Wednesday, September 11, 2019

VIDEO: NCT Solo Backpacking Trip - August 2019

It has been over 9 years since3 I did a solo backpacking trip. The last one was my second Great Outdoors Challenge trek across Scotland from Mallaig to Stonehaven.  While that was a solo trip it was far from solitary. This hike on the North Country Trail would be solo and likely solitary. I did not expect to see andy other backpackers and few if any day hikers.  While my original plan ended up changing I still think this ended up being a trip to remember. I hope you enjoy this video which should give you at least a sense of what I did over the course of the six day trip.





Saturday, August 31, 2019

NCT Solo Hike Part 2


It has been 9 years since I did a solo backpacking trip. That trip was my second Great Outdoors Challenge crossing of Socttland from Mallaig to Stonehaven. While that was a solo trip I probably met people every day and hiked with them at least some of the time. This hike on the North Country Trail would not only be solo but I expected it would be solitary except at major campgrounds. In this two-part series I travel from Mackinaw City, Michigan to Petowskey, Michigan. In some ways it proves to be a great trip; in other ways not so much.

In part 2 I travel from Richard’s property near Levering Road to Petoskey. I also spend some time in Petoskey proper, though I do leave a modest gap, adding a bit more to my totaly milage. All in all I probably hike another 28.5 trail miles along with a modest bit of going to and fro in Petoskey itself. In some ways this segment was less eventful than the first portion but it does have highs and lows and some just plain dull stretches. It is, in other words, prety much what one should expect from a trip: not what you expect.

I hope you enjoy the conclusion to this backpacking trip through the Harbor Springs chapter’s section of trail (and a tiny bit of Grand Traverse chapter).

Photo taken August 17 2019 at 13:05:52

I think I am actually a bit off the NCT at this point. I went left and think the trail went right. My two-track sure looked like the proper option. I passed this small field of wildflowers as I neared Robinson Road where I popped out a bit west of the trail interesction.

--August 17 2019 at 13:05:52. Harbor Springs, MI, United States

Photo taken August 19 2019 at 14:19:26

Gazing out upon the river in Petowskey, Michigan (Bear River I suppose). The NCT follows bike paths and sidewalks through the heart of Petowskey. It is particularly nice in the Bear River Valley REcreation Area.

--August 19 2019 at 14:19:26. Petoskey, MI, United States

Photo taken August 19 2019 at 16:34:11

A bit north of mile marker 603.5 and not far from my end around marker 600. This might actually be a private path to the beach here at Little Traverse Bay but that seems like it should not be so.

--August 19 2019 at 16:34:11. Petoskey, MI, United States

Photo taken August 19 2019 at 18:20:09

The silo-like structure at the back right of this building is what really clued me in to the fact that this had to be Petowskey Brewing Company. I probably had the most dangerous bit of hiking right here crossing the road.

--August 19 2019 at 18:20:09. Petoskey, MI, United States


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Friday, August 30, 2019

NCT Hike Day 6: Petosksy, Michigan

No stress setting up camp. No stress makinhg a bakcpacking meal for dinner or breakfast. Relax. I may not have slept the blissful sleep I desired but it was pretty good. Breakfast at the Hampton Inn did not appeal to me so I found my way to JW Filmore Diner (think that’s right) and had a very fine omelet with hash browns and slightly-larger-than silver dollar sized pancakes. I arranged for transportation to Traverse City and then back to Detroit and Ann Arbor. I tried to answer the question: what will happen to my packages at the post offices? And then I had the afternoon to do with as I pleased. I had learned by this time that the hotel was about 0.5 miles west of the NCT at about mile marker 607.5 so decided I would hike to the State Park then get a meal at Petoskey Brewing Company. After some confusion near the start of my NCT section I found myself walking through the Bear River Valley Recreation Area.

Photo  taken August 19 2019 at 14:20:31
Photo  taken August 19 2019 at 14:20:17
Photo  taken August 19 2019 at 14:19:26

Gazing out upon the river in Petoskey, Michigan (Bear River I suppose). The NCT follows bike paths and sidewalks through the heart of Petoskey. It is particularly nice in the Bear River Valley Recreation Area.

--August 19 2019 at 14:19:26. Petoskey, MI, United States

Photo  taken August 19 2019 at 15:02:15

here is why those signs for river access are probably neccessary. Downstream from here the waters flow quickly into Little Traverse Bay past a bunch of rocks.

--August 19 2019 at 15:02:15. Petoskey, MI, United States

This is a lovely area in the heart of town. You walk along bike filled bike paths along the river. The miles you walk as you near the marina and Lake Michigan are quite enjoyable. I was passed by cyclists, a couple walkers, and saw at least one fisherman standing in the river trying his luck. The sounds of city life fade away and you can forget where you are. Very nice. It doesn’t last.

Photo  taken August 19 2019 at 15:53:25

In the heart of what I thought of as the “iffy zone” because it just was a loud annoying section of sidewalk walking. I am standing on a pedestrian bridge taking this photo of Little Traverse Bay. The trail has more sidewalk to follow before entering a neighborhood on its way to Tannery Creek trailhead and then Petowskey State Park.

--August 19 2019 at 15:53:25. Petoskey, MI, United States

Walking along the shoreline is enjoyable enough because you can, to a degree, ignore the busy traffic passing by on your right. But eventually you move away from the bay and the city intrudes more and you feel more like you are just going from point A to B. That stretch was probably about 1.25 miles lng and ends with you entering a neighborhood that drops you off on a path that is closer to the bay (close enough you can hear waves though the bay is hidden from view)once more. You are entering Petoskey State Park at this point: doesn’t look like much. Distant sounds of a campground b the water drift into your awareness fighting with traffic noise. I did not check the State Park out.

Photo  taken August 19 2019 at 16:34:11

A bit north of mile marker 603.5 and not far from my end around marker 600. This might actually be a private path to the beach here at Little Traverse Bay but that seems like it should not be so.

--August 19 2019 at 16:34:11. Petoskey, MI, United States

When I got to mile marker 603 I knew I had to be near Petoskey Brewing Company. There is no good place to cross the fast-moving heavily trafficked road. This is where you take your life into your own hands. People get concerned about what might happen in the forests away from towns and the like but really I bet I ran greater risks crossing roads than I did anywhere in Wilderness State Park. Petoskey Brewing Company is in a big red brick building that looks like it should be part of a castle or maybe some old manufacturing site. Today they manufacture beer. It was nice to sit down in the dimly lit place and have a burger and two beers. It was a fine way to end the afternoon and, essentially, the trip.
Photo  taken August 30 2019 at 03:59:58
Photo  taken August 19 2019 at 18:20:09

The silo-like structure at the back right of this building is what really clued me in to the fact that this had to be Petoskey Brewing Company. I probably had the most dangerous bit of hiking right here crossing the road.

--August 19 2019 at 18:20:09. Petoskey, MI, United States

Thursday, August 29, 2019

NCT Hike Day 5: Two Track at 592.3 to Petoskey

I slept in. I think it was about 07:15 when I woke up for real and began breaking down camp. I hoisted my pack around 08:50 on a clear warm morning. In just a few minutes I came to the stream and found a lovely bench and probably a flat enough spot I could have used for camping (admittedly too close to the stream). I still had about 1.5 liters of water which I figured would be more than enough to get me the 10.5 miles to Petowskey so I did not even stop at the stream to snap a photo. The video I took may or may not work out (many in the “not” category).

The next few miles of trail would wind through forest crossing two-tracks and forest roads now and then. I took care not to screw up and overall did pretty well. One modest mess-up around mile 595 but I probably lost only 10 minutes. It gave me an excuse to take a break. During the morning miles on my way to Kipp Road I actually encountered people. A lady jogger and a couple mountain bikers.

While I was doing pretty well during the morning the frustrations of previous days had been mounting up. I wanted a splurge of a night. A nice bed. A stress-free few days. I decided, after a talk with my parents, to get a room at the Hampton Inn. I’d likely have to eat my Petowskey State Park campsite fee. That’s life.

A little past 12:15 I arrived at Kipp Road. From this point on I had a road walk into town. It would be an ugly road walk. The roads are only two lanes (I htink) but the traffic is frequent and zooms on by. Nothing to recommend these final few miles. At least not the first 1.5 miles or so until you get to the rails-to-trails section. By that point it was sprinkling and I had just figured out that the Hampton Inn was closer to mile marker 607.5 than the State Park at 603. I was at about 600.25.

A fellow walked up to me.
“How far is it to Wycamp Lake?”

To which I replied, “Miles and mile away.”

The fellow was Richard K. ; the gentleman who let me stay in his woodshed. He had business in Petowskey and had been hoping to track me down so he could return a left-behind water bottle. He had checked each trail register and seen that I had signed them. In fact, he had treid calling me but I never heard the phone ring as I walked down the busy road buffeted by the wind. He looked down the rails-to-trails path and saw a backpacker and figured it had to be me. It was. Instead of hiking to the State Park and then either getting a taxi to the hotel or walking abouther 7.5 miles I took Richard’s offer to drive me to the Hampton inn. What a treat. Thank you.

I have a few choices now: I can take two zero days and then be on track to get my resupply in Alba, leave Petowskey tomorrow after getting my resupply and push on to Alba, or call it a trip. I am almost certainly going to do the latter. I’ve managed over 50 miles in these 5 days and I think I will be happy with that achievement.

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

NCT Hike Day 4: Levering Road to Just North of Creek at MI-592.4 (at two-track)

The 

Rain pounded down through very early morning. No doubt it wasn’t quite as hard as it sounded as it slammed against the roof of the former greenhouse and woodshed combination I was settled underneath. I was happy to be here instead of in my tiny tent.

In the morning as the sun slowly rose I got myself organized and looked out to see how wet things looked. Not all that wet; sandy ground absorbs rain well. Richard had warned me the rooster would sound off early and fortunately I was awake when he began his morning calling around 05:45. In time I figured out where Richard’s house was and knocked on the door to say goodbye and thanks. Over the next near-an-hour I found myself talking with Richard and his wife about what I was doing and things related to the trail. Top it off with the eggs and toast, juice and coffee and I had a lovely early morning before I hoisted my too heavy pack around 08:30 to begin my 16 or so mile trek of the day.

The roads you follow for the next several miles are iniitally dirt roads but then 2-lane paved roads with infrequent traffic that is moving at a decent speed without really feeling exceptionally dangerous. It isn’t particularly interesting hiking. Homes with front yards and dogs that bark at you as you walk on by. I think I passed by a church or two. But it is a 6-mile stretch that is not going to live in memory.

You enter the forest, a pine plantation I think, and the sounds of traffic fade and sounds of the woods increase in volume. By this time the morning is well advanced, still overcast, and comparatively speaking cool. The trail winds through the forest, gently rising and falling a bit, and the walking remains pretty easy. Of course, it is also a good place to take a break.

Somewhere around mile marker 583.5 the trail came to a split at what seemed 2 two-tracks. The blaze seemed to suggest the left-hand route and the footing looked better there anyway so off I went. I believe I went the werong way. In time I came out at Robinson Road but was west of the trail crossing and so I began walking the road looking hard for the trail. I walked by it. I overshot by 0.2 miles and retraced my steps. Hurray. I’m guessing my goof added nearly a mile of road walk but in truth probably did not extend my mileage that much.

Photo  taken August 17 2019 at 13:05:52

I think I am actually a bit off the NCT at this point. I went left and think the trail went right. My two-track sure looked like the proper option. I passed this small field of wildflowers as I neared Robinson Road where I popped out a bit west of the trail interesction.

--August 17 2019 at 13:05:52. Harbor Springs, MI, United States

Photo  taken August 17 2019 at 13:45:34

Thank you Harbor Springs NCT Trail Chapter for this water cache. It lies about 10 miles south of the Wycamp Lake boat launch and 7 miles from the water spigot at Pleassantview Township Hall in a section that has no reliable water except at those points.

--August 17 2019 at 13:45:34. Harbor Springs, MI, United States

Finding the water cache where the good people of the Harbor Springs NCT Chapter said it would be was most welcome. 7 jugs, I think all were 1-gallon jugs, sat waiting for thirsty hikers to walk on by. I think they were all full. I got myself a bit more than one liter (spilt only a bit pouring water). The next reliable water would be in about 7 miles at the Pleasantview Township Hall spigot and my campsite would be about 1 mile beyond that. The sun was shining, the temperature sadly soaring, humidity on the upswing, and it was about 14:05.

Photo  taken August 17 2019 at 15:51:25

I am not sure what type of pines are growing in this spot (a plantation I think) but it was a nice place for a break. Shafts of sun pierce down to the forest floor and despite there being a very sandy two-track near by (saw 2 ATV riders) it is a pretty quiet area.

--August 17 2019 at 15:51:25. Harbor Springs, MI, United States

The next several miles were good and bad. The good came first as I moved through pine forest. It is pretty level going. It isn’t the most visually stunning but it is a forest. Too bad it gives way to an open, probably swampy, area where the brush is well over your head and growing right up to, and somewhat over, the trail. You feel hemmed in. The trail seems to narrow and you move through the buggy area only able to see what is directly ahead of you. Now and then you stride along boardwalk. On and on. I would not be surprised if this stretch ran for a mile or more before diving back, though briefly, into a woods before intersecting Stutsmanville Road and the supposedly 0.5 mile walk past the Pleasantview Township Hall building and its water spigot (long half mile).

I was so happy to get to the spigot. More because I needed a break than was craving water. I should have made a hot dinner but instead dove into my big supply of snacks/lunches to make a dinner. I am sure a hot meal would have served me better but I did not want to take the time. I lingered at the township hall for well over 30 minutes (arriving at it around 18:20). I still had at least a mile to go to find a campsite hoppefully near water (I took 3 liters with me just in case).

When you return to the woods you are greeted by a trail that cuts through hills on each side. No camping here. The forest is thick and though sunset is still 90 minutes off the amount of light penetrating the woods to you is meager. I pushed on. I had decided that I would find the best campsite I could by 20:00 or at the first stream I came across. It was just before 20:00 when I crossed the two-track at mile marker 592.2 (or so). I should have gone a bit farther. Instead I dropped my pack at the not-really-flat spot and began to set up camp.

Photo  taken August 17 2019 at 21:00:36

I thought this was a flat spot but it would turn out to be a lousy place to pitch my tent. Perhaps I just did not look hard enough. I was within a couple hundred feet of a stream that would turn out to have a good spot (though granted you should not camp right by the water). Too add insult to injury my stake bag had vanished again so I had to improvise. I actually did acquire a minor injury during the improvisation process, cutting my palm, getting the foraged wood anchors into the ground. In the end I came up with something different and this is the result. The final insult came when I found the bag of tent stakes within a minute or two of tossing my stuff into the just pitched shelter.

--August 17 2019 at 21:00:36. Harbor Springs, MI, United States

It was a lousy campsite. I mislaid my tent stakes, improvised a set up, cut my hand, and then found the stakes. I discovered that a water bladder had a slow leak. I was tired. I was ready to be done. I wanted a good bed and night’s sleep. I really wanted to have a day where I got to camp with plenty of time to spare and therefore little stress.

I crawled into my poorly pitched shelter and lay down on my sloping sleeping pad and went to bed.

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

PODCAST: NCT Summer Solo Backpacking Trip -Part 1


It has been 9 years since I did a solo backpacking trip. That trip was my second Great Outdoors Challenge crossing of Socttland from Mallaig to Stonehaven. While that was a solo trip I probably met people every day and hiked with them at least some of the time. This hike on the North Country Trail would not only be solo but I expected it would be solitary except at major campgrounds. In this two-part series I travel from Mackinaw City, Michigan to Petowskey, Michigan. In some ways it proves to be a great trip; in other ways not so much.

In part 1 join me for the first 3 days of the hike from Mackinaw City to Levering Road. That is a distance of about 28 trail miles though I actually walked more than that.

Photo taken August 14 2019 at 11:53:42

The actual North Country Trail (NCT) is running across the Mackinac Bridge behind me. I just dipped my toes in the waters of Lake Huron here at Gary R. Witt Memorial park: close enough to the trail. I’ll eventually walk towards the bridge and thus closer to the trail as I head back towards the trailhead at Mackinaw Crossings. For what it is worth I believe my pack tips the scales at about 31 pounds (though it feels heavier). I am crying. 1 liter of water and , unfortunately, 1 quart denatured alcohol for stove fuel.

--August 14 2019 at 11:53:42. Mackinaw City, MI, United States

Photo taken August 15 2019 at 06:55:56

Good morning. It is a bit sad that my first campsite had the prettiest morning.

--August 15 2019 at 06:55:56. Mackinaw City, MI, United States

Photo taken August 15 2019 at 06:58:29

Sunrise at French Farm Lake.

--August 15 2019 at 06:58:29. Mackinaw City, MI, United States

Photo taken August 16 2019 at 13:30:51

A panoramic view of Ssturgeon Bay at the Lakeview Trailhead beach. I spent a bit more time than neccessary to get and treat water. This was a nice place to pause after the first few miles hiking from the Pines campground in Wilderness State Park.

--August 16 2019 at 13:30:51. Levering, MI, United States


Check out this episode

Monday, August 26, 2019

NCT Hike Day 3: Pines Campsite 242 to Levering Road (sort of)

While I can’t say I had a superb night’s sleep it was better than I expected given the sizze of the campground. I had feared hearing generators all night but I didn’t hear them even during the daylight hours. In fact the loudest thing I heeard were the kids, especially one very young one, riding their bikes and tricycles around the loop road. Around and around and around. I was able to get myself together and on the trail a little before 09:00.

Photo  taken August 16 2019 at 10:34:17

The first few miles of NCT departing Pines campground seem to follow what I suspect is snowmobile trail. It is practically flat and the footing is good so I actually made decent time. If the bugs had not been so persistent it would have been a nearly perfect morning. But I suppose the bugs love this area which is definitely a bit swampy and has streams, like this, and ponds.

--August 16 2019 at 10:34:17. Carp Lake, MI, United States

I thought finding the NCT from the campground would be tricky but that turned out not to be a problem. I found the campground entrance and from there it was pretty clear where I had to go. The chained off dirt roads (snowmobile trails?) give one pause but it was clear I had to pass the barriers: so I did. It is easy going. A bit buggy but easy going. I can’t really say it is lovely hiking but the woods are pleassant enough. You meander through the rest of Wilderness State Park and strong hikers will no doubt zoom through the region. I think I reached the Lakeview trailhead around 13:00.

Photo  taken August 16 2019 at 13:30:51

A panoramic view of Ssturgeon Bay at the Lakeview Trailhead beach. I spent a bit more time than neccessary to get and treat water. This was a nice place to pause after the first few miles hiking from the Pines campground in Wilderness State Park.

--August 16 2019 at 13:30:51. Levering, MI, United States

That is a nice spot with a lovely beach. I found several cars parked but only saw one family at the beach near me. Not sure where everyone else was: not on the NCT. I spent a little more time there than strictly needed to just get water. I still had 8 miles to go.

Photo  taken August 16 2019 at 14:56:34

I think this is the highpoint in the Lakeview to Sturgeon Bay section: msybe 130 feet above Lake Michigan. Lots of hills in this area. I’m not sure why Sturgeon Bay even comes up because you certsinly are never near water (I suppose you could walk northwrst on Lakeshore Road and get to Lake Michigan in 0.5 milrs).

--August 16 2019 at 14:56:34. Levering, MI, United States

The trail between Lakeview and Sturgeon Bay trailhead is full of hills. They aren’t that high but they are numerous. I am confident my pack still weighs more than 30 pounds, far more than I want (I packed too much food), and that slowed me down as the heat and bugs got to me. You’re moving through forest with limited views. The view I found at a bench was nice but I thought I’d see the bay from that highpoint: no.

It should have been an easier last stretch around Wycamp Lake but navigation faux-pas ruined that. When the NCT pops out on a two-track just north of Wycamp Lake (MI-572.25 or so) it uses the two-track for a moment and then veers closer to the lake on its own trail. I missed that turn and followed the road (looking at where I turned around later I think I could have followed a road to the dam). Seemed to make sense. Eventually I realized my error and backtracked, tried to bushwhack to the trail but that was a no go, and then got in touch with Andy. He helped orient me and in way too much time, though maybe not as much as it felt, I found the NCT and then the dam that crossed the creek that flows out of Wycamp Lake. If my troubles had ended there I would have been fine but I got burned again by two-tack/trail junctions. Once again Andy was helpful and between him, me, a couple different map tools (Avenza, GaiaGPS, Apple) I worked my way along two-tracks instead of the NCT to the boat launch on Wycamp Lake. It was definitely past 20:15 when I got there. I was annoyed. I did not even snap a photo of the pretty calm, though dimpled with a bit of rain, Wycamp Lake. I just plopped my backpack on the grassy verge and began to set up camp.

While I did that a lone boat was puttering back to the launch and the lone pickup truck there. When the fellow and his little (though very nice) dog got out I was just starting to pitch the Solplex. It was sprinkling and he asked if I’d like to stay at his property under a roof in his wood shed (more than that it would turn out). I accepted. Richard K was a wonderful host. His family, and I gather it is a big one with lots and lots of cousins, aunts, and uncles, live in the area. He knows the area well but did not really know much about the NCT except that it exists and he would see a traveller once every now and then. He got me settled in the woodshed which is also a place to do serious wood cutting and other stuff. He gave me a gallon jug of water, a couple bananas, and homemade by his wife oatmeal cherry cookies: a superb host.

I was frustrated by my troulbe with finding the trail. I was annoyed that I failed to take more photos and video. Maybe the trail wasn’t that picturesque but I could have done more. I am also grateful for the kindness of a local fellow who saw someone who he felt he might be able to help improve things a bit. Purists will probably complain that I skipped about 1.0 mile of trail but I don’t care. I spent plenty of extra miles exploring, unwillingly, the back roads around Wycamp Lake.