Monday, July 16, 2012

Summer Porkies Backpacking

 Just another super-perfect weekend in the woods.

There were blueberries, thimbleberries and raspberries. There were minimal mosquitoes, zero biting black flies and snorting deer. Curious deer, too. There was a small road walk and feeling like a thru-hiker. There were crazy, root-stepped hills and sweating profusely. There was a great group of friends, old and new. There was an awesome dog named Lombardi, our newest non-human Meetup member. There was a backpacker’s version of a rock spa on the beach. And the warmest Lake Superior in history, making for a long, refreshing swim. There was a fluorescent sunset and aurora borealis!! There were moonshine blueberries and euchre. A midnight waterfall slide and hundreds of tiny leeches. Fire, woods, friends, laughs, dirt, sweat, trail, sky, trees, mud, swimming, stinking, eating…

The Porcupine Mountains in Upper Michigan hold a very special place in my heart. My very first backpacking trip ever was in the Porcupine Mountains, and afterwards I was pretty sure I’d never be doing it again. Can you believe that!? I was a senior in high school, and I took an outdoor class. We learned all kinds of cool stuff, and for our final we had to spend a 4-day, 3-night trip in the backcountry in May. Looking back, I’m pretty certain I was showing symptoms of Aplastic Anemia, but was totally unaware what was happening. I struggled through that trip, but I still look back and remember it as an amazing adventure and great accomplishment. I also still remember sitting down for a break with knees that felt broken and 8 cans of Spaghettios in my backpack that our teacher, coach and leader made me eat. I told him I wasn’t going any further… they could all go on without me. But I got up anyway and finished it out. I had to. That’s how it works, and there’s something incredible about that. I learned. And I later learned that I loved all of it. Even the pains of it all. It all adds up and created this giant ball of incredible adventure and feeling strong and accomplishing something amazing. Being a strong backpacker makes me feel like I could survive anything. I know it’s getting a little mushy, but it’s my second love, Adam being my number one, of course!

So this is why I chose the Porkies as my destination of choice to spend my birthday weekend this year. I took some vacation and planned a four-day trip. The first two days were mine by myself, and the second two I’d be meeting up with a group of friends, old and new, from our Fox Valley Meetup group. I’d never been solo backpacking before and I’d been wanting to try it for a long time. I figured it was the perfect time for that. One night in the woods by myself, and everything at my own pace. I even chose to push the miles as an added challenge during the daytime.

The plan I came up with worked pretty much how I planned it with a few tiny route changes, and that was it. It was perfect. I drove up Wednesday night. I drove up with Randall and met Pete and Piotr up at the Presque Isle Campground – they were able to take the time off to take a couple of extra days and asked if I minded they go early, too – I wouldn’t turn down a carpool! On Thursday morning we all head to the Presque Isle Falls, and we parted ways. The three of them drove around looking at points of interest through the park via car, then hiked in 2 miles that night and camped at Lost Lake. I’d meet up with them again the next day.

I hiked a little over 20 miles to Mirror Lake, camped, then hiked 14 miles (including a 2-mile road walk) the next day, Friday. I walked to Union Bay Campground where I met up with the Meetup group. We woke up early Saturday morning and hiked the Lake Superior Trail and camped after 12 miles. On Sunday, we hiked out the last 6 miles to Presque Isle where my car was parked, and we shuttled drivers back to the start to get vehicles. We stopped for burgers, then parted ways. The plan went as good as it did in my head. It’s just cool when that happens… with anything.

Presque Isle River's pretty falls.

 I got a bit of a later start than I’d wanted on Thursday. Getting packed up while car camping somehow sucks time away. But I still had most of the day to get to camp, and even if I had to hike into the dark, I was okay with that, but I was going to do all I could to avoid that. During the hiking portion of backpacking, while enjoying the scenery and the exercise, it’s hard to not dream of camp… where you can relax, eat, rehydrate, and who knows… maybe even take a swim. I dreamed of having enough daylight to take my time doing all of these things… and still hanging my food in a tree without use of a headlamp. But I had 20 miles in front of me with a late start. On top of the late start, I accidentally took the “scenic route” around the Presque Isle Falls. It’s the East and West River Trails, and it added 2 miles to my day right off the bat. But it was a gorgeous detour, and I was happy with that mistake. After those 2 waterfall-filled miles, I got onto the Lake Superior Trail and headed out. My first wildlife encounter was a little buck that must have been napping right along the trail. I think I nearly stepped on him. He shot up and out into the woods, stopping on a dime a few leaps in to look back and assess the situation. He stared at me through the trees and snorted a huge, snotty, whistley snort. Then he snorted again, and again, and again. I was going to take out my camera with the intention of capturing his antics on video, but he wasn’t having any of that… and he took off.

I hiked straight through the first 8.3 miles strong. I stopped at the mouth of the Little Carp River, where it flows into Lake Superior. I crawled under the bridge there and took a nice break. I took my shoes off and soaked my feet in the water, ate a couple of backcountry deli bagels – mini bagels with deli chicken, cheese and mayo. I treated some water for a cold coffee and and electrolyte mix. I filled up with fresh energy and moved on. 

My break at the mouth of the Little Carp River.

Deli bagels with a view.

I then took the Little Carp River Trail. I was moving fast. I wanted 20 miles that day… I was hoping to get to Mirror Lake to camp, happily exhausted from a long-mileage day. That was my plan. So I found a good, strong hiking pace and kept that up all day. It was tough, but it was perfect. I passed by Trader’s Falls, Trapper’s Falls and Greenstone Falls along the Little Carp River. They were all small falls, but still very pretty… and inviting. I could have stopped at each one and taken a swim, if I’d had the time. Maybe on the next trip – I can make that my goal. I’ll stop at all the swimming holes along the way.

Here is where I made a few route changes. It was getting later in the day, and as I calculated my pace and my remaining miles, if I stuck with my original route, I’d be ending the day with about 22 miles and getting to camp after 7:00pm. I hoped to get there sooner than that, so I passed on the 1-mile detour to Overlooked Falls and the side trail to Summit Peak… which I would have climbed, even though I was going to be exhausted at that point. Again, next time!

I stopped for a break at a campsite just before Lily Pond, took my shoes off, picked a wood tick off of me – which ended up being the only wood tick I got, except for one deer tick later in the trip… but he wasn’t attached, I don’t think. He still had his head attached and no skin in his microscopic pincers, so I think I’m safe from his threat of Lymes Disease.

I got turned around heading back out from that break. The mistake only cost me about 10 minutes, so it was okay. I came into that break pretty tired. My mind was focused on Lily Pond – I knew there was a boardwalk there with a bench, so I was planning to stop there for my break and wasn’t paying attention to how the trail entered the campsite where I decided to break instead. On my way back out I ended up going the same way I came in. I realized it when I hit a swampy, muddy patch of trail and stepped over a tree that looked eerily familiar to one I stepped over going the other direction. There was even a group of tiny moths that fluttered up around me as I stepped over it… same as last time. I turned around and decided to backtrack to be certain, before going to far. Sure enough. I came into those campsites the same way as the first time! Whoopsy! This was the result of a tired mind. And  a reminder to keep myself fed and hydrated well in order to keep my mind sharp. I should have stopped a little sooner, but I was in a low area and the mosquitoes were coming out. They weren’t terrible, but the ones that were out still attacked as fiercely as they could. It was enough to push me to a breezy spot where they’d be less of an annoyance. I felt pretty lucky, as the skeeters could have been much, much worse. And I could’ve had biting black flies, but there weren’t any.

Lily Pond.

I took a small break at Lily Pond when I arrived, and enjoyed a nice breeze coming off the pond, then continued on the Little Carp River Trail until I arrived at Mirror Lake. I got there at about 6:00pm, which I was thrilled with. I had plenty of light to do all the things I wanted to do. I hiked around to the back side of the lake where I knew there were a couple of sites with small “beaches” to swim out from. The first site had a tent in it, so I hiked past and came to the second one. There were two tent pads, but no tents. I claimed it as my own and started to unpack.

Mirror Lake campsite, view of the lake with a small beach.

It was interesting and fun to work out in my mind all the things I needed and wanted to do being out there by myself, and then put them all into a perfect order. I’d take my shoes off, then head into the water to fill up my bottles before polluting the water with my stank while swimming. I set up my tent with the door facing the lake for a clear peek of the sunrise the next morning. I found the perfect tree to hang my food in and threw my rope over a high branch right away so I wouldn’t have to do it later. All I had to do was tie my bag on and pull it up. I changed into my running shorts and jumped in for a swim. The water was pretty warm, but it felt amazing to rinse off the sweat, dirt and deet from the day. I got out, and feeling secluded, I stripped down and dried off with my bandana, and just as I was getting my shirt on, a couple of guys came walking into my camp looking for a site. There weren’t any past me, and the first was taken. I pointed up the hill, letting them know of the third site there. Even though I was excited to camp alone, I felt good inviting them to camp down by the lake on the other tent pad in my site. I know it’s awesome to camp on Mirror Lake, and I wasn’t going to deprive them of that opportunity… I would hope a camper would do the same for me had I been the one walking in on the same situation. They crawled up the hill to check out the other site, and came back down quickly and took me up on my offer and set up next to me. Adam and Derek were quiet, nice camp-mates. Later in the night Ken stopped over, our neighbor from the other site. He brought some firewood and asked if we’d like to join resources since the firewood-picking in the area was slim. We later did join up for a fire, and as it turns out, I had some really nice company for the evening. And I was given props for being a chick hiking solo. That made me feel pretty awesome. :)

I made dinner and ate while the two guys took a swim. They were in longer than I was, and apparently Derek had a giant leech on his foot when he came out. So now we know there are big leeches in Mirror Lake. I drank my one Keewenaw beer that I packed in while the guys drank tea. I brushed my teeth, hung my smellies up in the tree, and sat around the fire until about 11:00 with Ken talking about some of his travels. He was an artist that has traveled all around the world drawing and painting. He was super fun to talk to.

The next morning, I woke up and snapped a couple of photos of the pretty morning lake from my tent, then rolled back over and fell asleep again. About an hour later I woke up for good, got my food out of the tree, made breakfast and packed up all with a steady, comfortable pace, moving from one fun chore to the next. I loaded my pack on my back, said a parting farewell to my camp-mates and head out for the day’s 14 miles.

Taking a break at Government Peak.

About four miles in, I stopped at Government Peak for a break. I was missing Adam, so I pulled out my phone, curious if I had any signal. I had a bar, so I sent him a quick text letting him know I was doing well, that I loved and missed him. I shut it off and stuffed it back into my pack. Then after about another 3 miles I stopped at Trap Falls, where I knew there was a bench and a gorgeous little falls. I took my shoes off again, snapped some photos of a posing frog, filled my water bottles for coffee and electrolytes, then dipped my stinky, dirty feet in the cold water. It felt amazing. My feet were sore from all the miles, but were holding up beautifully.

My next stop was a really quick one at Union Spring. I’d never been on the Union Spring trail, and it was my first time seeing the spring itself. It was really, really cool! It was a small, deep, crystal-clear, aqua-green pool of freezing cold spring water. There was a floating boardwalk that went out a little ways, and I leaned over the edge, looking down at the white surface, wondering if it was sand or a white muck. Then I noticed a bubbling – I could see where the water was coming into the spring from the ground underneath! It was just really neat. I took some underwater photos and I started hearing thunder rolled across the sky above me. An ominous sky loomed overhead, so I pulled my poncho out and within easy reach just in case it opened up on me.

Union Spring.

Underwater photo at Union Spring.

I hiked on until I came out to the South Boundary Road at the Union Spring Trail trailhead. As was my plan, I turned onto the road and took a two-mile road walk to the Visitor’s Center. I felt like a thru-hiker entering civilization. I thought about trying to hitch a ride as I walked on the hot, hard road, but I stunk pretty badly, and I was alone – I figured it was only two miles, so I kept walking. It went by quickly.

At the visitor’s center I bought the backcountry pass for our group for Saturday night, and explained to them about my car being parked at Presque Isle – in the window was a self-registration slip saying I was going to return that day… which I didn’t think about until that morning… I was going to return on Sunday. So I cleared that up, and the two people working at the visitor’s center asked me twice where I came from. They were pretty shocked that I’d hiked a 20-mile day and a 14-mile day. Aw, shucks… quit boosting my ego, folks! Haha! My and Rachel’s crazy-long day hikes were paying off. I was able to do the miles pretty comfortably. They wiped me out, but they were still awesome!

I then took a foot trail through the woods that let to Union Bay Campground. I came out on the road right across from an outpost where I would again feel like any of the thru-hikers I was following on trail journals. I took my pack off and set it on a picnic table, then stepped inside the small store, trying to give as much space between my stinky self and the tourists and campers mingling around looking to purchase overpriced t-shirts. I found what I was looking for. Campsuds. A big bottle. I stood in line and drooled when I saw the soft-serve ice cream machine. I walked back out to my pack with a tall ice cream cone in hand, loaded my pack onto my back and head down the road to the campground, smiling and eating my cone.

I arrived at the campground, stepped inside the building to check into our three sites we had reserved there, and that’s when the sky finally did open up. It POURED rain. I could not believe the timing -- perfect time to be under a roof! I just laughed out loud at the whole situation.

I walked over to the sites and met back up with Pete, Randall and Piotr, who were already there and set up. They waited for me to get my stuff set up, I took a quick shower, and we head over to the Porkies Pub for giant burritos and a couple of beers at the bar. Tim, Charisse and Brian came through, having just finished up a dinner in the restaurant.

We all head back to the campground, where the rest of the crew eventually arrived… Marcin and Anna showed up at 3:30am from Chicago – I didn’t wake for a second when they came in, though.

And here began part two of the trip! And was it ever a good one!

Randall, Marcin, Anna, Piotr, Pete, Heidi, Colleen, Me, Charisse, Tim, Lombardi, Mary, Ross and Brian

Tim and Charisse brought their amazing dog, Lombardi. All three were on their first trip with our group, and they were all really fun to hike with, and Lombardi was one of the best behaved dogs I’ve met. It was more than a pleasure having him along. Charisse gave my “mystery berries” a name, too. Earlier on my solo portion of the hike I munched down a few giant berries that resembled raspberries, but after eating them and thinking they tasted funny, I decided since I was by myself that I’d stop eating them just in case they were something I shouldn’t have been eating. They weren’t raspberries… turns out they were thimble berries and totally edible. They were pretty tart, but tasted amazing. They were gigantic and juicy, so I stopped whenever I had one within easy reach along the trail. We also came across blueberries within the first few miles, too.

Anyway, our crew was now 13 (plus one dog) strong. It was me, Randall, Pete, Piotr, Brian, Charisse and Tim (and Lombardi), Mary, Ross, Marcin, Anna, Colleen and Heidi.

We all packed up and got going early. We got to the Lake Superior Trail trailhead on M-107 and the first thing I did was head into the woods to pee. I found a spot by a big downed tree, and noticed that standing right next to me was a deer! He just stood there, still… staring at me. I said out loud to him, “Hey there, buddy… how are you doing?” expecting him to bolt. But he didn’t. He just stood there staring at me, flicking his tail and twisting his ears. I said, “Okay, well, I’m gonna’ pee… hope you don’t mind…” and he stood there the whole time… in fact, he even took a couple of steps towards me…  “Whatchya’ doin’ there, buddy?? This isn’t your kind, so keep yer distance…” He stayed there the whole time I did my business, then I walked out of the woods, grabbed my camera, and Colleen followed me in and we took photos of him until he finally spooked and took a couple leaps deeper into the woods. What a friendly deer!

Friendly deer.

We head down the Lake Superior Trail, hiking over the loose shale-like rocks and picking the berries as we came across them. We all met up at Lone Rock for a nice, long lunch break. We ate, waded in the water with our bare feet, rehydrated and enjoyed the sunshine and cool breeze off the lake. Then we hiked on with about 5 more miles until camp. I stuck in the back and took my time… the others ahead were going to find us a good camp spot with enough room for all of us. But when we got to where there was a line of campsites, one after another was taken. It was only 3:00 in the afternoon, which is really early for us to get to camp. I was shocked how busy it was. But eventually, after a couple of extra miles, we came upon the rest of our crew setting up camp right at the mouth of the Little Carp River where I’d taken my first break on Thursday during my solo hike. It was a great spot.

Camp-time fun began.

I set up my tent on a nice little patch of grass next to Pete and Randall, and Brian later joined our little mini community, too. We prepped for a swim… meaning we stripped down to underwear or swimsuits or whatever we had to swim in, and head to the lake. Pete, Randall and I swam for over an hour. Tim, Charisse and Lombardi came out and joined for a bit, then sunned and dried off in the sun on the warm, rocky shore. Brian came by for a bit, too. We sat up on a rock with the waves crashing into us and just soaked in the whole awesomeness around us. The lake was incredibly warm. Lake Superior is famous for being ice cold. You would never, ever be able to stay in as long as we were during a "normal" year. But we took it for what we could and enjoyed the crap out of it. The three of us shared two beers, then went back up on shore and dried off.

Swimming in Lake Superior!

Colleen came over and went in to rinse off, and Pete took off, but the three of us came up with the idea of doing our own version of a rock spa. I layed across a giant driftwood tree as Colleen laid sun-heated, round rocks all over my back. What a way to relax after carrying a heavy pack for miles! Randall went next, then Colleen. We all got our hot-stone massage in, then head back to camp.

Getting a hot stone massage.

The rest of the crew was sitting around the fire pit laughing about an empty jar of moonshine-soaked blueberries that Marcin brought. Mary gave me a taste of her drink – it was pretty tasty, but I felt it go down and quickly realized where all the giggling stemmed from! I missed out on that! But later Ross had a few extra blueberries and let me try them, too. Eat too many of them and I think you’d go blind! They actually burned on your tongue… but they still tasted good. Crazy.

I ate my mashed potatoes with bacon for dinner, and we all hung out until sunset time. There was a gigantic tree on the shore that we all sat on in a row to watch the sun disappear over the lake. It was a spectacular show. There’s no movie in the world that could beat the scenes we were watching there, sitting on that log. We were all the luckiest people in the world at that very moment. And it was only going to get better.

Beginning of sunset. Then my camera stopped working. :(

 After the sunset, back around the firepit, we started a fire with the tons of wood that Brian hauled in. He was our wood-collecting dude on the trip. He was on a mission and found us plenty to last through the late night. We sat around, drinking wine and talking about whatever we were talking about, and slowly, one by one the group would get a little smaller and a little smaller. Randall, Pete, Anna and I played Euchre – they were teaching me. Half way through the game, Randall made a comment that got our attention. “Wow, the sky is really bright. It looks like the aurora.” We bolted for the beach. Sure enough. We had a light show in the sky. It didn’t have color but it spread out across the entire night sky, rising up over the lake horizon. It flickered, danced and waved. Anna woke up Marcin – it was their first time ever seeing the aurora. We all laid there, ooohing and aaaahing like a bunch of teenage stoners. “Wooooowwwwww…. Did you see that one flutter around? Oooooooohhh, lookit that one!! Woooooowwwwww…. Niiiiiice. Duuuuuuude. This is aaaaaawesome.” We sat out there for quite a long time and soaked as much of it in as we could…

We came back to Euchre and finished the game (Pete and I beat Anna and Randall! Beginner’s luck maybe?). We talked of late-night swimming. I have no idea what time it was. Pete wasn’t game for getting wet again and having to dry off so he hit his tent. Randall, Anna and I head for the little falls on the river to swim. We head in and slid down the waterfall on our butts a bunch of times. It was our own mini water park. But we were alone in the woods, under a canopy of silouhetted trees against a starry night sky above. The water was warm and refreshing. It was the perfect dip before bed. But then we got out.

Leeches. Everywhere. They were tiny little baby leeches, but we had them all over us. We squirmed and twisted and reached and flicked and picked and “ewwwww”-ed as we frantically searched them out on ourselves. We giggled the whole time, peeking at each other’s butts to be sure they “looked good,” then we raced to the lake for one more rinse for good measure. We waded in and sat in Lake Superior in the middle of the night, stars above bright as ever with a translucent light show still flickering across the sky, and the sound of soft waves on the rocky shoreline.

I remember walking back to my tent after that, throwing my hair up into a knot, tugging my camp-jamas onto my wet skin… what I don’t remember is crawling into my sleeping bag. I think I was asleep halfway diving into my tent. I slept like a rock until someone else’s tent zipper woke me in the morning. That’s the kind of alarm clock I like.

I was feeling a little “under the weather” that morning. I couple too many camp-cups of wine the night before. But every bit was worth it. We all hiked out at our own paces for the day and met up by my car at the Presque Isle area. Seven of us stinky hikers squeezed into my car, and we drove the 30+ minutes back to where the rest of our cars were parked at the Lake Superior Trail trailhead. We arrived to one more tiny snafu. There were tickets on several of the cars, but we were all paid for. A quick stop at the visitor’s center cleared it up – turns out, in addition to the “recreation passport” required for parking in Michigan State Parks and the backcountry permit I carried for our group, we needed a simple piece of paper on the dashboards to let rangers know we were legally backcountry camping. It didn’t cost extra, it was just a slip we needed – so next time I’ll be sure to get a car-count and get those. They took our tickets and we didn’t have to pay with no trouble at all.

We all took the long drive back, then caravaned to a small café for dinner. Burgers and carbonated sodas and cake was consumed quickly with pleasure. After dinner, in the parking lot, we hugged, said our good-byes and parted ways.

It’s Monday, my birthday, and I have the day off work. I’m typing up this blog, and still giggling about all the fun stuff that went on. I’m smiling about the hard miles I put in the first two days, and I’m tearing up at the beauty that Lake Superior delivered to us, and the friendships I’m so blessed to have – old and new – but all so perfect. Our group had great chemistry and I think we all left feeling satisfied. I know I did. A hundred times over. Until next time…

And ya’ know, I could’ve done without the leeches, but that memory of us jumping around like crazy people in the middle of the night was worth the grossness that they are. I wouldn’t give that up for anything in the world.

Thank you to all of you that were able to join me on this trip. You are all awesome and I can’t wait for next time!

One happy birthday girl!

Monday, July 9, 2012

Burp-chunk and Swatchel Day Hike

 “Just another one of Robin’s crazy ideas” was Rachel’s response to a recent facebook post. I love it. Although, I have to say, she didn’t seem to hesitate at the idea of hiking 32 miles either. So she’s just as crazy as I am… and that’s why you’re going to see the two of us hiking together so often. It’s been a great summer so far. It’s nice to use just a day or a day and a half, for a long day hike like this, then go home, shower, eat and rest for an entire day before heading to work again on Monday. Normal weekend backpacking trips usually involve leaving as soon as we can on a Friday, being out all weekend and getting home late on a Sunday, quickly unpacking gear and hanging tents and sleeping bags to air out and dry, then getting to bed late, waking up early and struggling through the next couple of days at work. It’s always worth it, but these day hikes still get us out there, make us “feel” like we’re on a bigger trip, keep our legs in shape for bigger upcoming trips (Pictured Rocks over Labor Day, for example), and give us a good opportunity to truly test out some gear. And this all gives me a little more time with Adam, which is super-nice. We miss each other when I’m away on trips, so this is kind of a compromise for us, too. And it’s working pretty well. So that’s what this spring and summer so far has been about. And I have to say… it’s been a blast.

We ended up hiking 30 miles in 15 hours (including our breaks). Not bad averaging 2 mph over a long, hot day! We were on the trail from 5:30 AM - 8:30 PM.

We woke up at 3AM on Saturday so we could drive to the northern-most trailhead (Hwy P) of the N. Kettle Moraine Unit of the Ice Age Trail. We left Appleton about 4AM and were on the trail at 5:30AM. Not bad! It was cooler than the previous days have been – but it was still very warm and already starting to feel humid. We were both sweating in no time at all.

We hiked like pros for the first 7 or so miles as the morning sun peeked through the leaves overhead and lit up the woods in patches of orange. Morning hiking is incredible. Our first break stop was for a quick second breakfast about 3.4 miles in. Our stop after that was at the Greenbush picnic area where we made use of the pit toilets and had a snack while sitting on a picnic table. Rachel texted Randall to let him know where we were because he was hoping to meet up with us at some point along the way. We hiked on feeling good.

Our next break was just after the Parnell shelter. Again, make use of pit toilets when available, right? There was also a bench at the top of the hill we were able to sit on and enjoy. We were sweaty, hot, hungry, thirsty and getting silly. We laughed hysterically pretty much the whole time we sat there. I had indigestion and somehow made up a random new term. I think what I meant to say was, “I’m burping up chunks,” but instead I said, “I’m burp-chunking.” And that stuck the rest of the hike. Rachel was sweating all over, so instead of just swass, it was swatchel. These became our daily nicknames, or trail names. Once we were rehydrated and fed, the giggling subsided a little and we got down to business and moved on down the trail.

Break on the bench near the Parnell shelter. About mile 11.

Rachel fashioned a makeshift knee brace with duct tape, but it didn’t work. Her knee was pegging on down hills, so it was worth a try! So many uses for that stuff! We also came up with a warning when people are approaching on the trail. Last weekend we had a few embarrassing moments when someone would come up over a hill as we were discussing something like poo or airing out our pants. So we came up with a secret code word that we would say to warn each other. Conversation could stop and resume once the stranger had passed. It came in handy a few times! Also works when one is using the facilities just off-trail. They’ll know when to hurry it up or duck down further and hide. These are the fun sorts of things we learn on day hikes.

We had to stop and quickly put on our headnets at one point because the mosquitoes came out in force. They and the deer flies teamed up and swarmed our heads and bit at us where they could. We quickly covered our heads and slathered on some repellant as quickly as we could so we could get moving again. I learned that my new spring ring headnet was not working for me. The mesh was shimmery, so when the sunlight came through the trees, it would reflect off the netting and I couldn’t see, and the seam and the ring were both in my line of vision. One when I looked down at the trail and the other when I looked straight ahead. It was irritating, but I kept it on to keep the bugs off of me. I decided I was going to go back to my cheap Walmart bug net. It did the trick just fine. And it’s lighter.

We hiked on anxiously looking forward to a longer break at Butler Lake. We even thought about walking in the water at the boat landing there. Just before we got there, we hit the bridge with the overflowing creek again – same one as last weekend. Without any hesitation we walked right through. That water became more swampy, gunky and muddy over the super-hot week so it was smelly and not as cold as last weekend, but we trucked right through anyway. We got to Butler Lake and found the water at the landing to be kind of mucky and nasty, too, so we just walked in a little way to rinse off the mud. That water was warm like bathwater, too. So much for cooling off the feet!

We set up under a shade tree by pulling out our Z-Lite Thermarest pads. We pulled out all of our “lunch” food, took off our socks and shoes and relaxed. I discovered I was getting a pretty heat rash on my waist line where my hip belt sat. I was blotchy all the way around, and I had patches on the backs of my arms, my feet, my calves and my thighs. It didn’t hurt, burn or itch, it just looked nasty. And with the heat, humidity and sweating, there wasn’t a whole lot I could do about it. I put some of Rachel’s Lanocane on it, but I don’t think it did too much. Worth a try… 

Nature's clothesline at Butler Lake. Drying out the socks and gaiters.

As we were eating a guy walked up to us and started to talk to us about how he and his wife (I assume) were section-hiking the entire IAT. He saw our big packs and thought maybe we would be heading the same way and hoped we could all hike together for a bit. Which would have been pretty cool, but they were heading north and we were heading south. Very cool guy, though!

Randall also met us at Butler Lake and sat with us until we had to head out. He gave us cold, clean water to fill our bladders with, as well as a few snack-size Snickers bars. Randall was Snickerlocker. It’s always great to get the chance to be Snickerlocker – and it’s great to be on the receiving end of that deal, too. He hiked with us for quite a ways after our Butler Lake stop, which was really nice. We talked and chatted about all kinds of stuff, and it really helped pass the time. We were starting to feel the fatigue of little sleep and a very early rising that day. After he left us we just trucked on, still aiming for 32 miles.

Our next break was at Mauthe Lake. We enjoyed the toilets, snacks and electrolyte-spiked water, as well as a sock-change. It was a much-needed break. We had another 9 miles to go, and we both knew this was where we were going to struggle. Our feet were hurting and we were just feeling exhausted overall… the constant extreme sweating wasn’t helping our situation, either. But we kept hydrated.

Spectacular wild tiger lilies along the trail.

We took another small break at an overlook and pushed for our last stretch. Our plan was to call Randall when we reached Hwy 28, which is 2 miles from our intended finish point. About 2 miles from Hwy 28 we were talking about all kinds of fun stuff to keep our minds off of our aches and pains. We were still giggling and having a good time, but we knew we were pushing it a little bit at this point. But in order to improve, you need to make your body uncomfortable, right? Well… I suppose to an extent. We were still doing pretty well. We had no blisters (yet), and no pains that felt as though they’d cause any lasting damage. Just tired muscles, fatigued minds and sore feet.

I think it was maybe 2 miles from Hwy 28, so about mile 28, I realized I had a hot spot on my heel. I was kind of bummed at the thought that my “perfect” shoe could have caused its first blister. But then again, I did have 35 pounds on my back for 28 miles, so I couldn’t really complain… or blame my feet, or my shoes. It wasn’t long after that when Rachel and I both contemplated calling it quits at 30 miles. We decided we’d stop, take off our shoes, eat, drink and see how feel. We’d decide from there if we’d go the extra 2 miles. The decision to go on would also put us finishing at about 10:00PM. When we got to Hwy. 28 we both felt 100% satisfied with what we’d done with our day, and I think we were both dreaming about Randall’s camp that he had set up for us in his backyard. So we called him and had him pick us up.

We were pretty proud of making it a 30-mile day! Just enough energy for a crazy photo with our packs held over our heads.
He drove us back to Hwy P where we picked up Rachel’s car, and followed him back to his place. We took a shower (which was AMAZING!), headed out towards his tree farm in the back of his house – and he had a tent already set up for us. We threw our sleeping bags and pads in and the beds were made. Instant camp – yay! Then he started a fire for us, and we had cold water, cold beers and he brought out some chips, salsa and bean dip. A little while later he cooked brats for us. I kept falling asleep in my camp chair, so soon after the brats were gone, Rachel and I both hit the tent. I was out before my head hit my dirty-clothes-stuffed stuff sack-pillow.

Randall's 5-star camping accommodations.

In the morning Randall made us breakfast. What a guy! He made us beer banana walnut apple pancakes and bacon! After breakfast the sun came out and I think our bodies were rebelling against the heat. We had to get going. Thanks to Randall for the amazing trail support!!

It was a great hike, and it pushed us to a quitting point, which is pretty awesome. It’s Monday now, and I’m feeling really good. I did have a teeny-tiny little blister starting on my heel where I had that hot spot, but it’s already nearly non-existent. It was a good time for us to stop. If we would’ve decided to move on and try to complete the last 2 miles, I would’ve slapped some duct tape on there, but I’m glad we stopped. The blister forming was definitely not my biggest concern… fatigue was. So I’m recovered with only a few sore muscles here and there. The bottoms of my feet even recovered quicker from this trek than the 23 we went last weekend. This makes me believe that with more and more hiking, hopefully this will bother me less and less. If not, I will get insoles. There’s always options.

Here’s to happy hiking, a warm summer, great hiking partners, a supportive husband and great friends/trail angels!

Friday, July 6, 2012

Don't judge... love instead.

This blog entry is a little bit off-topic from what I normally write about, but the mood struck me. So I wrote it. I don't require anyone to read it. To be honest, posting these types of entries scare me. I've got several drafts that I just haven't had the courage to post. I guess I'm feeling courageous today. As the saying goes, "Do one thing every day that scares you." Well, maybe this is my one thing today.

Sometimes people say “don’t be judgmental.”  And some confidently spout out, “I don’t judge.” I’m guilty of this myself. But if you’ve ever had an opinion about anyone, you are judging them in some way, aren't you? It might be small, but I think it’s still judging. So let’s face it, we all do it. It’s human nature. It’s God’s job to judge, not ours. Yet we still do it. It’s just us being imperfect humans. It’s humbling to just think about that sometimes. We can try all we want to be perfect. We can try all we want to not judge or not sin. But we do. And we will. We are human.

I think the best thing to do is just love everybody. No matter how much they ‘bug’ you or no matter what they do to you. Love them. And all you can do is hope they would do the same with you. It’s the golden rule. Treat others as you’d like to be treated. Nobody wants to be left out. Nobody wants to be picked on. Nobody wants rumors spread about them or to be talked about in a negative way. Nobody wants to hear someone say, “I don’t like you.” It is possible to not see eye-to-eye with someone and still love them.

So let’s just stop the crazy and try to always love instead. As best we can, anyway. As I said before, we’re human and none of us are perfect. We can’t all love all the time, but we can try… and it might be easier to try to love everyone than to never judge or never sin.

Next time you find yourself thinking negatively about someone, or judging them, big or small, quietly in your own mind our outwardly to someone else… stop for a second and just think, “they have the same types of feelings as I do. I can respect that and love them for what they love themselves for,” or whatever little saying you can come up with in your mind to remember that there are many more wonderful things in life.

Just LOVE.

Disclaimer: This is a random rambling by me. Take it for what it’s worth. If you don’t agree, that’s okay. Just remember to not judge me for it. ;)

Monday, July 2, 2012

Day Hikes

At the beginning of this year, I decided I was going to try to get in as much hiking and backpacking as I could. But it’s hard to be away every weekend since Adam doesn’t share my passion… well, obsession with backpacking, so I always try to balance my free time between my two loves, but that can be difficult sometimes. To solve this problem, I decided that on some weekends, instead of traveling hours and being gone all weekend, I’d just take day hikes with a full pack. It was kind of like I was pretending I was on a bigger trip, so I’d get my “fix.” And I figured these could be sort of like training hikes for the weekends I do go away and hike back-to-back days. I also thought it would be interesting to see how my hiking fitness improves.

Well, it’s now half way through the year. I’ve done a few weekend trips, one that was particularly tough, and I’ve done three “training” day hikes. There’s one more planned for this weekend, too! Rachel has been my partner in crime on these day hikes, as our schedules seem to match up, and it’s always nice to have someone to laugh and complain with on longer hikes.

Day Hike #1: High Cliff State Park
10 miles
April 7, 2012

I met Rachel at her house really super early. It was like 5:30am or some crazy time like that. And it was April (Easter weekend), so it was still dark when we started out on the trail. I didn’t have a completely full backpack, but it probably had 20-25 pounds in it. I was wearing my running tennies because I was thinking about switching over to trail runners instead of heavy hiking boots. I thought a 10-miler would be a good test to see if my feet were okay with something with less support. I think, or I hope, that running in FiveFinger shoes has helped with this, because it went quite well. The running shoes weren’t big enough for hiking, though. Whatever I ended up getting, I had to be sure to get at least a whole size bigger.

I remember it was a pretty chilly morning, so I was wearing my jacket and hat the whole time, but I was comfortable. We cruised through 10 miles in just under three hours.

Taking a break.

Hiking in running shoes.

Day Hike #2: Southern Unit Kettle Moraine, Lapham Peak segment of the Ice Age Trail
10.5 miles
April 14, 2012.

It was the next weekend, and we both had another Saturday free, so Rachel and I head south. We went to REI first thing in the morning so I could return my too-small Merrells. I tried on a shoe that I had done a ton of research on and was very excited to try out. Brooks Cascadias. I tried them, they fit, they were comfortable, and I got them! Rachel tried them on, too, and was also convinced, so she got the same pair! I did try on a few others to be sure I wasn’t just settling for the first pair I tried, and they were the best fit.

After our REI visit we hit the trails. Full packs this time. I didn’t weight mine, but I guessed it was about 25 pounds with water and snacks for the day. These little day hikes were sure teaching me a lot about my pack weight, got me thinking about how I can minimize some of my gear, and I was finding out some things that worked and some that didn’t. Maybe by summer’s end I’ll have it all figured out! Haha, doubt it!

Anyway, we hiked 10-1/2 miles in about 3-1/2 hours and had an unusually hot day for mid-April. We were hiking in shorts and short-sleeves and we both got a light sunburn from the day! The trails were new to us, so it was really fun.

Best part of it was the new Brooks Cascadias passed with flying colors! No blisters. Just a little foot fatigue was felt at the end, but having not only new shoes, but an entirely new shoe style, and just starting out on these day hikes, I figured that was to be expected. The hope is that maybe by the time our big Pictured Rocks trip rolls around in September, our feet will be seasoned and ready to roll so we can dance around the fire when we get to camp each night!

Trying out the new shoes - Brooks Cascadias

I love breaks.

Day Hike #3: Northern Unit of Kettle Moraine, Ice Age Trail
23 miles
June 30, 2012

Between our 2nd day hike and this one there were a few backpacking trips sprinkled in. One was a biggie – an 18-mile day followed by a 12-mile day. Again the shoes held up great, no blisters, just sore feet that was better the next day. I also did a few smaller trips (lower miles) in Kettle Moraine with our Meetup group – well, one of them had a couple of 12-mile days, so I guess that’s something! Each time I felt as though I was “testing” my shoe/sock/gaiter combo... and each time I was really happy with it.
This day hike was again a “test” of these shoes, and after this one I am fully convinced I found a happy situation for my feet while backpacking. This is a super-hard challenge, so the fact that I think I have it figured out makes me so, so very happy!

Rachel picked me up early and we drove to Mauthe Lake Campground where we parked and left for our 23-mile out-and-back hike. We hiked 23 miles in 12-1/2 hours. Not a great time, but we weren’t shooting for speed records on this one. We had distance to cover and that was the goal.

It was buggy, so we wore our bug nets on and off through the day, and it was really freakin’ hot out, so we sweat buckets. We drank lots of water and took a few longer shady breaks.

We hit a spot in the trail that was flooded from a creek, so we walked right through with our trail runners and continued on with wet feet. There’s some controversy with this hiking style. Some say it’s a really bad idea because the moisture in your shoes will cause blisters. Others say that’s why you wear trail runners – because they breathe so well, they dry out in no time as you hike. I’ve read about so many other backpackers that swear by this strategy, so we tried it. Guess what!? It worked! We hiked on with our wet shoes, and in about 30 minutes, while our shoes weren’t completely dry, our feet inside our shoes FELT dry. No blisters, either! We stopped a couple of miles past our turnaround point and changed into dry socks and that felt awesome.

23 miles was sure a hike. We were sore and tired by the end of it, and we’re looking forward to doing another long one like this next weekend. It’s fun to get out into the woods, and each time we go, we learn something new. Like the wet shoes thing. What a great time to test that out.

Not this weekend, but next, I’m going to the Porkies for my birthday and hiking for 4 days. 2 days solo, then I’m meeting up with some meetup peeps and hiking Sat-Sunday with them. I cannot wait, and I’m looking forward to seeing if these day hikes help my performance on a multi-day trip! More on that later!

Mosquito net. Bugs are out!

Overflowing creek on trail.

Testing out the trail runners in the water with great success.