Trekking the North Country Trail: Struggling to 4500

April 23, 2023

Joan Reaching the only NCT crossing of the 45th parallel (photo by Bill Courtois)

Trekking the North Country Trail: Struggling to 4500

By Joan Young, MCP Contributing Writer.

On Dec. 1, 2021 Amber Township resident Joan Young began her journey to hike the entire North Country Trail continuously. She began her trek at the Manistee National Forest’s Timber Creek Campground on US 10 in Lake County. The first half of the hike took her to Middlebury, Vermont. She then drove to Sakakawea State Park in central North Dakota to begin the hike back to Michigan. Young, 74, was the first woman to completely hike the NCT, completing 20 years of segmented hikes in 2010. Her quest to complete the hike continuously was changed due to weather, but Joan still has the goal to hike the entire trail twice.  

Just before Christmas of 2022, I realized that the deepening snow was taking a toll on my body and resources, so I headed home for a seasonal break from my quest to hike the entire North Country National Scenic Trail for the second time. 

Spring conditions on the Jordan River

Near the end of March of this year, winter’s grip seemed to be loosening. I returned to the eastern Upper Peninsula but arrived just in time to be greeted by yet another big snowstorm.

I was again hiking with a friend, Bill Courtois of Ann Arbor, and this turned out to be a good plan both in terms of safety and morale. The first day, we managed 7.4 miles with too many falls to count. The snow was mushy and intermittently deep. We hadn’t worn snowshoes, because there was almost no snow where we began hiking.

The second day, we did wear snowshoes and only made 5.6 miles, completed with a fair amount of agony. I seriously began to doubt my ability to finish the hike at all. Hips and knees ached constantly. Roads we needed for access were again closed. We decided to stroll the four urban miles through St. Ignace the next day, making an effort to lessen the impact on my aching joints. I fully expected I’d be coming home for yet another break at the end of that day.

However, in 24 hours, my legs felt better. I took a rest day, and we moved our base to the Lower Peninsula, seeking trail where the snow was not deep and soft. We hiked more urban miles near Petoskey without too much difficulty, then tried to head into the woods. Hiking buddy, Bill, and I made it about 300 feet down the trail, looked at each other and simultaneously said, “No.”

At this point, plan B,C, or D was no longer in play. The plans have changed so many times, we may have reached double Z. Already, I’d had to give up the dream to hike continuously until I finished, with no break. Since the 106 miles in the western Upper Peninsula had had to be temporarily abandoned under 20-plus inches of snow, I wasn’t going to be able to complete the trail sequentially. Now, I decided that even doing the remainder of the trail in geographical sequence wasn’t going to be an option. We pored over maps and looked for fairly long road walks, wherever they were. 

Snowy trail at the crossing of the South Branch of the Carp River in the UP.

By the time these disconnected road walk sections were completed, enough snow had melted that on April 7, I noted that it finally felt like I was hiking rather than stumbling along the trail.

And on April 11, I passed the 4,500-mile mark. As amazing as this figure is, I find it even more amazing that there are still over 300 more miles of the NCT to hike. 

Since then, the weather threw in five days of high summer, which did take care of most of the rest of the snow. Now we are back to late winter. Two days ago the high was 90 degrees. Today it’s 36.

Bill has been with me most of the time on this outing. We’ve been filling in the gaps, and I now have a plan to complete most of what’s left between Brevort Lake (in the UP) and Hodenpyl Dam (near Mesick) in the next two weeks. This will leave the section of trail maintained by my home chapter of the North Country Trail Association, Spirit of the Woods. I’m attempting to save most of this for the very end so that friends can hike with me on the final days.

But what about the western UP? It’s still hanging out there. The county where most of my missing miles are was just declared a disaster by the Governor due to flooding from snowmelt. And now they have more snow. Even when that melts, the access roads will be mud pits. My best projection now is that I may not be able to finish the entire trail until June.

My joints feel better, but the previous standard of 13-17 miles a day is proving to be just out of reach without more pain than I’m interested in. I’d like to end this hike on a high note rather than totally beaten down, so I’m averaging closer to ten.

But be assured, I’m still hiking, and I’ll complete this trek as soon as the conditions allow.

 

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This story is copyrighted © 2023, all rights reserved by Joan Young, Scottville, MI 49454. No portion of this story or images may be reproduced in any way, including print or broadcast, without expressed written consent.

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