Sunday, February 1, 2015

Death march of '78

Long ago (and oh so far away) I lived and hung out with a extended bunch of guy friends. We combined in many forms, sometimes as roommates, fellow partiers, and fellow adventurers. For being city dwellers we really spent quite a bit of time outdoors and participating in everything from sailing and water skiing to hiking and backpacking. We also played in a recreational volleyball league and even softball in a class A city league.

We were  all in our mid to late twenties, had various professional type jobs, rented a nice lower unit of a triplex next to Lake Calhoun in Minneapolis, and nothing to tie us down. Many of our adventures were spur of the moment and there was always enough of us available to just go and do it.

Thus it came to be one Saturday morning that we were all awake at a reasonable hour we hatched an idea over breakfast. We decided to drive up to the Porcupine Mountains of Michigan and do some hiking and an overnight camp out. We didn't need much for an overnighter so it only took us minutes to pack and load up in whatever vehicle would haul all of us.

About five hours later, there we were!

It was a beautiful day and we were anxious to get on the trails for some serious hiking. We went into the ranger station adjacent to the campground. We talked to the ranger who was about our age and asked him about the various hiking loops we could take. It was about 1:30 in the afternoon, so we had about seven hours of daylight with a lingering summer twilight. He pointed out loops that were ten miles and fifteen miles and suggested those. They looked easily doable in the time allotted. Then one of the more competitive of our group asked him which one he would do. He pointed to a longer loop and said, "this one." It was about twenty five miles through the woods and then up the lake shore before turning back to the campground. "It might be a little long for you guys, though."
Uh oh.
One of our competitive guys said, Can you do it?" "Yes." "Then we can do it."

 We took the green loop. the camping area is off the map to the east.

I had hoped that some of the testosterone of our earlier years had worn off and that we were able to think more with our upper brain. After being cooped up in the car for hours we had energy to burn off, though. And we were still too young to always think clearly.

We knew it would be tight to do before dark as we had never been on these trails. They looked fairly easy to see and easy to walk on.

We were doing fine until we hit the stretch going along the lake. About halfway along that nearly ten mile stretch we were starting to show signs of fatigue. There was a lot of loose rock and the walking became more difficult as we tried to keep a pace that would get us back to camp before dark. It was another ten miles, though, and there wasn't much happy chatter going on. Our group started to spread out a bit. We stopped to check out some blisters that had formed on our feet, but didn't have the luxury of time to do much about them. Just grit our teeth and go.

It was pretty dark for the last couple of miles, but the trail was still easy to follow, thank goodness and we finally made it back to camp. When we stopped, we flopped. The shoes came off, the legs were massaged and there  was much moaning and groaning. We did more crawling than walking around the campsite and ate the most expedient food as exhaustion would allow. Not much was said and everyone fell asleep on the cold hard ground very quickly.

The next morning was greeted with more moaning and groaning as we took stock of our injuries in the daylight. Rather than describe the various aches, pains, and lesions, let's just say it wasn't pretty.

The trip home was quiet as whoever didn't have to drive just slept.

I survived with just a few blisters and aches. Two of our team needed to see a doctor and one of those needed minor knee surgery from aggravating an old injury. We didn't speak much of that weekend for a few months, but eventually we started laughing about it. When someone would tell us of something fun he thought he could try, the response was, "If you can do it, we can do it!" punctuated by laughter and another beer. Eventually, most of us (not all of us) settled down with women that would help us keep from hurting ourselves and we lived happily ever after. 

Addendum: These are all stock photos.
Every time I look across the Big Lake, some 70 miles, on a very clear day I can see the Porkies. It is similar to this side, but the rocks are a little different. Here is a shot of the Slit Rock Lighthouse I got on the way home from Duluth about a week and a half ago. Click to embiggen.


  1. What an adventure. Painful, but these are the kinds of days you never forget, huh, Jono?

  2. Sounds like a tamer version of DELIVERANCE but without the hillbillies

  3. In a way, I miss those carefree days of early adulthood.

    Nowadays, it seems like it takes at least three loads of laundry just to get ready for a trip...not to talk about mowing the lawn first, lining everything up, making reservations...


  4. It reminds me of some adventures I thought I was fit enough and young enough to do...much to my later dismay.

    By the way, your second photo is gorgeousgorgeourgorgeous. It should be on notecards.

  5. Dawn, Now that my OTHER knee needs replacing it's hard to forget! :0

    John, One of the guys in this group actually could play banjo. Now that tune is stuck in my head.

    PP, Ain't that the truth. It seems almost that difficult just to be able to go to work in the morning!

    Sioux, I remember doing a fifty mile hike in my Boy Scout days. JFK had made it all the rage back then. I could always depend on my legs to get me out of trouble until a couple of years ago. It was a true feeling of freedom.

  6. So your club consisted of those guys who smirked when their mothers asked, "If they jumped over a cliff. . . "

    Good that you were finally able to talk about it, and great that you shared the story here.

  7. I think that ranger knew exactly what he was doing. : ) But I do love these life lessons that we all somehow survive(d).

    Spectacular photos!

  8. On the bright side, at least you got a cool story out of it? One you remember for the rest of your lives? I mean, it sure beats "and then we took a leisurely 10 mile hike and were well rested in the morning. The end."

  9. vanilla, we were definitely that type of lunatic. Survival stories from teens and twenties are usually pretty good.

    George, I am sure the ranger kept an eye on us so he would have a funny story to tell his friends.

    ABFTS, Yeah, you guys remember how it was in your twenties, dontcha?

  10. Painful! But a great memory. It sounds like the first time you guys felt the shadow of aging.

  11. Gah - you know it's a serious event when it takes awhile to find the humour in it.

    I was thinking this was going to be a story about getting lost in the woods at night, never a happy topic - glad to hear you made it out, even though worse for the wear.

  12. It’s always a case of ‘mine’s at least as big as yours and probably bigger’ when you’re young. But eventually we all learn.

    25 miles, that’s a biggie. Do you think you could still do it? Or maybe half as much?

  13. Donna,we were all around 27 or 28 years old. Denial would serve us well for at least another twenty years.

    jenny-o, we knew where we were, but we wanted to be somewhere else. Telling us we were lost would have been a greater challenge yet!

    Friko, for most men "eventually" is a very long time! After I get this other knee replaced next month I may be able to work up to half as much. It is all about time and the strength (or weakness) of will.

  14. sigh** men and your balls, and I'm not talking about the deflated ones..

  15. Ouch. I have done similarly stupid things. You had a beautiful environment for your act of bravado though.

  16. JACKIESUE, yeah, the damn things cause so much trouble when we're young. Testosterone has helped keep our species alive and nearly wiped it out. Using our upper brain more would help.

    Elephant's Child, at least we would have died in a nice environment!

  17. Sounds like a painful memory but a great one indeed...

  18. Ha! I punctuated this entire post with exclamations of "Uh-oh", followed by uproarious laughter. Twenty-five miles? Pshaw! You laughed in the face of danger!

    But it's the "oops" moments that make the best stories afterward. If you survive...

  19. It's a good thing we're young, stupid and invincible when we're young, stupid and invincible. Because the older body isn't any of the three. But it looks like a gorgeous area, and you survived. So bravo!

  20. OE, Painful at the time, fairly hilarious a few years later!

    Diane, Yes, survival is key to any good story. I have had more than my share of "oops", "uh-ohs", "oh nos!", and "oh shits" to last the rest of my lifetime.

    Rawknrobyn, young, stupid, and invincible, was my middle name until I survived into my forties or thereabout. Then I changed it to "I'm too young to die."

  21. Ah, yes, so I'm not the only one with young and stupid adventures to write about!

  22. I have spent much time back packing in the Iron and the Porcupine Mts in the UP...The last time, I was around 26 and I convinced a friend to hitchhike from Toledo with me. I had a vague idea of where I was going. We had backpacks and a weeks supply of food...We didn't get up to where I wanted to go until about 2 am in the morning...the last leg of the hitch hiking was being picked up by 2 brand new yellow blue bird school busses that the drivers were taking to Canada the hard way to avoid customs duties...and they needed someone to drive while they tried to we drove the buses and then got out in the middle of nowhere and camped for the night. The next morning, we realized we had arrived at the hight of Bear hunting season. We met a lot of bear hunters, but no one had seen any bears, until we decided to camp on the third night out. I was taking a bath in the river and my friend came down and said, I think a ber is eating our back packs....he was...a black bear the side of a honda civic. I retrieved my clothes as the sunset, we retreated to the other side of the creek and built the biggest fire we could and listened to our packs being destroyed. It was very late when the bear finally came down to the creek, looked at us and belched...I think it was the instant pancake mix beginning to react....after a while, he lumbered off down the creek. I tried to salvage what was left and we didn't really sleep much that night. There was actually some food left, an odd assortment of dried soups, grains, japanese dried shrimp, coffee and thank god, both flasks of rum I had included for "medicinal use"......It took us 2 days to get back to anything like a camping area, where we met more hunters who claimed they hadn't seen one bear....I learned a lesson...after that, when ever I went hiking in Bear country, I keep a jar of mothballs in netting which I hang up and I bought a can of gun oil....which I anoint my gear with...never fail bear repellents!

  23. SLM, Your adventures in France have made for some fun reading!

    microdot,here campers are supposed to hang their food packs in trees, but they have to do it in such a way that the bears can't get it down. The process has made for some very clever bears and very hungry campers.

  24. Yeah, we were gonna hang the packs, but the bear got to them first. We actually met two other back packers on our forced march after the bear incident...they were walking on the trail and heard something in back of them and it was a bear who was following them...the faster they walked, the faster the bear walked...finally, they had to throw down their packs and climb a tree while the bear ate everything....Bears are very smart and they know that hunters are dangerous and smell like gun oil and should be avoided at all costs...back packers on the other hand smell like a pick-a-nik basket to quote Yogi who really wasn't that mush smarter than your average bear.....

  25. Goodness! 25 miles that’s 40 kms! That’s a real long walk. I can understand why you vividly remember it.