On the Run: North Country Trail Adventures
By Alexis Mercer
I grew up in the north. Not “near north” like now. But the actual north. Where the closest mall or movie theatre was more than an hour away. Instead we had Higgins Lake and the AuSable River in our backyards. How lucky was I?
A friend from college once visited my house in the summer and said “is there anything else but trees up here?” I happily replied not really. What a gift to have nature all around.
When two of my friends from grade school and I decided to plan an adventure somewhere in Michigan and I recommended the North Country Trail, one of them couldn't remember whether she knew of the trail. As we hiked and caught up we laughed that this trail ran the entire length of our state and as kids we did not even know it existed.
These friends, David and Megan, and I grew up together. We all went off to college, traveled, and settled in places other than up north. But those roots have stayed strong. Our appreciation for the beauty of nature never left any of us.
So when David and I talked about getting together while he was in the state visiting his parents (an extended stay thanks to his work having been remote since March), we knew we would go for a run or hike to be able to safely and responsibly visit. The idea of running quickly got set aside because as David said “we want to actually be able to talk, right?” and both of us knew trail running and talking were not going to happen simultaneously.
We decided on a hike and brought Megan into the plans. I had just recently signed up for the 100 Mile Challenge on the North Country Trail, so I was itching to explore new sections of the trail I knew quite well from Newaygo County. We all agreed I could do some research and find a location that would work for us.
Not having been on the NCT anywhere except in our county, I really had no idea what I was looking for. I printed off every map from the entire Manistee National Forest section from the website. (https://northcountrytrail.org/the-trail/explore-the-trail/) How does one choose a section not having a clue what it would entail? But I figured if the trail is anything like what I know from around Newaygo, there isn’t a “bad” section. I kept my fingers crossed.
The portion of the trail that for some reason was calling out to me was west of Cadillac. We could do a through hike from Tippy Dam area to Red Bridge River and it would be about an 8 mile stretch if my map reading skills were up to par.
Being that David and Megan are always up for adventure, they agreed without a second thought. Thankfully the trail did not disappoint. In fact, we kept “oohing” and “aahing” at the amazing scenery.
Beginning by the Tippy Dam trailhead, the trail overlooks the Manistee River. We probably snapped 20 photos of the view before we even took a step on the trail. The air was a frigid 7 degrees but that made for a stunning view of ice crystals glistening in the morning sunshine.
Despite the three of us not having been all together in nearly 20 years, we very quickly fell into step both literally and figuratively. We hiked along, catching up on each others’ lives, admiring the beauty of the world around us and laughing until we had tears pouring out our eyes. We hiked for just over 8 miles and found joy in every step.
The choice of where to end up on that day was completely random. David and Megan were praising my choice of trail sections, but I insisted it was only luck on my behalf. Thinking back, I have come to realize that from what I know of every section in Newaygo County I have walked, and the beauty I saw from that location even farther north, it would be pretty difficult to find a section of the North Country Trail that wasn’t majestic.
We are three kids who grew up in the trees. Perhaps we didn’t fully appreciate how blessed we were to have nature around us in every direction. But we certainly today can appreciate the beauty the trails in our own backyards provide us: a perfect backdrop for old friends to catch up, reminisce, and laugh as if there isn’t a care in the world.
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