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Our direct from home trails are convenient, wonderful, and much appreciated. We have many options, not only on our own 80 acres but directly north and west onto paper company and Forest Service land with numerable logging two-tracks that make great trails.
We enjoy exploring other trails around the U.P. but though they are not necessarily far from home they do require a car trip there and back. Often we'll combine the hikes with other reasons to go out. But we don't have to travel to have great hiking. Some of the best start and end right from our own front door. We are blessed to be living in a beautiful area full of the forests we love here in the Upper Peninsula. And one doesn't need managed trails to enjoy it.
February 11, 2021 -- First Longer Snowshoe Hike of the season
Though it was only an hour and a half I figure it rates as a 3 hour hike since it was plenty long on snowshoes this early in the season (I know, it's mid February, hardly early winter, but since our first real snow only came last week it is early for those snowshoeing muscles). Besides, we did take hot drink and snacks. No lunch on the trail though, being only 13 degrees and cloudy we weren't inclined to stop long enough to eat. So this was an after-lunch walk. It had been a beautiful sunny morning which helped bring the early morning -20 sub-zero degrees up into the interested-in-a-walk level. And considering this past week's low temperatures and even lower wind chills today's teens and calm wind enticed us out onto the trail even though it clouded up before we started. But with just an occasional light wind it was quite nice. We have discovered that with our getting out to hike somewhat regularly this winter not only have our muscles toughened up our bodies have acclimated better to the cold than usual, which is really nice.
This was a from-home hike, right out our front door, no car involved. We decided to go north. The snow had settled down to maybe 10" and because of the extended cold was still light, soft and sifty which made for fairly easy snowshoeing even though we were breaking trail. Because of that we traded off leading, enjoying the "new" look the fresh snow made to this very familiar trail. We had a good start to our walk when a red squirrel surprised us as she ran across right in front of my snowshoe, with what looked like an acorn in her mouth, up a nearby large spruce tree and sat on a branch looking at us intently before heading on up farther into the tree. That she would have found an acorn this time of year really surprised me until I glanced over on the other side of the path to a large pile of pine cone hulls next to a hole dug in the snow. Of course! She was simply gathering dinner from one of her previously supplied root cellars, or, in this case, nut cellars. This was likely the same squirrel that has a well trod path into the garden via a particular fence post, to a nearby large apple tree, on to a stack of cold frame boxes, then to another source of food - my compost pile. Gatherings from which are then buried in stashes here and there in the convenient nearby sod-free soil, based on the number of clumps of squash and the like that I find growing every year in my garden in places I didn't plant them.
We have a lot of options for hiking but decided to go north, through the paper company's red pine plantations and onto Forest Service mixed hardwoods. We stayed pretty much on a north line with an out-and-back at the beginning, turn-around at the north paper company gate, and a nice loop in the center. The out-and-back sections were nice since we had an already tracked trail to walk on coming back, but we also enjoy one-way loops for variety. It was such a peaceful, calm, quiet walk with everything muffled under the soft snow, with just the gentle creaking rhythm of the snowshoes on cold snow or an occasional wood-against-wood as one shoe knocked against another.
Back at the house we left the backpacks and continued on up to the mailbox for a bit of an extension to our walk. Then back to do daily chores (such as filling the woodbox) and get supper going. Then an enjoyable evening resting our legs. Yes, indeed, an hour and half snowshoe walk on new snow was long enough, and a good start to the snowshoe season. A bit more snow is forecast for the next few days so it looks like we'll be on the shoes for awhile now.
February 16, 2021 -- Keeping the Trails Packed
Now that we're getting snow now and then it gives an extra incentive to walk our East Loop to keep the trail packed and findable in the event of a big snow. It is an enjoyable job! Having this easy access half mile circle path on the other end of our property has turned out to be a real nice way to take a short walk whether a'foot or on snowshoes, when you don't feel like a bigger commitment but want to get out and about for a short jaunt. Once there we both tend (depending on the weather) to go several or more times around, often adding the half mile walk up the hill to the mailbox. This past summer Steve kept the path mowed and cleared of brambles which makes it much more inviting. Those wild blackberry canes are a force to be reckoned with!
February 17, 2021 -- Checking Out the Neighborhood
Upper teens, clear blue skies, light south-sw wind -- a beautiful day. After a few weeks of February-cold temperatures and colder wind chills this forecast sounded downright balmy. A walk was in order. Since we’ve been on snowshoes for a couple weeks now we decided to walk down the road so we could leave the snowshoes behind and walk on the ground, even if it is snowy ground. Though our road commission guys are wonderful and the roads well plowed.
We knew we’d be walking into the wind the first half of the trek but we’d also be out in the open in the wonderful sunshine under clear skies. Our neighborhood is predominantly farm fields and pastures with some small woods and trees. Great for sun though a bit chilly with a wind, but it would be a nice hike none-the-less. So off we went to go around the block and check out the neighborhood, the first half mile on snowshoes to get to the road, then bare-boots for the next 5 miles.
The fields were really flat with snow, with none of the usual ripples and patterns to break up the expanse. I guess it was because the last snow (20 inches in two days) was cold, soft and light. It just settled across the landscape instead of drifting into waves. With the clear sun is was definitely a sunglasses needed day. We didn’t see any of our human neighbors but waved at the one truck and a school bus that passed by. And we greeted the many herds of cows (including our closest and most numerous neighbors), a few contented young bulls, a gaggle of turkeys, some beautiful horses, and a large flock of cheery pigeons interspersed with some smaller birds and two crows, keeping an eye on their herd of black heifers.
The sun was lowering in the sky and it was noticeably chillier when we walked into the shade of nearby trees, but sometimes those trees blocked the wind so it was a trade-off. When we turned the last corner to head north with the wind at our backs it was pleasant and slightly warmer for the last leg. Back at our garage we once again donned our snowshoes for that final enjoyable half mile back home. The sun had just dipped down into the trees so it was good timing. A little more than 6 miles and a little less than 2 1/2 hours -- it felt good to be home into a nice solar-heated house and good to have gone on an enjoyable afternoon hike in the sun.
February 20, 2021 -- A New Path
Steve went out for a walk on our east path and decided to make an additional loop off to the south-east, easy to do in the snow. Well, maybe not exactly "easy", breaking trail in a couple feet of snow but at least a lot of the usual growth is buried - no mowing required. Of course, that doesn't include blackberry canes - there would need to be ten feet of snow to bury them, though in a heavy snow year like last year they can get bent over. Steve just avoided those brambly patches. A lot of the new trail goes through our SE woods which is really nice. It's an area we don't usually go to often except for cutting firewood now and then. But we love our mixed hardwoods forests and enjoy being in them.
After a few trips around by both of us the path is pretty well packed and should be easy to find after a snow. We decided we now had enough to make our trail "official" and designated: LoopA (original east loop), LoopB (the new southeast addition), and LoopC (north/west perimeter road). Then there is the walk up to the mailbox/garage/road but that is everyday and not a real loop. And we have the trailhead (the house) and the beginning path (out to the garden gate). We're conveniently guessing each loops to be about a half mile.
This is a "primitive" trail, with no signs, no maps, no trail markers. Some of the trail is "seasonal", as in it will disappear when the snow does, unless we decide to mow, clip, and clear it. We have enjoyed the first LoopA path that Steve created last summer and kept mowed and clipped of brambles. We walk a lot across the rough fields and through the woods but sometimes it's nice to take a quick hike around without getting wet or dealing with brush and brambles.
But right now we're enjoying having our own snowshoe/hiking trail right out our front door.
February 27, 2021 -- Hint of Spring
Not everyone can get excited about muddy roads but this was a beautiful sight to us. Clear blue sky, above freezing temperature, and roads clear of snow -- so we went for another walk around the neighborhood block. The wind was a bit brisk for the first half and it was wet and muddy and slushy (the snow wasn't completely gone on the other gravel roads) but it was a real nice 2 1/2 hour hike. We had changed into shoes at the garage so enjoyed walking without boots and on (mostly) unfrozen ground. Good wool socks were a must! But it's starting to be that time of year - frozen one day, wet the next, and often both at the same time. We appreciate having the road to walk on, though our paths are still in good shape. The sun felt warm, especially when the wind calmed down which it did for the second half of our walk. We didn't stop too often but when we did we chose sun. It won't be long and we'll be looking for shade!
As on our previous neighborhood walk there wasn't much human action, just one four wheeler out for a ride. But one of the horses, a beautiful older beige colored draft horse, walked calmly over to the fence for a gentle nose skritch, which Steve obliged. The mature cows we saw didn't pay us any attention but the herd of young heifers had a few hot shots who tried to rile up the group as we went by, but their companions were more interested in eating. And a small group of young bulls always show interest but we didn't have anything for them but to say Hi and remark on how great they look.
Half of our block-walk is pavement but the snow has been plowed far enough back and it has mostly melted enough at the edge to allow walking along the grass-firmed shoulder. This was wet but not so muddy on the dirt road and not so hard as the paved. We wandered back and forth finding the best path. It was just very pleasant to get out and soak up that almost March sun, even if the only skin exposed is our faces (and on Steve that's a limited amount of bare skin to do the soaking!). We're not quite ready to lie out and bask in the sun yet but considering the coming weather forecast we were real happy to have this day for a walk.
March 12, 2021 -- Disappearing Paths
How the seasons of hiking change and our idea of "best weather". We've gone from looking for a warmer day to maybe a colder day would be good because the paths might be frozen and more easily walked, maybe without snowshoes. That was my thought for today since it was in the upper 20's. It was, as it has been recently, windy but we both were just going out for a short walk around our own Loops. It was afternoon and the sun had softened the snow quite a bit. Steve headed up to the mailbox on our well packed and still reasonably good path, no snowshoes needed. I headed out to LoopB, also without snowshoes, and found the paths out in the field, which hadn't gotten nearly the traffic as our main path, were in spring break-up mode -- patches of frozen, then soft, some both, not good with snowshoes, not good without, that time of year. There were starting to be some areas where it was easier to walk beside the path. With our lack of snow depth this year the snow melt will be fast.
This obviously will be the end of walking our paths until the snow is gone. We'll be finding bits and pieces of bare ground to walk on before long though -- already have around the house (to LilliB's great delight!). But I figured I'd finish, go on into the woods of LoopB then around to LoopA and back home. No extras today. The wind was cold but the sun was warm and it was good to be out. When I made it into the woods I lost the path. This section is higher ground and not a very dense woods, with a neighbor's farm field to the south. So the sun penetrates quite a bit, melting the snow around the trees, the melt spreading out from there. The snow in the woods was still frozen so I could walk anywhere. I had a nice time wandering around; it really is a pretty woods here.
I headed out into the field to find the path and head on around, back to rough footing but there is still enough snow overall to make it easier to walk on the rough path than slog through the snow since I was a'foot. Short walk was fine today because we plan a longer walk tomorrow on the inviting bare roads of our neighborhood.
March 13, 2021 -- Around the Block, plus
It was a great forecast - sunny, high of 52 degrees. Wow! We'd walk the block, maybe take a lunch, go a little farther to find a spot to sit and bask in the sun. The roads would be clear of snow, maybe a bit muddy in spots but it should be good walking and we could leave the boots at the garage and continue on in shoes. It might be a strange pleasure but it's a real one. Well, it was indeed beautifully sunny and it made it up to 40 before we headed out (46 when we got home, according to the thermometer, the one not out in the wind). Maybe we didn't really expect 50's yet, but 40's was nice! The wind amped up a few knots to make sure we didn't expect to be out in shirt sleeves. It was strong enough that as we left the protection of the woods and headed down the road face into it we quickly amended our plan to possible just down the road and back. But we adjusted layers, covered ears and heads more thoroughly, and decided to just keep going. It was a SW wind but after 2 miles when we turned onto the west road there would be a fair amount of woods to give us a break.
The sun shone and we walked on bare ground for three hours (except for that part from house to garage -- still plenty of snow in our valley), and enjoyed the hike. We had occasional breaks from the wind thanks to trees or houses and walked on down Advent Road for an additional mile, as far as that road is plowed, then back. More traffic than usual, being Saturday and a nice day, so we waved at a number of passing cars and talked to the usual array of cattle. There had been a brief lull in the wind, much appreciated, and we found out why as we headed north. Wind change. Now that was unfair! What was supposed to be "wind at our backs" the second half was again wind in our face. Ah well, lots of woods on this road. Around the corner to the east and a bit chilly along those wind-swept pastures. In spite of it not being warm-warm, it was still warmer and we were both a full layer lighter in clothing than we had been all winter.
As we turned for the final north leg home the wind picked up to gale force, at least it felt like it. No ways about it -- it howled. It was a good thing it was in the 40's and not the 20's. Hats and hoods tightened we hunkered down and walked the last half mile into the wind, heads down, looking up occasionally to make sure we didn't run into anything (not that there was anything to run into). It was a relief to get to the garage and the protection of woods. Even more so as we headed down off the hill into our own woods, wind-tension and noise eased, warmth returned, nice to be home. It was a great walk, even counting the wind, over 8 miles and the first almost warm one of the year. We know there will be more.
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© 2021 by Susan Robishaw and Stephen Schmeck
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Have you read "Frost Dancing - Tips from a Northern Gardener"? A fun short read.
or "Homesteading Adventures" Creating our backwoods homestead--the first 20 years.
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A journey you can use in your own garden.