The weather forecasters are using words like supercell thunderstorms, flash flooding, and on their infographics, the entire state of Michigan is red. I look out the window of my motel room. The gusting winds are making the trees rattle and the clouds are dark and ominous. I decide to wait until check out time to make the call of whether or not I want to spend another day in town. I chide myself for what feels like leaping at an excuse to stay in town. “Real thru-hikers would’ve left by now,” I think. But thankfully, quickly ignore that voice. It doesn’t matter how other people would do this.
An amazing solution arrives through the Internet: Patty and Dave Warner are inviting me to stay the night with them. I finally head out having arranged to meet them further up the trail, but decide to take a shorter day to test my feet’s condition, and thunderstorms are predicted to move through the area at 6 p.m.
My feet felt like new as I walked out of Mesick. Back on the trail, it continued following the Manistee River, where I was treated to seeing trumpeter swans, a turtle or tortoise. Sorry, I was terrible about taking pictures this week. I got video! It’ll be out in a couple weeks.
Rain starts pouring down about an hour into my hike, and my least favorite part of the day was a 2-mile road walk, much on busy M-37, where I get rained on and splashed by passing cars, but the hiking afterward is beautiful. The trail north of M-37 runs though a small ravine and crosses back and forth across the creek with the Manistee River on the other side of a narrow ridge separating the two. I finally found some mud on this trail, and fall on my bum for the first time.
Dave Warner picks me up just as another round of pouring rain is starting up.
After dinner, Patty and Dave invite me to stay another night with them so I could do something called “slack packing,” taking just what you need for the day and leaving your overnight gear behind. I jump at the opportunity to cut my feet some more slack. The next day will be my first 15-mile day, and I fear another case of hamburger feet.
The next morning, I set out in the cool, misty weather hiking strong and fast. The trail followed the river all day, giving me some of the most breathtaking views of the hike so far.
I can’t figure out why I feel like I’m hiking fast, but Avenza is telling me that my pace, like the geology of the area, is glacial, just 1-1.5 miles an hour. I get frustrated and start thinking I’ll never be able to do 25-mile days at this speed, which I’ll need to do to finish half the trail by winter. But the sheer beauty of the trail reminds me I’m not out here for speed or distance records. I just want to be in the woods. That’s my real goal.
I also pass a marker for the Old Indian Trail, a trail that ran from Traverse City to Cadillac. No. 16 is at a former village site. I’m wishing we had some markers like this in Minnesota. It wasn’t until I was an adult that I learned a trail ran right through my neighborhood that Native Americans used for harvesting wild rice in now urban lakes. I remember to keep an eye out for signal trees, trees bent at 90 degree angles as trail markers by Native Americans to signal trail directions.
Back at Patty and Dave’s, I have the best meal I’ve had in months: cheeseburgers off the grill, home fries, corn on the cob, homemade baked beans and coleslaw, watermelon, and Dave’s delicious chocolate chip cookies for desert.
When I tell Dave my hike that day was only 13.5 miles, he pulls out his topo maps and assured me it was 15 miles. He and Patty know this stretch of trail like the back of their hand. Confused, I pull up the Avenza app and pull out my printed maps and discover that the three mile difference between their mileage counts drops to one mile after Harvey Bridge. I wasn’t hiking as slow as I thought. Avenza was catching up to the printed maps.
I hike 16 miles the next day. My feet feel great, and the hiking is perfect. I hike my final stretch along the Manistee, sad to leave it, but soon am charmed by Fife Lake Creek. The trail is far from major roads this stretch, and quiet. I see tons of animals — crows chattering, a garter snake sunning himself in the trail, deer flashing their white flag tails at me as they bound away, blue jays flashing through the woods like a piece of blue sky on wings, the pounding of pileated woodpeckers, and end my hike at the Headquarters Lakes to haunting Loon song.
The next morning dawns rainy, with gusting winds, and chilly. I’m ready to get back on trail full-time. I say goodbye to Patty and Dave drops me off at the trail. I wave goodbye, so grateful for their help, hospitality, trail information, and amazing cooking.
My fully loaded pack feels impossibly heavy after two days of slack packing, but I settle into hiking. The Valley of the Giants, a stand of old growth forest, is the highlight of the day, along with a massive beaver logging operation. There is a patch of forest so impacted by beavers, it looks like a logging company clear cut the forest.
I found a greeting from Tom (MacGyver), one of my first trail angels, in a trail register, which brightened my day, but haven’t seen any entries from Sir Dickspatcher, the other person hiking to North Dakota. Maybe he got off the trail? I’m sad to think that. Although I’m enjoying the solitude of the trail, I was looking forward to having someone doing the same hike at the same time with which to compare stories.
I set up camp at Scheck’s Place Forest Campground, and prepare for the 80 percent chance of thunderstorms. A gorgeous campground with towering white and red pines, I find a site with the shortest trees and a tent pad clear of roots. These are storm safety techniques recommended by Search and Rescue volunteers I interviewed this year. Lightning can jump from trees to you, so avoiding the tall ones, and tree roots is a good practice. Also, the latrines are close by if it gets really scary. I’m not sure when I got so concerned about thunderstorms. Maybe after hiking the Snowbank Trail in Minnesota, a trail that was pretty much destroyed by a straight-line wind storm in 2016. In fact, the brother of Minnesota’s current governor was killed in that storm. I am not afraid of bears or wolves; I am afraid of the awesome power of storms.
The thunderstorm never materializes, a good reminder that weather forecasts are changeable.
I do my first 15-mile day with a full pack on a stretch I’ve hiked before at the trail celebration along the Boardman River and through the Sand Lakes Quiet Area. If I could’ve ordered perfect hiking weather on a menu, today’s weather would be it: 60s, a cool breeze strong enough to keep the midges out of my face, billowing cumulus clouds dotting blue sunny skies.
I cross the 200-mile mark of my hike near Guernsey Lake. I can’t believe I’ve hiked 200 miles in just a couple weeks. 2,200 more to go.
I arrive at my mileage goal for the day, have some fun bushwhacking down to a lake to get some water, and discover an old stretch of the NCT near its shore, blue blazes and all.
I set up camp in a meadow. I’m loving dispersed camping because even though I don’t get the prettiest campsites all the time, they are all mine. When a deer starts yelling off in the woods for minutes on end (what is happening back there?), there are no stereos or shouting humans to prevent me from hearing clearly. The second noisiest animal to humans — the Canadian Goose — wakes me at dawn, but soon I’m serenaded by a Swainson’s Thrush. Please don’t tell the other birds, but the Swainson’s call is my favorite.
I hike 8 miles into Kalaska, a day later than planned but my feet are feeling awesome. I’m so grateful to Patty and Dave for hosting me this week, feeding me like a Queen, and helping me cut myself and my feet some slack.
Section: Mesick to Kalkaska
Total miles: 212.90