Editor’s Note: Don’t forget on Tuesday, April 24, Jim DuFresne will be giving his presentation Michigan’s Top Ten Backpacking Treks at 7 p.m. at Backcountry North, 2820 N. US-31 South in Traverse City. Advance registration for the show is required and can be made by calling Backcountry North (231-941-1100). The $5 admission includes the new Jordan River Pathway map from MichiganTrailMaps.com. If you’re headed to Grand Traverse area for the weekend and need accommodations check with the Traverse City Convention and Visitors Bureau (800-872-8377).
By Jim DuFresne
A friend and I were hiking the Manistee River Trail, that classic trek 30 minutes south of Traverse City near Mesick, when we paused to watch a drift boat floating the Manistee River below us.
There were three in the boat; a guide manning the oars and a client at each end casting large streamers towards the bank. They nodded, we asked them how they were doing and in the middle of the discussion about fly fishing and giant brown trout, the angler in the front stopped casting and sat down to take a call on his cell phone.
No, I’m sure it was a smart phone. Because this was a person, a CEO probably, who took a day off to arrange a guide and go fishing but couldn’t take a day off. In the middle of the Manistee National Forest, in a place so remote you could only reach it in a boat or on foot, he found it necessary to still conduct business. From a bluff above I called him out on it.
“Is that a cell phone?” I said. “You’re taking a phone call out here!”
He looked at me, kind of sheepishly, and said “Stuff happens.”
* * *
Many consider the Michigan hiking season to be June through August and maybe in sheer numbers of people hiking then, it is. But to me the peak of the season is right now, this week.
How could you ask for better trail conditions? The weather is clear but cool. I don’t need hot weather and a brutal sun while I’m in the woods. There’s no bugs yet, at least not any that want to suck your blood or buzz annoyingly behind your head.
There’s also very few people out on the trail. The wildflowers were just beginning to bloom in the corner of the state we were in and if I was more knowledgeable I would have known if the morel mushrooms were starting to pop up.
If you’re backpacking, the nights are cool enough to justify building a fire but not so cold where you spend an evening shivering in your sleeping bag. If you’re not tenting it, then there are some great deals in Traverse City, resorts that charge close to $200 a night in July were trying to entice you last week with that same room for less than $60.
That’s a deluxe room with a Jacuzzi tub, something that might actually be useful after your first 13-mile hike of the year.
But the best part of April hiking is that the leaves had yet to unfurl. They’re coming but until then you can see for miles from a high point whereas often in the summer there would be no view at all.
That was particularly true where we were on the second day; the portion of the North Country Trail that is combined with the Manistee River Trail to form a 23-mile loop. The NCT is rugged and often we found ourselves skirting the edge of a forested ridge to a view of valleys, more ridges and acres of the Manistee National Forest to the east.
In my mind this is the best time to be out on the trail. But if you make the effort to escape into the woods, then escape.
No Facebook, or Twitter checks, or emails or ring tones that come from the movie “Top Gun.” If you pack along a phone, then turn it on only for an emergency or to arrange for transportation at the trailhead.
When you enter the forest alone, free of any communication with the rest of the world, it becomes a spiritual cleansing from the high-tech overload most of us live with.
Enter the woods and listen to nothing but the wild around you. There is no call worth disrupting the tranquility you find on a trail, there is nothing on the Internet worth reading while you hiking along a high ridge.
Not even this blog.