This is going to be a long-ish post. Maybe make yourself a large cup of coffee or some nice green tea. Make a small snack. Find a comfortable chair. Relax.
Let’s begin at the conclusion first. My hike is over. I called for evacuation yesterday afternoon. (That is much more melodramatic than it really was. I simply called my wife and asked her to pick me up when she was done teaching.) But I am calling this a victory.
That is me, with 39 pounds of food and gear on my back. When I first loaded the pack, it was nearly 43 pounds, but I was able to reduce it a bit. Next time, I can reduce it further.
The last blog post was short, posted from my phone, while laying on my sleeping bag. The bag was remarkably comfortable, even though I only had a sleeping pad that is 1/2 inch thick. The tent, advertised as a “2 person tent” is really only big enough for one adult and his/her gear, but it met my needs. It was roomier than I expected.
Thursday’s hike was good, 13+ miles, 27,000+ steps. The Brown County portion of the trail is either built on very elevated and steep manmade embankments or is cut down below the grade of the surrounding land. Brown County has many hills and building the road this way made for easier transport because of smaller elevation changes (although my Fitbit still recorded 840 feet of increased elevation over those 13 miles.) And the entire path that I covered was hard-pack dirt and fine gravel. It was very easy to walk on. That was much better than my test hike of the Devil’s River State Trail last week.
I saw many people biking on both days of the walk. One set of bikers were a young brother/sister pair. They rode past me heading west, right about the time I took my first rest break. I also reconfigured my pack a bit to get better balance. In doing so, I needed to remove my cell phone from where it was hanging. (Do you see where this is going?)
I hit the trail and about 15 minutes later the kids rode past me going back home. And 15 minutes after that, they rode back up to me, and asked me if I had lost my phone. Wow! It’s nice to meet honest, nice kids. They saw my phone sitting on the bench, picked it up and called one of the numbers and reached Tammy. She told them that I was hiking the Trail, and the kids remembered seeing me. They rode back and really saved the day! (Emergency #1 avoided!)
The flying bugs were not as bad as I thought. I never even needed to use any bug spray. But I also did not see as much wildlife as I thought I might. There was the occasional chipmunk and rabbit. Random birds. And in one low area, with a great many watery swamps on either side, I shared the trail with this quiet fellow:
I was tired when I finally got to the place that I could camp. The city of Pulaski allows camping in the little park that is built around their access point to the trail (very unusual compared to all the others that I saw.) They even had a bathroom (not a porta-potty!) with running water. When I got to the site, I pitched my tent, threw the tarp over it and tried to sleep. I didn’t make anything to eat. I just wasn’t hungry, just thirsty. But as tired as I was, sleep was difficult. The park was bordered on two sides by busy highways and one a third side was a large parking lot that hosted many semi-trailers pulling to sleep for the night.
When I finally fell asleep (around 10pm) I slept until 10:33pm before being awakened by the city police, who wanted to know who I was, and why I was camping in this park. When I asked if the city Public Works Department had called to notify them that I would be camping there, of course she said that no one had told her anything. She had no problem with me sleeping there, but she needed to know who I was. (The usual interdepartmental snafu!)
I got back to sleep. My plan was to wake up at 4:45am when it would start to be light, start breakfast, break camp and be on the trail before 6am. That would have been perfect, if I had remembered to turn the sound in my iPod up. My alarm when off, soundlessly, and I slept until 5:45am. Oh well. It’s not like I’m on the timeclock or have a real schedule to keep.
I got my water heating on the foldup stove. It runs on cans of alcohol and works very good. Breakfast was going to be chocolate Malt-o-Meal with dried banana chips, pecans and semi-sweet chocolate chips.
If you look at the picture, you will see that the bag is labeled with both the directions (1.5 cups water) and the weight (9.3 ounces/ 260g.) I weighed everything that I packed. Every ounce carried get heavier with each step. (More on that lesson later.) I was going to take a picture of the meal after it was prepared, but the image would not be impressively appetizing. However, it was tasty and filling!
I ate my breakfast and drank two bottles of water. I learned during my test hike a week earlier that carrying 1 liter water bottles in bottle holders designed for half-liter bottles does not work. Everytime I bent over, they fell out. So I changed to two 20 ounce (600ml) bottles. I filled them, repacked my pack and hit the trail at 6:45am.
Less then 2 miles later, I entered the Shawano County section of the Trail.
This wild turkey greeted me as I entered the Shawano County. It was about 100 yards away. To give you comparison, it was standing about 20 yards beyon that sign to the right and that sign it 5 feet tall. Turkeys are fairly large birds.
This segment was very level. No steep embankments (or not many) and few swampy areas. Shawano County also posts signs at major road intersections, giving mileage to the next intersection or trail access in the next village. (Brown County only has mile markers.) I liked Shawano County’s method better. It is helpful to know how far to the next stop–it provide motivation. Shawano County also has more rest stops, picnic benches with shelters built over them, and in other spots just benches to sit. That is another nice touch, and I stopped at the places with shade. The second day was much warmer than the first. MUCH warmer.
And that leads to the first problem. Water. Except for the bathroom at the Pulaski Access point, I found no public water sources. Oh, I could have left the Trail and stopped at a home (depending on if the Trail was in an area that I could get off it and then back on it, or if there were homes/farms in sight.) But I sort of expected that at each major access point (any area with a parking lot and sign stating “Mountain Bay Trail access point”) would have some type of water source. I would have LOVED to see an old fashioned hand pump. But there was nothing. If you don’t carry it in, you don’t have it. Major problem, especially in the 80+F temps yesterday. I went through my water in the first four hours of the hike.
On the other hand, the heat really sapped my appetite. I ate a piece of Logan Bread, but that was it. And I walked. I was still maintaining a 3mph pace. My knees were hurting, even with my braces on. When I woke they weren’t bad, but the pain started less than an hour into the day’s hike, and yesterday called for a 12 hour hike to make it to my next campsite. I needed those stops to give my knees a break, but that was slowing me down, and in all honesty, not really helping the knee pain. (Problem #2.) I thought I could power through the pain, but I was worried about what kind of damage I was doing to the already bad knees.
But the last and worst problem happened later on the Trail. It was 10:30am and I had just crossed an intersecting road. The mileage sign said that Bonduel was the next town, 2.6 miles away. Cool! That is less than 60 minutes away. I knew that I could refill both water bottles somewhere in Bonduel. I was sure there would be a convenience store or restaurant near the Trail. So, with a renewed sense of vigor, I kept going.
About 10 minutes later, as I put my left foot down, I felt the blister burst. It felt as though a water balloon had popped into my shoe. Now, I knew I had a small blister when I got to camp the night before. In fact, it was the healed blister (or so I thought) that I got on my practice hike a week earlier. I had put some moleskin around and over the blister before I started the hike. When I got to the Pulaski site, I removed it. It looked unchanged. No better, but certainly no worse. I cleaned the area with an alcohol pad, dried it, and made another moleskin donut to go around the blister and then another large strip to cover the donut and beyond the edges. The blister was at the base of my middle toe, right where a lot of pressure goes when you walk.
But now I knew I had a problem. I was about 2.5 miles from the nearest place to stop. And the pain was bad. And I had no water. I walked the next 2.5 miles on the with my left foot rotated so that I walked on the outside edge (which of course put additional strain on that knee.) I reached the access point at 1pm. Then I walked another 15 minutes to get to any sort of business (nothing was closer to the trail.) My pace had dropped from a nice 3 mph to 1.25 mph. I knew that I was not going to be able to finish my plan.
I hobbled up the road, and found a bar and grill (Wayne’s Place.) It had air conditioning. It was open. I walked in (got a lot of odd looks from the patrons), limped up to the bar and ordered a Coke and a large glass of water. When I downed both (quickly) I ordered a repeat, and then lunch. Now that I had realized the hike was over, I was hungry. I have never tasted a bacon cheeseburger and basket of fries that tasted sooooo good. I think a beer (or two) would have tasted even better with the food, but as tired as I was, just smelling a beer would have made me fall sleep. I never thought to take a picture of the meal. My brain was not very functional at that point.
While waiting for Wayne to cook my food, I called Tammy and asked her to pick me up. When she walked into the bar, she looked like a guardian angel sent to protect me. Seriously. She drove home (was still sort of punch-drunk) and when I got home, I unpacked, undressed and showered. And looked at the blister. It is nickel-sized but the skin, while it had burst and leaked the fluid out, was still intact and protecting the wound. I redressed with with triple antibiotic and a dressing.
I covered about 26 miles, beginning at 3:40pm on Thursday and ending at 1:15pm on Friday. Over 57,000 steps combined. And even though I never even came close to finishing my goal, I consider this a success.
I tried. I gave it everything I had. If it had only been my knee, I would have pushed on. If it were only a blister, I still would have tried to keep going. But developing a blister on the same leg as my bad knee, I knew that I could not safely continue. I would not let my ego, my stubbornness, and my foolish pride get ahead of my safety, my health, and my family. What would be the point in pushing further at the potential cost of greater injury?
And that is really why I consider this a victory. It taught me that “not succeeding” is not the same as “failing”.
My son made a great point (sometimes he is far wiser than his father) when he told me, “You know, Dad, when people try those challenges, they practice for months to get ready. You only practiced a little.” And of course, he was right.
I do not regret any of this (well, the blister still hurts, but that will heal.) I will try again, but I have learned a lot to make my next attempt have a greater chance of success.
I need to carry less. As I walked, I realized that I could have stopped at least once a day and eaten at a restaurant or bought food as a convenience store. Sure, that would be more expensive and less self-sufficient, but I could have saved a LOT of weight by bringing less food. Skip the tarp. If it rains, it rains. No suncreen (I wore long sleeve and a covered my neck by wearing a bandana under my hat.) Much less food. As hungry as you get hiking, the hunger is diminished by the exhaustion. Better shoes. I thought light-weight hiking athletic shoes would be best, but I think more rugged boots may have prevented a blister. And plan for no more than 15 miles in a day. I did 13 each day, and I was beat by the end. If I had taken more rest stops, I could have maybe done 15 miles, but that’s probably it. The only reason that I was able to do 18.8 on my practice hike was that I knew that I had no way of gettnig home from that trail if I couldn’t walk back out. It was truly sink-or-swim (so to speak) and that provided the drive to finish. But it wasn’t fun. I want to be able to spend more time enjoying the hike.
So, the bottom line is that I did not reach my goal, but now I know more than I did before. It does not matter how many hiking books you read, or how many hiking blog-journals that you read. Learning happens best by doing. I have not lost interest in hiking. In fact, I am more interested than ever, because now I know what I didn’t know before. And Wisconsin has many trails all over the state.
But first I need to let my foot heal and get my knee checked out. So, no big hikes this season. But next year? Who knows?
I would have rather given a day by day account of a long journey, but this is it. I hope you think reading this was worth your time. The blog will return to its usual food-based topics. I am not sure what I am making for dinner tonight, but if it is worthy, I will post it here.
Oh, and just a quick comparison. When I woke up Thursday morning, I weighed 184.4 pounds. This morning, when I woke, I weight 181.4 pounds. That was not dehydrated weight, because I drank a lot of water yesterday. But that tells me that when I next go hiking, I will need to eat calorie-dense foods often through the day, and not just plan for large breakfasts and dinners (which are both very heavy.)