This week and next I will be writing to you about a backpacking trip that I just came home from on a 62-mile section of the North Country Trail. This adventure was a personal challenge to myself that I actually told very few people about before I left home as I was not sure that I could make it. Back in the 1990s, I round-trip hiked this section twice in the winter and twice in the summer.
Wednesday, June 30 High 78, low 52
Michelle Chiaro dropped me off near Iron River, Wis., this afternoon and my 65-pound pack and I would have to make it to Mellen over the next five days before I could be picked up. Most of this hike takes place in the Chequamegon National Forest and my human interaction would be very limited.
From 2:00 this afternoon until 7 p.m., I put nine miles behind me and made camp near Tower Lake in the Rainbow Wilderness Area. By the time I built camp, I had removed over 100 wood ticks from my body and had many mosquito bites. Both of these insects would normally be a problem, but today was the worst.
I do not have my golden retriever Ruby along, as she is in her fifth week of pregnancy, and I knew the bugs and sometimes lack of water could be a problem for a pregnant dog.
One of the first things I did after building a smoke fire to get rid of the skeets was filter two quarts of water. I have a hand pump water filter and have to admit I really screwed up in this area. I ordered one online and it was a bad purchase. At the last minute, I borrowed one from my neighbor and it literally took 25 minutes of focused effort to filter two quarts. Water would be an issue the entire trip.
Thursday, July 1 High 82, low 56
Today was a great day! My daughter Selina bought me a new internal frame backpack and it is incredible. I had been using the same external frame pack since my Appalachian Trail hike back in 1991 and it is beyond shot. Until today, I had concerns about whether or not I could handle this type of physical punishment. But the entire day, I literally felt like I was in my prime as I hiked through the lake country portion of this trip.
In one experience, I was rounding a bend and about to start a hill climb when I looked uphill and there was a roughly 220-pound black bear headed right at me. I have very little fear of bears. We both stopped, it figured I was human and it took off like an NFL running back through the woods.
I ended my day 16 miles from where I started it and made camp in a remote area of Lake Owen. I honestly think I could have done 20.
Friday, July 2 High 88, low 56
When I woke up this morning, I was 60 instead of 59, which is the main reason for this trip. I am still sleeping on the ground, drinking lake water, giving blood to hundreds of insects and most importantly feeling great. I have been doing this job for parts of four decades — 1989 to 2021 — and I think it is part of the reason that I am broke, look like crap and always alone.
All kidding aside, I am addicted to the outdoors, so I created a job that would pay for my addiction.
I believe that due to the fact that I’m so active, I can attempt a journey like this and not even spend five minutes training for it.
It seems strange to not have a dog at my side, but I am good with that decision and by the end, I should have a new pup to write about as I have for 32 years.
I am cooking all of my meals on a campfire and when I sleep on the ground at night, my back feels better than when I sleep in my extremely worn-out bed. When I wake very early each morning, I look at the tops of the trees from inside of my tent and think about things for at least a half hour.
Then it’s time to get up, start a fire, get ate by bugs, break camp, pack my pack and hit the trail!
You could offer me a million bucks, but if I would have to retire, I would not take that deal at 60!
Contact Mark Walters, a freelance journalist, at sunsetoutdoorsmen @gmail.com.