Great Lakes Hikes 2003 NCTA School House Gathering

November 7 and 8, TImber Creek to 5-Mile Road | November 9, 58th Street to Croton Dam

GLH Gathering, November 7 and 8, 2003, Timber Creek to 5-Mile Road

John and I arrived at the West Michigan NCTA chapter's old one room schoolhouse in the middle of the afternoon on Friday, November 7, 2003. There were signs that people had been there recently but no one was around when we pulled into the grassy driveway and found a parking spot on the grounds in back of the building. The afternoon was partly sunny and crisp with cold breeze. A typical late autumn day here in western Michigan. We decided to just fiddle about around the Schoolhouse which has seen some renovation work since we were last here a year ago. John took aim at chopping some wood with a machete-like knife he had been given by a friend. The scene was amusing and the blade did actually work and in a pinch you could certainly get wood shavings with it but we both knew that a good hatchet or ax would work much better. Still in due time John managed to get a small fire going and with tender loving patient care he was able to build a nice warming fire. Perhaps 45 minutes later Eric showed up and we chatted while waiting for others to arrive. People slowly began to trickle in from various places as the sun sank below the horizon. Dave, Jan, John, Dick, Paul, Julie, Matt, Paul S, Claudine, Josh, Amy, and many others soon showed up and we set out for our Friday night dinner.

After a hearty meal at Capers we returned to the Schoolhouse to while the crisp night away. People would break into groups and talk of various things including what had been done since we all last met. Some of us eventually drifted outside to join others already surrounding the blazing fire that John had re-ignited. Around this yellow flickering heat source we barely noticed the temperature steadily dropping as we enjoyed the camaraderie that comes when spending time around a fine campfire enjoying the company of friends. However, all things must come to an end. It was edging past 11:00PM when Andy and Elwira (with Keila) arrived and things were starting to wind down. Andy loaned Paul (Siler) his Black Diamond Megamid for him and Julie to try out. They set it up around the sleeping Julie and soon everyone else packed it in for bed too. Most people decided to sleep inside of the cozy confines of the old one room schoolhouse. But there are always some of us who brave the elements and sleep outside. I had planned to sleep in my Henry Shires Tarp-tent but I could not get it set up. I just could not get the proper leverage to insert the rear hoop into its grommets. Getting that leverage is always the hardest part of using this tent and after futzing with it for quite some time I just gave up and spread my sleeping bag on top of my Therm-a-Rest sleeping pad and went to bed. The moon kept me awake as it blazed down in its full glory shining into my eyes. I was warm and protected from the winds by my down sleeping bag and my down liner jacket made a fine head covering. I eventually drifted off to sleep and except for a time or two of wakefulness when I had to go to the bathroom I slept quite well. It was a great night to sleep under the stars even though the temperature ended up dropping down to about 12°F.

I was not really ready to get up and going when I woke up just after 7:00AM. I had gotten less than an ideal amount of sleep but I knew that as long as I kept busy and engaged that ought not to matter much. The sun was barely brightening the sky when I crawled out from under my cocoon of down to greet the chilly morning. There was frost on top of my sleeping bag and jacket. I gathered up my kit and went into the schoolhouse where I found people stretched out on their comfortable thick mattresses still slumbering on. I moved about quietly and soon was joined by Siler (Paul Hann — the primary organizer of this annual event) who started coffee brewing. As we sipped our hot brew people began to wake up and soon everyone was getting ready for the day to come. We ate doughnuts and drank coffee and mineral rich hard Schoolhouse water. By just after 9:00AM we were actually ready to depart for the day hike today. This is a remarkable feat for our group since we normally tend to dawdle during the morning. Maybe we were just ready to brave the still chilly morning (it had been 15°F according to the car thermometer in John's car and he says it reads high when he checked it not long after sunrise.) Perhaps we just told fewer stories or had less to eat for breakfast. Whatever the reason we were all piled into cars and heading towards Timber Creek earlier than I think anyone had expected.

Timber Creek, by US-10, is in Lake County and this would be completely new trail for our merry band of hikers. The bulk of the group set out leaving Andy, Matt, and Siler behind to shuttle cars and then catch up to us later in the day. The partly sunny day had warmed up a bit and I was comfortable enough wearing a normal button down shirt and my Ibex Ice Fall jacket (yes, I know cotton is a no-no. I wasn’t trying to be a mountain man I just had not brought a typical hiking shirt) as I strolled along the narrow path of the North Country Trail which wound through the oak and pine forests hereabouts.

As we walked through the oak leaf littered forest floor the main sound we would hear was that of our own crunching boots and conversations. I found myself moving from group to group chatting now and then with people as I went. I was happy to just be outside in this late fall weather with people who I liked. The hiking was generally pretty easy. Now and then the trail would throw me for a small loop as it wriggled around trees in a rather snake-like fashion. But generally the going was easy and fun.

As we walked through the Mainstee National Forest we occasionally would see signs that other people were spending time in the woods. We passed by a couple hunter's blinds as we ambled through the woods. In a week the firearms deer hunting season would begin and these woods would be full of hunters trying to kill that prize buck. But other than these blinds signs of civilization are few and far between. The roads here are small and infrequent and so we were spared the sounds of traffic. I don't think we saw anyone else during the whole hike. It was a great experience.

As we walked we would now and then enter a grove of pine trees with some oaks mixed in. These trees were tall and had needles that shone in an eerie light green. The groves had a spooky feel that was probably created by the quality of the light that filtered in from the weak sun that broke through the clouds. I was not the only one who felt this peculiar sense of the woods. I cannot say that I wholly liked the feeling but nor can I say it bothered me terribly either. It was just a strange feeling that repeated with each pine grove we passed through during the early portion of this approximately 13 mile long hike.

Not long after lunch the trio of shuttlelers caught up to us. Matt lead the way and the others were not far behind. We were a single group again. However, perhaps some of our group were not completely happy with the hike we were enjoying. The afternoon had warmed up somewhat but it was still below freezing and hints of snow were in the air. As we sat along the trail eating lunch and sitting around sometimes on pleasant hiking blankets like Eric's tried and true blanket that has seen many hikers sprawled out upon it we noticed darker clouds massing back the way we had come. It seemed as though snow would surely come and I even felt a few flakes. Perhaps this change in the weather plus the distance was getting some hikers down even though the trail remained quite enjoyable for most of us.

We crossed road after road and as the afternoon wore on we strode over Centerline road and eventually passed by a large pond (small lake) that was one of I believe two between Centerline road and 3-Mile road. That small lake was pretty and was the only real big source of water I saw all day. Certainly the trail did not cross any streams during most of the day (at the start and the end was all). The group was splitting into sub-groups traveling at different speeds. My little group included Andy and Elwira and we marched on towards the cars as the day progressed. We passed over someone's idea of humor scratched in the dirt road saying that this was 3-Mile road even though we had already passed it long before. Eric, who had caught up after the group had taken a break at 3-Mile road, had added encouraging arrows. Some people had thought about staying at 3-Mile road and waiting for cars to come get them but they were convinced that it made more sense to just hike slowly and thus stay warm and eventually get to 5-Mile road which was not too much farther away. We all strode forward passing along trail that was bordered on both sides by private property. We would cross one final bridge, stride up to the road, and then lo and behold the end of the trail was there with a car waiting to take Andy (the last driver to arrive) back to the other end to retrieve the cars and come back for the rest of us.

It was just past 4:00PM when I reached the end of the hike. I suppose I had been traveling for about six hours. I settled down with the others that were present and we waited for the drivers to return and the rest of the group to show up. I found it easy to nod off as I waited. I was tired. I was hungry. We waited for the other hikers to show up and as we did so we waved at the occasional passing cars. It was quite the game for us. The remaining hikers soon arrived and not long after that the drivers came to take us back to the Schoolhouse.

I was feeling a tad questionable. Ever since I had eaten a whole bunch of almonds I was feeling rather stuffed up and iffy. I think that the almonds are merely a co-incidental fact in this experience but who knows. As we drove back to the Schoolhouse trying to find a decent satellite radio station to listen to (no luck) I dozed off in the car as my companions talked. When we got to the Schoolhouse I was feeling somewhat better and soon things would get better.

The potluck dinner this year went much more smoothly than it did the year before. There was less confusion and people were well and truly ready for a sumptuous meal of all sorts of things. After the fine dinner we settled down to watch a slideshow by Paul S on his hike through the Upper Peninsula along the NCT. Paul delivered his slide show in his usual bright ebullient style. It was, as you would expect, well received. People sauntered in and out of the building to watch the lunar eclipse and a good evening was had by all. Perhaps the only regret any of us can have is that we did not do a night hike. I could have been talked into it I suppose but my heart was not really in it and I suppose most other people would say the same.

Dave and Joe had arrived during the dinner and our gathering was pretty much completely attended by now. Soon people decided to drift off to their respective shelters be they indoors or outdoors. I am going to sleep inside tonight since I feel that I have no real reason to prove that my sleeping gear works at again these low double digit temperatures and again was having trouble with the Tarp-tent. It just won't be my weekend with the Virga. Tomorrow we will have another tasty breakfast and do another day hike along another new section of North Country Trail that not only contains new hiking experiences for us but actually includes new North Country Trail that is about to be made.

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