Wolverine Hikes

People who know me know that I belong on the Trail. I've thru-hiked the Appalachian Trail (twice),the Pacific Crest Trail and the mighty Continental Divide Trail. I've hiked many of the long trails here in Michigan including being the first to hike both the Ironwood Trail and the Great Lake To Lake Trail. In 2017, I hiked the Israel National Trail and the Golan Heights Trail. I was the first to hike the Baja Divide Trail in Mexico but failed miserably to thru-hike the Bruce Trail in Canada. In 2019, I hiked the TEMBR in Ecuador and now, I'm going to attempt to hike 1,150 miles of the North Country Trail as it runs through my home state of Michigan.

The purpose of this blog is to keep anyone who is interested informed of my progress and to encourage those who are able to support me in these endeavors.

Friday, October 30, 2015

Please and Thank You

Please, if you want to see me finish this hike and you're feeling generous, click on that 'donate' button. I'm sooo close to the finish but I need a little help. Note: If you're not on a desktop, you may have to click on 'View web version' at the bottom of the page to see the 'donate' button. 

Thank you to the following people and organizations for getting me this far:

Pam White has been helping me and sending me re-supply boxes this whole time. I first met Pam when her son, Gary Zaborowski and I were planning our CDT hike and we've been dear friends ever since. 

Roberta McCoy and all my friend's at Ollie's Bargain Outlet for all their help and encouragement. Roberta, especially, has been filling and sending me re-supply boxes and has encouraged me to keep going since I first sought her advice about leaving Ollie's and doing this hike. 

Jason Phelps (Hee Haw) really made this hike happen. He loaned me a TON of his own gear, let me stay at his place (thanks, also, to Pete Kotsimpulos!), gave me a guided tour of Katahdin and hiked with me every chance he got. No way this hike happens without his help. Also, Jason's dad, Donald Phelps and Don's girlfriend, Debra Morse angel'd me, fed me and let me stay at their beautiful lakefront home in Maine. I've been to Jason's work, met many of his friends and family and heard his band (Jerks Of Grass) play several times. It's no wonder he is so well-liked and respected. 

Manuela Petzhold for treating me to a wonderful weekend in New York City and for sending me books, letters, postcards and re-supply boxes full of delicious German chocolate!

My friend of 40 years (no kidding!), Susie Hollyer and her husband, Drew Chinarian. They are the foundation of what I call the Wolverine Lake Crew which includes Marlyss Hollyer who created my website and listens to all my crazy ideas as though I was an actual sane person. Susie, who knows that I am, in fact, not a sane person, has helped me with every hike I've ever done and was always there for me. Especially when I was down. Way down. That's a true friend. 

High school friends George Hughes and Ellen Paynter for their support. George re-supplied me and treated me to a fantastic lunch in Harper's Ferry. I was so glad to see him again. 

Nancy Smith for a delicious breakfast at McDonald's and for sending me re-supply boxes. Nancy was very kind to a stranger and I feel like the world could use more people like her. 

Suzie Kramer (Mother Nature), Sarah Michal (Sunshine Sarah) and Chelsea Gaunt (Surefoot) for the awesome (and healthy!) re-supply box. They even sent some delicious Michigan craft beer!

Dustin and Tiffany Newman for their generous donation and for walking with me in the middle of the night during the Relay For Life when no one else was awake. 

My landlords Candice and Luther Stacy for putting up with me living with them, for taking care of my stuff and for sending an awesome re-supply box. 

Of course, the founding members of Camp Champaign: Martha Rogers and Sandy Lowe. They give me advice, they send me everything from poetry to cold-weather gear and they are always there for me. 

Hilary and Louise Taylor aka Xena The Warrior Princess and her daughter for their generous donation and for inspiring me to keep going (Xena) and to be healthy (Louise). 

Alice Bodnar (Holstein) and Ryan Linn (Guthook) for providing me maps for the whole AT through Guthook's App. Anyone considering a long distance hike needs to download Guthook's App. 

Tom Miedema, Perry Keydel and all my friends at Moosejaw Mountaineering for all the good advice and gear. They support my hikes and my library talks and they are my friends. 

My dear sister, Carol Machak for making her delicious custom spices and sending them to me. They make plain old rice taste fantastic. 

Jeff McWilliams for loaning me his sweet Thermarest mattress that keeps me up off the cold ground. 

Jerry and Becky Patterson for taking me into their home and showing me what real Southern hospitality is all about. 

And, finally...

I'd like to thank all my friends on the Michigan Hiking and Backing FB Page, the Michigan Trails and Greenways Alliance, Stormy Kromer and the Good Shepherd United Methodist Church for all they do. Thank you. 

Saturday, October 24, 2015

The Devil's Backbone

People who know me know that I have two passions in life: long distance hiking and great craft beer. Sometimes, all the stars align and these two essential elements joyously collide. 

As I hike southbound on the Appalachian Trail, I'd been hearing about a place in Virginia - this goes all the way back to Pennsylvania - from beer snobs like myself about a brewpub called The Devil's Backbone. 

I thought about checking it out but beer is just not in the budget on this hike. It's gonna be tight until the end - IF I make it. Also, this place was about six miles off-trail. That's a tough hitch or a long road-walk for me. I was gonna skip it but I am extraordinarily proud of Michigan's craft brew scene and I wanted to compare what Virginia had to offer. I decided to go for it. 

The hitch was, indeed, tough. I had to walk a steep mile down hill to even get to a place that was safe for a car to pull over. A lovely woman in a van finally had mercy on me. She knew right where I wanted to go. "All the hikers stop there." she told me. I was trying not to get my hopes up because you never know what to expect but visions of a cold, hoppy IPA were dancing in my head. 

As we pulled in to the place, I realized that it was much more than just a brewpub - it was a huge compound! It had an outdoor stage, several smaller buildings that sold food and beer and big, open areas for RV parking and camping. It appeared to be a well-planned event center. I later found out they had just had a concert there attended by 8,000 people. 

As soon as I walked into the restaurant part of it, I received a warm welcome. They had a place for me to park my pack and they sat me at a table near an outlet so I could plug in my phone. I felt kinda bad when the server handed me a dinner menu and I told her I would only be having one beer. She was fine with that. 

All of this matters not if the beer is no good and I was NOT disappointed. I ordered an Eight Point IPA - their flagship beer. It hit all the targets dead on: color, aroma, temperature, carbonation and, most importantly, taste. A perfect combination of bitter hops and sweet malt. This beer was worth getting off the trail. 

Then things got even better when my server insisted I try (rather large) samples of both the Schwartz Beer and the Trail Angel Weiss. 

Both very well crafted brews. This place competes with just about anything in Michigan. The hostess welcomed me to camp on the property and told me to come back at 9am the next morning for a 'hiker's special' breakfast. 

That morning I had the pleasure of meeting Steve, the owner. He is both a builder and a hiker and this whole place was his idea. We shared some great conversation about the trails we had hiked. Breakfast was served to me by the chef and was one of the best meals I've had on this trail. 

All that good food for only five dollars! Before I left, Steve made sure to hook me up with some bumper stickers and a new ball cap. 

The whole thing was such a truly positive experience that I was glowing for days after. Sometimes, life is just really good. 

Have you a good experience at a brewpub? Leave me a comment about it below!

Monday, October 19, 2015

Cowboy Camping

I can sleep anywhere. This is a skill I mastered during my six years in the U.S. Army and it has served me well while long distance hiking. In fact, one of the things I really love about life on the trail is that when you pack up in the morning, you never know where you're going to sleep that night. Most likely, it's going to be in your tent alongside of the trail somewhere but you just never know. 

When I can, I like to cowboy camp; that is, to skip the tent and just sleep under the stars. It's a wonderful feeling to lay on your back and drift off to sleep as you watch the moon cross the sky. Plus, it takes far less time to pack up in the morning since you don't have a tent to put away. 

The disadvantage is that the weather could turn on you. You may fall asleep under the stars but you might wake up to fat drops of rain hitting you in the face. Thus begins the mad scramble of trying to get your boots on and quickly set up your tent before you and all your gear get soaked. Or, the wind can pick up. I've drifted off to sleep before in peace and quiet only to wake up with thirty mile-an-hour winds blowing leaves and dust all over me. It would be too much of a headache to try and get the tent set up in wind like that. Instead, I just put my back to the wind and go back to sleep. 

People often ask me if one could hike the entire AT without a tent and it's certainly possible. You'd have to cowboy camp or find a spot in a shelter every night - that's the part that I would hate. Shelters can be crowded and noisy. No thank you. I'd rather stop in at the shelters, water-up and enjoy the commroderie but then go find a quiet spot to camp by myself. 

This is about as late in the year as I can get away with (comfortably) cowboy camping. Soon, I'll need the tent just to hold in some heat. Until then, when possible, I'll shun the shelter and sleep under the stars. 

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Dogs On The Trail

Let me start with the obligatory disclaimers: I like dogs. I have owned dogs. I like to hike with dogs.

Over the years and miles, I have seen hundreds of dogs out on the trail; the vast majority seem happy and friendly. Tails wagging, they usually come over to greet me and receive a quick scratch on the chest. Others just ignore me, perhaps worn out from the rugged terrain and looking forward to doing what they naturally do for about 12 hours a day: sleep. 

The owners, too, are overwhelmingly friendly, usually asking about my hike or wishing me well on my journey. Most have their dogs on a leash as is appropriate and, for those whose dogs are easily excited, they stand to the side of the trail and let me pass without getting jumped on. These are all like-minded people and they prove that a little courtesy goes a long way. 

Unfortunately, these aren't the dogs that people remember. At least, they're not the dogs that I remember. As an example, I was hiking down the trail one day recently, lost in thought but enjoying the day when all of a sudden, a German shepherd comes barreling toward me. Barking, baring teeth, hackles up... He lunged at me before I even knew what was happening. I crossed my trekking poles in front of me to hold him off while his owners eventually came after him. "Fluffy! (or Cupcake or Rover... I can't remember what they called the beast) No!" They were a young couple. By the gear they carried, they looked like they were just out on a day hike. The woman barely had the strength to pull the dog away by the collar while she muttered apologies. The guy just stood back, looking helpless and embarrassed. "What the hell!?" I exclaimed, "That is SO not okay." The woman hauled the dog off to the side and fumbled with a leash while the dog continued to jump and bark - clearly out of control. "You just can't have a dog like that off-leash out here!" I admit, my heart was racing and the adrenaline was flowing, having just been attacked by this dog and wanting an explanation. Finally the guy spoke up "All he did was bark at you." he said, sheepishly. I was blown away. How could this guy say anything except "I'm very sorry, sir. It won't ever happen again." "So someone has to actually get bit before you'll take this seriously? Asshole." I shook my head and remembered that you can't fix stupid. Nothing I said was going to get through to this idiot so I shouldn't waste my time with him. I hiked on. The woman at least, did say she was sorry when she was pulling the dog off me and she seemed to be clearly embarrassed by the whole episode, never once looking me in the eye. 

It's a shame - GSD's are one of the easiest breeds to train. I should know, I owned two of them for years. They want to please. It takes very little time to teach them. This is the very reason I blame the couple and not the dog. If I try to make excuses for them, I could say well, maybe they just got the dog and haven't had time to train it yet. Or maybe it's not their dog - maybe they're just watching it for a friend. For all those reasons and more, they should have had it on a leash. Absolutely no good reason not to. 

Unfortunately, situations like this are part of the reason why dogs will be forbidden on more parts of the trail. They are already not allowed in the Great Smoky Mountains and the White Mountain National Parks, mostly, I think, because they disturb the wildlife and leave poop everywhere. Signs saying "Dogs must be on a leash" just don't work. There were plenty of signs in the vicinity where I was attacked. 

One of the most common questions I get asked about long distance hiking is "What's the most dangerous animal you encounter?" I think people ask this assuming I will answer with a story about a close encounter with a bear but the real answer is dogs. I've now had three or four close encounters and I know two other hikers whose thru-hikes were ended by dog bites. That officially makes them the most dangerous animal on the trail. 

Agree or disagree, please leave a comment below. 

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Finally... Sunshine!

   When I walk beside her
   I am the better man
   When I look to leave her
   I always stagger back again
                      Eddie Vedder

Sunday, October 4th. Middle of the night. I climb out of my tent to pee. I am surprised that it's not actively raining, as it has been for the past six days straight. I yawn and stretch out my arms. I am so sick of being wet. My body and every bit of my gear is, at the very least, damp; most of it downright soaked. Even the air is so saturated with water that I can see the clouds of my breath in the beam of my headlamp. Every time I exhale it looks like I just took a giant pull off a cigarette. As I look to the sky (as I often do when I'm peeing as there is no toilet at which to aim), I think that, just for a second, I can see a star! Could that be possible? The clouds quickly obscure it and a gust of wind blows the cold water off the trees, causing me to shiver and race back to the tent. As I force my wet body back into my wet tent and under my wet sleeping bag, I can't help but think about what I saw. If that really was a star, then maybe the clouds are thinning. I decide it's best not to get my hopes up. 

The morning is shrouded in a thick fog but at least it's not actually raining. I pack up my gear and hit the trail. I'm looking forward to visiting the famous Bear's Den Hostel. I won't be staying there but at least I'll get to warm up for a while. As I climb up and down the hills - they call this thirteen mile section of the trail 'The Rollercoaster' - I start to see faint beams of light breaking through the fog. Could it be? Oh, please let it be...

I see shadows! Finally, I see that great glowing orb trying to break through. It is indeed, at last, the sun. 

Now, I'm not going to admit right here in public that I cried. I am, after all, a big, tough man. But I will say that the sense of relief, of gratitude, of sheer joy was so overwhelming that it may have stirred up my emotions. 

At the top of each hill, the sunlight grew brighter and patches of dark blue sky started to peak through the thick canopy of trees. By the time I got to the hostel, it was a perfect, sunny day. 

The Bear's Den Hostel sits on a beautiful piece of property with big, open lawns and park benches everywhere; perfect to spread out all my gear and let the bright sunshine and gentle breeze do their thing. It felt so good to peel off (almost all of) my clothes and just soak up the rays. 

Another reason to celebrate: I had two packages waiting for me at the hostel. One was a re-supply box from my dear friend (and my bro Gary Zaborowski's mom), Pam White. She has been helping with this whole hike and this box didn't disappoint: She packed all kinds of yummy foods in there and some canister fuel, which I desperately needed (Thanks, Pam!). The other box was from fellow hiker Jeff McWilliams. He loaned me his inflatable mattress to get me up off that cold ground at night. Plus, he threw in some surprise goodies that I really appreciated (Thanks, Jeff!). 

Overall, things are really looking up. Ever since I left Pennsylvania (Hmm... Coincidence?), things are getting better and better. I got to hang out with my old high school buddy, George Hughes, in Harper's Ferry, WV. He treated me to a fantastic lunch and the chance to sit and just catch up on all we'd been doing with our lives. It did my soul good to see him (Thanks, George!). 

In the next few days, I'll be entering the Shenandoah National Park. As I recall, this is some of the best hiking on the whole trail as it offers gentle ups and downs, beautiful vistas and stunning fall colors. I can't wait!

To all who read this: I hope that if you've had a long streak of rain in your life (literally or figuratively) that the sun breaks through and shines upon you. Dry out your gear and hike on!

Thursday, October 1, 2015

A Big Disappointment

Ahh.. The ups and downs of life on the trail. Highs and lows. Achievements and disappointments. You'd think I'd be used to them by now but today really bummed me out. 

I'm not going to get to do the Four State Challenge. It just wasn't going to work out. Mostly due to this damn tropical depression (one news source mentioned Hurricane Joaquin - not sure if it was referring to the same storm). I've been getting pounded by rain for two days now and all my gear is soaked. 

As some of you know, the plan was to camp at Pen-Mar Park right at the PA/MD border (hence, the name) and to start early in the morning. Well, I arrived there today in the (still) pouring rain. There were 'day use only' signs everywhere and no where really to stealth camp (not even for the King!). Half the park was flooded with big puddles. There was a pavilion that I thought about camping under but I had seen notes earlier in a shelter journal that a caretaker routinely visits that pavilion and even busted some hikers for sitting on top of the picnic tables. Ideally, I would have found a dry, quiet place to camp, got a good night's sleep and got up at 4am for a 5am start time. None of that was going to happen. Plus, in this kind of rain, you can't even take out your map or your phone to make sure you're headed the right way. That also means no pics or videos to document the experience, either. Standing in the rain, soaking wet, staring at the sign for the Mason-Dixon Line, I had to make a decision. "Maybe some other time." I told myself. "This is just not the year to make this happen."  

I put my head down and kept hiking, feeling the sting of not just trying and failing, but not having tried at all. I almost turned around a dozen times but I knew that the same obstacles would still be there. I did get a break from the rain this evening and a chance to set up my tent here on the banks of Litttle Antietam Creek. 

Trying to look for the positives, at least I'll be able to spend some time in Harper's Ferry, WV, one of my very favorite trail towns. The Four State Challenge had me blasting right through there, probably at night. I'll remind myself to see the beauty in all kinds of weather - even the rain - and that these are the kinds of experiences that I'll remember most. 

I give thanks to everyone who wished me good luck on the challenge. Especially those of you who have been sending me care packages and good will. I'm going to continue to hike south, knowing that this rain has got to eventually give way to sunny skies. I'll dry out my boots and all my gear and smile at how much lighter it feels. I'll take the good with the bad and remember that if I'm lucky enough to be on the trail, then I'm lucky enough.