Winter Solstice, 2003, Waterloo-Pinckney Trail by Dennis Shubitowski

Reports by Dennis Shubitowski | Ken Knight | John Lawton | Andy Mytys

Well, this is the unfortunate TR for the GLH annual Winter Solstice Deathe Marche - you will see why it is unfortunate soon enough and where this "skills" stuff comes into play.

The day started out like most other GLH events I've been to - running a little late and somewhat disorganized! The plan was to meet at Lyndon Park North on N. Territorial Rd east of M-52 at 6am with possible alternate parking around the corner. I had to get up around 4:30a to try and get to the park by 6am but ended up running about 15 minutes late with over an hour drive. Andy was running late too but we had been in cell phone contact so we knew the situation. John L was, of course, there on time and wondering where the heck we were as he is cellphone-less (lucky him). I got to the park around 6:15a (our latest supposed takeoff time) and Andy showed up with Ken about 10 minutes after that.

We decided to spot my vehicle at the end so I moved my stuff over to John's vehicle. We noticed I left the interior lights on in my electrical-problem laden S-10, so I headed back to my truck with my key to turn off the lights. This would be an important sentence as this is the last time (unbeknownst to me at the time) that I would see that key. Anyway, on to the Waterloo headquarters on McClure Rd were we dropped Andy's car off, all piled into John's car again and off we headed to Portage Lake. With some customary dinking (is that an official GLH term?), the official Deathe Marche got underway at 7:39a, about 13 minutes after sunrise and the same amount late. The plan was 25 miles to Lyndon Park N for as long as it took. It was pretty cold and windy, but the weather was pleasant enough and it was a nice day for walking. There was about 1 to 2 inches of snow on the ground and there were other footprints in the snow from previous use of the trail (nice to see) since the snow had fallen.

There has been some activity as far as marking the trail with some new posts and signs put in by the DNR at a few junctions. It also looked like some ambitious renegade soul with a can a spray paint was out with "WP ->" type markings in blue paint at numerous trail junctions as well. This was an interesting hike because of John and his knowledge of the trail systems. Andy and I have attempted to hike this trail numerous times but never being sure we actually did the correct segments. John pointed us toward all the correct segments including some I was unfamiliar with that were part of the original/official WP trail. It was nice to hike these parts as they added a new flavor and feeling to a familar trail. The miles went pretty easy and the conversation was lively. There were numerous blowdowns on the trail, many of which John and others (but mostly John!) cleared, but many were too big for our saw-less group. We took our first break before Sackrider Hill and ate a few snacks and we took lunch at the outhouse (how pleasant) after the dam in the horseman's trail area. The weather was shifty throughout the day with the sun out, kind of windy, sun back behind the clouds, temperatures rising, temps falling. All this activity made sure the snow would start to melt, and pretty sure most of us had soaked boots and soaked socks by lunchtime. The ground was also mostly frozen still and that was somewhat of a blessing. The horse trails area can be a bear to hike as it is sooo sandy it is like walking on a beach. The sand was mostly frozen but very rutted and holey from the horse hooves so ankles and knees took a pounding.

We took a break again at the Waterloo HQ (16.5 mile point) were Andy's car and the cooler of hot water were. I turns out we really didn't need boiling hot water as the day was pretty warm, but it was nice to have hot water available to us at that point in the hike. After the break we scooted along toward the Discovery Center and this would probably be the point were I lost my key just as a guess. My wife called to find out how things were going (yes, I must carry the cell phone for her while I hike), and the phone is in the same bag as my car key (and money and licences and cards as it always has been for me for my hiking routine). Anyway, found out in the Mill Lake trail area that we had always gone the wrong way leading straight to the Discovery Center when instead the trail goes to the left and out toward Mill Lake - that made a lot of sense comparing where the trail picks up after the Center. The sun was going going going down by this point and it was starting to get dark. We were on the homestretch of the DM with everybody feeling pretty good (at least as they would admit publicly). For me, the Deathe Marche-portion of the hike began after this point probably around the 21-22 mile mark. I still felt pretty good but was getting tired. I do like hiking at night and the headlamps were not really needed as the snow reflected a lot of light. We did need the lights in some spots that were particulary dark, treacherous footing, or rocky.

We finished the hike probably around 9:30p and boy were we ready to go home. John, Andy, and I all had to go to work the next day and Ken had to catch an early flight to AZ. So, imagine if you will, you have just hiked 25 miles, it is dark and somewhat coldish out, your last major meal was about 9 hours previous, you've got blisters (well, at least I did), you are pretty darned tired, and quarters are going to be tight anyway as there are 4 or us, I have a S-10 (read small pickup truck), and we have a ways to drive yet. No key. Nowhere. Not on my person. Not in the pack. Can't find it. Gone. Cell phone! No tower. No service. Crap.

John and Ken piled into the bed of my pickup to wait it out, try to keep warm and out of the wind, and Andy and I headed out for help. We walked along N. Territorial toward M-52 trying to hitch a lift and being unsuccessful as 2 scruffy hikers in the dead of night in a prison area are apt to be ignored. I never got a cell tower, but finally Andy was able to grab one and call Elwira to head on out as his battery was dying. My cell battery dies not too long after that or was about too and I never did get a cell tower. We waited at the corner of M-52 and N. Territorial for our Angel in the Ford Escort to show up, and she did around 10:15pm. We headed over to Andy's car where we thought my key might be in a jacket I left in his vehicle at the break. No key, again. Crap. Headed back to Lyndon Park and I called my wife on the way and she was overjoyed and anxious to get out of a warm bed and drive an hour and 20 minutes with a spare key to bail me out. While she headed down, we picked up John and Ken who frankly looked pretty darn miserable, wet and cold, and headed out to the Portage Lake trailhead. Checked John's car for my key and it wasn't there, as expected. Ken and John headed back to Ann Arbor and Andy and I headed back to Lyndon Park. Lisa was there waiting for us and we all got sorted and headed back to our warm homes to end the day.

So, I must publicly apologize to Ken, Andy, John and Elwira again for making the stupid, basic skills mistake of not absolutely securing the car key for the most-important of the spotted vehicles (the one at the end). I feel like a total idiot and deservedly so, and I feel awful for putting the others out after an already long day. I feel ever worse for Ken now as I learned the terror alert was raised and hoped he gave himself enough time a the airport with the increased security this morning. Well, chalk that one up to lesson learned the hard way at mine and other's expense - those are ones that will stick.

Overall, great hike for the hiking part. I felt very good and was not really sore (even today) which surprised me considering my slothness as of late. Animal spottings were pretty minimal, but we say at least 3 hunters out for muzzleloading season and heard several shots throughout the day. We did GPS the route and started to think in terms of trail descriptions for the WP mapping project. More activity to happen on this front in the coming months.


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Last updated: January 1, 2004