NCT Diary: Aug 30-Sept 8
Marquette to Ironwood, MI
Aug 30: got a ride back to trail around 10am with Randy and Ellen. First time being trail angels but they were so stellar - brought us coffee and amazing cinnamon buns for breakfast, and yesterday they gave us a ride to the laundromat and Meijer grocery store to resupply. Meijer is the best grocery store ever, by the way. So organized, so many good signs so we can find exactly what we're looking for, wide enough aisles so that it's not chaotic, great store-brand ziplocks. Good job, Midwest. I almost like Meijer more than Superstore, and I love Superstore. So looking forward to corresponding more with Ellen about gear rec's and hiking strategy, in depth gear talk is my jam and I love helping new hikers. Seven days of food in the pack feels normal again - heavy, but normal. Got new trekking poles from Leki with a better locking mechanism and sent the broken BD ones back to my parents so I can warranty them later. NCT bike path through Marquette is the same path I used on cross-country ride in 2016, brings back memories. I so wish we could have gone to Lakenenland. Someday we'll have to do a road trip out east to visit friend in Montreal and check it out en route. Beautiful jewel-box vacation homes along lakeshore, cute little shed roof houses mixed with modern Victorians. Excited/happy because I bought new hair ties - it's the little things. Lunch break, eating homemade zucchini bread from Ellen and Randy when a bald eagle chased an osprey out of a tree right over our heads! Noquemanon trails outside Marquette are rocky/bumpy and full of granite - Canadian Shield habitat. The vibe has definitely turned to autumn, lots of leaves on the ground and a crispness to the air. Glad to have my new poles. Leki trekking poles have a different balance to them than BD - weighted towards the handle rather than equal distribution. Perhaps a different design philosophy with respect to swing weight? What's the biomechanical basis of trekking pole design? Camp by river after only 25 miles but it was a good day and relaxing and I don't care that it was short. Falling asleep listing to owls calling back and forth to one another while I read a book about geometry
Aug 31: got out of bed late and felt behind the ball all day. bumpy but pretty forest, had to stop to answer work emails when we got service on a ridge, putting us even more behind. 20ish miles of roadwalk. Ran into Lost Larry who was chatty, long distance hiker going from Western terminus to wherever he could get in Ohio before winter. Intended to make lunch quick but ended up sitting an hour, this after talking to Larry for 20 mins or so, despite trying to get away several times. Constantine unconcerned about time as usual, even tho we have to hit a specific target tonight to meet up with people tomorrow. Saw pontoon boat/raft thing next to road by the lake; poontoon boat that was just a platform with a slide mounted to it. Seemed fun. After leaving roadwalk trail was beautiful but slow, very steep and rocky, bouncing up and down felt like real hiking but unfortunately I was in such a rush, miles ticking up and up, can't use speed to compensate for late start and too many breaks. Saw a porcupine. Gotta wake up earlier tomorrow, got so time-stressed that I started catastopizing and had short anxiety spiral. Didn't even get to 30mi before it got too dark to keep hiking, and today's goal was 34. Fighting feelings of failure and self-loathing but managed to calm myself down fairly quickly. Only started eating at 9:45pm, ugh. Gotta wake up earlier and be the breaktime police again tomorrow.
Sept. 1: chilly in the morning, feels like fall. Enjoying the quiet and the crickets, nice early lunch on picturesque bridge that actually managed to be only 30 mins. Secluded two-track roadwalks, perfect temperature. Very flat and peaceful but with enough elevation variation to feel like real hiking. Craig Lake State park - closed?? There was no sign but the DNR workers said it was, but let us go through anyway. Golden eagle eating dead deer. Paved roadwalk blazing hot, picked up by trail angel Keith and brought to campsite with pasties and Finnish turnovers and lots of food and a good fire. To bed at 10pm, freezing cold.
Sept 2: got going by 8:30am after quiche breakfast, amazing. I like the sound of my own footsteps on the crunchy pine duff when I'm just alone and everything is silent and still except the clicking of grasshoppers. Feels as if even the too-hot sun is part of it, drenched, saturated orange light. Orderly rows of red pine - still exposed but getting less hot as the day wears into evening. Set an unambitious revised mileage target for the rest of this section after our plans collided with reality - only 30 or so miles per day, giving us an extra hour and forty five minutes of leisure to work with. Nice to be relaxed during the day and take five minute breaks now and again without worrying that we'll pay for it later by hiking in the pitch black. Big dens dug into the sandy soil beside a logging road - I wonder who lives there? Fox? Badger? Maybe tortoise? Good cell service let me download a new audiobook about the deep ocean, with a soothing British narrator. Fascinating - I wonder why I always go for deep sea stuff on trail? Last year it was a book about cave diving. Sandhill Cranes with their kooky laugh again, and the smell of warm pine mulch and blueberry leaves. Delicious; love the smell of a grassy, scrubby plain. Crunchy white horned mosses (lichens?) underfoot, blueberry leaves turning a bold vivid red, ferns furling into a perfect rust orange. Ahead of the game when we make our mileage goal - only 7:20 when we hit the water cache and camp a half mile later in full sunlight. Finally not feeling time stress! Trail Angels gave us backpackers pantry meals and desserts!
Sept 3: up all night with stomach pain - too much food, maybe too much vegetable fiber? Could be preservatives in freeze-dried desserts triggered IBS. Not great. Raccoon or maybe a small bear came snuffling around tent last night around midnight. Slept in til 8:30 but whatever, we only have to do 30 miles today. Saw squirrel running with pinecone bigger than its whole body. Cloudy, sky full of smoke from the Boundary Waters fires, forecasted to rain tomorrow and C is already in his wet-cat mood about it. Jokingly grumpy, but he really does hate getting wet. Buggy, trudgy hills with many trip-wire branches, muggy cloudy weather. Stepping out the routine miles without much attention - I have to try to awaken myself to the peacefulness and beauty of the woods, but trying gets old and eventually I tune out. This hike is too long, trail is easy to take for granted. Watching a woodpecker tap tap tapping on a tree, not drilling but sounding for bugs. Featureless forest, no landmarks to say where we are, no gps signal, mosquito driven sprint.
Sept 4: gloomy rain morning, overgrown trail. No motivation to hike in the rain so wbstayed in bed to 9:20(!) Met Josh, chatted for 20, then early lunch after only 4 miles, lazy gloomy wet morning. came to a shelter at 13mi around 3pm, debated the merits of trail nearo and reluctantly decide against it. Good choice - surprisingly beautiful overlooks and clear weather. Was going to camp on a topo-indicated overlook but it turned out not to be one, then mad dash trying to beat rain and darkness to camp and failed. Bad end to beautiful day that also started badly, ruined good mood and we didn't even make our revised goal.
Sept 5: trap hills pickup day (This day was so rushed and busy that I didn't take notes at all - after crush-crush-crushing 33 miles through some of the steepest terrain we've had in months, we met an amazing trail angel named Nick who drove us alllllll the way back to Mackinaw City to walk the bridge. He picked us up at 8:30pm and we got there at 2am! We stayed up most of the drive talking about everything from the trail to annoying former co-workers to deep personal struggles. It was honestly the best ride we could have asked for. The next day he drove us all the way back, and we got to spend time with Nick's equally awesome partner Kristen and their cute baby Raven. I can't thank you enough!)
Sept 6: tired zombie brain, bridge walk, not ready to be around so many people being so close to me, long drive back, more Meijer grocery store thoughts, so tired I could barely walk right miles into trail, shoes are absolutely toast. huge 3am lightning storm so fast and bright that it was a strobe light, rained so hard that mud splattered two feet up the tent walls.
Sept 7: last three days have been the most beautiful section of the trail so far. Fall colours and waterfalls all day, Northern California vibes with pines and overlooks. Perfect weather, lunch on big sandstone cliffs overlooking whirlpools. Teeny tiny ski hill, one double chair and one ski jump run that I can see. A single-run ski hill! So cute. Evening roadwalk, big gorgeous deep textured clouds like a Dutch landscape painting. Cool air, crickets. Got the rain jacket on with seconds before it rained, booyah. Nine days without a shower.
Sept 8: time zone change to central means an extra hour of sleep before we leave to meet our ride into ironwood, and still got out early. "Warning: call before you dig" signs have a great font - US Government has a great font game. No matter what else you wanna say about the gov't, it can't be denied. Paved roadwalk immediately makes knees and hips ache, but you only notice how much worse pavement is when you have trail to compare to. No wonder Ohio was so hard on the body, couldn't figure it out when it was all road all the time. Imagining city with mostly dirt/grass streets for walkers/cyclists and only a few paved back alley routes for public transit & emergency vehicles. What a reversal, an eco-utopian fantasy. Great ride in with Russ, even waited for us while we got groceries Horrible rude man at motel made us wait two hours to check in just to torture us, smirking the whole time and promising it was almost done, even tho the rooms were all empty and already clean. Eventually offered to let us check in early for $25 cash, which, fine. Asshole. Never trust anyone who says “one hand washes the other", like he was doing us a favor by ceasing to be cruel. Tried to get me to go pick up his prescription at Walgreens for him, “since you're going that way to the laundromat anyway". The audacity!!! Spent whole nearo day stewing on anger and anxiety.
Sept 8: still anxious about mean hotel man, so anxious I almost wanted to leave via the side door. Didn't do laundry last night because I was too scared to walk past the front desk and tell him that no, I would not go pick up his prescription because a) it's illegal and b) no! So we're sitting in the laundromat now instead of enjoying being in a hotel room for another hour. Packing out pizza, got too many town snacks again.