Thursday—June 28, 2012
Location—Eastern Terminus, Ice Age National Scenic Trail (IAT), Potawatomi State Park, Wisconsin
Odyssey 2012 begins, a thru-hike o’er the IAT. Grant me wide, safe passage, oh Lord.
I’m now sitting in the Minneapolis Bus Terminal waiting for my connection to Green Bay. Joyce hauled me to Warrensburg, Missouri, yesterday evening where I boarded a Jefferson Lines bus to Wisconsin. Decision (an easy one to make) was to travel by Jefferson Lines rather than Greyhound. Greyhound would have taken me east, through St. Louis, then north through Chicago and Milwaukee, before continuing on to Green Bay. I would have had a six-hour layover in downtown Chicago in the middle of the night. Jefferson Lines goes west, through Kansas City, thence northeast, through Des Moines, Minneapolis (with an early morning layover), before continuing on to Green Bay. Pretty much a no-brainer as to route/bus choice, eh!
In the intro for this trek I mentioned having good feelings about this journey. A number of reasons. First, friends have told me about the IAT, that it’s a really fine trail—as to the trail itself, plus the support given by the great group of volunteers and staff—which make the IAT what it is. The only issue I’ve heard raised has to do with the number (and extent of) connecting roadwalks. But hey, by now y’all know my feelings about roadwalks, that they’re not the least an issue, save the roundabout route they sometimes take.
I also mentioned in the intro that I was already on the receiving end of some mighty fine trail magic. Seems the closest one can get to the eastern trail terminus by bus is Green Bay. From there it’s over an hour’s drive north to Potawatomi State Park. There’s a shuttle service from Green Bay to Sturgeon Bay, but the cost (for my meager finances) is prohibitive. So, I’d pretty much resigned myself to hitchhiking it, that was until I dropped a short email to Dan, the IAT Door/Kewaunee Chapter coordinator. In no time I had three offers for a free ride up. Wow! How’s that for a neat beginning?
Right away I took up Meander and Bacon’s kind offer. They’d hiked the Pacific Crest Trail (where they became overwhelmed with much trail magic). Their desire now, to return a bit of it—the old Nimblewill being the lucky recipient. Ah, and again folks, I’ve commented much over the years about the intrigue, this ongoing mystery known as trail magic. So you know my take on it. Yes, “It’s better to give than to receive.” But in order for it to work, somebody’s gotta be on the receiving end!
Ah, and aren’t these kind, generous new friends right here waiting for me—shiny-faces and all—when I arrive Green Bay. Yup, this is going to be one very memorable adventure!
Friday—June 29, 2012
Location—Forestville, thence on to Algoma
The mileage thing: As to my itinerary, Day 01 lists Forestville, with a distance of 18 miles. But instead of stopping near Forestville, I ended up hiking on down to Algoma, which, from the eastern terminus at Potawatomi State Park, is just shy of 25 miles. It’s so much easier to just stick with the itinerary mileages, ‘cause at the end of most days I’m way too tired to add up the numbers. Tomorrow’s entry will show 19/37, even though my mileage for the day will no doubt be different. So, here how it’ll work: When the mileage shown for any given itinerary day is clicked off, it’ll be posted. It’ll get a little goofy only when there’s two mileage clicks for the same day. Anyway, doesn’t matter, since it’ll all work out (add up) in the end.
What a blessing, having trail angels Bacon and Meander come for me at the bus station yesterday evening, then haul me to the trailhead in Potawatomi State Park. We had a grand time talking trail on the way up—and about mutual friends, like Billy Goat.
The IAT eastern terminus is a very impressive place. It’s on a tall hill, part of the Niagara Escarpment. The 360 sweep from the observation tower is quite spectacular. I like starting (or completing) a trek at places like this—’cause you can’t go any farther! The day ended with sad good-byes to dear new friends, then a short hike along the park’s Tower Trail.
This morning I’m in Sturgeon Bay, seems, in no time. Pancakes and eggs at Scaturo’s and I’m off to the Ahnapee Trail for better part of the day. It’s an old rail-trail that leads south to the villages of Forestville and Algoma. Oh, with a stop for lunch at Richard’s in Maplewood. Oh yes, Friday’s fish day—have the Cod Sandwich!
The trek today takes me through farm country, corn and hay fields. Plenty of shade along to help with the heat. A pleasant hike for starters. Time for a break—the library’s open in Forestville, and they’ve got Wi-Fi!
My sticks have been clicking along pretty good, so I decide to hike it on down to Algoma—and supper, and maybe a room for the night. Oh yes, the Motel at Clark Street, right downtown (that’s the name of the place—Motel). After hearing I’d done a 25 for the day, Margo takes pity on me, gives me a super hiker-trash deal. Ah yes, stay at the “Motel” when in Algoma! Fine burger and fries right across the street.
Just a great first day on the IAT!
Saturday—June 30, 2012
Location—Kewaunee, then on to Maple Sugar Road and the end of the Kewaunee River State Trail (for the IAT)
Had a most relaxing stay at the “Motel” in Algoma. And Agoma? Absolutely five-star, as far as hiker trash trail towns go! Going to be real hard to beat all Algoma has to offer—plus the kind people there.
I’m not out and going until six-thirty. First, a walk along their Crescent Beach Boardwalk. Ah and that leads me right on down to Dairy Dean’s Family Restaurant for breakfast—bacon, eggs, short stack, and lots of coffee. Had to get a carry-out for my pancakes. Just way too much food.
I’ve a roadwalk out of Algoma, on down to Kewaunee and the Father Marquette Memorial by the bay. I stayed SR-42 down to Lakeshore Drive, rather than trekking the back-forty county roads. The Lake Michigan shoreline is quite impressive. Lovely waterfront homes all along. I arrive Kewaunee a little before noon.
Just south of the park, on SR-42 is the Fishmonger Market and Eatery. I went for the turkey sub, loaded, along with a side of homemade potato salad. A fine meal. Thanks, Jane!
I’ve all afternoon left, so I head on out on the Kewaunee River State Trail. Folks have told me it’s a great hike—and as I trek along, I’m not disappointed. The river drops right out of the hills, so the old rail grade is a steady climb. By late evening I’ve reached the end of the line—for the IAT—at Maple Sugar Road.
It’s been a very hot day with little shade, and even though I’ve tried rationing my water, by the time I reach Maple Sugar, I’m out of water. There’s a lovely home just off the trail, and the folks are out in their front yard. I’m permitted to take water from their faucet. What a blessing. Thanks, John!
From Maple Sugar, the IAT turn to a roadwalk again, an amazing out and back along county roads. I turn left instead of right, to do a complete backtrack to where County Road C Crosses the railtrail (went by here going west two hours ago).
Camp for the night is below the Kewaunee River Bridge on County Road C. Tomorrow I’ll head south along County Roads C and B, on down to the certified sections of trail near Tisch Mills.
A long, hot, but rewarding day!
Sunday—July 1, 2012
Location—Ellisville (NOT), took short-route roadwalk to trails near Tisch Mills and Mishicot, then roadwalked on to Point Beach State Forest Campground
While hiking toward Maple Sugar Lane late yesterday—and crossing County Road C, I could see the bridge over the Kewaunee River, a short distance from the trail. So that’s where I hiked back to, and that’s where I camped for the night. Found a nice flat spot on a gravel bar by an inviting little rapids. After pitching for the evening I ended up sitting on some rocks, with my tired old doggies dunked for the longest, most pleasant cool-off.
Once in my little tent, my journal entry for the day complete, I quickly drifted off, not to wiggle the least all night.
This morning I manage to get out and moving a little before six-thirty. Shaping to be another very hot day, so it appears. With near a full day of roadwalking, come early afternoon, trekking the Tarmac will sure enough be a sizzler.
This will be another day of heading off in my own direction—as to roadwalking. I’ve always taken the shortest, most direct route to the next offroad section—pretty much a no-brainer. Folks (please, this is not to fault the people who decide the trail route, but) I’m out here to hike the Ice Age Trail, not to take a long roadwalk tour to nowhere and back. Though a shortcut, the distance I’ll hike today will probably end up in the high twenties/low thirties. Since the miles I’ll list will be taken from the IAT data (which includes the circuitous roadwalks) the number will definitely be inflated. Anyway, by the end of this day I’ll just be too tired to figure it up—or to care!
So, I’m off, heading south on County Roads C and B, on a roadwalk to the trails near Tisch Mills and Mishicot.
I arrive the first Tisch Mills section in good order around eleven. The trail meanders along the banks of East Twin River. It’s been mowed recently, making for an enjoyable hike. This section of trail. It has import because it’s the first bit of trail I’ve hiked that’s been constructed and is being maintained solely by IAT volunteers (the park and railtrail sections hiked are not solely specific to the IAT).
The trail drops me into the little berg of Tisch Mills—and none too soon. Being Sunday, everything’s closed, save for Tisch Mills Mercantile. They’re open Sundays till noon. Hey, it’s 11:50, I made it! The deli closed at 11:30, but that’s okay. I hit the cooler for a cold Dew, then grab a few things along the isles. 11:55 and I’m good to go!
There’s another short bit of trail, the Weber Section, just west of Tisch Mills. It’s a fun, ten-minute hike.
Back on the road again it’s on down County Road B (skipped the out-and-back again) to another short section of trail by Princl Road. No luck with this one. All I can find is an old weathered sign that reads “Hikers only – others will be prosecuted.” No trail to be found.
Dejected now, and shuffling in a funk along Assman Road, this pickup stops. “You looking for the Ice Age Trail?” comes the greeting from the fellow. My reply: “Sure am. But doesn’t look like it exists.” “It’s here all right. I know, because it goes across my property.” And so, I meet Gary Princl—of Princl Road. “I’m not a hiker like you, but I’m a runner, and I want the trail to cross my land.” Next few minutes, Gary takes time from his busy day of harvesting alfalfa to fill me in, then to draw a map to help me along. Ah, and what a coincidence (Sure, it’s a coincidence!) meeting Gary. And what a fun hike through his fields, then up and over his esker. A pure blast, Gary. Thanks for your kindness in sharing your land with me today!
I’m in luck for real in Mishicot. The bar and grill across from the covered bridge is open, just like Gary said it would be. Oh my, can’t remember a burger this size, not since Bob Peoples took a bunch of us AT hiker trash to town many years ago. Lovely little trail town, Mishicot!
It’s still mid afternoon, so I decide to get the roadwalk to Point Beach in my rearview. I arrive the Rahr School Forest Section around five, just in time to be welcomed by the biggest horde of mosquitoes I’ve had the misfortune in tangling with since the Sierras. Ten more minutes and I’d have needed a transfusion. Back on County Road B, I stay it on down to Point Beach State Forest Campground, where I get a space and call it a day—a very long day!
Monday—July 2, 2012
Location—West of Manitowoc near Custer Street (Birch Creek Inn at US-151 and I-43)
Lots of guests in my tent last night. Mosquitoes. Managed to corner and bludgeon most of them. Out to a good start this morning a bit before six. More mosquitoes! The entire Point Beach area is pretty much a swamp, so I’m totally at their mercy again. Once on the beach it’s a delightful trek on down to Two Rivers. “Tide” was out, so the next-to-water sand was smooth pavement.
The bridge is out at East Twin River/17th St., so I had to hike it up to State Road 42 to cross. Turned out a benefit. Little mom-n-pop along the way for breakfast, and Gary at Gary’s Auto Repair took time to fix the strap on my water bottle pouch.
Back on route, next stop, the old historic Washington House, location where the delight known as the ice cream sundae was first concocted. Just a beautifully restored old building, copper ceilings and all. Hey, the place is open, volunteers Eunice and Jim greet me. I sign the guest book and look around while they tell the story about the old place—and the sundae. Eunice scoops me up an ice cream, compliments of the house. Thanks, friends!
Next couple of hours are spent at the grand Two Rivers Library, right on the trail. Work journals and correspondence.
On the west end of Two Rivers is the Woodland Dunes Nature Center and Reserve, a very fine section of trail. Exiting, I’m treated to a stroll around the manicured gardens at Aurora Medical Center.
The hike on down to Manitowoc along Mariners Trail bike path goes by quickly. The views out across the lake and down to Manitowoc Harbor are grand. Seeing the harbor entrance light—I remember it well. The Coast Guard Cutter, Mackinaw, the icebreaker I was stationed on over 50 years ago, went into dry dock in the Manitowoc shipyard every winter for repair.
Looking for a place to stay the night, I hit a little pub downtown to get some info. Bartend does a Google search on his iPhone and comes up with Birch Creek Inn. Hey, good rate, and my route goes right by!
Just never know what to expect along the trail. I figured Schuette Park, along the Manitowoc River would be a center fixture for the city, paved bikeways, manicured grounds, lots of people—NOT! The name Clay Pit Road should have been a clue. It went from blacktop to gravel, then to a narrow, overgrown, old crumbly gravel path. A spooky place. Don’t know why, but the place gave me the heebies. Climbed up and down some eskers (not another soul around), then got out of there.
Late evening now, storm brewing, I arrive Birch Creek Inn. It’s a little mom-n-pop motel, trying to survive just off the new intersection of 151/42. Nice clean, well-kept establishment, though. Thanks, Jan, for your kindness to this tired, old, hiker! Supper across the intersection at the mom-n-pop Fork and Knife.
A very good hiking day, not so hot for a change!
Tuesday—July 3, 2012
Location—Valders, then on to Millhome, State Road 32
The storm that had been threatening during my final hour yesterday finally arrived sometime during the night, but I didn’t hear it, as I slept soundly at Birch Creek Inn.
Hard time getting out and hauling this morning, but a stop at McDonald’s right up the road helps.
The day starts cool enough, the pavement wet from last night’s rain, and there’s the most pleasant breeze. But by ten, the overcast skies burn off and it turns to a cooking good day once more.
I’ve a short hike into Valders, where I arrive a tad before noon. First stop, the Silver Dollar Diner. Neat place, kind waitresses, Diana and Jody. Found out about places on down the trail, School Hill and Millhome. The grocery in School Hill has been closed for the last three or four years, and the tavern, Shadows, I’m told, has a somewhat shadowy reputation. Better news for Millhome. There’s a supper club there, called—yup—how did you guess? They open at four. Oh yes, I’m headed for Millhome Supper Club!
I do make a stop in School Hill, the Shadows Bar. Neat place, seems to me. Kind barkeeper, plus two friendly locals bellied up. One fellow mountain-bikes. He’s familiar with the trail and speaks very enthusiastically about certain sections. T’other fellow buys my Sprite. Thanks, guys!
Back on the road, the Tarmac has turned a total frying pan. The road surface I’m hammering now has just been resurfaced. It’s black as pitch. Is that pitch black? No way I can hike this without baking my feet, so it’s stumble-stumble along the gravel shoulder.
I figured seven miles to Millhome, two hours, twenty minutes, give or take. The supper club opens at four, but don’t how late they’re open. I’m hoping till nine. Turns out the distance is closer to nine miles. Isn’t it always! I arrive eight-fifteen. Hey-hey, the place is totally cranking! It’s a fine establishment, great food, reasonable prices. I went for the grilled chicken. Dinner came with soup and salad bar. Oh yes, four cups of soup later (plus all their cottage cheese, broccoli, beets, and would you believe shrimp) I put the chicken in to-go box.
It’s pushing dark-thirty when I clear Millhome Supper Club. Just enough light to see the perfect place to pitch, on the hill right behind the club.
I’m in my dink tent (with totally tight no-seeum netting, a true blessing) and whacking down skeeters by nine-fifteen.
Ah yes, folks, another great (roadwalking) day on the IAT!
Wednesday—July 4, 2012
Location—Elkhart Lake, then on past Parnell Observation Tower
The hill behind Millhome Supper Club worked out great for the night. Five-thirty my pack’s shouldered and I’m hauling. Earliest on the trail yet.
It’s a short roadwalk to a bit of trail along LaBudde Creek. Appears it’s hiked little, and much of it’s not being maintained. I do give it a go.
Elkhart is off-trail but I head in—for breakfast. Bad idea. Elkhart is a tourist town with tourist prices. Scrambled eggs, toast, and coffee, at Off the Rails—eight bucks.
From Elkhart I trek it on down to Glenbeulah and the Marshall’s Gateway there. Need a few provisions for the next two days to get me through Northern Kettle Moraine State Forest. This will be the longest section of uninterrupted trail so far—after nearly 150 miles. Really looking forward to getting in the woods again.
It’s one before I enter North Kettle Moraine. A few rocks and roots. Some ups and downs. Going to like this trail!
Late afternoon I climb the Parnell Observation Tower for a good look around. Glacial formations, especially the eskers I’ve been climbing (so prominent) can be easily seen from the tower. A very impressive 360.
The pitcher pump at Parnell is working. I take water for the night. On down the trail, a bit south of Scenic Drive, the trail comes right next the forest boundary line. I’m able to find it (red painted trees) and pitch just the other side.
Happy 4th everybody!
Thursday, July 5, 2012
Location—Mauthe Lake State Recreation Area, then on to West Bend
Over the years, and from time-to-time, I’ve tried pitching my tent without rigging the fly. Pitching with the fly partially rigged works fine, but going without—bad idea. Never did learn. Pitched last without the fly. Halfway through the night up comes this wind storm. Woke me. Tree tops were bending big time. A storm was surely coming in. No lightning or thunder, so I went back to sleep. Half-hour later I’m awakened again. Big-time wind now. You know, the old freight train noise comparison. I’m up and out this time, trying with little success to rig the fly—in the gale, in the dark. Finally manage. Ha, no sooner done, the wind turns completely calm. I lay awake the longest time wondering whether I should half-rig the fly like I usually do to start with. Finally fretted myself back to sleep under the fly sauna.
It stayed hot all night, and by the time I manage to break camp and get going this morning (6:30—dang), it’s already turning to a scorcher of a day.
More great tread to hike. More rocks and roots, and more climbing around, but not a problem. I’m moving right along. Actually, with the tread hardened in as it is, it’s surprising how little erosion (exposure of rocks and roots) has occurred. Signage and maintenance are tops. So, this is just pure fun!
By the time I reach Butler Lake, I’m out of water. But hey, the pitcher pump is working—and with a few good pumps, comes the coldest, sweet tasting water I can remember. I camel up, and load up.
The day started fine, and I was really clicking off the miles, but by mid afternoon, things don’t seem at all right. I’m really slowing down—and I’m out of water, again. Across open sections of trail, the heat is bouncing up as from a furnace. It has become stifling. I hurry along best I can. Looking at my map I can see the trail crosses the Milwaukee River. I need water.
Oh, but what a blessing, another pitcher pump just before the end of the section. More cold, sweet tasting water. I down my 20 oz. Gatorade bottle, fully filled—four times.
I’ve completed the Northern Kettle Moraine State Forest trail. Didn’t see another soul on the trail yesterday or today. Folks were sure enjoying the beach at Mauthe Lake, though!
At the intersection of County Road H and US-45 there’s a McDonald’s. Head right in there. Big sweet tea, right down.
More roadwalking and a bit more trail to hike before reaching West Bend. Really want to get there today, but the sun is drilling a hole right through me, and the heat has become almost unbearable.
It’s early evening now, and I do manage. I can see the businesses below as I stumble off the last esker above Washington Street. At the Mobile station I get local motel info—and four refills of ice water.
As I near the AmericInn just down the block, I can see their sign flashing: 6:34 – 107! Told the young innkeep about the temp displayed on his sign. He was processing my debit card and didn’t look up as he said, “Ah, so it’s cooled down some.” He also told me that today was the hottest, ever, for West Bend, 111. Oh my, no wonder I slowed down, and became dehydrated. Thank you, Lord, for guiding me safely through this day.
Friday—July 6, 2012
Location—In the planted pine by Donegal Road (not posted)
No, I didn’t hike 43 miles yesterday. Finished the remainder of one itinerary click and just reached another. Probably did around 27 or so.
Hiking in the extreme heat all day yesterday really sapped my energy. I’m trying diligently to get my stuff together and get moving this morning. It’s well after eight before I hit the streets of West Bend. Forecast is for not so hot today, but the motel sign’s already reading 92. Looks like another scorcher. Not a cloud in the sky.
I must have consumed close to two gallons of liquids yesterday, mostly water. I’ve already cameled up in the room before leaving.
By the time I’m half way loosened up and hitting stride, my throat’s already dry. There’s one of those old pitcher pumps at Cedar Lake Wayside, so I pull in. More clear, cold, sweet tasting water. I down 40 ounces and refill for—on down the trail. Comes now short sections of trail and connectors (roads) intermixed. No shade along the roadwalks, and very little along the trail. By the time I reach Slinger I’m ready for some ice water. Funny look from Mike, first bartender, first bar. Tall glasses of iced down Sprite and water never tasted so good. I linger, talk with Mike and his brother, and down more water and Sprite.
Last stop, a mom-n-pop on the way out for a burger and fries, and a ham sandwich to go, for tonight.
Early afternoon, I’m headed for Holy Hill Shrine and Monastery, some 11 or 12 miles on down the trail/road. Along, I finally see a pair of sandhill cranes. Got a really good picture, check it out (photos posted soon).
The shrine closed at five, but I head up the hill anyway. Sure enough need some water, for tonight—and for right now. No one’s around. I get a good video, some pictures, and track down some water. The trail does a big horseshoe around Holy Hill, and it’s nearing dark when I finally break out on Donegal Road. Didn’t want to camp on the shrine property. Found a fine spot right away, in the planted pine.
Another tough hiking day. Great tread, though. Just too hot to much enjoy the hike.
Saturday—July 7, 2012
Location—Hartland, then on past Lapham Peak Tower
A great site in the planted pine last. The evening cooled right down. Slept well. I’m on the road by six-thirty.
More climbing around eskers and kames. More great trail, well maintained. After a section or three of trail, a few more roadwalks and I’m in Heartland. I’d hoped to find a place to stay in Heartland, but no luck. Fine burger and fries at the downtown pub though. Back and forth on trail/road on down to Delafield. Most all the chain eateries are located at the interstate, but only two motels. The Country Pride is full up. Holiday Inn Express has rooms still available. No wonder, hundred-fifty bucks. I head for Walgreen for a few provisions, then hightail it back to the trail.
Today I see more sandhill cranes and a turkey. A much cooler day for a change. Unusual, not totally soaked with sweat as I set camp.
A mighty fine hiking day—on the IAT!
More cool weather tomorrow, I hope.
Sunday—July 8, 2012
Location—KMSF-SU Backpack Shelter #1, then on to Palmyra
Met some friendly folks yesterday. John, Laura, and Jane. John was carrying a portable cooler and he kindly gave me two ice cold bottles of water. They were just finishing their day hike and stopped to chat. In Heartland, Chris spent much time with me, helped me with local directions. He’s a mountain-biker and knows many sections of the IAT where mountain bikes are permitted. And to end the day, I met Jim and his family at the Lapham Peak Tower. Jim expressed doubt and disbelief when I told him I’d hiked from Holy Hill. Looking back north from the tower the kame/shrine could be seen dancing on the far-distant haze of horizon (be sure and check my photo album—date imprint, July 7th), a quite remarkable view of Holy Hill (zoom in on the photo—just remarkable).
Slept really well last night; a bit slow getting out this morning. Shaping to be another hot one. A little concerned about water today.
This is the day for joggers, bikers, and bladers. Must have seen a couple-hundred folks on the Glacial Drumlin State (Rail) Trail this morning, then many day-hikers near Stony Ridge Nature Trail. Also caught up with (another) Jim. He’s one of the many enthusiastic IAT volunteers who care for and tend to this trail like it was their own front yard. Jim was loping his happy way along when came up behind him. He caretakes a section of trail known as “The Rollercoaster” for its many ups and downs. Not sure Jim was aware his section is by far the most physically demanding to date. Thanks, Jim, thanks to all you great volunteers who give so generously of your time. Your dedication to providing the very finest treadway of all our National Scenic Trails certainly shows. Hey, and I’m the joy-filled recipient of your valuable time and talent—many thanks!
Heard many more sandhill cranes today but didn’t see them.
My fretting over water availability proved no more than needless worry. Numerous delightful springs and spring-fed brooks, plus hand pumps and faucets at most every park area along. Oh how we doubt, how we lack faith. Thank you, Lord, for keeping me constantly in your care!
There’s been no segment/section of trail that’s proved the least remote so far. Wisconsin, being fairly well populated, and blessed with more than its fair share of fertile land (dairy land), the trail has to thread it’s way along that narrow glacial moraine corridor (Say “Wasteland” – Easy, EASY!). So no given time am I the least distant from civilization. Seems everyone up here owns a Harley. And this being the 4th of July (week), they’re all out cruising the beautiful Wisconsin countryside. I can hear their engines rumbling constantly, from near or far, a reminder that the forests of this trail cannot completely shield me from civilization.
I’ve decided to hike it on into Palmyra today. Been told there’s a mighty fine mom-n-pop, the Main Street Family Restaurant, right downtown, and they’re open Sundays.
I’m in by six-thirty. Steak and baked potato, much the better choice than pop tarts and oatmeal cookies, oh yes!
I want to hit the post office and library in the morning, so I’ll must hang around Palmyra. But they’ve no motel. I remember an unposted, wooded area right next the city limits, so I head back there to pitch for the night.
A very long-mile day, yet another delightful day trekking the IAT. Is this old intrepid not blessed!
Monday—July 9, 2012
Location—KMSF-SU Backpack Shelter 3, then on to Whitewater Lake Recreation Area
Steak and baked potato, plus soup and veggie plate, all polished off with two generous scoops of vanilla ice cream—to complete a mighty fine day last. Don’t you just love the little mom-n-pop cafes? The one in Palmyra is the Main Street Family Restaurant.
A lovely wooded area (not posted) just on the edge of town—fine, first class location for the night.
This will be a short hiking day, but plenty to do. First on my list, back to Main Street Family Restaurant for breakfast. I go for the Wisconsin omelet. Hard to figure what that might be, right! The post office opens at nine. I’m right there to mail used maps/data, a few other things home, plus my first camera memory card to CyWiz, my Webmaster. Then it’s over to the library, where I work journal entries and email till noon. Ah yes, then it’s back to the Main Street Family Restaurant for lunch, a huge hot turkey sandwich and mashed potatoes, the whole thing totally covered with gravy. Did I mention liking these little mom-n-pop places!
It’s past twelve before I’m headed back to the trail. It’s sixteen miles on down to Whitewater Lake Recreation Area Campground, so I need to move out.
On the trail today I meet another thru-hiker, a young lad named Paul. He lives near the trail in upper Wisconsin. Paul is eastbound on day fifty, eight-hundred miles. We share a great few minutes, talking about our respective hikes, and about our mutual friend, Jingle. Got a good video of Paul, it’ll be posted soon.
Easy trail today. A bit of climbing around as usual, in the eskers and kames, then it’s flat out through the prairie flats. I arrive the campground way before dark. A bit different day, but sure enough a fun one.
Tuesday—July 10, 2012
Location—Bowers Lake Road Near Milton, then on to Near Janesville
Mr. Wilkerson, campground host at Whitewater, kind man. Set me up in a space near the faucet—then gave me a thirty-ounce cherry Pepsi. Very pleasant evening, cool, no wind, no bugs.
Today will be mostly a roadwalk, with a couple short sections of trail. The trail is back in farm country again, so it’s to the roads we go. The day is much cooler, some clouds off and on to help me along on the roadwalks.
Could have had a water problem today, but actually ended up with plenty. First fill up after the campground is at a flowing well. Second fill up comes from a fellow driving a concrete truck. And finally, before arriving Milton and the mom-n-pop cafe there, I chance to meet folks out watering plants in their yard, and they offer me water. So, I stayed hydrated just fine today!
Late afternoon I’m on the railtrail from Milton to Janesville. The data sheet cautions me about hiking busy US-14, as shown on the map. I find the trail has already been rerouted to avoid it. All services coming up, beginning at the State Road 26 interchange. A Motel 6 right there, with a Cracker Barrel right next door. This is as far as I get today!
Wednesday—July 11, 2012
Location— Janesville, then on to County Road A and Tuttle Road
The twenty-five buck motel rooms are gone forever. I have a tough time accepting that fact. Pretty much anything under fifty bucks (including tax) is probably not a bad deal. Motel 6 was less than fifty bucks last night, so guess I can’t complain. Oh, and Cracker Barrel right next door. No way could I put away all the chicken and dumplings, baked potato, the dinner-plate salad, plus a bunch of butter rolls. Disgraceful, to call myself hiker trash and leave food behind—I know, disgraceful!
I languish in my room till eight, then finally get moving—slowly. Another clear day, no rain in sight, and it’s cooler. That’ll work!
First challenge is to work my way past two interstate clover leafs. Check out these shots and videos; not your typical National Scenic Trail tread! But I make it through just fine.
In the process I meet Jim, at one of the auto repair places. His ‘68 Ford Galaxy hardtop got my attention. Actually, he’s got two, one to restore, the other for parts. These old Fords are from the “Muscle Car” era. Remember them? The Boss, the Cuda, the Novas and Chevelles. Ah, and don’t forget the Shelbys. Those were the cars for all times. The Ford Fairlanes and Galaxies were sleepers. They didn’t have the really classy muscle car look. But with a 427 side-oiler under the hood; look out. No way to beat them. When Garlitts was still trying to break five seconds in the quarter, these door-slammer Fords were turning sub tens. Okay, okay, perhaps my facts aren’t exactly correct. Cut me some slack. Those great times—over fifty years ago now. Anyway, Jim, hope you get the old Galaxy going again.
I’ve a mail drop in Janesville, so I’m headed for the post office. It’s just off the trail right downtown. Along the way, walking the delightful linear trail along the Rock River; I reach the southernmost point in this trek. The first of three direction oriented segments, the south trending, is complete. I’ll head a bit west now, then generally north for the next three-hundred miles or so.
Well by now, if you’ve followed my ramblings about, you’re familiar with my ongoing post office mix ups. Well, here we go again. The post office in downtown Janesville is on Main Street—but it’s not the main post office. General Delivery mail is delivered to main post offices, and the Janesville main post office is some two miles from downtown. In the direction I want to go? Oh no! It’s back up close to where I hiked from this morning, four hours ago. I really did hold my temper with the lady clerk. But it did irk me when she told me no way could I get mail at her post office.
Glad I anticipated—and allowed plenty of time today. So, okay, here we go, to the MAIN Janesville post office.
Hit the jackpot. Not only my bounce box, but cards and packages from friends and family. I scatter stuff all over one of the counters, the one right next the serve-yourself station.
Local fellow, (another) Jim, is getting some stamps. Friendly fellow. I ask him for some local information—how to maybe get back to the trail, which is far, far away. Jim shows me the route, then shows much interest in my odyssey along the IAT. During the conversation, Jim mentions a hiking friend, that he’d like for her to meet me. Back to sorting through my bounce box, and some ten minutes or so later ( yeah, I’m slow) back comes Jim with his friend, Lexie. We share a wonderful few minutes, as Lexie tells her story, about her brain cancer, about her surgery, and with one of the most pure and innocent smiles—about her recovery. What a coincidence, our meeting, eh Jim!
Been having good luck picking up change today, 18 cents in all. The three nickels and three pennies will help top off another quart Mason jar of coins I’ve picked up during my many roadwalks over the years.
I had a delightful hike through Janesville, especially the Devil’s Staircase Segment. Then I’m back on the road again, and trekking into the sunset, I call out to a couple of young fellows playing with their dogs out front of their place. They give me water for the night—and a cold Pepsi. Thanks, fellows. I hiked till sunset, then find an unposted place under some blue spruce, at the intersection of County Road A and Tuttle.
Buckle up for tomorrow. It’ll be pretty much a roadwalk. The rubber’s gonna hit the road!
Thursday—July 12, 2012
Location— Albany, then on to the beginning of the Brooklyn Segment
Today will be a road/railtrail walk. Looking to get in around thirty, give or take. It’ll depend on how much time I spend in Albany for late breakfast, and in Monticello for early supper. Road shoulders and railtrail tread are an easy three-per. All you gotta do is put it in cruise and let ‘er rip.
I’m on the road before six; off to a good start. Perfectly clear, no breeze. Making for another hot one. Getting the remainder of the roadwalk done early is the right move. I’m in Albany before ten. Find little mom-n-pop cafe right at the intersection downtown. I skip coffee and go straight to the Sierra Mist—with my bacon-and-egg breakfast.
There’s a fair amount of shade on the Sugar River State Trail, and the surface is packed, crushed, limestone. Pleasant, easy hiking. By three I’m in Monticello. The library is right on the street in, and it’s open, so I head in to cool off, check my email, and get started on today’s journal entry. By the time I get downtown, it’s three-fifteen. Yup, the diner closed at three. Hey, but the bar across the street is open. Time for a burger and fries, and more Sierra Mist.
Did a ten on the roadwalk to reach Albany, and another ten on the Sugar River State Trail to reach Monticello. If I can hoof it another ten on up the Badger State Trail, plus some more roadwalking, I should get the final ten in for the day by the time I reach the Brooklyn Segment over by Dayton.
Highlight for the day is passing through the tunnel (without headlamp) late in the day on the Badger State Trail. No light at the end of this tunnel, for the longest time. The thing curves around. Kept tapping my sticks on the sides of the tunnel to keep from hitting the wall. Ah, and the rural Wisconsin countryside is quite picturesque. Be sure and check out the photo albums, posting of which begins soon.
The corn crops all around look like they’ve had it. The drought continues. A few days ago the forecast for tomorrow was rain. Don’t know the update. Doesn’t look good at all for the farmers.
I do make it to the beginning of the Brooklyn Segment before dark—after walking straight past Hughes Road. Folks out for their evening walk straighten me out.
Got the thirty in. Finished the short bit for one itinerary click, then, barely clicked off another. Thus the high mileage listed for today.
Stealth camped just inside the Brooklyn Segment. A long-haul of a day, but a rewarding one.
Friday—July 13, 2012
Location—Brooklyn State Wildlife Area, then on to just beyond Ice Age Lane
End of the day yesterday I was totally exhausted. A blessing finding a place to pitch right away in the Brooklyn Segment.
A couple short sections of trail today, then mostly roads and railtrail again . Last I heard, we were supposed to get some rain, but I don’t see it happening.
More rural Wisconsin countryside. I’ve not tired of photographing the landscape of Wisconsin, the well-kept farms, the villages, the trail.
I make a quick day of it, arriving Verona a little after one. Hike right into downtown—for lunch at the steakhouse around the corner. Plans were to get a room, get cleaned up, and put my feet up. But the rate for a room at Super 8 changes those plans. The fifty-buck room? Forget that! Try almost three times fifty for one person, one night. No thanks!
Plan two, call the IAT office in Cross Plains just up the trail, to see if I might be able to get a shower and (actually) wash my clothes sometime tomorrow. I’m in luck. Matt answers. He assures me a shower and clean clothes are in my immediate future. Thanks, Matt, see you tomorrow!
A short trip to the library to check my mail, work this entry. I’m anxious to get to Cross Plains, so the more miles I get in today, the shorter hike tomorrow.
The afternoon hike proves most enjoyable. Got Verona in my rearview. I’m headed for University Golf Course. Sounds like it’ll be a fun hike. And that’s just the way it works out. Final climb is up to the clubhouse. I’ve been told hikers are welcome. I head right in—to the lounge. Nikki, Lauren, and Keegan, greet me. They’re not used to seeing hikers in the lounge. I tell them about the IAT and show them the map. A fun time, while downing a club sandwich and tapping their Sprite.
A couple more off-road sections—through folk’s back yards. Pretty amazing. These are million-dollar homes, and though the trail follows an obvious easement, I’m hiking the back yard privacy of these homes. Swimming pools, lavish decks, beautiful landscaping, an interesting but privacy-invasive time.
Late evening now, and on Timber Lane, I find an unposted spot in the woods. Another long day. Not a thirty, but close. Oh, and again, no rain.
Saturday—July 14, 2012
Location—Cross Plains, then on to just north of Indian Lake
Got some rain last night, but it was very gentle and didn’t last twenty minutes. Pulled the fly I had half-rigged over and down and went right back to sleep.
Late getting out this morning. A short hike to town. I take Cleveland down to US-14, then hike it on into Cross Plains. I’m in before ten, make a trip to Walgreen, then the post office—then to the beautiful IATA headquarters right on the main drag. Matt has come over from his home in Madison to catch up on some work. He unlocks the door and greets me with great excitement—end of catching up on work for Matt. I shower, do clothes, then we head for lunch. I’m bending Matt’s ear the entire morning. Just a great time. Thanks, Matt, and thanks to all the dedicated IATA staff and volunteers. The time and talent you give to this great trail has made my trek possible. I’m the hiker, the one who benefits from your untiring work.
A little after two I’m climbing the ridge above Lewis Street. Some great vantages down to Cross Plains and beyond from the high prairie above.
I’ve got my sights set on Lodi now, some 30 miles on north. If I can knock down ten or so of that today, I’ll make Lodi easy enough tomorrow.
My map shows the symbol for water at Indian Lake, but there’s none, save for the lake. Richard and his family are enjoying a picnic/cook out and they offer me water. I’m able to hike a bit further before dark, to find a stealth site for my camp just above Matz Road.
Sunday—July 15, 2012
Looks of it I’ve got around a sixteen on into Lodi (what’s left of that 30-mile itinerary click). I’m out and haulin’ around six-thirty. Another roadwalk day, save a short section through Lodi Marsh, above Spring Creek.
Coming up now is the crossing of US-12. A trail bridge has been built over this busy highway, but for some reason it’s closed. No problem having to hike the shoulder of US-12, around three-tenths of a mile. Everybody makes a big deal out of how treacherous hiking these busy US highways can be. Fact of the matter is, though, they’re one of the safest places a hiker can be. Don’t believe me? Well, get out and hike ten-thousand or so miles along our nation’s highways and byways. Till then, you’ll just have to take my word for it!
Just as I’m entering the Lodi State Wildlife Area, comes a call I’ve been waiting for. Bill, an IATA volunteer had sent an email, that he’d welcome a call from me. So, I give him a call yesterday, left a message. Good news, he’s coming out to hike some with me today. Sure enough, in awhile here he comes up the trail. Folks, it does tend to get the least bit lonely out here—a real pleasure having company for awhile!
It really got to cookin’ again today. High humidity, very little breeze. Dried me out good, inside. I’m totally soaked otherwise. Bill recommended we hit Lucy’s for lunch. I down a full carafe of water, and another of Sierra Mist. Floated right out of the place.
There’s a bit of trail here in Lodi, and Bill hikes it out and back with me. The short segment ends at Rainbow Bridge, the largest manmade structure on the trail. It’s been dubbed “The Bridge to Nowhere.” Hopefully, sometime soon the trail will continue on from the bridge.
I’m in luck at the Lodi Valley Motel. Raz and Karen both take pity on the old hiker. Gave me a super hiker trash deal. Fine family restaurant right next door. And the good news, the whole setup is no more than a quarter-mile off-trail at the County Road J and State Road 113 intersection northwest of town.
I’m in early, and quickly get clean and cool (for a change). A fun day hiking the IAT.
Monday—July 16, 2012
Location—Devil’s Lake State Park, then on to near Solum Lane
Great little trail town, Lodi. Had a fine time relaxing with my feet up, clean and cool for a change.
A long-mile day today, but I do plan on taking my time through Devil’s Lake State Park—heard so many good things about the lake and the glacial features there.
I manage to shoulder my pack and get moving by six-thirty. Much excitement about this day. The fine trail I’ll be hiking and the anticipation of having company along—Dave, who thru-hiked the IAT two years ago.
Ah, and just as I’m heading into the new section of trail that Dave helped build, I get his call. Plans are for him to hike in from the ferry landing to join me. Ah, and not long, up the trail comes this lanky, long-striding hiker. We hike back to, then cross the Wisconsin River together, on the free ferry. He drives his car on, I walk my pack on.
To continue hiking together, plan now is for Dave to drive up to Devil’s Lake State Park, then ride his bike back to my next road crossing. From there we’ll hike on through the park together. This plan also works great. No time we’re hiking together again.
Dave knows the park. He shows me all the strange and interesting features, including Devil’s Doorway, Balanced Rock, and the glacial “plugs” that are holding Devil’s Lake together. The views from both the East and West Bluffs out and across Devil’s Lake are breathtaking. There’s lots of climbing, the most today of any day on this trail. Coming down, we hit the concession stand, take a rest, then Dave helps me find my way out of the park—where the trail exits between campsites 419 and 420.
There’s plenty of daylight remaining, so I decide to hike another six miles or so, on over to the trailhead at Solum Lane. Dave goes to retrieve his bike (and cooler), then drives to Solum Lane trailhead, there to pick me up and take me to dinner.
Returning to the trailhead, just enough daylight left to search out the best site to pitch for the night. Dave’s brought his pack, tent, pad, and sleeping bag, so he joins me.
What a remarkable, event-filled day!
Tuesday—July 17, 2012
Dave is like local, he knows his way around the Devil’s Lake State Park area—having worked at both building and maintaining trail for DNR, and as a volunteer with the Mobile Skills Crew. So, for dinner last he drove me to a place (in the boonies) called, appropriately “The Barn.” It is, literally, an old barn that’s been (remarkably) resurrected as a cafe/bar. Amber, the bartender, greets Dave with “Where you been?” then welcomes me with a big smile as Dave introduces me. A fine meal, I went for the spaghetti. Just a great evening at The Barn.
Wow, and for sure, yesterday didn’t end up owing us anything. What a day, such a joy having Dave hike along. But comes that sad time again, saying farewell to another dear new friend. Thanks, Dave, for coming out, for spending time with me on the trail!
After breaking camp I take a few moments to do a video/interview with Dave—then it’s good-bye, my friend.
I’m out and on the trail in good order around six-thirty. There’s a short section of trail past Sauk Point and down to the Parfreys Glen State Natural area. At the end of the segment the trail returns to the road, at County Road DL.
Where we pitched last near Solum Lane, it’s only a short drive around to the road crossing, so Dave beat me here. Ah yes, on a marker post he’s left the remaining two pieces of blueberry banana bread his mother had made. Yup, I take a break and head for the picnic table—and breakfast. Dave, your generosity and kindness has been so much appreciated!
The roadwalk today is another of those out and around deals, in the proposed “trail corridor.” I choose the shorter route, with wide shoulders, no blind turns or top outs—along SR-33.
Having hiked six of today’s miles yesterday, then shortcutting another four or five this morning, I’m able to hike it on into Portage, arriving in good order around three.
The Tarmac is really starting to cook, 101 degrees this afternoon. Very happy to reach the Shady Lawn Motel in Portage, get in a cool room and get the grime washed off.
Late evening Todd and Chris stop by. Todd’s hiked both the Kek and the Border Route Trail(s) in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area. They drive me out to Aldo Leopold’s old cabin by the Wisconsin River, then treat me at the A&W. Thanks, Todd and Chris!
Wednesday—July 18, 2012
Location—Packwaukee, then on to trail angels Gary and Mary Jane’s “Century Farm” on 9th Avenue
Another neat trail town, Portage. Great hiker trash rate at Shady Lawn Motel; A&W right next door. Doesn’t get much better than that. Thanks, Amanda, for the really nice room. Especially, thanks for your kindness to this old intrepid!
I am definitely relying on an old series of maps. Totally my fault. You may recall that I’d planned on trekking the IAT last summer. That was before I broke my leg on the Ozark Highlands Trail. So, what I’ve got are maps the Alliance sent me back in 2010. They were the latest at that time. Since then a new series has been produced, for 2011 and later. And the newer maps show the Leopold Cabin. It’s not on my maps, so I knew not the reason for the out-in-the-south-forty way around below Portage. Ah, but Todd solved that problem by taking me out so I could see where Leopold lived. Yup, worked out very nicely—thanks, Todd!
Slow getting going this morning. I was really worn out from the extreme heat that turned to cookin’ the Tarmac yesterday. I really slept soundly, way later than usual. And oh my, looks of it, if I want to spend the evening with trail angels, Gary and Mary Jane, who live some five miles north of Packwaukee, I’m going to have to do some serious haulin’ today—It’ll be close to a twenty-eight to reach their place.
One thing in my favor this morning, it’s cool and overcast, also, a nice breeze for a change. Just super hiking weather. And I do haul.
The trail leaves Portage along the canal, the tread here in good shape, well maintained. I stop just long enough to take pictures, a bunch, all along the canal. Much history, all very interesting.
Along the Fox River I’m impressed by the number of deer stands, some quite the penthouse design. From the river the trail takes back to the road, on up to John Muir Park. Surprising, the park is not the least elaborate. But the lake, the area around where Muir spent his childhood, very rural and country. Sure could inspire an impressionable young man to achieve great things. Muir’s path (and mine) have crossed before, near Hiawassee, Georgia, Muir’s thousand-mile walk to the sea. I recall mentioning in my journal how we’re separated by time, how we’re captives along the trail of time.
I cruise on into Packwaukee—and Ts Causeway. Arrive a bit before three-thirty. Delicious burger, plus fries, and a memorable conversation with Lisa, owner and bartender at Ts Causeway. A trip to the post office (it was open), then a call to Gary who lives five miles north, and I’m on my way.
A couple of miles before reaching Gary’s a vehicle slows behind me, then stops. “You the Ice Age Trail hiker?” asks the lady, wide, cheerful grin. It’s Mary Jane, trail angel, better known as Strawberry Lady.
I’m soon at their place, as an impending storm approaches. Thunder’s getting louder, no lightning yet. “Better take you over to my brother’s place. He’s got a cabin where you can be out of the rain.” says Gary. I explain how my arrival, just as the storm appears to be arriving, is a good omen. “Let’s work it, Gary” my comment. “If I pitch here at your place, I’m sure it’ll rain.” I pitch, it rains! Ha, Gary turns a little kid, dancing around in it. My, do they need the rain. The corn crop is lost, beans look bad. “Longest, worst drought in my memory.” says Gary. “And I was born and raised here!” and the rain comes, not hard, but steady. Thank you, Lord!
Don, Gary’s neighbor who’s painting Gary and Mary Jane’s house, gives it up, comes down the ladder—and joins Gary in the excitement. They both get soaked. We finally retire to the old creamery house to share the most enjoyable time—till way after dark.
Camp for the night is in the planted pine, above Gary and Mary Jane’s lovely, “Century Farm” house. Just a memorable day!
Thursday—July 19, 2012
Location—Near Chaffee Creek, then on to Richford
In my tent, under the planted pine at Gary and Mary Jane’s, I slept in total comfort—with the gentle rain to lull me. A cushion of pine needles is as lush as any of man’s design for sleeping in elegance.
Don is a hiker, so too his wife, Dori. Don called her while we were in the creamery last—told her about the old thru-hiker at Gary’s. She came right over. Seems all are taken by this long-distance thru-hiker thing. In no time they’ve invited me to their place for breakfast. Oh yes, I accept!
So, this morning, Gary is to drop me off at Don and Dori’s on his way to work. I break camp and am down the hill a little before seven. Gary and Mary Jane are both waiting for me. Picture time, and sad good-bye time. Thanks, Mary Jane, for your kindness.
On the way to Don and Dori’s, Gary and I talk about the good times and not so good times. I’d mentioned the heart-wrenching story told me yesterday by Lisa, the barkeep at Ts, about how she lost her loving daughter to diabetes—how my just being there to quietly listen seemed to give her a some measure of peace. It’s impossible to imagine losing a child. Gary tells me about his dear friend, Danny, who lost his young son, and his father, both in the same day. The sadness of it has little faded for Gary. He hesitates. His voice cracks as he tells the story of going to Danny, how he agonized over what to say. Amazing, is it not, that sometimes our presence is really all that matters, how our being there can bring comfort, much more than could any words.
So now we’re at Don and Dori’s, and I’m immediately faced with more sad good-byes—as both Gary and Dori head off to work.
I’m sitting at the kitchen bar at Don’s now. All’s still, save for Don’s occasional stirring of the hash browns. “Want some coffee?” he asks.
After breakfast, and before delivering me back to Gary and Mary Jane’s—to continue my journey on, Don gives me the tour of his farm. Glacial features abound, especially throughout his vast and extensive woodlot. Everyone up here heats with wood. Don’s got wood!
And so, now, the final farewell to Don. Dear new friends all, Gary, Mary Jane, Don, and Dori, thanks for taking time to befriend me, to encourage me. I pray we meet again.
The sun made a brief show right at sunrise, then promptly retreated behind a dense cloud cover. As I depart Gary and Mary Jane’s now, a fine mist is beginning. Hard to believe, but there’s the least chill in the air. Temperature in the low 70s, and cool Tarmac. Perhaps the heat spell has broken!
I’m headed for Westfield some seven miles north, entirely a roadwalk. I reach the I-39 interchange around eleven, and head straight for MacDonald’s, to check my email, and for a senior’s coffee. By one I’m nearing the segment of trail through the Chaffee Creek State Fishery area. I’ve seen trail start out from some pretty interesting and unusual places, but this one’s for the books. Would you believe it begins from the I-39 rest area! And ah yes, the options to get to this “trailhead” are just as interesting. There’s the out and around way shown on the map. There’s the bushwhack a bit way. Then there’s the jump the fence and hike the interstate way. And which one do you suppose the old Nomad chooses? Well of course, and why not—over the fence and right down the interstate. Goofy? Sure! Risky? No (other than probably breaking the law). Ha, and there it is, the beginning of the Chaffee Creek Segment, just down from the pooch-walking area. Sign says “Do not enter – Wrong Way.” Dang, breaking the law again!
Almost immediately the trail goes under the interstate, through a huge culvert pipe. Lovely rolling prairie just beyond. Truly an interesting segment!
By five I’m in Richford. Dave had told me about Johann’s in Richford—All you can eat dinner. I head for Johann’s! Fine special tonight, chicken, mashed potatoes and gravy, peas—plus a loaded salad bar. Just a super meal.
Johann is at the bar. He also owns the Mecan River Inn just across the road. A fine hiker trash rate—I’m in. Thanks, Johann!
What a day. Can’t believe that this morning was THIS morning!
Friday—July 20, 2012
Location—Near Bonn Lake, then on to Heffron
Mechan River Inn is first class. I really enjoyed my stay.
First order this morning is to head back over to Johann’s for breakfast. Johann opens the place himself, does everything, even the cooking. I go for a short stack and eggs—and plenty of great conversation with Johann as he keeps my coffee cup topped off.
If I want a hot meal and an iced down Seven Up for supper I’m going to have to hoof it all the way up to Heffron to the tavern there—a 27-mile day. And I actually need to go there, as all I’ve got for food is a pack of pretzels and what’s left of the pancakes Johann made for me. So, Heffron, here I come!
Off to not so good a start. Coming out of Johann’s, and distracted from talking on my cell phone, I miss a turn. Mile-and-a-half later I finally figure out what’s happened. So, it’s turn around, then a mile-and-a-half back. Now, instead of starting at six-forty-five with a 27 to do, it’s now seven-forty-five, I’ve hiked three miles—and I’ve still got a 27 to do!
Hard not to get in a funk right off. Just reassure myself it’ll work out okay—that’s what I tell myself!
The day has dawned perfectly clear. Not a cloud in the sky. And comfortably cool for a change. Time now to just start making this a great day. Haulin’ time.
And that’s pretty much how the day goes. More trail segments than usual. Less roadwalking than usual. It’s an easy, fun time. Only problem is water. There’s none along the trail, save the numerous lakes, and what little water’s in them proves impossible to reach. So, it’s knock at the farmer’s doors along. Works great. Everyone is kind and helpful to this thirsty old hiker.
The trails here are very sandy. Makes for slow, deliberate going at times. One segment had been closed due to storm damage, but most of its been cleared, and I find it not a problem. I make it through fine.
By six-thirty I’m in Heffron. The tavern is open, and the place is jumping. There’s no sign out front or on the building, but everyone knows the name of the place is Wutzit2ya. Steve and Diane, their daughter, Raelee, and her boyfriend Sean operate the joint. Their faces light up when I tell them Johann sends his regards.
Friday is fish. I enjoy a fine fish dinner. And they let me pitch in their lot next the bar. A fine day, and no, it wasn’t a 44-mile one. But oh my, it did turn out to be a 30!
Saturday—July 21, 2012
Location—Near Grenlie Lake
Great night next the tavern. Figured the jukebox noise would keep me awake—but I can’t remember if it did.
A ways into my hike today the trail (roadwalk) passes Turner’s Market, not your usual roadside produce stand. By chance, I have the pleasure of meeting Ross Turner. Ross is one of the kind landowners whose property the IAT crosses. Thanks, Ross for allowing me to hike your place!
Ah, and Turner’s Market, fresh peaches, ice cream, pop, candy, snacks. What do you want?
Been in contact with Jingle off and on most of the day. She’s a dear friend from my AT hiking days. She lives here in Wisconsin, down by Racine. She wants to come out and hike some with me, so we’re figuring a place to meet. The plan comes together perfectly when I look up and she and her boyfriend, Brad, come hiking down the trail. What an exciting time, seeing this dear friend again after so many years. We last hiked together on the Appalachian Trail back in ‘98. Lots of trail has passed under our feet since then. Jingle holds the distinction of being a Triple Crowner!
Well, so it’s four-thirty, got my miles in for today. Time to just relax, visit, and reminisce the good times shared. My pack in their trunk, we’re off to Hartman State Park for a campsite. We’re in luck. The place is packed but they’ve a spot for us. In the evening we head for Waupaca and the Wheelhouse Restaurant. Good choice, great pizza.
Jingle works my old maps, shows me where there’s new trail—and how to shortcut the long roadwalk.
Just a memorable, exciting, event-packed day!
Sunday—July 22, 2012
Hartman Creek State Park is a first class campground. Our campsite, one of the few remaining, was ideal (say, close to the bathhouse). Brad loaned me a make-it-work towel, and I lucked out. Whoever used the shower last forgot their shampoo and soap. So, I was able to get clean, top to bottom, yippee!
We’re car-loaded and headed back to Waupaca by six-thirty this morning, to look around for a mom-n-pop breakfast spot, but no luck (Sunday). MacDonald’s is open, though, suits us fine. I dearly miss my coffee in the morning, one of the sacrifices of not carrying a cook pot, stove, and fuel. MacDonald’s makes an okay breakfast. Thanks, Jingle!
Brad and Jingle would both like to hike with me awhile this morning. Kind of a bummer, though, the way it’s working out. What’s coming up first thing, and for a number of miles, is a roadwalk. Hey, they’re game! There’s a trailhead at Grenlie Lake, less than a quarter-mile from where I ended my hike yesterday. Brad parks the car and before eight we’re off to the roadwalk. A very nice morning, slight breeze—great company!
An hour or so out, Greg turns back to get the car and bring it up. Jingle and I trek on, sharing great memories, catching up on what’s happened in our lives since we last hiked together.
But oh yes, that inevitable, unavoidable time soon comes—time to say farewell. I have a real tough time with it. Some tears, good firm hugs—then I look away, down that lonesome road, and walk away. Thanks, dear friends, for taking time from your busy lives to come out and share a precious bit of it with me—thanks!
Not near as hot a day as most this past week, and there’s a couple of really nice trail sections in the afternoon that help break up the roadwalk monotony.
My destination today is Rosholt. I arrive a bit before five-thirty. From my notes, the place to go in Rosholt is the Brick Pit House. Oh yes, they’re open on Sunday! Mike and Rena are the proud owner/operators. Rena takes my order, the usual for me, burger and fries. Also treated myself to a cup of creamy chicken soup, and a large helping of slaw. Mike prepares it, but chides me for not going for his award-winning BBQ. A super meal, no matter. Filled this hungry hiker right up, and that ain’t easy.
Mike and Rena let me pitch behind. There’s a little mom-n-pop place called the Coffee Cup right next door—opens at six.
Oh yes, all’s right with my world!
Monday—July 23, 2012
Location—Hatley, then on to the fire tower by Fire Lane Road
Another fine hiker town—Rosholt. The post office, library, cafe, bar and grill are all less than a football field apart. There’s even a free ATM at the gas station on the (alternate) way out of town. Only thing missing is a place to spend the night. John and Rena took care of that problem by letting me stay behind their place. Thanks, John and Rena, for your kindness!
I manage to get myself up and moving a bit before six. The little mom-n-pop right next, with a sign that reads “Coffee Cup Eat” opens at six, so I’m right there for the coffee—and the eat. Oh yes, this day is starting out fine!
This morning, plus a good chunk of the afternoon, is consumed with roadwalking, some 24 miles into Hatley. I mis-calculated the distance from Rosholt to Antigo. Instead of 50 miles, it’s more like 56. So, if I’m going to get into Antigo at a decent hour tomorrow, I’m going to have to hammer another ten or so today. I called and talked to Joe this morning. He’s a local chapter volunteer that lives in Antigo. Jingle told me to make sure and get in touch with Joe. Glad I did. He offers to pick up my mail and put me up at his place. I accept both his kind offers!
Just before sunset I reach Helf Road. Needing water, I ring the doorbell at the lovely home on the corner. John let’s me take water from his outside faucet, then offers his yard for me to pitch in for the night. When I tell him I’d rather camp up by the fire tower, he smiles—”You’re welcome to camp there, too; it’s my property.”
Splendid sunset from fire tower hill. A long but pleasant day trekking the IAT.
Tuesday—July 24, 2012
Location—Dells of the Eau Clare, then on to Antigo
Ended up trekking a 34 yesterday. That leaves me with 22 today, should I wish to reach Antigo, and I do want to get to Antigo. I talked again with Joe who lives there. He’s picked up my mail, and he’ll be waiting to pick me up once I reach Antigo. So, another day of moving out smartly!
There’s a couple new segments of trail I’ll hike through today that friends have marked on my maps, plus the well-known segment, the Dells of the Eau Claire. These fine segments break up my hike, making for a pleasant day of trekking. I arrive the Shell Station on County Road Y, in south Antigo, around four, and give Joe a call. Before I manage a fountain drink, he’s right here to fetch me.
In the evening I meet Peg, Joe’s wife. She’s been to a library meeting. Both Joe and Peg are very civic minded, active in a variety of community affairs. Joe has faithfully served in a volunteer capacity with the Ice Age Trail Alliance for over 40 years—now that’s dedication!
There’s a nice mom-n-pop restaurant downtown, the Dixie Garden of Eatin, Joe and Peg’s favorite. I’m given the choice, Dixie or one of the chain joints north of town. Why go clear north of town! Oh yes, surprise, surprise, it’s the Dixie mom-n-pop downtown! But we do end up going north later anyway, to Culver’s, for ice cream.
In the evening Joe and Peg take me on a tour of their area, to see the lush farmland, evidence of so much good from the ice age (Antigo alluvium) and their lovely, proud community, Antigo.
Late evening now, I try working my journal entry for this day, but am promptly off to slumber land. What a remarkable day; so great to be hosted by these dear new friends.
Wednesday—July 25, 2012
Location—Joe and Peg’s lovely home, Antigo
I’ve really been hammering the miles this past week or so. Much roadwalking—long, hard, grind-’em-out days. My back’s tired, my feet and knees are tired, I’m tired. Haven’t taken a day off since departing this odyssey 27 days ago. Joe and Peg have invited me to stay with them another day. It’s really a no-brainer. As you’ve heard me say many times, “My momma didn’t raise no dummy!” I gratefully accepted their kind offer.
And, anyway, Joe had asked if I’d consider doing an interview with Gary, Breakfast Club (morning show) Host, WATK Radio, Antigo. It’s an opportunity to give back a little, to talk about and promote this remarkable trail, the Ice Age National Scenic Trail. I gladly said yes.
So, at eight this morning Joe has me to Arby’s, certainly an interesting place for a local radio host to conduct interviews. Peg comments that a bit of background noise is expected, which just adds to the fun of it. I’m pleasantly surprised that Gary’s done his homework. He’s not only visited my site, but has studied it thoroughly. He’s filled with enthusiasm—has a bunch of great, well thought out questions for me—even though he’s hardly able to turn his head or raise his arm, injuries sustained from a recent bicycle accident. The half-hour literally flies by (as I keep downing the coffee, compliments of Arby’s). It truly was a fun time. Thanks, Gary! And thank you, Joe. Hope the interview helped a bit in getting the IAT word out. Hey, all you locals that were listening and are capable of doing a short hike, get out and walk one of the fine IAT segments around Antigo!
After the interview, it’s back to business at hand, a trip for breakfast to (you guessed it) Dixie. Joe and Peg are regulars at Dixie (like I really needed to tell you that) as are many others here in Antigo, all Joe and Peg’s friends. Much enjoyable conversation.
After breakfast I give Joe a hand setting up the IAT Langlade Chapter information table for the fair. Maps, brochures, other pertinent IAT information. A very nice display.
Talking with Joe about the hiker community, the trails—and the Appalachian Trail in particular, Joe mentions a well-known AT volunteer who lives just a short distance from Antigo. Ah, and I do know Dave Appel. Dave was helping renovate Bear’s Den Hostel when we met. That was back in ‘98, 14 years ago, when I was on my northbound Eastern Continental Trail trek. I’m able to contact Dave and make arrangements to visit with him later this afternoon. A 20-minute drive south and we’re at Dave’s. Here I meet his wife, Julia, and their friends from the trail, Bruce and Jane. They’re AT volunteers also, having spent many hours repairing and maintaining the Blackburn Trail Center, another AT stopping off place near Harpers Ferry. Much reminiscing the good old times—more great conversation. Check the photo album, to be posted soon.
Peg has volunteered at the local food pantry all day, where she had a hand (literally) in distributing over 2,000 pounds of food. Six-thirty we meet back at Dixie for supper, then make a dash to Dairy Queen for ice cream.
Back at Joe’s, we work maps and data for my final push to St. Croix Falls State Park, and the end of this odyssey.
Just a memorable, event-filled day.
Thursday—July 26, 2012
Location—Near Baker Lake
Another great night’s rest at Peg and Joe’s. I really needed the day off. It’s done me much good.
Plenty to do this morning before returning to the trail. Breaking camp with things scattered all over the room is different than gathering up a pile of stuff in my tent. I’ve also got to finish rummaging through my bounce box, then close and address it to send home.
There’s a couple of difficult sections of trail ahead, little used, perhaps with less than ideal blazing. I had planned on transferring the GPS waypoints from the Guide Book to my maps for those segments last evening. Joe was trying to help, but it really wasn’t working. I finally gave up out of frustration.
This morning I reluctantly gather the remaining pages of my Guide Book, put them and my GPS in my box of things to send home.
One more trip to the Dixie Garden of Eatin for breakfast with Peg and Joe, then to the post office, then back to the Shell Station where Joe picked me up Tuesday evening. At the station I ask Joe to wait a few minutes while I buy a few snacks to get me through the day. Back out, Joe and Peg are waiting patiently—as I get back in the van and reach for the seatbelt. In the process, I glance over at Joe. He has the most quizzical look on his face. Ha, at the same time he tells me this is where I start hiking again, does it dawn on me that this is where I start hiking again! Interesting how quickly I’ve become used to (and have taken for granted) Joe chauffeuring me around.
With help, I’m back hiking by nine-thirty. Peg, Joe, I am totally in your debt. No way could I possibly ever repay you for your kindness—thanks!
I would like to reach Baker Lake this evening, but with the later than usual start, don’t know. I’ll sure enough give it my best.
The day starts out clear and cool, but by noon I’m hearing thunder from the west. No time I’ve got my pack off, digging for my poncho. The rain continues steady and hard for nearly an hour.
I manage to make it to Polar around one. The fellow living on the corner by SR-64 has a pop machine by the side of his house. Oh yes, I pull in to this oasis! There’s a bar and grill in Polar, way out, and halfway down Groth Road. Not open—looks more like a hunter/snowmobile hangout to me.
Sometime mid-afternoon I reach the end of the north trending part of this trail. From now until the trek is completed, I’ll be trending west.
Early evening I reach SR-52, where Joe has cached a couple gallons of water for me. I fill both my bottles, then drink as much as I can. Almost drained one of the jugs. Really needed the water; there has been none along, save the many puddles from the rain. Thanks for the water, Joe. And thanks again for your kindness!
Late evening I reach Baker Lake, destination for this day.
These first few miles of trail in Langlade County have proven no problem. The trail is definitely overgrown, but it’s been easy enough to hike and to follow. I pitch for the night in the timbered area west of Baker Lake. It’s been a bittersweet day. Happy time, back on the trail; sad time, bidding dear friends farewell.
Friday—July 27, 2012
Location—Near Summit Lake
Thunder and lightning, rain in torrents all night. I did manage to sleep reasonably well, what with the continual flashing light and noise.
The rain slacked off, then quit just at first light. I took the opportunity to roll over for an hour of uninterrupted (quiet) sleep.
I suspect that today will be a long and difficult one. More unmaintained segments of trail ahead. Sure enough, coarse, wet grass up to near my waist for miles. By afternoon, dragging through it begins wearing on my ankles and legs. The rain holds off but the skies remain overcast. No complaints from me, though, not with the weather I’ve enjoyed. At Veteran’s Memorial Park I pull in for water and to try drying my tent and pack. The sun stays out just long enough for me to drape all my stuff around, then the rain comes again—and all my stuff is soaked again. While I’m waiting for the rain to quit, I get a call from Joe. He and Peg would like to bring me some (more) cookies. Oh yes, I sit tight and wait!
Late afternoon I hike down the remaining miles on over to Bass Lake Country Club for supper. The place is packed, but I wait patiently to be served and to order a fish dinner. Well worth the wait. Don, a local says there’s a cafe in Paris, also a bar, a short distance past my destination for tomorrow. I think I’ll try for it.
Late evening I reach Deep Woods Lake Wayside, find a flat spot down by the lake and call it a day.
Saturday—July 28, 2012
Location—Prairie River, then on to Parrish
Joe had mentioned Deep Wood Lake Wayside just south of Bass Lake Country Club. I literally waddled there from eating so much at the club. A sensational Friday fish dinner. I just couldn’t hike any farther.
A very cool night and morning. I’m out trekking a bit after six, with my hands in my pockets to keep them warm. You believe that!
Been trekking Langlade County for awhile. Some easy days, some not so easy, with a fair bit of roadwalking thrown in. From a high vantage, and looking back, early afternoon I’ve a great view out across Langlade. I’ll depart this part of Wisconsin soon. It’s been a memorable time, and as you know from recent journal entries, I’ve met some wonderful trail angles.
Highlight for this day is fording Prairie River. Did a video of the crossing. It’ll be posted soon. Be sure and check it out!
There’s a bar on the north end of Parrish called Fishers. A favorite spot for the four-wheeler fellows and gals. It’s just off-trail. I head right in for my Mist and a pizza—with another pizza to go for tomorrow.
I manage a couple more miles west of Parrish before pitching for the night.
Sunday—July 29, 2012
Location—North Branch Prairie River, then on to near Tug Lake
Today will definitely be a long day, if I’m to do my usual 25. I’d like to, but there’s rugged trail, a good bit of it, with very little roadwalking. I’m out and headed for Lookout Mountain a little after six. Almost continuous ups and downs, so the trail goes.
The Harrison Hills Segment, definitely a challenge. The trail doesn’t go up and over every one of the hills, but it doesn’t miss many. A definite strain on the back and legs.
So far, I believe this is the longest segment of continuous off-road. It certainly is NST caliber tread. Definitely a slower pace, but delightful.
I find the new trail to be complete and open at Alta Junction. It’s set down on an old rail grade. 2 1/2 degree steady uphill for the entire way. Sure enough cobby on the feet, due to the washboard tread, the result of rotted or removed cross-ties.
What a pleasant surprise to find a pop machine on County Road J just before Lake Avenue. The place is a family run chainsaw, mower and ORV repair shop. The pop machine is in front of the shop. A family member, Amanda, sees me at the machine and comes down from the house (shop closed on Sunday) to bring me a couple bottles of water. Another fellow stops to look at all the “stuff” that’s on display up and down the driveway. Anyway, when’s the last time fifty-cents would work a pop machine for you! Thanks, Amanda, for your thoughtfulness.
The Underdown Segment is shared with mountain bikes, so the tread is hardened in, well marked, and easy to follow. Oh, except for the little game played—where the yellow blazes have been painted over with black for a quarter-mile or so.
Tug Lake Rec Area is a very fine spot, complete with a squeaky pitcher/hand pump. I take water from the well, then hike on down Tug Lake Road before pulling off in the pine and pitching for the night. A mighty fine supper—the carry out pizza (no pun intended) from Fisher’s.
Monday—July 30, 2012
Location—New Wood County Park, then a hitch to Merril
Been whittling down on this day’s mileage for awhile. So, when I hit the road this morning, I find that I’m less than six miles from New Wood County Park. I’m in need of provisions, and could use a feet-up, relax, kind of day. Hey, why not hitch down to Merril!
Oh, I want to tell you that I’m continuing the roadwalk right on past South End Road. I’ve read comments about turning south on South End, then doing a bushwhack down to the dead end section of trail east of New Wood Park. None of the reports sounded encouraging. So, I’ll hike that bit of out and back tomorrow, what I can of it, which I suspect will prove very little. Folks, I’ve done these cross-country “shortcuts” before. Oh yes, seldom do they work out (say never) as planned.
I had expected an easy hitch to Merril, the road leading there being a state highway. Was I ever wrong! I’m walking down SR-107 now. Been out here for over twenty-minutes. Dang, not a single vehicle in either direction. By the time I reach the power generators, two have passed me going south. Neither as much as slowed down. Oh my, this isn’t good. But hey, wait. Here comes a vehicle from the other direction. It slows, then pulls over. I recognize it immediately—the last car that went by. Say! This’ll work.
A kind family, mother and her three children. They re-arrange things and make room for me. The older boy is just learning to drive. Back on the road, mom occasionally—gently—directs him. Youngest, the daughter, has her nose in a Kindle—and I sense she’s a bit apprehensive, what with this bearded, smelly old man sitting next to her. The younger son, Cody, bet anything he’s the one who talked mom into turning around and coming back for me. He’s a hiker, or sure enough’s going to be. He knows about the Ice Age Trail, has hiked 20 miles of it. We share much enjoyable conversation on the way to Merril.
The family knows all about Merril, the little mom-n-pop Prairie Motel at the edge of town. They deliver me there. Thanks, folks, for your kindness to this tired, old hiker!
It’s still early morning, just past nine-thirty, I’ve got my miles in for today—and I’m in for a relaxing day of it. When I ask about a possible ride back to the trail in the morning, Nayna, kind innkeep, suggests I talk to Duane who lives in the end room. Hey, how’s this! Duane will be more than happy to drive me back up. We’ll do breakfast at the cafe downtown a little after six, then it’s back to the trail.
Late afternoon, Duane gives me a ride downtown to the hardware store for some contact cement to repair my shoes, then over to the supermarket for four day’s supply of food.
During the day, I’ve rested, feet up, worked journal entries. I also stomped out my grungy old clothes in the shower, and they’re drying. Delivery from Pizza Hut works perfect. Still sipping on the two liter bottle of Sierra Mist, now ten-past-ten. No way I’ll pour any of it out. What a day!
Tuesday—July 31, 2012
Location—New Wood River/Camp Twentysix Creek, then on to North Fork, Copper River
Another fine Wisconsin Town, Merril. Thoroughly enjoyed my stay.
No problem waking at the right time this morning, five-thirty, that’s the time the first freight train pulls into town. I’m up on time!
When Duane agreed to take me back to the trail, I told him right then I’d treat for breakfast. So, we’re off to the local diner a bit after six. And what good fortune to have a lift back up to the trail. I’m hiking before seven. Thanks, Duane, for your time and great help. Especially, thanks for your kindness!
There’s a dead end segment of trail on the east side of SR-107. It’s down by Camp New Wood County Park. I’ve read various accounts of it. What I find, and contrary to what I expected, is groomed and well-marked trail, for the entire distance, clear to the dead end, where there’s a sign telling me to turn around and go back. And I can quickly return following an all-weather gravel road! Even though this was a dead end segment, I found it very enjoyable to hike. Anyway, sure glad I took the time. Thanks, IAT volunteers, for your fine work!
The highlight for this day will certainly be the hike up, then down, by Grandfather Falls, along the Wisconsin River. The trail, both sides of the falls is a boulder scramble. Slow going, but a thrill of a time. Planning this trek, I intentionally set shorter mileage days, expecting much more of this trail being a rock/boulder scramble, like up and down Grandfather.
As I hike on I find trail conditions to be a mixed bag. Blazing is excellent for all the segments. However, maintenance is poor in many places, and in others, tread is totally lacking. Really not whining, just that hiking the forest here could be a much more enjoyable experience. It’s beautiful country.
Lots of deer, some turkey, two covey of quail, countless Canadian geese, and a pair of sandhills—my pleasure to see today. Also have heard a loon or two recently, but haven’t seen one yet.
A hard push right up to dark to reach water at North Fork, Copper River. Sun is setting as I arrive and pitch for the night. Another enjoyable and rewarding 25-mile day trekking the Ice Age National Scenic Trail!
Wednesday—August 1, 2012
Location—Wood Lake County Park, then on to Rib Lake School Forest—then down to Rib Lake
Campsite last was next the bench above North Fork Copper River. Lucked out on water. Just a small trickle coming down between the rocks. Had just enough time to pitch before dark.
Today I’ll be leaving Lincoln County. All reports tell me I’ll have better trail once into Taylor County. No serious complaints with the counties now behind me. More hardened tread (not the trail builder’s fault) with a bit more yellow along would certainly help the thru-hike experience.
The large beaver dam shown toward the end of the trail through Lincoln County is still there, but the lake and the beaver are both long gone. The dam’s blown out. No problem hopping across the breach.
Today, off and on, the trail follows interesting old tram beds. The washboard tread and the near-flat going, sure give-aways. Ah, and it was a joy finding water at the old well by Bear Lake!
I’m surprised to meet another hiker along the trail today, there having so far been so few. But up the trail toward me comes this fellow—Bruce. While talking with him, little did I know (but I quickly found out) that I had disturbed a ground nest of (black) yellow jackets. Before I knew it my legs were on fire. I’ve never lit out so fast—Bruce right behind me once he got a boost. I’ve never been attacked by anything so vicious, or with a sting so painful.
After the unscheduled interruption, we linger, exchanging much enjoyable conversation. He’s a retired Lutheran Minister from Eau Claire, section hiking the IAT—with the help of his wife, Andrea. He not only recognized me, called me by name, but he’s also read my books, been keeping up with my journal entries. Being recognized by a perfect stranger, especially out here on the trail—what an amazing experience!
Later in the day, while on my final roadwalk (having correctly calculated where I might be) Bruce and wife, Andrea, intercept me, then to make an offer I can’t refuse—a ride down to the village of Rib Lake for dinner (their treat) then to spend the night at their site in the village campground. Well folks, as you’ve heard me tell many times—My momma didn’t raise no dummy!
I’ve three miles remaining to get my 25 in for today, all roadwalk. Would you believe, Bruce and Andrea drive their motor home on down the road, then wait patiently for me to hike out this day’s final hour!
My hiking day complete, these dear new friends load this stinky old hiker, and take me down to their spot at the campground. I get a shower, stomp out my smelly clothes, then it’s off to supper.
Back at the campground, I’m in my tent, totally content, well before dark. What a remarkable, coincidence-filled (oh, sure) day.
Dang, my left calf is still on fire!
Thursday—August 2, 2012
Location—SR-13 Wayside, then on to near County Road E
A very hard rain came suddenly around one-thirty. I groped for the tent fly and pulled it down quickly, but most everything still got wet. Rolling thunder. Lots of wind. Lasted till after two.
I had pitched my tent near Bruce and Andrea’s motor home. Other than the storm interruption, I slept well. When I wake at six I hear Andrea already moving about. She’s getting things prepared for breakfast. My request, fried Spam and eggs ( one of my favorites). She seats me at the booth with Bruce. They can hardly get a word in edgewise as I’m talking constantly. It’s a wonderful time.
It’s a couple of miles back to the trailhead by Harper Drive. More dear new friends. More sad farewells. I’m back on the trail a little before eight.
The immediate climb up Moose Mountain quickly gets the kinks out. I think this might be the highest point on the IAT.
The morning hike goes quite well and I reach SR-13 Wayside by noon. The sun has managed to burn off the morning clutter, so I take a break and empty my pack on the warm Tarmac. Everything is dry in no time. Oh, and is dry gear so much lighter, and does it pack so much better than wet!
West of the wayside there’s a short section of trail, then a roadwalk over to Mondeaux Flowage. After a ways, the pavement turn to gravel, which the county is in the process of grading. Nothing much more unsettled than a freshly graded road—save perhaps the dust clouds that are in total churn from passing vehicles. After the roadwalk, I’m headed west on the trail (through a swamp) toward Mondeaux Flowage. All accounts I’ve read have pretty much labeled this a dreadfully wet segment. Hey, for me it’s nearly dry. Sure enough, though, it’d be a very difficult traverse during the wet season.
The east side of the Mondeaux Flowage Segment is not being maintained. Many blowdowns, poor tread. I finally break out and hike the road on into the lodge by the dam.
The lodge concession is open. What a great menu. I settle for the three-piece fish and fries basket, and a Sprite.
The trail, west side Mondeaux Flowage, is being used and is in fine shape. Understandable—it’s high and dry! The Mondeaux Esker creates the entire western shore of the flowage. A most enjoyable hike. Below the lake the trail again heads west. Another well-maintained and heavily used segment.
The small tributary to the North Fork, Yellow River (right by County Road E) is flowing, so I call it a day and stealth camp nearby.
Friday—August 3, 2012
Trail Mile—38/882 (finished one itinerary click, plus another)
Location—North Fork Yellow River, then past Lake Eleven and on to clearcut south of Forest Road 558
The small tributary to the North Fork Yellow River (where the trail emerges at County Road E) was running, barely, but it was clear, and I’d just passed a great campsite above the creek—couldn’t hike past both of those good fortunes! I watered up at the creek trickle, hiked back to the campsite and pitched, ate a bite, and called it done.
This entire day will be spent again hiking trail in the Chequamegon National Forest. Another 25 (planned) will make it a long day.
I’m out and hiking at six-thirty to what appears the makings of another great one.
The rocks and roots start giving it to me first thing. Big time trip-up time. Must watch every step and maintain total concentration for fear of bustin’ it. My energy level is down for some reason today. Not whining. I am very much enjoying the day, especially the hike down Hemlock Esker, a remarkable place. Anyway, my energy level is just down today, quite unusual. I’ve popped two handfuls of M&Ms, but the sugar surge just ain’t happening.
While looking over my maps the other evening, Bruce mentioned that the section below Mud Lake had slowed him down. With my energy level off, my feet and legs tired from the rocks and roots, I decide to roadwalk around that section. I rejoin the trail again at Perkinstown Avenue and continue on with a fair return of energy (Hey old man, you’re 73; be thankful you’re even able to be out here!).
The trail through this segment is receiving use, the tread hardened in. And the signage is some of the best placed blazing so far.
What a surprise meeting other folks on the trail today. A bunch with the Wilderness group, and a few day hikers.
The time passes quickly, so too, the miles. With my concern for the long mile day no longer a factor, my worry turns to finding decent water for this evening, and for the night. I’d hoped to find water at the first crossing of Beaver Creek. No luck , only a stagnant puddle in the bed of black, mold-covered rocks. Forest Road 558 crosses Beaver Creek twice, so I break from the trail and hike down to 558—only to find another stagnant pool at the first culvert. Better luck at the second. Here I find a large pool of clear water, perhaps five by fifteen and a foot deep. This will definitely work! I fill both my bottles, then add a drop of household bleach (given me by Andrea) to each.
On out Forest Road 558 I’m able to pick up trail again. Atop a forested crown, the trees saved from the clearcut all around, I find an established campsite, a flat spot to pitch—and there’s two bars on my cell phone. Life is good!
Even with the energy problem earlier, I have managed a 28 for the day. This puts me in easy reach of Gilman by noonish tomorrow. Thank you, Lord, for safe passage, and another great one—this splendid day.
Saturday—August 4, 2012
Location—Alternate route through Gilman
As if by clockwork, at one-thirty comes another late night thunderstorm. Barely had time to pull my fly down before the wind-driven deluge came driving through. By first light the storm has passed, leaving behind an unusually cool morning. I’m out with my wind breaker tucked and zipped!
There’s less than four miles remaining of this trail segment, the final miles through the Chequamegon National Forest. Past the clearcut (and soaked), the trail again enters rolling hills of mature forest. It passes some marshy areas, a small lake, crosses a (long abandoned) beaver dam, then emerges at SR-64. From here to Cornell, following the roadwalk route, as established by S. Outenbacht, it’s 38 miles. Following SR-64 through Gilman (just a super hiker-friendly little village), then on over to Cornell, it’s less than 27 miles. And which way do you suppose Nimblewill is going? Duh!
There’s very little traffic on SR-64, the day cloudy and cool, perfect weather for a roadwalk. I’m in Gilman by eleven-thirty.
First stop, the post office. Yup, closed. Next stop, the library. Yup, closed. Third stop, Sue’s for lunch. Yup, strike three—closed.
Gilman has a mighty fine hardware store, and they’re open—one for four!
Nine-hundred miles on my New Balance shoes. They’re taking it, but they’ve also taken some hard knocks. I need to shore up the uppers. A bit of contact cement and a scrap of denim will do. Hardware’s got both. Cement from the shelf. Denim scraps from their rag bin. Need a single-edge razor blade—check. Need spray-on waterproofing for my leaky tent—check. And some nylon cord to lash down my gaiters—check!
The friendly (and most helpful) folks at the hardware store tell me the library is closed on Saturday, and that Sue’s is closed—permanently. No problem. Everyone at the hardware most always goes right next door to the Kountry Kettle, run by Wade ( for his mother) the past 28 years. I go right next door to the Kountry Kettle. A great salad, steak, and TWO baked potatoes (and of course, my Sierra Mist) I waddle out.
In the city park there’s an old stone cabin. All the folks I’ve talked to here in Gilman tell me I’m welcome to camp there tonight.
The rain comes and goes the afternoon, but I’m dry (and my gear is drying) in the old cabin. I relax the afternoon sealing my tent and working journal entries. I’ll do my shoes tomorrow in Cornell (got reservations for a room at the Edgewater Motel south of town), then to prepare for the final 150 miles of this Ice Age Trail.
The bowling alley/bar here has WiFi, so I head there in the evening to send journal entries to CyWiz and for a (very small) pizza.
Have I mentioned lately that “Life is good!”
Sunday—August 5, 2012
Having a fine run on great trail towns. Just added another one—Gilman. Okay, here’s my two cents, ready or not: I’m only a thru-hiker trekking down this trail—here today, gone tomorrow. However, and it’s just my opinion (but a strong one) that, until such time there’s actual trail ready to be added along S. Outenbacht’s roadwalk route, that this connector, between SR-64 and Cornell, should run through Gilman. Coming out of the Chequamegon, thru-hikers need a break. Gilman is it!
Today’s a total roadwalk day, from Gilman to Cornell. A very cool, pleasant morning. No problem breaking camp. Tent’s already in its stuff sack. All I needed in the neat little stone shelter in Gilman City Park, was my sleeping pad and bag. No mosquitoes, hard to believe!
On my way back downtown Gilman, I take the scenic route along the creek, then it’s over to the Corner Store for free coffee. A little after seven I’m on the road to Cornell.
This roadwalk through Wisconsin’s dairy land is picturesque and most enjoyable. There’s hardly any traffic this Sunday morning. I pause to take lots of pictures.
A little after twelve I’m in downtown Cornell, for lunch at Sandi’s. Across the bridge my thumb goes out. It’s two miles down to the Edgewater Motel. In a minute a fellow on an old Suzuki twin stops to pick me up. No time I’m at Edgewater. Jack, owner and innkeeper, greets me. “Marie [Jack’s wife] has your room ready.”
And that pretty much caps this day!
Oh, a most relaxing and enjoyable evening at Foster’s Riverview Inn, a supper club just down from the motel. Learned a lot about the area from owner, Kevin.
Monday—August 6, 2012
Location—Past Harwood Lakes, to Chippewa Moraine Reserve Visitor Center, then out of the Reserve and on to Morris-Erickson County Park
No need for air conditioning up here. Just leave the windows open. Pulled the blankets over me before the night was through at Jack and Marie’s.
I repaired my shoes, again, last night. This time I put the patches on the inside. I think this fix will hold. I really want to complete this trek with one pair of shoes. Got a fair shot at it now.
I had most of my gear organized and packed last night. So, this morning I’m ready to go in half the time it usually takes. Jack pulls up in his jeep a bit before seven, just as planned. He hauls me back into Cornell, to the market, and drops me off right at seven. Thanks, Jack, thanks Marie. I’ve had an enjoyable and most relaxing stay at Edgewater!
Paul’s is just opening across from the market. I’m told they serve a fine breakfast. Time to check out Paul’s. Sue takes my order for their Monday special, and while I’m downing that I have her make two ham and cheese sandwiches to go. On my way out I’m given a bottle of lemon flavored water by Sue—and a good solid hug to wish me well for the remainder of this odyssey.
First up, a roadwalk up the Cherokee River for a mile or so, then out through the fields and over a bunch of styles, past a herd of cattle.
Then comes a clearcut, a very old one. Brush and limbs everywhere. Really slow going, what with the obstacles—and the absence of blazing. I spend fifteen minutes at one place (intersection) looking for the trail. Frustrating seeing three or four blazes from one vantage, along straight trail, then reaching an intersection—and nothing!
Once into the Chippewa Moraine Reserve, the day’s hike turns most enjoyable. Groomed tread. Well-placed blazing. And just a remarkable weaving of trail and lakes. One of the most picturesque and delightful days on this journey so far.
By four-thirty-five I’m at the Chippewa Moraine Reserve Visitor Center. Sign says they close at four-thirty. But the lights are on and I see people inside. I try the door. Hey, it’s unlocked. In I go just as the folks are leaving. Big smile on the ranger’s face. “You’ve been hiking awhile, haven’t you?” I meet Rod. I’m concerned about delaying him further; it’s now quarter to five. He assures me it’s no problem, as he often keeps the center open well after four-thirty. I head straight for the water cooler. Came all the way in from Cornell with one 20oz bottle of water. My thirst quenched (Rod also gave me a Mountain Dew), we talk about the trail, the beaver activity on the east end of the reserve, and the beautiful IAT merchandise on display and for sale.
It’s only a couple of miles to the west end of the reserve, then two miles up SR-40 to the campground. I decide to hike it on up there.
Near Salisbury Lake, I get thrown out of the Salisbury Bar. Actually, I never make it all the way in. I’d no more than entered when the bartender turned abruptly. “What can I do for you?” Then before I’m able to reply—and in near a shout—”WHAT CAN I DO FOR YOU! I turn and quickly depart.
Sandy greets me most kindly as I enter the Kings Inn less than half a block on up. She keeps me in iced-down Seven-Up while preparing a delicious pizza. I relax the longest. Sandy and two of the couples at the bar are interested in hearing about the IAT, and my long trek. During our conversation I mention the incident with the barkeep next door. Another fellow at the bar overhears me. “Don’t feel like you’re alone; he often treats people like that—depending on how drunk he is at the time.”
Dark is descending as I arrive Morris-Erickson. I pick a site, pitch my tent, and call it a (long) day.
Tuesday—August 7, 2012
Not a long-mile day ahead of me, probably less than twenty today, entirely a roadwalk. But I’d like to get into Weyerhaeuser early afternoon, get a good meal, then find the mom-n-pop motel—and take the rest of the day off. So I’m pack-up and sticks clicking the Tarmac at six.
My back has a kink in it that’s become the least troublesome, been having trouble working it out day-to-day. Anyway, I’d like to reward myself with the luxury of having (reasonably) clean clothes—and body. So, Weyerhaeuser (and the motel there) here I come.
The plan’s working. I hit downtown Weyerhaeuser a little after twelve-thirty and head straight for the post office. Yup, post office is closed from 12:30 to 1:30! Hey, just what I expected, no big deal. Burdy’s is only a block down the street, so I’m right in there for lunch. By the time I get myself around one of their twenty shrimp baskets, with toast, slaw, and fries, it’s 1:30! Back to the post office, there to mail a few more things home. Postmistress, Barb, she knows the Ice Age Trail—and many hikers who’ve come through. She’s not busy, so we have a nice chat.
The kind young cashier, the jiffy out on US-8, had looked up the number for the Country View Motel for me. It’s a mile west on US-8. I give ‘em a call. Kind innkeep, Linda. Very reasonable rates, and she offers to come pick me up; what a nice gesture! Hate to refuse, but a ride out would leave a mile gap in my thru-hike. Oh yeah, hard to believe, but the motel is located (kinda) in the direction I’ll need to go tomorrow. Strange but true. It’s situated on the highway directly across from Olesiak Road. In the morning I’ll hike a mile up Olesiak to Bass Line Road, and the connector roadwalk!
Out from the post office, I hike the mile on out US-8 to the Country View Motel. Big smile on Linda’s face when she greets me. “You should have called; I’d have come and picked you up.” Country View is an exceptionally nice place. I’ve a large, spacious room with a fridge and microwave (to warm my Reuben sandwich from the jiffy for supper). Thanks, Linda! I’ll remember Weyerhaeuser—and Country View. It’s now three. I’m in, feet up, with (reasonably) clean clothes. Clean body.
I really have no problem with roadwalks, even along busy highways. So, today, a give-it-some-slack day, has been, like most all the days spent trekking this IAT, a most pleasant one.
Hearing more and more loons every day now, but have yet to see one.
Wednesday—August 8, 2012
Location—Murphy Flowage Recreation Area Campground, then on to Birchwood
A very pleasant stay at Country View Motel in Weyerhaeuser. Thank, Linda, for your kindness!
This will be a very long day on the IAT, as I plan to reach Birchwood by evening. I’m on the trail by six-thirty. A roadwalk out Bass Lake Road and within the hour I’m trekking north, toward North Lake. The skies are overcast, and before nine, the rain begins, light but steady. Looks of, the rain is here for the day. Sure can’t complain, what with the good weather I’ve had.
The trail around North Lake is overgrown with briars; very slow going. I also miss a turn, as signage is concealed in places and difficult to follow. A section of trail has been closed near Yuker Road, requiring a roadwalk around. The streams along are backed up and muddy from extensive beaver activity. Getting around these areas presents a challenge, what with the overgrown trail.
The rain continues, which makes the going more difficult. My legs and arms are badly skinned up and bleeding from the remarkable and near-continuous tangle of briars. At the Murphy Flowage Recreation Area I take a break to get out of it, under the beautiful log pavilion. Water from the well is rusty but drinkable. I linger, hoping the rain will stop. No luck. Poncho on, I’m back out tripping through it again.
On the trail just north of Bolger Road I meet an eastbound hiker, Tyler. He’s hiking half the IAT this year, from St. Croix Falls State Park to Baraboo, his home. We share short but enjoyable conversation. Good luck, Tyler. I know you’ll do fine!
This final section of trail south of Birchwood is being maintained and is in fine condition. A true blessing to help me close out this day.
At Finohorn Road the trail exits through a fellows side yard. He’s working in his garage, so I stop to chat with him a moment. He has a sketchy idea about the trail and shows both surprise and amusement to hear how long and how far I’ve hiked along the trail that goes beside his house.
Soaked and completely beat, I finally arrive Birchwood. A new section of blue-blazed side trail leads me in.
At Big Sexy’s bar the waitresses take pity on me. Meribeth keeps my iced down Seven-Up glass topped off. She and Keerstin serve me their fine fried chicken special, the rooster. I couldn’t eat it all.
While I’m trying to finish the chicken (eight drumsticks), Meribeth checks with the motel on the north edge of town. They have a room and she reserves it for me. When I go to pay for my meal, Keerstin tells me it’s already taken care of. Thanks, dear new friends, for your concern, and for your gentle kindness.
Dark is descending as I enter the office at Birchwood Motel. Levi quickly cuts the tired, wet hiker a special rate. I assure him I won’t mess up his room. “Don’t worry, we’re used to the hunters, ATV, and snowmobile folks.” he assures me.
Don’t think I’ve ever hiked so far to get a room, or was ever as tired and beat up when I got there. Sure can’t complain, though, I’ve been so fortunate.
Thursday—August 9, 2012
Location—Haugen, then on to near Boyer Creek
It was a real blessing being able to make it all the way to Birchwood last night. Having a hot meal, then getting cleaned up and dried out, double blessings.
This morning greets me with chill, total overcast, and wet. I finally talk myself into getting up and moving. First stop, Shannon’s, out on the highway. A great breakfast. Left food on my plate. Yes, hard to believe! I’m not back on the trail south of town until well past eight. Here, there’s a new segment of trail that follows near the highway, shortening the roadwalk on over to the Tuscobia State Trail.
The railtrail is shared with the ORV folks for a short distance, then it becomes a very pleasant grassy pathway. In Brill, I pull off and head for the Wagon Wheel. Time for a Seven Up. Back on the trail again, I’ve a reasonably short hike on over (then up) to Haugen.
The little berg has a very nice Main Street business district. The Village Grocery, run some 34 years now by Jim and Yvonne, has everything I need, provisions to get me through the next two days. To fuel me the rest of this day, Jim pops a pizza in the microwave. While the pizza is heating, I hit the post office right next door. Hey, the place is open! A few more maps and data sheets to mail home.
Back at the general store, Jim hands me a little register he keeps under the counter. I write a note of thanks for his kindness while digging into the pizza. Before departing, I talk he and Yvonne into standing out front for a picture.
Jim gives me directions to the scout camp, where the next segment of trail begins. Another roadwalk and it’s pushing late afternoon by the time I reach the trailhead.
The trail past the scout camp is little used and there’s been scant recent maintenance. I stay with it, but near dark I tire of fighting the overgrowth—and call it a day near Boyer Creek.
Friday—August 10, 2012
Location—Lake 32 Road, then on to just past County Road O
Really cooled off last night. Had to get completely in my sleeping bag.
A very long day planned, so I’m up and moving before sunrise. Jacket on, hood up, hands in my pockets. It’s ten before I take my jacket off.
Overgrown trail. Difficult going. Givin’ it Nimblewill’s best chin-up and go attitude, but for this long day, not a very positive mood booster. And so, decision is to roadwalk around Grassy Lake, which shortens the briars and tangle trail, and lengthens the roadwalk.
Into Burnett County, the trail follows x-country ski trail and two-track, so I’m able to set a very good pace. Here, the trail is both well groomed and marked.
In the afternoon I meet Randy and Barb. They’re just heading in from 15th Street to do trail maintenance. Randy is backpacking his chainsaw. Barb offers me some of her homemade banana bread—and water. I accept both.
Randy gives me a heads up concerning the next segment. It’s undergoing a reroute around private property just west of 15th Street. The trail’s already been closed across the private land. However, the reroute isn’t open yet. Work is scheduled for next week. So, to avoid a bushwhack, I do a roadwalk down 15th Street to 310th Ave., then west to 30th Street, and finally north on 30th to the next Segment. Thanks Randy and Barb. Sure a good thing I ran into you!
A couple of overgrown areas through old timber cuts, and a couple short sections of unmaintained trail (briars), otherwise, great trail, excellent blazing.
Long but enjoyable day. Two more to finish this trek.
Saturday–August 11, 2012
Slept well, tucked way, way down in my comfy down bag. Comes another very cool morning. I’m on trail a little before seven, jacket on, hood up, hands in pockets. Heavy dew. Ten minutes I’m totally soaked, head to foot, from plying the wet grass and trailside growth.
Ah, but soon comes one of the highlights of this day–the hike along McKenzie Creek, its happy, resounding song energizing me, boosting my spirits. Plenty of ups and downs along the extent of bluffs and lower banks that border McKenzie, but the scampering is effortless, my legs steady and sure. The tread and blazing are just superb, adding to and complimenting this most pleasant experience.
During this trek I’ve passed beside and crossed countless streams large and small. However, few have been what I’d consider “North Country” in nature. The many flowages, for example, have tended to present (in both character and appearance) more traditionally southern, what with their sluggish waters and tannic color. With McKenzie, though, there’s a striking difference–it’s the first truly clear-rushing brook. As I amble along, and now down from the bluffs, in a tucked back green surround, I pass the first respectable spring seep I can recall this trek.
When asked about the most memorable segments comprising this IAT–sure, I’ll mention the moraines (the Kettle, the Chippewa), also Devil’s Lake. But right up there with those showpieces will be McKenzie.
Further along the day, more reinforcement for my sense of truly being “north,” comes now magnificent Straight Lake. It presents a more familiar north woods environment, conifers around and along the far shore. And for that special effect, a small evergreen-studded island.
Later in the day, and nearing the end of single track trail (and associated connector roadwalks) I finally hit some real boulders and rocks, much more the kind of trail I’d expected all along the IAT. Soon after, I complete one of my last roadwalk, which connects with the Gandy Dancer (rail) Trail. From here it’ll be a cruise on down through Luck, Milltown, and Centuria, to the end of this remarkable odyssey at St. Croix Falls.
By six-thirty, I’m standing in front of Cafe Wren. But dang, they’re closed. Dave had raved about the food (and the folks) at Cafe Wren. Just wasn’t to be, Dave. For sure a disappointment.
On SRs-48/35 now, I hoof it on down to the Luck intersection, where is located the Luck Country Inn. But seems I’m out of Luck. They’re full. But hey, the kind, compassionate innkeep, Chris, seeing the incredibly forlorn look on this tired old hiker’s face, hesitates after telling me they’ve no rooms left, then says “Wait a minute; let me make a phone call.” Follows then a frown from Chris, a nod my way–and another phone call. Turning toward me now, and smiling, and in a glad voice–“I can put you up in our conference room for the night [then another frown]–but there’s no shower.” Oh yes, this will work. She checks me in (1/3 the going room rate), hands me some soap, washrags, and towels (for sponging down later in the men’s room) and I’m set. WiFi? Yup!
Next order of business, I’m right over to the Oakwood Restaurant, which is attached to the motel. Great food, pleasant and happy folks. I’ll be back for breakfast!
In my (conference) room, I email Nate. He’s family with Paul, the eastbound thru-hiker I met 775 miles back. They’re coming over to hike the last bit of trail with me tomorrow. I also received a call from Dave, the lad who hiked with me and helped me through Devil’s Lake. He’s coming too. Additionally, I’ve been in contact with Chet who lives in St. Croix. Another IAT thru-hiker (as are Dave and Paul), who’s also coming out to hike. He’s offered to drive me to the bus station in Minneapolis after I’ve completed my IAT trek tomorrow evening. Going to be a very memorable (and emotional) day a’coming!
Sunday—August 12, 2012
Location—Western Terminus IAT, Interstate Park, St. Croix Falls
My destination today, once little more than a far away dot on a map, one of 105 maps, which, when linked together, form this marvelous pathway known as the Ice Age National Scenic Trail, that dot is the western terminus of this IAT. The map in my hand now is map #1, and the dot is Interstate Park, St. Croix Falls.
I’ve had a very restful stay in my (conference) room here at Luck Country Inn. I did manage to clean up quite well in the men’s room sink last night. Thanks, Chris, for your compassionate way. Thanks, especially, for your thoughtful kindness to this old intrepid!
I manage to get out and moving a bit before seven to be greeted by overcast skies. And although it’s a bit on the cool side, I’m able to start without my wind jacket for the first time in three mornings. There’s definitely a weather change underway.
On the Gandy Dancer a little over an hour now, and nearing Milltown, I get a call from Paul. He and Nate have already parked their truck at St. Croix Falls, unloaded Nate’s motorcycle, and are well on their way up SR-35 to track me down. Arriving downtown Milltown, I no more drop my pack than here they come, riding up, wide grins glowing through their helmet shields! Nate parks his bike by the curb on Main Street. We exchange greetings, they shoulder their day packs, and the three of us are on our way, hiking south—toward the end of this trail.
Nate and Paul had mentioned seeing a backpacker down by St. Croix Falls hiking north this morning. Sure enough, in just awhile, way down the Gandy Dancer comes this hiker heading toward us. As we continue toward each other, and just as the distance closes, come now Chet and Eloise, my dear new friends from St. Croix Falls. The six of us pause mid trail, to share the most pleasant time. As Strider (the eastbound hiker) introduces himself, I remember him immediately. We had exchanged emails months back—back-and-forth about the challenge of thru-hiking the North Country Trail. The young lad is out now for a warm-up trek before taking on the 4,400-mile North Country Trail next spring. Good luck, son. I’m confident you’ll do just fine!
As Strider continues east, Eloise returns to her van, to return home. And now the four of us are on our way, hiking south—toward the end of this trail.
Another hour south, comes now Dave ambling up the trail. Is this not a marvelous thing? And still more wonderment: Now appears Pete and his family (coincidentally), back visiting for a short time in Centuria. It’s old home week for Pete, Dave, and Chet (Pete once worked with the Ice Age Trail Alliance!). Much lingering/good-times sharing, before the five of us turn and are on our way again, hiking south—toward the end of this trail!
Going on two now, all of us the least pooped, Nate suggests we stop for a rest. While we’re dropping our packs, Nate disappears into the woods, to return with a cooler full of iced-down drinks, and a duffle filled with jerky, brownies, and other goodies. Another ear-to-ear grin on Nate’s face as he surprises me with an ice cold Sierra Mist!
But the cold drinks and goodies don’t last long. With the cooler once again hidden, we’re off toward single-track trail, the last along this marvelous IAT.
Just before five, we pass the last Leopold bench. There have been literally hundreds of these benches along the trail, located at vantages and other points of interest. I stop, then drop, to have my picture taken sitting this final bench.
At five-thirty I pass the last yellow blaze. Oh, and in addition to being the last one, this blaze deserves special attention in that its presence is totally the result of Dave’s desire to have it nailed up here. For you see, when Dave stood right here two years ago, where I now stand, a football field or so from the finish—at this intersection there was no blaze to show the way for Dave. “Ha, what the heck,” I bet Dave thought—”one last guess, eh?” Well, Dave lucked out and guessed right. Now, with the shiny new yellow blaze leading me on, I don’t have to guess; thanks, Dave!
A bit before six I arrive the beautiful plaque marking the end of this Ice Age National Scenic Trail. My trekking companions of this day pause, then stop, permitting me to advance alone. The glorious bluffs, the St. Croix River, all appear a blur, free-flowing tears dimming my sight. I linger long. There’s total hush. Three of the dear friends with me here have stood where I now stand, 1,100 miles distant from that place each began their own personal odyssey.
And so, now it’s time for celebration, time for pictures. Oh, dear friends, thanks for coming—for being with me today, thanks for spending your precious time, for sharing in my joy of successfully completing this long and memorable journey.
And oh, does that time not always come, those dreaded moments of bidding farewell to wonderful friends. Paul, Nate, thanks so much for being with me today, for your friendship, for your kindness to this old man, thanks!
In the evening, and before Chet drives me to Minneapolis to board my bus home, Dave and I are invited to return with Chet to his and Eloise’s beautiful home for supper. We dine with them, their son, Daniel, and grandson, David.
Then, more sad farewells. Good-bye, Dave. What memorable times we’ve shared together, the glorious trek past Devil’s Lake, and today, my emotion-filled, final day. Thanks, dear friend—thanks! And to you, Eloise, thanks for inviting me into your home, for letting me clean up (and mess up your bathroom) before departing. Thanks, especially, for the delicious dinner!
A reflective time. Time to venture back to the memories of these past 45 days, the gentle hum of Chet’s van setting the spell—as we roll on down to Minneapolis. More sad farewells to come. But little time, as Chet drops me off next the curb in front of the busy Greyhound Bus Station. A nod—all there’s time for, as I grab my pack and sticks. Chet quickly pulls away, and he and his grandson, David, are gone.
Hundreds of people are milling the station, but I am alone. I’ve nearly two hours to sit by myself, to reflect. What a remarkable adventure. Do we not often pause to think about the miracles that define the Biblical times? Yet do we seldom pause to ponder the countless miracles daily occurring around us. And so, and indeed, I now pause to ponder the wonder of this charmed journey. But “wonder” and “charm,” not the right words. “Blessed” and “Grace,” much more appropriate, much more meaningful.
You see, folks, for an old man near 74, for someone my age to still possess the strength, stamina, and yes, the passion within, to joyfully greet each day, whatever may befall, and to embrace each and every physical, mental, and spiritual challenge with a glad and happy heart—what but a miracle!
And so, for yet another long and amazing journey—through His Grace, have I been granted wide, safe passage, angels resting both my shoulders. Thank You Lord, thank You!