Opening a New Chapter of Hiking
I was soaked. It was mid-morning, and I was following Bluff Creek downstream trying to find Rock Bluff Falls. The rain had finally stopped a few hours ago, but the twelve hours before that had been a steady downpour. Now the sun was slowly heating the woods into a steaming sauna. Everything around me was dripping, each step stirring more mosquitos and raining more water down on me. One slow mile of wet, mud, and insects was all I could take. I turned back towards the road and my car.
My adventures in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan started just over three years ago. I was living in Houghton and had a simple plan - I wanted to visit every waterfall in the area. This definition was a bit fluid but enough to fill a solid ten months of exploring. Living and working in Houghton meant that I could easily hit up several falls on weekday evenings. Hiking three to four days a week got me in great shape, and the simple goal of finding and documenting waterfalls was enough to keep me moving.
Once I moved to Appleton, WI my hikes become much more sporadic. If I was lucky I'd spend a weekend once a month exploring the Upper Peninsula, driving and camping during the nights and hiking during the days. I continued to push myself for longer, tougher hikes, turning my focus to simple waterfall hikes to complex multi-destination routes over mountains and through swamps. This type of hike, while more rewarding, is starting to wear on me after two years. I think it's time to close out that chapter and start focusing on a different type of adventure.
Since moving, the majority of my trips have involved some type of camping. Sometimes I'll camp at campsites (mostly Big Erick's Bridge, up past Skanee), but other times I'll pick somewhere a bit more random. I've had the bad habit of picking a camping site for convenience, though - along the mid-point of a long hike, near my car for early-morning starts, etc. Thanks to a few Christmas presents I've started to upgrade my gear and I now have a real backpacking backpack (Kelty) and a lightweight tent (that rocks), which opens up the possibility of more interesting sites. I've been venturing further in search of more remote campsites, removed from human traffic where I can enjoy the late nights and early mornings surrounded by forest sounds. Finding the perfect campsite can be as much fun (and much more relaxing) as actually hiking, and I plan on putting more focus on them in the future.
Pushing myself to do longer and longer hikes will only get me so far without a starting a local exercise routine. Too often I plan on a long, epic hike that gets cut short due to weather or exhaustion. Instead of frustrating my plans, I should be cutting up these hikes into shorter, manageable chunks. Instead of bushwhacking through the Peshekee highlands for fifteen miles, I can try to cut the route into three four-mile hikes that hit the major views and can be tackled in one segmented weekend adventure or several weekends. While I'll miss the satisfaction of hiking for these long distances, I'm sure my legs (especially my knees) will appreciate it this approach.
I have a tendency of setting my sights on a single set of hikes over a weekend, determined to hit up all of the destinations in one fell swoop. When this doesn't work out, I'll wander a bit looking for other destinations, but with most of my research and attention centered on the original hikes, I don't know too much about these other spots. A backup plan could help with this, both in terms of what hikes to visit but also one focused on specific poor weather situations.
So what kind of adventures will I be embarking on with this new chapter of hiking? Shorter, more numerous hikes with an emphasis on finding awesome spots for camping and relaxing. I'll still be looking for waterfalls, mountains, cliffs, and more but instead of tackling several at a time, I'll be tackling them one at a time. I hope that this change will not only result in me having more fun while exploring the Upper Peninsula but also shows me more of the wilderness that I've grown to love.