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Sunday, April 30, 2023

Blind Courage

I am home and in resting mode for today. I'm tired, but not totally wiped like I was when I came home in December. I did do one small task that had to be completed before the end of April and also went to the store to get the fixings for salad.

I've been thinking as I near the end of this hike, about other hikers who inspired me. Bill Irwin comes readily to mind. He was the first blind hiker to solo thru-hike the Appalachian Trail, which he did in 1990. He died in 2014.

His story is even more remarkable than his blindness. He became blind as a result of a medical condition, but he says that ironically, he was never able to see until he became blind. His personal life was in shambles and he was an alcoholic. Then he had an encounter with the God of the Bible.

A few years later he became convinced that God was telling him to hike the Appalachian Trail. He was never a hiker when he had sight, and couldn't believe that this was what he was being asked to do. But he finally agreed.

There is a 20-minute video called Amazing Grace that is worth watching. It's been re-recorded from a VCR tape, so you'll have to forgive the quality of some sections. Amazing Grace

Although the video is entitled "Amazing Grace," it contains a song written for/about Bill called "Maker of Mountains." I have sung that to myself many a day on this hike so far. Here's the chorus: When your mountains are many, and you stumble and fall, blind eyes can see His glory, deaf ears can hear His call. When your way seems dark and dreary, and your back's against the wall, look to the Maker of mountains and Master over all."

But here's the kicker. Bill always said that the point of his hike was NOT what you might expect, "If I can do this, you can do it too."

What he wanted people to see was, "God will take care of me, no matter how weak I am."

In 1995, at the first NCTA Conference I ever attended, Bill Irwin was one of the speakers. Not only did I get to meet Bill and have him sign his books to me, but his guide dog, Orient, was also there. Orient had been retired from working, but was still Bill's companion. I wish I had pictures, but I didn't have a camera with me at that event.

As I near the end of my current hike, I want to be sure to say that although I am humbled by how many times people call me "amazing," I am not. I am stubborn- I've only quit a couple of major projects in my life. But stubbornness can be a liability as much as it can be an asset. I have not had the assurance that this hike was something God specifically wanted me to do. But it looks as though he is allowing me to finish a second time. There could still be a major catastrophe, but with only about two weeks of hiking days left, the chances are lower than they were 16 months ago when I started out.

I just want to say, don't look so much to me as inspiration (although I'm happy to have encouraged many of you in your dreams), but do look to the Maker of mountains.

See Tales from the Manistee River Loop

Saturday, April 29, 2023

Tales from the Manistee River Loop - Day 421

When I realized I'd be hiking the NCT half of the Manistee River Loop on a Saturday, I very nearly went home instead of hiking. It is hugely busy, and I just don't like seeing that many people on the trail.

But, it's still an hour drive from home, so I decided I should just do it.

The section begins with over a mile of trail on the former bed of the Manistee and Northeastern RR. This ran from Manistee to Traverse City, and was primarily a logging line. It's not too pretty at this time of year, but nothing is.
Manistee and Northeastern Rail bed

Right after that, the trail drops down to Eddington Creek, the one water source on this section. I've shown you a lot of pictures of this bridge, but here you go again.
Eddington Creek bridge

Now we come to the first real tale. As I was descending to the bridge, I saw three guys just breaking camp down in the valley by the creek. You really aren't supposed to camp that close to the water, but the Forest Service puts up with a lot of misuse on this section. That's a topic for another time perhaps, but it's not the point of this story. Anyway, I waved to them, and they waved back.

I crossed the bridge and started climbing up the other side. They were just following the creek back to the bridge, and began climbing up the way I had just come down.

I reached the point above their campsite, and... they had not put out their fire! It wasn't blazing, but there had been no attempt to stir or wet the coals. Dang. With water right there. *shaking head*
coals in a campfire ring

I would have to do a really steep scramble to get down there, but I decided I had to do it. I rummaged in my pack for an extra plastic bag to scoop water and found a quart size. I slithered down to the campsite. Just then the guys appeared on the trail high above me on the other side of the creek. They were trying to figure out why I had gone to their site.

"You didn't put your fire out," I yelled.

"Is that a problem?" one of them asked.


"Should we come down and do something?"

"I'll put it out," I answered. I probably should have gotten really irate and chewed them out and told them to get their butts back down there. But perhaps they got the message anyway.

Please, folks! Leave NO trace is best, but at least try not to burn down the forest. It took four quarts (a gallon) of water and stirring the coals to put it out.

Today's miles are the hilliest anywhere within the Spirit of the Woods' section. But the grades are super-nicely laid out. I'm here to tell you this was done with a clinometer (a tool that measures slope). No one could do such a good job without one, well, or surveying equipment, but that seems unlikely. So, in this picture, you can see that it's hilly, and that the trail curves off around the right side of the picture.

Now look closely at the face of the hill straight ahead. You can see a faint green line rising from right to left across the hill. That is moss on the benched edge of the trail. It's an almost perfect straight line. You can really see these grades after the first snowfall. I need to come back here and get some pictures at that time of year.

This was built long before we were a chapter by Forest Service staff. They did a super job.
graded trail

A lot of people don't like this side of the loop as much as the other side because you can't really see the river down in the valley and because it's so hilly. However, you have nice views of the valley through the trees. You can tell things are finally starting to green up. I love how you can just march along, up and down, because the grades are so carefully laid out... it's like cruising on autopilot.
Manistee River valley

I crossed paths with 24 male hikers and 6 female hikers, all young. There were two men riding mountain bikes (yes this section is open for their use), and one dog (leashed). This is way more traffic than I want to meet up with in 8 miles of trail. And there were many, many more users that I didn't meet. On the way back to the trailer, I went past the main trailheads for the loop and they were packed with cars. People were milling about. This is on a spring weekend that is supposed to have heavy rain tomorrow. OK, I said I would not get started about overuse on this section.

This hiker count does not include my final hiker encounter of the day. This is almost beyond bizarre.

I was coming down the access spur to get to my car, and I had just reached the kiosk when I realized there was someone behind me. I turned and there was a young man just a few steps behind me.

But behind him was Keira! And behind her was Monica! You remember, Monica is a fairly new friend, and the two of them hiked with me a few days in Michigan, and then backpacked the Kek with me.

The young man is Keira's brother, David. They were just completing the entire loop and were also returning to their car. We chatted, and I almost forgot to take a picture. I didn't want to ask them to get out of the car.

I scooted back north to get Sunny and say goodbye to my last hosts for this block of hiking weeks. Jim and Denise are the humans, and Dani is the dog (a Swiss Shepherd). They spotted me for two days, which was really nice of them because they are super busy people.
two people and a dog

Now I'm home! I arrived in the pouring rain so only unloaded the things I really need tonight. I made an omelette for dinner, but I'm looking forward to getting the fixings for my usual dinner salads tomorrow. I may let myself goof off for one day, but then I have a ton of things to do. (including hiking about 45 miles of trail in my chapter area, and hiking even more to stay in shape for the real hills we will be on in the UP)

Miles today: 8.8 on NCT, plus 0.3 on the spur to my car. Total miles so far: 4657.1 with about 160 yet to hike.

See Sunshine

Friday, April 28, 2023

Sunshine - Day 420

This could have been titled "Mary Poppins Day." You know... "practically perfect in every way." For starters, the sun came out! More Manistee River.
Manistee River

There were a few hills, but the miles were generally pretty level. If you must do a road walk, isn't this a nice one? This is actually a private campground road, so it's really nice.
curvy road

The last two-thirds of the day were along Hodenpyl Dam Pond. I've linked below to my last hike in this section instead of yesterday's hike. These are arguably some of the prettiest miles in the LP.
Hodenpyl Dam Pond

The marsh marigolds are beginning to bloom.
marsh marigolds

My luck getting pictures of birds was zero, but I saw a bluebird, a small hawk (I don't think it was a redtail, but I'm not sure), two male wood ducks, cormorants, and I heard a loon. There were the usual honky geese, robins, redwing blackbirds, and mallards, and some buffleheads.

However, I did see my first turtle of the year. This year, it's a painted turtle.
painted turtle

And today! With the leaves bigger and the sun shining, the camera could see the green "Christmas lights" in the trees.
new leaves on trees

Miles today: 10.5. Total miles so far: 4648.3,

See SPW Annual Meeting

Thursday, April 27, 2023

Found My Peeps - Day 419

I found some of my peeps! Actually, this was planned in advance, but that didn't make it any less fun.
hiking group

Most of these hikers are in my chapter, Spirit of the Woods. This wasn't an official chapter hike, but members of this group go out hiking once or twice a week. Today was going to be a short day for me on the trail, and this was a good length of hike for them too, so we combined our goals. We started at Harvey Bridge.
hikers on Harvey Bridge

Once again, we were high above the Manistee River.
Manistee River

She wasn't on the hike, but friend and chapter president, Loren, sent a birthday card and gift. The card is more photogenic, but the gift was a couple of beautiful embroidered towels with little camper trailers on them.
birthday card

One more day, and I'll be in the Spirit of the Woods (SPW) trail miles!

Here's how the rest of my hike will be organized. I'll be hiking two more days, then I'm going home. I will randomly hike most of the SPW miles during May.

On June 3, National Trails Day, the chapter is having their annual meeting, and I'll be at that. Then, June 4, I leave for the Upper Peninsula. Although they are supposed to get some more serious snow this weekend, the UP has 5 weeks to get its act together and decide that it's spring. David and Bill are both going to join me as I fill in the missing 106 miles up there.

Barring unexpected emergencies (Good Lord willin' and the crick don't rise), on June 18 (a Sunday), in the early afternoon, I will hike the final miles into Timber Creek (where US 10 crosses the trail at Michigan mile 854.3). There will be some kind of celebration. The chapter is putting that together, so I don't know all the details.

Anyone who wants to hike the final miles with me is welcome to do so, but the issue is going to be parking. If I hike from Centerline Road (6 miles), that's a nice hiking distance, but there is almost nowhere to park on that road. If I hike from 8th Street (3 miles), there is a lot more parking, but the distance is short and the road can be marginal. Perhaps some people will park at Timber Creek and hike out to 8th St to meet me and turn around to walk back with me. Or perhaps groups can carpool from Timber Creek to 8th St.

I think I should say that I'll aim to be at Timber Creek at 2 pm. I don't want to assume that there will be a mob, but perhaps if you are wanting to hike the final miles with me it would be good to contact me and I can keep you in the detail loop. That might also give me an idea of how many cars are going to be involved.

Miles today: 5.2. Total miles so far: 4637.8.

See Feels Like Home

Wednesday, April 26, 2023

Feels Like Home - Day 418

The section I hiked today is not within my chapter's range, but it's really close. I've hiked this piece often enough that it's quite familiar, and it really feels like I am approaching home. I often knew what was just around the next bend. The links below are not to yesterday's post this time, but to the last time I hiked this same section.

This is all along the Manistee River.
Manistee River

I was spotted again by Patty. I can't believe I didn't take a picture, but her husband Dave made me a delicious breakfast sandwich that fueled me for the morning. I guess I was so eager to eat it that I didn't think about photos.

The first section of this is very hilly, but then you get to Highbanks Rollways (where logs used to be rolled down to the river), and after that you are mostly level-ish, but with dips to creeks and gullies. The dips and climbs are mostly under 100 feet, but there are a lot of them. This is the sandy rollway bank beyond the foreground trees.
highbanks rollway

The Manistee wanders through the landscape like a drunken snake. There are over 30 oxbows on this section.
Manistee River Oxbow

I'm a lot farther south than I was yesterday. You can actually see that the deciduous trees are greening up.
spring color in trees

One photo I wanted, but the camera couldn't see it, was a mate to yesterday's with the "Christmas lights" in the trees. Today, the lights were green where the small beech trees were just leafing out. Maybe if it had been sunny the light would have caught the bright green. But it wasn't sunny. And it wasn't 50 degrees. In fact, it kept trying to snow! I think tomorrow is actually going to be warm. I won't complain about that.

This is one of my favorite markers along the NCT. It's one of 33 markers that have been placed along the route of the Cadillac to Traverse City Indian Trail. There is some evidence this was in use as early as 700 BC. You can't hike the trail (most is now on private property), but you can visit the markers, almost all of them have been placed where there is vehicle access, and read interpretive info about the sites. I hope to do this one of these days.
Cadillac Traverse City Trail Marker

And I can finally say that I've seen a bear on the NCT in Michigan. Granted, it was on a road walk, but I think the two babies should count for points. Mama saw me, but they were pretty far away. She just continued across the road while I waited so as not to alarm her.
bear with cubs

The day ended with a chat with an enthusiastic young man who was hoping to catch some suckers for his dinner. He said the DNR had just released 62,000 baby brown trout in the river.

Despite the long miles and the hills, my joints are surprisingly OK.

Miles today: 12.8. Total miles so far: 4632.6. Miles to go- under 200!

See How Many Oxbows?
See Still Along the Manistee

Tuesday, April 25, 2023

Miles and a Move - Day 417

Today was a short mileage day for hiking. I just had to fill in one gap, and now 207 miles of the Lower Peninsula are hiked with no gaps. (Of course, I've already done everything from Timber Creek south - trail east.)

It was a hilly stretch, but the grades were mostly gentle. It doesn't show in the picture very much, but in person you can just catch a bit of green fuzz on the trees.

The morning's weather alternated between rain, snow, and sunshine. The result was that all the small branches in the understory looked as if they were decorated with Christmas lights when the sun came out.
raindrops on branches

I said goodbye to my friends Pam and Doug. They are currently watching their oldest grandson for a few days. He's three and the world is one big playground. He's a sweetie, and he wasn't afraid of me (some little kids are), so it was fun. He also has really good language skills, so I didn't have to guess what he was saying. That helps.

I drove 90 minutes south from Petoskey and am all settled in. Here, the green on the trees is easy to see. It won't break my heart to be hiking in 50 degrees instead of 40.

Today's miles were short, but tomorrow's are long.

I am pretty much locked in to the schedule for the western UP in June. Soon I'll commit to my final hiking day for those who want to come celebrate with me at Timber Creek (where the NCT crosses US 10, mile MI-854. Of course, there could always be accidents or something totally unexpected, but assuming that things don't go wrong, "it" will be the date. Stay tuned.

Miles today: 6.6. Total miles so far: 4619.8.

See Surprises and Blessings

Monday, April 24, 2023

Surprises and Blessings - Day 416

My SIL, Loretta, wished me surprises and blessings for today. She got it right on both counts.

The first surprise was... snow again.
hiker on snowy trail

Who is that hiking with me? Dan, the trail work manager for the Jordan Valley 45 Chapter. He spotted me and hiked with me. He's an expert level sawyer with hand tools (think axes and big crosscut saws). He is part of the crew that cleared the tornado damage in the Boundary Waters. So, he has been a blessing to many of us!

Next up was a big surprise. We were doing the final road mile of the day and a car stopped. A man yelled out the window, "Joan Young!" He introduced himself. He'd just been out doing trail work in the Harbor Springs Chapter area, literally cleaning trail we had just hiked. He saw our names in a register book and hoped to catch us. He introduced himself as Tim Calloway.
man with sunglasses

The surprise part is that he has been helping NCT people since 1978. "1978, you say? It wasn't even a trail until 1980."

Right, but what big event occurred in 1978? Carolyn Hoffman and LouAnn Fellows followed the proposed route of the trail. He lived in Marquette at that time, and he hosted them. But wait... there's more. Remember that iconic picture of LouAnn (left) and Carolyn (right)? That picture was part of what inspired me to want to hike the NCT in the first place. Well... Tim took that picture!
hikers in 1978

Moving on to more blessings. My morning snack... picked at random from my snack tub in the car as I loaded my pack... looks like a festive birthday cake. It was yummy, too.
snack bar with sprinkles

I had decided a couple of days ago that I was going to treat myself to hot dogs at a deli/meat market in Petoskey. I like an occasional hot dog, and I like this place mostly because of the funny hot dog statue they have that is decorating himself with ketchup and mustard.
hot dog statue

Did I need TWO hot dogs? Did I get two anyway? I think the answers are self-evident. (Yes, ketchup, pickle relish, onions for those of you who want to take issue with my condiments of choice.)
hot dogs

For years, I've made it a goal to go for a hike on my birthday. Last year, I was flat on my back in the trailer with the flu. That was ironic. In the middle of a big hike, on my birthday, I was not hiking. Link below for that. So, the universe was put back in the right order this year.

I was going to title this post "A Bad Joke Gone Wrong." That sounded pretty negative, but I'll tell you the bad joke anyway. When things started to get difficult in the UP in December, I joked that I had better be done with this hike before I got to be 75. Well, guess what? Now I'm 75, and I'm still not done. I know, I know... shut up and keep hiking.

Miles today: 12.1. Total miles so far: 4613.2.

See Still Down

Sunday, April 23, 2023

Hill(s) Beckon - Day 415

This is my favorite intersection on the entire North Country Trail. I hope the trail always goes through this corner.
street signs Hill and Beckon

Lake Michigan was kicking up some moderate waves this morning. A stiff little wind kept the 35 degrees feeling a tiny bit colder, but it was a good hiking temperature, and in the woods the wind was moderated.
Lake Michigan

The first two miles were really hilly with the trail climbing to the tops of stabilized dunes and following them until dropping down and climbing up again.
hilltop trail

There are some vistas, but sadly, they don't look like much at this time of year. This is the gray and brown season. Non-colors. My least favorite time of the year.

There was a smiley in North Country blue. I can't decide if he looks happy or just a tiny bit evil.
smiley face

I thought I was walking very slowly- the hills were difficult. But later, I did 2 road miles in 30 minutes. So that wasn't slow! Overall, I made good time for the day.

My trail angel this morning was Jen. She would have hiked with me, but she had another committment.
person in a car

Miles today: 11.6. Total miles so far: 4601.1. Over 4600!

See Bye Bye, Bill

Saturday, April 22, 2023

Bye, Bye, Bill - Day 414

Yup, it's sad, but Bill had to leave after today's hike. We celebrated our upcoming and almost joint birthdays with some ice cream (they are two days and a few years apart). Then he left. Sunny looks lonesome without the Lyme Lounge by his side. Bill may be able to be in on some of the western UP miles, but this is probably all for right now.
people with ice cream

The biggest challenge on the trail today was a number of large wet areas.
hiker on wet trail

I've been watching the trailing arbutus carefully, and I finally found a few blooming.
trailing arbutus

On Canada Goose Pond, we found the Canada geese doing a minuet with a pair of common mergansers.
geese and ducks

I guess I was feeling a little artsy. I liked this reflection of the dead grass.
grass reflection

And I'm always a sucker for these curled rushes.
reflection of rushes

Best view of the day? There is one place, other than at the Mackinac Bridge, where the NCT comes out to Lake Michigan. And, even so, you have to walk a couple hundred feet off the trail. But here it is. I took pictures both morning and later, but the day was overcast, and there wasn't a lot of difference. It's a very pastel scene. This was morning.
Lake Michigan

We thought we were going to at least be drizzled on. Instead, we didn't get wet at all. There was a bit of harder rain after we finished, but we were in the cars by then.

Miles today: 10.4. Total miles so far: 4589.5.

See French Farm Lake