Manistee National Forest

As I mentioned in a post last week, I’m hard at working checking things off the list of preparations that need to be made before we set off on RTXVII. One of the major changes from previous trips is that we’re planning to do some actual backpacking this time around. Since none of us have ever done that before I’ve wanted to do a trial run closer to home in case of any unforeseen obstacles we may encounter along the way. A few months ago I saw a blurb in Backpacker magazine about the Manistee National Forest and I decided that would be the perfect spot to test our skills and gear.

We had planned to tackle it as a family, but much to Molly’s delight, Zoe’s broken arm meant that the two of them would need to stay home. Undeterred, Ellie and I chose to press on alone. We departed immediately after she got out of school on Friday. With the end of finals I’d gotten out around noon – SUMMER BREAK! Of course, leaving Chicago on the Friday of Memorial Day weekend was destined to be a slow crawl even at 3:30. Steered by Heather, aka Google, we ended up driving through numerous neighborhoods in Northern Indiana before finally being redirected to the interstate just across the Michigan line.

We had hoped to make it to a brewery in Cadillac, MI where we were spending the night, but our stomachs pushed us off the road in Grand Rapids where we discovered The Mitten Brewing Co. E and I would both highly recommend it if you’re ever in Grand Rapids, great beer & pizza! After dinner we made the final push to Cadillac where both fell asleep pretty much instantly.

Enjoying a cold beverage at Mitten Brewing

Saturday morning our alarm went off promptly at 7, and I knew that Ellie must have been excited for the day since she was up and in the shower in under 2 minutes. Knowing that my next night’s sleep wasn’t going to be nearly as good, I was glad that I got to  hit the snooze once before I had to get up. We grabbed some breakfast, made a quick call home to M&Z and were on the road by 8. We found a place to leave Hans (my car) at the Seaton Creek Campground and snapped a couple selfies.

At the Trailhead

Shortly before stopping for dinner the previous night our conversation turned to gear, and Ellie mentioned something about our boots. I immediately swore. We set up the packing table a week or so ago, but hadn’t brought in our boots from the garage. For some reason, boots had never even crossed my mind while preparing our gear. Normally I’ll have the thought 10 times about things like this “don’t forget to get the boots out of the garage”. For whatever reason though, I didn’t even have that thought once. I guess I was just so focused on everything else that I totally forgot them. In any case, Ellie had a pair of tennis shoes and I had Tevas so we resolved to make do.

This is the part of these posts where it seems like the story should really begin. Realistically though, there’s usually the least to tell when it comes to the actual hike. Mostly it’s just mile after mile (25 in this case) of walking. Of course there’s always some excitement to break up the monotony so I’ve got a few stories to share, but mostly it’s just a matter of continuing to put one foot in front of the other.

Our first stop was at the bridge known as “Little Mac”. Supposedly the design is based on the Mackinac Bridge, which meant that Ellie and my expectations may have been a touch too high.

The actual Mackinac Bridge By Justin Billau – Flickr: Mackinac Bridge, CC BY 2.0
“Little Mac”









With other sites still to be seen we pressed on. Our first and biggest mistake came shortly after crossing the river. We found ourselves walking through the middle of someone’s campsite and had the thought that these people had chosen a weird spot to sprawl out. Who wants a bunch of hikers walking right next to their tent? We made our way through their improvised kitchen and continued on for another 50 feet or so where we were suddenly stopped by a creek. We searched around for the trail, but unable to find it realized that these people hadn’t set up in the middle of a trail and were probably wondering why we were walking around their campsite. So we backtracked, trying to find the spot where we had gone wrong. We ended up hiking a quarter mile or so back the way we had come from to find an alternate route. We did finally discover the blaze we had missed – about 10 feet before the campsite.

The next few hours were mostly uneventful. We stopped to eat when we were hungry, stopped to rest when we were tired, even got phone service at one point and made a quick call home. We were both pleasantly surprised by how little the packs we were wearing seemed to slow us down. Kudos to Osprey and Deuter!

Our goal for the day was to complete the western half of the loop and then to go as far as we could back up the eastern half to make our hike on Sunday as short as possible. We made it to the bridge that marked the southernmost point around 4 and decided to rest and snack there for a while. We filtered water to refill our bladders. I had been craving an ice cold orange soda. Although it wasn’t orange, the water we made was cold and delicious, so a close second. By the time we started hiking again it was close to five and we were both pretty tired.

We did manage to go for another half hour or so before finding a campsite that we couldn’t pass up.

Home for the night

We had a nice flat spot to pitch the tent a pretty view overlooking the river. After setting up camp we crawled in the tent and Ellie asked to play a game of Phase 10. I did my best to humor her for about 10 minutes before finally admitting that I needed a quick rest. She humored me by allowing me to set an alarm for 15 minutes and I immediately fell asleep. While I was snoozing she blew up her sleeping pad and got out her sleeping back and pillow so she was ready for the night (yes, I was sleeping on the ground). I did wake up refreshed enough to finish our game and grab some supper. Really, though we were both tired enough that we were ready to go to sleep by 7:30.

Ellie slept the night through like she was in her own bed at home. My night was actually much better than I’d thought it would be. I woke up a few times to stretch sore muscles and roll over, but got in a pretty good night’s sleep. We were both woken by a 7:00 alarm, so the night was good for us both.

We had measured what was left the night before and thought it was probably in the 8.5 mile range, which we planned on taking 4 to 5 hours. The first few hours of the hike were the prettiest of the entire trip with view over the river most of the way.

Unfortunately, the rain started around 10:30 so our last few hours were also the wettest. We donned our raingear and covered our packs so we were pretty dry, but it’s certainly preferable to hike without the downpour. This was also the part of the trip where I think we both really wished we had boots. I’d actually been fine with the Tevas up until my feet started getting drenched and muddy. We ended up being off on our distance estimate by about a mile, but even with the extra distance still managed to finish around 1 in the afternoon.

Overall, the hike was a success. It turned out that we are completely capable of backpacking! In fact I think the only gear adjustment that needs to be made is to remember to pack the boots next time around.

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