This is not the recap of the day I wanted to write but it’s reality.
I woke up around 4:30 after a fitful night that included some locals driving around the woods on the logging roads in their pickups and ATVs gunning their motors. It was Friday night after all. It’s funny how sounds in the woods carry a long ways at night. The vehicles weren’t that close and certainly weren’t going to get near me since I was up on a ridge accessible only by the hiking trail. But they were still very loud. On other nights, I could hear coyotes and other animals clearly.
When I climbed out of the hammock, my knee almost buckled and I could barely stand on it. I had to use my trekking poles to move around. Hmm… this was much worse than other mornings.
Every day the knee had been getting a little worse. As I wrote in the first post, the bad knee was from my college days at Florida State (go Noles!) where a bunch of us were rough housing and a buddy clipped my knee from the side. That blew out my ACL and a couple of the meniscus, but I didn’t realize it until I was in my forties and started feeling a lot of pain. Until then, I played basketball, ran, biked, hiked, golfed, etc with not too much of a problem.
In my forties when the pain started to be significant, I finally went to an ortho doc and learned the ACL was completely gone. He offered to fix it but right or wrong I declined. Since then I was able to run a ton including several marathons and do other activities. So I thought I was smarter than the doctor. But things have been getting a little worse and after I decided to do this trip, my knee was sore enough that I wasn’t able to do much running, mostly just walking a lot.
The weeks before the trip I was going to the physical therapist (shout out to Jeff Swartz!) who was helping me get things strengthened up and properly aligned. The week before the trip I also got a couple of steroid shots in the knee and top of the tibia where the most recent issue was. That stuff is great – no pain at all! I thought I can do this now! But of course those shots are temporary and I guess as my hike progressed the shots wore off.
So I had to make a decision that morning. Keep hiking and likely making things worse (I don’t want a knee replacement!) or ending it that day.
I opted to do that day’s hike and then declare the knee the winner.
So I called Anne and we arranged a place where she would pick me up and allow me to do one last twenty mile hike.
I set off and like the other days was hiking some back roads and trails. The twist of this day was that I managed to get myself pretty lost. I had decided to follow a road that ran parallel to the trail since the road looked a little easier (going around the big hills instead of over them). All my maps from the NCT and Google Maps showed a clear route back to where the road met the trail. But that wasn’t the case. A mile or so from reconnecting to the trail, the road ended. Nothing. Just briars and woods. Hmm… did I miss a turn? Nope. Google maps shows me on “the road”. Could I go back and take the trail? No way – that would have meant four miles of wasted effort. So I decided to bushwhack ahead. I put on more bug repellant and off I went.
About a mile and a half later and picking up a few ticks as passengers, I found the official trail. As I meandered along, I thought about my father who took me out in the woods a lot rabbit and pheasant hunting. I definitely learned some navigation skills from him.
After taking a break and checking the distance I still needed to go to meet Anne, I decided I wouldn’t be able to make twenty miles. Probably just as well since I was basically limping. So I hiked to a little stream that crossed a road and where she picked me up. It wasn’t the ending I wanted, but it was great when I saw her.
I don’t like to lose, especially to a body part. And I don’t like to fail especially when I had put so much effort into preparing for this trip. And more importantly, when many people like Anne had put in so much effort and given me so much support.
I do feel like I failed. But on the other hand, I have to look at the positives. I tried to do something that was on my bucket list (I hope I inspired others to do the same!) I hope I entertained those of you who have been following me and made you laugh a few times. I also hope those of you who didn’t know much about SewHope do now and might want to get involved in some way. And I’m glad and very grateful to those of you who contributed financially. You’re a great blessing and I thank you.
If a tree falls in the woods…
After a day in Petoskey and some Jet Pizza for dinner, I was feeling more rested and ready to go. I had a long road walk out of town and then a lot of trail miles. It was supposed to be hot again, but I was more confident because of the water Mark and I had stashed.
The morning walk went pretty well on back roads, some quite hilly. But the countryside was beautiful. The people commuting into town or wherever gave me wide berth and must have wondered who the idiot with the backpack was.
After about eight miles, the knee started complaining more than usual. It had been gradually getting louder and crankier throughout the trip. It would stiffen up when I stopped, but then would loosen up when I started moving. But now it was becoming constantly angry. “Shut up” I thought. “I need you to do your job.”
Still I managed to move forward along roads and into the woods of the Chandler Hills… and there were plenty of those. One big difference between roads and trails is that roads go around things and trails go over them.
I finished the day with a long uphill through the woods to a nice ridge with a breeze and where the woods weren’t so dense to make it hard to set up the hammock. Thank God for those little things.
Speaking of God, I think God has been watching over me the whole trip so far. I hadn’t had any falls or major issues that couldn’t be solved. There was trail magic and trail angels who helped a lot too.
But this was the biggest save… that evening setting up camp, I found a couple of trees of the right size and distance apart to use for my hammock. What I didn’t do was look carefully to make sure the trees were healthy. One was not. It was dead even though the bark was still on it. I set up the hammock and began to sit down on it to test the height. As I put my weight on it and began to swing my legs up, I heard a creaking and then a loud crack behind me, and I started to sink down. I realized the tree behind me that I had used for the hammock was coming down and in my direction as my weight pulled on it. There wasn’t much I could do as the tree came down within a second. It thumped to the ground right next to me brushing my leg. You can see the fallen tree and my hammock in one of the pictures.
I laid on the ground on my back a few seconds thinking how stupid I was and wondering why the tree fell a few degrees off center from me and not on top of me. I also wondered why I was lucky to have escaped death or serious injury. I guess God wants me around for awhile. But I am sure all of you who have been praying for my safety had something to do with it.
After getting my senses back together and putting the hammock up with healthy trees (note to hammock users… always look up and make sure there are leaves on the trees you use), I ate beef stroganoff again and tried to sleep. The evening light was beautiful and then the fireflies came out at dark. What a day!
After a night in the hotel, I’m still feeling pretty beat up. I guess I’m only 25 in my mind.
I also spent a lot of time looking at the maps trying to make sure there will be water for the next couple legs. The NCT maps don’t show any sources like they do on other stretches. I reached out to the Jordan River Valley chapter which oversees this section and the response I got was “there are a couple of small streams but not sure if they are dry or not.” Hmmm… not what I wanted to hear especially with the temps around 90.
Fortunately a friend (Bill Wolff) who has a friend up here (Mark Parker) stepped up. Mark helped me stash some water along the trail and then drove me to the Walmart and a couple other stores to buy a couple things I needed. More trail angels.
I spent the rest of the day reorganizing gear, sending some home via UPS, and eating (Jet Pizza!) and drinking (water, not beer lol).
Heading out tomorrow morning, but reluctant to leave Petoskey!
I woke after sleeping a little better in the hammock. Still it’s not the Ritz. Made some oatmeal, packed up a little faster, and headed out. The first 10 miles were woods and hills again. I’m still thirsty but have been able to find water despot the dry conditions up here. There was a beautiful little stream I came upon at one pint. But also during a short road walk, I passed the Pleasantville Township hall where they had an outdoor spigot hikers can use. That was wonderful although the lady who works in the building didn’t seem to think as much about dirty, smelly me.
About halfway through the hike, I came out of the woods and had several miles of road walk into Conway and the bike path from there to Petoskey. The road walls are a nice change, getting out of the woods where it’s humid and sometimes picking up a breeze. But the trade off is cars and trucks and hot pavement.
Anyhow when I got to Conway, there was a little public beach at Crooked Lake which I took advantage of for a couple hours trying to wash off the dirt and resting. Then I hiked into Bay View, stopped at Petoskey Brewing Company for a burger, past the Bay View Inn (where Anne and I have stayed a few times and which is wonderful) and Petoskey, then stopped at the grocery store for some more snacks including a Mountain Dew (yahoo!) Finally I hiked the last four miles or so on the bike path along the bay (beautiful) and took a room in a hotel. Another 20+ mile day… I felt I deserved a shower and hotel night.
I woke up about 5:30 after a fitful night of sleep in my hammock. I’m not used to sleeping in it yet but hopefully that will get better. The sun and birds were already out so I figured I’d better get moving. I made some oatmeal with my cookstove, packed up, and headed out. That all took about an hour which also needs to get better. I’d never make it in the Army.
The hike today was a lot of beautiful woods through the Gaylord State Forest. Plenty of hills again too, but also plenty of scenery including vast areas of large trillium. I passed through probably a thousand acre section called Blissfest which had all these seventies-themed things going on with cool outbuildings, yurts, stages, sculptures, etc. I later learned it’s a place they hold folk festivals. I might need to return. They also had a couple of water spigots available for hikers.
Water is always an issue. It’s been pretty warm here and I’ve been sweating a lot carrying the pack and walking. I’m constantly thirsty. Sometimes there’s a stream or a lake I can refill my bottles. Sometimes only a swampy spot. I filter everything with a Sawyer mini filter. Its 0.1 micron pores block all the germies (except viruses which should not be a problem). The pores get blocked up with dirt and stuff in the water source so I’m fastidious about backflushing the filter with the 50 cc syringe that comes with it. I also have chlorine tablets I can simply add to a bottle of water that will kill everything in case the filter goes bad. I also have a back up filter.
Sometimes there’s trail magic too. Like where I came upon this stash of gallon water jugs the trail steward had left out. Each section of the trail has a club and people who maintain it.
I ended the day whipped, set up the hammock, had another round of freeze-dried beef stroganoff, and hit the hammock
Started on the Lake Michigan shoreline below the Mackinaw Bridge. Gotta do it in a memorable way I guess. Anne and I took a couple of pictures, talked to the kids on the phone, and then set out. Anne walked the first couple miles with me on the paved section and then went back. It was hard watching her walking away. Might not see her for a month.
Soon I was in the woods on real trail- and it certainly was. Single track, up and down, with lots of roots, muddy spots, and bugs. The bugs were ready for fresh blood, but fortunately the spray-on permethrin I put on my clothes and the DEET I sprayed on my exposed skin kept the buggers away. In swampier areas, I had to don a mosquito head net. But I survived in not too bad of shape.
What was a bigger problem was hauling that backpack all day. I never got a final weight on it but it was around 25-27 pounds which is manageable on shorter hikes, at least for me. Still the beauty of the trail helped keep the work effort out of mind.
Around 9.5 miles in when I was starting to feel sorry for myself and questioning the wisdom of this excursion, a lady probably in her seventies approached at a brisk pace and then passed. We said hello. Behind her was her husband who appeared to be a bit older and who was also moving along quite well. He stopped as we approached each other and as often happens on trails, we had a nice little chat. He and the wife were doing a section of the trail and had already done about 11 miles that morning. He asked what I was doing. When I told him Mackinaw to Ohio, he asked a few more questions then informed me he had through-hiked both the upper and lower peninsulas of Michigan two years ago. He wanted to do it again but was getting a hip replacement in two weeks.
Needless to say I was humbled and shut up about my puny 9.5 mile effort so far.
When I got to one of the NCT trail kiosks that are located at trailheads, he had left a note and phone number for me to give him a call when I got to Newaygo (about 350 miles away). He offered to feed me and put me up for the night. “Trail magic” as they say. I hope I make it that far and take up his offer.
The rest of the day (21 miles total) was a beautiful hike through Wilderness State Park located on Sturgeon Bay. Near the end of the day, the trail went over to a beautiful sand beach on the bay. I enjoyed that for awhile and then hiked a little bit more and found a nice spot atop a bluff where I set up the hammock and dinner (freeze-dried beef stroganoff. It’s 8:30 and I’m fighting to stay awake a little longer.
ability to get away for a month and buy expensive ultralight gear. And most importantly, I have a great, supportive wife. So I’m not gonna complain. I’ve been blessed.
And I’m also thankful to you for reading this and hopefully my future posts. But especially I’m grateful to you for supporting our work at SewHope. Tomorrow morning when I head out, I’ll be thinking about all of you and the people SewHope has been able to help (and will help) in Guatemala.
As Roy Rogers and Dale Evans always sang at the end of their TV show, “Happy trails to you, until we meet again…”
Mackinaw to Maumee
“Retirement is not the end of the road. It is the beginning of the open highway.”
- Source unknown
Or in my case, the North Country Trail…
I retired nearly five years ago and am fortunate to be in pretty good physical
health (still very immature mentally though) and still fairly active. But as I age and
the aches and pains get more noticeable, I’m looking at my bucket list of things I
want to do before I reach the ultimate retirement. One on the list has been to do
a long hike of several weeks or more. I love to hike and run on trails so this has
always been a goal.
The Appalachian Trail first comes to mind for many of us when we think about
long distance hikes. But that’s not going to happen for me at this time. Instead
I’m going to try to hike the North Country Trail from Mackinaw City at the top of
Michigan’s lower peninsula to Maumee, Ohio where I grew up. That’s a total of
667 miles which is still pretty far, but not anything close to the Appalachian Trail’s
2,200 miles. I hope to do this during the month of June (which is right around the
corner – yikes!!).
Why the North Country Trail in Michigan (www.northcountrytrail.org)? First it’s the
nation’s longest national scenic trail (www.nps.gov/subjects/nationaltrailssystem/index.htm).
It stretches from North Dakota through Minnesota, Wisconsin, both peninsulas of Michigan, around
southern Ohio (using part of Ohio’s Buckeye Trail loop), across Pennsylvania
and New York, and ends in Vermont. It’s about 4,800 miles long. Secondly it
passes right by us here in northwest Ohio as it uses the north fork of the
Wabash-Cannonball Trail and the Scout Trail in Oak Openings Metropark. So it’s
part of our local trail DNA. Finally, I’ve hiked a lot of it in lower and upper
Michigan and can assure you it’s really, really beautiful and a joy to hike.
So after I had talked about this hike for more than ten years, my wife Anne finally
got tired of hearing about it and said, “Just do it.” So Nike here I am. (By the way,
they turned down my request for a sponsorship. Cheapskates!)
The other reason I’m doing this is to raise awareness of SewHope, the nonprofit
I’ve been a part of for almost twenty years. SewHope is focused on helping
extremely poor communities in northern Guatemala through improving medical
care, education, and healthy living conditions (www.sewhope.org). Over these
years with the help of many donors and a lot of on the ground hard work by our
Guatemalan staff and many, many Americans who have visited there, SewHope
has made real improvements in women’s health, children’s education and
nutrition, and the living conditions within their homes. If you wonder, “Why
Guatemala?” the answer for me is God literally told me “Fix this!” during one of
my first trips there. As I walked through a very poor, remote village, I literally
heard those words. There was no one around – certainly no English speaking
villagers – so I believe it was God.
I’m hoping I can make it to the finish of the hike. I’m leaving Mackinaw on May
29th and need to get to Maumee by June 30th . That means about 20 or so miles a
day. I’ve got a cranky knee and an angry big toe that let me know they’re not
happy when I hike a long way. Both are from old injuries from my twenties and
are finally having their day in court. I hope to keep them under control. But as I
tell people my age, we’re like old cars with failing parts, but we still have our GTO
nameplate (although one guy told me he was a Porsche haha!)
But I’m even more hopeful that you’ll take a minute after reading this to check out
SewHope (www.sewhope.org) and see what we’re doing (and have done). I also
hope you’ll consider helping us out.
If I’m not eaten by a bear, fall off a cliff, or arrested for vagrancy somewhere and
have cell coverage, I’ll post interesting (at least to me) pics and short stories of
the trip on Facebook. I don’t understand Instagram, Twitter, TikTok, or hashtags
and won’t be going there. I’m 66 and FB is more than enough social media. But I
also hope to post more detailed updates on the SewHope website. And
“You are never too old to set a new goal or dream a new dream.”
- C.S. Lewis