My adventures in the woods, streams, rivers, fields, and lakes of Michigan

The DeLorme Challenge, Noverber 2010

I titled this The DeLorme Challenge for a reason, but, I could have easily titled it as one of the following.

Suburban hiking, the good, the bad, and the ugly

An old dog can learn new tricks

Why I hate leaf blowers

OK, the DeLorme Challenge part. Last Christmas I gifted myself a handheld GPS unit built by DeLorme. It is one of the best purchases I have made for reasons I’ll explain in another blog, but here’s the reason for this blog. DeLorme is on Facebook, and through that I learned that they have a drawing each month for a $100 gift card you can use to purchase their products. All you have to do to be entered in the drawing is complete the challenge they set out for you. Never being one to turn down free stuff, I thought I would give it a shot. The challenge for November was straight forward enough, hike a trail with in 20 miles of your home that you have never walked before. Take some pictures, and post a track of your path along with some waypoints that you have entered on your GPS to their Facebook page, and you are entered for the drawing. The object is to get people out-of-doors more, and familiar with their GPS unit. It is really a cool thing, in my opinion, I have looked at what the other people have posted, and I am enjoying seeing other parts of the country, and I am learning more about the features of the units.

I liked the premise of this challenge, it fits in well with what I was doing anyway, finding places closer to home to walk. It dawned on me this summer that what I had been doing, driving 40, 50, or more miles to walk a few miles over a couple of hours was extremely wasteful.

 “You must be the change you wish to see in the world.” ~ Mahatma Mohandas Gandhi

That’s one of my favorite quotes, and I try to live my life that way. We Americans are good at complaining about problems, not so good when it comes to examining our own lives’ and seeing how we contribute to those problems. We complain about the price of gas and yell that “Big Oil” is ripping us off, yet we continue to hop into our oversized SUV’s and drive 85 MPH as if there was an unlimited supply of oil. There isn’t, we will run out someday! I had already gone from driving full-sized trucks to a compact truck, then a Subaru in order to reduce my consumption of oil. I now drive a mid-sized SUV for reasons I won’t go into here, but it was not my first choice of vehicles, it fit my life and budget at the time I bought it, and if I could, I would dump it in a heartbeat for a more efficient vehicle. I don’t want this blog to become too political, but there are government officials who are considering legislation to control what kinds of vehicles the public may be able to purchase and to limit our driving by imposing special taxes on people who drive more than what these officials believe is necessary. It shouldn’t take a law or laws, we have too many of them already!

Mark Twain famously said, ‘Everybody complains about the weather but nobody does anything about it.” It is time to put up or shut up people, if you think the price of gas is too high, stop using as much, it is that simple!

Since I am typically walking or kayaking somewhere every weekend, I thought the hardest part for me would be to find a new trail with in 20 miles of where I live. That part I was wrong about, I just hadn’t done enough research yet. I have been walking around the neighborhood for the last couple months, and while I was outdoors and  got some exercise, walking the roads in my area is dangerous with the way people drive, and walking subdivisions is boring. I went to the mapping program that came with my GPS unit and drew a 20 mile circle around my apartment and was surprised that a segment of the North Country Trail is right on the edge of that circle. I also found dozens of other possibilities as well. Looking at the map, it dawned on me that I could walk a segment of the North Country Trail, then kayak back down the Flat River to my vehicle, that sounded like a great plan! I could drop my kayak off at an access site in Fallasburg Park, lock it to a tree, then drive to a point where I could take the kayak out when I got back, yet was close to the NCT. I planned to do that 2 weekends ago, as I write this, but I had to postpone it the first time I was going to do it.

Instead, I walked another set of trails I had found even nearer to my home. Palmer Park is only a couple of miles away, it is one of Kent County’s parks, and they teamed with the city of Wyoming to connect the trails in Palmer Park with a system of trails the city maintains along Buck Creek. It was a good day overall, but there were some high points and some low points. Palmer Park is surprisingly nice, a good set of trails, and it’s quiet this time of year. But, for some reason, the county closes it the end of September, or tries to. The gates are locked so that you can’t drive in and park, you have to park along the road and squeeze past the gates. I talked to a couple I met in the park, and they told me that at one time that the county had it fenced so that you couldn’t even squeeze past the gates. They were told the county did that so no one could play the golf course that is in the park for free. I used to know a couple of people who grew up in the area, and they had told me they used to sneak into the park and play some of the course that is out of sight of the clubhouse when they were kids, so I guess that it does happen. I really can’t see that as being a huge problem in the fall though, and it is too nice of a park to be closed almost half the year. Enough people complained to county commission that the fencing was taken down to allow some access, but it seems like a waste, especially when you walk through the park and see that the county is paying to have it maintained even when it is supposedly closed, that makes no sense at all, at least not to me.

It was a nice walk through the park, and I found other trails with in the park that I am going to go back another time and walk, but for that day, I walked all the way through the park until I came to the trail that connects to the Buck Creek trail in Wyoming. That was a nice trail too, except you are basically walking through people’s backyards. There’s a fence of course, but the trail runs right along the back edge of the property owners’ back lot lines. I saw a lot more wildlife than I expected, I even had 3 deer walking parallel to me for almost a quarter of a mile. I couldn’t get a good picture of them though, they wouldn’t step into a clearing. I think the wildlife uses the corridor along the creek to move from one area to another, and between the creek and a couple of ponds, there is a lot to see. But, it isn’t quiet, that’s for sure. You can overhear people’s conversations as you walk along the trail, and since it is fall, there were lots of leaf blowers at work.

I hate leaf blowers, I always have since the first time I heard one. I don’t know why, but the sound they emit irritates me to no end. I would rather hear a dentist’s drill than listen to a leaf blower! Seeing them in action makes it even worse, talk about a waste of oil! That’s the way it was when I walked the Buck Creek trail, I could see home owners blowing leaves around and around and around their small yards. They could have used a rake and been done in half the time and not burned a drop of gas doing so. They use leaf blowers here at the apartment complex too, they are about the only thing I have complained about. Twice a week in the fall, they go around and blow the leaves off the grass and back into the woods. By the time they get around the next corner, the wind is blowing the leaves right back onto the grass, so the cycle repeats itself over and over. I have suggested that they use vacuum mulchers instead, which do use gas and are not the most pleasant devices to listen to, but, at least then the leaves are disposed of once and for all and can be put to good use. They have taken my suggestion “under advisement”…LOL.

 But overall, it was a very nice day, and I will definitely walk the same trails again. In fact, I am really looking forward to walking it in the spring to see if there will be as many wildflowers as I think there will be.

That leads us to this past weekend, I was able to do the North Country Trail/kayaking trip. I dropped my kayak off in Fallasburg park, near where the NCT exits the park. Fallasburg Park is another one run by Kent County. Who ever is in charge of the parks must have their head up their rear end. The best access to the river is blocked off, so you either have to carry your boat and gear a hundred yards or more to get to the river, or do what I did. I parked next to the bridge and unloaded there and slid my kayak down the embankment to the river. I locked it to a tree so it would be there when I got back, then headed to where I was going to pull out of the river when I was finished. That wasn’t the greatest spot in the world either, it turned out to be easier than it looked, so it worked out OK.

 It was about a half a mile walk from there to the NCT trailhead, and that’s where things got darn right ugly. The residents in the area, or who knows who, are using the trailheads as dumping grounds for all sorts of nasty stuff. There were a couple of deer carcasses, bags of household trash that animals had scattered all over, and junk everywhere for the first little bit of the trail. Come on people! Quit spoiling things for the rest of us! The smell of rotting deer and garbage was nasty, and wasn’t at all pleasant to look at either. The good thing is that almost as soon as you are out of the parking area, the trail is quite beautiful! You start off with a slow climb to the top of the high bluffs overlooking the Flat River, then go down the other side to a low area along the river. It is very nice, all wooded, with a few very large trees, and a good mix of a little of everything. For a lot of the first part of the trail, there was a flock of tweety birds going the same way I was, and they put me back into a good mood after seeing the trash piles there at the trailhead. Tweety birds are what I call the loose flocks of chickadees, titmice, nuthatches and woodpeckers that stay together by constantly chirping away, so the rest of the flock know where they all are. They always put me in a good mood, they are happy birds, and their happiness rubs off on me.

 It was an uneventful walk, other than hearing a few leaf blowers, occasional gun shots as hunters sighted in the rifles for deer season, and the constant drone of traffic off in the distance. It isn’t a wilderness by any means, but it is a very nice walk for as close to town as it is. I found out from talking to one of the few people I saw along the way that I hadn’t chosen the best part of the trail, but it is still one that I will do again, and I am looking forward to doing the segment that they suggested as well.

 The kayaking leg started off almost as badly as the walking leg did. The first couple of hundreds yards of the Flat River was pretty much a rock garden, without enough water to paddle, but too much to walk easily. After that, I hit deeper water and had a very pleasant paddle back to my vehicle. Except for all the houses along the way, it is a pretty stretch of river, and as I neared the pond behind the dam, I watched a bald eagle soaring over the river valley, looking for fish. I had just read a couple of weeks ago that they had released a young bald eagle that had been injured in the area, I don’t know if that is the one I saw or not. But, it was pretty cool watching it soar over the river valley.

I almost forgot one of the other highlights of the trip, the covered bridge over the Flat River. I hadn’t been there since I was a kid, and it was pretty cool to kayak under it, as well as the great view of the bridge that you have as you approach it on the river. The bridge was built in 1871 for a cost of $1,500 using white pine timbers and is still used today, how cool is that? 

The historic Fallasburg covered bridge

Even though I am an old dog, I learned a few new tricks thanks to the Challenge, one is that suburban walking can offer a lot more than I thought if you take the time to explore the options that there are these days. I also learned that walking first, then kayaking is a lot better than what I have done in the past, where I have kayaked a section of river, then walked back to my vehicle. Here I have been doing it backwards for all these years. I still hate leaf blowers though.

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