Monday, July 21, 2014

Up North

This is Whippoorwill Hill, a dispersed campsite in the Huron Manistee National Forest. It's easy enough to find, so I won't give any directions. We've spent some awesome nights here listening to the coyotes and whippoorwills. This time, we brought Hazzard, our adopted rescue german shepherd, and Supai, our Aussie, and they kept careful watch.
The mosquitoes weren't godawful, but certainly present, so we took the precautions of wearing long pants and light long sleeve shirts during the morning and evening since we're really not into bug spray.
The weather was on the cool side for July: 70s during the day and into the lower 50s at night, which made for good sleeping but not ideal beach weather.

Karen and I quickly got into the groove. My first ride was what I call the Manistee Loop but which I later found the locals to call the Federal Park loop. While I was exploring some forest service roads that led to Hamlin Lake, I had a startling experience: standing next to a pine tree, I heard something thump onto the ground. It was a squirrel that I thought had fallen, but then I noticed that its head was missing! Probably an owl or hawk, hopefully a bald eagle, tho I doubt it.
I suspected that Scott Quiring, the owner of Quiring Bikes,  had some secret trails near his property on Hamlin Lake, but I couldn't find them. I had to settle for one of my favorite scenes of anywhere I've ever mountain biked ^

Karen took the dogs running while I biked, and of course, just before the above pic was taken, we crossed paths in the woods like we've done so many times. I take it for granted now although I don't know how to explain it it.

We met a strange soul that night at sunset, a man we called "Boogerman" partly after Rodriguez's "Sugarman", partly because he haunted our forest service road in the middle of the night with outbursts of his awful attempts at singing "Sweet Caroline" and Metallica, startling us and the dogs, but mostly because of the booger hanging from his nose which probably explains why his wife left him to go to Traverse City without a car for the entire week. It got kinda bad as the week went on, but we've dealt with similar assholes in the past when we've camped and we had a 110 lb German Shepherd so we never really felt threatened, even when he walked into our campsite around 10 o'clock one night unannounced to thank us for getting him a bag of ice. The dogs naturally went apeshit; he didn't seem to understand the impending threat to his scrotum; I told him he'd better leave because the dogs were cranked up; and fortuitously he did. A mixture of dumbassedness, loneliness, and probably a little craziness - par for the course sometimes when you camp dispersedly.

Big M is one of my all time favorite places to ride: loops, stacked loops, flat, flowy track through peaceful stands of pine trees, grindy climbs that end just soon enough, rambunctious downhills that make me laugh out loud every time, and trail maps at every intersection. It's a banquet.
And for all the times I've ridden there, I never found this overlook at the top of Capper's Corner. Reminded me of Rattlesnake Hill on the High Country Pathway.

One day, Karen took the dogs on a walk in the fern meadow behind Whip Hill. I was engrossed in "Buffalo for the Broken Heart", a memoir about an attempt to bring buffalo back to the Black Hills. Karen and i had just returned from a vacation the the Black Hills and Badlands and fell in love with the southern Black Hills. A good book, and I devoured it. She had a present for me when she returned: a handful of blueberries and huckleberries. It was clearly time to go huckleberry picking. We spent the afternoon sitting among huckleberry bushes and having the time of our lives.

Supai is becoming an old veteran of Whip Hill. We missed our Z Boy, tho, and we spent many moments pausing in silence and remembering.

Hazzy and Supai helped with our grieving.

Hazzy has a wild spirit and we love him for who he is.
One of the most beautiful paces in the world.

An average, awesome, spectacular sunset.

A view of the impending "supermoon" from our campsite.

Fresh Michigan strawberries that we were lucky enough to find in a farmer's market in Manistee.

We strapped Ertie and Artie, our rubber duck mascots, to the kayaks and made our second voyage of the week. Our first, a trip down the Big Sauble River to Hamlin Lake, has become a favorite. Last year, we did the "advanced" section of the Little Manistee from 9 mile bridge to 6 mile bridge and it was just too narrow and fast moving to enjoy it, so we put in at the weir/fish hatchery this time and were immediately blessed with a siting of a bald eagle whose nest is just down river
It turned out to be one of the best river experiences we've ever had. We were floating time out of mind on a clear "up north" trout river without a care in the world. Later, the biggest friggin' wild bird I've ever seen flew across the river in front of us. He must have been the granddaddy bald eagle and we spotted him perched high above the river in a pine tree.

Karen jumped into rescue mode when she saw a couple of seedling white pines eeking out an existence on an abandoned dock.
Life might have somehow gotten better, but I'm not sure how.
To be continued

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Lake Michigan Rec

One of my all time favorite places to ride^

Whip-poor-will Hill, our home for a few days. 

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Land of Ghosts 8

When I was young, my parents took my family on a trip to the Badlands. We drove from Ohio up through Michigan, across the bridge, past the Wisconsin Dells and eventually to South Dakota. We stopped only briefly at the Badlands and saw the rock formations from a distance. I got a t-shirt at Wall Drug that said "Go Hike the Badlands" and I wore it proudly to school. It bothered me, though, that I had never actually hiked the badlands. Well, now I have.
Karen and I were blessed with a beautiful day, and a beautiful trip.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Land of ghosts 7

Two more good rides:

We ended up zig zagging back south to the Pine Ridge reservation for a ride on Vernell White Thunder's Lakota ponies. We had read about the Pine Ridge's poverty and social problems, and honestly, we were cautious. But having visited the Havasupai "Res" in the western end of the Grand Canyon, we kinda knew what to expect. A reservation is a culture and country unto itself and it's not about Walmarts and McMansions. Vernell White Thunder's ranch was about truly wild ponies, and an un"managed" buffalo herd, and beautiful land that had been passed down generations, and a man in Vernell who could trace his family back to the 1600s. And a no nonsense horseman who didn't mess around with the fineries and social correctness sometimes associated with horse keeping. And a one-time hydrologist, tribal pyschologist, school teacher, "hot rod" builder, and a respected breeder of horses that have been sold throughout the country and overseas, and in the near future, a holder of a law degree who will be preparing to pass the Bar exam in the fall.

He gave us a choice between riding among his heard of buffalo or into a canyon and up onto a scenic ridge. I opted for the canyon since we had already seen plenty of buffalo, but we later ealized that riding among the buffalo, who were truly wild and fearless, would have been a cool experience, too. Vernell's horses were awesome: they loaded and unloaded themselves into his trailer without effort, and they had been taught to neck rein, which gave us "power steering" in Vernell's words.

Vernell and his horses are the real deal. Although some of them are highly trained working horses, some of them are truly wild and he allows to to freely range and exist one of his large pieces of acreage. With this perspective, we adjusted our view of the "wildness" of the horses at the mustang sanctuary we had visited earlier in the trip.
We learned a little but not too much about Native customs. Vernell was willing to answer our questions but we didn't prod him to delve too deeply about his life or beliefs, and that was good. The bureaucracy and politics of life on the "Res" are no different from anywhere else, and he was equal parts cynical about the problems facing the Res and hopeful that things would improve. The Native people are caught in a bind: they are drawn equally toward staying on the "Res" and maintaining their families and culture, or moving away in search of other opportunities. A tough but beautiful place.

Possibly the best of the four rides I did occurred on the Sheep Mountain Road, the site of the last Ghost Dance. The Ghost Dance was one last gasp by the Native People to assert themselves as independent people and to be treated as human beings by the US government. It got the attention and fear of the government and eventually led to greater suppression and degradation.

There's not much out beyond the "High Clearance Vehicle Required" sign if you're looking for some material evidence of the Ghost Dance. What's there is an opportunity to see the Badlands formations in a way that simply isn't possible in the northern, National Park segment. There's also the palpable history of a plateau that must have offered the Native's an ephemeral sense of security and peace. Standing in the plateau's meadows above the badland formations must have struck the Natives as deeply metaphorical of their plight: the ugliness of racism and genocide and theft and broken promises surrounding them on all sides, eroding their culture onto a tiny island, that is at once desolate, but also as beautiful of a place as I've ever seen. Karen and I both agreed that the places such as the Grand Canyon or Yosemite can't be compared to the Bad Lands and Black Hills. The eye wanders constantly, searching open space, and the mind senses spirits.  To know that the Natives lived among these beautiful landscapes blows my mind. .

As if to confirm the power of the place, we watched as a prairie storm blew in.