This morning was a catastrophe. Our goal to put in a lot of miles stalled out before we had even made one. Shortly after crossing Gardner road, we were met with a sign telling us another trail diversion was coming, “No Ford East Ontonagon River.” Much like the beaver pond diversion, there were orange markers that we dutifully followed as long as we could see them.
After the orange markers stopped appearing is where we ran into trouble. While there were no orange markers, there were still the normal blue markers heading towards the Ontonagon river. We knew that were not supposed to cross it, but there were no other trail markers. The trail was rough, as if no one has really gone down it in a while (our first sign of shit gone sideways). We bushwhacked our way down to the river and sure enough, way too deep and fast to cross. We then headed back up to the last orange marker, looked around, saw nothing new and went back down the gnarly trail.
Going in the wrong direction once and turning around is humbling, doing it twice is an act of contrition. If the big guy up above is keeping score, I’ve got a pretty big sin coming my way for freesies.
Fuck it. The best option from this point was to head back to where we started and road walk north to a bridge that crossed the East Ontonagon. On our way down the road, we found a sign clearly pointing westbound hikers in the proper trail direction. Feels like this section of the trail tends to hate on us eastbound folk. It was after 11 and we had only gone about 1.5 trail miles.
On the bright side.. Brianna and I are gaining experience and comfort in off trail navigation. Experience builds confidence, confidence equals success (paraphrasing Andy in Life Below Zero TV show).
The rest of our day was basically a full on sprint. The trail gods provided us with well maintained paths, even some wooden boards with chain link slip guards over some swampy areas. Brianna’s pace was on fire, hit 3.2 miles in about 50 minutes at one point. Brianna and her eagle eyes generally lead. She can spot the blue blazes better than I can and not having to look for blue blazes allows me to focus on not kicking roots and rocks, as I so often do.
NCT trail put us through some funny riddle challenges this afternoon that are too funny not to mention. Trees that were down in the middle of an uphill climbing trail – do you go around at your own peril or climb the tree branches as if it were still alive? My favorite was the floating bridge. Brianna and I were walking through knee deep swamp when there was suddenly a foot or two drop off. In the middle of the drop of was a single floating board, seemly useless and out of place. We stood in the knee deep water for a moment pondering the reality of getting our entire bodies wet when it hit me. Step on the board, sink it to the bottom, walk over the board. It worked! Penalty for getting that wrong is steep… get it?
The goal was to make it past mile 141 and we finally camped at 142.5. We totaled 16 trail miles, probably around 20 with the morning snafu. Our camp spot is under some pines on uneven ground. A good parallel for the day as a whole, not ideal, but it’ll do. Time for dinner and hot cocoa.