Friday, November 29, 2013

Potawatomi Trail

Trip Report

This hike was planned out several weeks in advanced.  When I learned that my wife and kids were going to be out of town for the Thanksgiving holiday it opened the door for exploration on my part.  I stumbled upon knowledge of the Potawatomi Trail awhile back when I was researching marathons throughout Michigan.  Turns out there is a trail marathon held on the Poto in April every year and this got me researching the trail itself.

I arrived at the “Visitor’s Center” just after 11:30am this day to self-register for my campsite.  As I looked as the form they provided I had the realization I hadn’t purchased the Michigan Recreation Passport for my vehicle either.  This led to a further realization I didn’t have the cash (or a checkbook) to cover both.  So I had to find a local ATM to grab the necessary funds and make the registration happen.  I had given some consideration to skipping the Passport and chancing it figuring nobody would be around checking on this holiday weekend, but ultimately decided otherwise.

 I finally made it to the parking lot at Silver Lake and was ready to hit the trail just after noon.  After adding the Isopro fuel canister and a freeze-dried meal which I had just purchased at REI my pack weighed in at roughly 42 pounds.  Certainly heavier than I would have preferred on a 24-hour trip like this, but it met all my needs.  I had considered ahead of time that the normal water availability at the pumps may not happen because of the cold weather.  I’d also packed a large amount of clothing to ensure warmth at the camp at night.  Plus add in a book to read and my Transformer tablet (to get a little work done) and I had everything but the kitchen sink.

It was just after noon when I got started on the trail.  It was at the eastern end of the parking lots as you would near the lake.  It was cold!  Accuweather was saying temps were in the mid 20s.  I ran into another group of walkers who were doing one of the short loops and they asked what I was doing with the big pack.  I explained to them my camping idea and the 18 mile  loop.

As I read and prepared for this hike I had noted that there was legal hunting throughout parts of this trail.  And being hunting season this created some apprehension about safety.  When I had called the DNR office to ask a few logistical questions about camping and registration I also asked them about the hunting.  They noted "we've never had an accident before."  Well, maybe I can feel a little better.  To be safe, I dressed with a bright orange winter cap and threw an orange t-shirt over the top of my backpack to help stand out some more.

A few miles in I made my first major stop of the day's hike.  I hit a trail junction and did a check for a few gear items I feared I may have forgotten.  Luckily, they were all present.  Along the hike I ran into a handful of groups biking and I was impressed with the very large tires many of the bikes had. The trail was easy to follow at nearly every point, even when crossing the small roads.

At its northern edge the trail turns hard west and runs parallel to the edge of the University of Michigan Forest Preserve.  When the trail broke south from there I made another stop to grab some refreshments.  I took a gu packet and also downed some teddy grahams.  These were the only two major stops I took other than the quick photo stops.

Through the first 2 hours of hiking I enjoyed the peace and quiet and wanted to take in the sounds of the forest.  For the last hour or so I turned on my audiobook of Phil Robertson's "Happy, Happy, Happy" book and listened to a few chapters.  This helped the last several miles and minutes of hiking move along nicely.

When I was planning this first day I was cautious in my planning to ensure that I would make it to camp with plenty enough daylight to setup camp and cook.  I knew sunset was around 5:30pm and so I needed to arrived at least an hour before that.  I had also made the decision to knock off the larger mileage on day one to leave an easier hike out.

The only problem I hit on this first day of hiking was for the last 2-3 miles my feet really started to hurt.  I had decided to wear my Asics running shoes figuring I didn't need this easier mileage on my nice trail runners.  These Asics have logged 800+ running miles this year so they have been well worn.  As my feet grew sore I wondered if this was because of the shoes.  Fortunately I reached camp before any major blisters arrived and I was optimistic the hike out would go okay.

It was around 3:45pm when I hit the Blind Lake camp.  There were some informational sign boards first and then the trail veered left and down to Blind Lake.  With the fallen leaves on the ground the campsites weren't immediately evident.  Mostly it was about where you would see a picnic table and then presume some flat ground around it was a site.  I walked around at camp awhile to get some bearings on the area and then settled on a flat spot far enough off the trail and yet with a nice view of the lake.  

I made quick work to get the tent up and the cooking gear out so I wasn't battling the dark while cooking.  It was also cold enough that I wanted to keep moving to preserve my body warmth as things were quickly cooling outside.  As I got the stove going to boil water I spent some time checking in on the phone and was surprised to find the signal was spotty  there at the lake side.  

I was able to get my chicken and rice freeze dried cooked up before it really started to get dark.  Sunset was around 5:30pm this day.  I clearly undestimated how much food was in this freeze-dried pouch and was left with much more than I needed.  I was certainly full to say the least before I finally gave up on it.   I also did a couple of cups of hot chocolate after eating just to preserve some warmth.  I was glad I had packed my water in as the water pumps at camp were turned off.  So I rationed it just right to have enough to cook with both meals as well as extra to drink.

 Once things got dark and I finished with supper I crawled into my sleeping bag.  Given the dark and the cold that little cocoon was pretty much my home and the only place to stay warm through the night.  Sadly, it was about 6pm when I crawled in the first time and it dawned on me that I had a long night ahead.  I pulled all my electronic gear and any clothing I might want into the bag with me to keep it all warm.  Overnight temps were dipping into the teens.

I tried to read and do some typing on my Transformer tablet for work but even working on it in the head of my bag caused my fingers and the keyboard to get pretty cold.  But this was my game to pass the time til I got genuinely tired was to go back and forth between various activities.  I also had to make 3 nature calls in the evening because of the amount of water consumed during supper, this was an unfortunate thing in the dark and the cold.

I found that I was able to stay fairly warm in my 30 degree bag except for my toes.  As the first few hours passed by I realized that they were just going to be uncomfortably cold  most of the night.  It was then I recalled I had some of the chemical warming packets along and so I got a pair of them out.  They were old and I wasn't sure the one worked, but I put them between my two pairs of socks and after a half hour or so it seemed they worked as my toes weren't cold the rest of the night.

 The outside air was cold enough that I wasn't willing to keep my face completely up in the head area of the bag as it is designed.  So I ended up sleeping with my head somewhat into the bag itself but with enough opening to allow fresh air to enter.  My rolled up extra clothing at least made a fairly comfortable pillow but the battle with the cold air, and nature's calls, made for a night with only short passing periods of sleep.

When morning's first light came I decided I would get up and get moving and fast.  I wasn't looking forward to that first moment outside my warm sleeping bag, but it worked as I got to work.  I boiled water right away for oatmeal and drinks and set to work taking down the tent as well.  It was probably around 7:30am when I got started.  It was a great morning to be motivated with work as that was the only way to stay warm.

After some tasty apple-cinnamon oatmeal and some more cocoa it was around 8:20am when I was ready to hit the trail.  It was just passed the outhouse at Blind Lake camp where the Poto trail heading east starts up.  As I started I was a little concerned about how the pads of my feet would start off today.  I put on my heavier merino wool socks, partly to warm my toes, but partly hoping they would offer more padding.  

The first 2 miles out of camp went well.  It was nice trail winding through some easy hills.  But then, it seemed, almost out of nowhere I felt a blister come on my left foot.  It made walking on that foot very uncomfortable for the rest of the way. I was doing my best to keep weight off it and putting more on the other foot (which usually causes other issues).

Along the way through this section I finally ran into a hunter. He was on a slope just off the trail to the left. He asked if I'd seen anything this morning and I told him no. We talked for just a moment and then went on our ways.

I kept trudging along, enjoying the beautiful trail at least, and made it to Junction 4 on the map. It is here you can head south and gain almost another two miles of winding trail or you can shortcut past the stone fireplace to Junction 5. Though I wanted the distance my ailing foot made me choose the shortcut to just get back. So I made my way past the Stone Fireplace to Junction 5 and it wasn't long after that that I hit the parking lots. It was about 9:40am when I hit the car.  I did the hike out in an hour and 20 minutes but I had only gained 4 miles instead of the possible 7 because of the shortcut.  In all I was very pleased with the loop of the Potawatomi Trail.  It was easy to follow the whole way, though a map was nice to have along just to know where you were.  The bikers were very friendly as they passed by, and I did pass quite a number of them even on these cold days.  They were also good about telling me how many were in their group so I knew of more bikes to expect in passing.  I was intrigued by the monster tires that many of them sported.  Next time I'm hoping to come up to Potawatomi to run parts of the trail and skip the camping.


The tracks I took from the two days of hiking are wrapped in this KML file for download:

My Track

This is a look at the Tracks embedded in Google Maps.  The light blue track is from day 1 and the orange track is day 2's hike out.

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