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.

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