Hiking With Dirt, 2005 by Ken Knight
Map Photos came from the Dances With Dirt site.
Two years ago I joined Andy, Elwira, John, and Mike for a hike along a portion of the 2003 Dances With Dirt race course. We hiked the middle third of the course that year and as you may recall came away covered in muck, sporting mutant breats, and generally quite pleased with our efforts. Events conspired to prevent us from doing the last third of the course in 2004. But we now have covered that portion of the course (legs 11 to 15 by the course map; two years ago my report states we did legs 5-9, by the course description of this year that equates more to legs 5-10, but I'm sure the route is slightly different this year from what we covered in 2003) - a distance of about 20.1 miles. We decided we would hike the section in reverse order so we could end the day with the channel crossing of leg 15 and have the best chance of watching running going through that crossing.
John picked me up at 6:30AM and we drove to Half Moon Lake to meet Andy. This year just the three of us were going to tackle the Dances With Dirt course. When we arrived at Half Moon Lake things were well under way for the race. Hundreds of people were milling about preparing for the relate start (the ultra runners had left an hour before we arrived). The sun was just peaking out over the horizon when John and I arrived and started looking for Andy. We wandered over to the starting line and did not find hide nor hear of him. We headed back to the car and, surprisingly, managed to get him by cell phone and learned he was in the same lot we had parked. We just missed each other somehow. We geared up, walked acros the dew soaked grass together, on a fine clear low 50s morning. We wanted to be near the starting line to see the relay racers start at 7:45. I never really did see the first relay runners take off down leg 1 of the course. But it only took a couple minutes for the 250 runners (I believe that is the number of entered teams) to vanish into the woods leaving the south eastern edge of Half Moon Lake behind. We followed them: leg 15 and leg 1 share a poriton of the course. We set out along the major trail greeting race volunteers who reminded us that their would be lots of runners on the course. We joked back (well Andy really) that we were distributing hugs and were part of the volunteer medical staff. Last time quite a few runners paused to give Elwira, and then some of the rest of us guys, hugs. Of course we really weren't part of the medical staff but we all were carrying first aid kits and I've no doubt that if we had encountered someone in real trouble we would have helped him or her out.
We set out along the major trail following the runners. At first we could hear them, and we even had a few late starters pass us, in the distance. For the first few tenths of a mile our paths were the same but the runners would soon south and east travelling counter-clockwise around Crooked Lake. We could hear the lead runners chatting as they came around the lake apporaching us again as they flew down leg 1 running well over three times faster than we were walking. We strolled briskly through the forest keeping an eye out for the turn off we knew had to be coming. We were having a fine time walking along the trail. Maybe too fine a time because we soon came to realize that we were not where we really wanted to be. We had missed our turn. So in true dances With Dirt fashion we decided to just bushwhack through the forst and swamp towards Hankerd Road to get ourselves back on track. A bushwhack in this part of the Pinckney Recreation Area is much like any other bushwhack. Lots of trees to navigate around, prickers to negoitate, wet spots to avoid as you climb down into a weet bowl area before climbing back out again. We moved steadily west until we came out on the proper trail near Hankerd Road. While the bushwhack certainly added time to our day it may not have added any real distance. It certainly got the juices flowing and gave us our first hitch hikers of the day (burrs, prickers, seed pods).
We continued through forests and fields as the day continued to warm up. This portion of the course would treat us to a fair bit of more substantial trails, but it also featured long sections where the track took us off trails and these were wonderful. We would wind our way thorugh dense forest full of foliage that would catch at our bodies; through fields rich with Golden Rod and buzzing insects; past trees sporting apples or pairs and bushes of berries or grapes (its' great having people with you who spot these sorts of things - the grapes though small and with large seeds were quite tasty and I've no doubt the apple Andy ate was good too); and so much more. During the first half of our travels we managed to stay in a pretty tight group. I was able to take part in conversations and those conversations ranged across a wide spectrum of topics. Easy going chatter among friends out in the wilds enjoying the world around us. We were having a great time and making very good time at the same time.
I think one of the best spots of the entire day was spent at South Lake - about 4 hours and 9.5 miles from the start - where we paused to have a bite to eat. As we approached this modest sized lake we listened to Sandhill Cranes calling to each other. Somehow their calls startled me. I'm not sure why I was not expecting the birds to be present, but I was not. When we came out to the eastern shore of South Lake (not far from Eagle Lake) we saw numerous Sandhill Cranes. They were going about their business on this shallow, reed laced, lake. We puased at the blue flag just before the place where the course enters the lake itself for our first meal of the day. The sun was shining in a brilliantly blue high sky and the temperature had climbed into the low 80s. It was a lovely late summer afternoon. An afternoon we still had to ourselves. At this point the course desgined deemed it necessary for the course to plunge into the warm barely-thigh-deep (on me) waters. Andy and I took to the lake and John followed the shoreline. We plodded through the water working hard to pull our feet out of the soft lakebed's muddy embrace. If you paused for even a moment the embrace grew stronger. Andy managed to get stuck for a minute and had to work quite hard to free himself. Despite this Andy and I met up with John pretty much at the same point at the same time. We left the warm water for the cool shaded waters and then the sandy shoreline. Our shoes were full of mud and rocks. Pausing to empty them out was essential, but once we did that we were again able to set out on our journey. We still had not seen any runners coming from the ohter direction though we expected to at any moment. That moment came about 20 minutes after we finished our meal break around 1:30PM. The relay running shot past us, moving like the wind, clearly having no trouble at all even though this was his likely his third segment, around 10 miles in for him. We wouldn't see anyone else coming our way for another 20 minutes. This fellow, and his team, were well ahead of the pack. As we walked along a road and then through fields towards leg 12 we encountered more runners. We would be passed by runners for the next 3 hours.
Up until leg 12 we had been moving quite quickly. The start of leg 12 was about 11 miles in to the hike for us. It was just around 2:00PM when we began this portion of the hike. We felt pretty good about how we had been moving. I had a couple sore spots on me from stretched muscles, taking too high a step here and there, hiking faster than I otherwise might have done. We all had biological hitchhikers all other us and no doubt we all had scoring from prickly bushes and the like. But we still felt pretty good. Leg 12 would change that a bit. Perhaps it was the hilly nature of the segment that got to me or perhaps it was the constant having to pause and step off the trail to let runners go by. Whatever it was this leg, about 3.3 miles in length, took us about two hours to complete and by the time we did finish it I was really feeling it. How runners can scurry up the fairly steep hills let along down them without injury is always a bit of a mystery to me. At least this segment didn't take you too far off the beaten path too much but when it did you had to twist and turn through the dense forest again. We were hot and getting a bit cranky (or so it may have seemed), but we marched on. We encouraged the runners who passed us, "a mile and a half to go...", "you're almost to the top...", "one more downhill and it get flat again...", "keep on trucking!" Most of the people we passed seemed very happy, even when they were huffing and puffing, to be making their way through this hilly portion of the course.
When we finally reached the rockus Bruin Lake we were quite ready for a break. At least I was. We fetched water at the spigot, had more food, and tried to ignore the worst of the noise being created by motorboats and jet skis. Ignoring the smell of gasoline was just as tough. This would be a much prettier lake if it had less high-powered traffic around it. I'm sure it's a great place to bring the family for some car camping fun, but it's not the place to be if you are trying to spend a day away from the sounds of "modern civilazation."
When we left Bruin Lake the bulk of the runners had passed us. But we still saw a few come by as we followed the flagged trail ever close to Half Moon Lake. But soon we had the trail to ourselves again. In some sense that was a relief. We twisted and turned along the trail and finally encountered mud holes that help give Dances With Dirt its appellation. Up until now we had had virtually no muck and mire to contend with. Even in this section of the course the mud holes were mild. The going got substantially easier a little beyond the channel crossing. When found ourselves again on major trails. Our pace picked up and our spirits rose. We were almost done. We zipped down the trails, including the Potawatomi (again). We managed to bunch back up again and end our day as a tight group (even when we sprad out I was never very far behind; far enough to prevent conversation but not by much) as we hiked down towards the staring/ending point of the Dances With Dirt course. It was 6:31PM when we finished our trek which had started about 10 hours and 40 minutes earlier. We were tired, sore, a bit itchy, but elated that we had done it. As we sauntered back to our cars past the hundreds of people cheering runners that were still coming in. I found myself wishing that there was somoene waiting to cheer us in. I also found myself wishing for a really fine grilled juicy hamberger.
We said goodbye to each other and around 7:00PM we were on the road heading in our separate directions. John and I decided to stop at the Dexter A&W Root Beer Stand for a snack. What a nice treat after a 20-mile day hike. The only problem is they don't give you sufficient storage space for the massive root beer mugs. John placed his stein on the floor mat (as did I) and partway through his salty french fries inadvertantly knocked it over. What a wate. But that was probably the worst thing that happened to any of us during the entire day - a wonderful day even if I still can feel the scratches around my ankles 3 after the event.
|Copyright © 2005, Kenneth Knight||Last updated: September 13, 2005|