Over the past 6 weeks I have backpacked across northern Michigan along the North Country Trail. I walked from the Leelenau to the Keweenaw Peninsula- the end of the road- ultimately covering over 700 miles on foot by myself.
It was an amazing trip, and I am so proud, so thrilled to be done. For weeks on end I did not see a single familiar face, and many days passed where I saw no one at all. Without anyone to experience them with, most of these memories are mine alone. But I know that my time out on the trail has made an indelible mark on who I am and that I will always look back on this and an important part of my life. Here are some pictures I took of myself along the way, sometimes to substitute for a mirror when I hadn’t seen my own face in a long time, and sometimes just to remind myself later of where I was and what I did there.
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To the Boy Scout Troops and the Hiawatha North Country Trail chapter,
Thanks so much for the wonderful shelter that you built! I am writing to you from inside of it right now, where I have set up my tent (I still need it to keep the bugs away) and am happily settled for the night. It is so nice to be in this lovely spot and to have a clean space to spread all my stuff out on a floor!
I have been hiking the North Country Trail for the past few weeks. Yesterday I was hoping to make it all the way to Lake Superior but, with a late start, tired feet, and strong headwinds, I came up short. I had gone over 20 miles but I realized I wouldn’t make it before dark. I set a rule for myself that I MUST stop by 9:30pm. I was running out of time so I turned off the trail into this little clearing. What a surprise to find this beautiful structure! I looked at my watch- it was 9:27. I have been hiking for over 250 miles and this is the very first structure for campers that I have found.
I noticed the little sign that you built this on Father’s Day this past April. I don’t know how many customers you have had yet but I wanted to let you know that you have a very happy camper!
I hope you all get the chance to enjoy the North Country Trail as well. Thank you for making my time here special!
Continue reading “Day 19: Day of Nothing”
Last night I slept over 11 hours. This is the second morning in a row I woke up after 10 hours or so and then went back to sleep. It felt wonderful. I was totally surrounded by forest, completely alone. There was a soft breeze and the sun shone through the trees. I stared awhile through the roof of my tent at the trees above me and drifted off again. Sleep till noon? Don’t mind if I do!
Sleeping long hours and walking alone with my thoughts all day is like being in a continuous dream. My mind is like a lighthouse and my brain is the light, resting on a pool of mercury. Wherever I cast my gaze, I send a steady beam of light out in front of me. I feel healthy in body and mind. I am completely at peace. Continue reading “Day 17: Gamble to Pine”
The UP has been good to me so far. It is very peaceful here. Not a whole different world like I might’ve expected. It is all familiarly natural, just maybe turned up a notch; slightly wilder, slightly hillier, and a little–over-slightly more solitary. I have not seen any people today, no wildlife either, really. I passed a beaver dam that could have been promising but there was no activity, chances are the little beavers were resting in the heat of the day. I moved on.
I filled up my canteen in a river today and the water was reddish yellow. It looked like I had already dumped a bunch of iodine in it, or, more unsettlingly, like a bottle full of pee. I am grateful for a recent conversation about Tahquamenon Falls, where I was reminded of the tannins that die the water a rusty color. If it hadn’t been for that, I would find it almost impossible to drink this water, and it’s all I’ve got! Continue reading “Day 16: Breevort Lake to Gamble”
My first full day in the UP has been far from seamless and it’s not the fault of the trail or the terrain or the outside world, it’s just me.
First thing this morning I found the trail really easily but accidentally headed the wrong way. It worked out though because I ended up at the Visitor Center right across the Mackinaw Bridge and I had a few questions. The first thing I saw when I walked in was a decorative display of “Jiffy Mixes” boxes as a demonstration of the awesomeness of our state. I proudly told the people behind the counter that Jiffy was made in my hometown of Chelsea, Michigan- thus marking the one and only time in my life that I actually increased my social status for that little tidbit! The people there were really nice, they even let me use their computer so I could log into my bank and figure out my routing number- which is the last step I needed to complete to finalize my health insurance. I actually phone-ordered some health insurance from the ferry ride to Mackinaw Island yesterday. It’s ridiculous trying to do “real life” things on the trail but somehow I worked it out. It’s finally taken care of. I think. Bring it on, UP.
Continue reading “Day 15: Straits State Park to Brevoort Lake”
Oh my god, last night. First of all, I’m so glad that I stayed in a hotel. We had a colossal storm. The wind was so bad that a semi-truck was actually blown off the Mackinaw Bridge. Good call, me.
I really enjoyed the storm since I knew I had a dry space to go back to. I scampered all around town, staring at the massive incoming clouds and taking pictures of the foreboding weather. It looked like there was a sky battle going on between Lake Michigan and Lake Huron. I thought a line from the book I just read where Nicola Tesla describes a “brisk wind, richly charged”- that’s exactly how it felt, it was electrifying. Continue reading “Day 14: Mackinaw City to Straits State Park”
I’m sipping coffee in a cute little bookstore in Mackinaw City, trying to relax myself from the inside out. I walked from Wilderness State Park this morning through truly disgusting conditions. Last night’s storm showed no signs of stopping this morning so I sucked it up and headed out in the driving rain. The trail was so flooded that, for awhile, I was literally walking through a river. I was mad at the world in my soggy shoes. The rain finally stopped but I’m soaked through.
I found this little shop that sells coffee and postcards I’m sitting here in my muddy gear, trying to act like I belong in a cafe. There are two guys in the back dressing up for an old-timey tourist photo in costumes that include dresses, fans, and long white gloves so I guess I’m not the only self-conscious person here.
Mackinaw City is my last stop in the Lower Peninsula- I’m thrilled to be so close to the mysterious wilderness of the Upper Peninsula! In my mind the UP possesses some quality of “otherness” that is very wild, very remote and very natural. On the opposite end of the spectrum is historical, car-free Mackinac Island- just a ferry ride away from where I am now. My memories of the place are not flattering, I remember the entire island as a tourist trap from which there is no escape. The air as a mixture of extremely sweet fudge and horse dung. I prefer the smell of walking on pine needles (though don’t have the right to cast judgement about smells in my current state.) Anyway, I just think Mackinaw is unfortunate portrayal of Michigan’s version of culture. Continue reading “Day 13: Wilderness State Park to Mackinaw City”
My motivation has been flagging more and more these last few days, today more so than ever. Sore feet, 90 degree-pus weather, unbearable humidity and buckets of rain have made me doubt how far I’ll make it. I thought seriously about quitting today for the first time when every step made my feet scream. I’ve worried about food and water and getting lost but if my feet don’t work, none of that other stuff matters. I plunked down on the trail and did some surgery on my shoe to alleviate the pressure on my left big toe and things stopped being so dire. But still, I crossed a line- I actually considered quitting!
I set out on this trip without defining an ending. I figured I’d take the Forrest Gump approach and go until I’m ready to go home. I’ve considered various finishing lines, some geographic, some symbolic: hiking to the “End of the Road” in Copper Harbor is the original dream but I might not make it that far; going 500 miles would be really cool; hiking until I’ve been “symptom-free” form bulimia for 4 weeks would be great; or maybe I’ll just keep going and going until I get to Wisconsin or Minnesota or Canada and hitchhike on a sailboat all around the Great Lakes. With no set finish line, there is a danger that I’ll give in to a moment of weakness and quit before I’m really ready but I gave up so much of my life back home for this trip, I think I’ll stay awhile. Continue reading “Day 12: Cross Village to Wilderness State Park”
Last night I dreamed I was caught by the police in my illegal campsite- I guess nothing is not without costs if you have a guilty conscience! I seem to have an abundance of that. Tonight I’m on the Lake Michigan shore by Cross Village- camping illegally again. It may be the prettiest place I’ve ever slept.
Watching the sunset right now it occurs to me that I have never truly watched a sunset alone. If something is beautiful or appealing to me, why do I always need someone else to enjoy it with? It’s undoubtedly nice to share a sunset or a walk with someone else but a lack of company should be no reason not to do something I like.
I’ve taken a lot of photos and posted 1-Second–Every-Day clips for a compilation video, and Allison wrote that article about me- so many opportunities to be judged and validated by others! I’ve been thinking about how I value other people’s opinion of me so highly, but I forget that I am “other people” to other people. It gives me a mental image of the world where everyone is constantly engaged in assigning value to other people’s stuff and putting their stuff out to be valued by others at the same time. That constant validation cycle is pure folly. I will always care about what other people think- probably more than I’d like to- but I hope at least to judge my acts, opinions, and even photos, for myself first. Continue reading “Day 11: Crooked Lake to Cross Village”
Beautiful Petoskey! I’ve been resting here since my birthday walk-a-thon. I’ve walked from the campgrounds along Lake Michigan into town. Mom, Grandma, Sarah and her friend came and visited me yesterday. When Sarah saw me she said “I thought you’d look worse!” so I made sure to show off my blisters, scratches and bruises. Mom gave me a GPS, which I reluctantly accepted since I lost my last one. She also gave me a huge pile of other birthday gifts, which was nice but mostly frustrating. It’s not that I don’t appreciate the gesture and its not that I don’t like what she gave me but I am carrying everything on my back and this trip is not about stuff. I am grateful for Mom’s generosity but getting gifts like that makes me feel icky.
The farther I hike the more remote my surroundings will be- from the relatively populated Traverse City area to the tourist hub of Mackinaw, into the true wilderness of the Upper Peninsula, my trail will become more raw as I gain experience. I wonder if I’ll make it all the way to Copper Harbor and Isle Royale. This week has been hard but I have had the safety net of nearby towns and even my family nearby to offer support if I need it. I look forward to slipping away from those supports. I want to test myself even more. Continue reading “Day 10: Petoskey to Crooked Lake”