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Buck30 - North Country Trail Journal - 2018

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Brian (Buck-30)
Begins: Aug 10, 2018
Direction: Eastbound

Daily Summary
Date: Wed, Jan 1st, 2020
Start: San Diego
End: San Diego
Daily Distance: 2850
Trip Distance: 4,702.0

Journal Stats
Entry Visits: 569
Journal Visits: 17,904
Guestbook Views: 158
Guestbook Entrys: 3

States Summary

Here's my continued thoughts as I finish up the NCT:
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North Dakota (445 miles)

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I really liked North Dakota. I'm not sure everyone would agree with this but I loved the constant wide open views and easy walking. North Dakota only has 3 main areas of trail. Lonetree WMA, Lake Ashtabula and the Sheyenne Grasslands. This is like maybe 150 miles total of the 445 miles in ND. Lonetree needs to be mowed annually and was in poor shape when I was there, Lake Ashtabula seemed practically abandoned and was in absolutely awful shape and the Sheyenne Grasslands were in excellent condition. There is also the McClusky and Rockford canals which are like 115 miles of dirt roads along the canal and enjoyable. The rest of North Dakota is basically remote dirt/gravel farm road walking. I loved it. Super flat and easy and really scenic with big views and probably the most bird life I've ever hiked with except New Zealand/Australia.
The main problems with ND are the wind and camping. The state is one of the windiest in the country and man, when it blows it's brutal. There were a couple days where I could barely keep walking the wind was so strong and unbearable. This also plays into camping. It's so windy so often that you almost absolutely have to have trees to camp except there basically isn't a single natural tree on the NCT in ND. I'm mostly serious. Except for a few small sections there are basically no trees other than the shelter belts which separate farm fields. These were the go to camping spots. I would use google satellite to pick out a shelter belt at days end, making sure it wasn't near any houses or people and then I would just slip in the trees. Yes, technically this is private property but there is really no other way to do it unless you are vehicle supported the whole way or get picked up by trail angels all the time combined with hiking 30+ mile days when needed to find a legal camp site. I feel fine with what I did. I never make fires and barely had any impact at all. Maybe down the line if there are dozens or hundreds of hikers this is an issue but practically no one has hiked North Dakota so it's unlikely to be an issue at the moment even though if you said this the NCTA facebook group would tear you apart. I also camped in the occasional WMA, the canals and the trail sections but these are few and far between.
As for bugs, I had really really bad ticks in June. I also had pretty hot temperatures at times in the 90s. It was never really cold for me. Heather, who started a week earlier in mid May had her first week with a wicked strong head wind and cooler temps. Most people who are thru hiking would probably start April 1 which is going to be most likely quite cold and possibly significant snow still around. May 1 is probably a more ideal start date if you aren't thru hiking.
Lastly, to get to the start I flew into Bismarck (or you could do a one way car rental) and took an Uber for about $ 100. There is a cheap motel at the start in Pick City.
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Minnesota (850 miles)
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Mostly because of the season I hiked Minnesota I didn't enjoy it as much. Honestly, there's almost nowhere good to be in the dead of summer on the NCT. The bugs are going to be horrible and the heat and humidity will be horrible too. Minnesota was no exception.
Minnesota has a lot of miles as it winds around the state. To start it's a busy roadwalk to Fergus Falls and eventually beyond to around mile 105. These roads were much busier and paved than North Dakota which was disappointing. Then you have a long trail section of around 250 miles to Grand Rapids. For me this was brutal. It was only partially well maintained (more maintenance was done later in the year), the mosquitoes and ticks were beyond insane and it was hot and humid and really just a green tunnel of forest. If I stopped to tie my shoes I was clouded by mosquitoes. I once picked 62 ticks off my shoes/socks/pant legs at break, including many deer ticks which carry Lyme. This was a common occurrence. This was mostly due to my timing, if you start earlier or later this section will be fine and you'll have the bug insanity in a different section.
After Grand Rapids you join the Mesabi Trail which is a long paved bicycle path with lots of towns and gas stations along the way. Maybe not exactly wilderness hiking but it was fine as a long connector. Then you head up to the Boundary Waters and to the Kekakabic and Border Route trails. These trails are quite scenic and very rugged and remote. Both were in pretty poor shape. The Kek was much worse off than the Border route. Historically these trails were basically abandoned so the current condition is a massive improvement. There are workgroups that do several work trips a year, I imagine it's just tough to keep up with the insane growth.
After the Boundary Waters you head down the Superior Hiking Trail for 300 miles to Wisconsin. The SHT is mostly in excellent condition and you will see many hikers. The northern part is a little less maintained and the entire trail has a good amount of ups and downs. The towns along the way are small, touristy and expensive. Choose your town/motel carefully. The SHT is nice but personally the green tunnel is only so scenic to me. The bugs for me were around but not bad at all. During prime season I hear the bugs can be terrible including the deer and stable flies.
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Wisconsin (210 miles)
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Wisconsin is short but pretty nice. The entry and exit are road walks but in between are long stretches of trail through the Chippewa National Forest which was in quite good condition. Not much else to say, I blew through it in 10 days and enjoyed Wisconsin.
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Michigan - Upper Peninsula (545 miles)
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I really liked the Upper Peninsula. I'd say this is hands down the best section of the entire NCT by a long shot. It's almost all trail, mostly quiet and mostly very scenic. Lots of quiet forest, lakes and creeks and the many miles along Lake Superior are really spectacular. The trail was also in surprisingly very good shape. Plenty of trail maintenance. Also enough resupply that it's not a problem. There are a couple permit issues, the Porkies and Pictured Rocks. The Porkies isn't much of an issue as you can walk through in a long day if needed, it's about 21 miles or so and getting a camping permit is sometimes possible. Pictured Rocks is almost impossible to get a permit and at 42 miles it's an issue. The permits are reserved like a year in advance and there are no walk ups. I just stealth camped way back in the forest. Sorry, but not sure what else I could have possibly done. It's possible you could reserve a group campsite as those are often open but at $ 35 a night kinda ridiculous for 1 person.
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Michigan - Lower Peninsula (613 miles)
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The Michigan Lower Peninsula is a tale of 2 parts. The upper 350 miles was really quite great. Tons of trail through really pleasant forest and capping it off with the famous Manistee National Forest and river trails. Really enjoyable hiking. Then you leave the Manistee NF and from Croton to the Ohio border, about 250 miles it's pretty terrible in my opinion. It's predominantly road walking through farmland and while 20 years ago this area was probably rural and quiet it's not anymore. The narrow roads were somewhat busy and mostly paved. And the farms are small meaning a lot more people. Contrasting with North Dakota where the farms are huge, North Dakota really felt rural and quiet. Lower Michigan just felt busy all the time. Tons of houses and I didn't have a quiet night camping the entire 250 miles. Occasionally you walk through a State Game area but even here hikers are just visitors and usually when I entered and/or camped there was lots of shooting and twice I ran across the insides of a gutted deer right on trail. So yeah, not my favorite 250 miles. It did get quieter and the roads more dirt from a bit south of Albion to Ohio. Oh, it also walks through 15 towns in those 250 miles and towns like Battle Creek are not exactly nice. 15 towns in 250 miles makes camping really hard on top of the already minimal amount of public land you walk through.
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Buckeye Trail Summary
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Overall, honestly the Buckeye Trail is pretty blah. It's a TON of roadwalking and trail sections are generally either just ok or in very poor shape. That's not to say there aren't nice sections. But on a trail that was like 900 miles of the NCT in Ohio those little nice sections don't add up to a whole lot. Ohio is actually quite pretty. It's just not really that great when you are mostly on roads or bad trail. There were plenty of little "mountains" (the Appalachian foothills) and farmland and if the trail could actually be routed through there then great. But it's all private land / not much funding so not much good walking.
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Here's a few points:
*
-One surprising positive was the roadwalking was generally really quiet and a lot of times gravel roads. That was nice for road walking. Although much of it is through pretty poor / trailer homes with piles of trash / meth issues with many, many dogs. However, at times it can be SO excessive. Specifically leaving the Shawnee State Forest heading west to Cincinnati is almost all roadwalking and then turning north you are on paved bicycle path for endless miles. The path is quite pleasant but my feet were killing me from all the pavement.
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-As I said there are some good sections of trail. A bunch of state parks and reservoirs come to mind. It was always so so nice when there was a good section of maintained trail.
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-Much of the trail is in VERY poor shape. Like hasn't seen trail maintenance in a decade poor shape. There's just not enough funding / people interested in maintaining the trail. At times the trail was either very overgrown or almost non-existent.
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-Camping is very, very difficult. I feel like I'm a master stealth camper and made it work, but it's tough. I tried my best to camp on as much public land as possible but it's virtually impossible to do that due to the lack of public land. If needed I would slip into some woods between farm fields or something like that. I never had any issues and was always very discrete. Camping is also quite loud with all the roads, houses, dogs, interstates and trains. Unless you are willing to spend thousands of dollars on hotel rooms and use a large network of people to come pick you up or camp in people's front yards you really have to do some discrete stealth camping to thru-hike the Buckeye Trail.
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-If you really want to enjoy the trail you really have to appreciate it for more than hiking. There's a couple who thru-hiked and wrote a book called "Wandering Ohio". I enjoyed reading this book as I hiked. They must have spent a zillion dollars staying in B&B's and hotels most nights but otherwise their hike was interesting to me. The book of course has a very positive attitude but you can even see how they were frustrated by how poor the actual trail sections were maintained. Same goes for other past hiker journals of Nimblewood Nomad and Strider. You read those and see they were basically as frustrated as I was at times, if not more (Nimblewood was very pissed!).
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I guess my point is that you need to really dig down deep and appreciate the Buckeye Trail for something more than a hiking trail. Personally, that's not really my thing so you get this blah review here. The best quote I saw was from a recent thru-hiker who is always heavily promoting the trail but said "they need to focus more on trail quality than trail quantity". That pretty much sums it up to me.
*
Anyway, I will repeat. Ohio is actually a quite pretty and pleasant place. It's just kinda rough to have a 1,400 mile trail around the state with so little actual decent trail.

*
Pennsylvania Summary
I liked PA a lot. The Allegheny NF is 100 miles of well maintained trail. Lots of oil and gas wells though. The random parcels of Game lands throughout the state were surprisingly well maintained too. The Sandy creek and Allegheny river bike trails were nice too. There is pretty minimal road walking until nearing Ohio.
*
NY Summary
I really liked NY. Crossing the Adirondacks was great. The canal and rail trails after that were easy and nice. There's really only 2 big pieces missing. The first 25 miles of trail from Crown Point are a road walk and there is a 20 mile road walk into Rome. Otherwise there aren't any other big holes. The rest of NY is the Finger Lakes Trail which I thru hiked in 2014. I didn't love the FLT but I've evolved a bit since and can appreciate it more for what it is and part of the bigger NCT. It's basically half quiet road walks and half trail through small parcels of state forest that are usually pretty heavily impacted. But in the overall scheme of the entire NCT it's a pretty nice section of well marked trail and quiet road walks.

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Journal Photo

North Country National Scenic Trail

When completed the trail will be the longest continuous hiking trail in the United States. The trail links scenic, natural, historic, and cultural areas across seven states allowing visitors to experience a variety of northern landscapes. Learn more: www.northcountrytrail.org

 

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