Friday, November 26, 2021

Waterloo-Pinckney Trail + Ride

Waterloo-Pinckney Trail, Portage Lake to Blind Lake.  Bike ride on roads returning to Portage Lake.

Waterloo-Pinckney Hike - 11/26/2021
Start Elevation: 919 ft.
High Elevation: 1,143 ft.
Finish Elevation: 890 ft.
Distance: 29.50 mi.
Elevation Gain: 1,099 ft.
Start Time: 8:32am
End Time: 6:40pm

Bike Return to Car - 11/27/2021
Distance: 18.12 mi.
Elevation Gain: 298 ft.
Start Time: 8:50am
End Time: 10:47am

Trip Report:
This trip was the answer to the question: How do you hike a 30-mile point-to-point trail with one person and one car?" I've been wanting to make the Waterloo-Pinckney hike for a few years now to try out one of the longer trails in the great trail-state of Michigan. But short of having to make my wife drive a second vehicle to help me shuttle vehicles I hadn't yet found a good logistical way to make this happen. Then it dawned on me: use your bike.

With the basic plan in place and the freedom of Black Friday and Thanksgiving weekend I had the time and the place all set. Now it was a matter of planning out the remaining logistics and that would indeed be the fun part. The Waterloo-Pinckney Trail starts at Portage Lake in Waterloo as its western endpoint. It travels to Silver Lake in Pinckney as its eastern endpoint. The total mileage is roughly 34 miles. Since I have previously enjoyed the final 4 miles of the Pinckney portion I decided I would skip that on this particular adventure. I set as my eastern endpoint Blind Lake in Pinckney. It had a nice backpacker's camp and would mark the perfect stopping point for my plans.

I didn't want to carry everything on the long hike and do this in full backpacking mode so I set about handling the hike of the W-P Trail as a dayhike. Yet I would still need a tent and other gear at my end point. I devised a plan in which I could park my car near the Blind Lake campground and do the short "hike/walk" in with my bike and my full backpack. I would setup my tent on a site I had pre-reserved. Any gear I wouldn't need for the hike itself would be left with the pack and the tent. My bike could stay there locked up by the tent all day while I hiked. At the end of the hike I would have my tent and my cooking gear ready to go and spend the night. In the morning I would pack it all up in the big backpack and bike back to the car at Waterloo It was an exciting plan and I couldn't wait to dive in.

To complicate the logistics of the plan the weather for my hike date (Black Friday, 11/26/2021) the overnight low would be 24 with a day time high of 30. This meant we were below freezing the entire time. I now had to weigh in my logic what items probably shouldn't be left sitting out in the freezing cold all the day long. I also had to pack the right clothing and sleep gear to keep me warm overnight.

The morning of my start I drove to the dirt road that runs near Blind Lake. I found a safe parking space and then biked in to the campground. It was empty with nobody having decided to camp out the night of Thanksgiving. It was a brisk 25 degrees out. I set up my Quarter Dome 2 tent and double checked all the items I would leave here for that night and the next morning's bike ride back to the car. I locked my bike up to a nearby tree. I also put my camp reservation print-out in a ziplock bag and tied it to my tent. Technically I was probably setting up before the official "check-in" time but the place was deserted so I figured nobody would complain. I did however want my reservation, name and phone on my tent should any question arise. With setup complete I hiked back out to the car.

One detail to the plan I hadn't thought of ahead of time was to drive my biking route. As I drove out of the Blind Lake area it dawned on me, it would be really smart to drive the entire route I would bike in the morning. To see all the turns and the condition of the road would be helpful. The quickest driving route would have been different from my chosen route for the bike. I wanted to avoid the main roads on the bike. This turned out to be a great idea to drive the route and create the familiarity that would help the next morning.

I had one more brief adventure during the drive that morning. The registration for the Marquette Trail 50 Ultra is every Black Friday at 8am. I was closely eyeing my watch this morning as I wanted to be a part of this and not risk missing out. I was in the middle of my drive on the dirt back roads heading to Waterloo when the hour came. I pulled over to the side of the road made the reg for my upcoming ultra and then on my way. Strangely enough, this isn't the first time I've registered for a future adventure while in the middle of a current one.

Driving into Waterloo State Recreation Area you do see signage directing you towards the "W-P Trail". The trailhead was near the boat launch for Portage Lake and fairly easy to find. I got started just after 8:30am. It has been light for just over half an hour. I was carrying my Osprey Stratos 24 daypack. In it was mostly just essentials. I carried two liters of water and my food for the day. I had my Sawyer Squeeze filter, hoping not to use it, but also not wanting it to sit out and freeze in my tent all day. For clothing I wore zip-off pants on the bottom with two long-sleeve tech layers, a medium fleece jacket, and my Gore-tex rain jacket. I carried extra top and bottom layers in my pack as emergency layers. I also carried my basic emergency bivvy in my pack should I get stuck out in the cold injured somehow.

Not surprisingly, I didn't have to move along the trail long before warming up and I took the fleece layer off. I wouldn't have to put it on the rest of the day. There were a few moments along the way as my body temp fluctuated that I cooled a bit in the core region but constant movement was enough to keep the warmth going.

I knew most of the trail today was going to be a tree tunnel with little in the way of views so I did decide to bring along something to distract the mind a bit. I often listen to podcasts when out running or hiking but today I opted for an audiobook. I went for an old favorite, Ed Viesturs' "No Shortcuts to the Top". It is an engaging read on his Endeavor 8000 question to hike the 14 tallest peaks in the world. I was amazed how well it kept my mind going the whole day.

The first several miles wind south and then east away from Portage Lake. The trail was in good condition and easy to follow. Not surprisingly, being late November, the trail was heavily leaf-covered in most places. I wasn't sure if this would be a pro or con. On the downside I fear it would hide obstacles like roots and rocks but that wasn't really the case. On the plus side it cushioned the trail more than usual and made the day easier on my feet. In fact, I was amazed how well my feet felt when I hit camp at the end of the day. Surely the leaf cover on the ground must have helped.

The first landmark on the hike is Sackrider Hill (about 5.5miles in) where there is a viewing platform just off trail to the right. The views were "okay". I'm used to hiking in Colorado and other places out west so I am fully aware of my spoiled state when it comes to trail views. The next landmark was about 8.8 miles in where I encountered a sign talking of a trail re-route. Apparently there is a well known flooding area on the trail and this was still the case today. I'm not sure if it was my curiosity or my skepticism, but given the freezing temps and late season timing I decided to stick to the main route and see if the flooding remained. I made it 2 tenths up the trail and sure enough things were not passable without putting feet underwater. The last thing I wanted in this cold was soaking wet shoes. So I backtracked to the sign and took the detour. Along the detour I bumped into 3 hunters in full gear with rifles over shoulders. A good reminder that today was major hunting season. I had been precautionary and wore a hunter orange cap on top and some orange gloves. It has also donned on me that the rain cover for my pack was a bright neon green so I had that on my pack all day. The detour added about 4 tenths to the total mileage. (Its worth noting from here on out, my mileages may vary from yours by 2-4 tenths of a mile due to my detours).

At mile 11 I hit the Pines campground. This is the backpacker only camp in Waterloo. I must say, Blind Lake in Pinckney really puts this one to shame. Pines was something like 6-8 sites all very close together that are like spokes around a common communal area. The sites at Blind Lake offer quite a bit more privacy. I took my only major stop of the day sitting down at a picnic table for about 10 minutes to eat some food and re-situate things.

I was amazed today how the miles continued to click by. The distraction of the audio book in the ears helped move time and though much of the trail looked the same I stayed in a good head space enjoying things. It was mile 16 for me when I hit the downhill to the edge of Crooked Lake. I had heard ahead of time that this is potentially a place to filter lake water and it appeared that would work. The trail comes right up to the shore and you just need to find a good space to filter.

Another mile plus after Crooked Lake I started hitting signage for the marked trails near the Waterloo Discovery Center. There are several short loop trails in this area for short dayhikes out of the Discovery Center. When I hit the D.C. I was hoping, though not expecting, a bathroom to be open and indeed that was not the case. There were a number of people in the area, some walking/hiking, and there appeared to be some kind of event going on.

Walking east on the sidewalks past the D.C. I made my first big mistake of the day. I forgot to distinguish between W-P East and W-P West. I took a left turn off the paved path down a hill and didn't realize I had taken a path that would double-back west to where I had come from. I was only 3-4 minutes along when something didn't seem right and a quick check of the GPS and map confirmed the error. I went back up to the paved path and did a better job of following the signs to get going east.

The trail moved due north for awhile after the D.C. I was at mile 21.5 and the road crossing of Cassidy Rd when I made another brief mistake. After hitting the dirt road I missed how the trail picked up on the other side and somehow started going south (right) on the road. So again instinct kicked in and I realized things weren't right and made corrections again. It goes to show that while mistakes happen, it also helps to have an instinct for when things don't appear to be going the way they should.

Not long after Cassidy I saw the intersection for the Green Lake campground, but it was more than a half mile up the road from me so I wasn't interested in exploring it.

After crossing M52 (Stockbridge-Chelsea Rd) the W-P trail heads for the Lyndon Parks. There was some signage here about park rules and no camping. There was also some careful need to follow signs for routes through a few open fields and a parking lot.

All the while today I had been doing light snacking. Ahead of time I found a recipe for homemade energy balls and these seemed to work well today. They were a mixture of peanut butter, oats, honey, and my special "Almond Joy" recipe addition of coconut flakes and chocolate chips. I was mostly eating as I got hungry today and wasn't hitting any sort of calorie goal as I often do when ultra-running.

It wasn't far after the Lyndon Parks that I turned on the headlamp. I wanted to do this before I needed it because I wanted any dusk deer hunters to be sure to see me coming well before they thought my movement was something else. This made for almost 90 minutes hiking in the dark with lamp.

I didn't finally hit familiar territory until just before mile 28.5 when I hit the road crossing at Goodband Rd. Once before I had come out a mile on the W-P trail just to check things out. This was all in the dark and I kept my movement and consistency going. When I finally hit the junction with the Potawatomi Trail I knew I was almost home. Just the short walk down the hill to my camp at Blind Lake. I was amazed how well the legs and feet still felt. Tired yes, but hardly any soreness and it made for enjoyable hiking all day.

Everything was in order back at camp so I set about getting supper going. It was a pot of hot water for ramen and hot cocoa for supper. I paid special attention to keeping track of what items were not to be frozen. In particular I kept close eye on my Sawyer Squeeze as I knew I didn't want to freeze it. I did use it to filter a couple quarts from Blind Lake seeking to avoid the many leaves sitting in the still water on lake's edge.

Once dinner finished up I headed for the tent and my sleeping bag to stay warm. I kept myself entertained with a movie to watch on my phone and some reading to do as well. One of my special tent treats is to bring along my Daydream VR headset and watch a movie laying down on my back in the sleeping bag. The VR headset makes it look like you're in a movie theater as you watch.

I kept myself up as late as I could to make sure I would be good and tired and sleep well. I also hate to risk getting up too early while things are still dark with nothing to do. I slept as well as can be through the night. Most importantly, I stayed pretty warm with my setup.

Bike Return to Car - 11/27/2021
The morning was breakfast and a packup of camp. I had to get everything into my Osprey Aether 85 pack and it was definitely full with the extra few luxuries I brought for my night at camp. I wasn't sure how many layers I would need for the biking as it was an odd mix of effort but the chill of the wind hitting. I erred on the side of extra clothing.

As I biked out of camp I noticed my gears were not working too well in the 25 degree cold. My gear shifter has already has some issues and the chill made it worse. To start I could only use 4th gear and couldn't get them any lower. This was fine for the initial dirt road portion. However when I hit the first hill I was quickly forced to get off bike and walk. I also quickly realized that while there was no soreness from yesterday's 30-mile hike there was some notable fatigue. I'm still human.
I began retracing my route from yesterday's drive and I used a route I had plotted on my GPS app on the phone to stay on track. Thankfully I would only be checking every few miles at intersections I couldn't remember. As the hills continued to add up I definitely was feeling the fatigue. It also was unexpectedly difficult to bike with the 40 pound pack on my back. I was able to stay warm with my clothing choices.

My route choice of back roads mostly paid off. I met minimal traffic for most of the route. It wasn't until the Mt. Hope Rd portion did I hit a fair amount of traffic and some big trucks. Thankfully that part was only a mile and a quarter. The final stretch along Seymour Rd heading to the park entrance was likewise a fair amount of traffic but this only a mile and a half. My legs were really toast and my back end not use to a bike seat and so I was ready to be done.

So pleased as a whole for this adventure. I had been planning it for more than a month pouring over the minor details of what I would need and how to handle it. Everything worked to perfection despite the sub-freezing weather.

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

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