Look Both Ways & Ride

Spring is here and we’ll all be heading outdoors for the first long walks and bicycle rides of the year. In this piece MichiganTrailMaps.com blogger Jim DuFresne says it long overdue that motorized and non-motorized travelers acknowledge each other and accommodate each other on roads, crosswalks and whenever else they meet. National statistics say he’s right.

Don’t forget our e-shop is open 24/7 and includes last year bestseller, The Trails of M-22. You can order the full-color guidebook to 40 trails along Michigan’s most beautiful highway and then begin planning your spring get-away to that incredible corner of the Lower Peninsula.

By Jim DuFresne

I was once riding my bicycle through downtown Clarkston, the small, historical town where I live near, and was as close to the curb of main street as possible. I wanted to give passing vehicles every inch I could because it was afternoon rush hour.

Jim DuFresne

Jim DuFresne

It didn’t matter. A driver in a vehicle slowed to a crawl, rolled down her passenger window and screamed through her car at me to “get off the road and on the x#d$4%$ sidewalk!”

I never had time to tell her that it was illegal for cyclists, or skateboarders or inline skaters or any two-wheeler for that matter, to use the narrow sidewalks in this part of town. The local law is spray painted on every intersection corner to remind us of that …  but obviously not motorists.

I thought about that incident when I recently read annual reports from ranging from Smart Growth America to The Governors Highway Safety Association.  The stats in them made it seem like it’s us — the non-motorized travelers — against them — those in cars and trucks — and we’re not winning.

Nobody in Michigan has to be reminded of the horrific bicycle deaths we’ve experienced in the past year or so; the Kalamazoo incident when five cyclists died last June being merely the worse but hardily the only one.

It used to be when you walked away from motorized transportation, you felt a lot safer. But the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reported that in 2015 (latest figures available) traffic deaths increased 7.7 percent over 2014 and pedestrians and cyclists saw the biggest increase.

Pedestrian deaths shot up 10 percent that year and bicyclist deaths 13 percent — more than any other type of victims, including those driving the cars.

The Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA) said in 2016 pedestrian deaths increased more than 20 percent to almost 6,000 nationally in just two years. This is the steepest year-to-year increase since GHSA began keeping records. Every day two people get hit by a vehicle in the crosswalk of an intersection.

In its annual Dangerous by Design report, Smart Growth America ranks the worse and best cities for walkers by assigning them a “Pedestrian Danger Index.” PDI is a calculation of the share of local commuters who walk to work and the most recent data on pedestrian deaths.

The worse city with a PDI of 283.1 is Cape Coral-Fort Myers. In fact, the top seven cities on the list are all in Florida with the streak not broken until Jackson, Miss. comes in at No. 8 with a PDI of 189.6. The worse Michigan city is labeled as Detroit-Warren-Dearborn at No. 17 with a PDI of 124.2.

Overall, the most dangerous state for pedestrian deaths in 2016, according to the NHTSA, was Delaware at 3.38 deaths per 100,000 of population, closely followed by Florida. We shouldn’t cheer too much as Michigan is in the top third at 19th place with 1.71 deaths.

Some reasons for the increases are obvious say these organizations. There are more cars on the road thanks to cheaper gas and a better economy. But there are also more people walking and cycling due to concerns about better health or just to save a buck or two.

Cyclists follow a portion of the I-275 Pathway to escape heavy traffic on nearby roads in Wayne County.

Drivers will always tell you that pedestrians and cyclists are too blame because they don’t obey traffic laws, zipping through stop signs at intersections as if they don’t apply to them. There is definitely some truth to that.

On the other hand, two-wheelers will reply that the biggest problem is “distracted drivers” with far too many of them on their smart phones talking, or god forbid, texting rather than looking at the road. No argument here but you better add pedestrians at crosswalks who also have phones glues to the side of their head.

In Florida, I suspect it’s a case of poor infrastructure design, streets without sidewalks or even wide paved shoulders, and an abundance of snowbirds and retirees, a large number of them who probably should have had their license withdrawn years ago.

At the other end of the age spectrum, says NHTSA, are teenagers; new and inexperienced drivers who are more crash prone. In 2015, crashes involving young drivers — ages 15 to 20 — increased 10 percent from the previous year.

All this would normally make me swear off roads forever and just stick to wooded paths when I need to escape outdoors and exercise. That was until last October when TART reported that an attempted assault occurred on their Boardman Lake Trail south of Traverse City. TART has ambassadors on some of its most popular trails to encourage safe usage and maintains an Incident Report Form on its web site where you can share what you’re experiencing in terms of safety and maintenance issues.

Still the best advice they passed along was this: Be aware of your surroundings and keep using the trails.

Good advice for all of us this spring whether we’re heading out on dirt trails, paved paths or an extension of a road. Look both ways, be alert but keeping walking, riding and hiking. Because what are the alternatives?

 

Posted in Cycling, Cycling Safety, Hiking, Jim DuFresne's Trail Talk Blog, Trails, Travel, Traverse City | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

One Man’s Love for a Nordic Ski Trail

Love that trail you’re skiing? There’s a very good chance volunteers made it possible. At Loud Creek Ski Trail in the Huron National Forest it was one man who for almost 30 years was responsible for the excellent trail system near Mio. In this MichiganTrailMaps.com Trail Talk blog, Jim DuFresne writes about Lyle Kline and why we need more volunteers like him.

Need a stocking stuffer? Don’t forget the MichiganTrailMaps.com eshop is open 24/7 and includes personally autographed books by Jim DuFresne and our award-winning trail maps.

By Jim DuFresne

Sometimes timing is everything in cross-country skiing.

Jim DuFresne

Jim DuFresne

The night before my first visit to Loud Creek Ski Trail a snowstorm swept across northern Michigan leaving behind a half foot of fresh powder. When I was less than 15 minutes from the trailhead, the sun broke out, making the snow appear as if it was sprinkled with diamonds.

And when I arrived at the trailhead, Lyle Kline, president of the Loud Creek Nordic Ski Club, had just finished grooming the trails. As the first skier on just-groomed tracks, I flew through the woods with ease.

But the best part of the afternoon was the fact that the 7.5 miles of trails were practically all mine. I encounter only two other skiers and Lyle. Not a bad day of skiing.

For many of us it’s the perfect Nordic experience; well groomed trails in a scenic wooded area where you’ll often see more whitetails than skiers. The key to enjoying such a day is knowing Loud Creek is there, half-hidden in the Huron National Forest, 2 miles southeast of Mio.

“We don’t market it and it’s kind of tucked away,” A ranger from the U.S. Forest Service office in Mio once told me. “Ten or 15 skiers would be a busy day out there.”

Lyle Kline of the Loud Creek Nordic Ski Club and the club's 25-year-old groomer.

Lyle Kline of the Loud Creek Nordic Ski Club and the club’s 25-year-old groomer.

Loud Creek dates back to 1984 when Kline first scouted the area and knew immediately that the wooded hills, creeks and beaver ponds was an ideal setting for ski trails. He began lobbying folks at the Mio Ranger District office, trying to get them to do more in the winter than just carter to the snowmobilers.

Four years later the U.S. Forest Service agreed to help develop the area if locals formed a club to purchase a groomer and maintain the trails. Lyle recruited his fellow skiers and the Loud Creek Nordic Ski Club was born. The club arranged a loan for $7,500, purchased a used Bombardier groomer and then staged bake sales, ski races and other fund raising events until it was paid off.

This type of community support for a trail is nothing new. What was unique about the Loud Creek Nordic Ski Club was its size. It was tiny. Early on the club might have had 30 to 40 members but by the time I met Lyle in 2004 club membership was down to the single digits. In subsequent articles I wrote Loud Creek was Michigan’s best Nordic area managed by so few.

Eventually the club went full circle. The man who started it became the sole member at the end.

“It boiled down to; I was the club,” Lyle said. “I’d find a couple friends to go out in the fall and help me with the chainsaw work needed to open the trails and in the winter I groomed them.”

The old donation pipe at the Loud Creek Ski Trail in the Huron National Forest.

The old donation pipe at the Loud Creek Ski Trail in the Huron National Forest.

In 2014, after devoting 30 years and countless hours – all of them as an unpaid volunteer –  to maintaining this ski trail for the rest of us to enjoy, Lyle stepped away. The Mio Ranger District has since taken over maintenance and in the winter tries to groom it as often as there is staff available. But grooming ski trails is not a high priority and the U.S. Forest Service will never be able to match the frequency and meticulous care that was the trademark of Lyle and Loud Creek Ski Trail.

“Well I turned 70 this year so I guess it was time to move on,” Lyle said. “I definitely had apprehensions about (the Forest Service taking it over).”

The lesson here isn’t that Michigan is blessed with numerous opportunities for cross-country skiing, many you might not even know about. The lesson here, I suspect, is most people don’t realize how dependent our trail systems are on volunteers.

The North Country Trail Association reported that this year 1,343 volunteers donated 69,708 hours in maintaining or building the country’s longest trail. The value of those hours in the private sector would have topped $1.6 million. But of course none of them were paid.

It’s just not volunteer hours that trail systems need to survive. They also need donations and contributions.  At Loud Creek, Lyle and the handful of members erected a donation canister at the trailhead that looked like the trunk of a tree. On top of it was a sign pleading with anybody stepping into their skis “Donation Please!”

Lyle thinks one winter they might have collected $1,200 but most years it was $800 or even less. Tough to repair that 30-year-groomer or purchase a new roller when so many skiers never pause at the donation tree.

“Well I guess locals assumed it’s here, it’s ours and we don’t need to pay,” said Lyle. “But it’s a shame for anybody not to drop $5 in the canister at their favorite trail much less give up a Saturday to help maintain it.”

This is the giving season, a time when many of us donate to our favorite causes if for no other reason than to get another tax deduction.

In the next month, seriously consider the trails you love and give to the organizations who work so tirelessly to ensure they are there and open when you show up with your hiking boots, skis, baby stroller or mountain bike.

Organizations like TART Trails, Top of Michigan Trail Council , North Country Trail Association, West Michigan Trails and Greenways Coalition, Friends of Sleeping Bear Dunes, Grand Traverse Regional Land Conservancy, Michigan Mountain Biking Association …

The list is almost endless so the need is great. Please give.

If we don’t all pitch in then it’s possible we’ll lose our trails because there are only so many Lyles in this world.

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Timeless In The Porkies & Loving It

Hey buddy do you know what time it is? Jim DuFresne didn’t. The main Trail Talk blogger for MichiganTrailMaps.com didn’t know the time for five days while backpacking in Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park. And it was so unusual he almost didn’t want to emerge from those rugged ridges we call the Porkies to our hour-on-the-hour world.

By Jim DuFresne

I don’t own a smart phone. I do have a cell phone; a flip up that unfolds into a phone twice its original size. How cool is that?

Jim DuFresne

Jim DuFresne

Not very by the reaction of my nieces and nephews when I showed it to them last winter. The look on their face was the same as if I was showing them a typewriter. One of them asked me where my Apps were and at first I thought she was talking about my long since diminished six pack.

When it comes to phone technology, I’m a Neanderthal. I’ve never sent a text message – I’ve never even tried to learn how to send a text message – because you can only imagine how tiny the keyboard is on my flip phone and how big my thumbs are.

The one thing I have done, along with millions of other cell phone users, is ditch the watch. When I want to know what time it is, I flip open my phone and there it is, the biggest numbers on that small screen of mine. My antiquated phone even automatically adjusts the hour when I switch time zones or when we enter daylight saving time.

But this fall I learned in the Porcupine Mountains all this convenience is dependent on one thing; staying connected. And in a wilderness as rugged as this state park is, that proved to be a daunting task.

 An unconnected cell phone in the middle of the Porkies.

Where’s the clock? An unconnected cell phone in the middle of the Porkies.

Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park is a 60,000-acre tract in the western Upper Peninsula, a place full of high ridges and steep canyons, towering 300-year-old pines and entire rivers. I arrived this fall to spend a couple of weeks researching a new edition of my guidebook to Michigan’s only state-designated wilderness.

On my third day there I strapped on my backpack and left my vehicle behind at a trailhead along South Boundary Road for a five-day loop into the heart of the park. That evening I realized I wasn’t getting cell service when I saw that the clock on my phone had disappeared.

I fanatically began pushing buttons with little icons on them and discovered how to change my ringtone but couldn’t find a clock anywhere on that phone. When I went to bed that night I didn’t have a clue what the hour was.

And I was hiking solo so there was nobody to ask if it was time to hit the sack. To make matters worse, I didn’t even know what time zone I was in. I was spending the first few days along the Little Carp River Trail, a beautiful path that is spilt between the Central and Eastern Time Zones.

I always knew where I was in the park. I just didn’t know when I was there.

I was a little discombobulated my first full day without hours and minutes. When I woke up in the morning I didn’t know whether to get up and get going or roll over and go back to sleep. I rolled over and didn’t disembark my small tent until it was bright and sunny outside.

Did I feel guilty? How could I? I didn’t know if it was 7 a.m. or 10 a.m.

A waterfall along the Little Carp River in Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park.

A waterfall along the Little Carp River in Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park.

I ate lunch when I arrived at a scenic little waterfall along the Little Carp River that was perfect for an extended break. Was it noon? Who knew? I didn’t. I started fixing dinner because I was hungry, I went to bed because the sun had set. I realized without a watch the only real deadline I had was to pitch my tent before dark.

And by the second day I was okay with that. By the third day I found it surprisingly relaxing.

Without a watch your timepiece becomes your instincts and the rhythms of nature. You eat because your stomach is growling, you take a nap because you’re tired, you start gathering firewood because it’s already dusk and you know it’s going to be a lot harder to find when it’s dark.

Without a watch, I discovered, you’re never rushed. You’re never behind schedule because schedules are irrelevant when there is no way to check the time. I simply floated through each day at an unhurried and very pleasant pace.

Just had to pitch my tent before dark. That was it.

On the fourth day I had arrived at the mouth of the Big Carp River, one of the most scenic and popular spots in the park for backpackers to spend a night. I set up camp and then in the evening went to the Lake Superior shoreline to witness what was promising to be a dramatic sunset. Already gathered around the mouth of the Big Carp River were a handful of other backpackers and I could see several were on their cell phones.

Then it occurred to me. I could get reception at this spot. I could make a phone call, send a text message if I knew how, connect myself to the rest of the world.

I could even see if it was time to start dinner.

The question I debated at that moment was; did I want to?

How extraordinary in today’s world to be able to totally disconnect yourself in a place as beautiful as the Porkies.  No phone calls, no emails, no Facebook, no Trump-versus-Clinton rants on the television. No news other then another backpacker telling you the bridge over the Big Carp River that washed out during the summer still hasn’t been replaced.

Some of us didn’t even know what time it was.

I found this timeless state of mind refreshing and rare.  I realized in another day I would emerge from the forest at a trailhead and there would be my car with its clock and its radio, the first step to getting reacquainted with the world.

But until then I decided that flip phone of mine would stay unflipped.

Posted in Backpacking, Camping, Jim DuFresne's Trail Talk Blog, Michigan, Personal Journey, Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park, Trails, Upper Peninsula Adventure | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

County Road 371: One Short & Adventurous Drive

371signIn the latest Trail Talk blog from MichiganTrailMaps.com, Jim DuFresne writes about the most amazing road he has ever followed in Colorado. Country Road 371 offers spectacular scenery, lots of outdoor adventure and places to camp. Even more amazing, CR 371 is only 10 miles long.

Jim no more flew back to Detroit then he immediately drove north to begin working on our expanded coverage of the Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park. An updated version of his longtime guidebook is slate

d to be out next spring. But before then we’ll be uploading maps, trail coverage and blogs to our web site. Our next Trail Mix newsletter will be devoted to the beloved Porkies. Sign up now at michigantrailmaps.com/newsletter to make sure you get the free newsletter that comes with our newest downloadable maps.

By Jim DuFresne

The Arkansas Headwaters Recreation Area is a vast stretch of Colorado that covers 109,107 acres from the historic town of Leadville south to Pueblo on the edge of Great Plains, protecting 152 miles of the Arkansas River, the state’s longest.  The area is so vast it’s managed by three agencies; Bureau of Land Management, Colorado Parks and Wildlife and the U.S. Forest Service.

Jim DuFresne

Jim DuFresne

North of Buena Vista the upper valley of the recreation area is stunningly scenic, a valley of towering peaks and steep canyons that slices through the Sawatch Mountains, Colorado’s highest range, and is accessed primarily by US-24. But departing the highway are two-tracks, forest roads and easily overlooked dirt roads. Like County Road 371, perhaps the most intriguing one of them all.

And it’s only 10 miles long.

But it’s hard to imagine many roads in Colorado, and there are none in Michigan, that offer so much outdoor adventure, places to camp and panoramic views – along with the pull-offs to gaze at them – in such a short distance as this Chaffee County Road.

CR 371 begins as Colorado Street in the historic downtown area of Buena Vista, the result of a gold rush in the 1860s and a popular stagecoach stop until three railroad lines arrived in the mid 1880s. From there the county road heads north as a paved avenue but by Mile 2 it’s a graded dirt road, winding past rocky bluffs with Buena Vista nowhere to be seen.

Rafters on the Arkansas River.

Rafters on the Arkansas River along County Road 371.

Above you can watch rock climbers carefully making their way up sheer stone faces. Below CR 371 is a thunderous display of whitewater, curls and drops that is the Arkansas River. If it’s July or August you’ll also see rafters bobbing their way downriver. A lot of them.

The Arkansas Headwaters Recreation Area is generally regarded as one of the country’s most popular locations for whitewater rafting and kayaking and the Upper Arkansas River is the most commercially rafted river in the United States. Period. That’s why there are half dozen commercial raft companies in and around Buena Vista – Wilderness Aware Rafting, KODI Rafting and Browns Canyon Rafting to name but a few –  and even more lining the river all the way downstream to Salida.

You can stand on the river in mid-July and watch hundreds of commercial and private rafters being swept through churning rapids or glide across a stretch of flat water that is perfectly smooth. The economic muscle of the raft companies is such that they reached a deal with the Upper Arkansas Water Conservancy District that regulates the release of water into the Arkansas and the hundreds of fly anglers who arrive to experience the river’s world class trout fishery. Throughout the summer until Aug. 15 the power companies release enough water from reservoirs to accommodate the rafters. In turn the rafting companies promise not to launch at any access site after 2 p.m. to allow anglers a portion of the day without a rubber hatch taking place.

This is a busy river.

The historic Midland Railroad Tunnels are used by vehicles today along Country Road 371.

The historic Midland Railroad Tunnels are used by vehicles today along Country Road 371.

At Mile 2.5 you reach the junction with CR 375, a dirt road that heads northeast into the mountains, and then arrive at the first of three tunnels carved through the rock bluff that towers above the road. The narrow tunnels were blasted through the rock during construction of the long-abandoned Colorado Midland Railroad in the 1880s. The Midland Tunnels are so narrow that you stop, peer into them to make sure there no opposing traffic or falling rocks and then slowly proceed.

CR 371 continues as a winding dirt road in a tight canyon for the next four miles with rock formations similar to the Red Rocks of Sedona, Arizona. The few posted speed signs range from 20 mph to 35 mph. Twenty seems fast for a road so narrow, 35 death defying.

The final rock along this stretch is the largest, Elephant Rock, and then the valley opens up with rugged mountains to the right and the famed Collegiate Peaks to the left. Next to Elephant Rock is a BLM camping area. This very rustic campground does not have drinking water, electricity or trash services. But what a view! Lining the horizon is the Ivy League of high peaks; Mt. Harvard (14,420 feet), Mt. Columbia (14,073 feet) and Mt. Yale (14,196 feet) among them.

At Mile 6 is Railroad Bridge Campground, a Colorado Parks and Wildlife facility with toilets, grills, walk-in sites with tent pads and easy and quick access to the Arkansas for rafters, the reason for the changing rooms. There is also a historical display devoted to the G.A. Kelley, who staked the first gold claim in the valley in 1859 to ignite a gold rush and a century of mining along the Arkansas and its tributaries.

The BLM camping area at Elephant Rock in the Arkansas Headwaters Recreation Area.

The BLM camping area at Elephant Rock in the Arkansas Headwaters Recreation Area.

In a way it hasn’t stopped because one of the most popular outdoor activities in the Upper Arkansas is recreational mining. BLM and state land is open to gold panning – without having to stake a claim or register a permit – and you’ll see people hunched along the bank, swirling mud and gravel in the bottom of their pan, looking for a little dust, flakes or even a nugget. Trying to strike it rich while on vacation.

Beyond Railroad Bridge, the county road enters another canyon, passing more rock formations, small camping areas, put-in sites for rafters, trailheads for hikers and mountain bikers. And once again CR 371 becomes a tight avenue and at times a one-lane road.

As a pick-up truck approached me here, we both paused and then inched along at less than 5 mph to avoid scrapping each other. There were six inches separating our door handles. At one point there were rugged rocks to the right me, ready to make a mess of my sub-compact rental, to the left was a steep drop-off – with no guardrail – where at the bottom was the thunderous whitewater of the Arkansas. A miscalculation in either direction and I was doomed.

You never take your eyes off this road. You want to look at the river or scope alpine slopes for Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep or watch a fly fisherman battle an 18-inch rainbow … you pull over. Somewhere.

Eventually CR 371 makes a sharp turn to the left, crosses the river on narrow bridge, passes somebody who has a Burlington Northern Railroad caboose in his front yard (obviously zoning laws aren’t a big deal out here) and at Mile 10 arrives at paved US-24.

I pulled over, unpeeled my fingers from the steering wheel and let out a deep breath. What a way to spend an afternoon. And I was less than 10 miles from the lodge I was staying at in Buena Vista.

 

Posted in Camping, Colorado adventures, Fly fishing, Jim DuFresne's Trail Talk Blog, Travel, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

A Happy Unbirthday on Southwest

On a recent flight home from a flyfishing trip in the Rocky Mountains, Jim DuFresne fell in love with Southwest Airlines and in this Trail Talk blog our main blogger tells us why.

EshopPhoto2Fall is almost here, a time when hiking and backpacking is at its best; no bugs, no crowds, nobody else on that stretch of beach but you. If you need some sugguests on where to go check out the selection of books and maps MichiganTrailMaps.com offers in its e-shop like 50 Hikes in Michigan, that covers the best 60 treks in the Lower Peninsula.

By Jim DuFresne

I flew out to Denver last week and then spent my birthday with my son and daughter-in-law before heading into the Rockies for outdoor adventure and fly fishing. They gave me some wonderful gifts; a t-shirt from their backpacking trip this year to New Zealand, a collection of flies designed to fool those finicky Colorado trout and a “Complimentary Drink” coupon for Southwest Airlines for my flight home. My son travels a lot for his job so I suspect, living in Denver, he has a shoebox full of those coupons.

Jim DuFresne

Jim DuFresne

I flew home on Sunday and made Michael drop me off at the airport more than two hours in advance. The last time I departed from the Denver Airport it was a horrible experience. I arrived almost an hour and half before the departure time but security was such a nightmare I almost missed my flight.

Not having flown Southwest all that much, I paid an extra $12 this time for “Early Bird Check-in.” When I arrived at the airport Sunday morning lines were non-existent. I printed out my boarding pass and checked in my luggage in less than 10 minutes. When I arrived at security a TSA agent told me I had “TSA Pre-Approved” check-in. I was through it in five minutes or less.

I headed towards my gate but – with over an hour to kill – stopped at the food court in the terminal to enjoy a breakfast burrito (a staple in Denver) and a large coffee while reading the Sunday newspaper on the airport’s free Wi-Fi. I was so unrushed and relaxed that suddenly I realized my flight was about to board. I hustled to Gate C-26 where to my horror the A group had already boarded. I was positioned at A 40. I jumped in right before the B group and managed to grab that aisle seat on the emergency exit row where there are only two seats.

Then I sat and watched passengers walk past me, wondering who my seat buddy was going to be for the next three hours. I spotted him was as soon as he entered the plane. He was 300-plus pounds but only 5-foot-8 and looked like a human bowling ball with a fuzzy tennis ball for a head. He was so large he walked down the aisle at an angle. Meanwhile I kept up this mantra because let’s face it, I’m not so petite myself: Please Don’t Sit HerePlease Don’t Sit HerePlease Don’t Sit Here

The moment of truth came when he stopped, eyed that seat and then said, while tossing his carry-on into the luggage rack overhead, “excuse me.” We never battled over the arm rest because after he sat down, I never saw it again.

Southwest3That’s when I decided I was going to cash-in that coupon. By the time the stewardess arrived for our refreshment order it was after 11 a.m. in Denver, past noon in Chicago and 1:10 p.m. in Detroit. Or as Jimmy Buffet once sang in a song: go ahead and have a drink, it’s five o’clock somewhere.

Still, I felt sheepish and a little self-conscious so I held up the coupon and said “my son gave this to me for my birthday and said I had to use it today.” Which was all true, I just neglected to tell her my actual birthday was a week ago.

The stewardess suddenly smiled and told me to put that coupon back in my wallet, this birthday drink was on Southwest. I should have been tip off when she asked me my name and wrote it down but when she returned with my coffee, bloody Mary, a tiny bag of peanuts and a small bag of cheese nips, well, it was the closest I’ll ever come to having a free Sunday brunch on an airline.

The rest of the flight was uneventful which meant there was no turbulence, my row buddy turned out to be a really nice guy (though I’ve had less physical contact with some of my ex-girlfriends than I did in a three-hour flight with him) and the babies around us were either happy or sleeping.

When the plane touched down in Detroit Metro, the stewardess welcomed us to Detroit, gave us the local time, the gate we were arriving at and then said “today is the birthday of Jim in 11C, let’s all sing him Happy Birthday!”

To my shock, everybody in front of me and around me turned around, looked at me and began singing. I could have died.  Even when we were disembarking, people were wishing me a happy birthday and the guy across the aisle gave me his unopened bag of peanuts.

I was so embarrassed I ran off that flight, ducked into the first restroom I came to and hid in stall number eight until I was pretty sure everybody else was already at the luggage carousal.

But by the time I drove home I had come to two conclusions. I chalked up the free coupon and the singing as one of the best Unbirthdays (remember Alice in Wonderland?) I ever had. Why feel guilty about it?

That and Southwest is the only way to fly.

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Shaving a Mile Off a Day’s Hike

The new Manistee River Trail and Hoist Lake Foot Travel Area maps from MichiganTrailMaps.com

The new Manistee River Trail and Hoist Lake Foot Travel Area maps from MichiganTrailMaps.com

In our latest Trail Mix e-Newsletter, Jim DuFresne pondered how far he’s willing to go to shave a mile from a day’s hike (with a backpack on no less). It drew considerable response so we’re reprinting that portion of the newsletter as a Trail Talk blog. It’s for those of you who haven’t gotten around to subscribing to our wonderful e-newsletter.

Don’t forget MichiganTrailMaps.com just released another new map, the second edition of the Manistee River Trail, a 23-mile loop that includes a portion of the North Country Trail. The new map is totally updated and more detailed than ever and comes a month after the release of our Hoist Lakes & Reid Lakes Foot Travel Areas map. You can order either or both through our eshop.

By Jim DuFresne

Judging from the boot prints in the mud, I wasn’t the only one who debated and then decided to take a chance on the Jordan River Pathway.

Jim DuFresne

Jim DuFresne

The dilemma was whether to take the new reroute around the wetlands – an uphill climb that added 0.8 miles to first-day trek to Pinney Bridge Campground – or stick with the original trail and see if I could make it without sinking up to my knees in marsh mud.

Clip a mile from the hike? I’ll take my chances on the old boardwalk in the wetlands.

This backpacker’s paradox is the result of over-active beavers and a damaged foot bridge. When the bridge went out in 2014 the DNR quickly posted a detour around the area. After descending almost 400 feet from Deadman’s Hill Trailhead, hikers had to re-climb the ridge via the 3-mile loop spur and then descend it again.

That was a lot of elevation just to keep your boots dry.

A hiker crossing the old boardwalk along the Jordan River Pathway.

A hiker crossing the old boardwalk along the Jordan River Pathway.

So last year the Jordan Valley 45° Chapter of the North Country Trail Association explored, marked and cut a new segment of trail to serve as a reroute around the hazardous wetlands. It’s a huge improvement over the detour. But you still have to climb a bit, about 100 feet, and it’s just enough to make some of us – especially those hauling frozen steaks and a box of wine in our pack – to pause and ponder the alternative.

The first time I took the reroute. The second time I chanced it.

Just a 100 yards past the 3-mile loop junction, the new trail splits off to the left. I picked up the original trail and entered the wetlands area. Nervously I might add.

You begin with two stretches of boardwalk and they seemed in relatively good shape. But along the second one you hike along the base of a huge beaver dam that towers four feet above the planking. Mother Nature’s little engineer been busy I thought. If that dam ever collapsed, the boardwalk would be impassible.

But it was holding up nicely. Thank you very much.

Fall colors along the Jordan River Pathway.

Fall colors along the Jordan River Pathway.

I pushed ahead and within a half mile from the junction I had arrived at the bridge. It was clearly damaged, complete with some yellow caution tape as if it was a crime scene for a doomed backpacker. The first two spans partially collapsed into a V, just inches above the sluggish stream the bridge crosses. But they seemed stabled as I tiptoed my way across.

It was the third one that was wobbly. It wiggled so much that halfway across I had one of those moments where I froze, not knowing whether to continue or retreat. I slowly crossed but was ready with my walking staff extended in case I suddenly found myself in the stream.

I made it to the other side with clean boots and socks but am not sure if I would do it again. I suppose you could ford the stream but it looks like a boot-sucking quagmire where you’d be up to your knees before you knew it.

Someday the bridge will simply collapse or be removed due to liability concerns. In that case the reroute is a fine replacement.

But until then, as the boot prints clearly indicate, there will be backpackers asking themselves that eternal Clint Eastwood line from his Dirty Harry movie.

“You’ve got to ask yourself one question: Do I feel lucky today?”

For a map of the new Jordan River Reroute go to our web page on the Jordan River Pathway.

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Art Neumann: For the Love of Trout

Art Neumann, a founding father of Trout Unlimited that was established on the banks of the AuSable River in 1959, died last week at the age of 99. Even if you’re not a fly fisherman, you should give thanks to one of Michigan’s greatest environmentalists, who dedicated his life to cold, clear streams and fish that were truly wild. In this Trail Talk, Jim DuFresne writes about his most memorial evening with Art Neumann.

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By Jim DuFresne

Art Neumann, one of the original founders of Trout Unlimited, was rambling down the road near Selkirk when he suddenly applied the brakes and did a double take at the side of the road. “Good lord look at that,” Neumann said. I looked, but all I saw was an open gate.

Jim DuFresne

Jim DuFresne

But what is simply an open gate to one person is an invitation to Neumann. “That’s my old access,” he said. “I’m going in and play ambassador.”

There are those who say nobody knows Michigan trout streams better than this Saginaw angler, and there is probably no stretch of water Neumann loved more dearly than the Rifle River. He could have caught more trout in the Holy Water of the Au Sable or bigger trout in its South Branch, but it’s the Rifle where Neumann as a youth mastered the rudiments of fly fishing and eventually came to appreciate everything that a trout symbolizes.

Of all the holes and pools within this river, this is the one stretch Neumann liked to fish most. And he did until he lost his access to the water when the cottage owners he knew either died or moved away. But that evening the gate was open.

Neumann turned down the dusty dirt road and stopped at the first cottage. “There is a good pool just downstream from here,” he said, but nobody was home. So he drove to the next one, and I watched him enter a beautiful log cabin where he played ambassador for at least ten minutes. I wasn’t inside, but I could just hear Neumann tell the owners about the days when the Rifle was a top trout stream, or how Trout Unlimited was formed, or how he served as TU’s first executive director. And when he finally stepped outside and had a little spring in his step, I knew this master fly angler had received what he so dearly possessed in the past.

Permission to fish.

“Were they fly anglers?” I asked.

“Nah, they just dangle a worm once in a while,” Neumann said. “But when I get home I’ll send them some flies and an instruction book. That’ll get ’em started.”

Art Neumann, a founding father of Trout Unlimited, fishing on the Rifle River.

Art Neumann, a founding father of Trout Unlimited, fishing on the Rifle River.

We drove down to a spot on the river, stepped out of the car, and walked past the trunk filled with our gear. Neumann, who had fished this river since the 1930s, first just wanted to see the Rifle flow through his favorite stretch.  It was a thing of beauty, then and now. “It’s pretty clear,” said Neumann as we stood on the bank watching a few trout rise upstream. “I caught a 20-inch brown in a pool around that bend once.”

When Neumann finally did open his trunk, I discovered I’d grabbed the wrong metal tube at home and now had my eight-weight rod when what I needed was a five-weight. It might have been a problem any other time, but not with Neumann.

Always somebody who was dabbling in reel repair and rod refinishing,  in 1948 Neumann converted his garage in Saginaw into the Wanigas Rod Company, where he built his fiberglass fly rods and sold only the flies and equipment you truly needed to catch a trout in Michigan. For the next 42 years that shop, which had enough room inside for only three customers, two if they walked in wearing vests and waders, was the pulpit from which Neumann preached what was then a revolutionary concept: catch and release. You catch a trout, you put it back. The trout is then there to catch again. Neumann like that concept, preserving the resource for what he really enjoyed: catching trout on a fly.

What I discovered that night on the Rifle was when your fishing partner is a rod builder; you’ll never lack a rod. Neumann unzipped a black case that held almost a dozen of them and selected one for me, a fiberglass rod he had built years ago. “I’m going to spoil you with this one,” he said.

Next he gave me a leader, a Neumann 60-20-20, after he saw the knotless leader tied to my line and lectured me on the benefits of tying your own. And then just before we split, with him heading downstream to try and find that 20-inch brown again and me upstream, he gave me a few flies. “Not much is hatching right now,” he said. “Try the pale blue dun.”

A wild brown trout.

A wild brown trout.

I did, and the first fish I caught was so small I couldn’t tell what it was. But half an hour later I floated that fly over a dissipating ring, and the fish returned to take it. It jumped three times before I gently lifted the eight-inch brown trout out of the water.

It wasn’t another 20 minutes later when the current took that fly, swept it along the bank, and gave me my hardest strike of the evening, almost catching me off guard. But not quite. I kept the tip up, working the fish away from the brush along the shore and into the middle of the river.

The trout never jumped, but there was little question it was large. When it finally tired and came to the surface I saw the largest brown I had ever caught on a fly in Michigan in the short time I had been fly fishing. It was 15 inches long with a band of reddish dots along the side. I marveled at the fact that I caught it in a river I never expected to catch such a fish.

Then again maybe I didn’t catch it. I was using an Art Neumann rod with a leader he tied and flies he selected. And I was fishing in his river. Knowing all this, I gently took the hook out and watched the trout return to the depths from which it came.

It was, after all, Art’s fish.

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