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Lake Superior sunsets, old growth forests, and a torn meniscus

Columnist Steve Lange recounts Part II of a 35-mile hike in Michigan's U.P.

Oddchester - Steve Lange column sig
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Last week's column – and you'll really have to go back and read it here – covered the ups and downs of miles 1-9 on Day One of a three-day, 35-mile hike in the wild and rugged Porcupine Mountains of Michigan's western Upper Peninsula.

By two guys who were, in hindsight, ill-prepared for a three-day, 35-mile hike in the wild and rugged Porcupine Mountains of Michigan's western Upper Peninsula.

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Mile 10: Tensions – and the swamp water covering much of the trail – are running high. Hiking partner Ken says something like "Whoever planned this should have realized 12-mile days were too far for us," even though he knows damn well I'm the 'Whoever' who planned this. I'm dictating notes for this column into my phone as we hike. I dictate that last sentence loud enough so he can hear it.

Ken Klotzbach crossing a river.
Ken Klotzbach crossing a river.<br/>
Steve Lange

Mile 12: We find our campsite, on the edge of Lake of the Clouds. It’s still light out. The smell of wonderment has returned. Ken jumps into the lake for a swim. I boil water for our ready-to-eat meals. Ken pulls, from his backpack, a bottle of vodka. And orange juice. And four limes. And a full roll of paper towels. Why, 12 miles wasn’t so bad. And now I feel slightly bad for making fun of how big his backpack is.

Day Two, Mile 13: We climb for the first hour or so, and reach a stunning overlook. We have the high ground, and the trails are dry. The wind keeps the bugs away. We hike along glorious waterfalls and rushing rivers in old growth forests.

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Mile 16: When I get back home, I know wife Lindy will ask what we talked about, assuming our days together were filled with deep and meaningful conversations of life’s mysteries. Ken sings the "Monday Night Football" theme song for what feels like 20 straight minutes.

Mile 24: We find our campsite, on the edge of Lake Superior. It’s still light out.

Night Two: We swim in Lake Superior. A doe and two fawns walk right into our campsite. We watch one of the greatest sunsets.

Sunset over Lake Superior.
Steve Lange

Day Three: We boil water for the best coffee and oatmeal I’ve ever tasted. Hike along Lake Superior then alongside – and sometimes across – the waterfalls of the Little Carp River.

Mile 30: Why, we’re making great time. We could be back to the Jeep – and back to our motel – in time for an early dinner.

Mile 30.1: I jump over a log. Land – while carrying my 35-pound pack – with my knee moving in a direction I have rarely seen it move. “Jump,” above, may be an exaggeration, but still. My knee will no longer move like it should. (I will, it turns out, have a torn meniscus. I’m adding that info now to play up my heroic effort to complete the final 5 miles.)

Mile 30.1: Ken catches up to me (I had been speeding ahead to get out of "MNF" theme earshot.) “How’s it going buddy?” he says. “You don’t look too good.” We find two long walking sticks that I use as crutches. I look like Gandalf, if there is a scene in “Lord of the Rings” where Gandalf limps along slowly while crying out in pain with every step.

Mile 31.1 (one hour later): Here’s how bad I must look: Ken asks if he can carry my backpack. I say no, but it’s one of the nicest gestures anyone has made. I make sure to dictate that extra loud into my phone. Ken, over those last 5 miles, slows his pace to a crawl. He starts setting up long-exposure photos and shooting video. I trudge along.

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Mile 35: The last 5 miles takes us – me, really – five hours. But we make it to the Jeep in time to get back to our motel, and get showers and a late dinner at a nearby bowling alley.

Two weeks later: Ken sends a text with info on the Superior Hiking Trail. For our next trip.

Check out Ken’s video here. (You can catch a sad glimpse of Steve on his makeshift Gandalf crutches at the 8:40 mark.)

Steve Lange is the editor of Rochester Magazine. His column appears every Tuesday.

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Opinion by Steve Lange
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