Monday, October 19, 2009

The North Country Trail --- Michigan sections

It's been forever since I started this blog. And I really need to get on it. Since I started the blog I've been mostly running around the Cuyahoga Valley National Park. Future blogs will be spent talking about the amazing trails right here in my "backyard."

But for this blog I want to talk a bit about a trip I took in September to Michigan. I went up with my uncle for the Salmon run on the Pere Marquette river that flows through Balwdin, MI. Baldwin is on the western side of MI northwest of Grand Rapids. It sits in the heart of the Manistee National Forest.

We spent a few days up there camping, fishing and trail running. The fishing was fun. I hooked a few huge salmon. My uncle landed quite a few. But the best part of the trip was definitely checking out new trail to run.

After a quick stop in the ranger station for some trail advice and directions I headed to Section C of The North Country trail that goes through the National Forest outside of Baldwin. It's only about a 15 min drive out to the Bowman Lake trail head from town. I was running alone. So I left my trail plan in my car. And I texted it to my family just in case. It was grouse season already so I wore an orange vest tied around my waist just in case. I headed north on the trail. My goal was to run from Bowman lake to Timber Creek camp and back. It is 8.4 mile each way.

The trail was gorgeous. It had a slight elevation climb getting up past the lake. From there it was pretty gentle on the elevation changes. There were no serious hills. And the ferns that blanketed the ground were all starting to brown a bit and look dry. After talking to a ranger later I found out that they are Bracken Ferns. And they turn like tree leaves in the fall and dry out. The other really cool and different thing along the trail was the moss. You really felt like you were running along the Emerald road. The edges of the single track were lined with velvety moss. The trail itself was very easy to run. Not a ton of roots. For being in MI I expected more sand on the trail. But there was enough to keep the trail well drained. But not enough to feel like you were running on the beach. So there wasn't very much mud. And it had even rained the days before we arrived.

I had a enlightening surprise when I started down the trail. The trees were marked with light blue blazes. And the first thing I thought was "wow, just like the Buckeye Trail." Later I checked out the map at the trail head and read about the North Country Trail. I learned that this multi-state trail starts in North Dakota and goes 4600 miles through 7 states (including Ohio, yes the Buckeye Trail) and ends in New York. Here is a link for the trail's website:

The highlight of my first afternoon on this trail was coming up over a slight ridge and scaring the stuffing out of the biggest buck I've seen in a while. Luckily he took off in the opposite direction. Seriously the loudest thing I've heard in the forest was him crashing through the woods with his girlfriend in tow. Just glad he saw me first and took off the other way.

Here is a link to the map for sections I ran:

The second afternoon I headed to the Timber Creek Camp trail head. This is a really nice campground. It has decent facilities and I would recommend camping here. The entrance to the trail head here is cared for by a local nature club. They even labeled many of the native plant species along the trail. Of course I had to stop and read most of them. But I headed north again on this run. A little pressed for time I only ran an hour out and turned back. Again the trail was quite beautiful and easy to run. You could definitely log a lot of training miles up here without beating up your body.

I will definitely be heading back up this way next fall for the salmon run with my sister and uncle. It's a great excuse to get a few days of peaceful trail running in!

I would definitely recommend coming up to Baldwin to not only trail run or fish but also the Pere Marquette is an amazing river to kayak. In fact, the locals told me that if you go up in late September you can get a great deal on a kayak. There are several kayak liveries up there that rent boats. And they change them out each year. So you can pick one up pretty cheap.

On the food front Balwin is Not a gourmet foodie town. In fact, Michigan still allows smoking in the bars and restaurants. So be prepared to cook out at your camp or cabin. Also, there one decent grocery store in town. This is no yuppie town. But if you don't mind bringing your food or eating a lot of diner fare you'll do fine. There is a really good ice cream parlor in town. Email me if you want specifics.