AuSable River Canoe Camping, MI

On September 28th eight hardy souls departed for a paddling/camping trip to complete our journey of the AuSable River in the northern portion of the lower peninsula of Michigan. A similar group paddled the first 60 miles of the river in June of 2013. The crew was ably headed up by Captain Bernie Weitekamp, and co-led by Doug Sherow. Jim and Bette Hanna were the only couple, and the balance of the crew was comprised of John Bredenkamp, Dan Harrell, Donald Weitekamp, and Donald Nelson.

While last year’s trip was on the first half of the river which is narrow, shallow and has a five mile current, the second half is quite different, with five ponds (lakes) and five portages, so the paddling was similar to that experienced in the Boundary Waters. As a result, the paddling was more challenging, but the crew was up to the task, following orders barked out by Captain Bernie. We stayed the first and last nights at the Mai Tiki Resort in two cabins on a large beach overlooking Lake Huron, which came complete with palm trees and a bonfire on the beach each night.

Our first campsite on the first day of paddling was hampered by the fact that one couple left their tent in the van, so we were forced to improvise. Fortunately, the Alcona Park campground took mercy on us and offered a cabin at half-price, which turned into a palace and card game location for the crew.

Card Shark Bette and Captain Bernie gave Jim and John an exhibition of Masters Euchre by soundly drubbing them repeatedly throughout the night. The following nights the couple improvised their accommodations by the effective use of rainflys as ground cloth and overhead protection from wind and rain. Two tents placed nearby afforded additional windbreak for protection.

Beginning Tuesday our challenge of the river increased as we were not aided by a flowing current. That situation prevailed every time we paddled through the five ponds and portages for the balance of the trip. Additionally, we were thoroughly tested by lower than predicted temperatures, rain and even fog one day of the trip. We were also tested by Ricky Raccoon one night while camping, and Captain Bernie engaged Ricky at 3:00 AM in a discussion of why he should choose another campsite instead of ours.

One bizarre twist to our paddle occurred on the last portage of our trek, as the hydroelectric plant went off-line for repairs just as we arrived at the portage location. The siren blasted and the flood gate was opened with a rush of water. We were unable to launch at the normal location. When we learned that the flood gate would remain open until the following Sunday night, we realized we needed an alternate plan for our launch. Once again, Captain Bernie’s great leadership shone as a beacon. He barked out orders to the crew and we carefully walked the canoes downstream to a safe location far from the turbulence and rush of the water flowing over the dam spillway. We all survived without incident thanks to Bernie’s quick thinking and great leadership.

Several miles from the terminus of the river, John and Doug observed a family of eagles. The male was spotted high in a tree on one side. Around the bend the larger female was on the other side with a three year old juvenile on a lower branch. We had invaded the family fishing area as they were watching for potential prey. (A family that preys together—stays together, according to John).

After finishing the paddle we all returned to the Mai Tiki Resort for showers and adult beverages,followed by a great dinner at Wiltse’s Brew Pub in Oscoda, Michigan. After dinner, it was determined that Don Nelson should be given a trail name, similar to the trail names given to Appalachian Trail hikers. He shall henceforth be known by the trail name of MIKEY—because Mikey eats everything! Nothing goes to waste when he is present. He was a great asset to the trip and was there to help whenever it was needed. All in all we were glad to have completed this river trek successfully and carry many memories of the challenges we overcame in mastering the AuSable.

Manistee River Trail/North Country Trail Backpack, MI

Trip participants: Kathy Koning (co-leader), Dave Hoffmeyer (co-leader), Mark Bontrager, Emma Castator, Lisa Forester, Susan Haldeman, Leslie Green, Les Schaffer, Barry Tague

This was beautiful hike, with some minor weather challenges. We had great people who came together as a team to have a fun three days. We also set what we feel are two new club records (more on that later).

The group met up in Westfield on Friday morning to begin our seven-hour ride to the Manistee National Forest. Many club members have done this hike before, but this was the first time hiking it as a CIWC event. On the road we entertained ourselves by holding the chore ”lottery” as we drew slips out of an envelope to assign roles for cooking cleanup and water filtration. We also spent some time looking at the radar hoping the rain would hold off!

After making one last stop in Cadillac to say good bye to porcelain for a couple of days, we were off to the Upper River Road trailhead on the west side of the Manistee River. Ed Chappel, the North Country trail area coordinator, informed us that the trail went right through the parking lot. . .we only found one trail leading in the opposite direction of which we were headed. Club Record #1: earliest to get lost on the trail, heading the wrong way straight from the back of the club van! We road walked in the direction we were supposed to be headed and came across the trail just before we crossed the bridge on the Manistee River.

After we crossed the river to continue our six-mile day, we came across a pile of bear scat . . . so much for the assurances that there were no bears in the area! It started to sprinkle as we looked for a campsite, but the heavy rain held off until it was time to set up camp. For a river trail, it was not very easy to get water. Our water gathering team headed down a steep embankment and then had to lean over to get water. Les leaned over a little too far and went head first right into the river, getting completely soaked. Luckily, she made her way out and was able to get into dry clothes.

The rain kept getting heavier so we were faced with having to cook, eat dinner, and set up our tents in the rain. It was impossible not to get a little wet but, overall, we did pretty well staying dry. The only victim of the rain was Kathy’s spork, which was never to be seen again in spite of all our efforts to find this key piece of gear.

The rain did finally stop around 3:00 AM, and we awoke to damp tents with temps in the mid-30’s. The rain and drop in temperature did make for good sleeping weather, so the group didn’t get moving until around 8:00 AM the next morning. It was a challenge to get water and to attempt to dry out gear. We also took our time cooking pancakes, so we successfully set Club Record #2: we didn’t break camp until 11:00 AM.

Once we got on the trail on Saturday, it was beautiful! The east side of the river has many beautiful views overlooking the expanse of hills with the Manistee River flowing below. After hiking about five miles along the east side of the river, we crossed a hiker-only suspension bridge and ate lunch alongside the west side of the river, one of the few places where it is easy to get water.

After lunch we decided to go about six more miles to make our Sunday hike shorter. We came across a skeleton of a deer right in the middle of the trail. For some reason we did not see much wildlife other than birds – no deer or bear nor any smaller animals like squirrels or even chipmunks.

The trail climbs onto a high bluff about a half-mile from the river, so the only place to get water on the west side is a nice clear stream called Eddington Creek. After topping off all of our water bottles and bladders, we continued on. On the east side there are plenty of campsites, but on the west side there are very few. We found a mostly level area alongside the trail and made camp amongst the ferns.

The beautiful day turned into a very nice evening, Mark taught fire making skills, our Saturday night dinner crew did a fantastic job, and then it was on for evening activities. Our campfire was perfect for making s’mores, and we enjoyed them immensely! We told old hiking stories and went to bed under a perfect, starlit sky.

In the morning, we got up to a quick breakfast, packed up, and hit the trail for the last five miles back to the trailhead. We arrived by 11:00 AM with everyone accounted for and drove into Manistee for a McDonald’s restroom break. Naturally, we couldn’t resist the guilty pleasure of some fast food after being on the trail. We arrived back in Westfield around 7:00 PM and put an end to a very successful hike. Great people, great teamwork. Great scenery and great times were had by all!