Living in northern Indiana, there isn't a lot of great hiking close. A couple friends of mine have scheduled a hiking/camping trip every year for the last couple. Our last experience was in Turkey Run State Park in the center of Indiana. When were were scouting out our next experience, we knew we wanted to hike on some beautiful trails, and camp for a couple nights. Another group of friends had just returned from hiking/camping in the Huron-Manistee National Forest. After some recommendations, quite a bit of studying, we were set and ready for another great experience!
For us to drive there from the South Bend area, it took around 3.75 hours. Not terrible, and gave us a little bit of time to game plan. We were thrown a little bit of a curveball early on though. We wanted to set up camp Friday night and Saturday night, leaving us with a short hike out of Sunday, allowing us to make it home by Sunday afternoon.
Well Mother Nature wasn't on board with that plan due to rain starting Saturday at noon, escalating to thunderstorms and heavy rainfall throughout Saturday night and all day Sunday. Due to the amount of rain, we decided to push through and put extra mileage in Friday and Saturday so that we could make it back to the car on Saturday afternoon. So... for the complete account!
The first step was to find some maps. This proved to a be a little difficult, and a little misconceiving. So we started with a picture of a trail map that my friend sent to me, along with some maps we found on the USDA Forest Service website.
We decided we wanted to drive to and park at the Upper River Road Trailhead. This allowed us to hike north on the North Country Trail to the suspension bridge, make the turn, then hike back to the car on the Manistee River Trail. When studying the maps and discussing with friends, we were under the assumption that it would be around 6-8 miles to our turnaround spot.
So we planned to hike to the suspension bridge, and maybe even add a couple miles to Friday so that we could be closer to the car to make Saturday a little easier and quicker to avoid the rain. If we could make the turn, it was going to be a little bit less than 6 miles back to the car... or so we thought...
We are geared more towards camping, not necessarily hiking, so bear with me. We were certainly not ultra-light... After my pack was packed and complete, it was close to 50 lbs. So lets start with my backpack. A while ago, I found a quality pack with some great reviews on Amazon. Bargain hunting led me to buying it and giving it a try!
This Mountaintop 70L pack performed really well! This was the first big test, and I could have been happier. It was comfortable, even though the weight was insanely heavy. I've only trained with it and worked out with it a handful of times, so I was happy to see it and feel it perform well during our couple days. It fit plenty of gear, and kept it centered on my back. I added a tarp and our tent to the outside of the pack, and both were held secure during hiking. The straps were comfortable, and the waist strap helped take some strain off my shoulders. Next up, the tent.
I bought my family's first tent several years ago. I went to Target and bought the plain jane Coleman Sundome 3 person tent. This tent has been the tried and true. We've camped in heat, in cold, in dry and in really wet, and it continues to perform! Not a true hiking tent, but it is what we had and used. It performed really well again, and couldn't have been happier!
I used a couple other pieces of gear that I wanted to let you know about. Some of these things were small things, but I think the small things make the difference at times. Let me start with clothing. I couldn't have been happier with the clothing I took. Now the weather was in the 50-70's, and we had some rain we were worried about. I wore an Outdoor Research Sequence Long Sleeve and a Mountain Hardwear Wicked LS Tee. I also wore my trusty Outdoor Research Ferrosi Crag pants.
I also took my trekking poles, which were super useful in the long run. I was nervous that they would just get in the way and add to the weight, but they were absolutely necessary. I had found, through Amazon, Hiker Hunger Carbon poles, and ended up being very happy with them!
The rest of the items I'll throw down below. I used and needed some supplies out of my Adventure Medical Kit, slept well with my Klymit sleeping pad and Marmot Trestles 0 degree sleeping bag, was illuminated by my Petzl Tikka XP headlamp, and stayed dry wearing my Columbia Watertight II rain jacket!
We ended up arriving at the Upper River Road Trailhead around 1pm. The weather was great, we were excited to start the trail, and off we went! The scenery was amazingly beautiful! The first thing we noticed though, was the elevation changes. There was a LOT OF UP AND DOWN! We pushed hard for a couple of hours before we "de-packed" and took a little bit of a break.
As you can see, the trail was heavily wooded, a lot of terrain changes and absolutely stunning! We'd only see the occasional person, but for the most part, it was very quiet. We realized quickly that it was going to be a challenge to make it to the turn around point like we wanted. We also realized quickly, that our original mileage for the turnaround could be a little short. We went to 6 miles, then 7, and still no turnaround. At this point, my buddy's knee started to "lock up" and started to become painful when going uphill or downhill. We started looking for camp locations, and thank goodness, we finally wandered into the Manistee River.
It was a mental defeat to think we were so close to the river at all times, but turn a corner and still not see it. At times we would be working away from the river, which started to wear on us too. Finally, we walked around a corner, up a small hill and there it was! I took a video!
Finding the river was a mental game changer. We didn't need water, we had enough, but we knew we had to be getting closer to the suspension bridge. This was enough of a mental win, that we could keep working towards the suspension bridge. Finally, around 6pm, we made it to the suspension bridge!
By making it to the suspension bridge, we knew we were halfway, or so we thought... Any additional mileage was going to be a bonus that we didn't have to do the next day in order to get back to the car. We worked a short distance around the north edge and started working back south on the Manistee River Trail. We found a suitable spot to set our tent up.
After breaking up and cutting up some dead wood, we made a fire, but we both were so dead we decided to turn in shortly after it got dark. We figured we would see how we felt in the morning and try to get an early start.
Below is the information from my Garmin watch for our first day of hiking. As you can see, our initial thought of a 6 mile day turned to a 9 mile day, with a lot of elevation, over 1000 feet of elevation gain.
Saturday started early. It was still dark when we both woke up. We both slept pretty well, but during the night, my buddy's knee and hip really started to freeze up on him. Having had issues with my IT band while running a marathon, I imagined this was his problem. He stretched the best he could and we decided moving along was going to be the best thing we could do. If we had to stop and set up camp again Saturday evening, we could, but we wanted to make it to the car.
So we grabbed our headlamps, broke down camp and off we went. I felt good moving, except for some pretty nasty blisters on my feet. I made the mistake of wearing heavy socks and hunting boots, due to the thought of hiking through a lot of rain. Hindsight, I would have been better off with tennis shoes. Anways, I taped some toes up and off we went.
This is where my trekking poles became a necessity. I handed them off to my buddy so he could navigate the ups and downs of the trail. Even though the Manistee River Trail wasn't as up and down, the terrain itself wasn't as nice. A lot of hidden roots and tricky footing made the trail just as hard as the day before.
We were able to knock out a couple miles before the sun started lighting up the trail for us. We were trying to get a solid mile in before we took our packs off and rested, but after a couple miles, a full mile turned to 3/4's of a mile. This is when we started to think we were going to have to stay another night, and that it was going to be really difficult to get ourselves back to the car, especially how slow my buddy was moving due to his knee and hip.
And again, some mental defeats as we moved along. We started the day thinking that around 6 or 7 miles were going to get us back to the car. When we reached 6 miles, we still seemed 3-4 miles away! By, by the grace of God, the Manistee River Trail lead us across a parking area for a few designated camping spots. There were some cars parked, and some camp sites occupied. At this point, my buddy decided that he needed a car ride back to the car. At first, I was disappointed that I wasn't going to be able to finish, but when it comes to Mother Nature, safety is paramount and I was willing to forgo finishing in order to get back to the car myself. The problem was, nobody was around. We hung around for 20 minutes and nobody had come to their cars. I walked to the camp sites that were set up, and nobody was home... My friend has the idea of possibly me dropping my back, heading to the car, and driving back to pick him up. After some quick thinking, and considering it was going to start raining at any time, that's what we did. I figured it was going to be another 4 miles at most back to the car, and instead of working at 30 minutes per mile, I should be able to move at 15 minutes per mile. This meant only an hour and I'd be at the car!
I grabbed my rain coat, Lifestraw (just in case), trekking poles, and off I went, blisters and all. I started to impress myself, making good time, and was setting a 15 min/mile pace like I thought. I knocked the first mile out pretty quickly. At the same time, I started to get some reception on my phone. It was text messages from my wife, who I hadn't been able to talk to since setting up camp the night before. The first text was "15 hours since we last talked, getting worried...". So I text a couple sentences back to her, and that's when I realized.... I FORGOT MY CAR KEYS!!!
It was at that moment, I either wanted to sit down and cry, or scream at the top of my lungs, but I could do neither. My only option was to turn around and head back. So I turned around and moved just a little slower back the way I came. When I showed back up, the look on my friend's face was priceless... I grabbed my keys, waited around for another 10 minutes to see if a car would drive up, but nope... so off I went again. Again, I pushed pretty hard. It started to become a physical feat similar to running a marathon or a lengthy triathlon. I also started to feel like my experience on Mauna Kea. All I could do was lean forward and keep moving. I started to feel better when I passed the spot in which I realized I forgot my keys. "Keep moving, keep moving" I kept telling myself. Then the rain started... It actually was a welcomed change, and helped keep my mind off of my feet. I also realized that my Columbia Watertight II was going to keep me dry.
I kept on moving until I wandered across a highway and bridge we crossed as we neared our parking location. This sent my hope soaring! I was never so happy to hear a car again! I made good time across the bridge, back through a short section of trail and all of a sudden, there was my car! Again, I wanted to sit down and start crying or yell at the top of my voice! The physical effort was shocking. It was really tough, much tougher than I thought, and I was so happy that it was over with!
The drive back to the parking area where my friend and my backpack was at was uneventful. When I got there, he was sitting under the tarp, with our packs with him. We threw everything in the back of my car and off we went, fleeing from Manistee like dogs with their tails tucked!
Below are some stats from Saturday:
So Day 2 started with a 6 or 7 mile effort planned, but ended with an 11 mile effort. This made for 21 miles over the two days. No wonder my feet were beat up...
To start our recovery, we decided to try to replenish some of the 3,300 calories we burned. We stopped into Qdoba, but the walk from the car to the restaurant almost killed us! Taking pressure off my feet caused them to really start hurting when I started walking again. My poor buddy's knees were a wreck too. We looked like two people who just got run over by a train!
We scarfed our food, then decided to stagger our exit so we didn't draw so much attention as we walked back to the car! I quickly took my boots and socks off, and drove home barefoot. Immediately my feet started to feel better. While taking a quick look, I had some wicked blisters, but didn't want to even think about them until I got home.
So we both recovered pretty well. My feet started to feel better that night, then the next day the pain was gone. I still had blisters that I babied, but didn't have pain. My friend also had a good night's sleep and felt better in the morning. He avoided major blisters, but had a couple in the end. We both felt back to normal after a couple days at home and off our feet.
It sure was an adventure. It was much more difficult than we thought it would be. We left with some great experiences and learned a lot. Here are a couple things we learned.
I leave you with a couple more pictures. It really was a great experience, one that tested both of us. Absolutely beautiful landscape, especially with the colors of the leaves changing!
Jack of All Trades, Master of None