of you who’ve followed my journal entries for any length of time, you know that as situations develop during any given odyssey, remarkable occurrences that “happen” with such regularity as to defy all odds, you know that long ago this old man simply gave up accepting or labeling them as mere happenstance, as coincidental. Rather, and do you also know, that with not the least reluctance or doubt, does he know each to be the result of Devine Intervention. And so, another–the “chance” meeting of Jan and Charlie.

A short stop for a couple things at the grocery and I’m on my way. At a little after 9:30 I turn to climb the Brule-St. Croix Portage, a route between/connecting the waters of the Great Lakes with those of the Mississippi, first discovered in 1680. The portage was used for centuries by Indians, voyageurs, explorers, missionaries, traders and pioneers. I find the path cut deep and well-worn. Along are large stones with bronze plaques naming just a few of the earlier voyageurs, some dating to the 18th Century.

Along the hike today I meet Cordell who’s out collecting aquatic bugs. I stop a moment and we have a great chat.

On the ridge above the Bois Brule River the trail along offers some remarkable overlooks. I am on certified trail now. What a blessing hiking dry, well-marked trail for a change.

Today’s hike is a cruise, along old logging roads, narrow-gage tram grades, and well-maintained trail (soft, grassy tread maintained with a lawnmower). By far, I am hiking the best groomed and marked trail so far; and the day is warm with just the least breeze. Whether I deserve this or not, I shall not ask!

Much of the trail this afternoon reminds me of the Ocala National Forest in Florida, rolling sand hills, stately longleaf pine and hardwood, and grasslands–where I am surprised by a very large, healthy red fox.

Around three, with a flicker of a bar on my cell phone, I give Marty a call. Marty lives in Ashland and is the Chequamegon Chapter contact for the NCTA. We’ll try to get together tomorrow in Drummond. Our conversation is cut short by thunder and lightning, followed by a deluge. I manage to make it under the pine, there to don my poncho. I stay the protection of the pine until the worst of the storm passes, before venturing out in it. The rain continues steady the remainder of the day, save a short break, where the clouds separate to permit the sunshine–and to create the brightest rainbow I’ve ever photographed. I’m hiking in the Rainbow Lake Wilderness–coincidence, right!

Late evening, I hike on by Erick Lake (in the rain), and continue on till dark, when the rain finally relents, providing me the opportunity to pitch without getting all my gear soaking wet. A very, very long hiking day. Sure set up to hit Drummond early tomorrow!

“But beauty seen is never lost,

God’s colors are all fast;

The glory of this [rainbow] heaven

Into my soul has passed.”

[John Greenleaf Whittier]

Wednesday–May 6, 2009

Trail Day–046

Trail Mile–23.8/136/1364

Location–Chequamegon NF, Drummond

The rain, which continued off and on during the night, was gone this morning, the day dawning completely clear and warm! I’m able to start without my rain pants and with only my t-shirt. What a welcome change.

The Brule-St. Croix to Gaylord Nelson Portal hike was a cruise yesterday, old narrow-gauge tramways and closed logging roads. Oh yes, three-per all the way. This very forgiving tread continues again today; more easy going over relatively flat, well-groomed (and dry) trail.

One of the treats this day is Rainbow Lake Wilderness. Not a big area, but unique enough to be set aside as wilderness. A bit of rocky going, a fair number of blowdowns, but the trail around Rainbow Lake is most picturesque.

I’m shooting for Drummond today; no problem getting in early. First place I hit is the jiffy on the corner, Bear Country, run by Craig and his folks, Sharon and Earl. Sharon heads me down to the Rhino Bar for lunch, then it’s a call to Connie at Chequamegon House B&B. Hey, I’m in!

I empty my pack on her back porch, everything out. The reason? Wood ticks. Not one or two, but more like 50–on me, on my gear, in my tent last. What an ordeal. Time after time I thought I’d rid myself of them, just to have one or five more show up. Finally, I did shed myself of most of them, but sleep proved fretfully, what with having to pull a bunch more off me during the night. So, don’t want to infest this kind lady’s house. She’s cut the old Nomad an unbelievable deal. Oh yes, more wood ticks, but I think I’ve got them all now.

Early evening, shows up Robert, one of the local club members. He has their most current trail map. In the evening, Marty drives down from Ashland to take me out to dinner. We have a grand time.

Sure a blessing to get in and raise my feet up. The lingering swelling and tenderness in my right knee is becoming worrisome. I know that all it needs is rest to heal, but with 25-mile+ days, hard to rest it. Didn’t know if I’d be able to hammer constant 25s. I’m sure enough into the process, but there’s always that lingering doubt. This hike is finally beginning to get some rhythm going. To keep on keepin’ on, I think it’ll just take a fair amount of stick-to-it.

Late evening now, I hear much thunder. Thunderstorms are forecast for the night, but tomorrow is supposed to be another warm, clear one. Bring ‘er on!

“Somebody said that it couldn’t be done,

But he with a chuckle replied

That ‘maybe it couldn’t,’ but he would be one

Who wouldn’t say so till he tried.”

[Edgar A. Guest]

Thursday–May 7, 2009

Trail Day–047

Trail Mile–28.4/164/1392

Location–Chequamegon NF, East of Beaver Lake Campground

Plenty of thunder racket last night, but if it ever did rain, I sure didn’t hear it. I was snug and dry at the Chequamegon House in Drummond. Thanks, Connie! And thanks, all great folks (it was my pleasure to meet) in Drummond–Postmaster, sweet gal at Rhino, Sharon, Earl, Craig, Connie–and thank you, Randy, for the two Little Debbie cinnamon rolls you handed (gave) me while stocking the racks at Bear Country! Oh yes, my stay in Drummond was especially enjoyable. It certainly was a blessing to be able to elevate my feet for an extended time. My right knee sure looks and feels much better this morning.

I don’t recall that I’ve said any more about my pitiful toes since Heston’s. To a degree, all ten are still taking a nap. However, gradually, day-to-day the feeling is returning, though it is a very slow process. Seems, and I do expect, I’ll suffer some permanent nerve damage. Hopefully though, it will be minimal. Ha, looking on the bright side–when I stub my toes (which is often), and from now on, it won’t hurt nearly so bad!

I depart Drummond to a glorious, warm, wind-free morning as I head for the Porcupine Lake Wilderness. No mosquitoes yet, but in the low-lying areas the black flies are starting to swarm in profusion. Suits me; the bugs are sure a better deal than frostbite. Bring ’em on!

Don’t think I’ve mentioned that I’ve had my feet operated on (again)–this past winter. The fourth toe both my feet had become deformed. If you followed along, my journal entries for Odyssey ’08, a thru-hike up the Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail, you’ll recall the really tough time I had with my feet. My right fourth toe was the cause of being off-trail for ten days during that trek. Both those toes have been straightened out now. During this latest procedure I also had some leftover toenail remnants removed. Again, if you’ve followed this old man along since way back, then you’ll know that ten years ago I had all ten of my toenails removed permanently, surgically. During Odyssey ’98 I lost 14 toenails. Yup, you read it right–14! Anyway, considering the abuse I’ve put my feet through already this journey, they have really complained very little, as they’re always up to the task of carrying me along.

The trail I’m hiking here today, in the Chequamegon, used to be called The North Country Trail.  Now it’s called The North Country Trail. Confused? Well, here’s what happened: And so it is that this trail here in Wisconsin, in the Chequamegon, is a very old trail. Years ago, when it came to be, it was named The North Country Trail. Then, when this (now) very long trail was superimposed over it, the name of that old trail was chosen to represent the new North Country Trail National Scenic Trail, which runs from central North Dakota to upper state New York!

I clear the Porcupine Wilderness a little after two. A very enjoyable, very easy hike through. No blazing allowed in wilderness areas, but with the well-groomed tread, staying the trail was no problem. Like the Rainbow Lake Wilderness, the Porcupine is a small area, but it’s good that it has been protected. I’ve found much enjoyment passing through both these wilderness areas. Hiking sure helps preserve one’s sanity; hiking wilderness offers up a double-dose!

A good bit of the trail hiked today is maintained by Marty, the chairman of the Chequamegon Chapter NCTA. Just super trail; thanks for the fun day, Marty!

I’m headed now for Long Mile Lookout. Takes me awhile to get there–sure a long mile. Actually, it’s over two!

I’ve some daylight left when I arrive Beaver Lake Campground, so I trek on, find some water, and pitch on the tip-top of a high knoll. A very long day.

“In wilderness is the preservation of our own sanity,

of our capacity to be good animals,

and of our ability to thrive as individuals, and as a species.”

[Wallace Stegner]

Friday–May 8, 2009

Trail Day–048

Trail Mile–26.5/191/1419

Location–Mellen, Near Iron County Forest

Another crisp, clear morning. The sun wakes me; it’s shining directly into my tent. I break camp and still have feeling left in my fingers. Days like this, to begin the day like this one has begun–I will never take such good fortune for granted, but will be forever thankful.

Spring is here in northern Wisconsin now, a literal explosion right before my eyes. All the trees are budding and leafing out, every shade of green, especially the most pale of greens. Ah, and so too, all the bushes in the understory, the ferns and flowers, more each day. Fiddleheads are unraveling, and I see for the first time the most dainty ladyslipper.

The hike today bumps and grinds along the least bit, some less than gentle inclines, a few rocks. I make very good time, however, reaching Mellen early afternoon.

The trail comes down the hill on Kornstead Road, the main drag from the west–directly to the main intersection. The NCT blue blazes lead me in, tacked to the power poles along. Just before the main intersection, local businesses have erected little signs to direct the hiker to all the village conveniences. First stop is The Deli.  On the menu, along with a wide variety of sandwiches and salads, what catches my eye is a burger by the name of Jean–yes, a Jeanburger. I look at the menu, to the lady, then back to the menu. “You must be Jean.”I ask (comes out as a question). “What’s this Jeanburger?” “Yes, I’m Jean,” she replies, and with a most grand exclamation–“The Jeanburger is the best burger you’ll ever eat.” And so, it’s the Jeanburger, fries, and a Coke. Yup, Jean’s right. Danged if I can remember a bigger or better burger. Fills this old hiker up, and that’s saying something!

Locals are having lunch now. Pete is sitting next, reading the paper and having coffee. We strike up a conversation. Next thing, I’ve got a ride up to the motel (half a mile away), followed by a lift clear up to Copper Falls State Park. “I’ll go get my vehicle; it’ll take me five minutes.” Says Pete.

On the way to the motel I learn that Pete has just retired as Chief of Police here in Mellen, after 31 years! At the motel he introduces me to Mary, the owner. “Need a room for the hiker.”he tells Mary. “You’re in luck,”  she says, “Got one room left.” And so, I’m in–and leave my pack, to slack-pack this next section of certified trail, a dead-end one, to Copper Falls State Park. By hauling me up to the falls, Pete saves me having to hike it both ways, an extra six miles. Remarkable, isn’t it!

The certified trail around the park is just beautiful, the falls, nothing short of spectacular. I’ll be sending this memory card to my Webmaster, CyWiz, tomorrow. Some pretty neat video footage. Check back; should be posted in a week or so.

Heading out of the park now, I stop a moment at the ranger’s station by the entrance. Here I meet Jill, ranger at Copper Falls. Just wanted to let her know that her perfectly manicured trail (NCT) through the park is being hiked, by an NCT thru-hiker. We have a grand chat.

On the trail back, what goes climbing up a tree right ahead but a porcupine. Oh yes, think about it. Two days ago I hiked the Rainbow Lake Wilderness, then got a picture of a magnificent ROY G. BIV rainbow. Then came the hike through the Porcupine Lake Wilderness, followed today by a pretty neat picture of a porcupine!

Back in Mellen, I call The Daily Press in Ashland where Marty works. He’d told me his paper was interested in doing an interview, so I give them a call. All’s set right away for Rick to come down, and by the time I try (TRY) downing a foot-long sub, again back at The Deli, then hoofing it up to the motel, Rick is waiting. He gets some pictures, asks some thought-provoking question, all the while, keeping his mini-recorder running. Rick is an outdoors guy, so we relate well; a fun interview.

Later, I spend a little time with Mary. She tells me how her husband, George, built the little Mellen Motel, with his own hands–50 years ago. Wow, what kind, friendly folks here in Mellen, and Mary’s sure one of them!

Room’s got a tub.  Oh yes, just what this bones-sticking-out old hiker needs, a good hot soakin’. Finally, it’s feet up–and I’m down for the count!

Beautiful trail. Beautiful people. Beautiful day.

“Looking for and enjoying beauty is a way to nourish the soul.

The universe is in the habit of making beauty…Beauty is everywhere.”

[Matthew Fox]

Saturday–May 9, 2009

Trail Day–049

Trail Mile–28.6/220/1448


A steady drizzle caps the cold, gloomy morning as I head back down the hill to Mellen and the Penokee Mountain Deli & Sausage Co. (The place I’ve been calling “The Deli”). Pete and a few other locals are having breakfast. “Here comes that hiker that’s on the front page of the paper.”I hear as I open the door. Oh yes, Rick has done a fine job of it, color picture and all. He said my interview/his article would be in the paper this morning–sure enough. Thanks Rick; neat write-up, and the interview was fun!

Second cup of coffee and I’m pondering what to order for breakfast. Jean comes over, “Know what you want?” Got it figured out–potatoes, eggs up with laces, and wheat toast. Jean frowns, “Eggs with what?” she asks. I explain to both she and Dave. Dave cranks ’em out. Okay folks, got a picture of a perfect pair of fried eggs–with laces. Check the picture album next week or so to find out what in the world eggs up with laces might be!

A quick trip to the grocery. A celebrity here too. Everyone has to show me the paper. It’s 8:30 now, so off to the post office. Oh yes, it’s closed, but Sara unlocks for me so I can get a couple things in the mail (including the memory card with the eggs-with-laces picture).

Back to The Deli for a little more coffee before headin’ down the road.

Hard saying farewell to so many new friends. Thanks Pete, thanks Mary and George, thanks Sara, and at The Deli, thanks Jean, Dave, Nathan, Tony, and Tom, thanks all!

My route today leads out of Mellen on SR-77. At Upson I turn and head up to a section of certified trail east of Snowcap, in the Penokee Mountains. I’m in the woods a little before three. Well marked trail and easy enough going for the first mile or so, then the tread soups up as the waves of rain shift from liquid to solids–in the form of sleet and snow.

As I trek east, the trail continues to deteriorate, many blowdowns plus much flooding. Seems I’m right back in it again, the dry tread, fair weather, all just a memory left to yesterday.

And wasn’t it just yesterday I said “Spring is here in northern Wisconsin now, a literal explosion right before my eyes.” Why, oh why, couldn’t I heed what Robert Frost said:

“But if you so much as dare to speak,

a cloud comes over the sunlit arch,

And wind comes off the frozen peak,

And you’re two months back in the middle of March.”

I manage to make it through the certified section after much difficulty. I had set a number of waypoints; fortunate I did as my GPS becomes responsible for keeping me headed the right way. An ORV trail parallels the NCT and when the going gets so bad on the footpath I jump over to the motor one. Past the certified section, and hiking the temporary connector toward Hurley, I have considerable more difficulty–flooded trail, hit-and-miss blazing, no lack of blowdowns. Near the end of the woods-road stretch I enter and pass right through a big chunk of private (and heavily posted) property. By now the rain has let up, but it’s turning very cold. Sure glad to hit the sidewalks of Hurley!

Fine little mom-n-pop motel right downtown. Minnie and Bernie take pity on the tired, wet, and cold old hiker, and welcome him in–true hiker trash rate! Warm room, oh yes. First chore, tick patrol.

Enduring days like this day takes a heap of mental toughness along with a ton of patience.

“God places the heaviest burden on those who can carry its weight.”

[Reggie White]

Sunday–May 10, 2009, Mother’s Day

Trail Day–050

Trail Mile–26.9/027/1475

Location–Porcupine Mountains WSP, near the Presque Isle River

I was up until 1:30 this morning, pouring over my maps trying to figure out how many days I’ll be dealing with between resupply.

The state line is only two blocks from the motel so I cross into Michigan first thing.

First cafe in Ironwood, I pull in, a little mom-n-pop place. Locals are in for breakfast. Bob takes a look at my maps and gets me squared away on what’s ahead, as to possible resupply. Looks like I’ll be heading for a little berg called Rockland, four days out. So, I’ll need to plan for three nights in the woods.

Dang, Bosephus, now I understand why you pull your hat down and wear them big shades! Gotta get me a bigger hat, sure some darker shades. Tripping down the main drag here, heading for the grocery, pulls up this vehicle from the side street. Down goes the driver’s window. Next I hear, “Hey mister, are you the Nimblewood Nomad; is that you Nimblewood?” I stop dead in my tracks, turn slowly, and just shake my head. Lone Wolf from Alaska, it is. Knows all about me, read my books, saw me in one of the hiking/backpacking videos. Oh my, what a great way to start this day. Lone Wolf is relocating here to the Ironwood area. All the best to you, dear new friend! Hope to see you somewhere again along the trail.

In the supermarket now. Another day-maker. Passing the ice cream case, I stop to take a really good shot of the typical freezer burned Ben & Gerry’s (no one wants to pay that much for a pint of ice cream)!

Forecast for today is for overcast skies with rain off and on. Pretty much the usual forecast–good odds for the weatherman. But the day turns perfectly clear, cool, the least breeze; just perfect!

The hike today takes me down the Black River, past the falls and across the suspension bridge near the mouth of the river. Great view out and across Lake Superior. On the climb back up I pass Rainbow Falls. Quite impressive; all the falls, impressive.

The trail now heads east through the Porcupine Mountains WSP toward the Presque Isle River. A tough hike it is, mostly a bog hop along poorly maintained and marked trail. My evening campsite is near the river. A long, tough day. I am so thankful for the willpower to continue on.

“God created day and night for us so we need not wander without boundaries,

but may be able to see in every morning the goal of the evening ahead.”

[Dietrich Bonhoeffer]

Monday–May 11, 2009

Trail Day–051

Trail Mile–23.2/050/1498

Location–Porcupine Mountains WSP, past Lily Pond Trail

I rise to another beautiful, sundrenched morning. On my way by eight.

My hike down the Presque Isle River is most rewarding. A very large river, many grand rapids and falls along. At the mouth of the river, another suspension bridge, another grand view out to the lake.

From here my map shows a six-mile hike along the shore of Lake Superior, to the mouth of the Little Carp River. However, as I trek along do I find the trail remaining distant from the shore; much a disappointment–and the bog hop continues, interspersed with many steep, mud-slick ravines.

As I mope my way along, at the Pinkerton Creek Trailhead, I chance to meet Kim and her son, Dillon. They’re preparing to hike in to one of the many cabins by the lake. I had visited Speaker Cabin earlier and imagined what a great time it’d be to spend a day or so sometime. Mom’s still sorting stuff. Dillon has his pack on, fishing rod in hand!

My goodness, just when I’ve seen the last of the snow, here’s another small patch. And right next, the most dainty and colorful profusion of wildflowers in full bloom. Ha, winter and spring having it out. Spring is definitely winning now. Flowers up; snow down!

I’m finished early with my miles, my hike for today. However, I’ve been looking at the next section of trail, the first part of the hike tomorrow. Don’t know, something about it makes me suspicious there’ll be difficulty hiking it. A very long roadless section, the kind that’s very difficult to maintain without overnight trips. So, my concern, as I’ve just passed poorly marked and maintained sections all easily reachable for maintenance from one end or the other in a day. Sections like this are often no more than connectors, joining one jewel to another, having little or no redeeming value, no special feature to hike in for otherwise. Not the place to take your scout kids. This looks like that kind of section. So, I decide to hike through as much of it as I can with the remainder of this day, and hope for the best on what’s left tomorrow.

The section starts easy enough. Blazes everywhere. I’m able to see six or more from a single vantage at times. But the blazes soon begin thinning out, then dwindle to only a few every quarter-mile or so. The fellow with the blue paint lasted about a mile and a half. The one nailing up markers persisted a bit longer, perhaps around two miles before he headed back. So now I’m left with what’s left of the old original blue plastic diamonds nailed up when the trail was built. As you might guess, many of them now lie on the ground or have simply disappeared. Much brush, many blowdowns to negotiate, and faint or no tread to help me along. Makes for painfully slow progress with much wandering and searching back and forth. Luckily, I’ve set waypoints along. Consulting my GPS helps greatly in keeping me on track.

Late evening now, a strange thing. A bunch of blazes close together, perhaps five or six within 50-75 feet. Then, at the edge of a ravine, the blazes and the trail simply disappear. I search in circles for nearly an hour before I’m back on track again. Dearly frustrating. Sure glad I decided to venture in here today, to get some of this behind me.

As I pick up trail again, does it then break out on a wide, dry woodsroad, to follow it along, then to cross the Big Iron River on a beautiful foot bridge.

Where a small brook cuts across I pitch beside the grassy road on the crest just beyond. It has been a challenging day, a good day, and I am better for it.

“With each step you take, you will grow stronger and stronger,

more and more skilled, more and more self confident and more and more successful.”

[Mark Victor Hansen]

Tuesday–May 12, 2009

Trail Day–052

Trail Mile–26.0/076/1524

Location–Ottawa NF, beyond Cascade Falls

Yesterday proved a big leap, a most uplifting day as to my health, more specifically, as to the condition of my right knee. For, yesterday, a very long-mile day, I hiked entirely without the Ace bandage wrapped around my knee, the bandage, given me by Barb at Heston’s back in Minnesota, many days and many, many miles ago. And this morning, I am suffering just the least lingering discomfort, and no edema in my lower leg. What a blessing!

The strong patter of raindrops on my tent wakes me from a sound sleep at five-thirty. No problem as I simply let the rain lull me back to sleep until seven-thirty. Comes then a break and I’m able to strike camp without getting everything soaked.

In this morning’s gloom I will not be gloomy nor disheartened. Rather, I will pray to the Lord and be thankful for this day–because in Hurley, I had heard the forecast for the next few days, overcast with rain every single day. Yet, this is the first day that forecast has come even close. Yes, thank you, Lord! Having two warm, cloud-free days just past, the awareness of that good fortune has not been lost on me.

My hike this morning continues along the old woodsroad, a brush-free walk, a pleasant time. Then it’s back into the depth of the forest for more mound hopping and bog dodging. Certainly, this trail will look much different in just a few more weeks as the saturation from the recent snowmelt is gone. No question, I am hiking this trail way early in the season, and the folks who volunteer their time to keep the trail open haven’t come out yet. Yes, I’m way early, as I continue suffering the leftover days of winter.

As the morning wears on, this storm is having much trouble being serious, and by noon the sun prevails to burn off what remains.

After an hour or so of bog-dodging, and as the trail becomes more and more submerged, I finally give it up and wade on in, turning the bog-dodging to bog-bogging. The best way through is just–through.

These woods, this forest land is very marginal land. Mainly, it’s poorly drained, even on the ridges are there bogs. And so, these forests are ours. For, once they were timbered off, nobody much wanted them.

By the time I reach MI64, the nasty morning has totally given it up and the blue skies have come to dominate. Across the road, I stop in a warm clearing, empty my pack and hang everything around to air and dry.

Pack loaded and shouldered again, I begin a steady mile-and-a-half pull up Bergland Hill, the longest and most steady climb so far this trek. From the vantage atop Bergland I can see the hills and valleys all around. This hike now is turning into my kind of hike, a trek through a smaller version of the southern Appalachians, the mountains I love.

Coming off Bergland and gawking around I catch a root with my right toe and go down. Just got my right knee mended and back in service, now I’ve banged up my left knee. Still got your Ace bandage if I need it Barb! Hope I don’t. Looks like no more than a skinned up kneecap.

This section of trail I’m hiking now in the Ottawa has the reputation, the notoriety if you will, of being the toughest section along the entire North Country Trail. Indeed, there are plenty of ups and downs, much climbing. It is a rugged section. However, I’ll reserve judgment on this issue, the difficulty of this hike today, until I’ve trekked the High Peaks of the Adirondacks–hopeful before the end of September.

Late evening I find a soft spot in the pine (there are a few pine trees scattered along) and I pitch (with the wood ticks) for the night.

“The best way out is always through.”

[Robert Frost]

Wednesday–May 13, 2009

Trail Day–053

Trail Mile–22.0/098/1546

Location–Ottawa National Forest, Victoria (then on to Rockland)

The wind came up late last evening, driving angry low-slung clouds. I tried pitching out of it but that was impossible. I heard the wind continually whipping my tent fly all night, yet I slept quite well.

This morning, as I squint to see how the day might appear, all I see are black specks in front of my eyes. Ticks, lots of ticks, climbing and shuffling all over the outside of my no-seeum screen. Oh my, am I thankful for a tight tent with a full pan and a zip-close screen door. And there are still folks who prefer sleeping on the ground under a tarp–Yesh! In this type of circumstance I simply harken back to what Nessmuk said two centuries ago: “I go to the woods to smooth it, not to rough it; I get it rough enough at home.” Not an easy task getting out and away–from the ticks. Did my best, but probably have a few hitch-hikers.

Today is primarily a resupply day, as I hike on past the historic old village of Victoria three more miles to Rockland.

What I know about Rockland is dated, over ten years old now, the info from Wes Boyd’s Guide. His terse comment about Rockland, “Limited Supplies.” So, entering the little village and turning down the main drag, do I meet Ken who’s putting a new front on his shop. Friendly chap, as do I find all the folks of Rockland. I’d hoped for a little convenience where I might find a loaf of bread and some cheese, what I tell Ken. “The bar there, Henry’s Never Inn, you can get a good meal at Henry’s, and they rent out a room upstairs.” says Ken. Hey, this day is shaping to be one fine day. In Henry’s I meet Trish who recommends their homemade stuffed pepper soup and a patsy, an Upper Peninsula (Cornish) specialty. I go for both. Hot lunch down, and while draining her coffee pot, I learn there’s a post office and a general store right up the street–and the room upstairs is available! Oh yes, a wonderful day. Ha, and I was holding out for bread and cheese!

Turns out, the room is actually an apartment, with a full living room, kitchen/dining, three bedrooms and a full bath–with a bathtub. Washer and dryer (complete with detergent) in the hall. Oh, and as I head up, Trish hands me a full unopened package of bacon, a half-dozen eggs, a container of butter, and a loaf of bread. “Breakfast comes with the room, you just gotta fix it yourself.” explains Trish. No way I’ll tell you what the old Nomad got all this for. Suffice to say that the folks here in Rockland are not only kind but very generous, oh yes, very generous!

Evening meal right back at Henry’s, their Wednesday evening special, build your own pizza. Yup, back to Henry’s!

Wonderful history behind Henry’s. The fellow who built the old bar back in 1889–name Peter Gagnon. Fellow who owns and runs it now–name Henry Gagnon, great grandson to Pete! A 100+ year success story, and the folks who run the place, Henry and Salle, both are genuinely happy, joy-filled, humble, generous and most kind. I’ve photographed the back of Henry’s Never Inn menu, where this interesting history plays out. When it’s posted, take a minute and read it–fascinating.

Warm soak in the tub, pizza with everything I could load it with (think I hurt myself), clothes run through the washer and dryer (never before), and I’m feet up, working correspondence and journal entries.

Sure like these little bergs with “Limited Supplies.”

“The common idea that success spoils people

by making them vain, egotistic, and self-complacent is erroneous,

on the contrary, it makes them for the most part,

humble tolerant, and kind.”

[W. Somerset Maugham]

Thursday–May 14, 2009

Trail Day–054

Trail Mile–26.3/124/1572

Location–Ottawa NF, east of Bob Lake near FR-16

I could hear the rain off and on against my window all night. What a blessing to be snug and warm in the lovely apartment above at Henry’s Never Inn. First thing this morning I turn the T.V. on to the weather channel. I really don’t know why I even bother with this exercise anymore. Eternal optimism, I suppose. Cloudy, rainy, next four days. Only change–the south wind that was driving the angry low-slung clouds through at 25 per yesterday, temps in the low 60s, those clouds are being driven right back through out of the north at 30 per, temperature 40 degrees now, wind chill in the low 30s. Just a short distance from here, in copper county it’s snowing again this morning. Perhaps those dainty yellow flowers I spoke of yesterday won’t make it after all. Will winter ever be over!

As I depart Rockland on this cold, rainy morning I am very thankful to be of good spirit, fully tanked with energy and ready to go, thanks to my dear new friends in Rockland.

I’m hiking out with every stitch of clothing I have–on. The six-mile roadwalk down US45 completed, I’m back on trail heading east a little after eleven. This trail leads to O-Kun-De-Kun Falls and the suspension bridge over the Baltimore River. Then it’s on to the Middle Fork, Ontonagon River, and another suspension bridge. These segments are most enjoyable. Continuing east, and in a few miles comes the East Branch of the Ontonagon, which I must ford, as there’s no bridge there. Along this section, the trail deteriorates rapidly, and I’m once again into the not-so-much-fun of bog-hopping, and finally bog-bogging.

The Ontonagon Middle Fork was running swift, deep, and muddy. I expect the same of the East Fork. Fording the river may be avoided by taking a high water route roadwalk, a couple extra miles around. Not wishing to risk further injury to my feet, and anticipating a dangerous crossing, I decide that it’s prudent to do the extra distance, and take the time to bypass the ford.

Once around, and where the road leads back south to the trail, I continue on east on Mud Creek Road. Considering the poor trail conditions, having to deal with them for so long, and now here again today–does not everyone have their limit? Well, I’ve reached mine. First it was the snow, two feet at times, along with the ice, then the slush ice. That was followed by frigid runoff and flooding. Now here in the Ottawa I’ve been faced with brush across the trail and countless blowdowns, along with the frustration of frequently losing my way. As the tread continued deteriorating today, mixed in, a new dimension–industrial mud, the camo-brown gumbo kind. You know the stuff, slick as ice. Cover it up with a topping of last fall’s leaves and you’ve in for a skating good time! This mud lines the ravines along, the trail side-slabbing down through. I moved through each with certain caution, doing the best I could. On a particularly steep slope, I began sliding. Jabbing my right hiking stick in, I managed a purchase and hung on–until the lower section of my stick broke. Finally, I was able to grab some saplings and get stopped. And so folks, forgive me, but I’ll be bypassing a few miles of certified trail today, and more than likely, a few more tomorrow too.

Late evening, crossing a little brook I take water for the night and pull off to pitch in the pine. Gonna’ be another cold one for sure.

“Everything that I’ve got is just what I’ve got on.”

[Amarillo by Morning, Terry Stafford and Paul Fraser]

Friday–May 15, 2009

Trail Day–055

Trail Mile–24.3/148/1596

Location–Copper County State Forest, then on to Covington

Michigan is on eastern time, including all of the U.P. except those counties farthest west next the Minnesota border. This shifted the clock for me a few days ago, so now I’ve an extra hour of daylight in the evening (doesn’t get dark around here until almost ten). However, in the morning my biological clock still wakes me around six (central time), but it’s already seven! Anyway, the sun’s up, I’m up. A raw-cold morning, my fingers so many sticks by the time I’m packed up and ready to hike. My, oh my, should there come days of triple digit heat in Ohio, I will not complain.

Yesterday evening I heard, then saw, a pair of sandhill cranes. These are huge birds; no mistaking them. Their shrill call breaks the silence again this morning. A strangely mournful, yet beckoning call, much as that of the loon.

My trek concluded along a forest service road yesterday, so my hike begins here again this morning. In a short distance the trail crosses the road and I head back in. The hike quickly becomes a bog hop once more, then, as I tire of jumping and dodging, a bog-slog. Splash and slosh time again. The U.P. must have received an inordinate amount of snow this past winter, what with all this standing water and runoff. I’ll continue this bog-slog for awhile, but if it doesn’t give it up soon, I will! It doesn’t. I do. Like Willie, I’m “On the Road Again.”

Back in Rockland, at the little general store there, I bought a bag of (in the shell) sunflower seeds. I did the same thing last year. Finally threw them away out of frustration, near a full bag. There must be some technique, something I’m not picking up on here. Someone out there, could you please tell me how you manage to get through a bag of these things without growing old(er)!

Near the trail crossing to Sturgeon Falls, Doug pulls along in his green truck–and stops. He’s USFS, out clearing the forest roads of brush and downed trees. “Hiking far?”is his greeting. I give him the full five minute pitch. Offers me a ham sandwich, a bottle of water, and a root beer. I take him up on the root beer. During our chat I get up to speed on what’s happened recently here in the forest. Two feet of wet snow a couple weeks ago, that’s what happened. Pulled down limbs, pushed over whole trees. It’s finally all melted again. Aw, no wonder the sponge-mud, the brush and blowdowns, and the running-full-bore streams. Spring in the U.P., eh!

The trail passes close to the Sturgeon River Wilderness and I hike some of the trail next it. Much better tread now, on sand ridges and slopes, a little exercise for the legs again.

By late evening I’ve reached the little village of Covington. Doug had told me about a fine restaurant here. That’s my destination. It’s a busy place, a local favorite. While waiting my order, a lady comes to my table. “Are you the fellow hiking the North Country Trail?” she asks. Hard to believe the word’s gotten around like this, but it has. To my question, “How do you know someone’s on the NCT?” she replies, “Read about you in our local paper.”

And so, I meet Catherine, one of the few but loyal members of the Peter Wolfe Chapter NCTA (Another coincidence, right!). We enjoy a very good chat till my supper arrives. Having sized me up, Catherine then asks where I’ll be staying tonight. “In the woods, as usual.” my reply. “I’ve an extra room at my place; you’re welcome there if you like.” A no-brainer; it’s supposed to turn cold with more rain tonight, then snow in the morning. “I accept!” big smile on this old man’s face!

It’s a gentle but steady climb to Catherine’s home, the highest point of land in the U.P., a lovely, well-kept old dairy farmstead. I help her carry some firewood in for the warming fire she soon has going. The howling wind delivers the rain soon enough, which lasts most the night. What a joy being out of it; such a blessing. We share a good time, the evening, about the trail–our lives.

Thank you so much, Catherine, for your trusting, caring nature (a seldom-seen-trait anymore), and for your kindness and generosity.

“The fragrance always stays in the hand that gives the rose.”

[Hada Bejar]

Saturday–May 16, 2009

Trail Day–056

Trail Mile–24.9/173/1621

Location–East of Craig Lake SP

A quiet and most peaceful night at Catherine’s lovely home. She has neighbors, but they’re at a distance. In fact, she shares a common line with the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community, Ojibwe Tribe.

I’m up a little before seven, get caught up on my journal entries and a bit of correspondence while Catherine is preparing breakfast.

Believe it or not, the forecast is for cold and snow today. Sure enough, a little before eight the snow begins, a few flakes at first, then the wind starts driving it through. By nine it’s snowing so hard that the trees, seen across the meadow through Catherine’s picture window, appear as no more than a faint, gray shadow. The thermometer on her back porch reads 32 degrees. I’m in no hurry to get out in this. I relax and watch the whole unbelievable scene with total amazement. To sit, feet propped up by the wood stove is such a simple task. The call on this was for the snow to come early, as it has, and then to decrease. But by ten it’s showing no sign of stopping. If I’m to get my miles in today I have got to get going. So, with much reluctance I tell Catherine we must leave. She drives me back down to the convenience store in Covington. That sad time again, time to bid farewell to a dear new friend I’ll likely never see again. Thank you, Catherine, for trusting, for caring.

While draining the coffee pot, I shop supplies for four days: Hot dogs, cheese, bread, candy, sunflower seeds, the usual, around six pounds in all.

I’m on US41 heading east toward Nestoria, but not before noon. Going to be very difficult getting my miles in today, what with such a late departure, and the wind blowing a steady 25, gusting to 40, driving the continuing snow.

I’m in Nestoria by five, to the little bar there, a much needed break to get out of the snow, and to have a sandwich.

Just past Nestoria I turn north on an unimproved forest service road that leads to Craig Lake SP. At the lake I pick up a section of certified trail and am able to get in a couple miles in before calling it a day.

“Hold fast to dreams,

For if dreams die,

Life is a broken-winged bird that cannot fly.

Hold fast to dreams,

For if dreams go,

Life is a barren field,

Frozen with snow.”

[John Dryden]

Sunday–May 17, 2009

Trail Day–057

Trail Mile–22.8/196/1644

Location–West of Silver Lake Basin

I prepared, braced myself, for a really cold, difficult night. I was able to find a pine thicket just below the crown of the ridge, there to pitch tight under. I pulled my fly down completely around my tent in hopes of holding in the least bit of body warmth. But the deep cold, predicted to drop into the low 20s, never came. In fact, I had not even the least condensation to deal with. Slept snug and warm.

The sun rousts me out at seven-thirty. I have got to get my body-clock adjusted to this time change. The salvation, at least for now, is the extended daylight on the evening end, allowing me to do my long-mile days.

Yesterday was an absolute total bruiser. If you had told me that at 57 days out this trek, had you told me that I’d be dealing with temperatures hovering around freezing with winds driving heavy snow at 25-40 per, I never would have believed it. It is true–and that was yesterday. I am so blessed to be out here, so thankful for my health, my stamina, my resolve, for such vigor at my age–it is truly a blessing. Yes, yesterday was a very tough, trying day, but had I just been sitting the entire day, no purpose but to sit–I could not have endured, as so many folks my age must endure. And so today, tomorrow, these days will be better days, brighter days, warmer days, and I will be patient with their coming. And so, I rise, break camp, and set out to a beautiful, clear, mild, wind-free morning.

I had been told I would lose cell phone contact a short distance east of Craig Lake, so right away this morning I give Lorana a call. She’s a member of the North Country Trail Hikers, Marquette Chapter, NCTA. Lorana is arranging a potluck get-together at her home for me Tuesday evening, and I wanted to let her know I’m on schedule. I am certainly anxious and excited to meet all the folks there.

Out of the park there’s a roadwalk section. I’m grinding along, not paying attention, and miss a turn. Just as well, as my mistake brings the joy of meeting Pat and Sharon who are working outdoors at their weekend home on Lake Arfelin. They invite me to their cabin, the perfect little getaway we all dream of having one day. We have a grand time, and while chatting, I’m given a Coke, a sandwich, and some snacks. Pat then walks with me, shows me the way around the lake to the trail. Thanks, Pat and Sharon, thanks for your kindness!

Early afternoon I enter the McCormick Wilderness, an eight-mile, little-used section of trail totally devoid of blazes. Didn’t take long before I was in a predicament–no trail. The trail simply vanishes before me, no visible tread, no signs a trail has ever been anywhere near here. Good time to consult my GPS, my next fixed waypoint. Heading there, lo-and-behold, does the trail appear again. On and on does this frustration continue. Oh, I should tell you that this is not neglect on the part of the Marquette folks. Oh no! In this wilderness no blazes are permitted. Oh yes, a tough predicament! Very slow progress, much looking and searching as I trip my way. Along, and from time-to-time, some dear soul has placed small cairns, a rock or two here, a rock or two there. These clues along with the aid of my trusty GPS, I weave my way. Guess I was never really lost. Kind of like Daniel Boone. I remember reading about Daniel being asked the question, had he ever gotten lost. (Quote ending this day)

I had hoped to make it through the bushwhack above Silver Lake Basin but with my predicament with the trail through the McCormick tract, I’ve just run out of time. It’s been a very long day, and I am so tired.

“I have never been lost, but I will admit to being confused for several weeks.”

[Daniel Boone]

Monday–May 18, 2009

Trail Day–058

Trail Mile–29.6/226/1674

Location–Escanaba River SF, Little Garlic Falls

The bushwhack section I’m heading into this morning runs for over a mile. It’s been flagged but there’s no tread built. Not so much guesswork here, but there are many blowdowns, much brush. Then, along with climbing around the rocks, progress is very slow. Coming out the east end I heave a grand sigh of relief as I come upon an old, abandoned hunt camp. My GPS indicates I’ve arrived at my destination, an unimproved woodsroad. I am disappointed to find no road in sight. All my waypoints, up to now, have all been accurate within a hundred feet or so, but this one doesn’t seem right. I waste nearly an hour circling, searching for any sign of a road–nothing. At the camp lies an old cast-iron stove. No way this got here other than by road. What a dilemma. Back again to where my GPS originally announced my arrival, and looking ever-so-closely, under the countless blowdowns and accumulated brush, there’s the faintest sign of a roadbed. I decide to follow it, but it soon disappears at the crown of the next ridge. Searching further, I come across year-old tracks from a four-wheeler. More doubt and frustration. I should be heading southeast, these tracks lead north. No other choice, I hang with them. Finally they turn east, then southeast.

My next waypoint, some three miles distant, indicates I’m at least headed in that general direction–through the worst continuous calf-deep quagmire I’ve ever had to negotiate. Finally, after nearly four hours from the time I entered the bushwhack, and no more than five miles distant, I emerge on improved road (culverts and a little scattered gravel).

This road widens and gets much better as it leads around the Dead River Storage Basin past many lovely vacation and weekend retreats. At Red Road I hike over to CR510, there another bushwhack over to the dirt/sand road that leads to Little Garlic Falls, where is located an orphaned section of certified trail. This bushwhack is also flagged, no tread constructed. And again, another slow, methodic traverse. I reach the road in good order and manage the hike on up to the falls just in time for the photo op before dark. A couple of fine campsites below the falls. I choose the one with a stack of firewood.

Certainly an adventure-filled day!

“Given the nature of life, there may be no security, but only adventure.”

[Rachel Naomi Remen]

Tuesday–May 19, 2009

Trail Day–059

Trail Mile–21.5/269/1696


Much joy in having a fire, the very first this journey. I dried my shoes and socks and just sat and pondered the good that’s come to me.

The rain returns again during the night, yet does it stir me little. I know it wise now to rig my fly, no matter the evening appearance of the sky. By seven-thirty, the rain has pretty much ended and I’m able to strike camp and be on my way. Not the most pleasant day, but it is not cold, a welcome change.

This is going to be a very exciting day as I reach an important point in this hike, Marquette. I’m almost half way across the Upper Peninsula of Michigan now, the most rugged, isolated sections of this trail behind me–yes a milestone for sure.

From Little Garlic Falls, certified trail leads over to, then south along the shoreline of Lake Superior. From Little Presque Isle Point down to Wetmore Landing I hike the most magnificent NCT section of trail yet. Rugged, rocky shore, isolated little islands, when struck by crashing waves, send spray fifty or more feet upward and in all directions. The roar created by the collision of waves on rock builds and builds, much as the percussions build within a symphony. And I am here, alone. For the most fleeting of moments, this grandeur, this power and wonder–it is mine, all mine to behold!

Entering Marquette, the trail follows along the Lakewalk, to the old ore hoppers by the shore–downtown. At the brewpub up Main Street on the hill, I call Lorana. In just moments, she is here to fetch me and whisk me away to her lovely home.

In the evening, and to Lorana’s comes Tom and Liz, Denise, John and Ayleen, John and Marge, Cliff, Bev, Jim and Norma. Comes also Jan, Leah, Don, and later in the evening, Doug, another hiker heading for the trail. Each brought a covered dish. What a joyful time, the common thread joining each to each, the love of nature and the great outdoors. Many questions for the old hiker. It was much fun. Thank you, Lorana; thank you all for the memorable time!

“There is a love of wild nature in everybody,

An ancient mother-love ever showing itself whether recognized or no,

And however covered by cares and duties.”


Wednesday–May 20, 2009

Trail Day–060

Trail Mile–00.0/269/1696


A hot bath to chase fragrances not so pleasant–and to soak my tired, weary body. Oh, the simple pleasures–Ah, but first to be happy! And today will I indulge myself in rest. Some duties and chores, but at my leisure. A trip to the Down Wind Outfitters, a stop by the post office, Marge now chauffeuring me around.

I have maps for another two weeks; I’m restocked on my over-the-counter meds. My clothes are clean. I’m clean! Did I mention being happy? Ah yes, I’m ready for this next stretch of trail along the NCT, to the Straits of Mackinac.

But today, what pure decadence, lounging at Lorana’s!

“It’s a heluva start, being able to recognize what makes you happy.”

[Lucille Ball]

Thursday–May 21, 2009

Trail Day–061

Trail Mile–25.0/294/1721

Location–Laughing Whitefish River (ravine, far side)

I’m up at six trying to round up all my “stuff.” From the looks of it, you’d think I’ve moved in! Oh yes, I have made myself completely at home here at Lorena’s–easy enough to do. She has such a beautiful home. It’s one of those earth contact designs–but it really isn’t, it’s more an underground house, but it isn’t that either. If you’re driving down her street and look over, you’ll see what looks like a vacant lot, crowned up in the middle with flowers growing on top. That “crowned up” is the roof of Lorana’s house! Don’t understand how a building can be most-like a cave, but have plenty of light. The skylight (dome) in her great room is the secret. Her home has been featured in numerous magazine articles and written up repeatedly by the local media.

These last two days have allowed me to rest up, get cleaned up, and get charged up–for the next segment to Pictured Rocks past Munising.

Outside now, and before loading to head back downtown, to where I interrupted my hike Tuesday, I climb up the hill to the top of Lorena’s home and get some pictures–so y’all will believe me!

An interview has been arranged with Channel 6 T.V. here in Marquette. Heather, one of their reporters, is to meet me at Lakewalk, down from Main, at seven-thirty. Lorena no sooner has me there than Heather arrives. She gets her camera set, and we spend about ten minutes talking trail. Lorena stands by, then comes Marge to also provide moral support. Great questions; I am totally relaxed–a fun time. Thanks, Heather, you’re certainly a pro at what you do!

A happy time, yet such a sad time, time, again, saying good-bye to dear new friends. It must be. But perhaps I’ll see them again, Labor Day 2010, the one day a year the Big Mac Bridge is open to pedestrian traffic. I plan to be there, Good Lord willin’, to hike the final five miles, thus completing my trek over all eight national scenic trails. Lorena, Marge, and many members from their chapter plan on doing the walk again. So, until then so long my friends.

Out of Marquette now, I turn to take a final picture of the fair city. I get that shot, which includes the storm that’s rapidly approaching. I hurry across the highway to duck into the lobby of the motel there–just in time to miss the first driving wave. As the storm eases off, I head on down to the Michigan DOT Welcome Center. I manage to get there just in time to avoid the second wave. The driving rain lets up, but then sets in steady for the remainder of the morning and most of the afternoon.

My poncho, an old reliable veteran, which is pushing 20,000 trail miles, has been leaking quite badly. Rain like this today would have soaked my pack and pretty much everything in it. But Lorana has treated the poncho with a waterproof spray, so my pack and me–we’re dry!

Hiking an old rail grade, not where I should be, I pass a sculpture park, a quite remarkable place. Really beautiful (and quite amusing) work by Tom. He certainly has a talent. Some sculps tell a story, some challenge the imagination. Regardless, I found that they all make sense.

At Sand River I turn south to pick up a certified section of trail. It’s a joy to be hiking blazed trail with established tread. No stumbling and wandering around in here. From Sigan Road over to Laughing Whitefish Falls ravine is a bumpy ride, but I have my 25 in well before sunset. A warming fire, such a luxury, dries my shoes and socks, and sets a glow to my heart. This has been a great day; I am a happy fellow and of good cheer!

“Some people never find it,

Some only pretend,

But I just want to live happily ever after…

Every now and then.”

[Jimmy Buffett]

Friday–May 22, 2009

Trail Day–062

Trail Mile–27.4/321/1748

Location–Hiawatha NF, Valley Spur Trail, thence on to Munising

The call of the sandhill crane rousts me at six-thirty to a mild, cloud-free morning. I strike camp and am on trail by seven. I start out with my wind jacket, hood up, gloves and rain pants, but am able to strip to my hiking shorts and tee by ten.

Here I’m on connector and non-certified trail, but it is well marked and maintained. Thank you, North Country Trail Hikers of Marquette!

At ten-thirty I enter the Hiawatha National Forest, the Rock River Canyon Wilderness just south and west of where I’m hiking.

The trees are all leafing out now; white trillium are blooming and the fiddleheads have unfurled.

Believe I failed to mention a few days ago that in the Craig Lake/McCormick tract area, I saw a grey wolf. Interesting thing: He never saw me! Came onto the trail 20 yards ahead of me and never looked back–just loped along ahead till he was over the next pop and out of sight.

On the roadwalk down Sandstrom Road a fellow in a pickup stops. “You’re on a long hike, aren’t you?” he asks with a broad grin. “How can you tell?” my reply. “Saw you on the news this morning.” his answer, as he wishes me well and is on his way. Just a short ways on down the road I run into Ken and his buddy. They’re mushroom hunting. Ken comes out of the bushes. “I want to shake your hand.” he says, “You’re the hiking guy–saw you on the news. Anybody walking as far as you are, just want to shake their hand!” Word of my passing on this NCT has sure gotten around!

A long day, much roller-coaster tread, little pits and crowns, on and on. The trail follows the ravines, the very upper edges, for miles. Again, it is well marked, easy to follow.

Got my 25 in, again, with plenty of daylight to spare. I’m out of food, so it’s hoof it on into Munising. An old motel, not so well-kept or so neat; and a fine restaurant right down the block. Grocery just across–what my budget demands. Doesn’t take much to keep me happy; surely you know by now. Common situations, a few simple possessions. My pack with not so many “things” in it; a hot meal, a warm bed from time-to-time, that’s the ticket.

“Earthly possessions dazzle our eyes

and delude us into thinking that they can provide security and freedom from anxiety.

Yet all the time they are the very source of anxiety.”

[Dietrich Bonhoeffer]

Saturday–May 23, 2009

Trail Day–063

Trail Mile–25.1/346/1773

Location–Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Coves Campsite (assigned)

Late getting up, late getting going. An iffy day coming on, overcast, feels like rain.

First stop this morning (hopefully for breakfast) has got to be The Falling Rock Cafe. Lorana’s friend, Nancy (also a member of North Country Trail Hikers) is the owner. About a six block hike; I’m there a little before nine. They open at nine! I kill a little time, get a cup of coffee across the street. By the time I’m back the open sign is on. As I enter, the lady greets me with a warm smile. “You Nancy?” I ask.  “No,” the lady replies, “I’m Charlotte, the Manager. Nancy probably won’t be in this morning–we were looking for you yesterday afternoon.” She points me toward the coffee. I didn’t go downtown yesterday evening as I figured they’d have already closed. Looking at their hours a few moments ago–they would have been. “I knew Lorana would call and let you know I was on my way, sorry I didn’t make it in time–tell Nancy I regret not meeting her.”

Jim is sitting one of the tables, invites me over. Retired teacher from down below (a troll). Been coming up to his cabin here for over 30 years. Emily (an employee at Falling Rock) arrives, and she and Charlotte set to cranking out breakfast for Jim and me. When I go to pay, Charlotte tells me breakfast’s on them. A young couple I’d spoken with before breakfast had already paid for my coffee. Dear, kind folks, thanks!

While I’m enjoying my lumberjack-sized breakfast, Charlotte calls John, a reporter for the Munising newspaper. He comes right over. Lots of questions–gotta get my picture with my pack and sticks.

It’s well after ten by the time I finally head out of own. One more stop, the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore/Hiawatha National Forest Welcome Center. I must obtain a permit to overnight in Pictured Rocks. Busy weekend, hike-in campgrounds full. The two rangers huddle, then miraculously comes available a site 25 miles out at Coves. I’d mentioned that I’d like to camp at around 25 miles out. Thanks ladies!

I’m no sooner past Munising Falls and onto the Lakeshore Trail than the trail turns directly to the cliffs overlooking Lake Superior. What beautiful tread, well groomed and maintained. Folks have told me this hike along the Lakeshore would be one of the highlights of this journey. Sure starting out with the makings for it. And the day has turned blue-perfect, mild, no wind–just perfect.

Clicking along now, comes Miner’s Castle, a natural rock formation eroded over the eons, standing the shore. Lots of folks about here–Memorial Day weekend.

The trail works inland from time-to-time, always to return to a strategic overlook vista. Lots of pictures; lots of remarkable scenery. Grand Portal is another beautiful cliff formation. When you see the pictures, the videos, you’ll recognize it right away.

Gotta hammer to get my 25 in before dark. I make Coves Campsite with little time to spare, find an unclaimed site, pitch, and call it a day.

“The sandstone cliffs tower abruptly above Lake Superior, with strange formations of caves, castles, chapels, sails and battleships.  Water and minerals paint bright pictures on the cliffs, stimulating the imagination.  Sand dunes at the other end of the park sweep even higher against the sky, with a promise of distant vistas from their crests.  Between the cliffs and the dunes, wide sandy beaches stretch for miles along Lake Superior, with waves constantly washing rows of bright pebbles.” [Olive M. Anderson]

Sunday–May 24, 2009

Trail Day–064

Trail Mile–25.8/372/1799

Location–Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Grand Sable Lake, thence on to Grand Marais

Slept soundly the night. Daylight, I’m up. Looks to be the makings for another super hiking day; what a blessing to have fair weather to enjoy Pictured Rocks. Well now, this hike is starting to come around!

Lots of loose, sandy tread first thing. “So, old man, if you gotta hike the loose sand, why not go down and hike it on the beach!” Fair enough, and soon comes the perfect opportunity to do just that–between Pine Bluff and Seven Mile Creek. In the quote by Olive, closing out the day yesterday, she remarked about the incredible expanse, the miles and miles of pristine beach along Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore–and she talked about the millions of beautiful pebbles constantly being washed and tumbled.

By the wave’s edge I find the sand hard-packed and easy to hike. As I look to the pinpoint-of-beach west, then turn and look to the pinpoint-of-beach east, I see legion upon legion of waves arriving the shore. And underfoot, sand and more sand–and pebbles. No one else is down here, only me and a few gulls. And so, is this spellbinding place not ours! Yes, for this short flicker in time, this beach, this seemingly endless stretch of Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, it’s ours, all ours!

Ah, and the colorful pebbles, I pick up a red one, only to immediately find a finer red one. I pick up a white one, an amber one, only to repeat the acquiring and discarding over and over again. A completely joyful, captivating time as I stroll along, not a care.

Up from the beach and on the trail again, I arrive Au Sable Light. Again I am alone. No rangers, no visitors, no one here but me. Upon first seeing the light, the buildings, I stop abruptly. I become totally overwhelmed. A flood of memories descends. I drop my pack, find a spot, and just sit and stare. Thunder Bay Island Lighthouse, the lighthouse on Lake Huron where I was stationed over 50 years ago now, that lighthouse, those buildings were much as these. Great memories, what great memories. All these old lights were decommissioned years ago. Some are being saved, as this one. There’s a preservation effort underway to save the old light on Thunder Bay Island too. I must return there, some day.

From Au Sable Lighthouse, the trail climbs to a place along the shore called Log Slide. Here are dunes, the Grand Sable Banks, which Olive also spoke of so eloquently. An amazing mountain of sand. Information markers explain the dunes, how they came to be. I get pictures. Perhaps later I’ll try to figure it all out.

Right now, got my sights set on Grand Marais. The kind lady ranger at Grand Sable Visitor Center tells me about the little village, complete with an old (still in service) hotel, and about some good places to eat. Yup, I’m headed there pronto.

25(+) done for the day, I’m done for the day! Neat village, Grand Marais. Fine old hotel (leans east). Hiker trash rate for the old Nomad. Penne pasta drowned in a specially concocted (vodka) sauce served up at Sportsman’s.

Don’t you know, day by day, little by little, this hike is coming around!

“…many things which cannot be overcome when they are together,

yield themselves up when taken little by little.”


Monday–May 25, 2009, Memorial Day

Trail Day–065

Trail Mile–26.5/399/1826

Location–Well past Muskallonge Lake SP

At Bayshore Market yesterday afternoon I met Diana, one of the store owners and a volunteer who helps maintain trail here. She filled me in on what to expect as I trek east. Back again this morning, the klatch is gathered. The elder, Frank, who is 80, still builds boats, been building them all his life. We commend each other on still having a passion for life–at our age.

Another great trail town for old hiker trash like me. The Superior Hotel is a throwback, fixed as it is in time. Rooms upstairs, down the hall, left and right. Share a bath at the end of the hall. Got a soft spot in my heart for old places like the Superior. Brings back memories of my first thru-hike up the Appalachian Trail. Stayed in Duncannon, Pennsylvania at a similar old place called the Doyle Hotel, near the halfway point of that hike. Not that far along this trek. Just a pleasant happening.

The beginning of a fine hiking day as I depart Grand Marais. The hike rolls along, a roadwalk to begin with–an easy, carefree day. Shortly comes this SUV, camper in tow. It slows, then stops.  Exclaims the lady passenger, “You’re Eb Eberhart, the long-distance hiker, aren’t you! Another person who’d seen the TV-6 interview. She and her husband dream of someday hiking the Appalachian Trail. I recite my “One of These Days” ditty for them, then hand them my card. Thanks for stopping folks; and thanks for giving me such great energy!

Past the mouth of Blind Sucker River, along the Lake Superior shore, there’s miles of uninterrupted beach.

Along this section, the trail tries making up its mind whether to go the beach or to go the road (an endearing road name–Coastguard Rd.) as it wanders back and forth. After getting lost, then trespassing, and finally knocking on a fellow’s door to get directions, I decide to stay the sandy, pebbly beach. This I do for miles, making remarkably good time. Late evening, as the sound of the crashing waves starts getting to me, I pull up just short of Two Hearted River, to pitch just back in the pine directly on the shore of Lake Superior. I set camp, get a warming fire going, then enjoy a grand, memorable sunset.

On this Memorial Day–

“…I’m proud to be an American, where at least I know I’m free, and I won’t forget the men who died, who gave that right to me and I’ll proudly stand next to him to defend her still today, ‘cuz there ain’t no doubt I love this land, God bless the USA.” [Lee Greenwood]

Tuesday–May 26, 2009

Trail Day–066

Trail Mile–24.2/423/1850

Location–Past Lake Superior SF, Parcell Lakes

I leave the beach and hike the trail this morning as it undulates up and down, back and forth. At Two Hearts River I cross on a beautiful suspension bridge. The view of the river, where it enters Lake Superior, is a remarkable sight to see. Fine campground just across.

Hiking the beach yesterday got me way down the trail. I pass Parcell Lakes late morning, my destination for today, bound for Tahquamenon Falls State Park. The land now encompassing the park was described by Edwin Way Teale, Journey Into Summer: “The thousand square miles of this tangled wilderness occupy a shallow bowl bounded by a tableland of sandstone on the north. Draining this bowl is the brown Tahquamenon, the Dark River or Golden River of Hiawatha.”

This area, the Tahquamenon, indeed, the entire area that makes up the broad-reaching Hiawatha NF was visited often by Longfellow. And so, the forest’s name, and the river’s (other) name, as described by Teale.

Both the Upper and the Lower Falls are a natural wonder. My pictures and videos describe them better than words ever could. Make sure and to remember to view them. I’ll be getting the memory card off to CyWiz, my Webmaster, tomorrow, so she should have them up soon.

The day began grand enough, not a cloud nor the least breeze, but by late morning a cold wind comes up, driving the all-too-familiar low-slung clouds. Sure enough, soon comes the rain, just a drizzle for starters–followed by much more serious stuff. By the time I reach Camp 33, the Tahquamenon Falls Brewery (where they’ve a pot of steaming hot coffee), I’m tired, wet, and cold. I linger quite awhile, have a pasty, with lots of gravy, and drain their coffee pot.

No break in the rain; I head out for the Lower Falls anyway. A bit gloomy, but I manage more great pictures and videos.

From Lower Falls, I head for Paradise, a little village with “Limited Services.” I’ll miss a bit of certified trail in the process, but I’ve sure hiked the most spectacular section of it here today. On MI-123, and in a short time I arrive Tahquamenon General Store. I head in to get some relief from the rain. The kind folks running the store permit me to drop all my wet gear, coffee-up (free), and to just rest and sit it out.

A break in the steady rain comes in about an hour. I shoulder my pack, don my poncho, and hit the road again. Again, in no time, comes the cold rain. After a couple of miles, and as the day really darkens and the rain keeps hammering me, I pass a small community of vacation/weekend retreats. One really catches my eye–neat two-story cabin (no signs posted) with an outbuilding that has a woodshed lean-to. I head over, to find a completely dry area, maybe 10×10, protected by the building leaned-to, and stacks of firewood two other sides. Perfect; this is home! In no time I’ve got my tent set, mattress inflated, and I’m in my sleeping bag, warm and dry.

“Ye whose hearts are fresh and simple,

Who have faith in God and Nature,

Who believe that in all ages

Every human heart is human,

That in even savage bosoms

There are longings, yearnings, strivings

For the good they comprehend not,

That the feeble hands and helpless,

Groping blindly in the darkness

And are lifted up and strengthened;-

Listen to this simple story,

To this song of Hiawatha!

[Henry Wadsworth Longfellow]

Wednesday–May 27, 2009

Trail Day–067

Trail Mile–26.2/449/1876

Location–Beyond Tahquamenon Falls SP, Tahqua Trail (bypassed), thence on to Paradise

The rain stayed steady the entire night, but not a leak anywhere in the lean-to roof, the stacked firewood protecting me on the sides. I’d hung my wet poncho, soggy wind jacket, and soaked rain pants on nails around, and this morning they’re reasonably dry.

In the continued protection of the lean-to I strike camp and get ready to head back out into it. The day begins cold, the rain steady. I’ve got nine miles to hammer to get on into Paradise. I manage by eleven, but arrive tired, wet, and cold. At the Paradise Market I meet Jo Ann. For a place to stay she sends me to see Bill and Linda at Curley’s Motel. “They’re outdoor folks, know the trail.” she says. So over to Curley’s I go. A very warm welcome by Bill. I introduce myself, tell him my story. “Wait a minute; let me get Linda,” he says. Soon comes Linda. “We can give you a very special rate; just fill out the registration card.” Kind smile. I fill out the card, then go for my Ziploc wallet. Linda hands me the room key, shows me how to get to there. Indeed, the rate is special–I’m their guest for the day, for the night; thanks kind folks, thanks!

There’s a tub in the room; it’s a lovely room with king-sized bed, phone, fridge, the works. I am very thankful for so much goodness, each day does it not come to me! Thank you, Lord; I know you’ve set my path, as each passing day I see it more clearly.

“The difficulties you meet will resolve themselves as you advance.

Proceed, and light will dawn, and shine with increasing clearness on your path.”

[Jim Rohn]

Thursday–May 28, 2009

Trail Day–068

Trail Mile–28.3/477/1904

Location–Hiawatha NF, past Soldier Lake NF Campground near Betchler Lakes

My decision to head for Paradise Tuesday evening was sure the right decision. You’ll recall I managed to get under the roof of a woodshed that night in order to get out of it. Then yesterday it rained off and on, mostly on, all day, not the most happy of times. That’s when I began suspecting that the rain I’ve been dealing with was just getting started, that sort of overcast dreariness that comes in, plunks down–and stays. So, as the rain continued all last night and into this morning, was I ever glad to be here at Curley’s, warm and dry.

As I’m packing my gear this morning, Linda calls to offer the room for another night. “You really should stay.”she says. “The forecast is for rain all day today.” It’s so tempting to accept her kind offer, but it is time to go, and I must be moving on.

As I enter the bakery/cafe, the early morning klatch is gathering. Gene invites me over to sit and chat. While I’m putting away my four sunnyside-ups, Gene tells me a little about his life, how he got drafted into the Army in ’41. Ended up under Patton. After the war, he decided to stay and make a career of it–the full twenty. He’s still in the reserve, Coast Guard now. Thanks, Gene, for letting me join you this morning, and thanks for your unselfish service to this great nation of ours; you’re my kind of hero!

Back at Curley’s, to say farewell to Bill and Linda, gotta pause for a photo op. Ah, what a delightful couple these two–gentle, kind, and generous folks. My stay here at Curley’s has been much needed, a great benefit. Thanks, dear new friends!

A couple of stops on my way out of town. First, the Paradise Market for four day’s supplies. Then to the post office to mail a few things.

Heading south now, the rain isn’t hard at it, but it’s sure steady. Ten miles down to my turn/return to certified trail. Heading through, the tread is a total sponge. Some areas around have received over two inches of rain the last couple of days, and there appears no letup in sight. Much flooding, lots of mud. No way of hiking in these conditions, no matter your gear, without a total soaking. Climbing over, under, around, and through the brush and blowdowns slows my progress to a crawl. One two-mile section takes two hours. This sort of trail, these most unfavorable conditions, sure no fun to hike. And it’s dangerous, very dangerous. So, when I finally clear the section, arriving the next road, I stay the road. Unfortunately, I’ll be missing some certified trail, but there’s just no way to hike it safely and make the least progress. Along, and as I reach other certified sections, I head in to give them a go, but soon return to the road. Blowdowns, brush, lack of tread, absence of blazes, more mud, more flooding–no way, just no way.

At a little after two, just past Shallows Traihead, I take my final look at Lake Superior, and my final picture. From here I turn south toward Lake Huron and Lake Michigan, toward the Straits of Mackinac and the completion of my trek across the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, a distance in excess of 500 miles.

Around four, the faucet finally shuts off. By six, the sky is entirely clear–but I keep my poncho at the ready.

Thinking back to this latest act of kindness, that from Bill and Linda at Curley’s in Paradise, never have I expected, nor have I ever taken for granted such kindness and generosity so lavished upon me–from folks I chance to meet along the way. It never ceases to amaze and astound me each time I’m so blessed.

“No kind action ever stops with itself. One kind action leads to another.

Good example is followed.

A single act of kindness throws out roots in all directions,

and the roots spring up and make new trees.

The greatest work that kindness does to others is that it makes them kind themselves.”

[Amelia Earhart]

Friday–May 29, 2009

Trail Day–069

Trail Mile–25.3/502/1929

Location–Hiawatha NF, past Little Bear Creek and on to Silver Creek, below Mackinac Wilderness

As the day wore on last, late afternoon toward evening, the weather turned from not-so-great to really great, so too, the not-so-great trail. As the terrain became sandy toward Betchler Lakes, higher and better drained, the trail widened out, through plantations of pine. It turned dry, was well-marked and much better maintained. The Hiawatha Shore to Shore Chapter, NCTA, they’ve been here this spring and have cleared the many blowdowns. What an amazing change in just a few hours. The pictures I took this morning, in the steady, steady rain, the mud, the flooding, the brush and blowdowns, yes, what an amazing change!

I’m out this morning to another iffy day. The rain returned during the night, off and on again. As it lets up a moment, I get my chance to strike camp without getting everything soaked. I’m soggy, all my gear mushy and soggy, but not soaked. The welcome change in trail continues as I hike on, the sun making a show now and then. Hard to believe the trail is almost totally dry, my feet dry; sure a welcome change. Wide open, dry, well marked and maintained trail. Oh my, have I not paid my dues!

Once my pack is shouldered in the morning, I usually keep trucking all day. But this morning, as the sun burns through and there’s a gentle breeze, I stop in a lovely (dry) clearing, drop my pack, empty it entirely of its contents, then scatter and hang everything around to dry–my mushy sleeping bag, my soaking wet tent, all my (meager) clothes, everything’s draped out to dry–as I take a break, lay back the half-hour, and just relax in the soothing, delightful comfort of the warm sun.

Everything freshly aired and dried out, I repack my bag, shoulder it once more, and am on my way light-hearted (and light-packed).

This has turned to be an absolute fun day, what with great trail, dry feet, I’ve really hammered down the miles.

Late evening now, I must make a detour around Carp River. The bridge there is out. So it’s down MI-123 two miles, then right back over Burma Road another two. As I pick up the trail south of Burma Road, my shadow has turned very long (yes, the sun’s still shining), I find a little water (the brown, tannic kind), a flat grassy spot, and I call it a day.

This has been one of the most enjoyable times yet, along this North Country Trail. Oh happy day!

“Happiness is different from pleasure.

Happiness has something to do with struggling, enduring, and accomplishing.”

[Stephen R. Covey]

Saturday–May 30, 2009

Trail Day–070

Trail Mile–24.8/527/1954

Location–Hiawatha NF, past Brevort Lake, then on to St. Ignace

I wake to a very chilly but beautiful clear morning. Somehow I manage to strike camp without the usual sticks-for-fingers, and I’m pack up and hauling–till I hit the beaver dam. The trail goes right over the top of it. Hey, dry feet, might just make another day with dry feet; what is that! Next comes the finest and perhaps the longest (nearly a quarter-mile) boardwalk through a low area. Then a nice wide bridge spanning Silver Creek. Feet still dry! The trail here, in this part of the Hiawatha National Forest, is some of the finest and most productive of all the national forest lands through which I’ve passed. Glorious planted pine, plantation after plantation, on high, well-drained soils. Unusual for our public lands, so much of which is incredibly marginal, low, poorly drained (say swamp land). Low areas exist here, of course. But as opposed to trail encountered in like areas past, other forests, here the tread is “through” not “in” the swamp. Extensive runs of the finest boardwalks accompanied by narrow, elevated, dike-like earthen ways have been constructed, above the muck and water–just a marvelous change, no bog-bogging here! Kay, all dear friends, Hiawatha Shore to Shore Chapter, NCTA, what a remarkable trail, what beautiful work–thank you, thanks all! These last days have turned it; a delightful, glorious hike through your section of trail. Open (blowdowns cleared), well marked trail through interesting and varied terrain, memorable, absolutely memorable!

As the trail continues to skirt the northwestern extent of the Mackinac Wilderness, I’m hiking southwest. But shortly, at Brevort Lake, I’ll turn east toward St. Ignace and the Straits of Mackinac, to complete my trek across the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.

Those of you who’ve followed my ramblings about for awhile know that I suffer from chronic lower back trouble, L-3, L-4. When I was a youngster still in grade school I had my first job working for Stub, a dear friend. I was helping him build a small garage next his house. Laying shingles and not heeding Stub’s constant concern (he really didn’t want me on the roof), and being invincible as I was at that time, I managed to fall off the roof, directly into a wheelbarrow full of scrap lumber. That started it; back’s been whacked out ever since. I’ve sure suffered over the years, but have avoided surgery. During these long treks, when my lower back swells, becomes weak and painful, I simply load up on my Osteo and enteric coated aspirin, as high as 3-4,000 mg of aspirin a day. And I always get through. Been taking a half-hour or so each morning now to get the kinks out, loosen up, and get to hauling, but my back does settle down, strength does return to my legs, and I do fine the remainder of the day.

These very long-mile days with little or no break-time do wear, and tend at times to be problematic. I have kept up my energy level, kept my spirit strong–this is a very long journey; therein must remain my focus. Living life at the fullest, the very fullest!

The trail today pops and bops, but I’m full speed ahead (three per, average), really covering the ground. The Osteo and aspirin have kicked in. Thank you, thank you, Lord! Your angels, each shoulder do carry me along.

I simply cannot comment enough on this beautiful tread. Two miles of certified trail, as shown on my maps for example, is no longer a two hour ordeal. Oh my, yes, what an absolute joy, trekking this trail.

A final comment, my back trouble. Darrell, my classmate and friend, we used to run track together, the mile relay, all those races. He’s suffered back trouble the longest time too, really bad. Finally went for the surgery this year. He’s done remarkably well, is pain-free now. At South Kreek Ranch, he’s back running the chainsaw, his tractor and loader, building fence, all those back-breaking activities. ‘Haps, after this trek, this coming winter, I’ll go see his doctor.

By Brevort Lake Campground, I meet Wanda from Arizona. She’s set up very comfy, big tent, screened-in porch no less. I’m greeted right off by her two friendly buddies, Gracy and Alfalfa. Gotta get my picture with the pups. Wanda gives me some (clear) water, and I’m back on the trail.

Early afternoon I get cell phone signal, so I call the Mackinac Bridge Authority, speak with Aggie. Upon inquiring about crossing the bridge, she says, “We’re here 24/7. We’ll take you across for two dollars.” Ah, I am grateful for the phone. Much relieved to know about the service for hikers!

Later in the evening I talk to both Colleen and Kay, members of the St. Ignace Hiawatha Shore to Shore Chapter, and thank them for three of the best days this trail so far!

The last few miles into St. Ignace follow an old railroad grade. I’m sharing it with the quad-trac folks, so must move over from time to time. I’m in town by six, find a very reasonable room at Moran Bay Motel. Great view across to Mackinac Island. I’m just half a mile from the bridge. I’ll cross tomorrow, last day in the U.P., last day in May.

“I don’t want to get to the end of my life and find that I just lived the length of it.

I want to have lived the width of it as well.”

[Diane Ackerman]

Sunday–May 31, 2009

Trail Day–071

Trail Mile–17.4/562/1971

Location–Straits SP, St. Ignace, thence across the Straits of Mackinac to Mackinaw City

Well, you’ll note that according to my itinerary, the stats above, this day ends in St. Ignace. You also know that I’ve been in St. Ignace since yesterday evening. That’s because, over the past four days, I’ve whittled away at the 17 miles for this (itinerary) day. The remarkable trail just west of here, which I’ve commented much about, has made hauling the extra miles each day very easy. Having a day off, which I’m sure taking advantage of, is just a great reward for my extended effort, a needed day, as you’ll quickly realize–my activities coming up.

It is really hard to believe that 71 days into this trek, that the night temperatures could still be dropping below freezing. Yes, a hard freeze warning was issued for last night, for much of the eastern Upper Peninsula area, and for good reason. Got down in the low to mid 20s, amazing! Happy I was off the ground and out of it, in my comfy room here at Moran Bay Motel, St. Ignace. Little wall heater ran full blast all night! Thanks, Tim, thanks for your kindness, for my great stay at Moran Bay!

The day arrives clear but windy. I down the other half of the pizza from supper last, load my pack, and am on my way to the Mackinac Bridge before ten. At Straits State Park I take some videos and photos. Here, as I look across the Straits of Mackinac, to the Lower Peninsula mainland, I’ve hiked as far as I can go here in the Upper Peninsula–and I’ve hiked out the month of May! Surely, this milestone, the crossing of the Big Mac Bridge, will close the chapter on this cold, prolonged winter. I’ll be heading almost due south now, and into the month of June. Summer cannot be far away.

As I stand here, gazing at the Mackinac Bridge, comes a flood (another flood) of memories. Of the millions of people who’ve been both over this bridge and under it, I have got to be one of the first that logged so many of both. If you’ve read my biography, you’ll know that I’m an armed forces veteran, spent four years in the U.S. Coast Guard, much of that time aboard the Icebreaker Mackinaw. That was back in the late 50s, just shortly after the bridge was completed. It was our duty to keep the shipping lanes open throughout the Great Lakes. Mostly, we broke ice in the St. Mary’s River out of Superior, and the harbor at Indiana City near Chicago. So I’ve been under the bridge countless times, early-on, in the bridge’s 50 year history. In the spring, after the shipping lanes were open, we went into drydock in Manitowac, Wisconsin. On the weekends, a bunch of us would carpool back to Cheboygan, Michigan, just east of here, home of the Mac. So I’ve been over the bridge countless times, again in it’s very early years.

I tarry long, taking more pictures of the bridge before entering the bridge authority office to pay my two bucks for the ride across, the only ride I’ll take in this 4,400 mile odyssey. Hopefully, on Labor Day, September 2010, I’ll return to walk the bridge, the only day of the year it’s open to pedestrian traffic. I no sooner plunk down my two bucks than Lynn is waiting for me right out front–in one of the authority vehicles. We have a nice chat, and I get a bunch more pictures and videos as we cross.

In Mackinaw City now, and as Tim’s suggested, I head for the Vindel Motel on the west side. Entering the office I’m warmly greeted by Connie, the owner. My short explanation of what I’m about, and Connie provides a room at a very low (in my budget range) rate.

Next on my agenda for the day is to visit the Coast Guard Cutter Mackinaw, WAGB 83. She’s decommissioned now, no longer breaking ice, and is berthed right here in Mackinaw City as a Maritime Museum Ship. I’ve a ten minute walk to the dock. When I see my ship again, for the first time in over 50 years, yes, another emotional flood descends. I take a short video, standing at the gang plank, before boarding. The ship is manned now by volunteers. Mary, the kind lady at the ticket booth just down the pier was amazed to hear my story–gave me a free ticket to visit the ship. She’d called the folks on board, so they were expecting me. There they stand, broad smiles. Chuck steps forward. “Fifty years, you haven’t been back to the Mac in 50 years? What would you like to see first?”he beams. And so, tears streaming down my face, I again walk the decks that I so often walked, as a very young man, over 50 years ago. Chuck asks many questions as we tour the engine rooms, the machine shop, other areas where I worked my shifts and stood watch those many, many years ago. Before I return to shore, he brings out an entry/crew book with the names and signatures of other crew members who’ve returned over the years. Last entry was dated nearly a year ago. J. P. German was the Captain while I served on the Mackinaw. All their names are engraved on a plaque that hangs in the officer’s quarters.

On the fantail, I get my picture with Chuck–and a final one of me, looking to aft port.

I’m back in my room now, composing this entry for today–tears again streaming down my face. What a day; what an emotion-filled day.

“How very special are those memories that come from long ago,

wondrously living in the caverns of our mind,

at times seemingly forgotten, and yet in a single moment,

travel back to them as if they were yesterday.”

[Linda CyWiz Stolte]

Monday–June 1, 2009

Trail Day–072

Trail Mile–24.4/024/1995

Location–Wilderness SP, Sturgeon Bay

The rain came in and stayed all night. What good fortune to have been out of it, warm and dry here at Connie’s neat little place.

A trip to the post office, a stop by the A&P for a few supplies, then after Connie gives me directions for a shortcut to the snowmobile trail, I’m on my way.

The rain lets up and by eleven the sun is starting to warm things up a bit.

The trail heads west from Mackinaw City, over to Sturgeon Bay, where I’ll get one of my final views of Lake Michigan. At Petoskey, I’ll look out and across Little Traverse Bay, and at that point, I’ll not see any of the Great Lakes again this journey.

As I return to the trail above French Farm Lake I see a pair of sandhill cranes. They’re perhaps no more than 30 yards ahead of me. Sandhills are generally very wary of humans and keep their distance, so it’s not common to get a close-up look at one. Usually, you’ll not see them, just hear the racket as they become airborne–and their squawking as they complain about being disturbed. But these two just stand and gawk back, as I gawk at them. When I advance with camera in hand, fully expecting them to fly, they just walk along, keeping their distance, their shrill, guttural rasp-of-a-call letting me know they aren’t the least bit happy. But they stick tight and don’t fly, pretty remarkable. And I get some pretty remarkable audio/video in the process. You’ll enjoy watching and hearing these guys!

French Farm Lake is a picturesque spot, accessible by vehicle, yet secluded. The trail skirts the north shore of the lake for the better part of a mile, and in the process, passes an artesian well. Quite a wonder, water just coming out of a pipe in the ground. This is turning to be a beautiful hike, the trail open and clear of brush and blowdowns, well blazed; yes a fun hike this morning.

Just past French Farm Lake, what a surprise to see this chap walking up the trail toward me. It’s Mark, the young reporter from the St. Ignace News. He’s come all the way across the bridge, clear down here, just to track me down and get an interview. We have a grand time hiking along together. I can’t shut up, as Mark takes notes and tries to ask a few questions. Sure hope this works out, Mark. Hate for your editor to get upset with you!

I’m hiking today in the Mackinaw State Forest, also Wilderness State Park. One of the longer established trails, the Red Pine Trail, is followed for a ways, sharing its tread with the North Country Trail. Definitely another fun hike. The trail through here is maintained by the Harbor Springs Chapter of the NCTA; great job folks–you’re sure making my day!

Some other folks on the trail for a change, Don and Angie, out hiking with their two pups. Also meet Anna, Wade, and their son, Luke. They’re just getting camp set, a fine warming fire already started. Sure a change seeing and chatting with folks along the trail; a welcome change that just adds to the joy of this day.

Late evening now, perhaps no more than a half-hour of light remaining (and just before beginning an extended roadwalk), I begin looking for a place to camp for the night. Shortly, off to my right in a clearing, appears an old hunt camp complete with a bunch of rickety campers leaning against the trees. There are no “Keep Out” or “No Trespassing” signs posted so I head over. Not a soul about, nor has there been since winter. The door is hanging open to one of the old campers. I enter and take a look. Not the neatest or cleanest setup, but to the right of the door there’s a little dining area complete with a nook, padded seats and backrests no less. And to the left, bunks with mattresses, pillows and blankets. Well now, this looks like home. Not five-star, but the rent’s right! I move in. The warmth of the day remains, so I close everything tight as I can. Dinner is a sit-down affair; and bunk-down time proves both spacious and comfortable. Just another coincidence that such grand accommodations should appear right at the end of the day, eh!

“Coincidence is the word we use when we can’t see the levers and the pulleys.”

[Emma Bull]

Tuesday–June 2, 2009

Trail Day–073

Trail Mile–27.9/052/2023

Location–Mackinaw SF south of Pleasant View, thence on to Petoskey

A cold wind came up during the night, rocking the little trailer, but the sky remained clear. I slept warm and comfy, snug in my little camper bunk.

My goal today, if I can get out and going, is to hammer it on down to Petoskey. Easy breaking camp, from here in the trailer, so no problem hitting the trail; I’m packed up and hauling right at seven.

The terrain is definitely changing now. As I move along this roadwalk this morning I’m in farms and fields, not forests and swamp. The hillsides are lush with grass, fenced and cross-fenced. Sure, there’ll be plenty more “North Woods” and wilderness areas to come, but they will no longer reign supreme.

It’s been a cloudless morning since sunrise, but the sun isn’t knocking down the cold, so I must keep everything I have on, save my poncho. Not till mid afternoon can I finally remove my gloves and down vest.

More groomed and well maintained trail. I’ve been hiking for two days now with dry feet, unheard off, and I haven’t gotten lost once, remarkable! Can’t praise the Harbor Springs folks enough. Thanks for two great hiking days!

The roadwalk leads to a section of trail, then back to another roadwalk, then a bit more trail, as it works its way through and past private land. All appearances, this’ll be the way of the trail from here on down, around, and up to New York.

By five, I’m downtown Petoskey, to the post office. And, oh my, isn’t this amazing: I don’t hit their door till eight-after-five, but they’re open till five-thirty; what is this! I pick up my bounce box and much mail from family and friends.

Upon entering town, and as luck would have it, finding the American Legion hall, I headed there. The place was closed for renovation, but I chanced to meet Ross, a local member just heading home. I was looking for some local info, and Ross was the man. Told me where to stay the night, then walked me half-way to the post office. While in line at the post office, who comes in but Ross. “I’ll take you to the place you need to go for a good, nourishing meal, then we’ll drive up to the men’s house where you’ll be staying, how’s that!” Broad smile from Ross (that contagious, happy, natural kindness, that innocent countenance seldom seen, save in the very young and very old). Can’t help but like this guy–I like Ross!

We have dinner, then it’s up to the Nehemiah House, a Salvation Army facility for men. Ross waits patiently as check in doesn’t seem to be going very smoothly. Problem: I can’t really be classified as homeless, a requirement at Nehemiah House. But Jay, the house manager, persists as he talks with his director. Finally (big grin from Jay), he tells me they’ll put me up at Coach House Inn, the only motel I passed the whole way in. Ross loads me again, then hauls me back across town to Coach House. “I’ll be here at 8:15 to take you back to the post office in the morning, you can continue your hike from there.”More gentle kindness, more happy energy from Ross. Thanks, Ross, my fellow Legionnaire–I’ll be ready at 8:15!

“Three things in human life are important.

The first is to be kind.

The second is to be kind.

The third is to be kind.”

[Henry James]

Wednesday–June 3, 2009

Trail Day–074

Trail Mile–26.7/079/2050

Location–South of Petoskey, thence on to Boyne Falls

I had a comfortable stay here at Coachhouse Inn. And yes, I know what you’re thinking, so let’s talk about it, about my accepting the kindness and generosity extended me, by Jay and the folks at Nehemiah House, the Salvation Army, and Jerry here at Coachhouse. You’re thinking, “How could you accept such charity when you’re neither homeless or destitute?” Well, I’ve been asked that same question before, about accepting money from folks who darn-well needed it a whole lot more than me. As to giving and receiving, I spoke to that subject, and you can read about those thoughts in my second book, Where Less the Path is Worn–where a kind (but poor) family insisted I accept their generosity, a hundred-dollar bill. You can read about this in the journal for Odyssey 2000-2001, the entry for Saturday–December 9, 2000, Trail Day–198/4.

(Click here to go to the specific entry mentioned)

Ross is right on time this morning, ready to haul me back downtown to the post office. He waits patiently, as I’m not ready, my stuff still scattered around the room.

The office for the Petoskey News and Review, the local paper, is just across the street. While I’m busy getting my bounce box off to Lowell and a camera memory card in the mail to CyWiz, my Webmaster, Ross has been over to the newspaper, and just as I’m finishing, he’s back with a reporter in tow. As they enter the post office, Ross makes the introduction, “Julie, this is Eb.” Time for another interview so it seems, right here in the post office lobby. A few questions, then it’s picture time out front.

Ross has a favorite place for breakfast, so we head there. A short stack and a couple eggs later, I’m fueled and ready for the day. And what a day this will turn to be. Thanks’ Ross, for your time, for your genuine interest in me, for your kindness. I’ve much enjoyed meeting you, getting to know you.

On a roadwalk section south of Petoskey comes this young lady toward me, another reporter from the Petoskey News and Review. “Hello, I’m Christina. My editor sent me out here to find you, to learn more about you; I’d like to do an interview if you could give me just a few minutes.” her greetings, notepad at the ready. As usual, once I get to yapping I can’t shut up. Half-hour later, I’m finally back on the road again.

It’s a beautiful day, just the least cool breeze. Gentle, rolling farmland, fields, pastures, old barns. Quite a change. In the distance I see the hill with all the microwave towers. I know we’re headed there; the trail always seeks the high ground. Sure enough, in no time I’m huffing my way up. New tread has been constructed here, doesn’t show on my maps. Ups and downs, even a couple of switchbacks thrown in.

My hike today is totally within the Mackinaw State Forest, so most of the trail is certified. Late afternoon, after winding around most of the day, I begin winding down for the day. On an elevated ridge I reach for my cell phone to check for a signal. I dig around in my left pack pocket. My compass, my mini-recorder, my GPS, they’re all right there. But no phone; my cell phone is gone. Frantic now, I check the pockets of my pants and my other pack side-pocket, where I keep my camera. Again, no cell phone. I stop, drop my sticks and my pack, grab my head with both hands, and just shudder. This can’t be, it just can’t be. My phone has got to be here someplace. I rifle every pocket again–and again. No cell phone. It’s gone, it’s just gone. What has happened; how can this be?

Somehow, probably while reaching for my compass, or my recorder, or my GPS, I flipped the phone out. How it could have hit the ground and me not hear it I don’t know. I do know that’s what must have happened. But where, when? I’ve not checked for a signal in hours; the phone could be anywhere. No use in turning around and looking for it. Did that when I lost my camera last trek. Hiked back seven miles. Never did find it. So what’s the use? A total exercise in futility, that’s what it’d be. Just gotta get another phone.

Dwinda, my girlfriend, wanted me to carry a phone. She got it for me. I didn’t really want it at the time, but now I use it a lot; don’t know how I’d get along now without one. So, gotta have my phone. Aw, and the unpleasantness of this is all just starting to register and settle. I need to stay in touch with the NCTA folks. Saturday is National Trails Day, lots of activities scheduled, and I’ve agreed to participate. Bruce, with the NCTA, is expecting to hear from me. Oh my, what to do!

Well, what I obviously need to do is get to a phone fast and call Dwinda, and let her know. She’ll get me another phone. I pray she won’t be upset with me.

It’s nine miles to Boyne Falls. It’s five now, so there’s plenty of daylight. These additional miles would be a whole lot easier, might they be for any other reason. When I hit Hill Road, I hit the road, Slashing Road–and haul. I’m in Boyne Falls by eight, check into Boyne Vue Motel–and call Dwinda. “What do you mean, it’s gone; you lost your phone, how’d you do that!” Dwinda’s reply when I tell her. I thought she’d be plenty upset with me, but she isn’t. I haven’t eaten all day other than energy bars, so I head out for a warm meal. Back in my room, I call Dwinda again. Incredible news: My phone’s been found, by a fellow in Petoskey, and he’ll bring it to me. Now tell me that isn’t amazing!

Nick had been out riding his bike, getting his daily exercise when he spotted it laying in the grass just off the pavement. I lost it clear back there, on the roadwalk section just southeast of Petoskey. He called the last number that I’d called this morning, my sister, Salle Anne. Amazing, this whole mini-miracle happened by the time I’d returned from a burger and fries!

I give Nick a call. He’ll drive down and have my phone back to me first thing in the morning!

Charity never humiliated him who profited from it,

nor ever bound him by the chains of gratitude,

since it was not to him but to God that the gift was made.

[Antoine de Saint-Exupery]

Thursday–June 4, 2009

Trail Day–075

Trail Mile–25.2/104/2075

Location–Mackinaw SF, Jordan River Valley Pathway, thence on to Five Lakes

What a great benefit to have been in last night. Frost everywhere this morning, hard to believe–on the grass, vehicles, dwellings, hard frost. Just as well I didn’t have to sleep on the ground.

Breakfast at the mom-n-pop downtown, then back to my room to await Nick’s arrival from Petoskey. Eight-thirty, just as he said.  I greet him at my door.  “This yours!” he asks. A kind, gentle man. He has a little time, so we chat. Nick is an architect in Petoskey, keeps in shape by bicycling. That’s how he came to find my cell phone on that section of roadwalk along Greenwood Road. He’s familiar with the NCT, as a good bit of it is also open to the mountain bike folks. Nick would accept no reward, not even enough to cover his expense for gas to Boyne Falls and back to Petoskey. Thanks, Nick, thanks for finding, then returning my cell phone!

As I depart Boyne Falls I hear lawnmowers running by a number of houses as I pass, and catch the fragrance of fresh-mown grass. Good sign, indeed, a good sign!

From a very cold morning it has turned most pleasant.  In just a short while I’m able to remove my wind jacket, rain pants, and gloves.

The trail leads out through an area being logged. Slow going, but I find my way easy enough. At two, I reach the Jordan River Valley Pathway where I’ll be hiking the remainder of the afternoon. This section of trail is heavily traveled, so it is not only well marked but extremely well maintained. The hike through is most pleasant, the river very scenic. I’ve a few short, gentle climbs, the rest, a commune with Nature through mature forests–a most enjoyable section of the NCT.

In the evening, at the Landslide Overlook, comes Doug, his son, Jake, and their friend, Josh. They hike a short distance with me back to their vehicle where I am treated to cookies and fruit. Thanks, guys, for coming out, for hiking awhile with me, for the nourishment–and your thoughtful encouragement!

By late evening I have reached Five Lakes where I take and treat water for the night. A pleasant, grassy knoll warmed by the afternoon sun makes for a most pleasant camp.

From a frost-laden, wintery morning, to a beautiful, warming, spring-like afternoon; perhaps this late-bloomer, spring, has finally decided to make a show after all. Can summer not soon begin! Ah, and I now look to that day.

“To be interested in the changing seasons is a happier state

than to be hopelessly in love with spring.”

[George Santayana]

Friday–June 5, 2009

Trail Day–076

Trail Mile–25.8/130/2101

Location–Mackinaw SF, Starvation Lake, thence on to Kalkaska

Not a bad night to be on the ground, not bad at all, compared to other nights so endured this trek. Temperatures remained in the high 40s; breaking camp not the least chore. I’m out and hiking well before seven.

Studying my maps last night, and just before nodding off, I decided then to hit the trail early and hammer it today–all the way down to Kalkaska. I have got to get in, get cleaned up; I must make myself presentable for all the National Trails Day activities scheduled for tomorrow. Senator Levin, Michigan’s senior U.S. senator, will be at the events. He’s heard about my hike through his staff and he’d like to meet me. So, I have got to get all this stink and goo off me (a nice way of describing the droppings from the gazillion caterpillars; they’re hanging, climbing, crawling everywhere–eating everything in sight). For sure, I’m a disgusting, shameful mess. My clothing, all my gear is stained, filthy. So, it’s hammer down today.

A mix of trail and road, easy, open travel. I make good time. Turkey and deer sign about. It’s nesting season for turkey, and I can hear their constant clucking. Ha, and last night a deer wandered near my camp, close enough to catch a whiff of my chicken, pork, and beef (bologna) sandwich. The biggest snort I’ve ever heard. Poor fellow tried in vain to clear his nostrils of what must have been the worst stench he’d ever encountered. Off in the woods he crashed, in full snort!

Along the road today I meet folks–two separate occasions.

First, Mary and Bill. Mary is making her daily trip to the mailbox. We chat and she invites me up for coffee–then introduces me to her husband, Bill. I get the grand tour of their most delightful home. They keep young (he-79, she-75) through their passion for snowmobiling.

Second, Ted, his daughter, Melissa, and her husband, Ted. They’re section-hiking the NCT–pup Isis along, also. We have much enjoyable conversation. They’re with the Spirit of the Woods Chapter, NCTA, Joan Young (now also my dear friend), chapter leader.

Late afternoon the NCT comes along and joins with the Shore to Shore Trail, an equestrian path that crosses the Lower Peninsula. Not an easy hike, what with the deep, narrow, sandy bottom. But I make good progress.

I arrive Kalkaska before dark and head for the Granada Inn Motel, first stop by the northern intersection of Michigan highways 72 and 66.

Settled in, I contact Bruce, NCTA Executive Director. He’ll be picking me up in the morning. Bruce gets me squared away for tomorrow.

Aw, what an absolute chore, hand washing all my clothing. As in the quote ending this day, I have certainly stripped myself of most earthly “things.” But ya gotta have clothes, man, ya just gotta have ’em!

“It is a fair trade and equal exchange to the extent that you depart from things…God enters into you with all that is his, as far as you have stripped yourself of yourself in all things. It is here that you should begin, whatever the cost, for it is here that you will find true peace, and nowhere else.” [Meister Eckhart]

Saturday–June 6, 2009 National Trails Day

Trail Day–077

Trail Mile–23.5/154/2125

Location–Pere Marquette SF, west of Kalkaska

Today will be a zero-mile day although you see posted above a mileage of 23.5.  I have hiked hard the past number of days, each day gaining a few miles on today. The ending location, also posted above, is just 2.9 miles west of Kalkaska, where I’ve been since late yesterday evening. So, I’m showing that mileage for today, since I’ve already hiked all but 2.5 miles of it, and sure, I’ll pick them up first thing tomorrow. So, might I say, this day, National Trails Day, 2009, is a well earned (and dues paid up) day off!

A good night’s sleep. I’m rested, my clothes as clean as I can get them by hand. I do look and smell fresh.

Good thing. Bruce, his wife, Elana, and their daughter are here a little before nine. I load and we’re off to the events for the day.

First is the dedication of a new section of North Country National Scenic Trail, a certified section near Guernsey Lake, Pere Marquette State Forest, constructed by the Grand Traverse Hiking Club Chapter NCTA. We arrive just as do over 50 others. Senator Carl Levin and his wife, Barbara, also arrive shortly. A fun-filled, ribbon-cutting event. The senator is a great trail supporter and advocate. All could tell that he was certainly at ease, among many dear friends he’s known for years. His assistant and regional representative, Harold, introduces them. They are genuinely pleased to meet me. A memorable moment.

A short hike along the newly dedicated section, then off to a pot-luck luncheon attended by all.

In the afternoon, we drive to the Jordan River National Fish Hatchery for a gathering with Friends of the JRNFH, a trail maintaining affiliate of the NCTA, also present are members of the Tittabawassee Chapter NCTA.

A grand, events-packed day. Now, and fearful of omitting the names of many of the folks I’ve met (gotta cut me some slack, I’m an old man), I want to thank John, Rick, Dick, Joan, Pam, June, Arlen, Bob, Lois, Mike, Jeff, Vince, Duane, Joel, Joe, Dan, Gary, Larry, Bob, Paul, Dan. Master Scouts, Venture Crew 7772, Kaytlin, Nick, Jesse, Dustin. Also, Roger (JRNFH Director), Gretchen (National Public Radio, WKAR, East Lansing), and Aaron (Grand Rapids Press). Oh, and thank you, Bruce, for hauling me around all day!

The question asked by so many today, as always, was: “Why?” The why meaning, why are you doing this; what drives a person to hoist a pack and walk over 4,000 miles? Good question. Not sure I have such a good answer.

I used to tell folks that if you gotta ask the question, you aren’t going to understand the answer. Better, and I’ve distilled it down to 34 words, and you can read that ditty, entitled “Why Go?” at my poetry page here on my site. The first line pretty much tells it all:

“It’s the people…”

[N. Nomad, Why Go]

Sunday–June 7, 2009

Trail Day–078

Trail Mile–25.6/180/2150

Location–Pere Marquette SF, West of Fife Lake

Never will I take for granted, rather, forever will I be thankful for the blessings continually bestowed. Again last, the finest situation, to be sheltered, warm and dry here at Rashid’s Motel, as the rain came early and remained steady the entire night. This has been my second night here in Kalkaska, an unusual sojourn, a rarity this odyssey. Thank you, Rashid, for your kindness and hospitality.

Yesterday evening, then again this morning, I have reintroduced myself to Burger King. I had forgotten their grand selection of fine fare. To follow up and to top off my Whopper and fries last evening I much enjoyed an Oreo crumb soft ice cream. This morning I’m right back for a couple of egg and cheese croissants, cheese-filled tater tots, along with near a pot of coffee. Really roughing it, eh!

This trek I’ve decided to eat cold while on the trail, as I prefer not lugging the extra weight of a stove, pot, and fuel. As a result, I must begin my days from camp with no coffee, quite the sacrifice.

Heading west out of Kalkaska (coffee in hand) I am facing a dark, dreary day. Rain continually threatens, but holds off. Along MI-72 I soon pick up the familiar blue paint blazes on the light poles and I’m back on track.

The hike today leads me over finely manicured trail, well-blazed, with tread of packed sand lightly covered with pine needles–happy feet, oh yes! The Shore to Shore horseyback trail criss-crosses, comes and goes, and the NCT moves to it for short distances time-to-time. Almost all the remaining of the trail today is certified, just a joy to hike here. In the afternoon, and past Guernsey Lake, the site of yesterday’s activities, the trail drops to follow the Boardman River, a most picturesque section of certified trail. At a little past three I’m at Dollar Lake. Here on the lake sign hangs a white shopping bag, a short note attached. “Hello Eb, I met you at the National Trails Day event and I was hoping to hike with you today…I’m leaving you some snacks. Have a safe and enjoyable journey.” Signed, “Dick.” Well, I sit down on the bench right here–snacks don’t last long!

While polishing off the last of the raisins and the Hershey bar, I get a call from Mark. He and his family live in Kingsley, a short way west, and they’ve invited me to be their guest this evening. Mark is hiking toward me and soon comes along. We enjoy hiking together back to his van.

At their lovely home in Kingsley, I meet Mark’s wife, Tamal, and their children, Brandon, Marissa, and Jack. Neighbors Phil and Betty are interested in meeting me, and they come over for a few minutes just before supper. Betty presents me with a Petoskey stone.

Tamal has prepared a feast, an early Thanksgiving. The family asks if I would give thanks, then we all dig in.

The Lindsay’s are early risers and the children are still in school, so shortly after supper I retire to my own room to catch up on journal entries.

More dear, new friends–It’s been a fine day.

“I awoke this morning with devout thanksgiving for my friends, the old and new.

Shall I not call God The beautiful, who daily showth himself so to me in his gifts.”

[Ralph Waldo Emerson]

Monday–June 8, 2009

Trail Day–079

Trail Mile–23.5/204/2175

Location–Pere Marquette SF, Anderson Creek/Manistee River

My good fortune continues–being out of the rain during the night. Just after supper last the rain came again and remained steady. The wafting aroma of freshly brewed coffee lifts me right up and carries me to the source.

The children are preparing for school and Tamal must be going. She’s a school bus driver and she can’t be late. Mark is the manager of a tire store in Traverse City, so he must be on his way too. That time, more sad good-byes. Such a kind and generous family. I will certainly remember them–and miss them.

Mark loads me, in the pouring rain, and after a short stop at the local convenience (I need a few supplies), he delivers me back to the forest and to the trail. A little help with my poncho, a good solid hug, and he’s gone.

It’s such a dark morning, the kind of no monkey-business rain. The trail has become submerged from the deluge, all the trailside foliage wet, and I am soon soaked, wet feet, the works.

The certified trail drops right down into a pristine area known as Valley of the Giants, an area of virgin pine passed by during the logging era years ago. It’s a grand cathedral, what with the towering sentinels, but I’m able to take no pictures as I’m fearful of harming my camera in the continual downpour.

From Fife Lake, the trail goes generally south to join the Manistee River, which it follows the remainder of the day, save for a short section near Baxter. On the roadwalk there, a lady stops to get my autograph. Her daughter rides the school bus driven by Tamal, and Tamal had told her about me.

Late evening, the rain unrelenting, I become concerned about pitching for the night. It has turned cold and I am very wet. Pitching in the rain without soaking all my gear is impossible. At least if there’s a technique, I’ve never learned it.

But my good fortune continues, and as “luck” would have it, I come upon this popup camper parked by the river right on the trail. The permit shows that the folks moved it in here this past weekend and will leave it here through next weekend. No one’s in, no posted sign. It’s unlocked. Oh yes, this is home. I’m able to hang all my wet belongings about to somewhat dry. Supper is at the nook, cushioned backrest no less! The rain continues, but once again I am (not so warm) but dry. In my down bag I do warm myself and am soon comfortable for the night.

I’ve tried keeping a good attitude this day, but the dreary character of it and the cold soaking made it a challenge.

“The best thing one can do when it’s raining is to let it rain.”

[Henry Wadsworth Longfellow]

Tuesday–June 9, 2009

Trail Day–080

Trail Mile–24.3/228/2199

Location–Manistee NF, Manistee River

I slept in total comfort again last. Yes, and I know what you’re thinking, “The luck this guy has.” But folks, it is not luck, believe me it is not. For you see, I have an angel resting both my shoulders. Each day, when I say my prayer, “A Path by the Side of the Road” (You can read it at Poems/Ditties) I am comforted and reassured by their constant presence.

I linger here in the camper this morning, not wanting to get going, as I’ll be out to face a cold, dreary day.

The trail continues along the Manistee high bank following the old woodsroad shared by many and varied users. Occasionally, there’s a bit of constructed, certified trail for hikers only. Late morning and as I study my maps, where the trail breaks away from the river to head north along another woodsroad, and as I size up the situation, I decide to head south on that same road–I want to pass through Mesick.

Trails, this trail, they’re not built with the thru-hiker in mind, and that’s as it should be. Folks want to go to the forest for the quiet, to enjoy nature, for that experience. They’re not interested in walking down the road to town. And so, to the woods goes the trail. Folks can drive to the forest and hike there for the day, the weekend. And when their time is up, they can load and drive the distance to town, to home. But for the thru-hiker, this certainly presents a challenge, trying to stay on trail, yet trying to care for himself, sustain himself, keep nourished and reasonably clean. So off to Mesick this old thru-hiker goes.

But how about this; there’s been a trail reroute, and the NCT now goes the very same way I’m headed, to cross the Manistee River on MI-37, to follow the highway along toward town!

Along this roadwalk section comes a cyclist toward me on his mountain bike. He stops and introduces himself. “Hi, I’m Jon, been following your journals, took the day off and came up (from Holland) in hopes of tracking you down and meeting you.” Seems the day has turned out fine for Jon. He turns and heads back to Mesick, to Jeri’s, where I’ll arrive in about an hour, and we’ll have lunch together. Proves a most pleasant time–thanks, Jon!

Hiking MI-115 out of Mesick, and at Hodenpyl Road, I pick up the familiar blue blazes again. Well now, this is certainly a new twist–trail to accommodate the thru-hiker! Dear folks with the Grand Traverse Chapter, NCTA, thank you!

The blazes lead me into the Manistee River Red Pine Plantation, then onto and across private land owned by the McNitts. They have a campground and a boat launch on the lake; quite nice. I hike down, meet Mrs. McNitt, and thank her for permitting me to hike across her campground. A bit further along, more private land, the huge Northern Exposure R.V. and Recreation Park, also on beautiful Hodenpyl Lake. Again, I head down, to the park office, there to leave a note expressing my gratitude to Suzi, Park Director. The NCT passes for a fair distance through the park and along the lake; a fine section.

I follow white blazes (side trail) down River Road a ways, below the lake outfall. At this point the river is crossed by a remarkable and very large pedestrian suspension bridge. Here I meet Ryan and Ben. Talking with them I learn that the Manistee River (although the dam is in place, power being generated) is now managed strictly as a river. What this means is: The volume of water entering the lake any given time, equal volume is also discharged. Water is not held for future hydropower generation, only as needed to maintain reasonable lake level. So here at the bridge is there passing an enormous volume of water, just as seen flowing the past number of days above the dam. Only difference, here the water is crystal clear, not the color of “Big Muddy.”

Late evening now, I find (and treat–beaver all about) water for the night. Offered up is this grand spot in a planted red pine plantation. Unusual swarming horde of mosquitoes, though.

A long, constant hammer-the-miles day. My only interruptions, those mentioned. Each and every day I must stay focused on purpose, on direction. Lake Champlain remains so very far away.

“One should act in consonance with the way of heaven and earth, which is enduring and eternal.

The superior man perseveres long in his course, adapts to the times,

but remains firm in his direction and correct in his goals.”

[I. Ching]

Wednesday–June 10, 2009

Trail Day–081

Trail Mile–26.7/255/2226

Location–Manistee NF, well past Nine Mile Bridge

Rained off and on all night, but the morning dawns to clear skies. By a little after seven I’m pack up and hauling. Wind jacket and gloves for a short time only–then spray and head net for the skeeters.

I have been hiking on, and in the next four or five days will be completing, one of the longest stretches of pretty much uninterrupted off-road trail, around 500 miles. It began in the U.P. and will end, basically, at Croton Dam.

Turkey are everywhere; I hear both the gobblers gobbling, and the hens clucking. I see them and their chicks. All the other friends of the woods now have and are caring for their young. Said it before, many times–looks like spring is here. But then again…

The section of trail this morning, below Tippy Pond, is one of the most delightful sections I’ve yet hiked. It follows beside the Manistee to cross open, green meadows for a considerable distance. In the meadows about are wildflowers in profusion, an amazing variety and abundance. I pause often to take pictures of their pretty faces.

Where the trail crosses a meadow I startle two turkey hens, their young brood under wing. They let me venture close enough for some grand video, both of them and their chicks. Finally, they’ve tolerated enough of my invasiveness; they flush to the trees nearby. The chicks are hilarious as they too take flight–haven’t got the knack quite down yet.

Beyond the open meadows the trail again climbs by switchback to the ridge above. So ends the hike below Tippy Pond; yes, a grand, memorable bit of this amazing and varied NCT!

This short time spent hiking through the meadows, by the river, has been so inspiring. Comes now the realization that man can only mimic, man can only copy. Man cannot create. The rushing waters, the hills above, the towering pine, all combine in perfect harmony to form Nature’s cathedral, God’s own place where man might commune with Him in silence. The most impressive cathedrals man has designed and erected do not near match this grand and glorious place. Indeed, man might experience God’s presence within them, but does God not truly take residence in Nature’s bosom!

I dearly love the mountains. To me the most beautiful and spectacular of them all are the Southern Appalachians, in and about the Nimblewill, such a special place near Springer Mountain, the southern terminus of the Appalachian Trail. Within those hills and here below Tippy Pond today are such of Nature’s spiritual places.

As I cross the Manistee River at High Bridge, I am now hiking trail maintained by volunteers of the Spirit of the Woods Chapter, NCTA. More finely blazed and maintained trail. Also, here the trail turns to leave the Manistee, a most remarkable and memorable section of NCT that I’ve been hiking the past three days.

Much of the trail late this morning and this afternoon crosses tribal lands, property of the Manistee Reservation, the Little River Band, Ottawa, the trail, again, well blazed and cared for.

Lunch is at Shindler’s Rest, a neat little private picnic area just for hikers, complete with water and a privy. I sign their guestbook. Thanks folks!

I end this day much inspired and energized–a grand day in the presence of Nature and Nature’s God.

“The trail gives deep, rewarding fellowship…

an opportunity to commune with God himself in God’s Kingdom, in His house.”

[Dan Sheltowee Rogers]

Thursday–June 11, 2009

Trail Day–082

Trail Mile–27.5/283/2254

Location–Well past Timber Creek NF Campground

The skeeters here this morning are unmerciful. Oh, and I thought the ticks were gone–NOT! It’s pretty much no-seeum through my no-seeum. I must scold myself harshly about moving out. What a time striking camp. The army and air force, well trained and equipped, everything the enemy can muster they’ve thrown at me. If you’ve followed along my treks for any time at all, you know I can live quite well with the bugs–and remain sane and happy. So, when you hear me whining and complaining, sure enough you don’t want to be here!

The day begins iffy weather-wise; looks and acts like rain–holds off all day though.

I am completely out of provisions. Popped the last of my M&Ms last evening for dessert. My map here displays the symbol for supplies at a little crossroads near Loon and Sauble Lakes. Sure hope something’s there, a convenience store, something. Ah yes, turning the corner and looking up Bass Lake Road I see Blossom Restaurant. I’m in, in a flash, for all their coffee–and a grand breakfast. I’m told by Doug, a local who mountain bikes the nearby permitted sections of trail, that the store shown on my map is closed, but on up Bass Lake Road a half-mile, there’s a fine convenience store. Yup, angels both shoulders!

At the store I meet Stevie, a kind lady who lets me drain her coffee pot while my cell phone and camera batteries are charging. Comes in Jim as I’m gathering supplies to get me into White Cloud. Says on his hat, “Take a Hike.” I have fun with that one!

Hot dogs, buns, cheese, M&Ms (the BIG bag), sunflower kernels, wafers–way too much food. Gotta lug it; I never learn.

The trail these past number of days has been outstanding, wide open, well blazed, no blowdowns. Easy going, just an occasional pop up or down; I’ve been doing some big-mile hauling. Trail now is maintained by volunteers with the Western Michigan and Spirit of the Woods Chapters, NCTA. Great job folks! To all you who work diligently to build and maintain this trail, I am the benefactor of your unselfish and untiring work–thanks!

Another hammer-down day on the NCT. Won’t mention the miles I’ve covered for fear you’ll not believe me.

I punch down my last tent stake just as dark descends. In my tent now, I herd the horde of skeeters to one corner and bludgeon them all. Cold hot dogs, cheese–sure goes down good. I’m pooped; I’m out!

“God places the heaviest burden on those who can carry the weight.”

[Reggie White]

Friday–June 12, 2009

Trail Day–083

Trail Mile–28.1/339/2282

Location–Manistee NF, way past Nichols Lake–actually, White Cloud

The skeeters are lethargic this morning; I am lethargic this morning. But I’m out, pack shouldered and trekking before seven-thirty.

Looking at my maps now do I realize that if I really put the hammer down today I can actually reach White Cloud by late evening, as I’ve knocked down all the miles for today already, save for ten.

If you glance back at the high miles on my itinerary for the past number of days, since Kalkaska, especially the past three, I’m sure you’re thinking, “No way!” But I have hiked them, save for some short, unredeeming sections that wander about, thither and yon, through the flatwoods and the ferns (Trailbuilders, please–I’m not complaining!). For those connect-the-dots segments, I took to the roads nearby. From them I was able to see the flatwoods and the ferns just as well. Also, and I suppose you can be the least critical with me about this next comment, and deservedly so, but dear folks I have certainly seen “The North Woods,” been there (for near three months now), done that, got that T-shirt! So when I keep commenting about “hammer-down,” I hope you’ll not be too critical in your analysis–the quality of my journey.

The highlight of this day is meeting Dale. He’s out photographing some of the bridges that cross the many nearby small streams and lake outfalls. I passed his car parked by one of the sand two-tracks crossed by the trail. I saw the huge cooler in his back seat. As we meet (he’s headed back) we share a very pleasant exchange. During the conversation I comment about wishing I’d met him back at his car–I’d have Yogied some goodies off him. Big smile, “Meet you at one of the crossing on down. he says. And so, in an hour or thereabouts, who do I see waiting for me, cooler out, lounge chair set–and another big smile; oh yes, Dale! Thanks Dale, for your thoughtful kindness and generosity. Relaxing fun!

Okay, so you’re still scratching your head, “How many miles per day has this old man hiked the last few days?”

Well, you can figure it.

Sunset isn’t until almost nine-thirty now. If I begin hiking before eight in the morning I’ve got nearly 14 hours of daylight. I truck at three per, average two-and-a-half with ease, at least along this fantastic interstate-like tread.And I often hike all day, not stopping or dropping my pack more than two or three times.  So you can figure it!

And sure, I know you’re also thinking: “This guy is old; he’s an old, old man.” Yes, you’re right, I am an old, old man.

“Life is either a daring adventure or nothing.

To keep our faces toward change and behave like free spirits

in the presence of fate is strength undefeated.”

[Helen Keller]

Saturday–June 13, 2009

Trail Day–084

Trail Mile–23.9/363/2306

Location–White Cloud

Although the stats above indicate a 24-mile day, this has been a much needed day of rest. I did manage to make it to White Cloud before dark last evening. Johnny took me in at his little motel clear across town, and I got back to the mom-n-pop cafe downtown for their AYCE Friday night fish fry before they closed.

Johnny loaned me his bicycle to get back and forth to town, so I’m right back there this morning for a hearty breakfast. Then it’s to the post office to mail off another memory card to CyWiz.

My poor old veteran poncho has started leaking again. My pack isn’t waterproof. My poncho is supposed to protect it. With it leaking again that means everything in my pack gets wet. I was a soggy mess after the all day rain last Monday. So, after breakfast it’s over to the dollar store for one of those emergency clear plastic ponchos. Hey, the dollar store has dollar ponchos–I take two!

Lots of correspondence to get caught up, and nearly a week of journal entries, the writing keeps me busy. And it’s clothes washing time in between.

I’ve needed and am really enjoying this day off.

“I’m doing pretty well so far…It’s been a long journey.

[Ben Graham]

Sunday–June 14, 2009

Trail Day–085

Trail Mile–24.6/388/2331

Location–Manistee NF, past Bills Lake to Rogue River State Game Area

I’ve had a very pleasant stay in White Cloud, a great day of rest. My batteries are fully recharged, as are the batteries in my cell phone and camera.

Johnny has been very kind to me, cut a hiker trash deal on my room and loaned me his bicycle to get back and forth to town.

I’m out on the road this morning. For the past 500 miles, near the past month, I’ve been hiking pretty much uninterrupted trail, much of it certified, from the Upper Peninsula to Croton here in the Lower Peninsula. Heading south from Croton this morning I finally leave the Great North Woods behind, to enter a much different region of small villages and farms. The large tracts of public land, the national and state forests are now fewer and farther between.

The other morning, that short span of time between when I removed my wind jacket and gloves and changed to my headnet and skeeter spray, I think that was spring. For, though spring should have been ever present for weeks, seems time and the seasons have skipped right through to summer, temperatures now hovering in the high seventies, unquestionably a glorious summer day.

As I turn the corner on 92nd Street, fellow pulls over in his truck, down comes his window and I hear, “You Nimblewill Nomad?” This has happened often enough that you’d thing by now I’d be used to it, but it’s always a remarkable thing. I shake my head in disbelief, “Yes, I’m the Nomad.” I reply. And so I meet Pat, the son of a longtime Florida Trail Association member, Betty, who I’ve met. Betty lives near Lake Okeechobee. Pat’s been following my journal entries along and is amazed that our paths have crossed. Thanks for stopping, Pat. Regards to your mother for me, please.

Up from the little village of Croton and Croton Dam I stop in at a little mom-n-pop place called Hit the Road Joe where I have lunch. Here I meet Mark who is very familiar with the NCT. We enjoy talking trail. Pulled pork sandwich, ice cold Coke, a house specialty salad, all polished off with strawberry shortcake and a dollop of ice cream. I waddle up to the counter to pay, only to find that Mark already picked up my tab before leaving. Thanks, Mark!

Late afternoon now, comes a gentle breeze, and on it drifts the familiar sweet scent of honeysuckle. The cottonwood are also blooming, their more friendly snow not the least discomforting. Farmers are busy now too, crops in the fields, much work. Larry, Spring Valley Farms, comes from one of his fields in his Mule and stops to check on what I’m doing way out here. Much tradition in these parts. His grandfather emigrated to this country from the Netherlands 100 years ago this September. He was a farmer. His daddy was a farmer. Larry is a farmer.

Late evening now, I’m unable to find the trail where it heads south from 22-Mile Road. A lovely home right next, so I head over to get directions. I hesitate ever disturbing folks like this, but I want to hike this section of trail, so to their side door I go. I tap on the glass. The fellow sitting on the couch simply turns, looks, then motions me in. When I close the door, his wife, who had been napping, jumps up. “A hiker, you’re a long distance hiker!” she exclaims. “Let me fix you a sandwich; do you need water.” Finally getting the opportunity, I introduce myself. And so I meet Glenn and Barb. They like spending time on their Harleys–and on the trail. Barb pulls a package from her freezer. “Let me fix you a steak.” I decline her kind insistence. “Please,” I plead, “I just want to find the trail.” One apple down, a banana and another apple in hand, they lead me down the road and to the trail. Thanks, friends, for your kindness; sorry to have disturbed you.

Don’t know how I missed the trail, walked by it at least three times. It was right there; I just couldn’t find it. A final wave to Glenn and Barb and in I go, skeeters in hot pursuit.

Not 50-yards in is there this cardboard sign tacked to a tree, a very fresh sign. It’s dated today, reads “NCT Hikers, need anything, resupply, rest, food? 3 miles west on 22-mile Road, Call (cell phone and home phone numbers both listed).” And it’s signed Head-N-Out and Tag-N-Along. What really catches my eye, at the very bottom corner, the folks have written, “Nimblewill Nomad.”

I look back at the trail names and I’m thinking, “I know these folks.” Forms now images to fit the names. I even remember where our paths first crossed, clear out in California last year, on the Pacific Crest Trail!

Well, I whip out my cell phone. Got one bar–Hey! I give them a call. Get Tag-N-Along right away. She can’t believe it’s me. “Where you plan on staying tonight?” she asks. “Out here with the skeeters.” my reply. “Why don’t you stay with us; we’ll come and get you, say in an hour–we have guests, they’ll be leaving shortly. How will that be?” I say yes! They know how to get to Glenn and Barb’s place. Oh yes, I hit it right back over there–for the T-bone steak and a baked potato!

Up the side steps to tap the window–one more time. Glenn turns and looks, and motions me, and Barb jumps up all excited–one more time. “Fix the steak.” I motion, “It’s a kind-of-a long story!”

“How beautiful a day can be — When kindness touches it!”

[George Elliston]

Monday–June 15, 2009

Trail Day–086

Trail Mile–23.7/412/2355

Location–Past Rogue River SGA, to 5 Mile Road near Parnell

Tim and Nancy (Head-N-Out and Tag-N-Along) have a beautiful hand-hewn log home. I get cleaned up then we sit and visit for the longest time. Come to find we have many dear, mutual friends.

Glenn told me, as we were leaving last night, that he’d thought about taking me on their own private trail, over to the NCT. Had he, I’d have missed Tim and Nancy’s sign.

Coincidence, how it all played out, right folks? All just coincidence!

Steak and eggs for breakfast, then it’s back to the trail. Tim and Nancy hike along with me for awhile. Then it’s that sad time once more–goodbye, dear friends, goodbye.

Along a short section of certified trail, about halfway through, I meet Jill, who is running toward me. Jill was one of the guests at Tim and Nancy’s last evening, and we had met. Back at the trailhead, and on her car, Jill tells me I’ll find drinks and some snacks. Arriving, I help myself to a power drink and an energy bar. Thanks, Jill!

Above Rockford, and along the railtrail I’ve been hiking the past few miles, I meet Carl. He gives me directions through the city. He’d read about me in the Grand Rapids Press, and wishes me success for the remainder of my trek.

The roadwalk continues into Canonsburg where I stop for a Coke and a bowl of soup. By dusk I’m a little west of Parnell on 5-Mile Road. I find a grassy spot next a plowed field (not posted) and pitch for the night.

“A coincidence is a small miracle in which God chooses to remain anonymous.”

[Erma Bombeck]

Tuesday–June 16, 2009

Trail Day–087

Trail Mile–23.9/436/2379

Location–Wabasis Lake Park, then on to Lowell

I’m up and hiking at six-thirty. I’m anxious to get into Lowell early today, to (finally) meet all the folks there at NCT Headquarters that I’ve corresponded with since last winter.

It’s another great hiking day, clear, cool, no wind.

At Falasburg County Park I come to the Flat River. From here to Lowell extends another short section of certified trail. Matt, at NCT Headquarters, had expressed an interest in hiking some with me as I pass through Lowell. This section would be perfect, so I give Matt a call. No hesitancy, his decision, “Be there in 20 minutes.” says Matt with excitement in his voice.

Soon comes Jill, Laura, and Matt. A joyful meeting. At the river, Laura returns to the car, and Jill and Matt hike on with me into Lowell. What a joy having company on the trail. We arrive Lowell in time for lunch, compliments of Bruce and the NCTA.

A trip to the post office, my lucky day. Maps, some summer gear, and cards, letters, and goodies from home.

In the evening I am invited to dine with Matt, his wife, Brigid, and Jill and her husband, Darl.

After supper Matt and Brigid drive me to Bruce and Kelly’s lovely home. Bruce is the Executive Director, NCTA, and I’ll be their guest for the next two nights.

Bruce gets me settled in, I work journal entries until my PocketMail slides off on the floor.

Looking at my maps for the remainder of Michigan, and since leaving “The Great North Woods,” I’ve noticed that much of what’s left will be roadwalking. Family and friends have always voiced concern about me hiking the roads. It really isn’t as risky as one might think. Plus, in addition to my daily prayer, “A Path by the Side of the Road,” I’ve got an angel resting both my shoulders. So, since I’ll be taking to the road frequently now, to close each entry for the next number days I’d like to share that prayer with you, one verse at a time.

“Lord set me a path by the side of the road,

Pray this be part of your plan,

Then heap on the burden and pile on the load,

And I’ll trek it the best that I can.”

[N. Nomad]

Wednesday–June 17, 2009

Trail Day–088

Trail Mile–17.4/453/2396


Bruce has a full schedule lined up for today. I’m up a little after four. He already has coffee ready. It’s still pitch black out, but I can hear the steady patter of rain on their back deck. We’re supposed to meet folks from WXMI Fox 17, Grand Rapids/Kalamazoo/Battle Creek at the NCTA office, from there to drive to a section of the North Country Trail, then there to do a live take for the early morning news. We arrive the trail in time, but it’s literally pouring, no way to get the camera set up and rolling here, so it’s time for plan #2. To spare the details, neither plans #2 or #3 work–missed the early news. Time to regroup. Decision is to drive the fair distance to the Fox 17 studios, and take the shot there. This plan works and we’re on live–don’t know which segment, but it’s still early. An hour+ later we’ve done two more live sessions plus one for the can. Smita was the sweet young lady who conducted the interview. Mike and Jason were the cameramen, Curt is, the director. I think the interviews went well–we had a fun time. Just great folks; thanks Smita, Mike, Jason, and Curtis!

Back at the NCTA office I set to sorting my gear, readying some winter things to send home, swapping out for some warmer weather gear Dwinda has sent me.

Bruce has arranged a newspaper interview for this afternoon, the Lowell paper. It goes well. A group of kids come by and I talk trail with them. A fun time. Comes too, Dave, and his kids, Zeth, Nathanial, and Logan–to show me the Little Dandy wood stove he’s made and has used for a number of years. And a couple, Tom and Julie, they saw my interview and are inspired to hike, and have come in to get information on the North Country Trail.

Late afternoon, Bruce drives me to Grand Rapids to the Wood 8 TV Studio. I’m on live with anchor reporter, Brian, the evening news.

Further into evening now, and back at Bruce’s lovely home, he, Kelly, and Elena prepare a grand evening meal, salad, steak, potatoes, topped off with rhubarb crunch. I’m the lucky guest!

The miles shown in the stats today were already hiked out over the past few days. And so for the zero taken today, a day off.

“Please bless me with patience, touch strength to my back,

Then cut me loose and I’ll go.

Just like the burro toting his pack,

The oxen plowing his row.”

[N. Nomad]

Thursday–June 18, 2009

Trail Day–089

Trail Mile–24.8/478/2421


Not such urgency in getting out this morning. Bruce, kind man, doesn’t call me till the coffee is brewed. Kelly is up too, and we all spend some time together, no rush. What an enjoyable time, sitting the kitchen table with Bruce and Kelly. I find that she is quite the handyman–oops, would that be handywoman? She’s done much to improve their lovely home, from trimming out the cabinets to laying tile. Bruce, I learn, used to play (professionally) in a band years ago. Still does, a group with the church.

I know this is going to be a bumpy morning for awhile, through moments I would prefer not to suffer–all the goodbyes. And so, as the day dawns, Bruce says we must go. Farewell Kelly (and Elena), I’ve had such a pleasant stay here in your home–thanks for having me as your guest, thanks!

Same sad deal at the office. Bruce, Matt, and Jill are here, I tarry some, but I must go. It is time to go. They help me shoulder my pack, then walk me to the door. I’m okay to the door. But outside, as I try saying goodbye to these three friends I have a very difficult time. Bruce (kind man, again) steps beside me, braces me, says a prayer for me. I am calm now and able to depart from them.

The NCT leads out south of Lowell across the Grand River.  I stay MI-50.  I no more than hit the highway than folks start honking and waving–going both directions.  Reaching I-96 I stop at Subway for breakfast.  Here I relax a short while as I try catching up on my journal entries.

Back on the highway, and after only a short distance, slows a pickup in the lane across. Down comes the window and I hear the driver shout: “Good luck, God bless you, man.”  Up goes the window just as quickly and he speeds away.

There is much traffic today but a paved emergency lane separates us. A noisy hike, but not unenjoyable. Many lovely old centennial farms along, some having been in the same family for over 150 years.

As I hike along, at a farmhouse and down the lane, comes a lady and two lads. “You’re the hiker we saw on the news last evening, aren’t you?” Asks one of the boys. It’s Caleb, Eric, and mom, Gail. They’ve got to get my picture, with them. In a moment comes dad, Darryl. He has brought me snacks and a cold fruit drink. Mom then leaves for the house, to return with a homemade cupcakes and another cold drink. Both boys are seniors, will be graduating shortly, then they’ll stay busy with mission work this summer. Congratulations, Caleb and Eric!

More excitement along the roads today. Stopping to wish me well are Keith, also Dick and Joann. In downtown Middleville now comes Pat to ask if I’m the hiker on the North Country Trail. And right behind her, Tom. We all head across to the little mom-n-pop restaurant where we enjoy each other’s company, as I proceed to empty a pitcher of coke and have supper. Pat soon leaves. And not known to me, she pays for my dinner. Thanks, Pat.

Tom is concerned about where I’ll be camping tonight. “Forecast is for bad storms.” he says. “Why don’t you come and stay at my place where you’ll be out of it. Oh yes, no hesitation on that one. I accept! We make arrangements to meet later in the evening, after I’ve got my miles in for the day.

Back on the trail, the Paul Henry Bike Path, I soon meet a group of ladies who also saw me on the live news report last night. I hand out more cards.

From the bike path, and back on the road, not long these young lads come running to catch me. All winded, one of them blurts, “You the man that’s walking?” I stop to talk with them–Josh, Michael, Daniel, and Austin. They’ve just come from ball practice and saw me hiking the road. Five minutes or so, comes dad to find out what’s going on. “He’s the man who’s hiking.” shouts Daniel. I give out cards and am rewarded with a cold bottle of water.

Just a short distance to go now, and as I turn the corner onto Middleville Road, Tom passes, honks and waves, then continues on to Peets Road where I’ll end this hiking day.

Tom greets me, “It’s certain we’ll have the storm tonight, a good thing I’m here to pick you up.” Tom loads me, my pack, and in no time we’re at his home. Here I meet Tom’s wife, Diane, and their daughter, Casey.

We visit the longest time before I head off to bed.

“And once on this journey, a witness for You,

Toward Thy way, the truth, and the light.

Shine forth my countenance steady and true,

O’er the pathway to goodness and right.”

[N. Nomad]

Friday–June 19, 2009

Trail Day–090

Trail Mile–22.6/501/2444


To have been offered (and to have taken) shelter in Tom’s home was an absolute blessing. For, shortly after three this morning does the storm arrive, one we’ll endure for the next two hours. An enormous wall of pure energy, an electric storm of profound proportions. The full show of light and sound, strobes flashing, cymbals and drums crashing and resounding. The first report lifts me up and brings me to life. Back to sleep–kinda, I am awakened time and again as the heavens fill with sound and light. Oh my, and the rain, the rain comes in buckets, as from a brigade. On the ground, in my tent, this would certainly have been a very scary ordeal. Yes, a blessing to be in.

Diane has coffee ready a little before seven and I’m right there. Tom is the cook. He prepares platter-sized pancakes, with eggs. to energize me for the long day. I go for another coffee–or three; what an absolute treat!

Aw, but does that time soon come again, more sad goodbyes. First, Diane, as Tom gets me in the truck. Then back to Peets Road, there from Tom, a firm handshake and a wish-me-well as I shoulder my pack to go. Dear friends, your concern, your caring, your gentle kindness to this old man, I’ll long remember–thanks!

The day makes an attempt at clearing, but it doesn’t happen. Soon comes more darkening over as the rain laden clouds roll back in. I’ve some roadwalking mixed with certified trail in and around Yankee Springs SRA.

Mid afternoon, Dave, President, NCTA, who I met at trail headquarters in Lowell, and who lives nearby, comes out to track me down. He offers to take me in, to help me, as the rain is back. “Looks like another stormy night ahead.”says Dave as he greets me. No hesitancy in accepting his offer of shelter–and supper. I’ve a few more road miles to hike to make it to Prairieville. In that short span of time two more vehicles stop. First, Raymond, who’d seen me on the news. It’s literally pouring now; he wants to give me his poncho. When I tell him I’m okay with my lightweight plastic one, he hands me a crumpled up bill (to conceal the number 100). I plead with him, “Please, Raymond, I can’t accept this.” In a calm, reassuring voice, he replies, “I am a Christian; it is not from me.” I accept the gift. Second, a young fellow, Clinton, and friend, Melinda. They pull off the shoulder across, then they both run across the road to greet me. All excited, Clinton exclaims, “You’re the man walking across Michigan!” I pose for pictures.

I’m soaked by the time I arrive Prairieville. Sure glad to see Dave’s smiling face!

“And lest I should falter, and lest I should fail,

Let all who know that I tried.

For I am a bungler, feeble and frail,

When You, dear Lord, I’ve denied.”

[N. Nomad]

Saturday–June 20, 2009

Trail Day–091

Trail Mile–23.2/524/2467

Location–Fort Custer SRA, then on past Battle Creek

Dave and Jan have a beautifully restored old home right on the lake in Delton, not ten miles from the trail. And just a few steps from their front door, a guest cottage with every convenience. “We’ll put you up in here.” proud smile on Dave’s face as he showed me their cottage last evening. “Come over and meet Jan when you’re settled in.” he said as he turned to go. I dropped my pack, took off my wet clothes, wet shoes and socks, then just sat awhile, in the darkening gloom, to revisit the many blessings of the day.

A refreshing shower, clean clothes, over I went to meet Pat, and to join them for supper. Before, (during and after) we had much enjoyable exchange, talking trail, and about NCT’s future.

Late night, early morning, came another storm, not so long-lasting, not as intense, not as much rain. But it would certainly have been a long night, a difficult and fretful time, had I been in my tent.

Dave is an early riser. “When you see the lights on, that means coffee’s ready!”his alert to me as I returned to the cottage last night. I’m up a little after six to part the shades first thing. Lights are on at Dave’s. Yippee! Coffee time.

I’m soon back over for that coffee, and a fine breakfast prepared by Dave. As we continue our conversation from last evening, I learn that both Dave and Jan are civic minded. They’ve been active in various volunteer organizations over the years. Among his activities, Dave keeps busy now in his roll as President, NCTA. He’s an avid outdoorsman. So the shoe (hiking boot here) fits. Many years ago, long before I picked up my first pair of hiking sticks, Dave had already section hiked the Appalachian Trail, a good excuse for long exploring the green horizons.

Jan is up now and comes to bid me farewell. Daily now does this sad time seem to come. She has hiked off and on with Dave. Being trail savvy, we explore that oft-ask question, “Why.” Dave gives me the good news that the gloom, which lingers this morning, should clear out by noon; then the next four days should be clear.

It’s a very short ride back to Prairieville, where Mary is waiting to meet and greet me. Mary is a new and enthusiastic member of Chief Noonday Chapter, NCTA. In their company, as I shoulder my pack, I say my morning prayer. Then I’m off toward Battle Creek. Thanks, Dave; thanks Jan! Great meeting you, Mary!

On the roadwalk along, I meet some fellows from Santa Fe, Jeff and Tom, out for an invigorating morning bike ride.

I am having trouble locating the trail into the Kellogg/Michigan State University property. Fellow stops, Ryan. He directs me. He has a Coke, candy, and a bottle of water for me–and (at his insistence, five dollars).

Heading to Battle Creek now, I decide to stay MI-96 to the Fort Custer National Cemetery. I linger there, among the headstones to pay my respects. Here, Paul greets me, and encourages me as I continue on Odyssey 2009.

At the cemetery I pick up the Battle Creek Linear Park Trail, a certified section of the NCT. I hike it into downtown Battle Creek.

The skies did clear around noon, and save for the frustration in being unable to stay the trail, getting lost, through the Kellogg property, it’s been a great day.

As shadows lengthen, and now past Battle Creek, I find a neat little mom-n-pop motel and haul ‘er down for the day.

“So blessed be the day Your judgment comes due,

And blessed be Your mercies bestowed,

And blessed be this journey, all praises to You,

O’er this path by the side of the road.”

[N. Nomad]

Sunday–June 21, 2009

Trail Day–092

Trail Mile–27.4/551/2494

Location–Marshall, then on to Litchfield

Hey Dave, you’re my weatherman! Today dawns a glorious day for hiking just as your forecast calls for, the first, hopefully, of many to come. Yup, sure like your forecast!

I am at the beginning of a transition now, as to the maps and guides I’ll be using to get to and through Ohio. For over 1,000 miles now I have been relying on the fine waterproof maps prepared and provided me by the NCTA. However, the NCTA does not compete with other trail organizations that already have maps for trail shared by the NCT. Ahead of me, and coming up in Ohio, is the Buckeye Trail, a trail followed by the NCT for nearly a thousand miles, through western, southern, and eastern Ohio. So, for Ohio, I will be relying on the latest Buckeye Trail maps given my by Dan Sheltowee Rogers. Also, I have been and will continue to rely on the NCT Guide compiled and written by Wes Boyd some 11 years ago now. Between the two I hope to find my way along the NCT through Ohio.

Today is a roadwalk, and on the road into Marshall this morning I meet Roger and Thelma. They slow then stop in the emergency lane across. They’d seen me on the Grand Rapids News the other evening, then again passing their home a short way back. They’ve brought me bottled water and some homemade cookies. At the convenience store in Marshall, Tina comes up to me and wishes me well.  “Saw you on TV.” she says. Amazing how so many people recognize me from that one interview; I was on less than two minutes.

I’ve really covered the ground today. Save for the short riverwalk through Marshall, which was paved, I’ve been on paved county and state highways.

Late evening I arrive Lithfield. There is no place to stay in Litchfield. So, I either have to find a place to pitch here somewhere, or head on out of town. I’m starved, so it’s first things first. A little faith, a little patience–as to a place to camp the night.

Hey, a Subway right on the corner. This’ll work. In I go! Folks, I know you’re not going to believe this. I can’t believe this. While I’m sitting and polishing off the second half of my footlong, up comes this lady and her two children. “You need a place to stay tonight?”she asks. “I heard you talking to our neighbor awhile ago. We live right next door. You’re more than welcome to stay in our yard if you like.” I’m dumbstruck. I vaguely remember her and the children. I didn’t even speak to them. And so, I meet Tasha and her two boys, David and Dillon. Before I can answer, David tells me they already have a tent set up, which I’m welcome to use. And Dillon lets me know there’s also a fire ring, should I want a campfire. Well, I sure accept the offer to pitch in their yard, and as soon as I’ve downed my sub, I’m right back to their house.

They’re waiting anxiously. Quickly begins the usual questions about my hike. All watch and are fascinated as I set up my tent.

It’s been a hard hammer-down day, but aside from being tired, I’ve had a great time. Meeting Tina and her sons really set it off. Thanks folks, for trusting, for caring, and for your grand hospitality.

“Take the first step into faith. You don’t have to see the whole staircase, just take the first step.”

[Martin Luther King, Jr.]

Monday–June 22, 2009

Trail Day–093

Trail Mile–27.0/578/2521

Location–Litchfield, then on to Hillsdale/Osseo

Well, it was pretty amazing. Tasha, David, and Dillon, they set me up right in their back yard. Then they left the porch light on and the back door unlocked might I have needed their bathroom. Trusting, kind and caring folks–thank you, Tasha, David, Dillon.

I believe I’ve paid my dues, I really believe I have. The investment–these past 93 days. Fair days coming, oh will I welcome them. To have fingers that work. To feel the warmth of the sun on my face. To have dry trail, dry feet, dry gear. Yes, should I be so blessed with such days to come, I will be so thankful. Ah, and today looks to be the makings of another glorious one. I’m already out and moving a tad past six-thirty. So easy when it isn’t freezing outside! Oh, I’m sure it’ll get a little hot some days now, but you will not hear a single complaint from me, not today, not any day, the remainder of this odyssey.

It’s no more than four minutes to the little mom-n-pop cafe downtown. The morning klatch is already forming. I’m in for two up, toast, taters, and half a pot of coffee.

Russ, a freelance writer and program manager, WCSR Radio in Hillsdale, is interested in interviewing me. We’ve corresponded off and on the past few days. So, I’ll try to make that work. Also, Steve, one of the staff writers, Hillsdale Daily News, has also contacted me. ‘Haps I’ll need to slow down and take a couple of breaks today.

In Jonesville now, at the McDonald’s (right on the trail) I’m sitting my burger and fries when comes up Steve and his grandson, Devin. I passed their place yesterday. They were on their John Deere mowers going at it. Comes over, too, their friend, George, a Gold Wing rider who also saw me on the road yesterday. We have a great chat.

From Jonesville to Hillsdale there’s a six-mile certified section of hike/bike path. As I turn to it from Jonesville, pulls a vehicle to the shoulder of busy M-99. Here I meet Steve (different Steve). He drops Mike off, who had expressed an interest in hiking some with me. Both are active members (officers, in fact) of the Baw Beese Chapter, NCTA.

Mike can move along, and we’re sharing good trail/life/other conversation till just in front of Wal-Mart. Comes now Steve from the Hillsdale Daily, for the interview I’d mentioned earlier. We spend better part of a half-hour, a fun pause.

On toward Hillsdale, Mike leads me through a new section of trail–much trail activity in this area. The Baw Beese Chapter had been on the decline, but they’re again very active, taking on new members and building new trail.

In Hillsdale now, it’s lunch time, so we head directly to Steve’s office. Over lunch, compliments the Baw Beese folks, I get more time to meet and talk with Steve. After lunch I bid farewell to Mike who heads back south on his two-hour trip back home.

Russ, with WCSR Radio, has also been in touch with Steve about doing an interview, so we head for the radio station. Russ is in. He drops what he’s doing and we go right into a very fine, very long, live interview. A relaxing, fun time.

As the evening approaches, the day cools, a perfect time for a little more hiking. Steve and Russ both want to hike with me, so we get together, do the vehicle setup, then trek the six mile section of certified trail from Hillsdale, past lovely Lake Baw Beese, to the little hamlet of Osseo.

Steve has some dear friends, Nick and Deborah, who live not forty feet off the trail in Osseo. He had called them earlier to let them know we were hiking their way. They’ve invited me to stay as their guest this night. A perfect stranger, but on arriving their lovely home, do they both extend a most warm welcome.

“A journey is best measured in friends rather than miles.”

[Tim Cahill]

Tuesday–June 23, 2009

Trail Day–094

Trail Mile–23.4/601/2544

18.5/620/2563 (end L.P.)

07.9/008/2589 (begin Ohio)

Location–Lost Nation SGA, then on to West Unity, Ohio

When I arrived Osseo yesterday evening I had already hiked to within a couple miles of Lost Nation SGA, my destination for today. The additional miles that have allowed me to get nearly a day ahead were accumulated over the past number of days, since leaving Lowell. So, the trail mile data for today reflects not only the miles from Litchfield to Lost Nation, but also today’s miles, from Lost Nation to West Unity.

And so, might we discuss this a few moments–and address your skepticism. You see, folks just shake their heads when I answer their question about how many miles per day I hike. I tell them that to trek 25 miles, or in excess of 25 miles on a daily basis, is certainly not a superhuman thing. Indeed, it is easy enough, especially with such kind tread, such well-groomed trail, the roadwalk miles, and the longest of the long daylight days, fifteen-plus hours of daylight now.

Regardless, I’m sure you must be thinking,”This guy’s gotta be taking rides.” But I have not; I have hiked every foot of trail to where I’ve ended this day, save the five miles across the Straits of Mackinac. Believe me, it is true.

I am able to hike at a very comfortable and steady pace, three-per. To average two and one-half is a cakewalk, even when I dilly-dally.

So how is it possible, with an itinerary of 25-mile days consistently (or more), day after day, how is it possible to get a day ahead?

Okay, here’s the answer: Let’s pick 14 for the number of daylight hours. Multiply that by two. We get 28. Half of 14 is seven. Add that to the 28 and all of a sudden you’ve got a pretty impressive number–35! This number is derived by using an average of two and one-half per. So, for a high 20s day, there’s plenty of time to do the miles, with time to spare. And when I shoulder my pack in the morning, from that time, I seldom take more than two or three short breaks, sometimes not even bothering to drop my pack. To hike the miles on into the 30s just takes more time, of which I’ve plenty.

Most folks who backpack, nine out of ten, are members of what I call “The Green Tunnel Crowd.” They like to hike the meadows and mountains, the wilderness trails. Last place you’ll likely ever catch them is on a hot, busy, four-lane highway. I tell you that no one enjoys communing with Nature, no one takes more pleasure from the solitude experienced along the trails than me. But unlike most, I do not avoid nor do I shun hiking the roads. I embrace them, and I take great pleasure in walking their shoulders. Sure, at times the highway can become a frying pan, sure it can be noisy and chaotic. But I’ve adapted to all of that. I’ve adjusted my clothing and gear to it, and have become accustomed to it. Yes, I take great pleasure in roadwalking–you might even say that the North Country Trail is made for the old Nimblewill Nomad!

I’m nearing my summer packweight now, around six pounds. Ah, and tomorrow we’ll talk more about that, about my clothing and gear–for the road.

Nick and Deb have a delightful guest cottage right next their home, and that’s where I stayed last night. Deb told me to hit their back door around seven. She’d have coffee on and the frying pan at the ready for sausage and eggs. And what a very fine breakfast. I’m not much on morning sweets, but no way can I pass up the homemade rhubarb jam! Over breakfast I learn that Nick is a Harley rider. They’re both antique collectors, especially all things nautical.

They’ve a lovely patio in the back. After breakfast, we move out there to sit and further enjoy each other’s company–and to finish off the coffee.

A little before eight-thirty, I manage to shoulder my pack and be on my way. Thanks, Nick and Deb; so long! Friends made so easily, but alas, I’ll not likely ever see either of them again.

My sincere appreciation, also, to Russ and Steve, and to the great, enthusiastic members Baw Beese Chapter, Mike and Steve. I’ll likely not see them again either. So thanks, dear friends, thanks all!

I head out on a roadwalk this morning, generally south and east, down to Lost Nation State Game Area. Here will be the last sections of off-road trail I’ll hike here in Michigan. A little meandering the wooded slopes, a balancing act along top of a beaver dam, and the trail leads back to the road.

The interview with Steve yesterday, well, the paper is out this morning and seems that the NCT (and me) are front page news! More honking and waving from passing motorists today. Many folks wishing me well. North of Waldron, does this vehicle slow, then stop. I’m handed an ice-cold bottle water and a bag of tootsie rolls. “Sally, at The Friendly Store read about you in the paper and found out you were coming through Waldron. She wants you to stop so she can meet you when you pass through.” It’s Cathy and Lori, and Lori’s son, Michael. Lots of questions. Then picture time.

In Waldron, I stop in to meet Sally. Air conditioning feels good. I linger quite awhile.

No more than two blocks south in the little village comes these folks on bicycles. The lady is waving the newspaper at me. Moments later, another lady, Cheryl, comes out her front door and hands me a glass of ice water, an apple, and a bag of homemade rhubarb cookies. Returns now the bicycle lady, Buffi, with her daughters, Ashante and Jessi. They gotta have my picture. Laughing and carrying on–it’s a hoot!

Late afternoon now, and on Territorial Road, I pass from Michigan to Ohio. In Ohio, the roadwalk continues on down to West Unity. Here I pick up the old Wabash Cannonball Railtrail and turn southeast, toward Wauseon. After a mile or so, I find a place next the trail by a farmer’s field and call it a day–and what a day!

“Focus on the journey, not the destination.

Joy is found not in finishing an activity but in doing it.”

[Greg Anderson]

Wednesday–June 24, 2009

Trail Day–095

Trail Mile–24.7/033/2614

Location–Swanton, then on to Oak Openings Metropark

To trek the highways with any degree of ease and comfort, the right clothing and gear are essential. Paramount are the correct shoes and socks. Believe me, it is impossible to come down from the green tunnel, to the highway, and hike any distance with a forty-pound pack, heavy boots, and standard wool socks. I found that out the hard way many years ago. I’ve since made the necessary changes, have adapted, and so can you. Once you’ve become adept at moving along with ease, comes the reward, the payoff. Up on the ridge, in the green tunnel, you’ll never get to know the people, visit their communities, see where they live and worship, work, and play. The varied cultures, the kindness and generosity, which prevail, these delightful experiences, up in the green tunnel you remain far removed.

You don’t have to become a gearhead like me to adjust. It isn’t necessary to reduce your packweight to a measly six pounds. But getting down to ten or twelve is relatively easy (just expensive). And once your packweight is manageable, you no longer need your heavy boots. It’s time for some comfortable shoes. You’re likely to tell me your boots are comfortable, sure, sure. If that’s the case, then why do they remain in the closet, to come out only when you go hiking? Why don’t you wear them all the time? Hold it–I think I know the answer. It’s because they’re heavy, they’re hot, and, truth be known, they ARE uncomfortable. The shoes I hike in are the shoes I wear every single day, all the time, every day!

Please take a moment, go to my sponsors page, scroll down, click on New Balance. These folks make the very best athletic shoes in the world. They’re one of my most steadfast sponsors. I’ve worn NB lightweight cross-trainers for many years, thousands and thousands of miles. For this trek they’ve provided four pair of their super 812s. They are cool, as in cool to the feet, and absolutely cushy.

I’ve heard for years, and I have no idea the dynamics, but I’ve heard that to take one pound off your feet (heavy boots), is the equivalent of dropping four pounds off your back. I didn’t believe it either. However, when I changed from my four pound boots to New Balance cross-trainers weighing less than two pounds the pair, I became a believer–and you will too. A truck needs truck tires. With your reduced packweight, you are no longer a dual tandem. If you can just reduce your packweight to 20 pounds, such an easy task, you are ready to safely and comfortably switch to low-cut, lightweight cross-trainers.

Okay, now the socks. I wear Bridgedale socks, again, the finest athletic sock in the world. Click on their banner at my sponsors page and learn about the amazing micro weave process Bridgedale has invented and perfected. Once you’ve worn a pair of Bridgedales you’ll never go back to your burlaps. Now, and for the remainder of the summer I’ll be wearing their “Light and Airy” series sock. My feet get hot and they tend to sweat just like yours, but with my Bridgedales and NBs (with top venting, a feature with my 812s), my feet will remain cool and dry, even when the tarmac is blistering.

So, get your packweight down, switch to New Balance cross-trainers and Bridgedale socks. Oh, and don’t forget your Leki trekking poles. Come down out of your green tunnel and hike with me. Experience the unending, ever-present excitement and joy found only along the highways and byways of our great nation. We’ll do a 25 or 30 together, eh!

To my dismay, I was unable, last, to find a place to pitch along the railgrade, so I hiked until dusk, finally pulling off in a farmer’s field. I had considered camping directly on the trail, but I’m sure glad now that I didn’t.

I can’t tell there’s ever been any effort to keep motorized vehicles off the trail. I heard them passing last night.

I’m sure you’ll recall me mentioning previously what my momma told me when I was a youngster. She said, “Son, if you can’t say something kind, just be quiet.”  So, this will be a short entry day.

I had great expectations and was much looking forward to hiking the two legs of the old Wabash Cannonball Railtrail. I had visions of it being like the Katy Trail along the  Missouri, my home–crushed limestone base, strict controlled access, numerous, improved trailheads with a variety of services, from B&Bs to bike rental and repair. What I find here, however, is very different. Yesterday evening, then again this morning, I’ve hiked in and out of mud-clogged two-track ruts. The trail is overgrown, little or no maintenance. Sure has put me in a funk. So, at the first opportunity this morning, by a service road to a farmer’s field, I turn away from the railtrail and head for busy US-20. Here I hike most the remainder of the day, through the villages of Burlington, Wauseon, Delta, and Swanton. Late evening, and at Swanton, I turn south on Wilkins Road to follow the beautiful bike paths through Oak Openings Metropark–as mapped out by Wes Boyd.

I pitch for the night by a side trail to a small cemetery plot off Jeffers Road–and proceed to arm wrestle the skeeters.

“Where the voice of the wind calls our wandering feet,

Through echoing forest and echoing street,

With lutes in our hands ever-singing we roam,

All men are our kindred, the world is our home.”

[Sarojini Naidu]

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Trail Day–096

Trail Mile–25.4/058/2639


On Jeffers, just north of the southwest leg, Wabash Cannonball Railtrail, I camped last. This morning, in less than an hour, I’m heading southwest on the old grade.

Today’s already shaping to be another 95-95, those numbers represent temperature and humidity. Me, my clothing, my pack, all soppin’ soggy already. Not whining, folks, not whining!

This south leg of the Wabash–another sad disappointment. It’s paved a for a short distance to Neapolis. So, what motorized traffic it has to bear (again there is no effort to stop the on- and off-road vehicles), I’m unable to determine. However, out of Neapolis, to the southwest, the grade turns to gravel and dirt two-track. Here, it’s apparent that the railgrade is primarily used by cars, trucks, and quads. A bit of the grade here has received minimal maintenance this season, but most remains neglected and is overgrown.

This trail is called the Wabash Cannonball Railtrail. But in reality it’s no more than a powerline cut with the customary, accompanying service road. I’m certainly not out here to voice criticism as to the how, why, and where this trail leads; I’m here to hike it. However, I would wager that most all long distance hikers doing these miles and miles of zig-zag, at some point along the way, begin questioning what in the world this is all about.

When my hike east was interrupted yesterday, when I turned south, then southwest, I was within 15 miles of Toledo. Why the trail doesn’t continue on to Toledo, there to connect with their metro trails, and from there continue on to the north and east legs of the Buckeye Trail, and on to Pennsylvania, I have no idea. I’m sure there’d be no complaint about taking the NCT off this long powerline cut I’m now hiking.

Of course the argument would be: The trail’d miss Hocking Hills, Old Man’s Cave, the Grandma Gatewood Trail–and the Waynes. So, okay, that’s the rationale, that’s the excuse for taking this incredible round-about segment southwest, then south, then (finally) east and north again.

Alright, lets visit this conundrum. Just take a look at how close this incredible detour takes us to the Ohio River and Kentucky. If Dayton and Cincinnati fit into this “North Country” scheme, then how could it possibly be a stretch to include some of the beautiful lands of Kentucky? Along the Ohio, there are glorious backroads, where I trekked for miles during my transcontinental odyssey. Why not take the trail there? Beats me, folks, sure beats me. Anyway, I lingered long, had second and third thoughts about heading southwest, before finally turning away from Toledo to head southwest yesterday. I guess Toledo’s just not far enough north. Okay mother, okay–quit grumbling old man; hike, just hike!

The little bit of grade, the slight elevation that is the old Cannonball, was dug up and piled up from ditches created along both sides. These ditches are all overgrown with brush now, filled with stagnant water, a heavenly breeding ground for skeeters. No problem for the four-wheelers flying through, but for the poor, unsuspecting backpacker, it quickly turns to pure hell. Believe me folks, I can live with the bugs, and for whatever the duration, suffer not the least decrease in joy. But when you hear me whining like this about the bugs, you don’t want to be here–you do not want to be anywhere near here!

Please forgive me for getting on this rant. For the remainder of this entry, I promise to be positive and upbeat–though it will be difficult not to talk about hiking the entire day in the wrong direction.

Just before Liberty Center the trail runs out. And in town, the grade remains active. From here I’ve a roadwalk down to and along the Maumee River, to Napoleon. Across the bridge I find a little mom-n-pop motel, work a hiker trash deal. In my room, I crank the air, shower the salt off my sticky body, rinse the grimy mush out of my clothes, get my feet up, and call it a day.

“Oh, listen to the jingle, the rumble and the roar

As she glides along he woodland, o’r hills and by the shore.

She climbs the flowery mountain, hear the merry hobos squall.

She glides along the woodland, the Wabash Cannonball.”

[J. A. Roff]

Friday–June 26, 2009

Trail Day–097

Trail Mile–23.4/081/2662

Location–South of Defiance, thence to the home of Bill and Angie, their children, Josh and Elizabeth

I was able to get a room for the night in Napoleon. Can’t remember a shower feeling so good. It’s great to be clean, to be wearing clean clothes this morning. With the heat and high humidity the past number of days I’ve been sweat soaked the entire time. Being on the road, with every passing vehicle, especially the eighteen wheelers, the constant barrage of dust and dirt churned up, all of it was caked right to me.

I am having quite a time getting out and going today. First comes breakfast, then a trip to the post office to send home more winter gear, then to the library. I don’t have my pack shouldered until nearly noon.

The exciting thing today is finally reaching the Buckeye Trail (BT), which shares its tread with the NCT for over 1,000 miles. I turn onto it at the Florida Bridge around two. Here the BT follows a towpath, the Erie, Miami, and Wabash, a shaded dirt path down to Independence Dam State Park, a beautiful linear park, lush lawns, all well groomed, a picnic table for everyone. From the park to Defiance, it’s back on the road again.

Much history in Defiance, clear back to the late 1700s.

Late afternoon and I stop for supper at the little mom-n-pop cafe just before the turn on Jefferson Street. From locals at the cafe I learn there’s no motel around here, at least not in the direction I’m going. None of the motels listed in Boyd’s NCT Guide (now eleven years old) are in business anymore. Even the Day’s Inn is shut down. So, out from the cafe, I turn on Jefferson and head back toward the trail.

A few blocks south, at a side street, a fellow is waiting to pull onto Jefferson. As I cross, down comes the passenger window and the lady asks: “Are you hiking the Buckeye Trail?”

Short of it–Bill and Angie invite me to be their guest for the night!

They’ve got some shopping to do. I’d like to do a few more miles. The plan to pick me up south of Defiance works and I’m soon the lucky guy on the receiving end of some mighty fine trail magic!

Bill and Angie have a lovely home. He’s a chiropractor, she, a wellness educator. Both are backpackers. In the hiking world they’re known as “Weekend Warriors.” We’ve much in common, so we share a most enjoyable evening together.

But for a few seconds one way or the other, I’d never have met Bill and Angie. Ah, isn’t it interesting, how the paths the Lord has set for us–lead us on. I particularly like the lighthearted:

“When you come to a fork in the road, take it.”

[Yogi Berra]

Saturday–June 27, 2009

Trail Day–098

Trail Mile–27.0/108/2689

Location–Ottoville, then on to Delphos

Bill and Angie have six cats. Arriving their home last I was welcomed by their official greeter, Clara. Clara has known me forever. I just couldn’t remember meeting her!

This morning, very early, I hear the garage door open and a vehicle leave. Bill and Angie aren’t coffee people. So, to make sure I have a cup of the finest, Bill had gone out to the corner store. Upon being called to breakfast, by my place is there a brimming styro cup of steaming hot coffee. And breakfast–the eggs, brown-shelled ones, from scratch-the-ground hens. What a great way to start the day; thanks, Angie!

Before returning to his office and his busy practice (Bill keeps Saturday morning hours), and now for another of those too-familiar sad good-byes, he drops me back by the Maumee where he’d come for me last.

A very lovely city, Defiance; beautiful people, like Bill, Angie, their children, Josh, and Elizabeth. Thank you, dear new friends, for your outpouring of generosity and kindness; what a remarkable moment yesterday evening–I’ll never forget– when you chose to take me into your home and your busy lives. Both Bill and Angie someday want to  hike the Appalachian Trail. I urged them to make sure and read my ditty, “One of these Days.”

So again this morning, I am clean, my clothes are clean, and I’m off to another gorgeous day on the North Country National Scenic Trail along the canal towpaths of Ohio.

At Junction, another interesting site along the canal trail, like Defiance, is rich in both Indian and pioneer history. Here I hike a new, short section of tread by the towpath.

Back on the roadwalk I’m passing a farm. Fellow is mowing his yard. He stops the mower and beckons me. So, I meet Tim. When he finds I’m not only hiking the Buckeye, but also the North Country, he runs to the house to get his wife. So, I meet Angie. She’s active in the Buckeye Trail Association. Her father, Jerry, was instrumental in creating, then placing the marker back at the canal junction–at Junction.

Back on the road now, and at the next crossing, comes–yup, Jerry! Angie had called to tell her father about my hike and he’s right out here to greet me and to wish me well. We share a few special moments. With that far away glint, Jerry tells how, on those still, quiet nights, he can often hear the faint, far-off call of the boatmen. I tell him, how, during similar moments in time, I hear the Pipes of Pan. Comes now a firm handshake, an expression, an affirmation of understanding. Thanks Tim, Angie, Jerry; I’m the benefactor of your untiring work, your dedication, the giving of your precious time–thanks!

In Ottoville, I meet Connie. I speak about my journey. She insists on giving me money for my next stop-over. In Delphos, where I have supper, Lori, my waitress–when I speak about my journey, insists on giving me money for my meal.

“Sometimes in the evening I sit, looking out…The sun sets, and dusk steals over the water.

In the shadows I seem again to see our Indian village,

with smoke curling upward from the earth lodges,

and in the river’s roar I hear the yells of warriors, and the laughter of little children as of old…”

[Waheenee, Hidatsa]

Sunday–June 28, 2009

Trail Day–099

Trail Mile–27.0/135/2716

Location–BT, Miami and Erie Canal Towpath, 40-Acre Pond, then on to New Bremen

A pleasant, cool night. I slept comfortably, very soundly, right next the towpath in downtown Delphos. I’ve no more than a five-minute walk back downtown to the little bakery/deli. Here, I set to draining their coffee pot while enjoying a four-egg, cheese, onion, green pepper, and ham omelet, along with hash browns, and biscuits–and more coffee.

By the pastry case, there’s a small glassed-off cubicle where the baker, Alex, performs his magic. Though this is Sunday morning, and early Sunday morning no less, Alex is busy creating a cake for an infant’s party. I watch, fascinated, as the masterpiece takes form right before my eyes. Alex is not only a baker extraordinaire, he’s also an artist in his own right. With graceful strokes from his spray gun (liquid food coloring) he paints the most joyful and happy animal figures all around.

While he’s spinning his cake, creating his work, we chat. Alex is active as a scoutmaster with the local cub pack. He enjoys the opportunity to teach kids about nature, about hiking and camping. He is taken by the account of my journey. So, a most enjoyable time–a great few moments shared. Thanks, Alex!

After my disappointment with the Wabash Cannonball Railtrail, I’ve made sure not to get my hopes up, not to have the least of expectations as to the Miami and Erie Canal Towpath Trail. Good thing. Heading out of Delphos this morning, through folks’ backyards does this trail go. Most have mowed clear to the canal bank. And some have placed barricades. I pass a fellow fishing. He ignores me entirely. In a lady’s backyard now, she turns from tending flowers, startled, to give me her best “What are you doing here!”scowl. Past the homes, the backyards, past the city, the trail/towpath now leads off through farm fields–corn, soybeans, wheat and oats, mostly. The strip of public land has been respected here, by all whose lands abuts the canal, their crops outside the boundary line. Some have mowed the grass strip. Others have not. Across the unmowed sections, the grass is tall, very coarse, difficult to walk through. Oh, appears there’s been some maintenance this year, places, but scant little. The trail is not much used, certainly not by hikers. Mostly, where there’s tread, it’s two-track, beat down by motorized vehicles, primarily four-wheelers.

After these experiences this morning, passing where I’m not welcome, struggling the unmowed sections, I pretty much give it up and go the road, SR66, jumping back to the towpath time-to-time for the more interesting highlights, like Deep Cut and Bloody Bridge.

I’ve had hopes of finding a room in St. Marys. I could sure use a shower. But the motel here has (since Wes Boyd’s passage) been converted to apartments, and the hotel downtown is now senior housing.

At Quick Check I go for the broasted chicken, and at Wendy’s on down, a tall frosty. In New Bremen, it’s dusk now as I beat it back over to the towpath, where I find a wide spot in the trail and pitch for the night.

For this odyssey, indeed, for all my journeys, as daylight comes, as sunset comes, are my days–and is my life–so managed and controlled.

“When one finally reaches the point where days are governed by daylight and dark,

rather than by schedules, where one eats if hungry and sleeps when tired,

and becomes completely immersed in the ancient rhythms,

then one begins to live.”

[Sigurd Olson]

Monday–June 29, 2009

Trail Day–100

Trail Mile–25.0/185/2741

Location–BT, Miami and Erie Canal Towpath, short of Newport

Another pleasant, peaceful night on the towpath. Glad I pitched off to the side, by a wide spot. Just after first light the runners and walkers start coming through. Understandable. This section of trail has a firm gravel base, the sides mowed; it’s very well maintained. If there’s been motorized vehicle traffic here, it’s not obvious. A good feeling, seeing trail being maintained, being used as intended.

Another cool, clear day. I get the kinks out and get moving around seven-thirty. I’ve a short trek down to Ft. Laramie. Here is an interesting combination: A traditional Dairy King, and a not-so-traditional Dairy King Motel; I stop for both!

A short day, but one much deserved (I believe), and certainly welcome–65 miles the last two days. Though I seem to grumble and complain, I am of good spirit, with happy heart; this is a pleasant journey, 100 days so far.

Martha, sweet owner, cuts the old Nomad a hiker trash deal. After breakfast at the local cafe/bar, she’s got a room all ready for me. I’m off the trail and in by eleven!

“All paths are the same: They lead nowhere.

However, a path without a heart is never enjoyable.

On the other hand, a path with heart is easy–

it does not make a warrior work at liking it;

it makes for a joyful journey,

as long as a man follows it, he is one with it.”

[Carlos Castaneda]

Tuesday–June 30, 2009

Trail Day–101

Trail Mile–23.4/208/2764


Great little village, Ft. Loramie. There’s a library, a bar that serves a super breakfast, and the post office is right off the main drag downtown. Oh, and there’s the Dairy King for burgers, fries, and soft ice cream, along with the Dairy King Motel. Had a relaxing stay; thanks Martha!

A dandy morning for hiking, cool and cloudy, so ‘haps the sun won’t be cookin’ it today.

Some roadwalk, some nice towpath, and some overgrown trail south of Lockington.

In Piqua, there’s a fine bike path along the Great Miami River levee. I follow it to US-36 where I leave the BT/NCT for awhile. There’s a certified section of trail from Yellow Springs to Springfield that dead ends in Springfield. It runs a fair distance, and I’d like to hike it. The way it’s situated, though, makes it difficult to hike without backtracking. If I come at it from the north end it’ll work. So, by hiking over to Urbana, then south from there on the Simon Kenton Trail, that’ll put me on the north end of the certified section in Springfield. Problem is, I’ll miss Dayton, which has some fine Metropark trail. In any regard, that’s the reasoning–hope it makes sense.

I turn from the Greater Miami River in Picqua around three, to hike busy U.S-36 over to Fletcher. I’m in with lots of daylight/hiking time left, but gotta hang here for my mail drop in the morning.

Along one of the roadwalk sections today I found the largest cache of change I’ve ever run across–21 quarters and five dimes, all laying in a three foot area by the grass at the edge of the shoulder. Amazing, just amazing.  I stood there with my mouth gaping, and just stared.

“The best things in life are unexpected – because there were no expectations”

[Eli Khamarov]

Wednesday–July 1, 2009

Trail Day–102

Trail Mile–26.2/234/2790

Location–Simon Kenton Trail, County Line Road

I found a place to pitch last in a fence thicket between a cornfield and a soybean patch about a half-mile north of Fletcher. A very pleasant night; I slept soundly.

This morning I beat it back into town a little after seven to Fletcher Pizza and Carry-Out for breakfast, where Tom fixes me a dandy four-egg omelet. I make quick work out of his coffee pot while waiting for the post office to open.

Fletcher is a mail drop. Here, I’ll finally be changing entirely to my summer gear, the remaining item being my sleeping bag. I’ll drop a few more ounces by going from a 32-degree to a 42-degree bag.

Great way to start this day–the box from home, my bounce box, and cards and letters, all waiting at the post office!

From here to Urbana I have a 20-mile hike on busy US-36. The day remains cloudy and cool, just perfect for hiking.

Passing through the little village of St. Paris, I stop at the cafe there for lunch. They’re proud of their favorite son, Dan, who’s on his second Appalachian Trail thru-hike.

Later in the afternoon I get a phone call from Brent, who lives in Dayton. He’s thru-hiked the Appalachian Trail, and he and his wife have hiked the Pacific Crest Trail, plus the Buckeye Trail. They’d like to come for me this evening and treat me to dinner in Springfield. Oh yes, we make the arrangements!

I also call Susan, who’s the chair of the Simon Kenton Pathfinders. In just a short while, she, and Teresa and Mary come to welcome me to Urbana. The Simon Kenton folks will be having their meeting tomorrow evening and I’ve been invited to attend. Arrangements are made for me to be picked up at Oldtown tomorrow afternoon.

I’m hiking south on the Simon Kenton now, and at seven-thirty, up the bike path comes Brent and Amy, with their daughter, Oakley. We load and head for Springfield, where I’m treated to dinner at the Texas steakhouse. A wonderful meal–thanks dear friends!

Such a short time to spend with these kind folks as those inevitable good-byes soon come, back at Countyline Road. I’m on the trail, and they’re to their long drive home.

“I awoke this morning with devout thanksgiving for my friends, the old and new.

Shall I not call God the beautiful, who daily showeth himself so to me in his gifts.”

[Ralph Waldo Emerson]

Thursday–July 2, 2009

Trail Day–103

Trail Mile–24.2/258/2814

Location–Buckeye Trail, Little Miami Railtrail, Oldtown

I rolled out my sleeping pad and bag right on the concrete in the corner of the pavilion. The cold rain came and went all night, but I remained warm and dry. I’m awakened by voices around six. Folks are already into their daily routine, hiking and biking the Simon Kenton Pathway. I’m out and going by seven-thirty. Still misting and it’s very cool. Hard to believe, but I’ve got my wind jacket on.

On the eastern outskirts of Springfield the trail crosses old US-40 at Main Street. The breeze has turned to a very cold wind, and the mist has turned to rain. To get out of it, I duck into a second-hand store. I’m hoping to find a cafe somewhere near the trail, and I’m in luck. Right downtown, behind and below the tall buildings, is a neat little mom-n-pop, where I hasten for my coffee fix–and lunch.

By the time I’m back out the rain has stopped. It’s only a few blocks back to the trail, which I return to, to continue my trek on the certified section between Springfield and Yellow Springs.

On a short roadwalk section I find a fine piece to add to my flatware collection. Don’t believe I’ve ever mentioned my flatware collection. I can remember my mother and grandmother referring to silverware as flatware. Well, what I’ve been collecting over the years is the genuine thing–flatware. Every place setting has been totally flattened by the constant pounding from laying in the road. Interesting, and a challenge, eating with “flat” ware! Today I add another perfectly flat fork to my ever expanding collection.

I also find a penny folded completely in half. A great addition to my second, nearly full, Mason jar of coins found along the roadways over the years.

The rain has quit, turning back to a light mist as I depart Springfield. South of I-70 the day warms as the skies begin to clear–jacket comes off. Another perfect hiking day along the Little Miami Railtrail.

Arrangements having been made, and in the evening, Teresa, a member of the Simon Kenton Pathfinders who greeted me yesterday evening, comes to take me from the trail to Nancy’s home near Urbana. I’ve time for a quick shower before Teresa loads me again and we head for the monthly meeting of the Simon Kenton Pathfinders, at the beautifully restored depot in downtown Urbana.

The meeting is well attended and I’m asked to say a few words about my NCT hike. Many questions–for the better part of a half-hour. Before I sit again, Nancy introduces me to Ruth, the Mayor of Urbana, and she presents me with a key to their city. Then Nancy has a Simon Kenton cap and T-shirt for me. A very enjoyable time. Hand out lots of cards

Frank and Nancy, and their son, Eric, have me as their guest for the night.

“Every day’s a perfect gift of time for us to use.

Hours waiting to be filled in any way we choose.

Each morning brings a quiet hope that rises with the sun.

Each evening brings the sweet content that comes with work well done.”


Friday–July 3, 2009

Trail Day–104

Trail Mile–26.7/285/2841

Location–Buckeye Trail, Little Miami Railtrail, Ft. Ancient SP

A fine night’s rest, the guest of Nancy and Frank. I hear Nancy in the kitchen this morning and I know coffee will be ready shortly. So, I’m down way before seven. Super breakfast–sausage and cheese scramble, complete with veggies.

Nancy is a massage therapist. Her office is here in her home–separate entrance, with parking. I get the tour.

I’ve an appointment with photographer, Jan, and staff writer, Hanna, Dayton Daily News, so Nancy gets me loaded and back to the trail. Thanks Nancy, thanks Frank–and all dear new friends with the Simon Kenton Pathfinders!

Much time is spent with Jan, along the trail, and then with Hanna at the depot in Xenia. I’m not back hiking until after ten-thirty. A fun interview, though. The article is scheduled to appear tomorrow.

I don’t recall being on a trail with so much traffic. Lots of folks out exercising, riding their bikes today; I would say hundreds. Another perfect day to be out hiking and riding.

By the time I reach Spring Valley it’s after two, so I stop at the cafe there for late lunch.

Back on the trail, an old fellow, Jim, stops to find out where I’m headed. He’s not in any hurry, so we chat. When I tell him I’m hiking to the Adirondacks he get this puzzled look, then tells me I’m hiking the wrong direction.

Late afternoon, early evening now, I’m sitting on the bench in front of the little convenience store in Oregonia, feeling sorry for myself. I had planned on having supper at the cafe by the trail right up–but come to find, it burned down. So, I settle for some M&Ms, party snacks, a Coke, and an ice cream cookie.

Clouds are coming in and it’s beginning to look like rain. While I’m trying to decide whether to hike the three miles on to Ft. Ancient, my destination for today, or stop now and find a place to pitch around here, my cell phone rings. It’s Stacy. She’s hiked the Appalachian Trail, and had heard that I was coming through on the NCT. She lives only a few minutes from here and wants to meet me. No problem sticking tight, so I tell her to come on down. A few more minutes, my phone rings again. This time it’s Gordon, the trail angel who supported me all last year, and at the beginning of this odyssey. Bad weather in the Rockies; all his hikers went home. He wants to know what I think he should do. Ha, a no-brainer. “Come on back east and support me!” I shout with excitement. Then I asked him where he’s at. “About four minutes from where you’re at!” he shouts back–with much excitement.

Phone rings again. This time it’s Matt from Minnesota–just checking on me to see how I’m doing. Thanks for remembering, and for taking the time to call.

In a few minutes, Stacy  shows up, followed in a couple more minutes by Gordon. Is this not incredible!

I hike the final three miles on down to Ft. Ancient, where Stacy and her friend, Cindy–and Gordon, are waiting. The gals invite us to spend the night at their place–and have dinner! We accept, and we’re soon at Stacy’s delightful place, a 50-acre farm. Here, we meet her sister, Kelly, brother-in-law, Glen, and their children. Cindy grills hot dogs while Tracy prepares fresh vegetables from her garden, beets, green beans, and lettuce, ah, and berries, blackberries and blueberries!

A great evening of conversation, talking trail–and life. Stacy and Gordon (and Sue, Gordon’s sister, deceased) had met on the Appalachian Trail the year Stacy hiked it!

An amazing day, just amazing.

“I thank you God for this most amazing day,

for the leaping greenly spirits of trees, and for the blue dream of sky

and for everything which is natural, which is infinite, which is yes.”

[E. E. Cummings]

Saturday–July 4, 2009

Trail Day–105

Trail Mile–23.6/309/2865

Location–Buckeye Trail, Little Miami Railtrail, Miamiville

Ah, that fresh country air coming in my upstairs window–my head hit the pillow and I never wiggled all night. Ten after six, Stacy’s roosters wake me. Breaking camp here is quick and easy. I’m packed and down the stairs in a flash–for coffee, and a fine breakfast prepared by Stacy and Cindy. Oh yes, blueberry pancakes.

Perhaps you are getting tired of hearing about the sad good-byes. If so, you should be party to them. I just skipped telling you about Nancy and Frank, and Teresa, and all the dear Simon Kenton Pathfinders; today, this morning, it’s farewell to the dear new friends here at Stacy’s.

Gordon has me back to the trailhead at Ft. Ancient a little past eight-thirty. We’re doing quite well on getting our act back together after nearly three months.

On the trail just a few minutes, Jeff calls to find out where I’m at. Jeff is the author of A Walk for Sunshine, and A Hike with Mike. He lives in Glenville, a suburb of Cincinnati. He wants to come out and hike with me a bit–before showing us how to get to his place for the night.

Lots of bikers on the Little Miami again today. Mike and Ted stop to greet me. They’d read the article in the Dayton Daily News this morning and wanted to encourage me and wish me well for the remainder of my hike.

The Little Miami Trail winds around the hills now, as does the Little Miami River wind.

In the evening, and in the rain, comes my friend, Jeff. He has hiked out to meet me, then turns to hike back with me to where I’ll end this day.

At Jeff’s now, Gordon and I meet his wife, Beth, and their two children, Madison and William. A lovely home; just a beautiful family.

“You have to love a nation that celebrates its independence every July 4, not with a parade of guns, tanks, and soldiers who file by the White House in a show of strength and muscle, but with family picnics where kids throw Frisbees, the potato salad gets iffy, and the flies die from happiness. You may think you have overeaten, but it is patriotism.”  [Erma Bombeck]

Sunday–July 5, 2009

Trail Day–106

Trail Mile–24.9/334/2890

Location–Buckeye Trail, East Fork SP, Overnight Area #1

It was cloudy and cool all the day yesterday, a perfect hiking day, although at two the mist began, and by the time Jeff came to hike with me, then show us to his home a very steady rain had set in. Ah, what a totally different attitude and outlook–hiking in the rain and knowing I’ll not have to pitch camp in it!

The rain put a total damper on the fourth of July activities. All along the Little Miami, folks were camped for miles and miles, spending time at their grills or on the river in rafts and canoes. By afternoon, I could hear little of the boisterous laughter of earlier in the day–tent time, said Mother Nature, and no fireworks, a washout, a totally quiet evening.

It’s dark and cool again this morning, another overcast day. However, this weather is supposed to clear out by this afternoon and it should turn fair and warm by this evening.

I long ago departed the flat farmlands of Ohio to enter the rolling hills along the Ohio River. And as I leave the Little Miami Railtrail, the flat tread ends, also. At US-50 I will be near the most southern point for this trek, having hiked south, even southwest for the most part of the past 400 miles, clear from Lake Superior in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. My direction slowly changes now, to the east northeast as I head toward Pennsylvania and New York, and the conclusion of this odyssey. I am finally going in the right direction!

Late afternoon, the day has turned quite fair, and back on the roadwalk near Batavia, a whole group of folks break from their weekend fun to come to the road to greet me and to encourage me along. Here I meet Tom, Gretchen, Michael, Olivia, Jessica, Casey, Dillon, Kelly. Also, Mark, Adrian, Lisa, and Coco. What an enthusiastic bunch–just a whopping boost of energy for the old Nomad! I didn’t want to accept, but Tom insisted I accept their money, which I promptly give to Gordon to put in the community account.

In Batavia, and walking the sidewalk comes up this fellow and daughter. “Are you Nimblewill?” asks the fellow. And I meet Steve Miller and his daughter, Becky. Steve is West Union Supervisor, Buckeye Trail Association. We walk the streets of Batavia together while Gordon runs to Quiznos for a sub sandwich for us. At the edge of town, the end of the sidewalk, and after giving me information for his section of trail and the trail just ahead, I bid he and Becky farewell.

At William H. Harsh Lake, East Fork SP, I’m back on certified trail again for the first time in days. Not a fun section as the recent rain and the horse traffic has made a total quagmire of the tread. I slosh and wallow my way on through to near Overnight Area #1, where Gordon and Steve are waiting. Steve tells me he should have invited Gordon and me to stay at his place tonight, and he’s back out now to extend that invitation. We accept, we’re off and soon reach their lovely, spacious home. Ah, a hot shower to get the mud and sweat off, what a blessing!

“Friendship is the source of the greatest pleasures,

and without friends even the most agreeable pursuits become tedious.”

[Saint Thomas Aquinas]

Monday–July 6, 2009

Trail Day–107

Trail Mile–24.1/382/2914


Another great night, the guest of more new friends. Thanks, Steve, Susan, and Becky!

Forecast is for a number of cool, clear days. Looks like the weatherman has it pegged for today, as it looks to be the makings for a glorious day.

I’ve a very tough section to hike today, the southern perimeter of East Fork Lake SP. Horses are permitted on a major portion of it, and with all the recent rain and the likely activity over the 4th, this hike today could be a major mud bog.

The first section of trail is hiker only trail and is well marked, groomed, and maintained, with the varying terrain making for an enjoyable time. It’s called the Steve Newman World Walker Trail.

I called Steve Newman earlier this morning, but his wife, Darci said I’d just missed him. Steve’s trail name is World Walker, as he has hiked around the world. I’d met him while passing through on my transcontinental trek in ’02, and I certainly want to spend some time with him again this trek. Steve returns my call and I’m in luck. He and Darci will be home tomorrow evening, and Gordon and I are invited to be their guests. This is great!

I also get a call from Richard who’s with Clerisy Press in Cincinnati. Clerisy is the parent company of Menasha Ridge Press in Birmingham, publishers of Ten Million Steps, the paperback. I had emailed him last weekend, in hopes we might get together, but there just isn’t enough time–to do a 25 today, plus drive the 70-80 miles round trip to Cincinnati. Perhaps timing will be better this fall.The Perimeter trail proves to be pretty much what I’d expected, a near-total quagmire. Much recent rain, plus many horses on the trail, have combined to make for industrial mud. I slog my way along the entire day. Late evening, Gordon is waiting for me at the East Fork, Little Miami River, where the trail emerges from the state park–and the quagmire.

I am very tired, and very muddy. The road Gordon is parked on is little used, so I open the back doors on the van, get the big water can out, take a bath, and wash some of the mud from my clothes.

Gordon has scouted out a mom-n-pop restaurant in Georgetown, and after I hike the mile to town, we head there for supper.

It’s a short drive to East Fork SP Campground. We’re in and camp is set just at dusk.

“Every new day begins with possibilities.

It’s up to us to fill it with the things that move us toward progress and peace.”

[Ronald Reagan]

Tuesday–July 7, 2009

Trail Day–108

Trail Mile–24.9/407/2939


Camped the night at the East Fork River SP. We had the whole campground to ourselves. I’m awake at first light, moving about carefully in my tent as there’s condensation inside and dew outside. I wake Gordon and get him moving. Slow going for both of us this morning, for some reason. We finally manage to make it to downtown Williamsburg, where I resume my hike. We’d had a fine meal at Mom’s last, and we’d looked at their breakfast menu. So, only a short while hiking this morning, we break and head back over to Mom’s.

Steve (the Buckeye Trail Steve) has scheduled an interview with Marsha, Staff Reporter, The Clermont Sun. So, after breakfast, and back on the trail just a short time, they come out to meet me. We move to the shade and away from the traffic for an enjoyable time.

While the interview is going on, Gordon is out shopping the second hand stores for kitchen gear.

After the interview, and in a short while, Steve is back with his daughter, Becky, and we hike some of his trail (road) together.

Late afternoon I call Darci and make plans for Gordon and I to meet her in Ripley. I can certainly remember the long, steep hill up to their place, but I can’t remember how to get there.

The Newmans are great hosts and we share a most enjoyable evening.

“The advantage of a bad memory is that one enjoys several times

the same good thing for the first time.”

[Friedrich Nietzsche]

Wednesday–July 8, 2009

Trail Day–109

Trail Mile–25.2/432/2964

Location–Buckeye Trail, near Beasley Fork

While passing through on yet another odyssey, what a joy to again see and spend time with the Newmans, Steve and Darci. Steve is world renowned as a walker. World Walker is his trail name. He’s in the Guinness Book of World Records, for he has walked around the world.

The Newmans last took me into their beautiful home in Ripley in June, 2002. They offered shelter, fed me, renewed my spirit, provided me great energy to continue my transcontinental trek. And now again they have taken both Gordon and me into their home, fed us, renewed our spirits, and provided us great energy. Thanks, Steve and Darci!

I slept soundly last, Gabriel, their gentle lab, guarding me the entire time. This morning, Steve sets us up with yogurt, cereal, and fruit, plus a full pot of coffee to get us going–and a shopping bag full of energy-packed food. We chat while he hard boils a saucepan of eggs for us.

Steve is intrigued by Gordon’s stories about his sister, Sue Ellen. And are we likewise intrigued by Steve’s amazing stories about his world encircling walk. I had made it to the little community of Russellville last, about 20 miles north of Ripley. By nine, Gordon has me back there and on the trail again.

So, on this overcast, cool July morning, a blessing to this old hiker, I’m off, heading east, fully nourished, clean, healthy, and strong. A blessing, indeed, a blessing.

Out of Russellville, and trending generally east, the Buckeye Trail, and the suggested route for the NCT, zigs and zags around the back country roads. Gordon has purchased the Ohio DeLorme, and we’ve looked at other more direct routes, primarily state roads. I settle on SR-125 to get me near the trails in the Shawnee SF. It’s an uneventful day along that highway.

In the evening, after a bit of exploring, we find a spot to park the van, up a two-track to an old dilapidated barn. I set up the folding table, get the Coleman cook stove out and fire it up to prepare supper–just like the good old days!

“Reflect upon your present blessings, of which every man has plenty;

not on your past misfortunes, of which all men have some.”

[Charles Dickens]

Thursday–July 9, 2009

Trail Day–110

Trail Mile–23.5/456/2988

Location–Buckeye Trail, Shawnee SF, Brushy Creek, then on to near Wamsley

Another unusually cool morning. I start out wearing my wind jacket. We head directly to the convenience down the road for coffee. This day is starting out right.

More roadwalking to reach the Shawnee SF; we’re there by eleven. Here is the first offroad section in quite some time, but it is totally overgrown with brush, briars, and brambles, so it’s back out to the road. Here I’ve reached the southernmost point for this trek.

On down the road I find the next offroad section to be through recent burnover and clearcut. More roadwalking as hiking (say stumbling) through clearcuts or burnovers (a desolation of char and ash everywhere) is no fun–both, well, I stay the road! The third segment of offroad I find to be superb, an absolute joy to hike, rugged tread along and across narrow saddles, like the Swag of the Blue Ridge.

It’s been a very long hiking day, a mixed bag, what with the poor sections–and the good.

We pitch for the night, again, by an old barn.

“Not all those who wander are lost.”

[J. R. R. Tolkien]

Friday–July 10, 2009

Trail Day–111

Trail Mile–23.9/480/3012

Location–Wamsley, then on to near Louden

Funny deal last evening. Could have been a bad deal, considering, but ended up okay. What happened was: To stay the night we found another old barn off by itself, no gate by the road, no posted signs. We maneuvered the van in behind the barn so it couldn’t be seen from the road. Great view out across the countryside, beautiful sunset as we sat in our lounge chairs enjoying supper. Then we heard a strange noise, bumpety-bump, bumped-bump. “What’s that noise?” I ask Gordon. Bumped-bump, BUMPED-BUMP. “Don’t know,” he said, “But it’s coming around the barn whatever it is.” I could see the nose of the Jeep, then the hay wagon hooked to it–then the driver. The farmer stops, shut the engine off, then looks at us, just sitting and staring back at him. Big smile from the man as I finally get up and walk toward him, apologizing all the while. A very friendly fellow, name is Salisbury. The place isn’t his, it’s his brothers. He just caretakes the farm. I explain why we’re parked by the barn, give him one of my cards. Tell him we’ll pick up and leave if he says so. “No need,” he replies, “Just don’t leave a mess for me to clean up.” Another kind smile, and he bumped-bumps on down the pasture. Whew, that sure worked out okay!

We’re up and out early. Another beautiful morning.

Today’s mostly a roadwalk, up and down the hills of southern Ohio. The many dogs along provide the entertainment and the excitement. Every place, especially the old trailers that are slowly sliding down the hill, all have at least two dogs. One place had over 20. Sure glad I carry trekking poles!

No shoulders and busy roads make for a tiring day. There’s one grand, short off-road section through the Davis Memorial Wildlife Refuge. Lots of pictures.

For the evening, Gordon is able to find a spot for us to park the van, in the minister’s yard, Louisville Baptist Church.

“Let us be grateful to people who make us happy;

they are the charming gardeners who make our souls blossom.”

[Marcel Proust]

Saturday–July 11, 2009

Trail Day–112

Trail Mile–26.6/507/3039

Location–Louden, then on to Pike Forest Ranger Station

I’ve carved a spot out in the back of Gordon’s van and have been spending the nights there instead of on the ground in my tent. Much easier breaking camp–no camp to break, and I don’t have to fuss with a wet tent from the condensation and dew. And Gordon says he doesn’t mind the company.

The day begin clear but soon turns cloudy. Forecast is for rain, possible thunderstorms, this afternoon.

First stop is Serpent Mound. I’d passed this ancient Indian ceremonial ground during my transcontinental trek in 2002, and have been much looking forward to visiting here again. The gate is open and we drive right in. It’s early so we’re the only ones here. Serpent Mound is quite an impressive place and I am awestruck once more, much the same as during my first visit.

We were looking forward to breakfast in Sinking Spring, but the little cafe I remember being here is closed down, so we settle for coffee at the convenience store and continue on.

There’s a mixture of road and trail today. The section of off-road through Fort Hill State Memorial is very enjoyable, as it is marked and well maintained. As I complete that section I have trouble finding the trail over to Bell Hollow Road and end up walking SR-41 and Bell Hollow around. The next two offroad sections have been poorly maintained. However, I do hike to Turner Hill, then on to Pike Forest Ranger Station–by trail. I emerge at the road wet, muddy–and bleeding. The greenbriar have literally taken over the trail, and along with the many blowdowns, this off-road is certainly no fun. The kind Ranger at Pike Forest has given us permission to overnight by the service/garage area. It’s dusk by the time we’ve finished dinner and have everything put away.

“A difficult time can be more readily endured

if we retain the conviction that our existence holds a purpose –

a cause to pursue, a person to love, a goal to achieve.”

[John Maxwell]

Sunday–July 12, 2009

Trail Day–113

Trail Mile–26.8/534/3066

Location–Morgantown, then on to Waverly

The rain of yesterday (we did have a good bit of rain yesterday) gave it up early evening, and during the night the skies cleared. This morning it’s warm and  muggy, with much fog, but that should burn off quickly.

First stop is the convenience/hardware in Latham for coffee (of course) and a few supplies. By the time Gordon has me back on trail (say road), the day has turned clear and sunny.

The last section of off-road yesterday, into Pike Forest Ranger Station, was slow, difficult going–brush, briars and blowdowns. I emerged wet, muddy, and cut up. So, the decision today is to avoid these unmaintained Buckeye Trail sections as they’re not only no fun at all, but they’re dangerous. At Morgantown, the trail from Auerville Road looks to be passable, so I head in. Bad decision. Although this section is named in honor of Jim Sprague, Buckeye trail builder, it leaves much to be desired. When first constructed it would have been a very enjoyable hike. But now, with near the whole tread scraped clean and wide by a tracked excavator, well, please don’t ever name a trail after anyone that looks like this one!

The next section of off-road used to lead out of Pike Lake SP, over toward Nipgen, but no more. ‘Haps it had become so neglected that no one was attempting to hike it, so it’s been closed down. The route now is a roadwalk.

Late evening, and down Pennington Road out of Denver, I’m looking forward to hiking the short 1.6 mile segment over to US-23, but when I get here–no way. Not 20 feet off the road the trail is so choked with greenbriars that to attempt it without a machete would be impossible.

This is truly frustrating, that I’m unable to hike hardly any of the Buckeye Trail off-road sections now due to lack of maintenance and neglect.

More roadwalking now, on down to Waverly, to get around this brushed up and neglected trail.

I arrive the main drag in Waverly around eight. Gordon loads me and we’re off to the Amerinn Motel west of town. A very frustrating day, not being able to hike the Buckeye.

“Frustration, although quite painful at times, is a very positive and essential part of success.”

[Bo Bennett]

Monday–July 13, 2009

Trail Day 114

Trail Mile–26.3/560/3092

Location–Buckeye Trail, Scioto Trail SF, Stony Creek, then on to Tar Hollow SF, Londonderry

The 1.6 mile section I was unable to hike yesterday evening has turned into a seven mile roadwalk to get around it. I’m not back hiking till after nine, so by the time I complete the detour it’s almost noon. There are some hiker-only sections in the Scioto Trail SF. I find them passable, but there’s been no maintenance this season, at least that I can tell, so there’s plenty of blowdowns, brambles, and brush to get through.

Crossing the Scioto River I decide to bypass Tar Hollow SF. There’s trail in the forest, but sections of it were decertified over ten years ago due to tread damage from horses and ORVs. The current brochure for Tar Hollow SF shows those same trails, no changes after ten years. If they were bad then, what condition are they in now–I hike around Tar Hollow!

The detour proves delightful, through a fertile valley. Neatly-kept farms, lush green fields of corn ripening in the warm sun–just a delightful hike.

Late evening, Gordon makes friends with Don, who’s out mowing by the road. Next thing you know, we’ve got a place to park the van for the night.

Looking forward to the Grandma Gatewood Trail and Old Man’s Cave, coming up later tomorrow.

“It is often the detours in life that allow us to experience things we might otherwise miss.”

[Linda CyWiz Stolte]

Tuesday–July 14, 2009

Trail Day–115

Trail Mile–23.5/583/3116

Location–Buckeye Trail, past Tar Hollow SF to Old Man’s Cave

Hard to believe that in Ohio, in July, I’d need my jacket, but it’s sure cool enough this morning, and the jacket feels good.

The Scioto River Valley is a very lovely valley. The farms are all well kept, the grass, even by the cornfields, is mowed. Everyone has at least one dog, so I’m constantly greeted as I pass each farmhouse. People keep stopping to see if I’m okay, to find out where I’m going, to offer me a ride.

By mid afternoon the tarmac starts cooking as the day has turned very hot. I’m glad to reach Ash Cave and the shelter of the trail.

The section from Ash Cave to Old Man’s Cave is named after Emma Gatewood. Grandma, as she was affectionately known by all, was one of the first women to thru-hike the Appalachian Trail.

During my transcontinental trek of ’02, I hiked Old Man’s Cave. It was one of the highlights of that odyssey, so I’ve been looking, with much anticipation, to hiking here again.

By three, I’m at Ash Cave, and by five, Old Man’s Cave. It has once again proven to be a memorable hike, well-kept trail, remarkable cliff formations and overhangs. I take lots of video shots, many pictures.

Folks at the private stables right next the park permit us to stay the night in their parking lot.

“For the love of nature is healing, If we will only give it a try.

And our reward will be forthcoming, If we go deeper than what meets the eye.”

[Emma Grandma Gatewood, GAME ’55]

Wednesday–July 15, 2009

Trail Day–116

Trail Mile–53.0/636/3169

Location–Buckeye Trail, Hocking SF, Pine Creek, then on to Logan

It’s such a blessing having support again. I’m able to get out and going so much faster from the van than from my tent. I’m pack shouldered and hiking before seven this morning. My jacket’s on again. Hard to believe the mornings are cool enough to need a jacket, but I would be very chilled without it.

You can see from my daily stats that over the past number of days I’ve managed to accumulate enough miles to pick up (get back) another day. With relatively cool days, near-perfect hiking conditions, plus the long hours, it’s a fairly easy process. Just gotta stay on trail and go. In one of my previous entries I went into an in-depth discussion about the subject of long-mile days.

I’m now getting email and guestbook entries at my website marveling about the fact that I am so amazingly far ahead of schedule. The comments have been very positive, encouraging, and most kind. But I know what folks must be thinking. They’re thinking, “This guy has gotta be taking rides. There’s just no way, with his daily, high-mile itinerary, that he could get so many days ahead, otherwise.”

Well, first, for you doubters, and you should all be doubters, I swear to you now that I have hiked the entire distance, every foot, from Lake Sac, North Dakota, to where I’m at this moment, Logan–no rides, no gaps, save the trails bypassed for now, and the five-mile ride across the Straits of Mackinac.

As to being (so it appears) so many, many days ahead of schedule, please know that I am not ahead at all, but am actually on, day for day, as to my itinerary.

Here’s what has happened:  If you’ll look at my itinerary, day one, there you’ll see the date, March 27th. If you go to my first journal entry, you’ll find that I actually began on March 22nd, a full five days earlier. So, immediately, I gained five days. You will recall that, due to circumstances at the time, I bypassed both the Border Route and the Superior Trail(s). I had allowed ten days to hike those two trails. Not hiking them put me another ten days ahead, for a total of 15. So, since these adjustments were never made to my daily itinerary dates, let’s do that now, let’s figure how I’m doing, schedule-wise. Okay, for Logan, to be on schedule, I should be arriving here 15 days earlier than my itinerary shows. That would be July 15th. This is July 15th. So, in reality, I’m not early at all, but am spot on!

As it’s worked out, looks like timing is such that I might be blessed with perfect weather (early September) to traverse the High Peaks in the Adirondacks, from there to complete this incredible odyssey at Crown Point. However, at Lake Champlain, this odyssey will not be complete, for as you may recall I had to bypass many miles of trail back in late winter, in the Arrowhead of Minnesota, the Boundary Waters Canoe Area. And where is the northernmost point along the North Country Trail? Oh yes, it’s along the Border Route Trail and the Superior Hiking Trail. And so, if this journey is to be a complete thru-hike, then I must return to Minnesota and hike those trails this year. So, the urgency, the singular intense focus, that I stay–I must stay–the itinerary daily schedule. Otherwise, I’ll again end up suffering the brutal winter conditions, the snow and ice of the far north country. It was 25 yesterday, it’s 25 today–and it’ll be 25 tomorrow and every day until this trek is thru.

The hike today is a roadwalk to Logan. I follow state roads for the most part instead of zig-zagging the lesser-used (and more dangerous) backroads. Motorists along all treat me kindly, and the day passes quickly; an enjoyable hike.

The night here in Logan is spent in the motel downtown.

“Interruptions can be viewed as sources of irritation or opportunities for service,

as moments lost or experience gained, as time wasted or horizons widened.

They can annoy us or enrich us, get under our skin or give us a shot in the arm.

Monopolize our minutes or spice our schedules, depending on our attitude toward them.”

[William Arthur Ward]

Thursday–July 16, 2009

Trail Day–117

Trail Mile–26.2/662/3195

Location–Buckeye Trail, Wayne NF, Burr Oak, then on to Dock #2, Primitive Camp Area, Burr Oak SP

A very pleasant stay, a comfortable night in Logan. Enjoyed a high octane spaghetti dinner at the little mom-n-pop cafe downtown last evening. We’re right back there first thing this morning for eggs, biscuits and gravy–and a pot of coffee.

Gordon manages to get me back on trail a little after eight. I’m proud of myself for getting out as early as I did. I will be hiking this morning in the Burr Oak section of the Wayne NF. Much of this area is reclaimed strip mine land (coal). The first section of certified trail, a short bit of bridal path north of Oreville, has been well maintained–by horses, the traffic not heavy enough to cause serious damage. Hiking these short off-road sections, the intervals between roadwalks along the back township roads, are most pleasant.

Logan was a mail-drop. It took two trips from the post office to get everything to the van. I’ve had Dwinda send me many things I wouldn’t otherwise have if not for the van–jeans and a tee-shirt, for example. She’s sent two boxes. Honey and Bear sent a care canister. Lylis, Dwinda’s sister, sent a large package (more goodies). My bounce box is here. And there are cards and letters from family and friends. Hit the jackpot, sure enough!

I now also have my last pair, of the four pair of 812s provided by my sponsor, New Balance. I’ll switch to them during the next hundred miles or so.

Again, and I can’t comment enough, It’s just such a blessing, a great luxury having Gordon’s support.

The off-road sections where there has been either horse or ORV traffic, the trail is open and passable. But the hiker-only sections are at best very difficult to hike. We are unable to find the short segment above Murray City. Searching, and hiking along, I find blazes leading to Murray City. Apparently this short section has been abandoned, likely due to lack of use–and no maintenance. Other than in the monuments (Serpent Mound) and the Ohio State Parks (Old Man’s Cave), there’s been no maintenance anywhere along the Buckeye Trail, this season, and not for a very long time. Sections designated hiker only, those getting little or no use, are choked with brush, briars, and blowdowns. I have grown weary of such tread, bloody arms and legs from greenbriar, multiflora rose, and other assorted brambles (blackberry)–and my clothing all snagged-up and tattered.

So I decide to bypass the off-road sections just after the abandoned segment (as they’ll be in the same shape)–and go the highway to Glouster.

From Glouster to Burr Oak SP is a short roadwalk. We intercept the trail again on Lodge Road. Here, we call it a day and return to the primitive camping area by Dock #2.

Hopefully, tomorrow I’ll find the trail up and around Burr Oak Lake to be in better shape, this being a state park.

“You can kiss your family and friends good-bye and put miles between you,

but at the same time you carry them with you in your heart, your mind, your stomach,

because you do not just live in a world but a world lives in you.”

[Frederick Buechner]

Friday–July 17, 2009

Trail Day–118

Trail Mile–25.4/687/3220

Location–Buckeye Trail, Wayne NF, Goshen Creek, then on to near Stockport

We’d talked last evening about having breakfast at the Burr Oak Lodge. Gordon had gone over to check it out, even brought back a copy of the menu.

The dining room opens for breakfast at seven and we’re right there–coffee for starters, then an energy packed breakfast, eggs, biscuits and gravy.

A section of trail by the lake is named after Bob and Mary-Lou Paton. It’s located up from the lodge, where I ended my hike yesterday. Gordon gets me back there and I head out. I’m not surprised to find that it’s not in much better shape than other of the Buckeye sections hiked. The Paton is hiker-only trail, so there’s been no help from the horseyback and ORV folks’ passing. Someone (bless their heart) has been through recently with a pair of loppers. However, what is sorely needed is a good pass with a DR brush cutter and a chainsaw.

Shortly past the Paton Trail I move back to the road and hike it to Chester Hill.

A short distance east of Chester Hill, after passing private property (of Roger on one end and Charles on the other), the trail crosses an old covered bridge that’s in exceptionally good condition.

Some old abandoned roads, more private property through fields and along a creek and the trail emerges by CR-792. Here we call it a day.

“What stories could these bridges tell

If they could only talk?

They’d tell us of the ones who rode

And those who had to walk,

The rich, the poor…..those in-between

Who used their planks to cross,

The soldiers, farmers, businessmen

In buggies, sleighs, by “hoss”,

Like sentinels these bridges stand

In spite of flood and fire,

Their rugged, stalwart strength remains

Our future to inspire.”


Saturday–July 18, 2009

Trail Day–119

Trail Mile–24.6/712/3245

Location–Beverly, then on to Marietta

Gordon’s van is long, and it’s even longer when trying to turn it around on a narrow two-track, the road where I ended the day yesterday. Gordon managed to get it turned, but only after five minutes of jacking the steering wheel lock-to-lock, moving only inches each time. It was a good spot to park, a dead-end road from where the trail emerged.

Another cool, jacket-on morning. Another day of constant roadwalking, as the NCT departs from the Buckeye to head east, into the Eastern District, Wayne NF. There’s 36 miles of certified trail to hike in Wayne East, all NCT.

The highlight of this day is searching for and finding the site, a photo of which graces the cover of Dan Sheltowee Rogers’ great book, America One Step at a Time. After driving the backroads up and around, we finally locate it, on the Buckeye Trail near Relief. It was an emotional time for me. Sheltowee is a very dear friend, his book a beautiful story about his walk across most of America–an easy and fun read. Oh, and incidentally, yours truly had the pleasure of writing the foreword. You can get a copy at http://www.sheltoweehikes.com. Check it out.

I reach Marietta city limits (in another downpour) at six. Gordon lifts this soggy old hiker from the road, and we roll over to Ryan’s Steak House, then on to Wal-Mart Inn (the superstore parking lot) for the night.

As we cut into Mother Earth

To rob her heart,

Oh, my friend, I hear you cry,

And to this day I wonder why

The words you spoke we could not hear.

All I can do, my friend, is add a tear.

We didn’t understand then your wisdom and foresight,

So now we dwell in our own refuse.

We wrote down your words and still preach them today

But we have yet to hear what you had to say.

Oh, where are the bear, the buffalo, the wapiti?

We have traded them to make room for hay

And now the silence of your forest

Is disrupted by the trucks that haul Mother Earth away.

A tree will lean to get to the light

Nature is that way

But what will the tree do when there is no more light?

How many more mountaintops will we blow up

To make room for another ski resort?

How many more marshes will we drain and fill

To make room for another Wal-Mart?

Oh, Tecumseh, will we ever listen to your words

And comprehend your wisdom?

Or will we just add a tear?

[Dan Sheltowee Rogers]

Sunday–July 19, 2009

Trail Day–120

Trail Mile–24.7/737/3270

Location–Wayne NF, Sitka, then on to near Deucher

The night in the van at Wal-Mart worked fine. Only problem: Sweeper in the parking lot just kept going round and round.

I’d reached the city limits of Marietta last evening. From there to Wal-Mart, across town, turned out to be six miles, and it was slow going. But today being Sunday, and the fact we’re out a little after seven, well, we’re back across town in no time.

The suggested route for the NCT goes directly downtown, across an old railroad-turned-pedestrian bridge over the Muskingum River, then into the old historic business district.

Hiking through, and being breakfast time now, we decide to go for the finest, the old Lafayette Hotel.  It’s right on the river, near the confluence of the Muskingum and the Ohio, a quite well-preserved high rent establishment.

I’ve more roadwalking to do before reaching the certified sections of trail in the Wayne. Arriving, I cross another covered bridge first thing. There are blazes both sides of the old bridge, even a set of double directional blazes on the east side, but I’m unable to find another blaze anywhere. The road leading from the covered bridge is private, as is the land above the Little Muskingum River. Since the covered bridge I crossed yesterday had private land both sides, I gave little thought to the fact that the road over which the trail passes here is also private. I’m well down the lane now, and through a gate sporting a “Keep Out” sign. No more than 50 yards inside the gate, a lady drives up. I can tell right away she isn’t happy. Soon as she stops I hasten to explain that I’m looking for the trail. “This is private land, and this is a private road–there is no trail here.” her tight-lipped reply. The woman is obviously perturbed. Actually, she’s just plain mad!

A comment in Wes Boyd’s Guide, now some eleven years old, should have given me a heads up. “Hutchins in 1990 found the trail weedy and overgrown in this section, with possible private land crossing problems, but the situation reportedly has improved.” NOT!  I’m back out the gate and off the lady’s place pronto. Across the covered bridge once more, I take the (public) road to Sitka!

After this bumpy start, I’m set to hike my first section of certified trail in the Wayne. Very slow going, what with the weeds, briars and brush choking the trail, along with plenty of blowdowns. It appears no one has hiked through here recently, and it also appears there’s been no maintenance for a very long time, at least two hiking seasons or more, I’d say. After losing my way and getting bloodied up by the briars, I give it up, break out, and return to the road. Late evening, Gordon finds a logger’s landing in the forest, and we hang it up for the day.

“If history could teach us anything, it would be that private property is inextricably linked with civilization”

[Ludwig von Mises]

Monday–July 20, 2009

Trail Day–121

Trail Mile–26.3/763/3296

Location–Wayne NF, Glass, then on to Sprague

Another very cool morning.  I start out with my wind jacket, and as the rain begins, off it comes and on goes my poncho. The rain comes and goes all day. I’m getting good at poncho on, poncho off–while still hiking.

East of Deucher I’m on some fine trail, the tread clear, the trail wide–from all the mountain bike traffic.

I had hoped that since the trail in the Wayne was NCT trail only, not shared with the Buckeye–I had hoped, even had great expectations, that the certified sections would be well maintained. But I am suffering the same disappointment all over again, as with the Buckeye Trail early on. Here in the Wayne, it’s almost as if the trail has been abandoned. Lack of use justifies lack of maintenance, with the reverse also being true–and it all spirals down.

Early afternoon I hike into the last certified section of NCT in the Wayne–and hike right back out. Briars, brush and blowdowns, and the last two days, nature’s other nasty, stinging nettle. In the low, open areas the stinging nettle is head high, totally obscuring the trail.

It took a full day of roadwalking to depart the Buckeye and get over here to the Wayne, and today I’ve begun the long roadwalk back.

A waste of time to hike the Wayne? Perhaps not a waste of time, but it has certainly been a disappointment, to say the least.

Late afternoon we leave the Wayne NF behind.

Joe, a kind fellow Gordon met in Sprague while waiting for me to catch up, said it would be okay for us to park for the night in the Stafford/Sprague School parking lot, another three miles up the road–and that’s it for today.

“Life is not about waiting for the storm to pass, it’s about learning to dance in the rain.”

[Author Unknown]

Tuesday–July 21, 2009

Trail Day–122

Trail Mile–26.1/789/3322

Location–Wayne NF, Summerfield, then on to Senecaville

A quiet night in the school parking lot. Another jacket-on morning. A mixed bag as far as the weather is concerned. It’s raining as we depart and return to the trail. There’s thunder in the distance, and dark rain-laden clouds loom, but I am spared the barrage, as the storm moves off to the northeast.

It’s a forty-minute hike on up to Sandbar Road where Gordon lifts me from the trail and we head for Stafford–hoping to find a little mom-n-pop cafe for breakfast. We’re in luck. A fine establishment, Nellie’s, owned and operated by Debbie, Nellie’s daughter. She’s the youngest of nine girls. Five boys make it fourteen for the family. The locals just left, so we’ve got the place. Gordon and I both order omelets, plus coffee. Lots of memorabilia adorning the place, pictures, newspaper clippings, plenty to ask Debbie about. Come to find she and her husband are both Elvis fans. Personal snapshots with Elvis. Debbie likes Loretta Lynn, and David Allen Coe. David Allen was born near Stafford. Joe, the fellow Gordon spoke to last evening is a second cousin to David Allen. Debbie is surprised to know that my friend, Bobby, from my hometown in Missouri, drove David Allen’s bus for a number of years.

Out of Stafford, and back to the trail, the day has come around nicely, scattered clouds, still cool. Next stop is Summerfield, the General Store, as we work our way back over to the Buckeye Trail (opposite direction we need be going–again). Time for a Coke and a hand-dipped sugar cone of Hershey’s finest before returning to the road.

Late afternoon I rejoin the Buckeye at the Buffalo Hills Campground. Blue blazes again, for the shortest while. More disappointing trail as I struggle to work my way through. Trees grow out, becoming larger in diameter. Faint blazes that are wider than tall give a clue as to how long ago they were painted up. I finally quit trying to find blazes and just work my way toward coordinates I’ve set just outside the campground. I’m off a couple hundred yards where I emerge at SR-574–where Gordon awaits. A short walk down the sidewalk by the Baptist Church property, and it’s back in the woods again. More disappointment. There’s little evidence of traffic; no evidence of maintenance. I again break out a couple hundred yards shy of where Gordon again waits. From here it’s a short roadwalk down to and across Seneca Lake Dam. On the dam, I’ve great views along the east shore, many homes and cabins gracing it.

Another short roadwalk from the dam to Senecaville, and we call it a  day. Gordon drives us up to the truck stop at I-70, where we get a room for the night.

“We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope.”

[Martin Luther King, Jr.]

Wednesday–July 22, 2009

Trail Day–123

Trail Mile–26.3/815/3348

Location–Old Washington, then on to Londonderry

The Shenandoah Truck Stop in Old Washington is a true oasis. We headed there after ending for the day in Senecaville last. Very reasonable motel rate; fine food. Even did a couple loads of laundry. Clean bodies, clean clothes, full tummies–yup, a true oasis!

A cloudy, cool morning; looks to be the makings for another perfect hiking day.

I begin the day on the road, from Senecaville to Old Washington. North of Old Washington I enter the Salt Fork SP and a quite remarkable section of certified trail. Seems there’s just no middle ground as far as trail conditions are concerned. Sure the opposite extreme here, three and one-half miles of manicured woodsroad, not a blowdown, grass bush-hogged out six feet both sides of the trail. Sure a change from the greenbriers, Ma Natures razor wire.

Late afternoon and just past Tuttle Road, there’s a short section of trail across private property. At the farm down from where the trail enters, I meet Clara. I ask her if the trail still crosses her property and if I might have permission to hike there. A very kind lady, Clara. We have a long chat. I’m given permission to pass–and directions. Thanks Clara.

Once I enter Clara’s property, I see immediately that the trail here will be the highlight of this day. It’s a mowed path, and there are several. The three that I hike are Tower, Shamrock, and Snowy River. I even find Lost Lake!

Late evening Gordon lifts me from the road and we head for Skull Fork Covered Bridge, a most picturesque setting. Here we call it a day.

“Extreme positions are not succeeded by moderate ones, but by contrary extreme positions.”

[Friedrich Nietzsche]

Thursday–July 23, 2009

Trail Day–124

Trail Mile–24.5/840/3373

Location–Smyrna, then on to near Deersville, Fort Steuben Scout Reservation

We parked the van right on the trail last, by Skull Fork Covered Bridge, another of Ohio’s beautiful, well-maintained covered bridges. Time was when covered bridges served a purpose. Back then, Ohio had more covered bridges than any other state, with over 2,000. Now they’re just historic sites.

It rained off and on all night, hard enough at times to wake me from a sound sleep. Sleeping under a tin roof is different than sleeping under sil-nylon, oh yes, different in many ways, all of them good.

There are no blazes anywhere in Smyrna. They simply end on Covered Bridge Road before reaching Smyrna. It’s the same problem we’ve encountered elsewhere when trying to find the beginning of certified trail–no blazes at critical turns/intersections. We look around but waste little time, as we expect this segment to be overgrown and impassable like most others. Here’s a quote from Sue Lockwood’s journal back in 1994, as written by Gordon: “Outside Smyrna, impenetrable brambles forces us off cut trail and on to the highway.” I hike the highway north, past Piedmont Lake to Clendening Lake.

At Clemdening Lake a certified section of trail passes around the upper lake shoreline for nine miles. I’m hesitant about hiking it, but this is the last section of the Buckeye left with any distance to it, so I head in. I was hoping to find conditions different, but, as with almost all the Buckeye hiker-only trail, it’s not been maintained–a tough nine miles of briars, brambles, and blowdowns. Takes me four hours to finally emerge at SR-799, tired, wet, and bloody.

My dear friend, Dan Rogers, was the camp director at Fort Steuben Reservation Scout Camp a few years ago. It’s just off the trail here at Clendening Lake. He had urged us to stop in when passing through. So, while I’m hiking the trail around, Gordon goes over to check the place out.

Good news: We’re invited to camp there for the night, and to join them for dinner at six.

Gordon is waiting for me where I break out of the woods and we head right over to Fort Steuben.

Fuzzy, the Camp Ranger, gets us squared away, and we’re set for the night.

A great time with the staff and scout packs at dinner. Many of the staff know Dan. So, after dinner I get them all lined up for a picture–to send on to Dan. Sure he’ll be surprised!

This Uniformed Little Boy

It seems like only yesterday, his eyes were lit with joy,

As we watched with admiration, this uniformed little boy.

Campouts, picnics, Pinewood cars, the years slipped quickly by,

The colors changed from blue to green, in the twinkling of an eye.

Soon came ranks of Tenderfoot, Second, First and Star,

Each leading toward that final quest, once visioned from afar.

And then the rank of Life, and as life can often do,

The goal so close within his grasp, was dimming from his view.

Yet from within he found the strength to reach that final quest,

Remembering words from years gone by: I Will Do My Best.

It seems like only yesterday, his eyes were lit with joy,

As we watched with admiration, this uniformed little boy.

Now with an eagle upon his chest, he soars, where once he ran,

No longer that uniformed little boy; our Son…an Eagle…a Man.

[Mike Wood]

Friday–July 24, 2009

Trail Day–125

Trail Mile–26.5/867/3400

Location–Buckeye Trail, Willis Run, Tappan Lake, then on to Atwood Lake

Fort Steuben Scout Reservation is a special place. Although it’s been around for half a century, the facility has been well kept and cared for, thanks to a great extent to Fuzzy, Camp Ranger, the kind fellow who welcomed us yesterday evening. Seems he’s also the resident caretaker, and a fine job he’s done keeping the camp going–for years now. Thanks, Fuzzy, we had a memorable stay at Fort Steuben Scout Reservation! And thank you, too, Sheltowee, (Dan Rogers, dear friend and former camp director at Fort Steuben).

Over to the cafeteria for coffee, then a final farewell to Fuzzy this morning, and we’re off to the trail. Another great day for hiking. In Deersville we take a break for breakfast. Then it’s over to the general store for some wonderful homemade ice cream. A quick trip to the post office, then we do a short side trip to the Buckeye Trail Association “barn.” The BTA owns a farm near the trail here by Deersville, where they hold their annual meetings. The barn has been modernized to accommodate members during their annual event, and the grounds by the barn comprise an acre or more of manicured lawn, complete with picnic tables. Quite a nice facility.

Back on the road now, I bypass the last short sections of off-road. I’ve just suffered enough of the constant struggling through section after section of overgrown, unmaintained trail (You’d think the BTA folks could take the least bit of time during one of their meetings to clear out these short sections of nearby trails, wouldn’t you? Yes mother, I know, I know, be quiet!).

Late afternoon we reach Atwood Lake, here to stop for the day at the boat launch area.

“Oh, wouldn’t the world seem dull and flat with nothing whatever to grumble at?”

[W.S. Gilbert]

Saturday–July 25, 2009

Trail Day–126

Trail Mile–25.5/893/3426

Location–Somerdale, then on to near Malvern

The Atwood Lake boat launch area is a park-like setting, though there is no park, just the launch area and parking lot. Just before sunset last, we got out our table and lounge chairs and prepared supper right by the van–a fine spaghetti dinner. Then we just sat and relaxed, enjoying the view of the lake and the perfect evening. Other folks had the same idea and they’d set up their chairs in the parking lot just down from us.

By dark, we’d put everything away and are both in the van for the night. At midnight, Gordon and I were rousted from a sound asleep by loud banging on the rear door. Blinding lights shone in both the front and back windows. Two park rangers, all decked out in their freshly pressed uniforms, complete with badges and guns–and multi-celled flashlight clubs, were our unwanted guests.

Although there are no signs forbidding overnight parking, we were told to get out of the boat launch area and move on. Half awake, half asleep, I got behind the wheel and promptly put some distance between us and the rangers’ boat launch area. I managed to find a nearby private campground, pulled in–and we once more called it a day.

We’re out very early this morning, a little after six, and I’m back hiking the road again by six-thirty, our earliest departure time yet.

Forecast is for a cold front, bringing rain, it arrives at eight-thirty. So at SR-800, Gordon lifts me from the road and we head for Mineral City for breakfast. We’re in, having our first cup of coffee when the sky really opens. Did I mention before how neat it is having support!

We’ve both got a maildrop in Minerva, a short distance up the road.

By the time Gordon has me back hiking again, the storm has passed and the sky is blue.

I’ve one more short section of certified trail to hike before leaving the Buckeye Trail. It’s the towpath by the old Ohio-Erie Canal along the Tuscarawas River, a heavily used three-mile segment.

Near the little village of Zoar, and after over 700 miles following the Buckeye, the NCT turns from it.

Also, here at Zoar, I finally quit hiking the wrong direction. Amazing how this NCT has gone the wrong direction for so long here in Ohio. Where I crossed from Michigan into Ohio, from there to where the trail enters Pennsylvania is around 250 miles. Before I finally leave Ohio I will have hiked nearly 1,000 miles. Amazing!

I’m hiking northeast now (Yippee!), more roadwalking. By late evening I’m nearing Malvern. Gordon has found a place to park the van in Malvern, by the Dairy Queen. That’ll work!

“To know what has to be done, then do it, comprises the whole philosophy of practical life.”

[Sir William Osier]

Sunday–July 26, 2009

Trail Day–127

Trail Mile–50.3/944/3477

Location–Malvern, then past Cold Run/Trinity Church and on to Lisbon

Been getting out early the last number of days (pack shouldered and hiking at six-thirty this morning) and hitting the road hard. Accumulated (grudging process) the extra miles to bump up another day. So, the high mileage reflected in this day’s stats.

The two days I’ve managed to get ahead, I’ll burn them shortly, at least as applies to this trek. I’ve 50 miles remaining to complete my hike o’er the Potomac Heritage National Scenic Trail, the section from Connellsville, Pennsylvania to Pittsburg. When I reach I-79 in the next couple of days, just north of Pittsburg, we’ll break from this hike and drive down to Connellsville and do those remaining Potomac Heritage Trail miles. So, the two extra/accumulated days will be zero days as far as this current hike is concerned.

Gordon had sweet-talked Stephanie at Dairy Queen last evening, and she said she’d let her boss know we were parking for the night in their back lot. A short trip downtown (Malvern), the local bar and grill, burgers and fries, and the day was done.

Forecast is for more rain today, in waves like yesterday, but doesn’t appear, at least at six this morning, that it’ll happen.

Today’s another roadwalk. Map shows the temporary connector route zigging and zagging the backroads–all over the place. Folks who lay out these routes, the strategy, at least as their reasoning goes, they think the lesser-used backroads are a safer place to send the unwary hiker, but not so. The narrow, no shoulder, blind curve roads really aren’t the least bit safe at all. Believe me, I know. Give me a busy (wide, lined, with shoulders, good visibility) state or federal highway any day, especially a four-lane (I’ll elaborate on this interesting subject–and convince you–sometime). Today the highway is busy US-30. We hammer it all day, clear to Lisbon.

Just before Lisbon there’s a short uncertified section of railtrail. You know, if you’ve read my journal entries over the years, that I’m not keen on railtrails. They’re fine for biking, but they sure leave a whole lot to be desired for the hiker and backpacker. Anyway, it’s a diversion to get up to hike it, so, I stay US-30 on to Lisbon.

US-30 out of Lisbon, down a short ways, Gordon finds a little no-frills mom-n-pop motel. Great hiker trash rate. Here, we call it a day.

“Whether one is twenty, forty, or sixty;

whether one has succeeded, failed or just muddled along;

whether yesterday was full of sun or storm,

or one of those dull days with no weather at all,

life begins each morning.”

[Leigh Mitchell Hodges]

Monday–July 27, 2009

Trail Day–128

Trail Mile–23.2/967/3500

Location–Beaver Creek SP, then into Pennsylvania near Darlington

A most welcome, most relaxing and restful stay last in the little mom-n-pop motel in Lisbon.

Gordon has me back on trail (say road) and I’m out to another perfect day.

My singular focus each and every day is to put at least another 25 miles behind me, every day, seven days a week–on this long, seemingly endless North Country Trail. For this day, additionally, I’ve set two other goals. The first: To hike at least some of the last remaining off-road sections of the NCT in Ohio. And the second: To get out of Ohio!

After nearly 1,000 miles, and a month and one-half hiking in this state, my overall impression of the NCT in Ohio is just plain ho-hum, in general, a big yawn. The 700 miles along the Buckeye Trail, where the NCT is superimposed upon it, and as a result, associated with it, in my opinion, that relationship is not favorable to the reputation of the NCT. The condition of the Buckeye Trail is (and has been for a very long time) in a downward spiral of neglect and disrepair. It was a disappointment when I tried hiking sections of it during my transcontinental trek in 2002. And with the long relationship this trek, it has been an even greater disappointment. Friends who have hiked all or sections of the Buckeye have been left with the same impression. JoJo Smiley and Nomad ’98 have hiked sections of it. During this trek the only hikers I saw on the Buckeye were Laurel and Hardy. They hiked the American Discovery Trail in 2002 and 2003, which includes sections of the Buckeye. So, like me, they’ve had two goes at it. Talking with them the other day, they also expressed disappointment in the trail. Laurel told me the BTA wasn’t going to like hearing what she has to say about the Buckeye.

A bit more my impression of the NCT in Ohio. There are a couple of crown jewels along the Buckeye, and their identity belongs to Ohio and to the Buckeye. First is Serpent Mound. Just a spectacular site. The trail through there is marked and well maintained. Then there’s Ash Cave, Grandma Gatewood Trail, and Old Man’s Cave, that short section of trail. And, should you take pleasure in exploring covered bridges or hiking towpaths and railtrails, they are abundant. And that’s pretty much it for the thousand miles of trail around  Ohio.

Why a trail bearing the name “North Country” would dip into southern Ohio, go nearly around the state, I have not a clue. No one would consider any part of Ohio North Country, not Dayton, or Cincinnati, or the part of Appalachia in the Wayne. To take the circuitous route around Ohio that it does, to wind and to weave about for 1,000 miles, leaves the poor, weary long-distance hiker constantly shaking his head, wondering what in the world is going on. Might I have my say sometime, before my dear friends, the NCT folks, I would simply say–“Take the North Country Trail off the Buckeye Trail as fast as you can, and take it as far away from the Buckeye as you can.” Heeding mother’s advice, I’ll leave it at that.

The short section of certified trail In Little Beaver State Park is a pleasant hike. I have the pleasure of meeting a couple of folks who work at the park, Jeff and Bob. Thanks, fellows, for your fine trail!

In the afternoon, I put Ohio behind me. Two milestones today: I am through Ohio, and the remaining miles to Crown Point, New York, are now less than 1,000.

After reaching Darlington, we take off for Connellsville, south of Pittsburgh. More about this diversion tomorrow.

“I am sometimes disappointed, but I love my life ….

and I must believe that the disappointments contribute something to what I love.”

[Jan Denise]

Tuesday–July 28, 2009

Trail Day–129

Trail Mile-00.0

Location–Along the Great Allegheny Passage, completing my hike o’er the Potomac Heritage National Scenic Trail

After reaching Darlington last evening we headed straight for Connellsville, to hike the remaining 58 miles of the Potomac Heritage National Scenic Trail that I’d missed in 2002. I’d hiked all but those last few miles during my transcontinental trek back then.

We’re in Connellsville before dark, at Wal-Mart, where we “camp” for the night.

The trail from Connellsville to Pittsburgh follows a railtrail called the Youghiogheny River Trail, along The Great Allegheny Passage. After breakfast downtown Connellsville, Gordon has me to the trailhead, and I’m hiking a little after seven.

It’s a pleasant morning. I can tell this is going to be a very pleasant hike. The old grade follows the river on a narrow shelf between the river and the bluff. The tread is crushed limestone, much like the Katy Trail, which follows along the Missouri River back home. This setting by the river here reminds me much of the Katy.

Gordon is able to intercept me every hour or two at the trailheads along, so I’m carrying only the water needed, and a snack or two, between stops.

Excitement for the day is seeing a very big black bear. He ends up, literally, between a rock and a hard place, as he must climb the bluff to get away from me (and all the cyclists now watching him from the trail). I get a couple good pictures.

It’s a hammer it day as I get in 31 miles. That leaves me with 27 for tomorrow.

I get the opportunity to meet and talk with a number of folks today, Carl, Dan, Charlie, Devin, and Matt, to name a few.

In Buena Vista, Charlie, one of the folks working the trail, gives us permission to stay the night at the trailhead. It’s been a great day, back on the Potomac Heritage National Scenic Trail.

“Our task must be to…embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature and its beauty. ”

[Albert Einstein]

Wednesday–July 29, 2009

Trail Day–130

Trail Mile–00.0

Location–Point Park, Pittsburgh

Gordon had stopped for a couple of subs yesterday evening, so I didn’t have to cook last night. There was a pavilion complete with picnic tables at the Buena Vista Trailhead where we parked, so we relaxed and had our meal there.

We’re no more than up than the rain begins. Poncho on first thing.

Doing the long-mile day yesterday leaves me with a 27 today. In Versailles we stop at McDonald’s for breakfast, between the driving waves of rain.

The bike path into Pittsburgh, at least on the map, appears a cruise, but I soon learn otherwise. First trail up today is called the Steel Trail. It starts out on a 12-foot wide, paved way, which soon turns to gravel, which ends up taking me into a switching yard. Before I know it, I’m hiking along the busy main grade. I realize this after three locomotives dragging a mile of railcars pass. I hike this main line for nearly two miles before the highway comes back over–and the trail begins again.

Through McKeesport, the trail passes through the old (early to mid last century) industrial area, the buildings all rusting away, windows broken or boarded up, weeds and brush by all the old loading docks–a depressing sight, especially on this dark, rainy day.

North of McKeesport I cross the Monongahela River, just downstream from where the Youghiogheny enters. This is where the excitement (say confusion) really begins. I’m following the developed bike path again, which soon ends at the Sandcastle Amusement Park parking lot. I check with a young chap manning their entry gate. He tells me the trail goes through the park. And appears it does, as I pick it up again, between one of their swimming pools and the river. But I soon reach the end, which is boarded up. I climb over and proceed along, past their water slide, and another swimming pool. I exit through their north gate. From the parking lot there, the situation becomes even more bizarre, as the road I’m now following enters a huge salvage yard. I ask a couple of truckers if they know where the bike path might be located. No luck, I enter the salvage yard office. The fellow behind the computer is apparently used to being asked about the whereabouts of the bike path.  He pops an aerial up on his monitor and shows me their salvage yard, and the (beginning of) the bike path. I walk through the salvage yard, around their security fence, and there it is–a ten-foot-wide paved path, which was a continuation of a narrow gravel path, again, along the live, main railgrade!

Following this path, after climbing over a big blowdown, is easier, until I get to the first detour.

Somehow, late afternoon now, I finally reach Station Square, and the bridge over to Point Park, where the Monongahela and he Allegheny Rivers converge to form the Ohio River.

Somehow, Gordon manages to find the place too. He waits for me as I hike the last remaining steps along the Potomac Heritage National Trail–to the Point.

I’m the only person here. It’s pouring down rain. No fanfare, no celebrating–just the end of another hike o’er another National Scenic Trail–the sixth.

In the rush hour traffic now, we head for Jack and Diane’s lovely bungalow. Diane, trail name, Journey, thru-hiked the AT in 2002. She has been following my progress this journey and has invited us to their place for the night. We arrive just at dusk. An amazing day; just an amazing day. Thanks, Lord, for guiding us safely through Pittsburgh!

“I’m not confused, I’m just well mixed.”

[Robert Frost]

Thursday–July 30, 2009

Trail Day–131

Trail Mile–26.3/3540

Location–State Game Land 148, then on to Breakneck Bridge

The Appalachian Trail “family” is a close-knit bunch. Anyone who has hiked the AT is your friend, and you theirs. I have hiked the AT. Journey has hiked the AT. And so, we are friends. Journey emailed me weeks ago, offering a place to stay, food, clean clothes, whatever I needed when passing her way. I wrote back right away. Sure glad I did. Gordon and I had a most memorable stay at Journey’s. Thanks Jack and Diane!

Gordon has me back to Darlington in good order and I’m out and on the road by eight.

This morning and for most of the afternoon I’ve a roadwalk over to McConnells SP and around eight miles of certified trail there.

I’m at the Hell’s Hollow Trailhead a little before five. The lightning, thunder, and accompanying rain also reach Hell’s Hollow a little before five. The trail begins tame enough, but soon come the rocks and roots, and a fair amount of climbing. This is the sort of trail I really enjoy, the demand, the challenge of it. Much like the AT, the trail here. The rain comes off and on all evening, then just before I reach Breakneck Bridge to call it a day, the sky opens. I hike on, letting the rain soak me good. I’m a wet puppy when I break out at Breakneck Bridge.

We were going to camp in the park tonight, but the rain has put a damper on that. We head, instead, for the Pilot Truckstop by I-79, and McDonald’s. The tarmac at Pilot proves a better place to “camp” the van this night.

“Rain showers my spirit and waters my soul.”

[Emily Logan Decens]

Friday–July 31, 2009

Trail Day–132

Trail Mile–25.3/038/3565

Location–McConnells Mill SP, then on to Stone House

The rain came and stayed, all night, steady but much heavier at times. The Pilot Truckstop had a power failure yesterday evening, which completely shut them down. Activity all night as a result. Even the power company had a truck at the site, right next the van. Plenty of racket and confusion. I managed to sleep through most of it.

The days are getting noticeably shorter now. It’s still dark when Gordon delivers me to the trail, as yet another strong wave of rain drives through. I’ve certified trail to hike today, past McConnells Mill into and through Moraine SP. Lots of rocks and roots along Slippery Rock Run, all of the rocks slippery. Patty Jo, with the tourism staff in Butler has scheduled four interviews today, two newspaper and two radio, one of them to be half-hour live.

At the pavilion, McDaniels Visitor Center, Moraine SP I pull up for the first of two interviews there, one with Ed, reporter (photographer, Justin), Butler Eagle, and the other, Mark, reporter, Ellwood City Ledger and Beaver County Times. While at the Visitor Center I meet Jeremy, Assistant Park Mgr., Moraine SP.

The rain is still at it hard as Gordon heads us for lunch with Patty Jo and Paula at the North Country Brewing Co., Slippery Rock. Lunch is on Bob, owner of the brewery–thanks Bob!

While at North Country, I do a half-hour live with Dave, his show “It’s Your Turn,” WISR Radio, Butler. It’s three before I’m back on trail.

Get in the miles, but a long day.

“Destiny is not a matter of chance, it is a matter of choice;

It is not a thing to be waited for, it is a thing to be achieved.”

[William Jennings Bryan]

Saturday–August 1, 2009

Trail Day–133

Trail Mile–24.0/062/3589

Location–State Game Land 95, then on to Parker

Stone House is too fancy a place, the parking lot (trailhead) paved and gated, so we headed back to the more remote and less used Alpha Pass trailhead near McConnells Mill, and settled in, then to prepare supper and call it a day.

No rain last night, and clear skies this morning. Looks to be the makings for a beautiful hiking day. A very crisp, cool morning. I see smoke coming from the chimneys of a number of homes. Hard to believe that July has come and gone and that this is the first of August already.

The hike for the next number of days will be connect the dots, the blue dots signifying certified North Country Trail. So, today is a roadwalk over to Parker.

Along the way I take a few pictures of the distant Allegheny Mountains. I’m in rolling farm land now, and by one of the farms I chance to meet Richard and Nicholas. Richard is the grandpa and Nicholas, his grandson–sitting his lap, helping steer the big tractor. I get the shot. You just gotta check this one out–in my ’09 picture album in a couple of weeks. It’s just precious.

Late afternoon and near Parker, I give John a call. He’s a member of  the Butler Chapter, NCT. There are a couple short sections of off-road close by Butler, and John tells me they’re in fine shape and well marked, so I go in. A fun time. There are neat bridges across both Dead Crow and Bear Creek. It’s worth the hike just to see the bridges, but I enjoyed seeing the old oil wells, the miles of piping, and what’s left of the timbers from a very high railroad trestle.

From Bear Creek it’s a short hike down to the Allegheny River, and Parker.

I take a room in the old hotel there. Gordon stays in the van.

The article by Ed, Butler Eagle, from the interview yesterday, is front page (above the fold), complete with full color picture taken by Justin. Lots of folks honking and waving today. One fellow in Parker had me autograph his newspaper. Time for some bigger shades again!

“Hope lies in dreams in one’s imagination and in the courage of

those who dare to make dreams into reality.”

[Jonas Salk]

Sunday–August 2, 2009

Trail Day–134

Trail Mile–26.2/088/3615

Location–Callenburg, then on to north of Clarion

The rain came in around five this morning. At six-thirty it’s raining hard as I hasten to get from the old hotel to the van behind. The Parker House here in Parker has been in business since the mid 1800s. My room was upstairs in the old section, my stay here both restful and enjoyable. We had supper in the old hotel restaurant last. I am clean and my clothes are clean again. Gordon has me back across the Allegheny River and on the highway once more a little after seven.

I’ve a roadwalk again today, my destination, hopefully, somewhere northeast of Clarion. The route I have chosen is a much more direct route, primarily following SR-68, a wide state highway with shoulders and unlimited visibility. Being a shorter route, I will gain another day soon, putting me a day up again as to my itinerary. The recommended temporary connector route wanders back and forth along narrow backroads, with blind curves and top-outs, little or no shoulders. One of those sections today would take me seven miles around, where three miles straight through would get me to the same point. What the reasoning might be, to subject the hiker, in this example, to nearly two more hours of risk, which places him more in harms way in the process–what the reasoning might be I do not know. At times like today, the temporary connector route roams the dangerous backroads to the point, at least in my opinion, where it’s totally nonsensical. Yes Mother, I’ll be quiet!  So, today I will follow Nimblewill’s shorter and safer route.

In a while we stop for coffee in the little borough of Callenburg, then it’s on to the village of Sligo, on SR-68, to the cafe there for breakfast.

The remainder of the day is pleasant, after having my poncho on and off a half-dozen times. The day remains cloudy and cool, a little drizzle at times, but a great day to hike the road shoulders.

Evening finds us in a pull-off in State Game Land 283.

“Rain hangs about the place, like a friendly ghost.

if it’s not coming down in delicate droplets, then it’s in buckets;

and if neither, it tends to lurk suspiciously in the atmosphere.”

[Barbara Acton-Bond]

Monday–August 3, 2009

Trail Day–135

Trail Mile–52.4/141/3668

Location–State Game Land 72, plus Allegheny NF, Baker Trail, then on to Allegheny National Forest, Muzette Road

Since returning from Pittsburgh, in those past five days, and with most of those days being roadwalks over shorter routes, I’ve managed to pick up another day. After using the two days I’d been ahead to finish the Potomac Heritage Trail hike into Pittsburgh, I was even, as to itinerary days. Now I’m one day ahead of schedule again. Pretty amazing, actually, to be this far into the hike and to be tracking my planned itinerary days this closely.

A chilly night, and this morning there’s a cold, dark fog. I’m out and hiking with my jacket on, hood up. Today’s hike will be mostly trail, in Cook Forest State Park. The trail through the park is called Baker Trail, and the NCT follows it the entire way. The Baker is blazed yellow, so with the NCT tracking along, the blazes are split, half blue, half yellow. Trail in the park is heavily used, so the tread is hardened in. And they keep it brushed back and well marked. Cook Forest is a very pleasant hike.

Out of the park and north of SR-66, trail maintenance is sorely lacking. The four Bs are back: briars, brambles, blow-downs and brush. And to add to the difficulty, with all the recent rain, the trail is submerged in many places.

Today I see rhododendron for the first time this hike, also mountain laurel, which is in bloom. Again, so much a reminder of the southern Appalachians. Lots of pull-off, what with all the oil wells. Gordon has no problem finding us a fine spot for the night, grassy, level, and all!

“Flowers may beckon towards us, but they speak toward heaven and God.”

[Henry Ward Beecher]

Tuesday–August 4, 2009

Trail Day–136

Trail Mile–25.6/167/3694

Location–Allegheny NF, Queen Creek Campsite, then on to Minister Road

A very cool night, just perfect for sleeping. As if special conditions were needed to sleep after a(nother) 25-mile day.

Yesterday afternoon I crossed the southern boundary of the Allegheny National Forest. At the time, I had great expectations of finding brushed back and well marked trail in the forest. Sections of trail earlier in the day, all but the last just south of the forest, had been well marked and maintained. But once in the forest, and to my dismay, was I faced yet again with the all too familiar four B’s–briars, brambles, blowdowns, and brush.

From the south forest boundary to the New York line is 100 miles by trail-in the Allegheny NF. So, today I’m again faced with more of the same poorly maintained trail.  The going is slow, and I must take care not to get tripped up in the blowdowns and brush. It’s a long 25.

Today is fungi day, many, many varieties of mushrooms and other assorted fungi, all colors and sizes. Rocks and roots (hidden by the overgrown trail) are aplenty. Concentrating every single step proves an exercise in patience.

No problem camping in the forest, and Gordon has the van situated at a pull-off right next the trail. Less than 70 miles now to the New York line–oh yes!

“Adopt the pace of nature: her secret is patience.”

[Ralph Waldo Emerson]

Wednesday–August 5, 2009

Trail Day–137

Trail Mile–23.0/190/3717

Location– Allegheny NF, Tionesta Creek Campsite, then on to US-6 near Ludlow

Another very cool night, unusual for August. Got some wet wood burning (mostly smoking) and we enjoyed a campfire last evening.

Rain came again during the night, but it’s moved on this morning. I’m hiking at dawn, the earliest start yet.

More difficult tread again today, many blowdowns, and tall grass and brush concealing the rocks and roots under foot. I get tangled up in the brush and take two hard falls–no injuries. Thank you, Lord.

Saw a red fox yesterday, and another one today. Lots more fungi to photograph, some very pretty ones.

Plenty of blazes along, easy enough to follow at times, but not so easy at other times. I get lost twice and rely on my GPS to direct me. Plenty of mud, too, what with all the recent rain. My feet have been soaked all day. What a way to break in my fourth pair of New Balance shoes!

We finish the day at the corner restaurant, SR-321, in Blissville. Then it’s up to the Longhouse Trailhead for the night.

“If all our misfortunes were laid in one common heap, whence everyone must take an equal portion,

most people would be content to take their own and depart.”


Thursday–August 6, 2009

Trail Day 138

Trail Mile–24.6/215/3742

Location–Allegheny NF, Hemlock Run, then on to Allegheny Reservoir

A very cool night, crept down in my sleeping bag–in the back of the van. We camped last at the Longhouse Trailhead just north of Blissville where there’s a cafe at the corner by Bliss Hill Road. So we’re right in there for breakfast, biscuits and gravy–and a pot of coffee. My tank’s topped off for the rest of this day.

Jacket on, zipper zipped, hood up, hands in my pockets to get going this morning. Gordon says it’s cold because we’re so far north!

As I near the Allegheny Reservoir I find the trail has gotten much more use, and there’s actually been some maintenance–a few blowdowns cleared. A little sun today, not enough to really get things cooking. By two enough local clutter accumulates to drag a couple of showers through. I dig my poncho out, but get by without it.

I find the reservoir area to be a beautiful spot. I should get some fine pictures tomorrow, my final day in Pennsylvania.

“To do the useful thing, to say the courageous thing, to contemplate the beautiful thing:

that is enough for one man’s life.”

[T. S. Eliot]

Friday–August 7, 2009

Trail Day–139

Trail Mile–23.9/239/3766

Location–Pennsylvania/New York State Line, then on the Finger Lakes Trail (FLT) to Allegheny SP, ASP-1, France Brook

Finished the day earlier than usual yesterday, so we decided to head in to Bradford and find a room, get cleaned up, and do some laundry–plus make a run to Wal-Mart for a few things, like a New York DeLorme.

The old motel where we stayed is filled with laborers, and they’re all out and gone by the time we’re up. Gordon finally gets me back on the trail at seven-thirty, in the rain.

I’ve 11.4 miles of trail remaining in Pennsylvania, along the shore of the Allegheny Reservoir. The rain this morning sure isn’t helping the trail conditions, of mud, more mud, and slick rocks. I’m not on the trail five minutes before I’m totally soaked. And it’s another cold morning, hands cold, nose running.

Quarter after one I reach the New York State line. Six states down now, just one more to go. I’m actually starting to look toward the end of this trek. Six states ago it seemed so distant, but now I can actually visualize finishing this very long journey.

The first 400 miles of the 600+ miles of the NCT in New York run with the Finger Lakes Trail (FLT). At the line I’m in the Allegany State Forest, and immediately on the FLT. The FLT is marked with white blazes, like the Appalachian Trail, and seeing the first white blaze, I’m reminded of the AT.

The FLT gets a fair amount of traffic, so the tread is pretty much hardened in, which makes for easier going. And this trail has received some maintenance–the blowdowns, for the most part, have been cleared.

The FLT has its own set of maps, different than the NCT maps for other states. A break-in period will be needed to become comfortable with them, but I can tell already that I’m going to like them.

Also to remind me of the Appalachian Trail are the Adirondack Shelters. I pass two today.

The Allegany Mountains are not high, but after the climbing about I’ve already done today I can tell my hike through them will be rough.

Less than a mile from the end of my hike this evening I meet the first backpackers on the FLT, a group of young ladies led by Chris from Michigan. Along are Mandi, Kailey, Amanda, Amy, and Barb.

I’m in, wet and tired, yet very pleased with this day.

”Look at a day when you are supremely satisfied at the end.

It’s not a day when you lounge around doing nothing;

it’s when you’ve had everything to do, and you’ve done it.”

[Margaret Thatcher]

Saturday–August 8, 2009

Trail Day–140

Trail Mile–18.9/019/3785

Location–FLT, Allegany SP, Beck Hollow Shelter, then on to Rock City SF, Little Rock City Picnic Area

Gordon had checked with the ranger at Quaker Run Park Office about parking overnight at trailheads on state land, and was told we’d be okay. That’s great news as it will certainly eliminate our worrying about where to camp each night.

Ah, and last night we parked at the ASP-1 trailhead by France Brook.

The hours on trail through the FLT will make for long days, what with the degree of difficulty–frequent ascents/descents in excess of 400 feet, each with an ample mixture of rocks and roots thrown in. Don’t misunderstand; I like this sort of tread, trails that go straight up and straight down. Problem is, doing twenty-fives through this kind of terrain makes for tough, slow going.

And so, today I’m pack up and climbing by six-thirty. Once under I-86 and across the Allegheny River (for the last time), I’m faced with a 500 foot climb up from Sunfish Run. The bail-off to Sawmill Run brings me to an interesting place, the back yard of a fellow’s home, there to cross his private footbridge. Here I meet Tom, a great friend to the FLTC. He welcomes me and we enjoy an enthusiastic exchange. Of all the folks who’ve crossed his footbridge, the old Nomad is the first NCT thru-hiker Tom’s met.

From Sawmill Run I’ve another 500+ pull into the Bucktooth SF. Lots and lots of climbing, as expected. And there’s another 500-footer at day’s end to get to the trailhead at Little Rock City Picnic Area, the last two miles in the rain.

“I listened, motionless and still;

And, as I mounted up the hill,

The music in my heart I bore,

Long after it was heard no more.”

[William Wordsworth]

Sunday–August 9, 2009

Trail Day–141

Trail Mile–25.5/045/3810

Location–FLT, McCarty Hill SF Bivouac Area, then on to Boyce Hill SF

Rained off and on all night, very hard at times. Still coming down this morning, which makes for a dreary, foggy dawn. Getting up and going in this gloom takes a good bit of talking to myself, in an effort to convince myself that this is going to be a great hiking day–that all I gotta do is lift my pack and hit the trail. Good old Gordon, he’s always positive and upbeat. “Chance of rain is only 50%,” says he, big grin, as the rain continues. And so, I lift my pack, and go.

And I am happy. Happy with my progress, happy with this trail, the Finger Lakes Trail. New York, the Allegany Mountains, not terribly rugged country, but enough contour variation to make it challenging. Up 500, down 300, up 450, the climbing keeps it interesting and makes for good trail. It’s such a blessing–that I have the strength and stamina, and the fire-in-my-gut to go.

And there certainly are enough ups and downs today. The bail-off down to Elk Creek, followed by the climb up to the meadow on Poverty Hill is a workout. Ah, and well worth it, for the grand view back to Holimont and Great Valley.

The rain relents for awhile, then the clouds totally dark the sky, and the thunder rolls. Not such a good place to be in the ensuing storm–the meadow above Irish Hill and Brennan Road. The driving rain comes so quickly I have not the least time to retrieve my poncho. There’s a hunter’s stand, a free-standing tower right on the crown and I make a mad dash for it. In the minute it takes to get there I’m totally soaked. There’s little cover under the stand, as the wind is driving the rain straight through.   manage to lay some scrap pieces of plywood across the lower tower braces and climb under. Lightning is striking all around now, the thunder cracking, much as the piercing sound of cannon fire. I manage to finally get my poncho over me and my pack, as I cower, hands over my head.

The storm is intense, lasting for the better part of half an hour. There’s two inches of standing water everywhere–and when I’m finally able to get out from under my makeshift shelter and get moving down the mountain, I’m helped along by one gully-washer after another.

There’s been a recent trail relocation above SR-240, and I have one heck of a time following the maze of double blazes–no cut tread. By the time I reach the highway where Gordon is waiting, the sun is out, and you’d never know a raging storm had just passed. In the van, Gordon has the heater running, and I’m able to warm up and dry out a little.

The hike on over to Boyce Hill SF is uneventful. By a pull-off there, and in the warmth of the evening sun, we call it a day.

“But what is happiness except the simple harmony between a man and the life he leads?”

[Albert Camus]

Monday–August 10, 2009

Trail Day–142

Trail Mile–26.5/072/3837

Location–FLT, Bear Creek SF (NOT), then on to near Swift Hill SF

Another intense storm came in last night. It rained so hard that a fine mist blew in around the back doors of the van. It was an amazing storm lasting almost two hours, dropping buckets of rain.

Not a clear dawn, but not the dark gloom of yesterday morning. I’m reluctant to try hiking trail today, but at Boyce Hill SF I jump the ditch-turned-stream and head on in. Not a good idea. The trail is flooded, two to ten inches of water everywhere. I stomp right in first thing, denying the trail the pleasure of getting me soaked. And soaked I quickly become, from top to bottom, as I struggle along.

On the roadwalk to Bear Creek, Gordon is unable to get through, as a culvert pipe has been completely blown out by the torrent of last night. I’m able to run and jump the 4×4 ditch where the pipe used to be. Another mile along and my progress is also halted, as Bear Creek Road is closed. Assuming the problem is at Bear Creek Bridge, and should it be washed out, which is likely the problem, I turn south on Rogers Road and head for Franklinville, from there, hopefully, to return to the trail. That’s when I’m told by a fellow who lives on Rogers that the main road to Franklinville, Bakerstand Road, is closed due to a washout.

By this time, Gordon has gotten turned around and has backtracked to Bakerstand, and he’s gone down to see if I’ll be able to hike through. Good news for me, bad news for Gordon. I can walk across the narrow remainder of road, but Gordon will Have to detour 15 miles around. We’ll meet in downtown Franklinville.

All this road destruction seen this morning is due to the torrents of rain from the storm last night. All the tributaries to Ischua Creek, including Bear Creek, have flooded their banks, causing much damage along, especially to culverts and bridges. At the main creek crossing just outside downtown Franklinville, the creek is close to going over the bridge. Homes along the creek are flooded, driveways washed out. So much for hiking the trail through Bear Creek SF.

North and east of Franklinville I head back in on private land, the trail here leading to Bush Hill SF. This section of trail has seen little use and less maintenance. In addition to the flooded trail, now there’s more four Bs–those culprits, briars, brambles, blowdowns, and brush. It’s slow going, what with the flooding thrown in. Just before entering Bush Hill SF, my progress is halted again, as I enter an area of unbelievable destruction, a 100-yard-wide path where every tree is down. A tornado swept through here very recently, probably last night, pushing over everything in its path. “Windthrow” is what the Forest Service calls such an event.

It takes me well over an hour to scramble over, under, around, and through the maze. Rootwads loom as high as ten feet, the huge tree trunks lined in piles. This section of trail will simply have to be closed until this chaotic jumble can be cleared. Indeed, all the trail in Cattaraugus County will need to be brushed out, as the tops of many trees have been damaged, their limbs now blocking the trail.

Gordon is waiting patiently on the east end of Bush Hill, and as I start north toward Bush Hill Road another wave of rain comes driving through.

I sit this one out in the van. Then as the rain lessens, I don my poncho and hoof it on up the roadwalk toward Swift Hill SF. At six, I call it a day. Gordon loads me and we head for the convenience store in Centerville for burgers and fries.

Back to the trailhead at Swift Hill, we get the van situated and call it a day.

We saw the strong trees struggle and their plumes do down,

The poplar bend and whip back till it split to fall,

The elm tear up at the root and topple like a crown,

The pine crack at the base – we had to watch them all.

The ash, the lovely cedar. We had to watch them fall.

They went so softly under the loud flails of air,

Before that fury they went down like feathers,

With all the hundred springs that flowered in their hair,

and all the years, endured in all the weathers

To fall as if they were nothing, as if they were feathers.

[May Sarton – 1938]

Tuesday–August 11, 2009

Trail Day–143

Trail Mile–24.7/097/3862

Location–FLT, past nearby Marge Hinz Campsite at Sixtown Creek, then on to the Genesee River near Fillmore

The forecast is for this weather pattern to continue for the next number of days, meaning more and more rain, with some storms intense. A cold front off Lake Huron, bringing severe storm conditions with it, is to pass west of us, through Allegany SF. We’ll likely get some of the effect.

Hiking through brush and blowdowns on flooded trail is not impossible, but it’s sure no fun–and it’s downright dangerous. Folks who enjoy going to the woods for a weekend to hike the trails there, they can choose the conditions. If it’s nasty or if the forecast isn’t good, they can just wait for another time. But the thru-hiker doesn’t have that luxury. We’ve gotta go with what we’re dealt, good or bad. Sure, we can take a day or two off here and there, and hope for the best, but even that luxury is not an option for me. 4,400 miles can’t be hiked out in one season by picking and choosing what days to hike, certainly not by taking days off. So, I’ve a bad deal, foul weather, days of it, plus deteriorating trail, at times and in places, to the point of being virtually unhikable.

Well, okay old man, now what? Actually, the decision’s a no-brainer. Not a pleasant choice to make, not one that will please the FLT folks who’ve worked so hard to build and maintain this trail. But the decision must be to roadwalk it out of here, to get east and north, past this storm damage–the flooding, the mud, the brush and blowdowns.

And so, this morning I head out on the road to Higgins, then to Hume on the high water bypass trail, then on to Fillmore, where I’ll cross the Genesee River.

The sky keeps churning, for awhile, dark, rain filled clouds, then for awhile, some sun. The waves of rain continue passing the entire day. My poncho’s on and off, and when Gordon’s nearby, I’m in and out of the van.

On the east side of the Genesee River I hike north toward South River Road, which should lead to trail at the Hesse Lean-To. I’ll plan to try the trail again there tomorrow. But there’s no longer a South River Road by the Livingston/Allegany County line. I try bushwhacking through with no luck, then finally give up and turn around–and call it a day.

“The roads we take are more important than the goals we announce.

Decisions determine destiny.”

[Frederick Speakman]

Wednesday–August 12, 2009

Trail Day–144

Trail Mile–24.0/121/3886

Location–Dalton, then on to Klipnocky SF

Clean body, clean clothes, what an improvement! Our stay at the little mom-n-pop motel in Fillmore was great. Same folks ran the cafe. Had supper there last, and we beat it right back over there for breakfast this morning. They open at six-thirty. We’re there. The klatch starts showing up around quarter to seven. By seven they’ve filled the main round table, and by quarter after they’ve discussed and have solved most of the world problems. They’re all farmers, so they watch the weather very closely. We’re told these torrential storms are not uncommon this time of year, and that when we’re well the other side of Dalton that the pattern will change much for the better. Sure hope so. This recent batch of storms killed two people in Cattaragus County, where we were when the worst of it hit. The county has been declared a disaster area.

Appears there’ll be little change in the weather pattern here today. More sky churning–a dark patch swirls in bringing rain, then a clear patch and sun, over and over. My poncho’s on and off. I’m in and out of the van.

I’ve a maildrop in Dalton and we’re in there before noon. Goodies and cards from home. Camera memory cards back from my webmaster.

Late afternoon I hike a most remarkable section of trail near Garwoods. Trail description: “…white blazes to right take you 0.4 mile steeply up a rocky stream gully IN the stream bed…”  Never hiked tread like this before, just remarkable. It’s a stream bed alright, six to 12 feet wide, set in steps, with 2-4 inches of water cascading the steps full width. The steps are near perfectly flat, some a foot or two wide, one to two feet deep, others, six to 12 feet wide, ten to 12 feet deep. The height of the steps vary from a few inches to over two feet. And up through this the trail goes, for better part of a quarter-mile. Lots of video, lots of snaps. Just a remarkable piece of trail.

This little creek is on private property as is the next short section, which climbs to an upper pasture, a peaceful, quiet setting, splendid views.

Evening finds us in a little patch of state land called Klipnocky SF. The rain has finally given it up for the day. We set camp, fix dinner, and that’s it for another great one along the NCT!

“And this, our life, exempt from public haunt, finds tongues in trees,

books in the running brooks, sermons in stones, and good in everything.”

[William Shakespeare]

Thursday–August 13, 2009

Trail Day–145

Trail Mile–25.5/147/3912

Location–FLT, Bully Hill SF, then on to Cunningham Creek, east of Hornell

We camped last at the corner of Bill Morris Road and Roots Road in Klipnocky SF. The final wave of rain for the day had already passed by the time we arrived to set the kitchen for supper–table, Coleman, five-gal-water, the bins with food stores, plates, pots, and pans. I’m getting good at preparing pasta dishes, and Gordon always has a few assorted #2 cans of veggies, bread, and cottage cheese (large curd, of course). Dessert is usually fruit cups. We’re actually doing quite well nutrition-wise.

Way back in the woods we were, way back, yet stopped by Dan and Pam, who were out geocaching. We chat for a few minutes. Make sure and go to my guestbook and read their comments, neat stuff (hint–Nomad’s gettin’ a very big head, needin’ some Hank Jr.-size shades).

I’m moving on down the trail a little after six-thirty this morning, on well-manicured (brushed back) trail through Klipnocky. Some short sections are sporting lots of rock. How about “klips that are nocky” to describe Klipnocky!

The sun is actually shining at sunrise; what a change, what a great way to begin the day for a change.

We’re close to houses and farms all day. Much good land here, lots of folks living the good life off the land, small farms, lush fields of grain, hay–for the Guernsey and Jersey milkers–and folks fine draft horses.

Late afternoon, more great trail, all brushed back and mowed. Save for the mud and the flood (neither of which are the trail builder’s fault), the groomed tread is another welcome change. The four B’s have really wore me down.

We end the day short of Burt Hill SF and head back to Hornell, to a little mom-n-pop motel there for the night. My Pocketmail’s been burping quite a bit lately and I’m concerned whether it’s working/sending as it should. There’s a phone in our room and I figure the problem–all’s well with my PocketMail–thank you, Lord!

We lavish ourselves on the great fare at Country Kitchen right next for supper. Life is good!

“Success is not a place at which one arrives

but rather the spirit with which one undertakes and continues the journey.”

[Alex Noble]

Friday–August 14, 2009

Trail Day–146

Trail Mile–21.7/169/3934

Location–FLT, Burt Hill SF, then on to just north of Bath

A most relaxing stay in Hornell last. Of course we’re right back over to Country Kitchen for breakfast this morning. Over-indulgence (to the point of decadence), oh yes! Hey, why not, after 145 days, 3,900 miles of staying this trail!

Another foggy morning, but the forecast is for hot and humid. There was only one poor excuse for-a-wave of rain that passed through yesterday. Conditions seem to be improving, slowly-but-surely. Gordon has started kidding about how, when I apply my sunblock, how it immediately blocks the sun! Actually got some benefit from it yesterday. Hopefully, I’ll need it again today. Now, if the trail can just dry out the least bit, that’d sure help. Don’t know though, may be in for more tough hiking–a bunch more brush along to deal with. Dear friend and super longtime FLT advocate/volunteer, Ed, in a recent email, stated: “Sorry the weather has been so bad. Cortland County got hit with 60 M.P.H. winds so you may run into a lot of blowdown there. Hope not.” So, we’ll see.

Trail this morning is mud and flood, plenty of both. It’s going to be a heck of a long time before these hills dry out, way after I’ve passed.

Glorious sky today, no churning, just tufted banks of beautiful white cirrus clouds, the kind of sky that makes any subject look great. And I get plenty of shots from the ridges along, hay fields, meadows of brilliant yellow and white flowers.

We’re entering the heart of the Finger Lakes region now, much more rugged terrain for sure, lots of climbing.

Didn’t hike near as much trail as I’d have liked today. The lingering mud and flood, the general conditions throughout these hill sections, make hiking here a treacherous ordeal. I’m nearing 4,000 miles this journey. Of course there’s never a good time to “bust it.” For sure, after what I’ve endured this trek, this is definitely not a good time. I’ll try the trail again tomorrow in Birdseye Hollow SF. Hopefully, this day of sun will have improved conditions some. Aw, quit whining old man, and just move on!

Gordon has a map with all the truckstops across our interstate system; there’s one nearby on I-86, another Pilot. Ah yes, their parking lot’s where we’re headed for tonight–and the Subway right by!

“We can’t whine and complain about where we’re at.  We’ve got to go forward.”

[Joe Randa]

Saturday–August 15, 2009

Trail Day–147

Trail Mile–27.6/197/3962

Location–Hammondsport, then on to the hamlet of South Bradford

Pilot truckstop is a 24/7 operation, so the trucks kept rolling in and out all night. Though asleep, I could hear them, but I did sleep well. Having fresh, hot coffee first thing this morning gets the day headed in the right direction–and a bearpaw to boot doesn’t hurt.

Heavy fog to start, but the sun soon burns it off. Another glorious day in the Finger Lakes–along the Finger Lakes Trail.

I’ve twelve in before noon, so we take a break for lunch. Ham and cheese sandwiches made by yours truly, plus chips, hard boiled eggs, and cottage cheese. Plenty of energy for an afternoon of climbing out of Birdseye Hollow, over 400 feet up to South Bradford.

At Aullis Road, Gordon was surprised to see another hiker come out ahead of me. It was Doug, trailname, Rampli. He’s out for a couple of days on the Finger Lakes Trail. We enjoy each others company, hiking together, to near South Bradford.

It has turned hot and humid for sure, but no complaints, as there have been just enough afternoon clouds to keep the day from really cooking. I said that I would never complain of the heat–clouds this afternoon were a blessing.

“Ah, summer – what power you have to make us suffer and like it.”

[Russell Baker]

Sunday–August 16, 2009

Trail Day–148

Trail Mile–24.9/222/3987

Location–FLT, South Bradford SF, then on to Glen Creek, west end Watkins Glen SP

We camped up a rutty, little-used two-track in Goundry Hill SF last night, even had a (poor excuse for a) campfire, more smoke than fire. The trail is trying to dry out, but everything in the woods is still wet. Wet wood just doesn’t burn all that great–but we tried.

The sun is out at sunrise again this morning. Glory be, going to be another wonderful day for hiking the Finger Lakes Trail!

The trail today leads through a number of small state forest parcels, plus a goodly amount of private land. And there’s plenty more climbing along brushed-back and well-marked trail. The second climb today is a hard pull of 640 feet up and over Goundry Hill, one of the longest ascents so far here in the Finger Lakes region. Glad to get that one behind me.

There hasn’t been near as much rain here compared to farther west and we’ve had a few days for things to dry out a bit. I finished the day yesterday with dry feet, and unless there’s a major change in trail conditions, I’ll also finish with dry feet today.

Toward the end of the day I enter the upper gorge at Watkins Glen. Comes an interesting creek crossing and some preliminary views down into the glen. Tomorrow should offer a number of photo opportunities as I head for Seneca Lake.

Can’t believe we can afford one of the old rustic cabins at Seneca Lodge, right next Watkins Glen SP–our lucky day!

“It is right precious to behold

The first long surf of climbing light

Flood all the thirsty east with gold.”

[James Russell Lowell]

Monday–August 17, 2009

Trail Day–149

Trail Mile–21.6/244/4009

Location–FLT, Watkins Glen SP, then on to Texas Hollow SF

Our “camp” last night was a delightful old two-room cabin at Seneca Lodge. How we got it, and what we got it for is a mystery. That we got it at all is another mystery. Watkins Glen is THE race town. “There’s always one race or another.” was the reply from the lady at the lodge desk when I asked what was going on. Supper was in the rustic lodge dining room. The place was packed with drivers and fans from whatever race was going on. We had a great stay.

Down the hill for coffee. Then back up the hill to the west end of the gorge at Watkins Glen, and I’m on trail by 7:30.

Being early morning and being Monday, I have the gorge to myself. It is a spectacular place. If you’re familiar with the old CCC stone work, then you can appreciate it when I tell you the rock steps and walls built within the gorge is pure artwork. And the gorge itself, the sheer walls, overhangs, falls, circular pools, tunnels, just heart-stopping spectacular. Even with the Adirondack High Peaks yet to come, I’m willing to wager that Watkins Glen will be my favorite place in all of New York State.

Like so many other places the trail passes, it doesn’t take the hiker along the most spectacular of paths, the Gorge Trail and the Indian Trail. The FLT/NCT stays on the Rim Trail, well away from the awe-inspiring wonders of the place. I had to go off-trail to see the sights I’ve described to you. Seems at times, and as if, the long-distance backpacker just isn’t deserving–make him hike over there.

By late morning I’m in downtown Watkins Glen, again off-trail, as the designated route follows side streets. The Glen has a lovely business district, complete with it’s own walk of fame, granite sidewalk placements sporting the names and dates of race winners–for near the last century. Interesting and fun “hike,” but not on the designated route.

At Jolly Road and SR-79 I get a spectacular view across Seneca Lake, one of the finger lakes, and back down to Watkins Glen on the south shore. The remainder of the day is consumed hiking a sweeping horseshoe loop up and around and down to Texas Hollow SF, where we call it a day, a hot-but-memorable hiking day.

“Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in,

where nature may heal and give strength to body and soul.”

[John Muir]

Tuesday–August 18, 2009

Trail Day–150

Trail Mile–22.1/266/4031

Location–FLT, Connecticut Hill WMA, Cayuta Gulf, then on to Upper Park Road, west end, Robert H. Treman SP

We had a very enjoyable stay last at a private campground on Cayuta Lake. Second day in a row for a hot shower! Supper was reliable old Dinty, prepared on our trusty Coleman. Gordon can’t remember (best he can remember) ever getting up from a table and leaving anything other than an empty plate. But at Seneca Lodge, he had to ask for a container to carry out the better half of the London broil he’d done his best to put away. So, for a great side, we also had his left-over London broil. We’re eatin’ good, oh yes, two well-nourished good old boys, for sure!

My hike today takes me through the Cayuta Gulf, a ho-hum canyon compared to Watkins Glen. Connecticut Hill is in the north corner of the WMA. I had hoped for great views from the hill, which stands at 2099 feet, but the crown has long since been topped with a myriad of summit ornaments: Radio and  microwave towers, other assorted antennas. The trail avoids the hilltop to sideslab almost 360 around–and through the trees.

On the walk along Griffin Road, down from Connecticut Hill, I catch up with a group of students and their instructors. They’re from Cornell University in Ithaca, out for a four-day hike. We exchange great energy–happy, shiny-faced bunch of young adults they are.

Afternoon thunderstorms are forecast for our area, and at a little before five they arrive. Anticipating the rain, we had hastened to complete the day’s hike early, and we’re already set up in the tent area, Robert H. Treman SP when the storms come.

Not the most memorable day, but one less day in what first appeared an endless line of days. Day by day, another day is added, ever heaped upon the heap of days, which, collectively, are turning this to a most memorable journey.

The Finger Lakes Trail is all but behind me now. In less than a week I’ll be walking along the towpath beside the old Erie Canal, just south of the Adirondacks. Thank you, Lord, for keeping me by your side.

“Everywhere is within walking distance if you have the time.”

[Stephen Wright]

Wednesday–August 19, 2009

Trail Day–151

Trail Mile–19.5/286/4051

Location–FLT, Robert H. Treman SP, then on to White Church Road, west of Shindagin Hollow SF

The rain came in two separate waves last evening forcing us into the van just as I was getting set to prepare supper. By the time the storm moved through we needed the lantern to finish.

The morning dawns clear and muggy. The rain was supposed to cool things off a bit but that hasn’t happened. No complaints; my fingers work fine in the heat. I work fine in the heat. Sure better than the bitter cold and sticks-for-fingers suffered early on.

Right next the place we did laundry yesterday there’s a convenience store. They’re open early and we’re right back there for our morning coffee fix.

Just ahead of me today is another gorge, the one carved out by Enfield Creek. Getting an early start once again, I’m the only one around. Another spectacular work of Nature, enhanced by the CCC–remarkable rockwork, steps, walls, walkways. Many more videos and pictures. I linger the longest time enjoying the early rays of the sun as they filter down and into the gulf, lighting the spray from the many falls. Not a good thing though, lingering so long, as I’ve many miles to cover today, lots more climbing ahead. A bit more mud to deal with too, due to the rain, but I’m so used to it by now that it’s no longer a problem.

What is a problem is the fact that most of the day is spent hiking south. I need to be going north and east. Not a good attitude builder or a morale booster. Seems as if, at times, that the folks out painting blazes on the trees simply get lost. Looking at the FLT maps (pick any one of them) the trail simply wanders all over the place, in every direction.

But I’m getting there, somehow, I’m getting there. Crown Point, ever the closer–no matter the direction (usually wrong) that I’m headed.

Aw, forgive me folks, this is just such a very long hike–I’d just like to be going the right way.

“I seldom end up where I wanted to go, but almost always end up where I need to be.”

[Douglas Adams]

Thursday–August 20, 2009

Trail Day–152

Trail Mile–28.3/314/4079

Location–FLT, Shindagin Hollow SF, then on to Owego Hill Road, Kennedy SF

Some kind soul, bless his/her heart, one of the many trail volunteers, keeps the trailhead area by Ridgeway Road looking like your front lawn. There’s even a picnic table. Oh yes, we moved right in yesterday evening. A few skeeters, but otherwise a most enjoyable night.

We’re up and I’m out and hiking at sunrise. Easier to do these days as sunrise comes later and later each morning.

To get from one small speck of state forest to another, the trail must work its way along roads and across private land. On the way to Shindagin Hollow SF it’s mostly private land, with a bit of old abandoned railgrade thrown in. Lots more climbing again today, but by now my legs and back are quite used to the task and I can make good time, move right along. Shindagin Hollow SF is a delightful place, the trail brushed-back, well-marked, a very pleasant time. Also, along today, and for the past number of days, builders of the trail have taken me past old stone foundations and fences, the remains of homesteads, each with a story to be told of the hardship and toil all pioneer families endured.

Forecast is for thunderstorms this afternoon. Ominous clouds come in and it turns the least blustery, but the rain doesn’t happen. The trail is trying its best to dry out again. Perhaps, just perhaps!

“The past is a ghost, the future a dream, and all we ever have is now.”

[Bill Cosby]

Friday–August 21, 2009

Trail Day–153

Trail Mile–26.3/340/4105

Location–FLT, Kennedy SF, then on to Underwood Hill Road, just west of Baker Schoolhouse SF

To camp last we were able to find a flat spot at a pull-off in Kennedy SF. Supper was good old Dinty.

The rain forecast for yesterday afternoon finally arrived around two in the morning. Not a thunderbuster, nor in waves like we’ve had, just come-and-go rain.

The hike today takes me through the eastern segment of Kennedy SF, past Foxfire Lean-To, a fine shelter, complete with table and nearby spring. Like all the other shelters passed from day-to-day, Foxfire is empty.

The sky really never clears. Rather, the rain stays, turning from a stubborn rain, to drizzle, then back to rain. So much for the “Perhaps, just perhaps.”my doubting, hesitant comment closing out yesterday’s entry–about the trail drying out. Some places along today, the trail is so steep that ropes have been tied to trees, to be used to repel where the trail bails off. The soil types making up the tread here turn to so much grease when saturated, as has been, and as is the case. Very hazardous, making the going slow and risky. I must concentrate with all diligence, lest I pitch off–and bust it.

More old rock walls and the remains of cabin foundations. In the foundations, where cellar pits have been hand dug, the flat stones are placed with such precision and care as to appear the work of master stonemasons–pure artwork. Many of the cellar walls, now centuries old, with little repair, could be built upon today.

In Blodgett Mills, we take a break and head for Cortland, and a late lunch.

The rain stays pretty much the remainder of the day.  At the intersection of Underhill and Ridge Roads, I hang it up, and we head for the way-back trailhead in Baker Schoolhouse SF to camp for the night.

“No task’s too steep for human wit.”


Saturday–August 22, 2009

Trail Day–154

Trail Mile–25.9/366/4131

Location–FLT, Baker Schoolhouse SF, then on to Stoney Brook Road and the Onondaga Trail

The drizzle kept steady during supper. Supper got wet. We got wet. Seems impossible there could be room for another batch of skeeters, but they managed to squeeze in. Mosquitoes fly fine in the rain, so we had plenty of help from all sides, clear through dishes.

Morning dawns dark, dank, and dismal. The dank and dismal sets the day up, what we’re to expect from the weatherman–no sun to speak of all day.

Today will be the last of the hard pulls along the FLT, as my trek along this path is winding down. Hopefully, the briars and brambles will also be winding down.

More old stone fences and long abandoned homesteads. Sour apple trees in the middle of nowhere are a dead giveaway. Look around the least bit and the old cellars and rock foundations can be seen through the brush.

The trail actually goes northeast most of the day, instead of southwest. What a morale boost!

The least bit of burnish, tans and light browns beginning to show on the hillsides. Less than a month till fall now. Perhaps I’m not too early to enjoy a little fall color on my trek through the Adirondacks. For the hike along the Superior Trail, my timing should be perfect for changing colors in the birch and aspen there.

Late evening I reach Stoney Brook Road. Here, after 360 miles (all the miles hiked in New York so far) the NCT leaves the main path of the FLT, to follow the Onondaga Trail, a branch of the FLT. The main FLT turns southeast to head for the Catskills; the Onondaga will take the NCT northeast toward the Adirondacks. I pause at the junction, sign the trail register, and take a few pictures.

We’re able to find a pull-off on Stoney Brook below Randall Hill, and call it a day.

“There is no season such delight can bring,

As summer, autumn, winter and the spring.”

[William Browne]

Sunday–August 23, 2009

Trail Day–155

Trail Mile–23.9/390/4155

Location–Cuyler, then on to Highland Forest County Park

The cold front that was forecast to come in yesterday afternoon finally arrived around two this morning, bringing rain.

Another dark and dreary morning. The rain is on hold, but there’s plenty of fog.

Gordon scouts out Cuyler while I’m headed there, to not only find a cafe, but to find it open–at six-thirty Sunday morning. Oh yes, this day, though foggy and threatening rain, is starting out just fine. The special, biscuits and gravy, plus a pot of coffee for us to split. Yup, starting out just fine!

Out of Cuyler the FLT has had to be rerouted onto a very long round-about roadwalk, the result of closure of a parcel of private land where the trail previously passed. On SR-13 just past West Keeney Road a farmer’s dog comes out for a piece of my leg, with the owner right behind, trying to make the dog mind. In the process I meet Todd. He’s very familiar with the FLT and the NCT, has a friend who’s hiked the AT and is out on the PCT now. I ask him about the land closure just down the road from his place, and we also talk about possible alternate off-road routes to take the trail into Morgan Hill SF. During the exchange, Todd says he wouldn’t mind the trail crossing his property! Have to pass that information along.

More climbing today, but not to the extent of previous days. And for the most part, the tread is hardened in from much more use, making staying on trail very easy. It’s a joy hiking well marked and maintained trail. The rain has been threatening most the entire day and finally comes in at four in the form of thunderstorms, wave after wave. Not pounding rain, but enough to create a gullywasher out of the trail.

Late afternoon, when I break out on Highland Park Road, in Highland Forest County Park, Gordon is right there, waiting patiently. “Got something for you to think about.” he says with a smile, knowing that I want to hike on at least another hour. “Here’s dinner, and we’ve an invitation to stay in the park tonight, in a cabin or in the old administration building, which has a shower.” He’d gone into the Skyline Visitor Center where he met Lucy. Folks at Skyline know I’m coming through, there’s a reception scheduled for me in the morning, and so Lucy has invited us to stay.

I’m tired, soaked, and dirty. The decision is easy–quit for the day and accept Lucy’s fine hospitality. And that’s exactly what we do.

A wedding reception is in full swing at the center, but Lucy has time for me, as does her entire staff. They each take a moment to introduce themselves and welcome me. A happy, cheerful bunch: Karen, Alicia, Bob, Tyler, Gina, Kaylee, Melanie, and Sean. Also the folks catering the event stop to meet me. They’re the folks who put the dinners together for us.

Oh my, an hour ago I was just hoping to find a place to park the van, and perhaps, should the rain quit, have time to crank the Coleman and cook dinner. A beautiful thing–how this day has come around!

“Life holds so many simple blessings, each day bringing its own individual wonder.”

[John McLeod]

Monday–August 24, 2009

Trail Day–156

Trail Mile–28.7/419/4184

Location–FLT, DeRuyter SF, then on to near Cazenovia

I stayed in the building at the old park complex last, Gordon in the van. Another very dreary, fogged-up morning. I get organized and manage to hit the trail by six-thirty.

An interesting mix today, some road, some trail, even a short bushwhack–then some rain (with hiking companions along) to finish.

The trail leads north to the Skyline Visitor Center, and the most spectacular view out and across The Gulf, a lush, green valley to the north. I’ve Skyline to myself, save a park employee hoisting the flag to half mast in front of the center building. Onondaga County has lost one of its young and brave to the brutal conflict in Afghanistan. On this glorious morning–a bitter reminder, one we should all keep ever in our thoughts and never, never forget–the true price of our fragile and cherished freedom. To all who serve in defense of that freedom, to those who sacrifice, and to the dear families of all who serve, who, too, sacrifice–thanks!

From the overlook at Skyline, the trail follows a delightful, well groomed path down to DeRuyter Lake, then onto private property between the lake and DeRuyter State Forest.

Let me take a moment now. To Frank, whose land I am now crossing, and to all the many unselfish landowners who permit the NCT to pass, and in the process, permit perfect strangers passage across their property–thanks, thanks so much. If not for landowners like Frank, there would be no North Country National Scenic Trail.

From DeRuyter SF I’ve a short bushwhack over to Fairbanks Road, then a roadwalk through New Woodstock and on to Tioughnioga WMA.

Here, Gordon and I break to return to Skyline Visitor Center and a reception for us to be given by the Onondaga Chapter, Adirondack Mountain Club. It turns to be a most memorable event, one I’ll certainly remember. To all who attended: Stan, Bill, Mary, Mardi, Chuck, Ed S., Ed O., Valerie, Jon, Sigi, and Dick, thanks! Especially, thank you Mary and Bill. And at Highland Forest County Park, thank you, Lucy, thank you, Brian! And to the caterers, again, thanks. I also meet and talk with Emily, a young reporter with Pennysaver out of Syracuse. A fun interview.

In the afternoon, and after stuffing myself at the reception, Gordon gets me back on trail. And what a pleasure having hiking companions, if just for a short while. With them I share a special moment. For, where we end our hike together, I put the Finger Lakes Trail behind me. Thanks Mary, Bill, Dick, and Sigi, for hiking with me today–what a delightful time!

From the WMA, I’ve a short roadwalk to Stone Quarry Hill, then finely groomed trail all the way to Cazenovia. At the trailhead in Cazenovia, I meet Eagle Eye, a fellow AT thru-hiker and local trail maintainer, and we share a few moments reminiscing our respective AT hikes.

Gordon and I have been invited to spend the night with Bill and Mary, so near Cazenovia we call it a day and head for their home in Canastota.

An incredible day, just an incredible day!

“I want to thank everybody who made this day necessary.”

[Yogi Berra]

Tuesday–August 25, 2009

Trail Day–157

Trail Mile–18.5/438/4203

Location–Cazenovia, then on past Canastota

Thanks, Bill and Mary, for the great reception at Skyline, for the opportunity to make so many new friends. We received such great energy from each and every one of you, a blessing to both Gordon and to me. The Onondaga Chapter, Adirondack Mountain Club–great folks. Yes, thank you, thank you so much!

The cold front has finally passed through leaving a perfectly clear, haze-free day. A bit of trail, an old railtrail out of Cazenovia, takes me north and east to the old Erie Canal by Canastota. Yes, I’m actually hiking northeast! Some delightful roadwalking, with a splendid view out and across Oneida Lake, and a final section of superb railtrail through the Canastota Creek cut, and I’m in Canastota. Here I pick up the Old Erie Canal Towpath, which I’ll hike all the way to Rome.

A problem is developing with the van, it’s been shimmying and shaking, getting worse each day. There seems to be something wrong with the right front wheel. In Canastota we have it looked at. A bad tire right-front is the culprit. Good thing we stopped and took time to have it replaced. Gordon has AAA, but we sure wouldn’t want to be in a predicament where it was needed. We’re headed for Crown Point with little time to spare. No stopping us now! The Mackinac Bridge is waiting, with the only opportunity to hike it being Labor Day, the 7th of next month. It’s just too good an opportunity to pass up, with the timing right to do it–just really tight time-wise; what else! Wouldn’t want to be telling folks later that I hiked the entire NCT while having taken a five-mile ride across the bridge.

We end the day just short of Durhamville. Supper is compliments of Journey (Subway gift cards). We “camp” for the night in the Oneida Wal-mart parking lot.

“Circumstances may cause interruptions and delays,

but never lose sight of your goal.

Prepare yourself in every way you can by increasing your knowledge

and adding to your experience, so that you can

make the most of opportunity when it occurs.”

[Mario Andretti]

Wednesday–August 26, 2009

Trail Day–158

Trail Mile–22.1/460/4225

Location–Old Erie Canal SHP, Durhamville, then on to near Westernville

Wal-mart actually works quite well as a campground, level site, nightlight, relative quiet, no hassle from anyone–and best of all it’s free. Yup, Wal-mart works just fine.

On our way back to the Old Erie Canal we find a dandy mom-n-pop diner for breakfast–and I still make it to the trail by seven.

A fine morning, cool and clear. But before noon the clouds begin rolling in. Gordon tells me the forecast is for scattered afternoon thundershowers. Sure enough, by noon the sky darks over and the rain begins. I’m near the van, so I just hop in and sit it out. Plenty of sitting and waiting, as the storm doesn’t move on through until after two.

Towpath hiking is okay, same as railgrade hiking, except no grade, just flat. In fact, the entire canal hike today is through a section called The Big Level. The ground is so level there isn’t a single lock the entire day. That’s level!

By late afternoon I’m at Old Erie Canal Village, a canal era attraction. There’s even a replica canal boat to haul sightseers along a section of the canal that’s been kept clear of trees and brush.

In Rome I take time to visit Fort Stanwix, a replica fort, the finest of such work I’ve ever seen.

Takes awhile to put Rome in my rearview, but by late afternoon I’m back in the New York countryside, where we soon reach a state park campground, to camp for the night.

“For the man sound in body and serene of mind there is no such thing as bad weather;

every day has its beauty, and storms which whip the blood do but make it pulse more vigorously.”

[George Gissing]

Thursday–August 27, 2009

Trail Day–159

Trail Mile–23.9/484/4249

Location–Westernville, then on to near Forestport

Nobody’s stirring in the campground this morning, way too early. We’re out just after first light and Gordon has me back on the road to Westernville by six-thirty.

A clear but very cool morning. Hands in my pockets the entire first hour. I start climbing right off the bat, and the climb continues through North Western, Hillside, Dunn Brook and Hurlburtville/Pixley Falls SP. At Pixley Falls the BREIA Towpath begins.  The Black River Canal was famous for having the most locks over the shortest distance, 109 in 35 miles. As I climb the towpath, and it is a steady climb, I pass lock after lock, some so close together there’d hardly have been room for a canal boat between them. The towpath is as a fine lawn, freshly mowed, very neatly groomed. It’s a very pleasant hike in to Boonville.

In Boonville we break for lunch at Subway, again compliments of Journey.

At Erwin Park (and a quite impressive covered bridge), I head out on the Black River Feeder Canal Towpath, which runs some ten mile on up to Forestport. Another very pleasant hike, neat tread, either finely crushed stone or grass. Gordon is able to get to the canal from a number of points along, and I keep watered up from the van.

Early evening, and after a glorious hiking day, weather-wise–and otherwise, we pull up short of Forestport and call it a day.

“Nature is man’s teacher.

She unfolds her treasures to his search,

unseals his eye, illumes his mind, and purifies his heart;

an influence breathes from all the sights and sounds of her existence.”

[Alfred Billings Street]

Friday–August 28, 2009

Trail Day–160

Trail Mile–26.2/510/4275

Location–Forestport, then on to near Old Forge

Dinner last was at a fine local restaurant, and from there it was no more than a mile up the road to a private campground for the night, a very cool one, perfect for a good night’s rest.

First light we’re headed for the local cafe for breakfast–and coffee. When the kind waitress finds out what we’re about, she has to call Jean, a local lady who was instrumental in getting the Black River Towpath cleared and usable again–then to become a fine section of the NCT. Jean arrives while we’re at breakfast and we have a fine chat. Picture time, then Gordon gets me out and going for the roadwalk up to near Old Forge.

The Forestport post office opens at eight-thirty, so after a stretch on the highway, Gordon runs me back to town. Everything’s right here waiting for me. “You’re the hiker, aren’t you?”kind smile from the postmistress. “You’ve got boxes and letters.” I had Dwinda send my winter gear back, gloves, sleeping bag, raingear, plus the maps I’ll need to finish up in Minnesota and North Dakota–it’s all here. Letters and cards, too, and some mighty fine coffee from a dear Nimblewill fan in Baton Rouge. Thanks, Fred, for your thoughtfulness!

Lots of traffic, not bumper-to-bumper, but steady and heavy. Seems everybody has taken Friday off, and they’re all headed for Adirondack State Park. Not the last big weekend of the summer, that’s coming next week, but it’s close, and folks want as much time in the mountains as they can get.

I’m hiking northeast steady the whole day. NY-28 is Nomad’s NCT route!

With the hordes of people on the road, I never dreamed of finding a room in Old Forge, especially at my hiker trash rate, but the second motel I hit takes us in, the Adirondack Lodge. Thanks, Matt, for your thoughtful kindness. Supper is at the local steak house, super prime rib.

We’re no more in our room than the rain comes, again–and stays all night.

“Walking takes longer than any other known form of locomotion except crawling.

Thus it stretches time and prolongs life.

Life is already too short to waste on speed.”

[Edward Abbey]

Saturday–August 29, 2009

Trail Day–161

Trail Mile–24.6/535/4300

Location–Adirondack SP, Old Forge, then on to near Eagle Lake

A very restful night in Old Forge. Clean body, clean clothes. Probably the last opportunity to get cleaned up before reaching Crown Point sometime next Wednesday.

Another dismal morning, not raining at the moment, but it won’t take long. I was really hoping for nice weather to finish here in the Adirondacks, but it doesn’t appear to be shaping that way. Yup, here comes the rain!

Sure glad to have my winter gear back. Got my long-sleeved poly on, plus my winter rain jacket and gloves. Poncho is on and off a dozen or more times this day.

The road, NY-28, keeps me on a steady climb the whole day. By day’s end we’re up around 2000 feet.

Not many pull-offs along the road, but near dusk Gordon finds a trailhead and we pull in for the night. Dinty with corn. Then fruit cocktail for dessert.

“When we long for life without difficulties,

remind us that oaks grow strong in contrary winds and diamonds are made under pressure.”

[Peter Marshall]

Sunday–August 30, 2009

Trail Day–162

Trail Mile–50.0/585/4350

Location–Adirondack SP, Eagle Lake, past Long Lake on the Northville/Lake Placid Trail (N/PT), then on to Cold River Lean-to #4, Cold River

Another super-mile day? No, not really. Since entering New York I’ve managed to keep up with the daily itinerary miles. Along the way, and from time-to-time, for the past twenty-some days, I’ve also managed to pick up a few extra miles here and there. Over the months you’ve probably figured out how this daily mileage thing works. If not, here’s the routine: No matter the miles I manage to hike any given day, when the next-up itinerary location is passed, that location is clicked off and is then listed in the header stats for the day (25.6+24.4=50). For yesterday’s stats and if you’ll look back for the past number of days, you’ll notice that I continued coming close to passing another itinerary day. Well, today, and with the advantage of having a running (no pun intended) number of road days–and as a result–I passed two itinerary clicks today, the short remainder of one, plus a full one. So, that’s how the 50 miles for this day’s entry got there. Anyway, all this mileage stuff is not a consuming issue. It’s just fun, and I like to keep track.

While choosing my route, preparing maps for the Adirondacks last winter, and while becoming familiar with the area, I had assumed the roads I’d be hiking would be isolated and remote. But today I find that not the case at all. The Adirondack SP is the apparent summer playground for all of New York City, and then some. Every lake, even the smaller ones, all have cabins and cottages lining their shores. And this is vacation time, the highways choked with traffic. Today I’m hiking state roads 28, 30, and 28N. The little villages along, Raquette Lake, Blue Mountain Lake, and Long Lake, all are bustling with summer vacationers. Near the Pinnacle, east of Long Lake, I leave the highway to begin my hike up the N/PT. I enter the trail with a heavy pack as I’ll not see Gordon again for three days. I’ll be on the N/PT the remainder of this day and a good bit of tomorrow before I break off and head over to pick up the Range Trail in the High Peaks Wilderness. Once there, I’ll be on that trail the better part of a day before descending to St. Huberts.

The hike up the lake starts out easy enough, but as the afternoon progresses, the tread becomes quite rocky, choked with roots, and the rain comes once again. Mud, mud, and more mud. It’s a long, difficult day by the time I reach the shelter at Cold River. Got a hunch these next two days are also going to be long and difficult.

“Life is all about timing…the unreachable becomes reachable,

the unavailable become available, the unattainable…attainable.

Have the patience, wait it out.  It’s all about timing.”

[Stacey Charter]

Monday–August 31, 2009

Trail Day–163

Trail Mile–22.6/608/4373

Location–N/PT, Adirondack SP, Duck Hole, then on to Lake Colden, High Peaks Wilderness (HPW)

The shelters in the Adirondacks are called (yup) Adirondack shelters! The design, a three-sided affair with a long- and a short-sided roof apparently got its beginning in these mountains. Lean-tos of like design are to be found on trails pretty much everywhere now, especially along the Appalachian Trail. Last evening I stayed in one of them, Cold River #3. Hadn’t seen another soul on the trail all day–had the shelter to myself.

The night turned cold but I managed to sleep warm. Takes awhile to talk myself into moving this morning. In no time I’m totally soaked. The trail continues the steady climb begun before Old Forge. I’m at near 3,000 feet now. On Mt. Marcy, the highest point in New York, I’ll be above 5,000 feet.

There are a number of intersections to deal with today, but so far I’ve managed to turn the right direction and get through them. My GPS plus spot-on waypoints really helps. As afternoon turns to evening, the trail turns more and more gnarly, large boulders in a total jumble, more roots, and indescribable mud. It’s obvious–at a time not too far distant, horses were permitted in the HPW. Every rock and boulder bears the unmistakable scars. As a result, the trail has suffered irreversible damage. Where once existed pleasant tread, that’s now gone, replaced by a rut that has the bottom completely blown out. Nothing but rocks, roots, and ledges remain on the steep sidehills, with industrial, cesspool-deep mud elsewhere. All along, the trail appears much as a creek, and I am (more than not) in it up to and above my hips. Treacherous stuff to clamber through. Each step must be placed with total diligence, lest I turn an ankle or pitch off in a header. Aw, and after I’ve done so well all day, just at dusk it happens. I slip on a root and go flying. A badly scratched knee and a bent camera case are the result. I get really angry with myself. I pray every day for patience. I have it; I know I have it. Now’s the time to show a little.

After bragging about how well I’ve navigated the turns today, late afternoon now I miss a turn and end up bushwhacking back and forth across Opalescent River for over half a mile. A well-placed waypoint saves me going back, but arriving the dam at Lake Colden I’m totally soaked and covered with mud.

Tired to the bone I take (and treat) water from the river, find a flat spot in the pine, then pitch–and call it a day.

“Adapt or perish, now as ever, is nature’s inexorable imperative.”

[H. G. Wells]

Tuesday–September 1, 2009

Trail Day–164

Trail Mile–24.8/633/4398

Location–Adirondack SP, Saint Huberts

Another cold night. Somehow I managed to keep my 32 degree down bag dry yesterday. So, in my tent, in my bag, on my pad, I slept very well, restful, warm, comfortable.

This morning I’m out and moving just after first light. More climbing and clambering, through the maze of roots and boulders. Slow, deliberate progress, very slow. More turns, but I manage them okay. I’m bound for Mt. Marcy and nothing’s stopping me–I’m into it now.

Seems as though the climb will never end. It would take nearly three Marcys, one stacked atop the other, to stand with an Elbert or a Whitney. I recall those climbs, the highest and second highest peaks in the lower 48. But this climb up Marcy seems far more difficult and much, much longer. Finally, at ten-thirty I’m standing on the summit of Mt. Marcy. I’ve the place entirely to myself. Too early for anyone else to be here. First to arrive behind me, one of the peak stewards. They make the ascent to the top of Marcy every day. Don’t miss the photos and videos I’ve taken here–spectacular!

Okay, good a time as any to get this off my chest. Yes, mother, I know, I know–I’ll try to keep it short, to the point, and not so critical, then I’ll shut up: One of the most glorious of Nature’s creations through which this remarkable NCT passes–the Adirondacks of upstate New York. But there is no designated NCT route here. “Incredible,” you say! Yes it is incredible. After years and years of arguing, haggling, planning and compromising, the best the powers that be have to offer involve three potential corridors, none of which include Mt. Marcy, the Range Trail, or any of the grand and awe-inspiring high peaks that comprise the High Peaks Wilderness. You then say, “How could this be?” Well, don’t look to me for the answer to that question. It’s unexplainable, and it’s sad, really sad. For the pointy-heads to have gotten their way, to have caused such bureaucratic delay, shame on them. To those of you who’ve sat and listened to them cry and whine about how routing the NCT through the High Peaks Wilderness would somehow adversely impact the high peaks, how you sat patiently and listened for years with straight faces, shame, double shame on you. Their tired, worn assertions are utterly laughable, just laughable–that bunch should have been laughed out of the room long, long ago–shame, shame.

Yes, I am speaking here out of frustration and anger, anger that is grounded in a deep, abiding passion for this incredible North Country National Scenic Trail. Folks, it’s time to take the gloves off. Forget your “political capital,” whatever that is. Look where that’s gotten you! It’s time (actually it’s far past time) to establish the rightful, climactic ending to this trail. And folks, that ending is sure not one of the pathetic of the three negotiated, picked over, and compromised routes you’re looking at. Ah, but you then say, “All these years, we’ve been working this all these years.” So, okay, you’ve been working it all these years, all the better. Just don’t let those years be spent in vain; don’t settle for second, third, or fourth best, that’s where you’re headed. Go to your legislature here in New York if you have to. Go to your governor if you have to. Go to the people if you have to. The Adirondacks belong to the people, not the pointy-heads that are telling you how it’s going to be. And when you finally have it out with those who think they rule the Adirondacks, when you have to listen one final time to all the hollow, meritless assertions, don’t forget to stand up and laugh the bastards (a word used quite often by Abbey) out of the room.

Folks, Congress established and the President of the United States signed into law the National Scenic Trails Act. In that act were there created eleven National Scenic Trails. The North Country National Scenic Trail is no less important than those I’ll mention below. It rates that level of significance, that importance. The High Peaks Wilderness, those lands–in great part, have been set aside and designated “wilderness” because of their scenic nature.

The Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail has its High Sierras, the Cascades. The Continental Divide National Scenic Trail has the grand and glorious Rockies. The Appalachian National Scenic Trail has its Whites. Not to route the North Country National Scenic Trail within the High Peaks literally defies Congressional intent. Stay with it and get it right! Nuff; thanks for letting me have my say.

Well, as you’ve learned here, Nimblewill Nomad’s NCT route through the Adirondacks goes the High Peaks Range Trail (HPRT). Off Marcy it’s a bail-off, with the HPRT taking me across and then straight up Little Haystack. After that ricochet comes Basin Mountain, then the near-vertical ascent (with a short technical section) up Saddleback Mountain. Another lesser descent across another saddle and I’m into the Gothics.

It’s getting late in the day now, not enough time left to continue on to Armstrong and Upper and Lower Wolfjaw. So, with great reluctance I leave the HPRT and descend Beaver Meadows Falls Trail, down, down, and down, over the rocks, boulders, and ledges, to Ausable Lake Road–and St. Huberts. David, a strong, young peak-bagger I’d hiked some with over Basin and Saddleback, who left the trail before me, took time to track Gordon down and tell him where I’d be emerging from my three-day jaunt through the Adirondacks. And dependable, reliable Gordon, he’s patiently waiting for me at the gate to the Adirondack Mountain Reserve, right where David said I’d come out. Thanks, David!

A fine supper at the little cafe up the road, then to the trailhead below St. Huberts. Gordon maneuvers the van to get it nearly level and this day is done.

“It isn’t that they can’t see the solution. It’s that they can’t see the problem.”

[G. K. Chesterton]

Wednesday–September 2, 2009

Trail Day–165

Trail Mile–27.8/661/4426

Location–Crown Point State Historic Site

After three days of trekking the Adirondacks and the High Peaks Wilderness, this final day o’er the NCT, from St. Huberts to Crown Point, is pretty uneventful. It involves a short off-road section to connect with Crowfoot Road, less than three miles, mostly along an old logging road, from where Gordon’s gone around to hike in a short distance to meet me. From here it’s paved road through the villages of Moriah and Port Henry, then through scenic, rural countryside, around to Crown Point.

I arrive late afternoon. I know I’ve reached the end of the NCT here at Crown Point, but there are no final blazes, no kiosk, nothing I can find to mark the end.

I climb the embankment to the old British fortification, to the high point above and overlooking Lake Champlain. Here I pause to give a short prayer of thanks, then I whisper to myself that this is it.

Sailboats are plying the bay formed by Crown Point, a quiet, peaceful evening, a very picturesque setting. Time for a few pictures and a video or two–then I turn away.

“Reaching a goal, unremarkable as it may often appear to be, is yet most remarkable

because it’s God’s way of letting you know He has heard your prayers.”

{Linda CyWiz Stolte]

Thursday–September 3, 2009

Trail Day–166

Trail Mile–29.3/29/4456

Location–Brandon, Vermont

There’s a state campground on the point, on the New York side of the bridge. Being late evening we decided to pull in and call it a day. Good old reliable spaghetti, a quick fix and a sure filler upper.

Interesting that another odyssey should end at a lighthouse. Here at Crown Point there’s a magnificent stone lighthouse. From Lake Champlain Bridge this morning I’m able to get some fine shots, not only of the lighthouse, but across Lake Champlain, back toward the old fort ruins at Crown Point, and to the east, into Vermont.

From Crown Point to East Clarendon, in Vermont, it’s 52 miles to where the Appalachian Trail crosses the railroad tracks there. That’s where I’m headed now.

You may recall that I began this odyssey at the Knife River Indian Villages National Historic Site in Stanton, North Dakota, a day’s hike south of the NCT western terminus at Lake Sakakawea SP, the purpose being to connect Odyssey ’09 to my previous treks o’er the Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail. Those odyssey years were 2004 and 2006, the 100th anniversary years (outbound and return) of the Lewis and Clark Expedition.

Odysseys ’98 and ’00 included thru-hikes o’er the Appalachian Trail. Both of those treks took me across the tracks in East Clarendon. And so, this extended two-day journey east.

Across Lake Champlain Bridge I enter a lush, green valley, dairy farms, fields of grain and hay, beautiful homes. It’s a fine hiking day, sparse traffic, open road, good visibility, okay shoulders. Gordon and I hopscotch along. He goes ahead a couple miles then pulls off. When I catch up, he’ll hop on ahead a couple more. It’s an easy thirty-mile day. Late evening, and south of Brandon, I manage a great hiker trash deal at the mom-n-pop motel. It’s Dinty on the old Coleman, right in our room.

“Creativity is the power to connect the seemingly unconnected.”

[William Plomer]

Friday–September 4, 2009

Trail Day–167

Trail Mile–23.2/52/4479

Location–Appalachian National Scenic Trail, East Clarendon

Another fine day for roadwalking, this my last, to conclude the eastern extent of this NCT odyssey.

The state road I’ve been hiking, and now, as I continue south toward Rutland on US-7, am I following a very old route, a military road built by General Amhurst in 1760. I suspect the US-7 part is now much wider and smoother than that old road.

As I hike on down to East Clarendon, Gordon has gone on ahead to have the van serviced, oil change, grease job, all the system checks. We’ve got a fair amount of long hauling just ahead of us, first to Michigan for the Mackinac Bridgewalk Monday, then from there to the Arrowhead of Minnesota, some 1,500 miles.

The roadwalk goes well, and at two I reach East Clarendon and the white blazes marking the Appalachian Trail.

A few more pictures, a stop at the Whistlestop for some ice cream, and we’re on our way to Michigan. The eastern extent of this trek is a done deal!

Dark comes at 250 miles, so we find a rest area, pull in, and this day is over.

“The most important thing about goals is having one.”

[Geoffry F. Abert]

Saturday–September 5, 2009

Trail Day–168

Trail Mile–4479

Location–Gordon’s brother’s home, Ypsilanti, Michigan

Today is totally a road day as we drive on up to Ypsilanti, where J.R. and Luene live, Gordon’s brother and sister-in-law. Their place is only minutes from US-23, so makes sense to stop for awhile, at least. Awhile will be an overnight as they’ve invited us to stay. We make good time, arriving a little after three.

A great afternoon and evening. Both J.R. and Luene were genuinely pleased to meet me–kind, gentle folks.

Good company, great home cooking (including apple crumb dessert), clean clothes–and body, and a softer than Therm-a-Rest bed for the night.

“Diligence is a good thing, but taking things easy is much more restful.”

[Mark Twain]

Sunday–September 6, 2009

Trail Day–169

Trail Mile–4479

Location–Glen’s Market, St. Ignace

Big high pressure area covering the entire region, all the way to the Upper Peninsula, so hopefully, we’ll have a good day for the bridgewalk tomorrow.

We linger with J.R. and Luene, a few pictures. As you know, good-byes are always tough, not an easy thing for me. I’ll likely not see either of these dear people ever again. Thanks folks for your kindness to this old man.

J.R. and Luene head for church, we head for Minnesota and unfinished trail business there. It’s around 250 to St. Ignace and we make it by late afternoon. Gordon’s done the bridgewalk many times, with his sister, Sue Ellen, and with many friends, so he knows his way around up here. A quick trip into Glen’s Market right by the bridge, and Gordon’s got us a place to park the van for the night, right in Glen’s lot.

A visit to Big Boy finishes the day quite nicely.

“Where is the good in goodbye?”

[Meredith Willson]

Monday–Labor Day, September 7, 2009

Trail Day–170

Trail Mile–4479

Location–Wal-Mart Motel (parking lot), Ironwood

In the daily stats, from this day forward, and to the end of this odyssey, you’ll see the number 4479 continually repeated at “Trail Mile.” That’s because the miles remaining, the five across the bridge today, and the 300 miles (give or take) that comprise the Border Route and Superior Hiking Trails have already been included in the total. It was just easier at the time to leave the listed itinerary miles as they were. You may recall me saying, “I’ll all shake out in the end.”  And so.

The Hiawatha Shore-to-Shore Chapter, North Country Trail Association, the local trail chapter, has sponsored and is putting on a camp-out for all to attend during the Labor Day Bridge Walk, running from September 4th through the 8th. It’s located just a short distance north of St. Ignace, so after we arrived yesterday, Gordon drove us up there, to see some old friends and make some new ones. Thanks to everyone–and everyone did take time to greet us and to wish us well. Especially, thanks, Marv and Charlene, camp-out organizers!

There’s a heavy blanket of fog this morning, otherwise, the day dawns calm and clear, the makings for a glorious day to do the 52nd Annual Mackinac Bridge Walk. Thousands of people have shown up to be part of this special day. The description I’ve heard, “Labor Day on the Mackinac Bridge is a happening.” is an understatement if there ever was one. How to give it proper due, that I don’t know. You’ve just gotta wait for the pictures and videos. The words “zoo” and “circus” come to mind, but neither fit here. Reason being: The Mackinac Bridge Authority, the St. Ignace Chamber of Commerce, and the Greater Mackinaw Area Chamber of Commerce, the folks who put this day on, they’re pros, the entire event orderly, well managed to the last detail. Example: Everyone receives a certificate at the finish line. I got mine, #24,841. I walked with friends from Marquette, Lorana, Cliff, and Peter. Also in our group, Bruce, NCTA Executive Director from Lowell.  The fog, which shrouded the towers (an eerie scene), lifted just as we entered the suspension section, perfect timing, perfect day!

Returning from Mackinaw City to St. Ignace was quick and easy, again the result of perfect planning. School buses from all over Michigan were waiting for the throngs. I stood in line less than five minutes. Once across, I had a short walk back to Glen’s where Gordon had parked us the night before.

Now it’s on to Minnesota and unfinished business there, the Border Route and Superior Hiking Trails. I  had to bypass them early on due to adverse weather and trail conditions at the time. Out of St. Ignace and heading west we make good time, all the way to Ironwood in the western Upper Peninsula.

It’s been a small trail-mile day, but a big accomplishment one–for sure!

“There is no one giant step that does it.  It’s lots of little steps.”

[Peter A Cohen]

Tuesday–September 8, 2009

Trail Day–171

Trail Mile–4479

Location–Heston’s Lodge, Gunflint Lake, Minnesota

This will be another day of travel, as we continue on north and west, back to Heston’s Lodge in the Arrowhead Region, near Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, Minnesota. From Heston’s to Two Harbors, there lies the gap in this hike (seems so long ago now). Both Greg and Barb had urged me not to try hiking the Border Route Trail at the time. I heeded their advice, and from what I’ve since learned about the trail conditions at the time, I’m sure glad I did!

We reach their lodge early afternoon, to be greeted by Addie, their daughter. Soon come Greg and Barb. They remember me well and are genuinely happy and pleased to see me again.

With some final details and planning yet to do, I decide to tarry till morning before climbing to the trail above Heston’s. Barb shows Gordon a flat spot for the van and we’re in for the night.

For this long journey back we’ve had wide, safe passage. Thank you, Lord!

“Let good or ill befall,

It must be good for me;

Secure of having Thee in all,

Of having all in Thee.”

[Henry F. Lyte]

Wednesday–September 9, 2009

Trail Day–172

Trail Mile–4479

Location–Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, near Daniels Lake, the old Alger Smith Railroad grade

Just up from Heston’s Lodge and a short distance east lies the western extent of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. Within the wilderness the Border Route Trail runs for over forty miles, with no road crossings, no access other than by trail or canoe, so I’ve at least one overnight before coming out at Arrowhead Trail Trailhead, Little John.

Gear usually left in the van must be carried, my tent, sleeping pad, etc., extra weight I’m not accustomed to toting–plus two to three days food. At seven I’m pack up and ready. More sad good-byes. Greg, Barb, and Addie have been so kind to me. I’ll likely never see them again–they’ve become very good friends.

The climb up from Heston’s is gentle, but I’m feeling the pull, what with my heavier-than-usual pack. Oh, and it doesn’t take long before I begin encountering much brush and many blowdowns, harbingers of what’s to come. And just a short while further, the rain begins. I stop to dig out my poncho, but with the trail totally choked with briars and brush, I’m soaked immediately.

The trail is not difficult, some climbing, the usual rocks and roots, but given the overgrowth of briars, brambles and brush, which makes safe foot placement impossible, somewhere along I manage to sprain my left knee. It’s a dull pain to begin with. Then as the day wears on, and as I stumble and bumble my way along the concealed tread, the pain becomes more persistent, sharp and intense. I toil long in the climbs up from Mucker and Stairway.

Sections of my hike today are noted for their splendid vantage points, but for me, as I trudge along soaked and sore, there is little to marvel at. With the treadway wet, conditions as they are today, the going is treacherous. Slick rocks, slick roots. I have already fallen many times. I do stop, and I do get a few pictures, but the drear provides a not-so-magnificent backdrop. Stairway, which I mentioned above, is a very unusual portage, a special place. It was built originally by the CCC in the 1930s. There are 28 steps down, leading to Duncan Lake on the south, and 91, down the north side to Rose Lake. Better judgment tells me not to go climbing around Stairway today.

As I continue generally north and east, does this trail continue to offer up the four “Bs” (briars, brambles, Blowdowns, and Brush), the last two, you’ll note, begin in caps. Descending from near Caribou Rock, down to Rose Lake, the trail turns, to make a long sweep to the northeast. Near the eastern shore of Rose Lake, and just short of Long Portage, I am within yards of the Canadian Border–and the northernmost point along the NCT (North 48 degrees, 6.131 minutes – West 90 degrees, 23.899 minutes).

Along the Long Portage, which the BRT/NCT follows, are the remains of the old Alger Smith Railroad, now just a nearly level two-track with a few yet-to-rot-out short ties.

At the portage intersection between Daniels and Rove Lakes, I find a rock-free spot and call an end to this anxious, wearisome, pain wracked day.

“Thro’ many dangers, toils, and snares,

I have already come;

‘Tis Grace has brought me safe thus far,

And grace will lead me home.”

[John Newton, Amazing Grace]

Thursday–September 10, 2009

Trail Day–173

Trail Mile–4479

Location–Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, by the ridgetop east of East Pike Lake

A fretful night.Life, with everything soaked, my tent, my pad, all my clothing, my shoes and socks, sure nobody’s idea of fun. Somehow again, and I know not how, I did manage to keep my down bag reasonably dry (only half soggy rather than full soggy). So I slept better than expected, sure better than deserved.

I’m having great difficulty this morning, convincing myself I need to get out and get going. It’s barely first light. I’ve over 20 miles of slow, rugged trekking, and I’ve got to move out if I’m to make it on through to Arrowhead Trail where Gordon will be waiting.

I doubled up on my enteric-coated aspirin yesterday in order to keep my knee pain tolerable. Smart, real smart–that leaves me with only one remaining 325mg pill to manage my pain this entire day. So, okay old man, suck it up and go–dang, quit your whining!

The day comes on dismal and dark, with low, water-laden clouds brushing through the trees. Being wet to start off with takes all the fun out of getting completely soaked again. Bad attitude, I know, bad. Just–I can’t concentrate on the surrounds, indescribable beauty, views of the many high cliffs, the remarkable unfettered and unbroken wilderness. What with my continually falling to contend with, followed by my continual praying for successful passage through this nightmare of waterlogged tangle, blowdowns, and brush, just can’t concentrate.

I’ve some very tricky intersections and turns to negotiate today. What a blessing, having had the gumption to create waypoints for them. The first is just past the high saddle between Clearwater and Rove Lakes at a three-way intersection. My coordinates are dead on.

At the 81rd portage between Clearwater and Mountain Lakes I hear voices. Soon come two young chaps, one lugging the canoe, the other hauling and dragging their paddles and shoulder-strapped bundles of gear. I manage to get a “Hi” out of them as they pass. Looks of it, I’d say they didn’t want to stop for fear of never getting started again!

By early afternoon, and moving pitifully slow, I manage Gogebic Lake. Here’s a most delightful campsite, situated just up enough from the shore to be sheltered, yet positioned such as to provide an unobstructed view, clear across the lake to the high ridge beyond–to where the trail will soon lead. The sun enters to make a passing show, giving a splash on the water, bringing a brilliance not seen this day–then it’s quickly gone.

By late evening, after moving so pitifully slow this entire day, it becomes evident I’ll never make it out to Arrowhead Trail before dark. My little dink Garmin, a waypoint set for the bridge at Arrowhead, tells me I’m less than two miles (as the crow flies) from the trailhead there, but there’s just no way. My pain-tolerance locker is empty. My energy reserves are totally spent. The good light of this day is nearly gone. By the ridge above John Lake I find a century-old leveled-out blowdown hole, and in that final moment just before dark-thirty, I drive the last tent stake to hold down my pitiful, waterlogged tent.

“There’s a hand that stretches downward,

Makes my feet to walk again.

Tho my journey may be rugged,

He’ll be with me ’til the end.”

[D. Sue Jones Horton]

Friday–September 11, 2009

Trail Day–174

Trail Mile–4479

Location–Arrowhead Trail, Little John/McFarland

Another not-so-great night on the trail. Crawling, totally soaked, into a soaked tent, with a knee that doesn’t want to bend, not the best for a pleasant time. But I did make the best of it and I did manage to rest reasonably well.

My right knee gave me a fit the entire day last, not a moment of letup with the pain. Rolling out this morning, I am very stiff and sore. Finally, I’m pack up and moving, although ever-so-slowly. I’ve a hunch these last couple-three miles will stick in my memory awhile.

Two hours, two hours, that’s the time it takes to hobble the gradual downhill to Arrowhead Trail. More blowdowns to contend with, with a left leg that doesn’t want to lift. What a deal; it is funny!

Gordon’s waiting patiently for me. He senses something’s bad wrong right away. “Your sticks aren’t clicking!” his comment, as he looks at me with much concern. Hard bringing myself to tell him, yet my tear-filled eyes tell him: “This hike’s over for now, Gordon. I can’t continue with this pain.”

After 4100 miles, only 300 left to finish this odyssey–I don’t understand, I just don’t understand. And so, with great reluctance, we turn from this trail, load, and head for home.

“Someday He’ll make it plain to me,

Someday when I His face shall see;

Someday from tears I shall be free,

For someday I shall understand.”

[Linda Shivers Leech]

Friday–September 25, 2009

Trail Day–175

Trail Mile–4479

Location–Grand Portage State Forest, Otter Lake Road Trailhead, Superior Hiking Trail

Guess you couldn’t help but notice the two-week gap between this journal entry date and the last. Reason for it: I’ve been home with my left leg up, trying to heal a blown out knee. I suffered the injury first day out from Heston’s on the Border Route Trail, while hiking miles of blowdowns and brush. After the injury, I continued near two full days before giving it up. The pain had become intolerable; worse, my left leg kept going out from under me causing me to fall countless times. There was just no way of continuing. So, Gordon loaded me, then drove me back to Missouri, and home.

But we’re back now, to the very spot my hike was abruptly halted two weeks ago–to give it a go again. Folks, I’m no quitter. You can tag me with whatever, pick a label–but please, just not “quitter.” One of the greatest endurance athletes alive today, Lance Armstrong, said, “Pain is temporary. Quitting lasts forever.”

Anyway, I’m back. My knee isn’t fully recovered, but Dr. Tim, my sports med doc in Jeff City has given me the go-ahead. “Start out slow and easy.” he told me. And so, this morning I’m out and moving–slowly, my left knee tightly wrapped in an Ace bandage.

I can feel a deep, dull pain in the knee almost immediately, and I am stiff all over, my whole body rebelling as I try getting loosened up and moving again. I’ve less than 300 miles to go to close this gap, the final gap in what will be a continuous hike, a thru-hike, from Lake Sakakawea in central North Dakota, to Crown Point at Lake Champlain in upstate New York, 4,400 miles o’er the North Country National Scenic Trail–perhaps not the finest quality as thru-hikes sometimes go, but a  thru-hike none-the-less.

Today will bring me to the end of the Border Route Trail, a very remote, very difficult trail to hike. And the going is again difficult, but heeding Doc Tim’s advice, I manage to pace myself–not a difficult task, what with the continuing difficulty with my left knee. So far, it hasn’t given out, but it’s definitely weak, and very painful, especially on extended downhills.

When departing this morning I was sore afraid I’d be unable to continue for long, but as the day progresses, I become confident that I’ll finish these remaining miles of the Border Route. Then, hopefully, in the days to come, I’ll manage the trek on down the Superior Hiking Trail to Two Harbors. Many dear family members, many friends, have been and continue to pray for me. The result: I am the grateful benefactor of the ever enveloping mercy the good Lord has seen fit to bestow. Yes, I will finish this long journey.

Finally, through the brush, and as I look ahead, instead of just another hill to climb, I see the van–Gordon is waiting where the Border Route Trail ends. It has been a very long, tiring day, but I have managed–dear Lord, I have made it.

“I do not think there is any other quality so essential to success of any kind as the quality of perseverance. It overcomes almost everything, even nature.”  [John D. Rockefeller]

Saturday–September 26, 2009

Trail Day–176

Trail Mile–4479

Location–Grand Portage State Forest, Arrowhead Trail Trailhead, Superior Hiking Trail

I managed the night very well, sleeping comfortably, soundly. The little space I’ve carved out in the back of Gordon’s van isn’t much, but it’s my home away from home, and I am certainly grateful to Gordon for it.

I figured I’d be stoved up this morning, all my forward motion in total mechanical mode. But surprise, in just moments I’m hiking along quite effortlessly. I’ve really cranked my coated aspirin intake, upwards of 3,000 mg/day. I’ve bumped up my Osteo Bi-flex a notch, and I’ve wrapped my left knee as tight as I can stand–all’s working in my favor.

Having just completed the Border Route Trail, the Superior Hiking Trail situated right next stands in total contrast. A few miles into it now, have I found it to be well marked, totally brushed back, manicured, and virtually absent of blowdowns. What a blessing being able to see where my feet are going, to be moving without having to struggle and fight my way, nearly every step of the way.

At eight miles the trail crosses Jackson Lake Road where Gordon is waiting. He welcomes me with expectation–“You made it; you doing all right?” his hesitant greeting. And I am doing quite well. My knee hasn’t folded, even on the abrupt climbs and steep downhills, and I am managing the pain considerably better than expected. Fall foliage, Ma Nature’s grand show, isn’t in full swing yet, but the orange of the maples and the bright yellows of the birch are beginning to splash across the hills–and I can stand and gape, and marvel, above the pain.

The early afternoon hike, on over to Arrowhead Trail Trailhead takes me up and over a special place called “Hellacious Overlook.” Near there I stop to chat with a group of day hikers as they enjoy lunch. Lots of great questions; I can’t shut up–a fun time.

By two I’ve finished my hike for the day. I could continue on, as my knee is doing fine for the miles. But heeding Doc Tim’s advice, easy as she goes! So, seems strange, but at Arrowhead Trail Trailhead I pull up and call it a day.

With the afternoon to our liking, Gordon loads us and we head down to Grand Marais, to do a little grocery shopping, and to have a good cooked meal.

After the hike today, I’m confident I’ll finish this very long journey, probably reaching Two Harbors around the seventh of next month–or so. Thank you, Lord, thank you!

“If one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams,

and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined,

he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours.”


Sunday–September 27, 2009

Trail Day–177

Trail Mile–4479

Location–Grand Portage State Forest, Lakeshore Walk/Lake Superior, SR61, Superior Hiking Trail

A cool night, but not cold. There’s not been a hard freeze yet, the ferns still green.

The morning dawns gray, the day uninviting. I dope up on aspirin, pop an extra Osteo Bi-flex, wrap my knee as tight as I can, and I head out to give it another go.

This Superior Trail is not at all a difficult hike. Some ups and downs, a few rocks and roots, but mostly it’s wide open tread, much of it covered in grass. This makes for making good progress, and this morning I do, right at three-per for the first seven miles or so.

It’s quite remarkable how my knee continues to improve. I’ve near full range of motion now, and I can feel the strength returning. Hiking on level ground and climbing the uphills, no problem. It’s the downhills that are still slowing me down, but I’m handling them with much less pain now. It is a miracle. Thanks, dear folks, for your prayers, for your continued encouragement!

Each day now brings more fall color. If the sun would only come to stay the least while, the hillsides would be brilliant. But alas, the clouds of gloom have once again found me, and by nine-thirty I hear the distant thunder. Soon comes the rain, steady, and by looks of it, it’s here to stay.

On reaching Camp 20 Road trailhead I hear voices. It’s Gordon and two hikers, Maureen and Mick, mother and daughter, out on the SHT for a few days. Since returning to Minnesota, to the Arrowhead, it’s really been difficult trying to explain my hike, as most folks on the SHT are unaware that it’s shared by the NCT. Anyway, I try to explain.

The thunder is directly overhead now, the rain passing through in waves. Wet tread is more familiar tread, slick roots, slick rocks, and mud–and my feet are soaked–more like it! Been hiking for two days now with dry feet. What is that!

At Devil’s Kettle, Judge Magney SP, I meet John, a photographer from “The Cities.” He asks if he might get a few shots of me. “I like photographing people, especially interesting people.” says John. Guess I’m interesting. He takes a bunch of pictures!

A short distance on down the trail, and before the road, Gordon is waiting. For the last long while, I’ve insisted he get out of the van and walk instead of simply sitting around waiting for me to show up. He has, and he’s doing better, getting stronger every day–hasn’t needed his walker once this trip. Yes, Gordon’s knees are doing a whole lot better–too!

Down from the hills above, the SHT crosses busy SR61 to follow the beach for a mile or so. As I churn along, through the gazillion pebbles lining the shore, I stop, bend down, and pick one up. Then to hold it in my hand and marvel–and finally tuck it in my pocket for a souvenir. Day’s end come at the end of the lake walk, again by busy SR61. Here we find a two-track that leads down to the beach where we’re able to maneuver the van. The rain has passed for a short while, so I’m able to set camp, prepare supper, and get an evening fire going. John and Bill come by, local fellows out hiking the beach. They accept our invite for coffee, and we share an enjoyable evening.

For look! Within my hollow hand,

While round the earth careens,

I hold a single grain of sand

And wonder what it means.

[Robert W. Service]

Monday–September 28, 2009

Trail Day–178

Trail Mile–4479

Location–Superior National Forest, Gunflint Trail above Grand Marais, Superior Hiking Trail

The rain came back in again just as we were finishing supper last; had to hurry to get everything secured. The breakers on the beach lulled us the night, in between numerous showers, which rattled the roof of the van.

The morning dawns dark and dreary, total overcast, and the wind, which had been forecast has arrived, leading a cold front–and the cold front has also arrived.

Everything I need is in my bin–in the van.  Rain pants, down vest and rain jacket, mittens and over-mitts. First time I’ve needed them since last spring. A blessing, that I haven’t had to lug them in my pack all this time, yet here they are when needed. Yes, hiker support is a beautiful thing!

I’m finally out a little before eight, to dodge the dump trucks as I cross busy SR61. Lots of ups and downs today. First climb, easy and steady, is up to the ridge above Kadunce River. From Kadunce, it’s an easy sideslab over to Kimball Creek and CR14 where Gordon is waiting. From Kimball, save a brief down to cross Durfee Creek, I’ve a steady climb of over 700 feet to Wildflower Hill.

By this time the wind has worked and whipped itself into a total rage, steady at 30, gusting to over 40. I can hear trees around being broken, being blown down. An incredible (and scary) noise, much as so many shotguns being discharged. There’s much deadwood and upper-tree brush starting to accumulate along the trail. By the time I’ve made it down Woods Creek to where Gordon again waits, the wind has increased, gusting to better than 50. Just up the road from where the van’s parked, Gordon motions toward a large pine that has blown down across the road. A fellow trying to pass through is getting his chainsaw out. He then spends better part of half an hour clearing the tree from the roadway. Along the trail, and arriving the road here, I’ve had to beat my way around, over, and through upwards of 40-50 new blowdowns.

From Woods Creek over to Gunflint Trail is just shy of seven miles. For the twelve or thirteen so far today, my knee has  done remarkably well, so I’d like to get these additional miles in. Reluctantly, I head back out and into the windstorm. Not a good idea. The trail by Devil Track River is rugged, and with all the tree-top brush cluttering the trail, all the new blowdowns, the going is slow–and the wind has been steadily increasing, snapping trees in half, root-wadding and blowing them completely down. Over the years I’ve sometimes stopped to wonder how all the brush and blowdowns end up on the trail. Now I know. Being out here in it when it’s happening is scary, very scary.

I’m greatly relieved when I finally reach Gunflint Trail–and the security of the nice warm van. What a day, what a day; sure depleted my courage locker!

“Courage is being scared to death and saddling up anyway.”

[John Wayne]

Tuesday–September 29, 2009

Trail Day–179

Trail Mile–4479

Location–Cascade River State Park, SR61 Superior Hiking Trail

From the trailhead below Pincushion Mountain, (and above Grand Marais) where we parked/camped last, we had a penthouse view out and across Lake Superior. With the wind whipping as it was, huge waves were being kicked up out on the lake, with the wind cutting into them, separating the whitecaps completely from the waves, then lifting them into the air. The effect created was quite spectacular.

The wind finally quit rocking the van and died down around two. Then the rain started up again, coming and going the remainder of the night. But we kept warm in the van even though the temperature dropped down in the thirties.

It takes me forever to get ready to hike this morning. Gordon finally manages to boost me on down the trail a little before eight.

I’ve a climb first thing, up to Sawtooth Bluff, for a grand view down to Grand Marais, the harbor, and Lake Superior. From here it’s an easy hike, along a wide, mowed snowmobile path, then well-manicured trail. I’m faced with a ton of new blowdowns, the remains of yesterday’s windstorm. There are other folks out enjoying the trail today, two backpackers, the others, day hikers. Gordon is able to get in to three different trail crossings. The last, the upper bridge over Cascade River. I had planned to hike on past the river, but there won’t be enough daylight to get all the way to Caribou Trail, the next road crossing. So, at Cascade River I call it a day. Gordon’s worked a hiker trash deal for us at Cascade Lodge where we’re in for the night. Ah, and a good thing as there’s to be a hard freeze tonight.

A tiring day, but my knee did fine. It’d definitely getting stronger. Keep on pluggin’ old man; keep on pluggin’!

“It is not the mountain we conquer but ourselves.”

[Edmund Hillary]

Wednesday–September 30, 2009

Trail Day–180

Trail Mile–4479

Location–Trailhead, Lutsen Ski Area, Superior Hiking Trail

Sure good to get a hot shower, to be clean for a change. Soft bed, nice warm room, oh yes, a great night at Cascade Lodge, Cascade River SP.

The windstorm that roared through Monday was intense, widespread. Here by the lodge, fifty-year-old+ spruce trees, many two feet in diameter, have been either broken off near their base or have suffered having their tops completely ripped out. Lucky no one was hurt. Even more amazing, no buildings were damaged.

Frost is covering everything this morning. We’re out (Brrr!) and down to the lodge restaurant right when they open at seven-thirty. High octane coffee, energy packed pancakes, I’m stoked for the day.

Yesterday I finished right at the Cascade River Bridge, SR61, so Gordon has to drive me less than a quarter-mile to get me back on track.

A short climb and I’m immediately in trail-blocking blowdowns. As I climb toward Lookout Mountain I encounter more and more of them. I find myself off trail more than on, trying to get around the piles of tangle.

I’ve had to deal with brush and blowdown-clogged trail many times before, but never anything as extensive or as dramatic as what’s blocking this path before me now. The USFS folks call this sort of event “windthrow.” That term describes the situation quite well. Seems all the big trees have been pushed down or “thrown” completely flat. At one point along Indian Camp Ridge where I’m climbing over a particularly dense pile, I’m  eight feet off the ground, carefully moving from one huge tree trunk to the next. The whole stack-up is very unstable. I must make each move with deliberation, lest I cause the nightmarish maze to shift, pinning me in the process.

Over Lookout Mountain and all along Indian Camp Ridge, the destruction is incredible. There are literally hundreds of blowdowns across the trail. It’s going to take crews days to clear this out; it will be a hard, tough job. God guard and keep those dear folks whose job it will be to open this trail again.

By the time I reach Caribou Trail, where Gordon is waiting, the worst of the damage is behind me. At least it appears that way. I certainly hope and pray that’s the case. I dearly want to hike this trail, not roadwalk around it. Amazing, isn’t it, this SHT was totally clogged with blowdowns from an ice storm that occurred only days before I arrived here last April. And now, right as I’m in the midst of finally hiking through, another storm causes as much or more damage. Seems it just isn’t in the cards for me to have a cruise–which this hike should certainly be.

From Caribou Trail to Lutsen Ski Area my hike today does turn to be a cruise, hardly any additional storm damage. Perhaps it is behind me, perhaps.

Another relatively short-mile day, around seventeen. Even after struggling around, climbing over, and crawling under and through the countless blowdowns, my knee is fine. There’s little pain now; it is getting stronger every day–what a blessing. Tomorrow I’ll have less than 100 miles remaining to reach Two Harbors. Yes, it is a blessing!

“Success is not measured by what you accomplish but by the opposition you have encountered,

and the courage with which you have maintained the struggle against overwhelming odds.”

[Orison Swett Marden]

Thursday–October 1, 2009

Trail Day–181

Trail Mile–4479

Location–Trailhead, FS343, Temperance River SP, Superior Hiking Trail

Fall is definitely here, at least according to the night-time temperatures. Last evening we cranked the van heater till we couldn’t stand it any longer, any hotter. That held quite well till very early this morning. Sure glad I have my Mountain Hardwear Phantom 32, 800 fill down bag to keep me warm. Mountain Hardwear is and has been one of my great sponsors.

Since the big windstorm last Monday the days have been quite fair, very cool, but fair. Today is shaping for more of the same–not much sun but some, time-to-time.

I’m in a range of hills now known as the Sawtooth Mountains, an area the least bit more rugged, sure more climbing around. But today I’ve fewer blowdowns to contend with and the tread is friendly, fewer rocks, the trail brushed back and manicured. Gordon gets in to meet me at a couple of crossing, lunch at the first, hot coffee at the second.

These past number of days have been short-mileage days in comparison, the average being, perhaps, around sixteen. My knee is managing fine, still weak, but stable and getting stronger each passing day. I’ve cut back on my enteric coated aspirin, but have maintained the boost to my daily regimen of Osteo Bi-flex. The Chondroitin helps as an anti-inflammatory and the Glucosamine creates/accelerates joint regeneration/healing. Osteo Bi-flex is another of my great sponsors, their natural products such a great benefit. Without Osteo Bi-flex, which I’ve been taking for years, I’m certain I’d not be accomplishing this remarkably challenging goal.

As the cold wind comes again, I end this day on a fine section of trail, many rapids and falls, down one side then back up the other along Temperance River.

“The victory of success is half won when one gains the habit of setting goals and achieving them.”

[Og Mandino]

Friday–October 2, 2009

Trail Day–182

Trail Mile–4479

Location–Trailhead, Sugar Loaf Road, Finland State Forest, Superior Hiking Trail

The cold wind kept at it throughout the night and is still at it this morning, pushing dark, rain-filled clouds along. A little pep talk to myself helps get me out and going quarter-to-eight. I’m bundled up, rain pants, down vest, jacket with hood up, mittens. Gordon is up and manages a “Have a good one; enjoy.” but not with his usual contagious enthusiasm.

A steep climb up from Temperance, but with steps, great trail layout, I’m at the ridgetop with minimal effort. More ups and downs, some tiring. More blowdowns and brush to deal with, but not all that problematic–I make good time through Cross River and down to CR1, where Gordon is waiting with hot coffee and a couple of bacon, egg, and cheese muffins. Good energy for the hike along Two Island River, past Alfred’s Pond, and down to Sugar Loaf Road–and trail’s end for the day.

A short day, not terribly tiring, more a matter of wearing–the wind, the dark gloom, the rain.

The harsh wind  never ceased. Rather, it continued whipping, finally working itself into a rage, bringing cold rain–one more time.

The forecast for this night, rain and snow mix. Crank the van, Gordon; turn up the heater!

“To bring one’s self to a frame of mind and to the proper energy to accomplish things that require plain hard work continuously is the one big battle that everyone has.” [Thomas A. Buckner]

Saturday–October 3, 2009

Trail Day–183

Trail Mile–4479

Location–Trailhead, Sonju Lake Road, Finland State Forest, Superior Hiking Trail

Rain, rain, and more rain, plenty of it off and on all night. Don’t know if there was any snow mixed in or not, seemed cold enough, though.

The number of days remaining to complete this odyssey are dwindling, but the effort needed to make myself get up and go these last few mornings certainly isn’t. Overcast, dark and dreary, the cold rain steady, with these conditions, it takes some serious prodding to dislodge my old bones from the warm, dry van.

I’ve much climbing before me today, probably through plenty of rocks and roots, wet rocks and roots.

Up from Sugar Loaf I’ve a steady climb, over 700 feet, first past Caribou River, then up to Horseshoe Ridge. Now kick in the wet (say slick) rocks and roots, treacherous stuff. Slow, deliberate going; sure don’t want to bust it now. More blowdowns and brush to contend with, but nothing like the past few days.

The rain holds steady the entire day, a very cold, wet time of it. My feet are tired, my back and legs are tired, my knees are tired, and I’m emotionally exhausted from the need for constant, total concentration.

A short spur trail leads over to Sonju Lake Trailhead where Gordon waits. Soaked and slap wore out, I call it a day. Only 16 miles–I gave it my best.

“Nobody who ever gave his best regretted it.”

[George Halas]

Sunday–October 4, 2009

Trail Day–184

Trail Mile–4479

Location–Trailhead, SR6, Finland State Forest, Superior Hiking Trail

Not as cold a night; I guess the rain, which remained steady until early morning, tempered it some. Another dark, dreary beginning. Another morning of prodding myself, to get up and out. Gotta try harder, old man, you gotta try harder!

Sure whining plenty of late. Just that these remaining days, which could be so pleasant and enjoyable, all seem to be stacked against me–a bum knee, rain and more rain, an incredible windstorm that’s caused damage like I’ve never before seen, blowdowns and brush on what had been, just days ago, perfectly groomed trail, slick rocks and roots from the incessant rain–and then more rain.

Total overcast again with off and on drizzle. No change all day until the sun tries to make a show late afternoon, with no luck.

I get a break in the day late morning, at SR7, where Gordon loads me to head into Finland for lunch.

The morning trek goes in the book as a rock and root run. This afternoon’s hike is totally different, though. I couldn’t figure out why the trail backtracked east for miles, to take in an area known as Section 13. But after hiking it through, I found this out-of-the-way section to be very well worthwhile. Remarkable topography, a scenic bog, rugged bluffs, and a 360 view second to none. Yes, Section 13, way over there, was certainly well worth the diversion.

Not as difficult a day, not as risky. The trail actually dried out some, and my knee made it through okay. Four more days to Two Harbors.

“How to succeed?  Try hard enough.”

[Malcolm Forbes]

Monday– October 5, 2009

Trail Day–185

Trail Mile–4479

Location–Trailhead, Penn Blvd., above Silver Bay

One of our most enjoyable campsites in a long time, the trailhead at CR6 east of Finland. The sun made a brief show and we got the camp chairs out, then sat and soaked it up. As the cool of the evening came, and after supper, we stacked up some rocks by an old fire ring and made a heat reflector. I managed a respectable warming fire, and when the wall of rocks got hot, we enjoyed both the glow and the warmth. Yes, a most relaxing and enjoyable evening.

Today will be a bit longer day than the recent usual, around 18. Sure less than I’ve been hammering the past six months, but what with my weak left knee and the rugged trail I’ll be hiking today, 18 will be plenty.

Did I say rugged! Wow, what a day this is turning to be. The sun comes around for a couple of hours, then disappears, leaving a very cool breeze. But the climbing has kept me warmed up just fine. Off come the jacket, the vest, and the gloves. Up (and down) goes Nimblewill, first a 700 foot dart up and over Mt. Trudee, then a 400 foot bail-off before climbing up and around Bear and Bean Lakes. By the time this day is over I’ll have been dealt over a half-mile of vertical elevation change. Sure enough ’tis a “hard work” day.

Gordon manages to get in to catch me for lunch near Baptism River, then he hikes in to greet me at the end of the day above Silver Bay. We then load and head on down to Silver Bay, there, to hiker-trash-deal a room for the night. Oh my, don’t you know–‘haps we both could use a good, long shower!

Less than 50 miles now to Two Harbors.

“Hard work spotlights the character of people:

some turn up their sleeves,

some turn up their noses,

and some don’t turn up at all.”

[Sam Ewing]

Tuesday–October 6, 2009

Trail Day–186

Trail Mile–4479

Location–Split Rock Lighthouse SP, Superior Hiking Trail

A very pleasant stay in Silver Bay. I dearly needed a bath and my hiking clothes were way overdue for a good sudsing.

Pancakes and eggs, plus a pot of coffee at the little mom-n-pop. We’re in no hurry today, only a 15 and change to do.

The rain starts right when I start. Looks of it, it’ll be around all day.

Lots of climbing again, first, up to Fault Line Ridge, then countless near verticals through the rocks and roots, over to Christmas Tree Ridge. No time at all, I’m totally soaked.

Gordon gets up to where the trail crosses near Beaver River, then heads back down to wait for me at Split Rock SP.

Another difficult day, what with the verticals through the rocks and roots. I must concentrate on each and every foot placement, lest I slip or stumble–and bust it. I’m over-cautious now. No way do I want to suffer a hike-halting injury this late in the journey. Tomorrow I’ve less than 30 miles to go to reach Two Harbors and the end of this odyssey.

No picture taking today. The rain and fog, the low clouds, very little to see from the ridgetops. I’m afraid fall colors are a wash, literally, for this year. The incessant rain, the rapid drop in temperature, the horrendous windstorm. All have combined to pretty much cancel the colors.

By the time I reach Split Rock SP, I’m feeling the early throes of hypothermia. Never so happy to see Gordon, waiting patiently in the warm van. Takes me forever to warm up, I’m so completely soaked and cold.

When I hitched from Grand Marais down to Two Harbors last May, I stayed overnight in Beaver Bay, the little motel there. We’re only six miles from Beaver Bay now, so we head there. Brandy, the kind innkeep, had given me a super hiker trash deal last spring, so in I go for another try. Sure enough, Brandy’s still innkeep, and she remembers me well. Hey, we’re in! Thanks, Brandy, for your kindness and generosity.

What a blessing having a room for the second night in a row. No way could I have dried my stuff out in the van. In the room, no problem.

It’s still raining steady and turning cold when we unload the van. Perhaps tomorrow will be a bit more pleasant.

“I do not ask to walk smooth paths nor bear an easy load.”

[D. H. Lawrence]

Wednesday–October 7, 2009

Trail Day–187

Trail Mile–4479

Location–Trailhead, Castle Danger, Superior Hiking Trail

Another very pleasant night, this one in Beaver Bay. Decision is to leave all our stuff in the room and come back here again tonight. This’ll make three nights in a row, in a bed, in a warm room–my reward for 188 days on the trail.

The morning dawns cold and clear. There’s a little cafe right across. We’re there to open the place at eight. Daylight being less each day now, we’re getting started later and finishing earlier. Just as well, as the 15-17-milers I’m getting in, they’re plenty. My knee is handling the shorter days okay, and it is a blessing to be able to continue.

My day starts at Split Rock River. From here, the SHT takes me on southwest, to Gooseberry Falls SP, Mike’s Rock, then over and down Wolf Rock to Castle Danger Trailhead.

The sun managed to make a show for a short while before being driven off by the clouds late morning. By the time I reach Castle Danger, it’s turned cold and the rain has started again. The trail was trying to dry out, one more time. My feet will have to dry out, one more time. Not complaining; I am so fortunate to be able to hike again; I am thankful. And oh, isn’t it a blessing to be back in a warm room again tonight!

“God constantly watches your response to people,

problems, success, conflict, illness, disappointment,

and even the weather!”

[Rick Warren]

Thursday–October 8, 2009

Trail Day–188

Trail Mile–4479

Location–Two Harbors, then on to Detroit Lakes

Well, today is the day all the dots will finally be connected, from Lake Sakakawea SP, ND, to Crown Point SP, NY–the North Country National Scenic Trail, 4,479 miles, 188 days.

We’re up early, in total anticipation of this day. A cold, clear morning; it’s still dark when we hit the jiffy right next the motel. A couple cheese and egg muffins and plenty of coffee, plus a bit of good conversation with a couple of old chaps, locals that get the morning klatch started, and I’m fired up for the day.

It’s a twenty minute drive back up to Castle Danger Trailhead, but Gordon has me back and headed out on the final ten miles of trail a little before eight.

A bit of climbing around, rock steps up and down, and the ubiquitous roots, but these final short miles seem a dream, like a magic carpet ride, I just float and glide, lifted up by so much elation, joy, and excitement. Gordon is waiting where the trail pops out, from where I’ve a short four-mile roadwalk on down to Two Harbors. He’s honking the horn and shouting with much excitement. We get a few pictures at the trailhead. A happy moment.

No time I’m standing in the middle of the busy intersection at SR2 and 61 in downtown Two Harbors. Folks who have the green light wait patiently as Gordon snaps a few more pictures. All seem to realize that some sort of special moment is taking place in the intersection right in front of them. And special it is, the end of my hike down the SHT, and this amazing trek o’er the NCT.

We then load and head for Matt’s place in Detroit Lakes, there to tidy up and put a bit of final shine on this odyssey. Matt is the North Dakota and Minnesota NCT Trail Coordinator, and he’ll be helping me put together a final week of hiking–to do most of the certified trail in North Dakota. If you recall, I ended up roadwalking around and past almost all the trail in North Dakota earlier this spring because of the snow and ice, the harsh conditions at the time. Anyway, we’re headed back there to hike their trails.

We make good time, reaching Matt’s by five. He, his wife, Stacy, their children, Ruth and William, all welcome us to their home–and we’re in for the night. Matt and Stacy have both hiked the Appalachian National Scenic Trail. So, they know the answer to that most oft’ asked question, “Why Go.” I’ll close this day with the answer.

A very memorable day, the end of another incredible journey.

It’s the people, the places, the pain, and the trials.

It’s the joy and the blessings that come with the miles.

It’s a calling gone out to a fortunate few,

To wander the fringes of God’s hazy blue.

[N. Nomad]

October 9-16, 2009 North Dakota Roundup

Trail Day–Post-trek days

Trail Mile–4479 total miles

Location–North Country National Scenic Trail, North Dakota Certified Trail

Friday–October 9, 2009

A fine night at Matt’s and Stacy’s lovely home. Thanks, kind friends!

Matt had suggested early-on, when I told him I’d be returning to North Dakota to hike some of his certified trail there, he’d suggested that we hike the Sheyenne Grasslands together. Ah, don’t you just love it when a plan comes together! Matt is up before five and gets me up. I get Gordon up. And before six, as we sit the kitchen table downing muffins and coffee, Stacy, Ruth, and William are all up too. There is much excitement. It’s gonna be a super day!

We’re on the road way before seven, Matt leading out on the 90-mile drive from Detroit Lakes, Minnesota, to Sheyenne Grasslands, North Dakota. We make good time, reaching the eastern trailhead before nine.

We’re dealt a cold, blustery day, but no way will the joy of this hike be diminished. A final wave to Gordon as we pass through the self-closing gate–and Matt and I are hiking the Sheyenne Grasslands together.

What an absolute joy to be hiking with Matt. We’ve so much to talk about, like the many mutual friends made during our respective ’98 Appalachian Trail thru-hikes. Matt was a couple of weeks ahead of me the entire time, so we never met. But from time-to-time, both of us hiked with mutual friends made while on the trail. Sheltowee, my dear friend for years, is one.

Matt is interested in my take on the trail, my experiences, my comments. He asks many questions. As we hike along chatting, from time-to-time we stop to take in the beauty that is the Sheyenne Grasslands–gently rolling hills, the wind creating great flowing waves across the grassy prairie. From the high knolls it’s possible to see for miles across the vast open plains, quite a change from the recent terrain and the trails I’ve been hiking.

In no time, it seems, we’ve hiked the near-thirteen miles to CR53, where Gordon waits. Thanks Matt, for coming such a great distance, for taking time to hike with me. It’s been a memorable day!

As Gordon shuttles Matt back to his car at the eastern trailhead, I continue on to SR27. The sky had been mostly clear for a short while this morning, some sun and just the least breeze. But as I continue west, across the wide open grasslands, the wind starts whipping hard out of the northwest, causing me to lean forward in order to push on. As the wind intensifies, the day continues turning dark, even more gloomy. And what is this I now see but scattered snowflakes! In no time the driving wind is pushing a dense wave of snow right at me. Visibility shuts down. I lean more, and trudge harder.

By the time I reach the van at SR27 my face is numb, my hands are numb, and when I try greeting Gordon, my speech is badly slurred.

What a true blessing, the warm van. “Where are we, Gordon?” I ask. “A few miles from Lisbon. There’s a restaurant there.” his reply. We head for Lisbon!

I recognize the place right away, had a fine breakfast here one cold Sunday morning way back in early April. “Camp” is in the van, in the overflow parking lot downtown. More snow. Gonna be a long, cold night.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

It turned very cold early this morning, but we both managed to stay warm. We slept well.

Back to the cafe first thing for breakfast–pancakes, eggs, and of course, lots of coffee. We tarry long as the day brightens little, though it’s well after eight.

More snow, and the wind is already whistling as Gordon gets me back on trail for the final six miles through the Sheyenne Grasslands.

The entire trail here has been graveled so bicyclists can use it. Hiking on the gravel is no problem. Actually, it’s a great benefit in helping me stay on course. The trail is marked with Carsonite posts, also wooden posts. But with many (say most) of the wooden posts knocked down I’d be having much difficulty finding my way, save for the gravel path.

A couple miles into my day I meet Francis, a young chap hiking the Grasslands. Gordon had taken him around yesterday so he could hike back to his vehicle. He’d camped in the planted pine, out of the incessant wind. I greet him as he breaks camp. Cheerful, bright-eyed kid–good luck, Francis.

I manage good time on through, but I’ve gotten very cold from pushing into the wind. The van is a warm and welcome escape.

Further west, the next sections of certified trail I plan to hike here in North Dakota are by Valley City and Lake Ashtabula. It’s around a two-hour drive. By early afternoon we’re there, and I’m hiking the short section of trail in Valley City. By four, we’ve driven on up to Badhill Dam where the Lake Ashtabula southernmost section of certified trail begins. From the dam the trail follows along the shore, up to Katie Olsen’s Landing.

I complete the six miles by six. Gordon loads me and we head for Sibley. Cindy, at the Sibley Motel, cuts us a great hiker trash deal for two nights. A fine mom-n-pop cafe, Skipper’s, is right next. Oh yes, a perfect ending to a mighty fine day–driving wind, snow showers, and all.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Skipper’s is open Sundays, and we’re right there at eight. AYCE breakfast buffet. We load our plates. For me, biscuits and gravy, scrambled eggs. For Gordon, a half pound of bacon, scrambled eggs. We both go back. More biscuits and gravy for me, and Gordon loads another half-pound of bacon. A pot of coffee apiece washes ‘er all down.

The certified trail along the shore of Lake Ashtabula is very enjoyable hiking, for the most part. The “enjoyable” follows the shoreline, within the narrow strip of Corps land leased for cattle grazing, or meanders the numerous WMAs along the lake. The “not so enjoyable” involves scrambling through peoples back yards. Yes, back yards–around kid’s play stations, docks pulled up from the lake for the winter, mom’s rock/flower garden, and the sundry and various odds and ends folks tend to clutter up their back yards with. The final bit of the hike yesterday, into Katie Olsen’s Landing, passed through a bunch of back yards, not the most comfortable place to be hiking–a goofy situation. That’s the only way I know to describe it, goofy!

This morning I hike north, out of Sibley–into steady snow showers. More homes and cabins along the lake, more back yards. I stay on the street out front, away from the back yards!

North of the little village, and past a rock quarry and a couple of penthouse-class deer stands, I pick up the mowed and well-marked trail, to hike it on up, under the railroad trestle, then on to Thompson/Hannaford Bridge–in the snow showers. A delightful section of trail.

Gordon then drives me back to Katie Olsen’s Landing, where I continue north again. Right off, I’ve another lakeshore subdivision to deal with. Thankfully, for this one the trail’s been routed from the lake to the subdivision road. At the north end, past the subdivision, I again pick up mowed and well-marked trail, to hike it through Katie Olsen, Badhill Creek, and Wieland WMAs, all the way to West Ashtabula Crossing, where Gordon waits, and where I call it a day.

It’s back to our room at Sibley, then over once more to Skipper’s for supper. Still snowing, off and on.

Only a six-mile section remains now, from West Ashtabula Crossing to Sibley, to complete the certified trail I intend to hike by the west shore of Lake Ashtabula.

Monday, October 12, 2009

It apparently continued snowing throughout the night, as everything is white this morning. No matter, I’m pack up and hiking, right from our room, out and across SR26, then south.

More homes and cabins along the lake. First one is just south of the trailhead. Here, a not-so-friendly dog guards its owner’s back yard. The mutt is chained, but way less than enough to keep it from the trail. Not being keen on beating off a dog in its own back yard, or worse, beating off its owner, I wisely decide to detour around–for another roadwalk (Don’t I recall already doing this roadwalk earlier this year!).

Past the homes, I cut back to the lake, to resume my hike along certified trail. I follow it for a short distance before climbing from the narrow valley to the rim above. From here I’m rewarded a delightful view, 180, both up and down the lake. The snow continues in flurries, creating a gloomy haze across the lake. Wind-powered turbines stand the high ground all around. Strange to see them all idle. A quiet, peaceful, yet eerie calm.

Gordon gets in to check on me at the Old Hwy 26 WMA, and he’s there waiting once more at West Ashtabula Crossing. I’m in by ten. This completes my trek up Lake Ashtabula.

From here we head on west, to the canals, New Rockford and McClusky, and the Lonetree WMA, to hike what I can of those sections of certified trail.

By two, I’m headed west from CR1 along the New Rockford Canal. Late evening I reach US52 south of Harvey.

It’s growing dark and turning cold, and the snow is still present in flurries. Enough for today. It’s off to Harvey for a hot meal and a warm room.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

We had supper at the cafe in the bowling alley in Harvey.  Managed a room right next in the mom-n-pop motel. Not such a good deal. Pheasant hunting season up here now, a really big deal for this area of North Dakota. Hunters have bought up the motel rooms here-abouts, and they pay full price. We got the last room. Hunters and dogs everywhere. Slamming, banging racket, clear past midnight.

More slamming, banging racket, first light this morning. By seven they’re all out of here. We’re up, been awake, now we’re up. Back over to the bowling alley cafe for breakfast.

A cold but clear morning. We actually see the sunrise for a change.

Plans for today are to hike as much of the Lonetree WMA certified trail as possible. There’s some 30+ miles, so don’t expect to get it all hiked out, but want to do as much as I can.

Matt had urged me to hike Lonetree. Quality, certified trail he told me. Sure enough, it is. The trail here stays pretty close to the Sheyenne River, the narrow valley. I’m definitely in the high plains prairie now, wide-open spaces, sky big and wide. A special place for sure. And the NCT takes me right to it.

Some clouds by ten, but by noon they’re cleared out. The day remains cold, but with the warm sun and no wind for a change, it’s a delightful hiking day.

Ducks, ducks, and more duck, on Sheyenne Lake. The trail leads to the rim of the little valley, now the shore of Sheyenne Lake. Many great photo ops; I stop often just to look, and to take more pictures. You’ll enjoy these shots–and a short video–when they’re up.

Roads out here pretty much follow the section lines. Some are all-weather, others just two-tracks. So, the trail ends up crossing some kind of road every mile or so. Gordon drives around from one to the next, to where the trail crosses again. He’s having a fun time of it today too. Late afternoon the trail passes a very nice campsite, complete with picnic table, fire ring, and privy–and there’s a gravel road right to it. Hiking through, I give it the once-over. Then at the next road crossing, I load my pack (and me), and we head back to the campsite for the night.

Good old Dinty, plenty of it. I’m cold and tired. Gordon cranks the van heater full blast. We’re comfy in no time. In my bag, on my pad–I’m gone.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Cold, very cold last night, but we managed fine in the van.

The sky, horizon to horizon, the vast wide open, is total overcast, neither vast nor wide open this morning.  But hey, there’s no snow–yet. Short-range forecast is for snow to come in early this afternoon, then freezing rain and snow mix, then steady freezing rain, all with plenty of wind. The wind has already found us, and as Gordon gets me going down the section line two-track (certified trail), I’m quickly aware that I’m the tallest thing out here. No wind break to hide behind, just me. I’ve a short section of the Lonetree WMA left from yesterday. Got close, then, to making it all the way to the McClusky Canal spillway, but not quite. This morning, doing one more roadwalk, does an old farmer fellow pull from his drive to the road right behind me. He comes beside, “You lost, you’re lost, aren’t you?” broad grin on his wrinkled, wind-hardened face. I explain what I’m about out here by his “back forty” (make that his back forty-thousand). “Well, hate to tell ya, you’re too late. Feller’s already been through here on that trail, beat you to it a year or so ago.” Another wrinkled smile. I tell him that would have been Bart Smith. “Yup, that’s the guy; you know him?” his surprised reply. I tell him about Bart Smith and the eleven National Scenic Trails, that Bart has now hiked all of them, and how, someday, I plan on doing the same. That seems to satisfy his concern–that I’m really not lost after all–up goes his window and he’s gone.

I’m disappointed in finding the final section through the Lonetree to be grown over. All the off-road trail yesterday had been mowed sometime during the past year. This unmaintained section before me now could be hiked, sure, but I’ve had my fill of bushwhacking this go-’round, so I’ll follow Gordon’s tracks on over to the McClusky, along the section roads and two-tracks.

The wind is whipping no-nonsense by the time I arrive. The canal bank/service road stands above grade, so I’m fair game for the cold, relentless, unforgiving wind. As I head south on the canal service road the snow begins. Gordon has gone around to meet me at a crossing three miles down. By the time I’m there, my feet are numb, my hands are numb, and my teeth are chattering. Gonna be a long day, as I would like to hike this canal road all the way down to SR200, near the little village of McClusky.

By two I’m over half way. As I’ve trekked along, the cold wind has steadily increased, the snow, plenty of it, is now being driven sideways. And the freezing rain, to mix with the snow, has arrived.

Concerned about the worsening weather, the likelihood that ice will soon be accumulating on the roadways, reluctantly (and do we realize), this day’s hike is over.

In McClusky, and at the little mom-n-pop motel, the R&H, where we stayed during nearly identical weather conditions earlier this spring, kindness is again extended us by Darless, the innkeep. A trip to the cafe across town, and we’re in our room and very glad to be out of it this night.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Two inches of snow during the night, stuck on the vehicles and the ground. Sure doesn’t slow down the bird hunters, though. They’re slamming and banging around before five, and by six-thirty the motel parking lot is empty, save for Gordon’s van. Whoa! I definitely gotta rethink my level of passion about this hiking thing–appears these pheasant hunters are way more passionate about their sport than is this old man about his!

A little after nine, it’s back across town to the cafe for some breakfast. Hey, guess where the pheasant hunters are!

Plan today is to move on west to the Audubon National Wildlife Refuge, there to hike a six-mile segment of uncertified (auto tour) trail. We’ll see how those plans shape up as the day comes on.

By one we’ve made it and are in the Audubon. It’s still trying to snow, but there’s hardly any wind–for a change. It’s okay hiking weather, compared to what we’ve been dealt recently. Gordon gets me headed up the auto tour road. He decides to take the tour too, so he leads ahead a couple of miles, there to wait for me as I catch up.

Lake Audubon is actually a large bay off Lake Sakakawea. Its purpose is to replace wildlife habitat lost when the Garrison Dam and Reservoir were built. The lake is named after John James Audubon, artist and naturalist. He spent the summer of 1843 near here, collecting and sketching wildlife of the northern plains.

The hike around the lake’s southern shore is most enjoyable, many vantage points to view the abundant water fowl on the lake to the north, and the vast native prairie to the south.

By three we’re back to the highway, from here to continue west the short distance to Lake Sakakawea SP, where we’ll be staying the night. From the park visitor center to the western end of Garrison Dam there’s two miles of certified North Country Trail. When I departed Lake Sak last March, I was unable to hike this short bit of trail due to deep snow at the time. I was disappointed, as was John, the park manager. So, plans have been made to meet John early morning, then to hike the Lake Sak SP segment together.

Evening we enjoy a fine meal at the Little (that’s the name) Bar and Grill in Pick City. Then we’re in for the night, John’s guests, at one of the park’s delightful cabins. Another night, dry, warm and snug. Thanks, John!

Friday, October 16, 2009

A quiet, enjoyable time in Cabin #2, Lake Sakakawea SP.

The rain came and went all night, and as I peer out into the dark gloom I see it’s back again this morning.  When we crossed Garrison Dam, just a couple of miles east of here, we entered the Mountain Time Zone, so we’ve an extra hour to clear out the cabin and get ready for this short, final day of hiking the NCT.

At the park office/visitor center, I finally get to meet John, Park Manager, Lake Sak.  We had corresponded early-on, way back last winter while I was in the process of collecting maps and data.  Our paths didn’t cross when I began in March, so now we finally meet.  Here to greet me, also, are Keith with the Park Service, Kevin, North Dakota Parks and Recreation Programs Coordinator, Brian, Outdoors Reporter, Bismarck Tribune, and Kim, Outdoor Writer, Minot Daily News.

The last two miles of certified North Country Trail lie totally within the park, and John will hike this final, short day with me.

We’re at the trail right next the dam a little before nine.  Hey, the weather is cooperating–no rain!  Kim and Keith accompany the two of us, and we enjoy the time on the trail together.  From the dam, the trail climbs, offering a number of grand vantages out and across Lake Sak.  John is obviously proud of his trail, as certainly he should be–it’s a most pleasant hike.  Too soon, we’re back again to the visitor center.  Right next the center (and visible from John’s office) is a marker, a grand sign, marking the trail beginning/terminus.  Here it’s picture time.  John and I stand together.  He, proud of what he’s accomplished these many years as park manager.  Me, proud of what I’ve accomplished these many months on this trail.

Back in the visitor center they’ve a reception for me–and for Gordon, complete with cake and refreshments.  It is an upbeat, fun, and happy time.  John brings out a trail register that he has guarded and protected, that he started back when the North Country National Scenic Trail began.  I realize immediately that this is a very special Lake Sak SP guest book, as there are few entries.  Most of the names I recognize.  Most of the folks I know.  Here are a few: Ed Talone, Sue Ellen Lockwood, Gordon Smith, March 12, 1994 – November 21, 1994; Chet Fromm, April 20, 1992 – June 8, 1995; Andrew Skurka, April 26, 2005 (on his 7,600-mile C2C trek).  And to these names, I add mine, a most humbling experience.  Thanks John!

And so, this day, Friday, October 16th, Odyssey 2009 finally comes to an end.  I’ve mixed emotions; I’m pretty much wrung out, seems.  And why?  Well, on September 2nd I reached Crown Point State Historic Site, New York, the eastern terminus of the NCT.  That day was a time of celebration.  Yet the trek was not over.

On September 4th I reached East Clarendon, Vermont, to connect this trek with my two previous hikes o’er the Appalachian Trail.  That day was a time of celebration.  Yet the trek was not over.

On September 7th I returned to the Straits of Mackinac, Michigan, to hike the bridge, where, on May 31st, I had to take a ride, leaving a five-mile gap in my NCT thru-hike.  That day was a time of celebration.  Yet the trek was not over.

On September 9th I returned to Minnesota, where I set to closing the gap between Gunflint Lake (the Border Route Trail) and Two Harbors (The Superior Hiking Trail).  After a two-week delay, time needed to mend a badly injured left knee, I returned a final time to Minnesota.  There, on October 8th I reached Two Harbors–to finally connect all the dots; I had, indeed, walked the entire distance from Lake Sakakawea State Park, North Dakota, to Crown Point State Historic Site, New York.  That day was a time of celebration.  Yet the trek was not over.

On October 9th I returned to North Dakota, where, for the next seven days I hiked the lion’s share of certified trail there, trail I’d bypassed (roadwalked around) in March and April due to impossible-to-hike trail conditions.  Trails hiked were: Sheyenne National Grasslands (all of), Valley City, Lake Ashtabula (all of), New Rockford and McClusky Canals (parts of), Lonetree WMA (all of), and Lake Sakakawea SP (all of).

And so, this day, October 16th, is the final day of celebration.  I have thru-hiked the North Country National Scenic Trail.  I did the best I could under the circumstances.  It was such a very long journey.  I had to deal with constant long-mile days, day after day, with no rest.  It wore on me, and wore me down.  Faithful followers who’ve kept up through my journal entries have told me that the final days, those entries, lacked the underlying joy and enthusiasm usually present in my writings.  Certainly, it is true, and for that, for letting y’all down, I’m sorry.

Finally, and though I like to shoot off my mouth about this year’s accomplishments–at age 70, I am ever so thankful to God for such great health, for the stamina, for the determination, for the passion burning deep down within me, the passion to endure.  Yes, thank you, Lord, thank you my faithful sponsors, thank you my dear family and friends, thank you for your support, your encouragement, your prayers.

“Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him.” [James 1:12]

Yesterday Once More

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