North Country Trail - Manistee River Trail
Loop Hike, May 2009

Day 4

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My restful slumber was abruptly shattered around 6:00 am this morning by the loud, machine gun-style tapping of a woodpecker in a nearby tree. I tried to go back to sleep, but since I wasn't really tired it was to no avail. Besides, there were so many different birds chirping and singing that it would have been difficult at best. As I lay in the tent I tried to differentiate all the sounds emanating from the surrounding forest. The best I could do was count a minimum of seven different types of song birds in addition to the woodpecker. The forest definitely comes alive in the morning.

One bird stuck out more than all the others. It probably wouldn't have bothered me so much if it had blended in a bit more with the surrounding bird chorus, but it was much louder than anything else around and it was incessant with its melody, if that's what you want to call it. It just sang the same couple notes over and over for about an hour and fifteen minutes. Every once in a while it would chirp out one or two notes and then pause for a couple seconds, as if it had forgotten its own song, only to start the same monotonous tune again a couple seconds later.

The temperature probably bottomed out in the low to mid 40's last night so it was still pretty cool this morning when we emerged from the tent. Fortunately, it had not rained so the tent and ground were still dry. I threw on a fleece top and gathered some twigs and branches for a morning fire. A thick pile of white, powdery ash had insulated embers from last night's fire so efficiently that I was able to coax a new fire to life without using a match. We warmed ourselves around the fire while we ate a hodge-podge breakfast of trail mix, salami sticks, granola bars and peanut butter bagels. By 9:45 am everything had been packed away and we were heading down the trail under a bright, bluebird sky while a steady breeze kept us cool and comfortable.

Within a couple hundred yards we approached what was to be the worst section of trail for the entire hike. In comparison to what I've experienced on other hiking trips, this was really not too bad, but, nonetheless, it was the worst part of this hike. The trail was completely under water and we had to make a slow, methodical walk across slippery, algae-covered, logs which were half-submerged in the water. I went across first and then stood at the opposite end watching Mike make the crossing. His foot slipped at the onset of his traverse and he ended up with a tennis shoe full of mud and swamp water. He took the soaker in stride and laughed about it as he met me on the opposite side.

Immediately afterward the trail began a steep climb up to the ridge above. By the time we reached the top we had transitioned from wide open sunny terrain to the darker, cooler environment of the forest. As sunshine penetrated the dense tree canopy overhead, shafts of light beamed down creating blotchy areas of shade and light on the leaf-covered forest floor. As we walked along we saw a guy coming toward us from the opposite direction. He was decked out in a full camouflage suit and was carrying a camo shotgun, binoculars and a turkey call. When our paths crossed we stopped to speak with each other and learned that he was out hunting for turkey, but had not seen or heard any at all this morning even though he had already been out for quite some time. He then asked about our hike and how we had enjoyed it thus far. After a short conversation we parted ways and continued south. Soon after leaving the hunter we passed milepost number nine and almost immediately after that we came upon another very scenic overlook of the Manistee River.

We continued on and encountered another two or three steep climbs before making our final descent to the roadway which led us back to our car at Red Bridge. It was a short hiking day, to be sure, but we had excellent weather and enjoyed our time together.

When we arrived back at Red Bridge we happily dropped our backpacks on ground near the car and struck up a conversation with three other hikers relaxing on one of the nearby picnic tables. They said they had parked at the north end of the trail and hiked south on the North Country Trail. After their break they intended to continue north on the Manistee River Trail and stop for the night somewhere along the way.

During our conversation a U.S. Forest Service ranger pulled up and walked directly over to our little group. He looked directly at the other three guys and asked if they had parked their vehicle in this lot. When they explained that they had paid the parking fee at the north end and were just stopping here for a break he replied by saying, "That's good. I try to make sure hikers park their cars in the dirt lots to the east and west of here so this lot has more room for picnickers and boaters who want to use the boat launch." I guess we hadn't noticed those lots since it was dark and raining when we arrived. Oops!

The ranger was fairly young and seemed eager to detail for us his exploits of the previous day and his authority to make life miserable for inattentive hikers. "Just make sure to camp at least 200 feet away from the trail or the river when you guys head back out", he sternly advised, ""I wrote two tickets and four warnings yesterday along the Manistee River Trail." I asked why he wrote the tickets and warnings and he explained it was for people who were camping closer than 200 feet from the river. He then went on to explain that someone had set a tree stump on fire yesterday near the north end of the NCT. He explained that he and the five-man fire crew were not happy when they each had to haul three gallons of water and a spray apparatus three miles down the trail to extinguish the flames. They never did determine who had ignited the miniature blaze. He then told us all to have a good day and moved on to check the bathrooms and speak to other people.

We walked over to the water faucet a few yards away to wash our hands and met another backpacker. This guy was from East Lansing, Michigan and had come to hike the North Country Trail with a couple friends. He said they had begun at Government Landing and did a lot of fishing along the way as they headed north. We spoke for a few minutes and then returned to the car. Before heading home we drove north on 1 Mile Rd, a very rough, gravel road which led to the Hodenpyle Dam. The Hodenpyle Dam was built by Consumer's Energy in the 1920's to harness the power of the Manistee River and supply electricity to the surrounding area. After the dam was constructed it flooded an area creating a small lake which is now roughly eight miles long and about one and a half miles wide. The road brought us to the southwest corner of the lake near a gated and barbed wire enclosure surrounding what appeared to be an access road into the dam complex. The area was under video surveillance so we chose not to loiter too close to the barrier which probably would have aroused suspicion and possibly a visit from security.

On the way home we pulled into Mitchell State Park in Cadillac and ate our Burger King hamburgers while watching the boaters out on the lake. Mike commented that water tasted just fine while we were out on the trail, but the burgers, fries and Coke tasted even better now for some reason than they usually do at home. I agreed with him and said that junk food always seems to have a strong appeal after a hiking trip.

All-in-all we had a great time. The weather was great, the scenery was spectacular, the trail company was good and the bonding time was excellent. We could have done without the pesky, biting bugs, but we agreed it was something we could talk about and laugh at in the future. After all, this trip was more about the journey and the shared experiences as opposed to the conditions which brought them to us.

Miles Covered Today: 1.5
Total Trip Miles: 21

To learn more about the Manistee River Trail / North Country Trail Loop
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