Hiking the Birkebeiner: Part 1

(Well, not exactly the Birkie, but right alongside it. Also, “TH” in this post stands for trailhead. All trailheads can be found on Google maps.)

Again, summer is short and almost over so I’m doing my best to section hike the 30 some miles from Hayward to Mt. Telemark. The Birkie Trail is quite wide and has some steep hills. The CAMBA bike trail, which goes over much of the same terrain, winds through the shady woods and is probably a little longer in length – but goes to the same endpoint. I prefer hiking in the woods where it’s cooler and more interesting and up close to nature.

Dot to dot shows the second and third sections we have hiked. The challenge is to do the loops above and below as well, which roughly follow the Birkie trail from Hayward to Mt. Telemark in the Cable area. Total about 40 miles.

I have a friend, Gwen, who hikes with me. I feel it’s an act of God that we found each other since she seems to be willing to do strange (read extreme) things and shares the same love of challenges. And yet, she is not terrifyingly weird. I feel blessed.

It takes two of us in order to have a car at both ends of each day’s hike. Today we were meeting at 7 am at the trailhead and it seemed very early. The sun was barely up and was red orange behind a screen of smoke blown in from Canadian forest fires. We left my car at Gravel Pit TH and I jumped in with her for the ride to County Road OO TH. So far the sections we’d finished had been around 5 miles each from trailhead to trailhead. That’s a very reasonable couple of hours of hiking plus the drive time. This was going to be the longest yet, 7.3 miles, and we thought it might seem a little strenuous going through wooded, hilly terrain. Strenuous meant we justified bringing food along.

Hills, trees, rocks, water, repeat.

It was a perfect morning for hiking. We warmed up but never got really sweaty. Normally we talk a lot while walking, but this trek was long enough that we actually had some silent stretches where we just enjoyed looking around at the beautiful woods and listening to… nothing. No road traffic noise, no motor boats, no ATVs. There were birds. Birds are okay.

Yes, after not hitting that rock, they ride bikes between those trees. Insane. I had to be careful walking there.

For those who are interested in hiking in our area, here is our schedule and times. Whenever the bike trail is one way, I like to walk against traffic so I can see who is coming. Often the bikes are so quiet that they surprise us. During the week, we may not see any bikers at all. On weekends the trails are busier.

Our first section was Hatchery TH to Mosquito Brook TH. 4.6 miles in just under 2 hours

Second section was Mosquito Brook TH to Gravel Pit TH. 5.16 miles in 2 hours 15 minutes.

Third section, which we did today was Gravel Pit TH to OO TH. 7.3 miles in about 3 hours.

This section puts us half way to our goal. All three sections are parts of the single track Makwa Trail. All the trailheads are accessible by roads that they cross. The roads closest to Hayward are all paved but as we get farther from town, we are having to use fire lanes in the woods and they are gravel, but well maintained.

You can see our gravel access road, and the smoke haze from the fires north of Lake Superior.

For me, hiking is like soul food. I get hungry for it. It’s necessary for my sanity and never feels like time wasted.

Summer Excess

Yesterday evening I was tired. I didn’t want to exercise. I wanted to wind down and go to bed early. But, my exercise conscience was not quite dead yet and there were still two hours of daylight left.

It was a week ago today that I gave blood at the blood mobile, and my first time giving double reds. I had a couple days of feeling slightly oxygen deprived with activity, and then forgot about it. I felt fine going for a 9 mile bike ride over the weekend, and was really excited about joining the LCO Boys and Girls club for a canoe outing on Monday. After all, summer is short. Pour it on!

Yes, good question. Are you ready for the river? That’s what it asks on that sign.

The canoe outing was interesting, which is the word I use most of the time instead of “fun but hard”. There was wind, a helpful 9 year old with a paddle, and a middle rider who was afraid of spiders. I spent a lot of time going backwards down the river, when I wasn’t trying to steer out of the bushes on either side. It was a challenging paddle and my arms are a little sore, still. And I will probably go again. Summer is short here. I think I said that already.

On this tired evening I decided that I could probably go biking again, since I could then balance my tired arms with equally tired legs. You know, balance in life is important.

I live wonderfully close to some trails specifically made for biking through the woods. They are part of an extensive network of trails, making our area a destination for this kind of sport. I rode my bike there and got on the trail. I’m not an expert at this yet, and I suspect that CAMBA (Cable Area Mountain Bike Association) is kindly trying to discourage the inept, for their own good of course. The entrances to the trail always have two posts that seem awfully close together to me. My first rush of adrenaline comes with trying not to hit them. It’s a mind thing – the more you think about it, the more likely it is to happen.

The trails are built and maintained so bikers can go whizzing through the forest without looking at it. Sometimes that doesn’t make sense to me because I go to the forest for exactly that reason, to look at it. The trails are also designed to be as long as possible without really going anywhere far. My GPS gets so confused and keeps thinking I’m pausing when really I’m just going around tight turns and doubling back all the time. There’s sand, rocks, hills, creeks, grouse that explode out of the bushes, and scared deer that jump out in front of me. The forest is not flat here and there is a definite roller coaster ambience to the whole ride. My advice is, do this if you want a fun challenge. Maybe don’t do this if you want to relax. It’s not relaxing to me. I’m always thinking “thank you God that I didn’t wipe out on that corner”, and “thank you God that I was going slow when I hit that rock”.

Yeah, just shut your eyes and ride up the hill between those poles. Don’t think about it.

Last night’s ride was only six miles, but as I said, my GPS was confused so it may have been more. I did some street riding at the end just so I could relax and feel the breeze, and go straight, no bumps.

Do you see what I mean about summer excess? There are so many good opportunities to do active things, and quite a few more hours in which to do them. I love the north woods summer, even when it wears me out. I haven’t gone swimming in Round Lake yet, but that will be next. I have a plan, just sayin’…

All Trails: Spring Creek

Seriously, I am going to love this app

I needed this walk to clear my head, and my lungs. The day was just too beautiful to stay inside.

I’m excited. After a couple weeks of recovery from travel (and from the broken wrist and surgery) I’m exploring a new app on my phone called “All Trails”. It’s designed to show hiking trails all over the U.S. and today it led me to one only 15 miles away that I hadn’t been on yet. One thing we have a lot of up here in northern Wisconsin is hiking trails and many of them are within a few minutes or hours of home – so why not make it a project to see how many I can explore? I needed an interesting challenge and now I have one.

Spring Creek Trail was a 2.5 mile loop that was labeled “easy”, and it was. Part of it was through the forest on a bike trail maintained by CAMBA (Chequamegon Area Mountain Bike Association) and about half of it was on a dirt road called Spider Lake fire lane.

I enjoy hiking with friends but sometimes I’m glad to be hiking at all, even if it’s alone. I didn’t mind being alone today. I didn’t see another person, or even another vehicle once I got off the main highway. The app tracks my progress on the trail, so I wasn’t worried about losing my way. But, I should have started with a fully charged phone battery, and will have to make that a priority in the future.

Bridges on bike trails are usually like this one…

I assumed the water I crossed over right away was Spring Creek. It was moving fast from our October snow melt. Yes, we’ve had 6 inches of snow on the ground already and some of it was still visible in the ravines, but today’s temp was 73 degrees! Several times on this walk I was aware of a stream of cold air coming off the low spots in the woods. There was ice on most of the pools.

I kept hearing a noise that sounded like a muffled motor starting up and assumed I was somewhere near a road. It took me a while to realize I was stirring up grouse on the trail. They take off through the trees and make a pretty cool sound. I also saw several deer on the trail ahead that turned to stare at me before running off into the woods. They were dark and almost invisible when they were looking at me, but hard to miss when their white tails started bouncing away. So beautiful.

This was an afternoon hike, around 3 pm, which I thought would give me plenty of time. It did, but already the days are short and the sun was getting low on the horizon, making the woods dark in places. The slanting light, shadows and silhouettes kept me using more of my limited phone battery for pictures – I couldn’t resist. Here’s my photo log of the Spring Creek Hike.