Saturday, July 10, 2021

Oak Openings Training Marathon

Trip Info:
Ferns and Lakes Trail > Sand Dunes Trail > Foxfire Trail > Oak Openings Hiking Trail Loop > Evergreen Trail > Partial of Sand Dunes Trail

Trailhead Elevation: 659 ft.
Distance: 26.22 mi. 
Time: 5:06:47
Elevation Gain: 500 ft. (estimate)
Start Time: 7:00am
End Time: 12:34pm

Trip Report:
I spent the summer of 2021 training for my 2nd 50-miler Ultra attempt. This would be on the beautiful Marquette 50 course in the upper peninsula of Michigan. During this summer I did a couple of training marathons on my own. I use my car as an aid station and I enjoy loops in state parks or metroparks in my region. While I do most of my running in Michigan I happened upon Oak Openings on the map and it appeared to have great trail potential.

I made an early Saturday morning drive down and I found the gate to the Buehner Center TH closed. I really wanted to park there because of my aid station plans and so I waited things out until the gate opened around 7am. I didn't really have a plan for what trails I would do hoping to keep the mind fresh and go with the flow. I knew at some point i would tackle the big hiking loop which was 16+ miles.

I started off hitting the Ferns and Lakes loop from the main TH and then also tacked on the Sand Dunes Trail loop. This I found to be my favorite and some of the best scenery in the whole metropark. I then hit the rather short loop of the Foxfire trail and this put me back at my car for an aid stop. I filled up food and drink and made my way out for the big hiking loop. I wanted to get a handful of miles before the big loop hoping that there wouldn't be too much left after.
I did the loop clockwise and found the first quarter of it to be fairly easy to navigate. When I made my way up the west side I found some of the junctions and signage confusing when I hit an area that merged with mountain bike trails. The trail then shoots to the very north end of the metropark even running alongside a road for a short bit. There were sections in here that became overgrown and in spots hard to navigate.

I hit some more navigation issues after the trail crosses Monclova road. Somehow I ended up on the north end of the Ferns and Trails loop. I corrected this and regaining the hiking loop to cross Wilkins Road. I continued on the loop heading through the White Oak Campground where I had begun my day sitting in the parking lot waiting for the trailhead to open. I used the campground as a water and bathroom aid station.

As the morning progressed things warmed up and got a bit muggy. I tried to continue with my all-day ultra pace and kept the walks short. I had another navigation issue a third of a mile after leaving the Evergreen Lake trail. I hit a T-junction and looking to my left I saw the bit of trail seemingly end at a road. To my road was a nice soft dirt trail. I went right. Should have gone left. I continued to follow my wrong turn not realizing it was a horse trail. I knew I was going the wrong direction. I hit another junction and made a turn to bend in the westerly direction I knew I needed. I was now following things on the map on my phone and eventually used the horse trails to get back to the hiking loop.

I finally made it back to the car for another aid break. I had 22 miles in the bank and a tough four to go. I head east to the Evergreen Trail loop and it had sections out in the open sun which I felt.
I finish my marathon heading out for part of the beautiful Sand Dune trail looping back to hit the 26.21 near the car. I was definitely hurting in those last miles but happy to get my second training marathon of the summer under my belt. I was overly impressed with Oak Openings and will hope to find an opportunity to make it back.

I have a track and waypoints from the activity all contained in the embedded Google Map. Check it out and use at your own risk.

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