Thursday, May 6, 2010

Run From the Botder: Jonesville to Albion on the North Country Trail

The rain that had been threatening to drench us for the past few hours has finally arrived. I'm nestled under the protecting skin of my tent after failing to get my hammock set up correctly. I came close to but in the end I mucked things up rather badly and went to my fallback position. Andy, after a couple of false starts, got his hammock set up. He hasn't come screaming over here to squeeze into this so-called two-man tent so he must be doing well. John has his tiny tent set up not far away and if I listen hard I think I can hear the gentle rumble of a snore emenating from that direction not quite drowned out by the downpour. Our 18 mile day is done and even though it was mostly a long road walk we had a good day.

This time the Run From the Border group consisted of just Andy, John, and myself. The other participants from the last trek had other commitments. That is just the way things are. We dropped one car off at Homer and drove back to Jonesville where we had left off the hiking two weeks ago. The sky was overcast but it was not raining yet. We fully expected it to rain and we all had multiple raingaear options available to us. I think we all hoped that if it came down to it that we would be able to get away with using our umbrellas. Andy had the grandest umbrella sporting a cane-length straight handle and a garishly colored umbrella. I sported a slightly smaller black umbrellas with a short handle and John was carrying one of those small purse-sized umbrellas that though small was certainly large enough for one. But initially we were able to just saunter forth along the small town roads leading out of Jonesville into the rolling farmlands. We walked down the dirt road looking at the various homes and fields now and then passing through small stands of trees. We picked up a couple outdoor dogs along the way. Friendly enough, though the little black and white one could stand to have its nails clipped, that just wanted to come with us. The smaller one, in particular, just did not want to leave. Perhaps the dog just had a huge range but I doubt it. Eventually John managed to convince it with some "angry" motions that it should go home. After all, we still had probably 14 miles to go just to reach our parked car in Homer to say nothing of the fact that we would then drive to the Lost Nations SGA and hike about two thirds of a mile in to a campsite.

I think the nicest part of the hike has to be the stretch that leads into Litchfield. You start by tromping along a new trail, pretty poor tread way full of lumps, along a berm by a river (St. Jospeh I think) that pops you out on a nature trail that leads you to the outskirts of the small town of Litchfield. Litchfield would make a nice trail town as it has a grocery, a couple places (though not always open) to eat, and even a public library that I am sure a weary hiker could visit to get online and send a letter home. All we cared about though was finding a place to eat and we found what may have been the only open eatery: Kasys.We had a filling lunch: oddly enough ending up all getting pretty much the same thing.

One thing you notice as you walk through small towns and rural areas like this is that you sometimes attract attention. People will ask you what you are about and sometimes you pick up a bive that says, "what are these intruders doing here." On person, near the river berm walk, referred to the North Country Trail as "that trail" and definitely some folks in Litchfield were checking us out. But perhaps nothing more is meant by any of this then expressions over curiosity perhaps tinged with a dollop of suspicion that accompanies any encounter with people who are are clearly not of the area. We left Litchfield, passing the same house with the large dog that could easily have cleared his fence had he wished, and began the hike towards Homer once again. Soon the rain that we had been expecting arrived. We whipped out our umbrellas and hoped that the steady rain would not turn into a thunderstorm. The rain was accompanied by moderate wind but our umbrellas were up to the task and we stayed pretty dry and comfortable.The miles dragged on and the most interesting thing that happened along the way was an encounter with a farmer who came by in a horse drawn carriage. Definitely a very old-world type of fellow.

About 8 hours after starting, a little before 18:00, we strolled along the rough sidewalks leading into downtown Homer to find a place for dinner. Our options were rather limited and we settled on a pizza joint called something like Casarelles. This was a big place, clearly the happening spot at this point in time in Homer. They had a big section reserved for a large party and tables seemed full of happy families. We settled in at a high table below one of the many black lights to devour a large pizza and a bunch of soda (couldn't bring myself to have a beer). A very good meal after the 17 plus miles of hiking.

We had thought we might stay at a B&B or inn but nothing seemed worthwhile when we did the research so we piled into the cars and drove back to the parking lot that is about one kilometer from the campsite we had used two weekends before. This would give me a chance to look for my lost Powermonkey charger. We walked along now now rather wet, but just re-blazed , trail to the campsite. There are stretches of this trail that really do not follow the best possible route. They're just there and end up being sloppy. A little after 20:00 we strolled into the campsite and Andy spied the charger. We'll have to wait until I return home and make sure the unit is totally dry to see if it has survived its sojourn in the woods alone and exposed. Tomorrow we will shuttle the cars to Homer and Albion and hike the reaming 10 or so miles that make up this 28 mile stretch. It's time for sleep though perhaps the rain will lull me off to bed.


The downpour lasted for several hours with a couple respites that were long enough for all of us , at various times, to zip out of our respective shelters to answer nature's call or do tweaks to our shelters. It never got that windy and the temperature throughout the night remained fairly warm. It got a bit colder, as temperature seems wont to do, just before dawn but it would rebound. I learned as the night wore on that I seem to have a leak somewhere. I felt drops strike me on the face a couple of times and the floor and wall by the tent window were much wetter than they should have been from mere condensation. I've no idea where the leak is. Perhaps, after I dry the tent out (it has gained a lot of weight from absorbed water) I'll be able to find questionable spots and seam-seal them. I've a suspicion that Andy remained the driest of us all. He had a great sleep in his hammock. We were lucky enough, as we broke camp around 08:00 that it was not raining. Mist hung over Lake Number Eight and it was obvious that it was going to rain later on but as we got our stuff together for the walk back to the parking lot we were able to do so in dry-ish air. We still slipped our ponchos on before hitting the trail.

After having breakfast and dropping a car off in Albion and returning to Homer the bulk of the morning had elapsed. We started hiking at about 11:15. It was clear that today we would have thunderstorms. The umbrellas stayed in the cars; why risk becoming a lightening rod. We donned oru ponchos and began the hike out of Homer crossing the Kalamazoo River and walking along a mercifully quiet paved road. The thunder was audible to the east, west, and south. The sky steadily darkened and then the storm broke with heavy large drops. Andy lauded his gaiters and Gortex socks. John and I suffered wet socks and damp lower legs. Andy just suffered squishy shoes but his feet remained ry. We left the paved road for quieter roads passing another 100-year old farm and eventually a house that sported, among other things, a caboose in its yard. The person who lives there must be a railroad aficionado. We walked and it rained.

Eventually the band of storms passed over and the sky lightened even permitting a bit of sunshine to burst forth as we came within a couple of miles of Albion. We strolled the gently rolling hills along a two-lane road past fields in transition. Now and then we spied a few cows or heard dogs raising the alarm that strangers were passing by. We worked our way into Albion arriiving a little after 15:00. The town was quiet. In fact it was so quiet that we could not find anywhere to have a meal. Everything was closed. Perhaps it is the economy or perhaps it is because they just roll up the sidewalks on Sunday. We had to go back to Homer to retrieve the other car anyway so we ended up arriving there just before the pizza joint from last night opened for the day. They sell other stuff besides pizza and the subs and panini we enjoyed were just what we needed after finishing our long road walk of the day (no nature trails even this day).

Wildlife sightings of note happened at the start and end of the hike. On a boardwalk not far out from the start of our hike we found a still leopard frog. It made no attempt to hop away from us. Perhaps it was just too cold. It certainly seemed to honker down a bit into John's palm when he picked it up. I bet it loved the extra warmth coming off Johns skin. At Victory Park in ALbion John spotted a snapping turtle off in the grass.

- Posted from my iPhone
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