Andy showed up at my door around 06:30 on a chilly January 19, 2002. We piled my seemingly large amount of gear into his car next to his seemingly larger amount of gear and then began the drive to the Hoist Lakes Foot Travel Area. Our first all-important, and for Andy traditional, stop was breakfast at Tony's at the Birch Run exit). This restaurant is known for its large portions of food. When you order pancakes and meat that is what you get and an awful lot of it. I think there was a good half pound of bacon with my 8 or so pancakes (each a couple inches across). Andy had the same thing and neither of us came close to consuming all that bacon. When Scott arrived he ordered a slightly smaller omelet and did manage to eat all of it. The portions are hearty and pretty good though I have had tastier pancakes (perhaps it is the better syrup I used).
We struck out again on I-75 towards Hoist Lakes around 08:30. The Hoist Lakes Foot Travel Area is part of the Huron National Forest and that places it near Alpena to the north. We're north and east of Ann Arbor. As we drove and the sun rose we could see that a dusting of snow was on the ground. But, it was just a dusting - enough to just cover things but not deeply. We hoped the snow would deepen as we got closer to our goal. Fortunately for us it did.
We pulled into the west trailhead parking lot around 11:00 right when we planned to arrive. But, much to our dismay we (Scott, Andy, and myself) were the only ones around. We settled to wait. We were expecting a few other people to show up including Joe "jundog" J., Eric (resident shutterbug) D. , Paul "Siler" H., Julie, and others. No one showed up. We kept waiting talking about this and that and about an hour after we arrived Duane M. pulled on up. Duane lives nearby and he was joining us for just a day of hiking. The day itself was clear, still, and mild for winter with a temperature perhaps in the mid-20¡F range. Duane told us that the night before in Oscoda the temperature had dipped down to 1¡F. That's nippy; certainly colder than we were anticipating. I think we all prayed it would not get that cold tonight.
People were just not showing up so everyone but Scott piled into Duane's car and we went to the east trailhead to see if they were there. They were not so we returned.
We had had enough of waiting around and decided it was time to depart. Scott had had more of an itch to go and was pulling his sled out along the trail a good while before the rest of us. The rest of us now finally included Joe who had finally arrived. Joe arrived with his larger sled and my small sled and we got everything put together and we were on the trail around 14:35.
The trails here were covered with just a few inches of powdery fresh snow. I did not see any substantial signs that others had been on the trail we were following though their tracks could have been blown away or covered up. We were hiking in a sunny white, brown, green, and blue stillness that was only broken by our quiet conversations and the gentle sounds of our footfalls. The trail rose and fell over the gentle hills of the terrain. I quickly learned that hauling the sled up a hill was tough work. It may be true that you can haul considerably more than you can comfortably carry but that does not mean that hauling 50 odd pounds of gear and fire wood is a simple task. Considering that I certainly had the lightest load to pull the others must have been having tough time too. We found that we were moving along pretty quickly even though the going was hardly a piece of cake.
The only signs of life we really saw were the frequent red, white, and jack pines. I imagine that the other Michigan conifers were present too but I am not certain. We also spied occasional holes in the lakes we passed. Holes that must have been made by otter or muskrat for fishing. As I came to a tree with brown leaves I thought that that was odd. The tree was a red oak and it keeps many, if not all, of its leaves - dead though they most definitely are - until new leaves bud out in the spring. I think it is a stunning site nonetheless.
We came to Byron Lake about 75 minutes after we set out. This lake is perhaps 2 miles from the trailhead and we could see Scott working his way around the lake's other side. We decided that we would head right to where good campsites could be found and that Scott who had been ahead of us until this point would just have to catch up. We passed a fellow working a Zip stove (wood burning stove that uses a small fan to make the fire hotter than it would otherwise be given the small amounts of fuel in the stove at any one time). We soon came to our campsite for the trip and it is a fine site with a sizeable flat region near the frozen lakeshore and a fire ring on a hillock just a couple dozen steps away. As Duane, Joe, Andy, and I talked we began to set up our tents and during that time Scott came up into the site and joined us in sitting up his tent. For the next while we were hammering stakes into the frozen (surprized me how hard it was) ground. I think investing in some super stakes like the rather hefty stakes Joe had would be worthwhile (I do have my usual gripe with the Stephenson hoops; they seem awfully hard to get into the tent sleeve when it is cold. ItÕs particularly hard to get the fabric at the sleeveÕs end, that is where you insert the pole, around the pole.) Still in time we all had our tents up and we said our good-byes to Duane who had to hike out as the crescent moon rose over the trees. He would have to do some of his hiking at night, but I'm sure he will have no trouble finding his way back since it is bright and he knows the trails.
We got a good hot fire going and began to enjoy the companionship that comes when you sit at a fire having an evening meal on a winter's night with a rising moon in a clear sky full of stars. The meal was augmented by sausage Joe had brought and small swigs of the various schnapps he and I had brought. We had a fine time whiling away the hours.
However, all things must end and as the fire cooled we decided that our time had come. It was time to go to sleep. We set up a food line and everyone crawled into their respective tents by 23:20. The night was still, cold, and clear. It should be an interesting night to sleep. I hope my gear works well.