A solo winter’s day hike on the NCT

An unexpected day off and a decent weather forecast: Where should I go hiking? I decided to fill in a gap in my NCT progress through Emmet County, along a stretch that contained enough road walk that I didn’t want to do it when there would be a lot of traffic. A Monday morning seemed perfect.

My first troubles arose when I arrived at the Petoskey Youth Soccer Area on Click Road. The parking lot was a swampy, slushy mess and I wasn’t sure if I parked there I’d get my car back out. I parked on the shoulder, investigated on foot, and decided to risk it.

Next, I needed to make up a little stretch of trail that ran in the opposite direction from where I would be hiking today. I hiked the road down to where the trail turned into the woods, where my nephew and I had left off this summer when he declared himself “half tired.” I felt a little silly hiking back toward my car, wondering if the home owners along the road thought I was lost or crazy. Turns out, I was one of the two, or possibly both. I began to try to figure out where the road walk ended and the trail re-entered some sort of wilderness. I noticed that I had overshot my return hike, but couldn’t see a trail marker where it was indicated on the Avenza map. After a few minutes, I realized I was looking at the wrong side of the road! It hadn’t occurred to me that the trail would do a U-turn after that bit of road walk and re-enter on the same side of the road (although if I’d been paying close attention to the map, I would have seen this!). There was the trail sign, right in front of the soccer fields!

My Avenza map indicated swamp behind the soccer fields, and the trail did indeed pass through some wet areas–I was glad it was somewhat frozen, and that I had waterproof boots on, but I was still a bit nervous about wet feet as I made my way through. The trail then skirted some huge piles of sand, and the border of a farmer’s field. The snow was just solid enough to hold my weight for a hair of a second before dropping me through six inches or so. I immediately began to wonder if my 7 mile round trip hike was a bit too ambitious.

I arrived at another road walk on Cedar View Road and found it to be hilly, but a relatively pleasant walk–farmers’ fields, scenic barns, and a lot easier than the frozen swamp and post-holing. Then, the trail turned right onto Shanley Road, a seasonal road (not maintained by the county during the winter months) for the next mile or so. I had driven by this road before, but it had looked pretty ominous for anything other than 4-wheel drive with a lot of clearance, so I had never been down it–I had only heard stories of how miserable its hills and loose sand were for hiking. It hadn’t occurred to me how much snow could pile up by March on a road that is not plowed or driven on at all. Lucky for me, some snowmobilers had packed it down a bit, otherwise I think I would have had to end the hike there. Instead, I was treated to views of rolling hills, sumac, forests, and lots of birdsong. The hills were a good workout, and nothing more, although I could appreciate how miserable this might have been in the summer on a hot day! 

Shanley Road ended at Brewbaker Road, another paved road, although snow-covered, and I began the final stretch towards my turn around destination. As I headed down the hill, I caught a glimpse of John and Dove Day’s barn with the NCT logo, which was an encouraging sight! 

As I continued along, I noticed tracks in the snow from a runner whose stride was almost twice as long as my steps were. It made me wonder if there was a tall spindly giant out for a run! When I finally reached the point where the trail re-entered the woods, an area I’d hiked previously, I saw that the tracks entered the woods, sinking into snow a good foot deep! That would be one heck of a trail run! I texted my husband to let him know I’d made it to my turn around point, and began the walk back. As I headed back up the hill where Shanley Road began, I heard footfalls behind me and turned to see the runner gaining ground on me. He was not a giant, as it turned out, but he covered ground in a most impressive fashion, quickly making the hill and heading on his own way. I got to the top of the hill eventually, and turned onto Shanley, kind of dreading deeper snow, but deciding to think about it as “training” for upcoming hikes. As it turned out, I didn’t need the pep talk–it seemed almost easy as I followed my footprints back along the snowmobiler’s trail

It is mind-boggling to me how much quicker the return is on an out-an-back hike–maybe it’s because I’m not stopping to check navigation, or to take pictures, but it always seems noticeably shorter, and today was an extreme example of that. It seemed like the miles were over in no time, and I could see my car at the far end of the parking lot. Strangely, I could also see a state policeman in an SUV at the entrance to the parking area, and I wondered if I was in trouble for parking there. He remained as I completed the last quarter mile or so back to my car, seeming completely uninterested in me, moving out of the entrance area so that I could leave without any sort of communication. 

This was the first time in a while that I have hiked more than a couple miles by myself, and I had forgotten how much I like being alone. While I love hiking with friends and family, there is also something really lovely about the silence and lack of expectations when you go by yourself. I don’t think deep thoughts while I’m hiking; I’m just concentrating on putting one foot in front of the other, staying on the trail, and not falling. It’s nice to be so busy contemplating those things that I can’t really think about too much else, other than to stop and admire the things that catch my eye as I travel forth.

Published by lovesmichiganoutdoors

Hiking, backpacking, kayaking, stand-up-paddle boarding, sailing... exploring Michigan is my passion! Instagram: @jenren_hikes

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