Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Photo link

Here's a link to the Facebook page containing all the photos I posted from the recent North Country Trail hike. Enjoy!


North Country Trail journal - June 14, 2010

Monday, June 14 Somewhere on Cty. Hwy. A
We’re still on our roadwalk, but should see our first blue blazes of the NCT some time tomorrow. I can’t wait. The asphalt is wreaking havoc on my feet and leg muscles. I also feel a pull in my right quadriceps from walking at a slant so long. Ah, hell. I guess I’m just getting older too.

Last night we camped on the west bank of the Black River, but not the same Black River that flows through Black River Falls. This Black River flows into Lake Superior. Our spot is a narrow flat ridge amongst the pines and popples. We had a fire, but retired before darkness. It took no time for me to fall asleep. Our first day of hiking totaled about 14 miles. The sun came out in the evening after a day of gray skies. Steve said he was homesick. He looked a little down, but I tried to cheer him up. I told him backpacking is tough, especially the first few days of a trip, but it has its rewards. If he can make it through the blisters and muscle aches, the buggy assault and bad weather, he will feel a sense of accomplishment and have the courage and conviction to deal with other life challenges. A little Ra Ra from the Raru. Steve’s a brave young man to even attempt this trip. I wish him continued strength to see it through.

I awoke at 3 a.m. to total darkness and silence. Nice! The first thing my eyes saw was the tannic waters of the Black River flowing by, bits of foam showing the speed of the current. The sun shone and bird song filled the air. I felt a little sore while packing, but the pack felt lighter when I put it on.

Bugs have not been a major issue. Mosquitoes and ticks are present in abundance, but deer flies are notably absent. Steve showed me a spider yesterday carrying an egg sac that looked like a pearl. Steve seems interested in the tiny details he encounters along the way. This is good backpacker aesthetics. I enjoy the pine barren swamp we’re passing through on Hwy. A, the floppy grasses that grow in the shallow swamps, the ferns, the sphagnum moss blanketing trunks and branches, and the many flowers, globe mallow, sasifrage, purple lilies, lily pads, and the endless layers of the lotus blossoms.

We should reach our first blue blazes of the NCT tomorrow and make it to Solon Springs some time tomorrow or early Wednesday. I don’t have the heart to tell Steve we could have taken a shorter hike from the border down County Hwy. M, but that would not have followed the “official” route. We also would not have seen the highest waterfall in Wisconsin. “Big deal?!” my feet cry. “You put us through all this suffering so you can be ‘official’ and see a stinking waterfall?”

We are taking this break on a grassy driveway off the road, right under the NO TRESPASSING sign, There’s a good sitting log too irresistible to pass. It’s cold enough I’ve got my sleeping bag draped over my legs and am wearing my jacket. It’s cloudy and gray and a cool wind rattles the aspen leaves. I’m not looking forward to the protests of my leg muscles when I get up. Steve just pointed out a spider he watched attach webbing to his knee and work its way toward a blade of grass. That’s the beauty of this life. Unshackled from the common, obvious, and predictable distractions of civilization, the intrepid hiker enjoys the simple, yet awe-inspiring distractions nature provides. Speaking of… It looks like rain. Time to strap up and go.

North Country Trail journal - June 13, 2010

I am at Pattison State Park fighting off lethargy after eating a big bowl of oatmeal. Steve and I are sitting at a picnic table. I’m barefoot. Pack explosion. This trip we are hiking the North Country Trail the width of Wisconsin, from a county highway on the Minnesota/Wisconsin border to Hurley on the other side of the state, about 200 miles.

This is our first full day, and the usual soreness has come, but I’ve done this enough times I welcome it with a sense of nostalgia.

Notes so far:

-- Everything went smoothly on the car ride up here except for a crying baby, C.J., the Hardt’s 1 ½ year old son, who didn’t like the ride and pooped three times. This slowed us down and his crying frayed my nerves. I hope he was happier on the ride home. It’s funny that I can face the rigors of a backpacking trip, but a crying baby nearly drives me insane.

-- We are dropped off at county highway C near the Burlington Northern Santa Fe tracks. After saying goodbye and taking pictures, we start hiking around 8 p.m. We walked an hour and camped amongst some pine trees about 100 feet from the road. The ground was really soggy underfoot. I wanted to camp further in the forest away from the road, but once I entered the trees my feet started sinking.

-- I slept well despite being awakened a few times by train horns. Considering that I live next to a busy Union Pacific track, you’d think I’d be used to the sound by now. My old, patched up Thermarest (LE Luxury long, bought in Hot Springs, NC in 2000) leaked slow enough to keep me cushioned comfortably all night.

-- The first four days of this trip involve road walking. I don’t like asphalt. It’s really tough on the body. But I liked traveling down the dirt/gravel Dedham Road. We crossed an old iron one-lane bridge, which got me singing Rush’s “Red Barchetta.” Steve has never heard of the song. It’s still in my head.

-- We saw a black bear on the ride up here, running to the woods from Hwy. 53. That’s the first time I’ve seen a bear from a car.

-- I brought along The Great Tales and Poems of Edgar Allan Poe. It should make for some good campfire tales.

-- So far, the weather has been cool and cloudy, with no breeze and only slight precipitation at the beginning. We started last night with our pack covers on, but haven’t needed them today.

-- The white noise from Big Manitou Falls, the highest waterfall in Wisconsin, is lulling me to sleep. After we leave the state park, we will walk south on Hwy. 35 and then head east on Milchesky Road to County Highway A. We probably won’t see our first blue blazes of North Country Trail for a couple days. I saw a diamond NCT sign at the park pavilion when I went there to get water. Soon enough we’ll be on 100+ miles of unbroken trail.

-- I realized late last night that I’d lost the DeLorme map pages for the road walk to near Solon Springs. I looked all around camp, but could not find it. “I’ve got good news and bad news,” I told Steve. “I lost the maps, but I think I have the route memorized.” We found the map pages at the road. Lesson learned. Nothing can be carried in the shallow pockets of my swim trunk shorts!

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Back from another hike

The great trek across the width of Wisconsin with my godson Steve was cut short for him at Solon Springs, and for me at Drummond, another 40+ miles along the trail. It was a good hike. We met interesting people, enjoyed the beauty and solitude of the north woods, and had our patience and endurance tested by a few adventurous mishaps. The North Country Trail has got a hold on me and I plan to finish the section I missed on this trip and even continue through Michigan's Upper Peninsula.

I will post journals from each day both here and at Trailjournals. I will also post links to pictures.

Monday, June 07, 2010

Latest adventures

I, my godson, Steve, and his dad, Steve, Sr., are leaving Saturday for the north woods of Wisconsin, where Steve Jr. and I will backpack the North Country National Scenic Trail from the Minnesota border to the Michigan border. I don't have exact mileage, but the trip should be between 175-200 miles long. I estimate 9-11 days for completion.

Our trip will expose us to all the beautiful terrain that the northwoods have to offer, from sphagnum covered bogs to tannic, foamy waterfalls, glacial kettles and moraines, a pine barrens, an ancient portage trail linking Lake Superior to the Mississippi River, an even older mountain range, the Penokees, and countless lakes and forest lands. From everything I've read, this section of the North Country Trail has some of the best signage and scenery of any section on the entire 4,200-mile route. As I've learned from previous trips, the people of the north country love their trails and take a keen pride in providing excellent signage and trail maintenance.

I've hiked sections of the NCT in Minnesota and Michigan. In 2002, I hiked the entire Superior Hiking Trail from Two Harbors to Grand Portage, and a short section of the Border Route Trail. In 2003, Sisu (Esther) and I did a section of the Kekakabic and Border Route Trails. I forget the year, but on a trip to the Porcupine Mountains State Park in Michigan, I did a waterfall hike that was signed as NCT Trail. Before then, back in 2001, I received a NCT sign in the mail from my Uncle Jack, who was working out at Fort Union in North Dakota doing research for a book he wrote about the place. Before I received this sign, I'd never heard of the trail, nor did I know that any long-distance trail existed in North Dakota.
The major concern I have are bugs. A couple weeks ago when I camped a couple nights in the Black River Falls State Forest, ticks were everywhere. Jonny got one on his scalp that was not discovered until a week later, a grayish, blood-filled blob. And I remember May and June hikes from the couple years I lived in Antigo, WI. The ticks and deer flies are a force to be reckoned with. I will use both permethrin (on clothes) and DEET (on skin) liberally. Also taking a bug head net to save mental sanity from the constant buzzing and a couple bulbs of garlic to make my smell repulsive (to them and all others).
There is an extra responsibility I bear on this journey. The safety and welfare of my godson is in my hands. He's 17, practically an adult, much more mature than his father or I were at his age, so I know that he will be able to take care of himself. But this is his first backpacking trip and I want him to enjoy it and want to do it again in the future. He requested I take him on a trip and I want to inculcate him with a love of this activity.
Here's a few cool links related to the trail:
The official trail web site.


Part VI of Nimblewill Nomad's 2009 thru-hike of the entire NCT, which showcases many of the landmarks we will pass through in Wisconsin.


A Wisconsin PBS short video about the trail. I exchanged e-mails with Bill Menke, interviewed in this segment. This gives the best history of the trail.

Our route on the NCT will involve some road walking, mostly at the beginning and end of the trip, but the majority of the route will be on signed, unbroken trail through the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest. I've ordered maps from the trail association web site, printed out other maps from the same site, exchanged e-mails with a chapter coordinator regarding the best route from the Minnesota border to Solon Springs, and will make copies of the DeLorme Atlas pages that include the trail route. I will also bring a GPS unit, but only as an emergency backup. I still cling to the map and compass.