On a crisp overcast late autumn morning I joined many others to help do some trail maintenance on the North Country Trail. The Spirit of the Woods had a big morning planned and since our Great Lakes Hikes annual gathering was happening nearby some of us decided to join them on their project. They also had volunteers from the Ferris State Outdoor Club helping out. The project was to rebuild boardwalk that had been wrecked in a massive treefall and to improve nearby trail making it accessible to people in wheelchairs too. That meant widening existing trail in some places and smoothing it out everywhere. For 3 hours, which seeemed to be the length of the entire project, everyone worked at various tasks and quite a bit seemed to get done. I'm sure the organizers were happy with the results. I know we felt good about the work. That's one big reason why people do this type of thing. To help improve something that others will use and know you have had a tangible effect on the thing in question: that you made a difference. This little video should give you an idea of what it can be like to help in such a project and perhaps you will want to take part in similar projects in your local (or not so local) area.

You can find the photos you saw in the video (along with captions) in this photo album.

You can learn more about the North Country Trail at the trail's Official web site.

A version of this video can also be found on YouTube.

Direct download: NCT_Workday_November_2013.mp4
Category:Podcast -- posted at: 11:15pm EST

New post by Kenknight
Direct download: 15th-annual-great-lakes-hikes-gathering.mp3
Category: -- posted at: 1:29am EST

Over the last few years I've joined John Lawton and Andy Mytys and we've hiked portioned of the North Country Tail, the NCT, in Michigan. The NCT in Michigan runs for about 1,100 miles using paved roads, dirts roads, rails to trails, two-tracks, and actual hiking trails. For this hike, the first weekend of November, we didn't have anyone to help us so we had to use 2 cars. This meant setting up a car shuttle and hiking leapfrog style between the cars. Doing this we were able to hike the 28-29 miles from just south of Prairieville to Middleville. We weren't quite sure why type of weather we would get. It seemed that we might actually have to cancel the hike due to severe storms but the weather report moderated to showers with highs in the mid-upper 40s and a low around freezing. For a variety of reasons I did not do much recording during the hike though I do have several thoughts I want to share.

More photos can be found in the Flickr Photo Album here. or if you prefer the Google photo album here.Captions associated with the photos in this podcast

Ken near Prairieville Municipal Park
It is a crisp overcast autumn morning at the Prairieville Municipal Park. The temperature is probably in the low 40s with little wind to bother us. The threat of rain, we think, is past. It promises to be a fine day for hiking even with the first several miles being a road walk (two line paned and dirt roads).

Photo by Andy Mytys
Prairieville Township Parker Road Park
At the start of our overnight hiking trip along the North Country Trail. The road walk will cover probably close on 8 miles of paved and dirt roads. They're fairly quiet roads with farms and other homes on each side. But what I think we noticed most at first were the large numbers of sandhill cranes that flew on by during the morning.

Photo by Andy Mytys
Deep Lake
Deep Lake not long after sunrise. The campground is rather large with campsites that are big in their own right. The night until around 04:45 or so was actually quite warm. But then the temperature plunged to about 30°F. Before then it stayed fairly warm in the low 40s even when a bit of rain came through around 03:00.
Hall Lake
The clouds let the sunlight break through now and then providing us with brilliant splashes of fall color (OK, maybe I pumped it just a tad). Andy stands on the shore of Hall Lake not far from our car and the end of the first day of hiking. We set up camp at Deep Lake Campground.
Fall in Michigan's Lower Peninsula can be very pleasant.

Photo by Andy Mytys
Forest and Fields
Now and then we would pass a grassy area like this. I'm not sure how many were working farm fields and how many just natural glades though I suspect more were the former than the latter. When in the State Game or Recreation Areas we were in rolling forests dotted with lakes.
The Prairieville Family Inn, I believe that's the right name, is a great place to have dinner. I expect breakfast and lunch are just as good. The food, especially the pie, is more than enough to make a tired hiker happy. Just look at the hot chocolate Andy is having. Another nice feature of stopping at a place like this is meeting those people who work there. They first thought we were hunters scouting for the upcoming rifle deer season but when they learned we were hikers they shared stories of meeting Strider (Luke Jordan) who had stopped here on in thru-hike of the NCT (now completed). They learned a lot from him including the fact that the NCT exists (never having known what those blue blazes were until Luke explained).

Photo by Andy Mytys
The last 3 miles and change of the hike into Middleville are along a Rails to Trails paved path that arrows through this flooding. It is the Thornapple Trail and their are some "rules" associated with it that are obeyed only kind of sort of.

Photo by Andy Mytys
Direct download: Prairieville_to_Middleville_Hike.m4a
Category:podcasts -- posted at: 7:42pm EST

Along with my parent I joined 10 other people for a two week long trip to Peru and Ecuador. This would be our first Overseas Adventure Travel (OAT) trip. It would prove to be quite an interesting and informative experience overall. It is best to think of this as really two trips rolled into one. The first week we spent in Peru traveling mostly through the Sacred Valley with a key highlight being our overnight visit to Machu Picchu. The second week was spent in Ecuador and the key component there was our 4 days spent  sailing amongst the Galapagos Islands. OAT trips, at least this one, have a goal of "learning and discovery" and one result of that is you move much more slowly than we are used to doing either by ourselves or with groups such as we travel with when on HF Holiday hiking trips. While an OAT trip can have physical challenges such as dealing with high altitude conditions, Machu Picchu sits at about 8,000 feet and Cusco at just over 11,000 feet above sea level or sea sickness on the 16-passenger catamaran the actual physical endeavors are modest. But you will still experience quite a lot even though at times you may feel both rushed or stuck in place depending on circumstances.

We spent about a week touring the region known as the Sacred Valley. This is the very high alpine valley region that used to be the key region of the Inca Empire. While people go to the Sacred Valley to experience the antiquities their is much more to the region than just the ruins of past civilizations. A big part of an Overseas Adventure Travel trip is learning about the people that live in the place you're visiting. In this segment we'll take a quick look at what we discovered. 

You can find more on the A Wanderingknight Blog. Photos can be found at the Flickr Photo Album.

At 12,000 feet above sea level the mountains seem a bit barren. However, agriculture is practiced anywhere it can be even more.
The soil looks rich and the farmers are growing several types of plants (corn, squash, and some sort of bean I think) but it's clearly hard communal work. The bulls pull simple plows made of a local, maybe eucalyptus, wood; people direct the bulls; others place seeds in the furrows; and, still there is work for more. And yet they were happy to see us perhaps just because we represent a break in the day.
Near the village of Chinchero we stopped at at co-op based weavers business. The weavers here are all women but from what I learned days later in a textile shop/museum in Cusco both genders learn to weave though perhaps the men general don't do it as a job (they do to attract attention). This work reminded me a bit of what we saw in Turkey. Here they work with llama or alpaca fibers and as you can see from their clothing it can be quite intricate. All materials are natural. Dad got a chance to dye some yarn.
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Perhaps Pavel, our trip leader who is from the Cosco region, told us what this statue is all about but I don't recall now. It is a stunning setting though.
From the roof of the fair sized house we had lunch in. It's true this home with its nice courtyard is home to a good sized family who definitely share close quarters but it is a big step up from many of the shacks you see here.
We walked around this little village for a time. It was rather quiet. Some people were out preparing for an event but other than that it felt rather empty.
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While each portion of cuy (pronounce, "cu-ee") was tiny just some skin and a small bite or two of meat I think it is fair to say that this guinea pig was the star attraction of the home cooked meal. Cuy is considered something of a special treat and I think everyone enjoyed it. Some of us the previous night watched the lady of the house slaughter and butcher this cut so we had seen it go from alive to lunch. The other food included a tasty soup, stuffed peppers, potatoes, and some other things I'm no doubt forgetting. A lovely fine lunch and hosted by a friendly family with some very exuberant children.
Our group and the fifth grade class we visited for a time. One thing Overseas Adventure Travel does is support organizations with financial assistance. In this case a school in Urabamba. While the children seemed enthusiastic it is clear the facilities they have need improvement. That can be said of so much in the region. Infrastructure from basic plumbing to reliable power is far from what it should be.
Using a variety of natural materials to paint designs into the ceramics seems to be entirely done by the ladies who work at Seminario Ceramics studio (the men do the shaping of the clay). This studio is run be renown ceramicists and must surely represent part of the peak of artistry in the region.
Direct download: Peru_Ecuador_2013_2.m4a
Category:Podcast -- posted at: 2:16pm EST



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