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One hike. Two guys. 35 miles

Mile 10: Tensions—and the swamp water covering much of the trail—are running high. Columnist Steve Lange recounts 35 harrowing miles.

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Three days and 35 miles hiking in the wild and rugged Porcupine Mountains of Michigan's western Upper Peninsula.

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

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42 Days Earlier: Friend Ken and I are sitting at a bar watching hockey. One of us—probably just trying to fill some dead space between periods—says something like, "Hey, we should take a long backpacking trip. Somewhere remote." The other of us—probably not really listening—says something like "Sounds good."

41 Days Earlier: Like most things I agree to, I'm instantly all-in. When Ken texts the next morning as a feeler for whether we're actually taking a backpacking trip together, I tell him I've got a three-day hike mapped out—and reservations for remote camping spots—in the Porkies.

40 Days Earlier: I join the Hiking Porcupine Mountain Facebook groups, buy waterproof topo maps, call the park rangers to validate my planned hiking route. In order to cut down on my backpack weight I—among other things—cut part of the handle off the trowel I'll be using to bury my own human waste.

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Day of the Hike: We hope to be on the trail by 9 a.m. at the latest. We start hiking at 11:30.

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Ken, left, and Steve at the start of the hike.
Steve Lange

Mile One of the Hike: Why, we feel like explorers. Even our giant backpacks do not feel as heavy as we feared. I would be whistling as I walk, if I could whistle. The skies are clear. Everything smells of pine needles and wonderment.

Mile Two: Heavy rains earlier in the week have left some of the trails underwater. The swampy areas look, and smell, like Louisiana bayous. Mile two has taken us an hour through the muck. Skies darken, slightly. The smell of wonderment is replaced by stagnant swamp water.

Mile Three: Mosquitoes swarm. "My whole life, everyone has always told me how long and lush my eyelashes are," I confess to Ken. "And I've always been a bit embarrassed by that. But my full and beautiful eyelashes are really coming in handy right now keeping the mosquitoes out of my eyes." He doesn't reply.

Mile Four: It is already 2 p.m. We still have eight more miles before we reach our campsite. It has become painfully obvious, now, that we have horribly misjudged how long it will take us to hike 12 miles on swampy trails carrying 35-pound packs. (At least that is the weight of my pack. Ken's pack looks like it's twice the size of mine. And he's a photographer, so he brought a bag of camera equipment as well.) Also, Ken knows I'm aware of the misjudged distance, mostly because I'm dictating notes for this column into my phone as we hike, and he just heard me say "It has become painfully obvious, now, that we have horribly misjudged how long it will take us to hike 12 miles on swampy trails carrying 35-pound packs" into my phone.

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Steve's backpack, left. And Ken's.

Mile Five: Lunch. Beef sticks and hard cheese have never tasted so good. And my homemade trail mix—my secret lies in the dried cranberries—may be the best dessert I've ever experienced.

Mile Eight: We will be lucky to make our campsite by sundown. And sundown, here, is at 9:40 p.m.

Mile 10: Tensions—and the swamp water covering much of the trail—are running high. 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' that planned this. I dictate that last sentence loud enough into my phone so he can hear it.

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Mile 11: Black flies swarm. I keep my eyelash take to myself.

Will they ever make their campsite for night one? And, if they do, how will they finish backpacking the next 30-plus miles? Find out in next week's Oddchester.

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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