Friday, October 14, 2011

Last Leg of the Shingle Mill Pathway

 (Pigeon River Country posts continued)

Shortly after my rest stop at Ford Lake the trail met back up with the main loop and turned south, headed back to the trail head.  I was tired, which I knew in part because every soft dry spot looked like a good place to take a nap.  I wasn't carrying a lot of gear but I did have my camera backpack on, with all manner of things in it, just in case, such as rain ponchos, a knife, an emergency whistle and tush towelettes.  My water bottle, which was clipped to the back with a carabiner, added to the weight.  When I stopped to take pictures I had to wait for it to stop swinging back and forth before I could shoot.  The backpack has a hip belt, but because the bag is so short it doesn't reach my hips, so much of the weight was on my shoulders, and I was starting to get a stiff neck and accompanying headache.  I was glad at this point that I had opted for the shorter loop.

The last leg of a hike can be a slog to the finish.  Something changes, psychologically, when you're near the end, especially when you're tired, and you just want to be done.  I did my best to stay alert and keep looking around and be wowed by things, but it wasn't easy.

There hadn't been a lot of evidence of logging in this area although it had, like all of northern Michigan, been completely cut over in the 1880's.  A few large, chest-high stumps remained here and there, testament to the slaughter of the white pines, but most of what I saw from the trail were more recently cut red pine, much smaller and closer to the ground.

I think it is interesting how we tend to believe that what we see is exactly how something has always been.  People who hike this trail who don't know Michigan's logging history probably think they're looking at healthy, undisturbed habitat.  But the reality is that this looks nothing like it did 150 years ago (or 15,000 years ago for that matter, during our last ice age). Not only did we vastly change this region with our hunger for lumber but it is still being logged today, evidenced by the enormous lumber trucks that sped past the campground every now and then, loaded with red pine trunks.  I tried not to think about that, because part of me really wanted to feel like I was in un-managed and un-trammeled wilderness.

Shortly after passing under some power lines (which totally destroyed my wilderness fantasy) I noticed a change in the light, the color of the trees, the air temperature.  I stopped and looked around, and realized I had just entered a part of the forest dominated by balsam fir.  What a joy!  Nothing that I can think of makes me feel like I'm in the north woods more than the scent of balsam fir--there's just nothing like it.  I was so happy for the change of scenery so close to the end of the hike, when I really needed a distraction from my aching shoulders and something new to be excited about.

 The dampness of these woods and the deep greens of the trees filled my senses.

And if that weren't enough, past the fir forest the trail entered a cedar swamp!  I had seen it on the map but had forgotten about it.  Darker and damper still, the cedars felt close and welcoming, almost protective.

By now the rain that had threatened all day had begun to fall, and the already damp and slippery boardwalk became even more so.  I was loathe to break out a rain poncho so close to camp so I tucked my camera under my fleece and kept going.

I stopped for a few more photos as the trail moved out of the cedar swamp and into more open woodlands.  This slime mold caught my eye, a blaze of orange on a rotting log.

High bush cranberry also lent a splash of color.

Rain now began to fall harder, and I put my head down and pushed through a meadow, soaking my pants.  Not 100 feet from the road I scared off another deer.  All this land and I saw the most wildlife within 1/4 mile of the campground.

Once on the road I had to cross back over the Pigeon River to reach the campground.  I was hot and sweaty for the first time that day, trying to hustle back to miss the rain.  As I crossed the bridge I saw this katydid on top of the reflector on the guard rail.  A passing car slowed down to see what I was taking pictures of--I doubt they could even see the insect, all of two inches long.  Probably thought I was nuts.

Back at the RV I got out of my wet clothes and into dry ones, ate some leftover spaghetti and took a nap.  The rain had stopped so to keep my muscles loose I walked along the river, then sat for a bit and read.  The heavier rain waited until after dark to really come down and I was glad I hadn't bothered with a campfire.  It rained all night and into the next morning.  I decided, with heavy heart, to leave the Pigeon River Country and head east to Lake Huron.  I didn't know how long it was going to rain but the clouds were low and did not look like they were going to break up any time soon.  Rather than sit in the RV and wait for the rain to end I decided to spend that time on the road.  I cannot wait to go back, though, and explore more of this beautiful country.

Next:  Negwegon and Tawas State Parks

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