Backpacking Trip Report: Lake2Lake

Area: Upper Penninsula of Michigan

State: Michigan

Mileage: 53

Days: 1

Type: Shuttle

Over the last several years I’ve burned through many hiking partners This has left me tempted to file the following ad in some outdoor publications:

Married, 34 year old adventurous and nature loving prosecutor seeks hiking partner with the following qualities: Must enjoy a challenge and exemplify the saying “when the going gets tough, the tough get going.” Must be able to keep a positive attitude in all situations and not complain excessively. Must, at least on some level, enjoy suffering. Must be willing to hike by headlamp at the beginning and end of the same hike.

Oh yeah, and must be able to hike fast, all day long.

For the last two years, Mark Kowalczyk thought that he fit the bill. So, when I was planning this year’s challenge, the Lake2Lake, the goal of which was to hike from Lake Michigan to Lake Superior in one day, Mark told me he was in.

On a day in early August, we camped near Rapid River. When the alarm went off at 2 a.m., we got ready and headed to the beginning of our hike. After a few ceremonial photos of us dipping our feet into Lake Michigan, Mark and I walked to the start of the Bay De Noc Trail. Hundreds of years ago, Native Americans used this same trail to portage their canoes and supplies between Lake Michigan and Lake Superior. Suffering from sleep deprivation, we felt weak from the start. In the first two hours we were startled by a six foot long Western Fox snake, ‘Indiana Jones’ed our way through the unavoidable webs spiders spun across the trail, and dodged lightning strikes that lit the surrounding blackness.

Dennis, our support person, planned to meet us along the way to provided water and food. When we got to where we expected the first scheduled checkpoint to be, Dennis was nowhere to be found. Had we somehow missed him? We were over 20 miles into the hike, low on food and water and in serious need of a break. To push too far past would be a disaster. Just as panic started to creep in, Dennis appeared on the trail. We were crushed to hear that the checkpoint was four miles ahead.

 

When we finally got there, we peeled off our hiking boots, sat on coolers, guzzled Gatorade, and ate lunch. After a while, Mark noticed a bunch ticks attached to our legs. We quickly went to work trying to remove them with a Swiss Army knife. Once we got them all scraped off we figured it was time to push on. Our feet, legs, and attitudes felt better after the break.

 

Several hours later, we hit our toughest physical obstacle along the trail. A huge section of trees had blown down during a powerful storm and lay strewn across the trail. Being too far in to backtrack, our only option was to climb over and crawl under the fallen trees. Branch stubs hidden by leaves stabbed our shins as we negotiated what looked like a randomly thrown piles of over-sized pickup sticks. We tiptoed over and along the now horizontal tree trunks like gymnasts on a balance beam.

At 43 miles in, we stumbled out of the woods and into our last checkpoint at 9 p.m. in serious need of a break. Since stopping meant picking up some more tick companions, we kept moving up until then. With more than nine miles to go, we weren’t feeling particularly motivated to leave the comforts of tick-free parking lot to continue hiking into the impending darkness.

 

However, we had come too far to give up now. As we got back into the woods, we quickly learned that the trail went up and down more during the next 4 miles of trail than in the previous 43 combined. It became brutally comical how there was virtually no flat sections despite the guidebook’s claim that it was: 0 percent steep, 15 percent hilly, and 85 percent moderate or flat.

 

When we finally hit the forest service road, our “home stretch” excitement dwindled quickly as we realized the road was gravel instead of flat, hard-packed dirt. Every step on the unavoidable rocks that covered the road was painful. Our bodies rebelled and wouldn’t accept any food and only an occasional sip of water. As our headlamp batteries died, our spirits dimmed too. Our eyes played tricks on us and we had trouble keeping the ground in front of our feet in focus. Mark and I had not spoken a word to each other in hours. Suddenly in the distance I saw light. Was I hallucinating? Thinking it was the end or our journey, I turned to Mark and said “Look! The light at the end of the tunnel.” Depression set in when we realized it was just Dennis’ car and heard that it was another mile and a half to the end. Thankfully, Dennis turned around and inched along behind us with his lights on illuminating the trail ahead of us and motivating us to pick up the pace and finish.

 

When we finally stuck our feet in Lake Superior near Au Train, it was almost 1 a.m. on Sunday. We had hiked 53 miles in 21½ hours. Too tired to celebrate, we took a couple of photos and headed for the motel. On the drive there, Mark blurted out, “Pull over.” We did, and he promptly threw up four times. He was so out of it that the next morning he didn’t remember doing it. A couple days later Mark ended up in the doctor’s office with several infected tick bites.

 

Driving home the day after the hike, we saw a Chevy Suburban next to us with a bumper sticker that said: “Don’t move firewood, it bugs me.” Inside the rear windows we could see the vehicle was packed to the ceiling with firewood. The driver even had firewood piled to the ceiling in the front passenger seat. We all started cracking up at the same time. Despite not being the sharpest tool in the shed and obviously having no idea what kind of hike we had slogged through the day before, the guy pretty much hit the nail on the head when he saw us laughing at him and shouted in a perturbed voice: “Bunch a goofballs!”

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