Great Lakes Hikes 2005 NCTA School House Gathering

November 12, 11 Mile Road to 6 Mile Road | November 13, Trail Blazing a Trail Near the Schoolhouse

The 2005 GreatLakesHikes Schoolhouse Gathering got off to a slightly rocky start for me. Just before 8:30AM my phone rang and John Lawton was at the other end of the line with some bad news. He wasn’t feeling up to par and did not want to infect everyone else with his illness so was not going to go. This was a problem since John was providing my ride. He had called Andy to talk with him about giving me a lift but gotten his voicemail. I called and got Elvira (Andy’s wife) and she said she wanted to give him an hour or two more to sleep since he had had a rough night dealing with one of his cluster headaches. She didn’t think there would be a problem though. So I began my wait to hear back from them and hoped for the best. The best was to be. Andy called back and said to expect him in early afternoon. Elvira and Amy were going to take Kaila to the kennel and he would pick me up and we would all meet at the carpool lot near Sackrider Hill. Things ended up being pushed back somewhat and Andy did not arrive until closer to 5:00PM. But we got to the lot in good time and were there barely a minute when Elvira and Amy pulled in in a very stuffed Ford Focus (we had been in Amy’s lime green Bug). We shoved me and my stuff into the car and were off. A drive with those three is always fun. Those of you who have met all three of them can imagine what it’s like in a car. Lively is the single best word I can think of to describe things. Lots of fun.

We arrived at the Schoolhouse just before 9:00PM and found things well underway. People were making home-made pizza for everyone else to share. Right now a pizza was being made for Lynne Durham and Paul "Siler" Haan who were just coming in from doing a 50 mile hike to the Schoolhouse over the past 17 hours. Remarkable. While they both seemed tired they also seemed in good cheer and in no rush to get to bed. Remarkable.

For the next several hours people chatted about all manner of subjects both inside and outside around a campfire. I can’t now tell you what I talked about or who I talked with, but I spent time inside and out and had fun doing it. I’m sure everyone else had fun too.

Of course a big part of the Gathering besides renewing friendships face-to-face with people you normally only see online or on hiking trips (and some very infrequently at that like Curtis and Audrey who have not made appearances on the email list in years and I last saw when I hiked with them on the AT between Erwin, Tennessee and Damascus, Virginia over three years ago (Today Curtis is working his way through medical school to become a DO and Audrey is working her way from veterianary school to get a DVM degree. Both are doing exactly what they want to do and having a great time doing it. The stories Audrey can weave are particularly fun though at times perhaps a bit gruesome if you are queasy about learning about her playing Daddy to cows she is artificially inseminating or trying to do a complete exam on an elephant.) is hiking. Paul "Siler" Haan had planned a hike between 11 Mile and 6 Mile Roads along the North Country Trail. Call it about 10 miles with a possible extension of a couple or so miles with a walk back to the Schollhouse depending on how you walk it.

The day started out overcast but the sun was making attempts to break through the light overcast and throughout the day it would show through blue patches of sky and bring the leaf covered ground into vivid focus against the greens of the moss growing along the trail and the evergreen that stretched towards the sky. By this time of the year most of the trees that shed their leaves have done so. We hit the trail a little past 10:15AM and quickly broke into groups of varying speed. I elected to join the quicker moving group though this group itself would soon fracture into two groups too. Lynne, hardly seeming to be feeling any effects of her 50 mile trek yesterday, joined Byron to quickly hike to 6 Mile road. He had to be on the road to some event by 2:00PM and she joined him to help get him there and to get shuttles set up for the rest of us. Robert, a new Gathering attendee from Chicago, joined me as we trailed behind the speed demons. Everyone else strung themselves out behind. In some ways I wish I had let myself float back to the larger slower moving group because I have a feeling that I missed out on a lot of great conversations. But if I had done that then I would not have gotten to do what I did do. We all make choices.

After crossing the first, or perhaps it was second, stream Robert pulled ahead of me. I spent some time taking photos and was happy to hike alone. We had had some nice chit-chat but I’m comfortable hiking alone too and I suppose he is also. In time Eric Doyle caught up to me as I was trying to capture some of the great color contrasts and we hiked together. When we came to a long stretch (east-west I think) of trail that seemed to follow some type of old right-of-way (perhaps an old railroad bed) we split up just a bit and as I strolled ahead Eric took pictures and found, sadly, some trash in the form of a beer can. We had thought that Robert was well ahead of us, but as we spent time in a lovely open space trying to capture it’s essence on silicon (doesn’t have the same ring as saying "on film" but you can’t rally say that when shooting digitally) Robert appeared. He’d taken a bathroom break. We were united for a short time as we hoped for the light to change (never did) and we continued on together until near the time that Eric and I decided it was time for lunch. That happened after a particularly curvy, hard to follow, section of trail was navigated. There are times when not being able to spy the sky blue blazes easily is a real handicap. When the trail seems to be unable to hold a straight line for more than 10 feet and instead has to twist and turn like a drunken snake along the leaf covered ground things get worse. I know I veered off the trail just before our lunch spot. We settled in for our break just above the old NCT trail route that curled around a small marsh-like around (reminded me of Sterling Marsh a bit though it’s considerably smaller). The wind had picked up a bit and we certainly could have picked a more sheltered spot, but our hillside spot seemed just fine to us especially when the clouds parted enough to let the sun shine through.

We stayed at that spot for nearly an hour. Near the end of that stay we heard the rest of the group following the new trail that runs along the crest of the hill we were on. None of them came down to say hello to us. I wonder why. We packed up and headed out after them though we were not rushing to catch up. Of course, in time we did, and new groups formed as a result. I pulled a bit ahead and Eric fell back. I found myself with Roger, Karen, and Jan for a time. Then things changed again and I was alone. I don’t know where many others were. Clearly many were behind me, but not that far behind me. I walked at my leisure enjoying the crisp fall weather and working my way along the trail. In time I reached 6 Mile road and found I was alone there. It was around 3:00PM. Soon Karen and Jan showed up and we waited together. I guess it was about 3:30 when Lynne pulled up. She had been where she should have been (to the right at the parking lot) and gathered Karen and Jan into the car to take back to the Schoolhouse with some others already in the car. I stayed behind so that when the rest of the group showed up they would know what was going on. I waited. No one came.

It turns out that Paul had led the rest of the hikers to Loda Lake and from there to a different point on 6 Mile Road (I think). They then found Dick Bolton driving along the road with his wife Sharon, Bailey the Wonder Dog, and daughter Kate. Paul joined Dick and his merry band and they drove out to fetch me. We were all back at the Schoolhouse by 4:00PM. Well, almost all of us. Dave and Robert where nowhere to be seen. I had last seen Dave around 2:00PM at a road crossing (could have been 7 Mile Road). He pulled ahead and that was the last I saw of him (perhaps the last anyone saw of him, except Robert, for some time). Dave and Robert took off together planning to hike to the Schoolhouse via 5 Mile Road as we later learned, but Dave goofed and they got lost. Fortunately for them, Bill "Wapiti" Smith. I’ve hiked and kayaked with Bill before. He’s part of the Fortune Bay Expeditionary Team. That group does some really neat stuff each year. Bill got our wayward hikers back to the Schoolhouse, but for reasons unknown didn’t come in and say hi. I’m not quite sure what time it was when our lost fellows showed up, but it was definitely well past dark.

With the onset of darkness comes the onset of the potluck dinner. This year was as good, if not better, than previous years. I say it’s perhaps better because Jeff Hargis was cooking up jambalaya with sausage and shrimp. He was doing this in his dutch oven over the campfire that Eric had kindled to life and that was being nurtured by most everyone who was standing around it watch Jeff create what our noses suggested would be exceedingly tasty. Our noses were right; it was exceedingly tasty. I’m not taking anything away from the vegetable lasagna, Thai-like noodles, chocolate decadence cake, or cheesy nacho, veggie sushi rolls, or the many other dishes present but Jeff’s creation and the way he made it take the cake. He also managed to get it done before the rains came. Sprinkles occurred on and off as he made it and the lesser among the campfire sitters abandoned the fire and first crack at the jambalaya (to say nothing of the grilled shrimp) for the dry and warm confines of the Schoolhouse. I’m glad I wasn’t in that group those shrimp were good. But in time the rains began to come down with more force and we wanted to be sure we got our fair share of the other dishes (we had been bringing our plate-fulls outside) so we too went in. The rains would continue for the next several hours — wiping out the fire in the process.

Lively eating, chatting, and then watching of a PCT slideshow that Andy had purchased from somewhere. The slideshow didn’t thrill me, but that’s OK. The guys versus gals Trivial Pursuits game certainly got the competitive juices flowing for those of us who were still awake. I must report that for the second year in a row (and the second time overall) the girls beat the guys. This can be taken to mean one of several things: girls squirrel away more trivia in their brains than guys do; guys just got unlucky with questions; or, that in some cases I need to voice my opinion more loudly since at least once my correct answer got trumped by other voices. Oh well, at least we all had fun. Like other Gatherings some of us diehards remained up until after midnight. Silly us.