Roads Rivers and Trails

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Monthly Archives: October 2017

The Wild North of Michigan


By: Ben Shaw a.k.a. Squanto

Friday October 6th

4:30AM – The alarm goes off. My eyes struggle to open knowing that I’m about to go meet 10 strangers. Within seconds I’m up, dressed and out the door.

5:00AM – I arrive to pick up the rest of the crew.

5:45AM – We still haven’t heard from one of our trip-mates…

6:00AM – I’m standing outside Dan’s house dragging him out of bed because luckily, I’m a good friend…

10:00AM – We’re just outside of Chicago rocketing towards the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.

6:00PM – We arrive at the Presque Isle Campground and head to our reserved campsites and there’s already tents and a truck in one of them.

6:30PM – We make some friends, they move their stuff and we head down to the beach.

7:00PM – With the setting sun on a cloudy afternoon in the UP we finally dip our feet in chilly Lake Superior and begin what will be an amazing trip with some just as amazing people.




The first day of this trip was not what I expected. I didn’t foresee pulling a guy out of bed, I didn’t foresee my campsite being invaded by some folks (who were honestly nice people) and I didn’t know how all these people I had just met would grow on me.  I won’t drag you through all the boring details but here’s the spark notes version:

Saturday, I woke up to the most annoying drizzle but decided to be nice and wake everyone else up with chocolate chip pancakes. We got backcountry permits and adventured around the Porcupine Mountains to places such as Lake of the Clouds, Mirror Lake and Summit Peak. We finally made camp right along the southern shore of Lake Superior, made a toasty fire and got to know each other better with a few campfire libations and the sound of waves rolling in along the rocks.

Sunday, I had to be that guy yet again and wake up camp at 6AM, unfortunately without pancakes this time…  We hiked out of the backcountry and began our drive south to Mackinaw City and Sleeping Bear Dunes.  When we got to Mackinaw we dipped our toes in Lake Huron and then walked around town for a bit.  I could not have imagined how much money these guys would spend on fudge, pizza and snacks but it made the rest of the car ride to Sleeping Bear more entertaining.  About twenty minutes out we turn onto a dirt road and all I can remember thinking was “sh*t, this doesn’t seem right…”, quickly the road turns muddy… and tight… and woodsy… and we’re in a 15-passenger van… luckily, we took it slow, got out and made it to camp!

Monday, we woke up and took our time, got on the road and hiked Sleeping Bear Dunes all the way to Lake Michigan. We hiked back and drove south to Nordhouse Dunes Wilderness Area where we hiked in about 2 miles to our own private beach with no one on the shore and not another person in site for miles…  Definitely a place to check out if you ever get the chance.  We swam in Lake Michigan and spent our last night taking turns between staying warm by the fire and laying on the beach looking up at the stars.

Tuesday, the final morning came and we reluctantly packed up camp and hiked away from our paradise.  We began the drive home and stopped one last time for a bite to eat, exchanging stories of the trip and contacts for when we got home.

I can’t say that I’d taken a road trip like this before.  I can’t say that I’d ever taken off with a group of people that I knew so little about and came back knowing so much.  Sure, I’ve traveled all over out west for days and weeks on end. I’ve also taken people I didn’t know that well on big trips but I knew what they were capable of.  On this trip we moved like no other and it was luck of the draw. I

can say that I saw some truly beautiful places, and that I made some great new friends and that I learned a lot.  What I learned (on top of always expect something to go wrong) is that it’s those random moments, the small stories you create along the way and the people you travel with that make a journey memorable.

So, when you go out on that next trip, whether it be a Saturday afternoon hike in East Fork State Park or a week long backpacking trip out west remember it’s often the people sharing the journey with you that make everything you’re doing that much more memorable and exciting.

Reflection on a Thru-hike

One Year Reflection
I keep my eyes on the calendar, watching the days move by and watching October 11 creep closer and closer. A day that is inscribed in my memory just as much as any birthday or holiday, an occasion I can’t forget. When the calendar reaches October 11 this year, It will have been one year since I completed my northbound Appalachian Trail thru hike.
I’m not sure what emotion to feel as I think about my one year trailversary approaching. A part of me is excited to celebrate that one year mark, but more than that I’m feeling the post trail depression that I had fought so hard in those first few months after the hike creep back into my life. I’m reluctant to admit that I am one year separated from the trail, that I haven’t hitchhiked into town, eaten an absurd amount of Honey Buns, or slept in a mouse infested shelter for a full year.
Lately the trail has been on my mind more than usual, scrolling through the pictures I took a year ago and reminiscing on those genuine experiences. Not a day has gone by since I finished that I haven’t thought about the AT, the mountains I climbed, people I met, experiences I had that have shaped who I am and who I will be. But I’ve been spending more time than usual thinking about the trail as October 11 approaches. I miss the trail, I miss my trail family, I miss everything about the experience, but I’m also realizing that I can’t dwell in the past forever. At some point I need to look to the future. The trail will always be a part of my life, but I need to make it part of my future and not my past.
My first year off trail was a year of remembering, but I’m going to make my second a year of learning. The trail changed me in more ways than I realize yet, and in this second year off trail I’m going to learn how the trail has changed me and how I can utilize the lessons I learned in those 5 months for the rest of my life.
Any thru hiker will tell you that the hike changed them, but ask them how and it becomes difficult to pinpoint exactly. I know that I came off the trail more mature, more independent, more responsible. The trail deepened my appreciation for nature and instilled a whole new set of passions in me. Because of my experiences on the AT, I’ve become an obsessive backpacker, developed growing interests in climbing and kayaking, and landed every hiker’s dream job as a part time worker and full time gear junkie at RRT. Beyond that, I know that the trail changed my personality, impacted my beliefs, influenced my perceptions on the world, but I can’t put into words how it did.
I look back on the trail and think about where I was one year ago. One year ago today, the day I’m writing this, I was crossing Moxie Bald Mountain in Maine, camping beside the Piscataquis River and staring at the reflections of colorful trees in the water. I think about who I was then, and who I am now. One year ago, I never would’ve imagined where I would be today. I knew that I would be a first year student at Ohio State, but I couldn’t have known the friendships I would make or the experiences I would have here. And there is no way to know what experiences I will have in the future. But I can look to the future, and know that the AT will be part of my future, the lessons I learned on my hike will be used in college and beyond.
I’d be lying if I said thinking about the AT doesn’t bring tears to my eyes sometimes, that writing this didn’t bring tears to my eyes. I miss spending my days climbing up and down mountains with Archer and Snakebait and No Way, spending evening playing cards with Love and Ditto. I can never go back to those times, but when I start to get stir crazy from being in a city too long, I can always take a quick weekend trip down to the mountains or plan another thru hike. I know that in a year or two I might be on the John Muir Trail, and maybe a few years after that hiking from Mexico to Canada along the Pacific Crest Trail. There is always another trail to hike, and with each new trail, as with the AT, there are lessons to be learned and things to experience that will change your life.
That is the essence of a thru hike. It is a journey, a long one, that leads to self discovery. A journey that doesn’t end on top of Mt. Katahdin or on a wooded summit in Georgia. Many people hike the trail simply to learn about themselves, to rethink their lives and become a new person. Whatever your reasons for a thru hike, you will come away different, no matter how far you make it. And if you are thinking about hiking the AT, or any other long trail, I can’t recommend it enough. It is an experience that will test you in every way possible, but it is an experience that you will love and will not regret, an experience you will learn so much from. The trail is unbelievably difficult, both mentally and physically, but the journey is enjoyable every step of the way.
If you are thinking about doing something, especially a thru hike, don’t only ask yourself if the end justifies the means. If that is all you ask, the answer will be no. Also ask yourself if the means justifies the end. And for that, the answer should be yes. For it is the journey that is the reward, the final destination merely a byproduct of that journey. If you cannot enjoy the means of achieving your goal, is the goal really worth striving for?