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One backpack, 35 miles, hopefully no juvenile Bigfoots

Columnist Steve Lange is planning a 35-mile hike through Michigan's Porcupine Mountains.

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In a few weeks, a friend and I will be taking a three-day, 35-mile backpacking trip through the Porcupine Mountains, 60,000 acres of Lake Superior-edged wilderness, rugged hiking trails, and remote campsites in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.

Here’s something: I really don’t like walking.

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In parking lots, I regularly pull back out of a spot if a space two cars closer opens up. That sort of thing.

But, two years ago, the Lange family started taking weekly hikes. This was during quarantine, when Lindy and me and our three kids—then ages 21, 18, and 13—got to spend every minute together. Inside.

We played cards. Started a family band and performed “California Dreamin.’” Learned to make bread.

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At one point I created a board game—Cut That Out—and forced my family to play it.

All of this was during Week One.

By Week Two, we were desperate for some sort of outdoor activity.

We decided on hiking.

Physically, those first few hikes were tough.

After soloing to the top of Plateau Trail at Beaver Creek Valley State Park, I texted my family to warn them to avoid this trail, which I described as “difficult and dangerous.”

“Not sure I can make it back down,” I texted. “Air is thin. Water almost gone. Calves cramping badly.”

After heroically trudging 100 feet down the trail, I saw my daughters jogging toward me.

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“Oh, you found this trail, too?” said Emma, 13. “It’s fun.”

“We’re racing,” said Hadley.

While hiking Lost Creek Trail in Chatfield, I stumbled upon an eagle that was so close that, when it took off, I could feel the wind from its wings.

When daughter Emma, dog Finch and I took an overnight backpacking trip to a remote campsite, we heard a pack of coyotes howling what seemed just feet from our tent.

At Snake Creek, while walking Finch, I accidentally stepped on a bull snake in the thick underbrush. When I caught up with my family, I breathlessly explained how, just five minutes earlier, I had saved our dog from what I may have implied was a rattlesnake.

“Five minutes ago?” asked son Henry. “We were just talking about how we heard a high-pitched scream from some sort of animal like five minutes ago.”

“We thought it might be a Bigfoot,” said daughter Hadley. “A pre-pubescent Bigfoot—I’m judging by the high pitch of the scream—that had just been startled by something.”

“Weird,” I said. “I didn’t hear anything. Anyway, who wants to go home and play Cut That Out 2.0?”

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On a solo hike at Itasca State Park, I was 7 miles into a 14-mile loop—on some overgrown trail, in the middle of nowhere—when I saw a tick climbing up my pantleg.

“Oh,” I thought. “A solitary, rogue tick has managed to arbitrarily cling to my pantleg. Well, I’m sure that was an anomaly, but I’ll do a quick check, just for fun.”

I found a clearing in the trail. Took off my pants.

“Why, I must have wandered through a patch of tiny, tick-sized burrs,” I thought. “Also, they are moving. How very unusual.”

I picked off all the ticks I could find. Forced myself to put my pants back on. Started running back toward my campsite.

Maybe 15 minutes later, I spotted an older couple heading down the trail.

“I would probably turn back,” I told them. “You may run into ticks.”

“We’re not so worried about ticks,” said the older gentleman, “as we are about the high-pitched scream we heard 15 minutes ago.”

“It sounded,” said the woman, “how I would imagine a Bigfoot would sound if it had been surprised by some discovery. A Bigfoot that had not yet reached sexual maturity.”

Actually, I didn’t hear their responses. I ran past them all the way to the camp shower.

So, yeah, I’ve done my share of hiking.

The 30-mile hike in June, though, will be my longest. No one can accuse me of underplanning.

I’ve joined Hiking Porcupine Mountain Facebook groups, bought waterproof topo maps, asked the park rangers to validate my planned hiking route.

Created my own trail mix, made my own waterproof matches, practiced setting up my new, one-person tent.

Like many of my hobbies, I wonder if I’m only into backpacking for the gadgets.

The nesting doll-like tiny pot that holds a tiny cup and tiny butane stove. The pocket towel. The tri-fold spork.

I wish you could see my mini first aid kit.

In order to cut down my backpack weight, I’ve replaced my lighter with a mini lighter. Replaced my Swiss Army knife with a mini Swiss Army knife. Cut part of the handle off the trowel I’ll be using to bury my own human waste.

Then, this week, I treated my hiking clothes with anti-tick spray. Ordered special socks that are woven with “anti-tick technology.” Added a “tick removal tool” to my mini first aid kit.

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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