A Day Hike on the NCT

Fifteen miles walked, six hours burned, 60 ounces of water consumed and one tick bite suffered — thus are the outcomes of my day hike on a section of the North Country National Scenic Trail today.

I chose to walk a NCT segment at Manistee National Forest in Newaygo County,  between the Nichols Lake South trailhead and Big Star Lake Road. Because I went alone, I hiked only to 16 Mile Road and then returned to Nichols Lake, which yielded roughly the same miles as the complete section would have.

The weather cooperated; it was in the low 80s and sunny, with normal Michigan humidity but enough of a breeze to occasionally swipe the bugs away. Plenty of birds and squirrels and toads, and I came very close to a deer. Lovely.

A few observations:

  • DEET: Buy it, wear it, love it. Without it, I would have lost 5 gallons of blood to the damned mosquitos. With it — not a single bite. Well, except the tick.
  • Even if you are on a well-blazed trail, it pays to keep a map and compass. And by “map” I mean something that you can navigate with, not something you print off Google.
  • Whatever you think would be appropriate for water, double it. I had three 20-ounce bottles of water and by the time I was done, I had emptied all of them.
  • Take the time to look up, and around. The sights on the trail are well worth watching. And look down, too — so you don’t step on the toads. Every now and then, just stop. Appreciate the diversity of ecosystems within a single forest, all within a few miles. I passed through swamps, deciduous forests, pine thickets, fields of fern and grass. Each has its own character — relish them, each in turn.
  • Listen. Half the beauty of the trail is auditory.
  • Plan your gear carefully. Of first importance: Footwear. Think “ankle support.” Think “adequate coverage to foil ticks.” And don’t forget a little bag so you can pack out your trash.

Oh, and yes — I’ll be returning to the trail. Soon.