Sunday, July 27, 2014

North Country Redux: Scrambled eggs and mud

July 18 2014

I woke up this morning in my own private 5 acre campsite surrounded by state forest near Benzonia, just a few miles from Sleeping Bear Sand Dunes National Park in the upper left corner of Michigan’s lower peninsula. And when I say private that’s because this patch of heavily wooded land, primarily Maple which are doing their best to fill in the drive and cleared patch where they have a fire ring and occasionally pitch a tent, is owned by one of my siblings.

I don’t usually do fires but all the fixin’s were just sitting there so last night I fished out one of my petroleum-jelly soaked cotton balls, my emergency tinder, and the fire-stick striker. I figured that if I was going to do it anyway I might as well perform one of my periodic start-a-fire-in-an-emergency refreshers. These greasy cotton balls light very quickly with a match, but in order to get one going with the sparks of a striker it needs to be teased out into a loose, fluffy mess with some fine strands ready to catch the sparks. Teasing a cotton ball that’s been well dredged in petroleum-jelly is like herding cats but only messier! It took a while but I eventually got it done. With my teased cotton ball (I’ll probably get detention for bullying!) on the end of a twig I gave the striker a few tentative scrapes that produced nothing but a shower of tiny sparks that are pretty much useless, at least as far as actually getting a fire started, though they are pretty!  Reminded that this only works if you scrape hard in order to peel off a good sized chunk of the magnesium that will then spark and fizz for a half second or so, with renewed determination I bore down like a real man on the next strike and had success!

It’s mid-July and 50 degrees outside, 58 inside this morning! I slept with my little skull-cap on to keep my head warm since the 1/8 inch long hair up there isn’t up to doing much insulating. I know from experience the first thing I need to do on days like this is to get the window cover off the windshield. I don’t know why the other windows don’t do it but when it’s cold out and warmer in, and I’ve spent all night snoring out that last glass of water I had the previous evening, the inside of the windshield gets coated with a nice thick layer of condensation that is more or less opaque, which is not recommended for driving! These are times I think the windshields of old that hinged down so you could wipe down the inside without performing extreme contortions would be nice.

With the covers put away and the bracing air bracing me, I decided I deserved hash browns, bacon and pan scrambled eggs for breakfast.

Not done yet, but once they were I was too busy eating to mess with the camera!
Cut a couple slices off an onion, do the same with a potato and dice them up together. Grab a couple mushroom caps and slice them up as well. Drop a little butter in the cast iron frying pan and light the fire. As the butter melts it will show which is the low side of the pan and that’s where you dump the onion and potato just as the butter starts to smell like butter and definitely before it starts to smell like burned butter. While those are frying up with a touch of salt, pepper and chipotle seasoning (30 years in Texas will do that to you.) lay a couple strips of pre-cooked bacon in the high side of the pan to warm up. (You will have pre-cooked bacon with you if you have a wife that prepares more food than can be possibly be crammed in your fridge before sending you off! It’s in there, just dig around a little.)

When the potatoes are just about cooked through add the mushrooms and give it another minute or two then pile the hash on top of the bacon in the high side of the pan.

Turn off the heat and add a touch more butter to the low side before breaking a couple eggs directly into the pan. Quickly season then scramble them up with the spatula. Just before they’re done add some shredded cheese on top. Let it sit a minute or two for the residual heat to finish them off then eat right out of the pan as you plan your day. (OK, don't judge my dietary choices! Life is for enjoying and once in a while that means a little tasty fat!)

As for planning the day, In my case, I have a 1982 publication put out by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources titled Michigan Hiking Opportunities. 1982 was a long time ago and this morning I set out to see if some of the trails are still there.

I picked the Platte Springs Pathway to start my historical adventure with.

A couple of young summer rangers there in the adjacent forest service campground told me the trail isn’t maintained anymore and is pretty much impassable but I was there and game so off I went.

First step was almost a swim. You see the trail is actually over there on the other side of the river!

On went the water-shoes, up went the pant-legs and off went me. (I know, bad grammar, but it sounds cool so that makes it alright (Hey! My blog, my rules!))

The water wasn’t near as cold as I expected. Not that I was ready to go for a swim in it like I would have as a kid (Young and dumb.), but I never did lose feeling in my feet like I expected from a swift moving northern river, and that’s a good thing because - well - being able to feel your feet makes walking easier!

The crossing wasn’t bad until I got near the far bank. There the channel quickly deepened to somewhere north of my knees and the bottom turned mucky; black muck, thick black muck nearly knee deep! It took a while to scrape enough of that off so I could switch back to my hiking boots.

One of the more visible trail markers!
The trail itself is along the steep southern bank of the Platte River. Like much of Michigan this area was once logged and the trail crosses a couple old logging roads from around 1932. They were used to drag logs out of the woods, down the 100-150 foot high bank and across the river on a makeshift bridge that only lasted a season at a time. (Winter, when the predominantly boggy land is frozen hard, is logging season.) There’s one stretch along the river that was too steep for even the hardiest loggers and the old-growth forest still exists there. Reminds me of some places along Turnagain Arm in Alaska.

These two trees grew from the same cut stump
After hiking it I wouldn’t say the trail was impassable but there were a few places where it got a little tough. It would help if the state of Michigan hadn’t chosen the state color of blue for its trail blazes. Blue, especially weathered blue, under the green canopy doesn’t exactly stand out! And one or two of the blazes were tucked into the leaf-litter at the base of a tree instead of up at eye level where you would expect them.

In some places I was reduced to navigating by the butts of old chain-sawed logs. When this place was last logged in the 1930’s chain-saws were just coming into use, but if real loggers had used them the logs wouldn’t have been left lying there, so I figured any machine-cut logs laying around out there now were probably the result of some past trail maintenance.

Even if my logic was faulty it seemed to work and after traversing a few miles of Michigan woods, some of it very steep, some of it very wet, and all of it with nary another person in sight, (OK, I actually didn’t see anybody at all but how often do you get to use the word nary in a sentence??)  I eventually made it back around to the river crossing. Getting back across the river was easier than coming since I went through the muck first and pretty much washed it all off by the time I got to the other side.

One of the less visible trail markers. See it there bottom center? I almost didn't.
Pretty, but edible? Don't know and didn't try

When blazes fail signs of old trail maintenance fills in the gaps

Feet dry and back in my boots I set off for Traverse City. This town at the bottom end of twin bays off of Lake Michigan was a frequent destination for our family when I was a kid and I had in mind parking, wandering along the shoreline and reminiscing.

Well that didn’t happen!

Far too many people and cars and all the parking was metered, and occupied. This place has grown! It even has a Lowes!

On the beach at Frankfort looking south down the coastline
So I bailed out and wandered 40 miles west to the touristy but even so not bad looking town of Frankfort at the junction of the north shore of Betsie Lake and Lake Michigan. Turn one way and you’re looking at water all the way to the horizon and beyond, turn the other and you’re looking across Betsie Lake at the even smaller community of Elberta where the world’s first sea-going (Their words not mine.) rail car ferry started operating in 1892, connecting to ports some 60 to 100 miles away over in Wisconsin. It didn’t stop until 1983. Now the rail yards have been turned into a

park with only the sculptural remains of the roundhouse turntable left to hint at the past.

Nearby are the ruins of an iron foundry that ceased operation way back in 1883. What’s left is fenced and off limits but I was still able to get a few interesting photos.

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