Monday, May 20, 2024

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Magical Michigan

Adventures Along the North Country Scenic Trail

We are embarking on a multi-part series (at least three parts, but Jay is a bit chatty so who knows, it may be more) on one man’s journey trekking 1200 miles through Michigan’s “Magical” Wonderland. From the border of Ohio to that of Wisconsin, Jay boldly went where few men have gone before – at least all in one shot. Through this series, he takes us through his 1200 mile journey along the North Country Scenic Trail (NCT). So kick back, relax, and enjoy the adventure. You might even let out a giggle or two (Jay really prides himself on his sense of humor), or maybe even an inflated ego because he likes us Michiganders so dang much – and he’s not afraid to tell us! 

We must always change, renew, rejuvenate ourselves; otherwise we harden.

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

The state motto of Michigan is “Si Queseris Peninsulam Amoenam Circum Spice”, which sounds like Charlie Brown’s teacher talking about Ginger Spice but it translates as “If you seek a pleasant peninsula, look about you”. The license plate of Michigan says “Pure Michigan”. I would make the case that Michigan is Magical.

A friend saying hello. Photo by Jay Senkevich

I have been backpacking for thirty years. I started these adventures by hiking the John Muir Trail in California when I was in graduate school in 1994. Suffice it to say that graduate school lasted nine years and gave me ample opportunity to hike including hiking the Appalachian Trail. Graduate school is stressful. I have a crown, an inlay and many worn teeth from ‘boot camp’. However, hiking was a break from the mental stress of school and a break from the colony that is the colony we find ourselves in, in the New World.

The last four years I have been undertaking 1000+ mile hikes every year starting with the beginning of the pandemic in the late winter of 2020. During the previous twenty-six years of backpacking I was always on a schedule. Does this sound familiar? A family who I know in the Boston area is taking a five day driving trip around Lake Michigan, from O’Hare, this November. What’s the point? It is like a resume builder? As the most successful colony in the history of Earth, we Americans are very good at building our resumes and bragging about them to others. It is not “how are you” but rather “what do you do?” or “what have you done?”

I recently undertook a 1200 mile hike on the North Country Trail (NCT) from Waterville, OH to Ironwood, MI. The North Country trail spans 4800 miles from Lake Sakakawea State Park in ND to where it connects with the Appalachian Trail in Central VT. Hiking one quarter of the trail is ‘long enough’ for me. After 500 miles hiking can feel more like a job than a vacation, after which point it is more mental than physical. The North Country Trail is THE TRAIL of Michigan. Its headquarters are in Lowell and it is well-supported in the Lower Peninsula.

Photo by Jay Senkevich

I wanted to see my aunt in Taylor and a friend in Manchester. I had not been to Michigan since 1990. My father owned the brewery in Frankenmuth, which is known for chicken dinners and Christmas all year. It is kind of a bizarre place and has the essence of Americana. What sets these Midwest long distance hikes apart from those in the Sierras and Rockies is that they are very social. What sets Michigan apart from every other place I have visited, it is Magical.

Michigan is a plain state. Yes, the Great Lakes are great; and the lakes of Michigan are amazing for boating, kayaking, swimming, drinking, skinny-dipping, socializing and swimming; however, there are no huge volcanoes, deep impressive valleys with condors, or other such grandeur. What makes Michigan Magical is the people. Well, the pasties (not the wearable type but rather vegetable and often meat filled pastries), bison meat, cherries and Boston Coolers are pretty good. I did call my friends in Boston to ask about Boston Coolers. They told me??? I am thinking about collecting royalties on the use of the Boston name in other places.

In short, I received lots of generosity in Michigan. Michiganders are exceptional people. It is not simply a state but a country. Michigan is composed of two peninsulas one upper and one lower separated by The Bridge. There is only one bridge in Michigan. You doubt me? And why would any self-respecting Michigander go to Ohio? Maybe only to visit family, on the way to Florida or to watch a football game between U of M and OSU?

I had complete strangers bring me into their houses and take care of me. Some of these people, who are known as Trail Angles in the hiking world, were already aware of the NCT, and previously supported hikers; however, a good portion had never hosted a hiker and never heard of the NCT. These Trail Angeles didn’t expect anything from me other than for me to be social and tell the tale of my adventures.

Unlike most hikers, I don’t like to just hike, rather I like to meet new people and help those who I interact with and stay with. I really enjoyed cutting down trees, chopping and splitting wood, clearing brush, mowing lawns, fixing showers, fixing electrical outlets…Yes, I have many stories of my cabana boy duties in the Great State of Michigan. And yes I learned to drive a zero-turn lawn mower and cut the biggest lawn in my life. I was out there for four and half hours! Something interesting about cutting the lawn for such a long time: after I stopped mowing my entire body was still vibrating for some time. Maybe this could be a new kind of homeopathic remedy for remote working?

Photo by Jay Senkevich

Michiganders helped me renew my faith in humanity; and even the ones who were freaked out about giving a hitchhiker a ride to the local store. We have a lot to be freaked out about in our day in age. Learning to trust and being trusted by our fellow citizens is not trivial and it is a wonderful feeling. Most of all, giving feels great. Wisconsin and Minnesota have “Wisconsin Nice” and “Minnesota Nice”. I would make the case that Michigan Nice is really just Magical Michigan!

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