Sunday, September 30, 2012

This, that and photographs

Lake Michigan at Little Hog Island

I’ve been busy or on the road a lot over the past few weeks as you might image since I haven’t been very active blogging.  However, I did find the missing card from my camping along Lake Michigan that wrote about as I made my way to the Porcupine Mountains.  I have included a couple of photos below that I took at sunrise along the lake. 
The lake behind Little Hog Island Campground

Waiting for the sun...
Billy, Nicky & me
  Last week I was in North Carolina where I had a wonderful time.  On Saturday, I got up with Billy and Nicky, two friends from Bradley Creek Elementary.  I’ve seen Billy a few times, as he lives in the area we grew up in, but Nicky is in Arkansas.  I haven’t seen him since high school and didn’t see him much then as he ended up going to a different school than me.  Billy borrowed some kayaks from friends of his and we spent the afternoon kayaking on Hewitt's Creek (a place I canoed a few times in high school, but that was a few years ago). 

Billy and Nicky kayaking on Hewitt's Creek
 I also did some fishing with my dad while in Wilmington and posted a few pictures of Masonboro Island.  We fished one day offshore (but it was too rough to drag out the camera) and another day when it was even rougher, we stuck to the inlets and creeks around the island.  We caught a few fish (I got a 4 foot shark along with a nice Spanish mackerel while off-shoe.  Around Masonboro, I caught a  puppy drum and a flounder (that needed to grow 2 inches).    While walking around on the island, we meet a guy working for the state doing a Loggerhead Sea Turtle research.  He showed us some nest.   Interestingly, the biggest threat isn't human involvement but red foxes that like to eat the eggs.  They had placed a mesh over the nest to keep the foxes out.

 Enjoy the photos and I hope to get around to finishing my Porcupine Mountain hike story soon. 

Behind Masonboro Island
Bird taking flight in the marsh behind the island

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Backpacking in the Porcupines, Part 1

Sage (turn your computer 90 degrees)
The first couple hundred yards is on a boardwalk leading to the Lake of the Clouds overlook.  Lots of people are here, including a dozen or two Harley riders.  Everyone takes the short walk to the platform that provides a marvelous view at the escarpment and the lake below, some are complaining as if they are on a real trek.  I feel a little out-of-place with my pack and leather boots in a crowd wearing sandals and flip-flops. The only other boots are worn by the Harley riders.  At the overlook, an interpretive sign informs us that the lake was originally called Carp Lake, the same name as the rivers that drain this area.  I’m planning on hiking down Little Carp River, which supposedly is a wonderful stream for brook trout, and the name “Carp” had me worried.  The sign reassured me that there are no carp in these waters and the name had come out of the French word for “escarpment.”  The French, who were the first Europeans to explore this area, left behind a lot of names.  

Outlet for Lake of the Clouds
Leaving the overlook at the top of the basalt escarpment, the trail snakes steeply downhill for maybe a half of a mile, coming to a bridge that crossed the outlet for the Lake of the Clouds.  There are a couple of backpackers getting water at the bridge and they informed me that the campsites along Mirror Lake had been crowded.  There are several campsites on the east side of the lake still open (camping is first come/first serve), so I decide that even though it was only four o’clock, to stop for the night, set up camp and then explore the lakeshore.   It is a short first day of hiking, only a little over a mile by the time I get to the campsite.  I explore the east shore of the lake, then eat dinner and relax in my hammock reading a book of Rick Bragg’s newspaper columns, before going back to the lake to watch the sunset.   It’s an early night.  The air is warm and probably because we’d been in such a drought, there are few bugs.  I crawl into my bivy tent at 9:30 AM, leaving the tarp off as I’m expecting a clear night.  At about 2 AM, I wake and spend a few minutes looking at the stars before falling back to sleep.

Sunrise on Lake of the Clouds
I rise early on my second morning.  After a breakfast of oatmeal and coffee, I hit the trail at 8 AM, passing other campers who are just getting up.  Soon I was back on the main trail as it climbs steeply up the ridge to the east of the lake.  Although the elevation gain is only about 200 meters, the steep part of the trail has no switchbacks and feels as if it was straight up, as it parallels a small stream that had gouged out a narrow canyon in the rock just south of the trail.   This is hemlock country and the trees that send out roots along near the surface provide barriers that keep the trail teams from the need of installing erosion dams.  But the roots are also tough on the feet!  There is a campsite on the top of the climb and I take a break and check my blood sugar.  This is my first backpacking trip since being diagnosed with Type I (insulin dependent) diabetes.  Although I had purposely taken less insulin than normal in the morning, I find my blood sugar has dropped and is barely at 100.  Normally, it doesn’t drop to that level until mid-day.  I eat a mini candy bar and a granola bar as I continued hiking on the Mirror Lake.   People are beginning to hit the trail and at the junction of Government Peak Trail, I run into a man and his seven year old son who had spent the night up on the peak. 
Mirror Lake
As I approach Mirror Lake, I come across an African-American man and his two sons.  He asked where I’d spent the night and when I tell him he looks astonished and asks how long I’d been on the trail.  When I say a little less than 2 hour (and I don’t tell him that included a 20 minute break), he shakes his head and says I must be a fast hiker for they’re hoping to make it to the lake by the evening.  I’m not exactly hauling a light load with a heavy DSLR and some extras like a pack rod with both a spinning and fly reel, a small hammock and added comfort, I’ve left my thermarest behind for a two inch thick sleeping pad.  My pack probably weighs close to forty-five or so pounds.  But looking at the size of his pack (which could have easily weighted eighty pounds) plus the gear hanging off his belt (a large buck knife, a flashlight and a leatherman® tool and a pouch), I knew he’d be slower than me, but still expect he make the lake long before the evening.  At Mirror Lake, I take a break and talk to a day hiker who arrives as I’m taking photos.  His son has just joined the Marines (he had been in the Army when he was younger) and he felt the need to get out into the woods.   There are also people in all the campgrounds packing up and getting ready to hit the trail.

From Mirror Lake, I picked up the Little Carp River trail.  For the first couple miles, it runs through a swampy area between Mirror Lake and Lily Pond.  Often there are boards to walk on, but the summer has been so dry they are not really necessary.   Through this section (and only time on this trip) mosquitoes are problematic and splash a little repellent on which did the trick.  Through this section, there are pockets of huge hemlocks, beech and maples and I wonder if this virgin timber, too remote to have fallen to the teeth of saws.  I arrived at Lily Pond a little before noon.  There is a nice bridge over the lake’s outlet, just down from a beaver dam, with a bench in the middle.  Although there is a cabin nearby (there are rustic cabins throughout the Porcupines for rent), no one appears to be around.  I pull of f my boots off and air my toes and then prick my finger to check my blood sugar levels.    Despite having eaten several snacks in the morning, my blood sugar had dropped to 90, so I decided not to take insulin at lunch.  It was obvious that I am burning up the sugar in my bloodstream and I don’t need to risk the insulin driving my blood sugar even lower.   By the end of a day of hard hiking, I would come to the conclusion that I can forgo my rapid-acting insulin at breakfast and lunch and only take it at dinner.  Lunch consisted of peanut butter on raisin bread along with some cheese and crackers.
Lily Pond with beaver dam

While having lunch, a family staying at the nearby cabin marches by.  The man, a father or grandfather, is on point.  He nods to acknowledge me when I said hi, but doesn’t speak.  None of them does, as if they’re on a covert mission.  Behind him was a son (or grandson, as the man and woman look too old to have a kid that appeared to be a young teenager) followed by the mother or grandmother.  What amazes me is their attire.  They have matching clothes that make them look like a walking L. L. Bean ad, along with matching walking sticks (with red tassels and a feather on the end).  On the shoulder straps of their daypacks are walkie-talkies mounted they were soldiers or police officers on a mission.  Soon, another family comes up for the other direction and my quiet lunch spot was interrupted with three teenage boys running around and the banging around in a canoe as they headed out into the little lake.  I pack up and hit the trail.

Throughout the afternoon, I found myself deep in thought over my life and for some reason feeling nostalgic as I recalled friends that I hadn’t seen in years, places like Columbus County, NC, Central Idaho, Virginia City, NV and Western New York.  I think about Roscoe and Harold, two very different men who’d served as scoutmasters for troops in the district I served.  I think about Marge, who served as my western mother when I first directed a camp in the Sawtooth Mountains of Idaho.  She made it her mission to see that I got to see what the west was all about.  I think she also wanted me to take an interest in one of her daughters, but that hadn’t happened, even though we remained friends until she succumbed to cancer in the late 90s.   I think about Victor and Wendy, friends in Virginia City and Jerry from Western New York, who’d just emailed me for my recipe for hushpuppies.  As I got the email on my phone, I decided to wait to return his email.  And I think about Ralph, one of my desert traveling buddies from Utah whom I at times find myself missing.  On my drive up, I had spent an hour on the phone (with a headset) talking to his widow.  We both miss him.

As I think about many of these people, many of whom stories I’ve written, I find myself wondering if there is a market for such a collection of stories.  And then I thought about the trails I’ve hiked and the trains I’ve taken and the stories I’ve written and ponder the idea of a collection titled “Rails and Trails.” 

Little Carp River
About a mile south of the pond, the trail leaves the river.  The river, which is little more than a creek, turns east while the trail continues south.  For a few miles climbs as I am lost in my thoughts, I climb over some low ridges, dropping down where there is a stream.  I meet a group of Boy Scouts having lunch at one of the streams.  The scouts and their leaders pass around chucks of cheese and logs of summer sausage which they slice roll in tortillas and eat them as a burrito.   The trail connects back to the river at a small falls, where there are some cabins.  The river has now taken a westward turn as it makes it way toward the big lake.  I take a long break, napping by the falls before resuming my hike.  The next few miles the trail alternates from running right next to the stream to climbing up benches above the stream and hiking through hemlock groves which are like walking on carpet with the thick blanket of needles covering the ground.  The soft ground is a treat for I am getting tired and have probably hiked 13 or 14 miles. There are some huge white pines located along this section and again I wonder if they’re virgin timber that was too remote to cut.   I decide to stop at a campsite that is just after the trail crosses the river but when I get there I am saddened to see two other packs.  I drop mine anyway and head over to the couple who are getting water by a long gradual falls along the river.  They’re not planning on camping, but are heading on up the river.  We exchange information about the trail.  When they leave, I set up camp.   It is 4:30 P.M.

After pitching my tent and finding a good place to hang my food, as this site didn’t have a bear pole, I go for a swim in the creek.  Id’ been hot, sweaty and dirty and the cool water helps revive my spirits.  I try fishing a bit, throwing a Panther Martin (spinner) into a few holes and catch a small brook trout, maybe 7 inches long.  This is a special trout stream and they have to be fifteen inches.  I have seen a few trout, but nothing that comes close to the fifteen inch mark.  Afterwards, I head back to camp and fix dinner: rice and curried chilies (an Indian boil in the bag meal), along with tea.  After dinner, I head out to try my luck with some flies, but don’t get any fish to rise.  Exhausted, I’m in bed a little after nine o’clock. 
Lake of the Clouds from the Escarpment
To be continued…

Friday, September 14, 2012

Driving to the Porcupine Mountains

This was to be illustrated, but when I began my hike, I put a new card in my camera and for the life of me I haven’t been able to find the old card which had photos I’d taken while driving across Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.  I have not been a very good blogger lately as I have been busy and the free time I’ve spent on my sailboat, sailing several evenings a week.  Sadly, on Wednesday, I took the boat out of the water as it is beginning to get cooler and I’ll be traveling next week and then very busy when I come back.   Anyway, here’s my story of driving north.  I am nearly done of my 4 day hike in the Porcupines and then I’ll have another story of a hike in Picture Rocks.  Be good!

From my home, it is a long ways to the Porcupine Mountains of Michigan.  It’s almost 300 miles to “the Bridge,” and once I get to the bridge over the Mackinac Straits, I still have 300 miles to drive.  It’s about 2 PM on Monday when I finally hit the road for my trip, heading north on freeways through the nondescript parts of Central Michigan.  Things don’t get interesting until I cross the bridge, after which I take US 2 and head west into the setting sun, with Lake Michigan to my left and small hotels and diners advertising pasties for sale to my right.  It was getting dark as I see a sign for Hog Island Campground.  Checking it out, it appears to be a great place to stop for the night.  There are only a handful of campers and lots of open sites that back up to Lake Michigan.  But it’s after 8 and I haven’t eaten dinner, so I drive on a bit and stop at a little diner at the next community and picked up a sandwich and beer and then drive back to the campsite, backing my truck into a site and parking.   A nice breeze is blowing off the lake and the stars are just beginning to pop out.  I roll out the foam pad that I keep in my truck and then open up my inflatable pad that I put on the top of the other pad and spread up my sleeping bag.   Eating my sandwich and drinking my beer on the table, I look out into the dark lake and then read some in a hiking guide on the Porcupine Mountains, before crawling into the back of the truck, shutting the hatch and falling asleep. 
I wake up early the next morning and walk out onto a point in the lake as the sun rises over the distant horizon, illumining the stones alone the beach in a warm hue as it casts casting long shadows of every object.   The winds are calmer than yesterday evening and it appears to be the beginning of a beautiful day.  Deciding to forego making breakfast, I am soon on the road and again heading West on US 2.  I still have a long ways to go to get to the trailhead.  I Naubinway, I stop and pick up a breakfast sandwich and coffee and continue on, through Manistique, where I see what appears to be a local freight train shuffling a few cars around.   The highway runs across the top of Big Bay De Noc, paralleling the Soo’s Mainline from Canada and across the Upper Peninsula.  As I’ve seen, the line is still used, but doesn’t have the traffic it once did as it once did when timber and mining were big business up here.  Today, many of the old railroad lines have been abandoned and their beds serve as snowmobile trails.   As I drive, I continually pass groups of Harley’s, whom I assume are taking the long way home from Sturgis and the big rally that had just ended a few days ago.  I am amazed at how many Harley riders have gone to tricycles!  But looking at the size of some of these bikers, a two wheel bike would just sag.  And when mamma is almost as big as the biker, the three wheelers with their oversized tires may be the only option. 
At Rapid River, I leave US 2 and head over to Michigan 35.  It is probably a little longer and the Aussie girl on my GPS is squawking at me, telling me to turn around and informing me that she’s recalculating.   I don’t know why I have that thing on as I often decide to travel on roads that take parallels railroad tracks, shorelines and crosses interesting rivers.  Thankfully, the map published by the state shows not only roads and rivers, but also railroad tracks.  Michigan 35 parallels the tracks that run up to Marquette.
South of Marquette, I turn west, to avoid the UP’s big city and head through Negaunee and Ispheming where I stop to pick up some cord (I’d used all my food hanging cord on the canvas that covers my boat) and an anniversary card from friends who are celebrating their 50th.  Since I was going to be in the woods during their celebration, the least I could do was send them a card.  I stop for lunch at a McDonalds, for one last check of the internet and a large refillable glass of unsweetened ice tea.  I also take time to write a note in the card before continuing on west.  In the little town of Sidnaw, another small railroad town whose tracks now seem to serve as a storage depot for old box and lumber cars, I find an open post office and stop to mail the card, asking if they could hand stamp the envelope.  Jim, who is not big on shin-digs, had expressed interest in hiking with me and I decided a post mark from the UP might remind him why I was missing the party his kids were throwing for him and his wife. 
At Bergland, a small town on the shores of Lake Gogebic, which looks to be an incredible place to sail, I turn north on Michigan 64.  I’m getting close and twenty minutes later I can see Lake Superior.  I head to the park headquarters where I pick up a backcountry permit and look around at the small museum on the history of this, the largest and one of the most remote state parks in Michigan.  It’s almost 4 PM, when I arrive at the parking lot at the Lake of Clouds trailhead.  I could have gotten here faster, but I’ve enjoyed the journey.

Monday, September 03, 2012

Somebody Told Me

I finished reading this book two weeks ago, while in the UP backpacking in the Porcupine Mountains.  I've yet to finish my post on that hike, but here is this book review.   Hopefully I'll soon have some posts of my hiking up.

Rick Bragg, Somebody Told Me: The Newspaper Stories of Rick Bragg (New York: Vintage Books, 2000), 277 pages.

Rick Bragg is probably my favorite living Southern writer.  His book, All Over But the Shoutin’ tells his and his family’s story, about how he became a journalist after only having completed only one college semester.  But he’d been raised in the South (Jacksonville, AL), surrounded by storytellers and credits the hours he spent on a front porch stoop listening to masters of the craft for teaching him what could never be learned in journalism school.  “Thank God for talkers,” he begins the introduction essay in this book.  Bragg suggests that the key to his success has been an ear for listening and then just writing what he hears.   Before switching to writing books and memoirs, the first which was published in 2001, Bragg had a successful career as a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist.  This book contains a collect of his stories that were mostly published in the 1990s.  Reading this, I was taken back to the world before 911 and reminded of many of the tragic stories of that last decade of the 20th Century: the 1994 Palm Sunday tornadoes, Susan Smith murdering her sons, the Oklahoma City bombing and the stories of school yard shootings that predate Columbine.  Most of these stories take place in the South at a time when things are changing rapidly.  The reader gets a view of New Orleans before Katrina, learns about secret adoptions, the hardship of prisons, icons such as Elvis and Bear Bryant and George Wallace, and the racial tension that still undermines much of a changing South.  These stories first appeared in the St. Petersburg Times (Florida) the New York Times.

The strength of Bragg’s writing is that he listens to everyone—young and old, rich and poor, black and white and hues in between.  These columns run three to six pages, allowing him the ability to give the reader a sense of the people involved, not just a short sound-bite that makes the 6 o’clock news cut.  Reading Bragg, I get the sense that likes people and honors everyone, a value that not only makes him a better writer but suggests a better way to relate to the world.

I have read five of Bragg’s books and have reviewed three on this blog:  All Over But the Shoutin’ The Prince of Frogtown, and Ava’s Man.  Although I recommend his trilogy for those who never have read Bragg, I would encourage those wanting more of his writing to check this book out.   I was able to pick up a used copy of this book off the internet.