It is the weekend before rifle deer hunting season opens in Michigan. The mid-morning weather is bright, crisp, and clear. Leaves from the oak and maple trees completely cover the ground. Here and there you can spot a patch of snow clinging on, though it is unlikely to last as the temperature is creeping up to a high in the lower 50s. I am going for a day hike on the North Country Trail with several friends; we're walking a section of trail many of us have hiked before, though it has been a few years. We are all expecting to have a thoroughly enjoyable hike on trail that should pose no real problem during an autumn day that promises to be as close to perfect as one could wish.
Walking through the woods, we passed a charming little cabin that we knew was occupied, as a hint of wood smoke filled the air. We noticed that we were, unfortunately I thought, spending a fair bit of time walking into the sun. Then we came to the Big Sable River and the Vince Smith Memorial Bridge. This is a lovely clear river that has nice camping spots nearby. Our group slowly spread out as faster hikers took the lead and those of us who wanted to take photos or do other things, like gather detailed trail distance measurements, lagged behind. There was no need to rush, as the trail is fairly gentle the whole way, and we had well over five hours until sunset to hike the entire 13-mile section.
Time passed and I found myself hiking with one other person, also an experienced and knowledgable backpacker. We were having a grand time and were not too concerned that the rest of the group was out of sight and earshot. Perhaps we were having too much fun, because not long after cresting a gentle hill, we made a mistake: we stepped off the trail and onto a two-track. The NCT uses two-tracks now and again, but that wasn't the case this time. We followed the two-track until it reached a Forest Service road, a good third of a mile, before realizing our error. We thought we may have made a mistake, since we had not seen any blazes in a while, but coming to the road was the clincher. Oh well, things like that happen to everyone. Turn around, walk back, find a blue blaze and continue on. No harm done.
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