North Country Trail: MY ARRIVAL

dsc8007-c.jpg

 

I slept, restlessly at first, but somewhere in the short hours between midnight and 6:00 AM my mind found a way to unwind and just let go. I often wake remembering some portion of a dream – a place I’ve been to but never visited, a person or people I know yet have never met, a flash or glimpse in time seeming a small, insignificant detail that somehow broke the barrier between my subconscious and conscious mind to become a fading memory. This morning, I woke only to the sound of my iPhone alarm.

A quick hot shower, dressing in my hiking clothes, slipping on my Injinji liners and Darn Tough socks, weighing myself with and without my pack, double-tying the laces of my trail-runners, were all followed by choking down a Clif Bar and a cup of Dark Roast coffee. I placed my Adirondack Green Osprey Aether AG™ 60 backpack in the rear seat of the Grand Caravan, said good-bye to Andrew, and I was on my way. It was 7:23 AM on Saturday June 30th.

IMG_3382-C

 

A right turn, another right turn, followed by a Michigan left, through the light at the intersection, a gentle merge to the right and I was on Interstate I-75 headed north. It seems as if I passed through Flint almost instantly, then came Birch Run, quickly followed by Saginaw. Two and a half hours and 185 miles after I departed, I stopped in Grayling, to stretch my legs and refuel the Grand Caravan. My next stop would be somewhere in the UP (Michigan’s Upper Peninsula), most likely Marquette.

But first would come the Mackinaw Bridge.

IMG_3383-C

 

The things my mind decides to remember while I’m driving long distances are sometimes baffling. Others, not so much, and are perhaps more triggered than remembered. I don’t know why … wait, scratch that, I do know why bridges with edges that I can see over (and standing heights) bother me so much.

As a kid in the late 70’s, I grew up on the Southwest side of Detroit – I attended Detroit Public Schools for elementary school, I remember snow piles in the Winter so tall I couldn’t see over them, I learned to swim in the pool at Patton Park, I can still taste the sweet tomato sauce on the hand-tossed pepperoni pizza cooked in the huge flat ovens at Vic’s Pizzeria, and walking over Interstate 94 on the Lonyo and Tarnow Street Bridges. Back then, the Lonyo Street Bridge had railings very similar to those of the Mackinaw Bridge, shown in the picture above.

It was a typical sunny summer day, my brother and I were out and about with our older cousins, Billy, John, Joe, and a few of the other neighborhood kids. I can’t remember where we had been that afternoon, but I do remember we were headed back to my Grandmother’s house, and as we crossed over the Lonyo Street Bridge, for some unexplained reason, my cousin Joe just picked me up, and held me out and over the railing of the bridge. I want to believe that we had actually made it far enough across the bridge that if I had slipped or he had dropped me, I would have landed on the grass covered embankment below. But all I remember are the semi-trucks passing underneath me.  I had nightmares for years of semi-trucks hitting me head on, running me over and dragging me endlessly down the pavement of the freeway. Today, the railings on the Lonyo Street Bridge are completely covered. Today, I no longer have those nightmares.

As I started driving up and onto the Mackinaw Bridge, once again, the fear of falling over the edge was right in front of me. The minimum posted speed limit was 20 MPH. The maximum was 40 MPH. I would continue on, staying in the left-center lane, and driving 35-40 MPH. No matter where you are or what the circumstances, why is there always that one person that has to drive like an idiot? Clearly oblivious to the posted maximum speed limit of 40 MPH, he rushed up behind me in his tan Honda Accord, decided he wasn’t going to (or didn’t want to) slow down, so he swerved over into the right lane, whizzed passed me, and onward to his life in the fast-lane. As I came to the half-way point of crossing the bridge, I could see the end in front of me, and the fear that gripped me just moments earlier had subsided greatly. I almost felt somewhat comfortable driving now, and told myself “See you can do this”.

It seemed the farther north I drove the hotter the temperature was outside. Then again, it was past noon, almost 1:00 PM, and the cloud cover that had blanketed the sky all morning was long gone, giving way to clear blue skies and sunshine. The temperature didn’t really bother me, and the breeze created by driving with the windows down managed to keep it comfortable inside the Caravan. As I pulled into the parking lot of the Wendy’s restaurant located in Marquette, I was not only hungry, but completely ready to be done driving, and it felt so good to stretch my legs again. Google maps estimated I would arrive at the trail entrance on Norwich Road in a short two hours. I ordered a Spicy Chicken sandwich combination, with fries and a Coke, for here, paid the cashier, received my beverage cup ahead of my order and promptly filled it – light ice, a splash of MinuteMaid Lemonade, and topped off with regular Coca-Cola. As I placed the large lid on top of my beverage cup, the female college student working behind the counter called out “Order 312”. I carried my beverage over, placed it on the tray next to my sandwich and fries, picked up the tray and said “Thank you”. The female college student smiled and replied “Have a great day”, and as I headed to an open table in the restaurant I was thinking to myself “Ha! You have no idea how great it’s going to be”.

I finished my sandwich, fries and almost all of my beverage, then stopped to use the restroom on the way out of the restaurant. Not sure why, but I made a mental note that I might be a little de-hydrated, so I decided to empty my beverage cup and re-fill it with water before I left, so I could drink it while driving the last segment and final two hours of the eight and half hour trip. I refueled the Grand Caravan across the street at the Speedway. My next stop, the designated parking area .9 miles from the North Country Trail.

The entrance to the North Country Trail on Norwich Road is easy to overlook. In fact I missed it completely, driving straight passed it the first time, and after passing US Forest Service Road 690 headed north, I knew I needed to turn around and retrace my route. As I passed the designated parking area at the trail head just before Mason Creek, I slowed down and studied the outline of the forest as it followed the road.

Suddenly, there it was.

IMG_3408

 

How I could have possibly missed it the first time is beyond me! I made a quick U-turn, drove .9 miles back to trail head designated parking area, parked the Caravan out of the way, placed my keys securely on the clip inside my chest pack, finished the last of the water in the Wendy’s beverage cup, put my pack on my back, clipped the straps, pressed the button on the vehicle door panel to lock the Caravan doors, and firmly shut the sliding side door.

Walking the .9 miles south back to the North Country Trail entrance seemed easy enough.

IMG_3411-C

 

As I arrived at the trail entrance, I grabbed my Garmin inReach Explorer, unlocked the screen, selected ‘Messages’, and then ‘New Message’. I selected Andrew and my email account as recipients, selected the first Preset Message, and then selected ‘Send’.

I’m starting from here.

Kelly Williams sent this message Sat 6/30/2018 5:52 PM                                      from: Lat 46.68123 Lon -89.38983

Do not reply directly to this message. This message was sent to you using the inReach two-way satellite communicator with GPS. To learn more, visit http://explore.garmin.com/inreach.

 

 

– Kelly

blog: Ramble Afoot
vlog: YouTube Channel
fb: Facebook
ig: Instagram
tw: Twitter

#Hike100NCT #FindYourTrail

North Country Trail: STICK TO THE PLAN

_DSC8005

All of the research was complete, all of the different scenarios considered, all of the items on the lists checked off. A copy of the spreadsheet created weeks ago, documenting dates, estimated miles to be hiked, daily starting, ending locations, and water sources – each with its respective latitude and longitude – was printed and sitting on the kitchen table, just in case Andrew needed it.

Friday June 29th, 2018 had arrived!

After working from home and participating in a few morning conference calls, I arrived at the House of Optical for my first appointment of the day – my annual check-up with my ophthalmologist. It was 9:47 AM, I was a few minutes early, so I took the number card from its holder and as I sat down in the chair located in the waiting area, I had a peculiar thought “Am I really #1? Ha! This doesn’t happen often”. A few minutes passed, the receptionist called my name from behind the counter, and I was quickly whisked off to the dark room with the crazy looking chair and the eye charts with all those letters and numbers that I should seriously have memorized by now. My vision exam proceeded, first my right eye, and then my left eye, the opening question – “Can you read the last line?” – followed by “And now?” and then the battery of clicks and options to determine which looks clearer “One or Two”, “Three or Four”, “Five or Six”, “Seven or Eight”. I think my reply “Now I see doubles” completely through my doctor off his game!

At the conclusion of my vision examination came good news – my vision in my left was unchanged, still a -1.25, but my vision in my right eye had miraculously gotten better with age and was now a mere -.75. Still, not a big enough change to warrant new lenses for my frames, so I was returned to the receptionist’s desk to be checked out and re-supply my stock of contact lenses. Two pairs of contact lenses would be placed in my toiletry bag, along with a toothbrush, toothpaste, dental floss, and the other items I deemed required for a 100-mile hike on the North Country Trail.

My second appointment with Dr. Muller at the Huntington Group to have my titanium dental implant in slot #30 uncovered was still hours away, and 2:00 PM simply could not arrive fast enough. It may as well have been Christmas Eve and I 10-years old again. I obviously underestimated my desire – my desire to put all of the planning into action, to finally get there, to be ‘on trail’, to actually start hiking my first hike of any real distance.

Finally 2:00 PM would arrive to find me already cozy in the dental chair, the lead blanket lying on my chest, and an x-ray of my lower right jaw underway. Dr. Muller walked in, took a look at the x-ray, performed a quick exam of the implant area, and with two small shots to numb the area surrounding the surgical site, my follow-up surgery was in progress. You have to feel confident that things are going extremely well when your oral surgeon states “wow, the bone in your jaw has actually grown over the implant. I wish that would happen more often”. It also made me stop to ask myself if the many glasses of Kroger chocolate milk had actually aided in the healing process. (I’m going with it!) A few minutes later, Dr. Muller finalized stitching up my gum, provided a little commentary – namely “I like it!” – and I was done.

It was 3:47 PM. My lips were still numb from the local anesthetic. The estimated drive time to the designated trail head parking area located on Norwich Rd was eight and half hours. If I stuck to the plan and left now, at best, I would have to drive across the Mackinac Bridge in the dark, would arrive at the trail head well after midnight, have to sleep in the back seat of the Grand Caravan, and wake to begin hiking tomorrow morning. Not exactly ideal conditions to start a 100-mile hike, and I knew I would be pushing it to complete the eight and half hour drive straight through to Ontonagon.

I paused for a moment, and a voice in my mind sounded “hike your own hike”.

In that moment, I decided I would return home, sort through the items in my pack one last time, have an early dinner with Andrew, and maybe take a nap? Then depending on how I and my jaw were feeling, then my journey would begin.

– Kelly

blog: Ramble Afoot
vlog: YouTube Channel
fb: Facebook
ig: Instagram
tw: Twitter

#Hike100NCT #FindYourTrail

North Country Trail : THE PLAN

_DSC8004

 

I researched for hours. I spent days thinking through all of the different scenarios. I made lists to check, and double check. I tested and verified that I would be able to communicate and send messages without cellular phone service or coverage.  I gathered and documented contact information for local emergency personnel, just in case. I created a spreadsheet documenting dates, estimated miles to be hiked, daily starting, ending locations, and water sources – each with its respective latitude and longitude.

The estimated drive-time from my home in Troy to the designated trail head parking area located on Norwich Rd in Ontonagon was a mere eight and half hours, would take me through the center of Michigan’s lower peninsula, across the Mackinac Bridge into the UP (Upper Peninsula), through Marquette, and then West on MI 28 to Norwich Road. I would set off on my adventure at 3:00 PM on Friday June 29th – after my appointment with Dr. Muller at the Huntington Group to have the titanium dental implant in slot #30 uncovered in preparation for a new crown, to replace the tooth that had to be extracted back in January. (That’s an entirely different story that perhaps I’ll share on a rainy day, but suffice it to say, it was Obi-Juan’s fault!)

I would arrive at the designated trail head parking area located on Norwich Rd in Ontonagon around midnight, sleep as best as I could in the back seat of the Grand Caravan, and wake to begin hiking the morning of Saturday June 30th.

The start of my hike on the North Country Trail would begin at the trail entrance on Norwich Road, I would hike East from Norwich Road for 3.5 miles to the NCT Mile 100 Waypoint programmed in my Garmin inReach Explorer, turn around, and then hike the 3.5 miles West back to Norwich Road. The idea being, if needed I could make any weight adjustments to my pack, place those items in the Caravan, and then continue onward.

NCT-Start

 

Over the next 2-3 days, I would continue hiking along the North Country Trail – stopping along the way to filter water and eat as needed, and to camp overnight – making my way to the half-way point, a back-pack campsite located just past the NCT Mile 50 marker and very near the Presque Isle State Campground.

NCT-End

 

Depending on how I felt, I would spend the following day or two relaxing a bit, exploring Presque Isle, the Porcupine Mountains, and the shores of Lake Superior.

Then I would set my sites eastward, hike the required 46.5 miles back along the North Country Trail returning to my origin, exit the NCT, walk back to the designated trail head parking area located on Norwich Rd in Ontonagon, place my pack and gear in the Grand Caravan, and begin the eight and half hour drive back home.

My plan was perfect!

 

– Kelly

blog: Ramble Afoot
vlog: YouTube Channel
fb: Facebook
ig: Instagram
tw: Twitter

#Hike100NCT #FindYourTrail

In case you were wondering …

An introduction to the gear in my pack and worn for my 100 Mile Shake-Down Hike on the North Country Trail can be viewed here: https://youtu.be/GIILXKZTIN8

You can also view my entire NCT Gear List here: https://lighterpack.com/r/1jooj6

NCT-Image-1

 

See ya on the Trail!

– Kelly

blog: Ramble Afoot
vlog: YouTube Channel
fb: Facebook
ig: Instagram
tw: Twitter

#Hike100NCT #FindYourTrail

Why would you … ?

Why would you want to live life vicariously through a series of blog entries, Tweets, Instagrams, Facebook posts, or YouTube videos portraying the journey and adventures of a middle-aged man, as he prepares for and attempts to “Thru-Hike” three of the most challenging long-distance hikes in the contiguous United States?

35236916_10216228938615559_2198849751758143488_n (1)

 

I suppose one would have to stop and ask themselves why anyone would want to attempt such an arduous challenge?

 35067601_10216228943535682_1909702924074745856_o

 

For me I guess it all goes back some 45 years to that summer vacation when my family traveled to the Smokey Mountains for the first time. It was so different then compared to today’s modern version.

I can still remember it all as if it were just yesterday – the mountainside hotel in Gatlinburg, TN, painted pale blue, complete with heated-pool and arcade game-room, the fresh smell of the mountains that just seemed to reach out beckoning you onward into the woods, day-hiking along the Pigeon River and that moment when I stepped into a small crystal-clear pool to only find myself utterly surprised, neck-deep in water, or the incredible moment when we stopped the car at a mountainside overlook, located somewhere in the National Park, and as we stood there looking over the mountain ledge at the valley below, a single Monarch butterfly just flew in from nowhere and landed on my mother’s shoulder.

 

There was just something incredibly stirring in the absolute newness of it all, the surreal moments of nature and beauty, even if captured and only now are memories, and how blindly easy it was to be a kid and just take it all in.

 

35143714_10216228945055720_6567463264299515904_o

 

In many ways I feel as if a small part of me was left in the mountains, which at times has felt unsettled, left undone, waiting for my return. In other ways I feel an even bigger part of the mountains was left inside me, for this moment, for now, beckoning me onward, to return to the woods, to be one again not just with the Pigeon River, or the many overlooks and landscapes from my past, but with more, so much more, more of the paths and trails, the streams and rivers, the mountains and valleys – the many wonders just waiting for me to go and explore.

 

35132854_10216228944335702_6999499285939093504_o

 

Many of those who have done so before me will tell you “Hike Your Hike”. For me, it’s time. It’s time for me to “Hike My Hike”, and I invite you to come along with me, to be a part of all, to virtually leave a part of yourself in the mountains, and take a part of the mountains with you.

 

As I paraphrased in my last post, “I (am) ready to hike. … I (want) to see what (is) out there. All over America … people (will) be dragging themselves to work, stuck in traffic jams, wreath(ing) in exhaust smoke. I (will be) going for a walk in the woods. I (am so) ready for this.”

Are you?

 

See ya on the trail!

– Kelly

 

Note: This blog entry is “Kathyrn approved”

 

blog: Ramble Afoot
vlog: YouTube Channel
fb: Facebook
ig: Instagram
tw: Twitter

It’s Here!

“I (am) ready to hike. … I (want) to see what (is) out there. All over America … people (will) be dragging themselves to work, stuck in traffic jams, wreath(ing) in exhaust smoke. I (will be) going for a walk in the woods. I (am so) ready for this.”

― Bill Bryson, A Walk in the Woods

33176631_10216070575896590_4486838178195439616_n
Photo: Neil Weaver @neilweaverphotography

 

What: My first 100+ Miles and Shake-Dow Hike.

When: June 30 – July 7, 2018

Where: North Country Trail, located in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula and the Porcupine Mountains

You can see a map of my route and follow me as I make my way along the trail via my inReach Explorer+ Communicator at this link: https://share.garmin.com/rambleafoot

I will try to post updates to my blog and social media (if/when I have service) …

blog: Ramble Afoot
vlog: YouTube Channel
fb: Facebook
ig: Instagram
tw: Twitter

 

See you on the trail!

– Kelly

#Hike100NCT #FindYourTrail

5 miles with 15 lbs – Day 5

A day without my pack and no miles logged …

Youtube-Photo

 

At times it’s a genuine struggle to balance the desire I have to be ‘out there, doing it, and just hiking my own hike’ with the responsibilities I have ‘being home, doing all of the things that come with home ownership, supporting a Junior at Grand Valley State University, and just living life’.

Today that struggle presented itself as I found myself helping a dear friend move all of her and her daughter’s belongings from the wooden structure in which they have lived for the last five years, to their new house and the place that they’ll now call ‘home’.

There were moments when walking up and down the ramp, in to and out of the moving truck, carrying the next item to be loaded and eventually unloaded, that I imagined myself taking that ‘next step’ on the Appalachian Trail.

How would it actually feel? Would it be as easy as they say – just putting your foot in front of the other?

There were other moments, like when it began to rain outside, as I just stopped, stood there in the grass on the front lawn of the of the house to let the cool drops of water fall from the sky and tingle on my skin when they landed.

Would it feel this refreshing when I’m climbing a hill, some 7 miles into a 20 mile day, hot and sticky all over?

There was even a moment when stopping to re-fuel our bodies with the one food choice every hiker loves and that contains most every food group – Pizza! I found myself savoring the flavors of the sauce, the texture of the never-ending stringy cheese as I took the next delicious bite-after-bite, and that unique aroma only Jet’s Pizza square slices with pepperoni, ham, and mushroom have.

I wondered if after finishing that 20 mile day, ending in a town somewhere along the trail, while stopping to re-fuel my body, would the slice of pizza I order with pepperoni, ham, and mushroom be as well earned, delicious and filling. Gosh, I hope so!

And then there was the moment, with the giant truck rented from U-Haul emptied, the rolling door pulled downward, shut, and the lever engaged to lock it, that I thought about the many steps I had taken, how it seemed as if we started the process so long ago, and how how it felt to be in that moment – knowing that I finished something so much bigger than myself.

And as I write these last words for this blog entry, I wonder how it will feel? To stand there – at the summit of Katahdin? To look out and over the landscape before me, to think about the many steps I had taken to get there, the ups and the downs, the pack on my back – the structure from which I have lived for the last seven months, where will I now call home?, the cool drops of water that fell from the sky and tingled on my skin when they landed, the many slices of pepperoni, ham, and mushroom pizza eaten, how I started the Appalachian Trail thru-hike so long ago, and how it will feel to be in that moment – knowing that I finished something so much bigger than myself?

– Kelly

 

blog: http://www.rambleafoot.com
vlog: http://www.youtube.com/channel/UCQRqKC5cWnFByK6hgIHR6jQ
fb: http://www.facebook.com/rambleafoot
ig: http://www.instagram.com/rambleafoot
tw: http://www.twitter.com/rambleafoot