Night hikes & wine stumps
Last night was the first outing of 2023 for the Michigan Girl Bike (and Hike!) Group. Here’s how it went:
Quick summary: It actually snowed for us! Which means I couldn’t find the “off-road” trail I had planned for us! 28 of us went out! No clue how many came back! We had wine in stumps!
The details: It was raining as I wrestled a couple bottles of champagne – wrapped in Christmas twinkle lights – inside and under a tree stump that had grown funny and stood on its roots next to the lake. The bubbly was a surprise for the gals to come across during our hike. It was my finest work ever. If the women didn’t appreciate this, they were dead to me.
At 5:30 p.m., I went to meet everyone. I had decided to start our hike at a far-flung dirt lot in the middle of nowhere. And I had left out one tiny detail – the dirt road was ATROCIOUS. Granted, when I made the plan, all the potholes had been filled with snow and was actually in better condition than I’d ever seen it. Now, though, the rain and melt had done its worst. The women would need to creep in or book a tire alignment come Friday.
One bouncing set of headlights after another arrived down the old road. The adventure had begun.
Once all tires and shocks were reengineered, we did a round of introductions. I promised the ladies there would be a glowing beacon in the night, some 1.5 miles away, and that we could not turn back until we found it.
So 28 fearless, head-lamped souls headed out – just as the rain decided to commit to snow. We were happy! It was snowing at last in January in Michigan!
The first half mile of the trail was marked, wide and evident, and it was easy going in the night. Everyone was warming up and coming to life.
By the time we got to the tiny, unmarked footpath I had chosen, the snow was coming DOWN. Like sleet. Like wet. Like blinding. With my headlamp at the front of the pack, it was like leading a convoy through a blizzard with high beams on.
When I asked the woman behind if she could see the trail, she laughed. I laughed too.
But inside, I was like, seriously, can you see the trail?
The leaves were now plastered over with the thinnest layer of snow – just enough to conceal the trail – the forest floor turning white in a few minutes time. The trail evaporated before my very eyes. I had zero night vision and everything had disappeared outside of my beam of light.
Where were we?
But the good news was, we were hiking the edge of the lake. If we got wet, we’d veered too far right. If we strayed left, we’d have to climb a sidehill. The trail had to be here somewhere.
On I marched, with zero confidence and tons of bravado.
When we came upon an animal hole, we stopped to investigate. It was some kind of den – either a coyote or a fox? A badger? Yeti children at play? The theories ran wild as I took a break and tried to figure out if we were still in Michigan.
After that, we headed out again until, at last – I saw it. My glowing wine in the distance.
We were on track! We were going to live! We were still in Mich!
However, if there were still 27 women with me, I hadn’t a clue.
Never mind, it was too late to worry about it now. We unearthed my art, drank a toast and hung out for a bit. Some of them started singing some random song. The bonding was well underway.
However, I still had 2 more goals for the hike:
A quick stop to admire the beaver lodge. (YES a beaver lodge, full frickin’ service here!) We hiked a bit farther along the narrow non-trail and one of the gals, with an airport runway light on her head, shone her light upon the huge lodge along the shore. The beavers, I presumed, peaked out through their twig windows and took a pic of us for their Insta.
I wanted to stand stock still in the dark, no lights on at all, and look at the lake. In silence.
A tall order indeed.
But, after leaving the beavs to their gnawing, we stood on the shore of Lake Dubonnet in the dark, lights off, and waited for our night vision to arrive. Then we tried to get quiet. And, eventually, 28 (more or less) of us did. It was amazing.
I'm not kidding, it really was something. The snow had stopped, and we could see the lake. Its gray shadowy night self, its features appearing, its stillness in black and white. It was powerful. And serene. And beautiful.
Then, one of the women said, I’m having a moment. Another replied, I’m getting emotional.
That’s when I knew the wine would need to be worked off on the hike back.
I turned the gang around and because I like to throw in a moment where we face our mortality, I decided to hike us up a hill with no path at all, through the thickets, to get to a two-track up high over the lake. It was time to raise the stakes and some heart rates.
Now, I knew there was a little spot to climb the hill. I just had to find that open spot by that tree stump the beavers had whittled into a death spear next to the trail – yes, there it was! – I had just bludgeoned my knee on it in the dark. My night vision was gone, my headlamp back on, and I was seeing double with pain.
I swallowed a yelp and put on a brave face - “Haha, ladies, no worries! I'm ok! I'm fine!”
The ladies weren’t even looking at me. They were still having their moment.
Hanging a hard right, I limped us up the hill and took us on a wide two-track, where we could walk in pairs and packs. I’m not going to lie – I had a bit of a moment myself then, as I wondered if I was bleeding from the kneecap – when I saw and heard all the laughter in the Northern Michigan woods on a snowy night.
A moment of new fallen snow and new friends made.
No matter how many made it back. 🤍❤️
I love, love, love this sooooo much! You are such a gifted writer...I really felt like I was there w/you!!!