50K fastpack on the North Country Trail

It was Labor day weekend with 4 days off work and I wanted to get in a great workout with my adventure.    The problem is I wasn’t sure exactly what I wanted my adventure to be.      As always, I juggle 3, 4 or even 5 ideas in my head as to what and where I’ll go and how many miles I’ll travel.  It’s not uncommon I end up doing none of the above and find myself at some uncharted destination .  More times than not, I figure it out as I’m driving out of my neighborhood.    You’ve been there right?   Ok maybe it’s just me, I have been accused of being a little ADD, either way  that was the case this past weekend.  

Submersing myself into this for the day….it doesn’t get any better!!

As I’ve talked about in past posts, I want to do a 50 mile or even a 100 mile race and I also want to get into some fastpacking.   Why not combine the two?   My original plan was to run from Grand Rapids, MI to St. Joseph Michigan with a light pack.   The total distance is around 78 miles.   No problem, in my mind I’ve run that distance several times plus I’ll have my sleeping bag with me if I break it up into two days.    After thinking about it though, running all that distance on flat open roads through the country was starting to bore me.   I could run the beach but it’s not a level surface and I’d have one leg shorter than the other by the time I finished.    I’ll just head out and figure it out as I go.    By time I got out the door with all my gear and water and supplements, it was close to 8:30 in the morning and starting to get warm.      It would be a good day to be in the shade of  the woods.   I decided that I’d run on the North Country Trail.   I headed north!

The route that I picked would be 17 miles out and 17 back for a total of 34 miles with a turnaround point at Nichols Lake campground.   I could take a quick swim before heading back.    If I wasn’t feeling it,, I could always turn around sooner for a shorter run.   My starting point is at the M20 parking lot just north of White Cloud MI.    I took the back roads and arrived at my destination in 50 minutes with only one stop to check out a county park I’ve never been to.    I packed as though I was doing an over-nighter mostly for practice carrying a full pack for that distance.   I did a double-check to make sure I had everything and headed out on the trail.

My pack weighed around 25 lbs or more so my plan was to run some walk some and always moving forward.   If I took a water or food stop, I’d allow myself only a couple of minutes.   My goal was to finish within 10 hours which is not fast at all.    As I started out, I became immersed in the peacefulness and beauty of the woods.   At first, I walked to get the muscles warmed up and to enjoy my surroundings but soon fell into a slow running pace.    My pack is certainly not the most expensive, in fact I only paid $12 at TJ Max but it is comfortable and fits well.   I always tell people that good high-tech gear can make an adventure more enjoyable but you certainly don’t need the best gear to get started.    

Trail winding through pine forest!

It was quiet on the trail Saturday, I didn’t see anyone till mile 5 at which point I came across a woman in her 60’s give or take a few years, who was walking in the opposite direction.    As I passed her, I nodded followed by “it’s a beautiful day on the trail isn’t it”.     She smiled  and responded with excitement, “everyday is a beautiful day on the trail and this one is exceptional”.     After we passed and for the next couple miles, I kept thinking about what she said and the peace and joy that showed through her smile.    It made me contemplate what’s really important in life and for the moment it was just what I was doing.   I started off down the trail at a steady pace.

I was making good time on the trail with my system of running for a period of time and then walking at a fast pace.     I was approaching the halfway point when I decided to grab some food and drink from my pack and a quick 2 minute break.   I was at an intersection of the trail and a quiet dirt road.   Just as I was starting off again I stopped to let a van pass by.     I  was a little surprised to see any vehicles at this point in the middle of nowhere in the Manistee national forest but stepped back off the road a bit.    When the driver of the van saw me, he slowed down and stopped in front of me and rolled down the window.   “Hey there how’s it going?” he asked.   I nodded and said hello and we  began to converse.    As we were talking, I noticed that the inside of his van was packed full of stuff.     I thought he must be one of those mobile hoarders or something by the looks of his van.   He was friendly enough and anxious to share his story.

I didn’t want to be rude but I also didn’t want to stop for too long and lose my momentum.      The man commenced to tell me his life story.    I won’t elaborate on all the details but basically he was a very well-educated man who struggled from a drinking problem most of his adult life.   He told me he had 3 masters degrees and a PhD in geology.    He WAS very well spoken so it sounded good to me.   After failing at a career in teaching and a marriage, he decided to sober up and hit the road for a cross-country adventure.   He came up from Key West and would drive for 50 miles park, then bike the section he just drove.   He lived in his van and his ex-wife took care of paying on his one credit card he used for his expenses.    He was a nice guy but it was time to interrupt and be on my way.   I butted in and said I had to go.

Digging in for the home stretch!!

I don’t know what it is but I could be in the most remote corner of the world and I’d run into some lonely soul that needed someone to talk to.    It’s the people person in me that gives the perception that I really am interested.   Don’t get me wrong I love people and I’m interested but today I had to keep moving.     I did have regard for the guy if he really did quit drinking and for his decision to start a new sober adventure.    Surely my encounters today added to my own adventure!!

Ok I’m halfway done and not feeling too bad.   I started focusing on the next 17 miles back to the car.   I started my run then walk strategy, breaking it down section by section.   I was feeling pretty good till I hit mile 25 or so and then I started to hit a wall.   I had about 9 miles to go so I decided I’d walk for a few miles to give my legs a break.    I enjoy walking sometimes but this day I wasn’t getting anywhere at a walking pace.   I needed to start running again or I’d be out on the trail into the dark.   I put on the headphones of my mp3 and started rocking out with some black-eyed peas.    I was hurting pretty bad at this point but I kept thinking of what one of my dive instructors from the Navy used to tell us on our long workouts.   He’d always remind us that the body will follow what the mind tells it.   If you have a weak mind and say you can’t go on and you’re too tired the body will follow.  If you have a strong mind and say you can go on the body will come through and with the two in sync you can accomplish some incredible things.    Compared to what goals I want to achieve I figured this 34 mile trek was nothing and believe it or not I started to pick up the pace and I finished up pretty strong.

I finished my 34 mile adventure in 7 hours 34 minutes not too shabby considering I was carrying a 25 lb pack.   I was happy with this days adventure and happy it was over.    What was your adventure over the Labor Day weekend?


Categories: North Country Trail, Uncategorized | 2 Comments

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2 thoughts on “50K fastpack on the North Country Trail

  1. Exactly, what comprises the 25 pounds that you pack?

    Do you dry your own food for your runs? Do you have certain places that you pick up “specialty” items to take with you?

    What’s on your playlist, beside Black Eyed Peas? I find it interesting to know what gets people “going” and getting ideas for myself – then there are some songs that would motivate me to move in the opposite direction if I hear it playing!

    • I typically don’t dry my own foods but I have done it before and it’s a great way to save some money. My nutrition is not too complicated I like some fresh fruit, something salty and my favorite PB&J on a tortilla. I also mix up a bottle of HEED and PERPETUUM from Hammer Products.
      My pack contained the following Items:
      Sleeping bag
      Sleeping Pad
      Water – Approximately 100 fluid Ounces
      Tarp to sleep under
      Some of my gear is not the lightest, for this trip I wanted to train with a slightly heavier load. I will be posting soon on optimum packing techniques and gear for light packing.
      My music is not the best because I normally don’t run or hike with music. I had black eyed pees, gorillaz, and eminem. I’m always looking for suggestings on downloads.

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