Today I bid adieu to Maura, which was sad. She was a great crew member. She got me to my first segment (the end of Harrison Hills), dropped some water for me at Parrish Hills, then headed home. My friend Doug was scheduled to arrive about 6 p.m. tonight.
I was now in Langlade County. The infamous Langlade County. People say the trails here aren’t marked well and are overgrown. I started Parrish Hills skirting around the first part (chapter chair Joe’s recommendation), because there’s a creek crossing and lots of wet spots. With my blisters still healing, and having no crew support today, it wouldn’t be good to have wet feet. After that slight detour I started in on the real trail and all was going well for the first mile – until I passed a little lake and popped out into a large clearing. The arrow pointed me straight ahead – east, the way I needed to go – but I couldn’t find any arrows or markings across the meadow back into the woods. Heck, I couldn’t even find any path into the woods. What to do? Retrace my steps and take a really long detour? Not good. I saw a service road to the north, and decided to follow that. Apparently a lot of eastbound hikers must do this, because after about a half-mile or so I found a marker saying the Ice Age Trail was up ahead. When I got to the trail, it was the spot where I would have come out of the woods across that clearing, if I could have figured out how to get into it.
So now the question was whether to get back on the trail. This spot was where Joe told me there were signage issues because storms had knocked down a lot of trees with blazes. He said even experienced hikers had gotten turned around here, and had given me a re-route. After the clearing experience, I decided to take the re-route, which was pretty long and all on gravel or paved roads – not fun for the feet.
While on the re-route, I heard lots of hunting dogs barking and yowling. Soon several pick-ups filled with dogs in cages rumbled by on the gravel road. A few dogs were running along the road, bells jangling around their necks. I stopped one of the hunters and asked if the dogs had bear bells on. Yep, he said, to keep away the bears and also the wolves, the latter of which would kill the dogs without hesitation. I said a lot of hikers had bear bells on, but I didn’t have any. He told me bear bells really aren’t that effective; what I needed was mace.
I was going for a nice hike and had to go through bramble. I was going for a nice hike and had to go through bramble and hundreds of bees. I was going for a nice hike and had to go through bramble, hundreds of bees and walk without a bear bell. I was going for a nice hike and had to go through bramble, hundreds of bees, walk without a bear bell and walk without mace.
Eventually I got back to the trail at a wayside park. And it was there that I finally met Papa Bear and Hiker Dude (see photo), two men I’d heard were thru-hiking east to west. I’d read a bit of Hiker Dude’s blog before I started my own hike and got too busy to read it regularly. The two were quite nice, and we chatted for a while, swapping tales of the trails we’d each just left behind. I was glad to hear my next few miles would be easy. I felt badly I didn’t have equally cheery news for them about what lie ahead. Papa Bear told me tomorrow was the start of some kind of “archery” hunting, and he’d purchased blaze-orange hats for just $3 at the Wal-Mart in Antigo. Well, the Wal-Mart is right behind our hotel (I love this hotel), so I figured I’d get me one for tomorrow.
I continued on my way, and suddenly got a call from Doug. He’d arrived early. Looking down at my watch, I was horrified. He was early, and I was about 2 hours behind schedule, thanks to getting lost and the long detours I’d had to take. Thankfully the rest of Parrish Hills and Highland Lakes West were great – mainly Highland Lakes West, which was mostly a flat, wide, dirt path. I was able to run much of the way, and shaved an hour off my expected arrival time.
Doug and I enjoyed a great fish fry in Antigo at Heartbreaker’s Bar, I think it was called. Highly recommend it. And great crew member that he is, he ran over to Wal-Mart and got us both blaze orange hats.