A Fastpacking “dnf” and the best Bacon Blue Cheese Burger Ever

Holiday weekends are a great time for fastpacking. The fun thing about fastpacking is that you can fit a rather long backpacking trip into a few days.

My plan for this Fourth of July weekend was to do 120 miles on foot over two days, Friday and Saturday, and then come home and spend Sunday with my family. It was an ambitious goal. I was planning to leave my car and a tent at Timber Creek campground, where the North Country Trail crosses US-10. That would be the start and finish of an out-and-back trek up to “Little Mac”. “Little Mac” is a foot suspension bridge that crosses the Manistee River connecting the scenic Manistee River Trail with the North Country Trail, so one can hike the North Country Trail on one side of the river and loop back via the Manistee River Trail on the other side. So my plan was to do the loop around both sides of the river and then come back to Timber Creek the same way. I figured I would camp out and get a few hours of sleep somewhere on the Manistee River Trail.

I headed out on the trail Friday morning feeling strong. I soon got a call from my friend Andrew Jablonski, who wanted to join me for part of my trek. I was happy that I would have company for part of the day, so we made arrangements to meet later and run/hike some miles together. My first 30 miles or so went well. I find I can usually run about 30 miles with no trouble, but beyond that, I start to have some ups and downs.

Andrew found me just before I entered the Udell Hills. In that area the North Country Trail crosses the Big M Trail, which is the course for the North Country Run, so it’s familiar territory. In that section I started to feel the effect of the miles and the afternoon heat. I lost some of my appetite, and the food I had with me no longer appealed to me, so I didn’t eat much. I began to loose my energy and motivation, and for the first time I questioned whether I would run the full distance. Andrew was supportive of whatever I decided to do.

We continued North of Udell on a section that was more road than trail, and we did more walking than running. After the road section we got back on trail, and the scenery got better, but the mosquitos started to annoy me. Usually bugs are a minor annoyance, but combined with heat, humidity, and exhaustion, they get to be a major annoyance. At some point I lost my desire to complete that 120 mile route I had planned. We eventually arrived at High Bridge, a major road bridge over the Manistee River. We found that under the bridge it was cool and breezy, there were almost no mosquitos, and the water was refreshing. I enjoyed an extended break there under the bridge.

The break under the bridge seemed to help, and as we continued up the trail I still felt tired but eventually began to catch a second wind. I started eating again, and I enjoyed the views of the Manistee River. While I felt somewhat better I still didn’t feel up to going 60 miles that day. By that time I had decided to go as far as Andrew wanted to go and camp for the night. We picked a grassy spot along the river to set up camp, and went to sleep early.

It was a cool night for Jul, and I wasn’t prepared for temperatures in the forties. I woke up a few times feeling chilly, but I was tired enough that I kept going back to sleep.

We got up, took our time eating breakfast and packing up before we got back on the trail. I felt somewhat refreshed, but still drained from the day before. We ran some but mostly hiked. Along the way we talked a lot and picked wild raspberries and blueberries. By that time I had no intention of going longer than I had to, and I was looking forward to getting cleaned up and going out for lunch. I was craving a big juicy burger and a cold beer.

We finally reached Andrew’s van, recovered for a few moments, drove to my campsite, got cleaned up, and went to Baldwin to find a place to eat. Baldwin is an somewhat economically depressed town, so we didn’t know what we would find. We ended up at the “Barski”, a basic Northern Michigan bar and grill in a very plain building adorned with Coors and Bud Lite banners. We really didn’t know what to expect, but we went in and sat down. I was surprised by the variety of food on the menu and even more surprised by the selection of craft beers. I had four or five IPAs to choose from and found they had blue cheese available under the “build your own burger” option. I ordered a Centennial IPA and a bacon blue cheese burger with lettuce and tomato on a Kaiser roll. I’m a big fan of the bacon clue cheese burger at the Cottage Bar in Grand Rapids, but this turned out to be the best bacon blue cheese burger ever! Combined with the IPA, it was exactly what I had been craving! Maybe it wasn’t better than what I’ve had at the Cottage, but it surely seemed so at the time. I’ve never gotten so much enjoyment from a hamburger. I’ll go back to the Barski next time I’m near Baldwin and craving a juicy burger and a cold beer.

I relaxed the rest of the day, camped another night, drove home in the morning, and spent Sunday with my family as planned.

I now look at this trip as a training run for my next big fastpacking trip, which I’m planning for Labor Day weekend.

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