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Up North to Baldwin/Idlewild Solo
Action-packed Up North Solo Getaway
I just got back from my first solo trip up north to our little river
lot in Idlewild, near Baldwin, Michigan. I packed a bunch of yard tools,
my Bridgestone MB1, and my faded old Wenonah solo canoe, along with a jumble
of this'n'that and took off in the rump-slung OYB-mobile.
The mission was to clear our driveway of stumps, clear a trail to the
river, go to the vintage bar for a burger, sleep by the river, get up and
bike the local two-tracks, go canoeing and head on back.
We bought this buildable lot on the Pere Marquette last year. It's 2
hours away, which is the closest you can get and still be 'up north.' It's
also the poorest area in the state and thus the one we could afford.
It's a unique area because it used to be the nation's biggest black resort.
Quite a few black people still live and recreate up here. Many are poor,
but it makes for seeing more people and kids around: people walk to town,
kids ride bikes, people sit at card tables under shade trees. Less coccooning,
shall we say.
I got up north in time to put in a few hard hours of stump sawing. I'm
clearing the lot so I can pull our 1ittle trailer in there and get it back
out. 13 stumps to go. I put in 2 hours with the chainsaw til it got too
dull. But I still had a few stumps to do.
I used my 36" bowsaw sideways and sawed a few more off. Bowsaws
don't like to work close to the ground or sideways. But I got it going nicely
a few times and it cut fast. So, a half hour of that. After some rest, out
came the ax which I used to take out the last 2 stumps. Then I was done,
and done in. You know I like my manual labor workouts.
The shovel I'm using to clear dirt down away from the stumps has a light
hickory handle and a good thin tool steel blade that I keep sharp. I haven't
seen one as good in years.
Now it was time for the satisfying work of trail-building. I tossed aside
brush and logs and pulled big weeds and snapped limbs for 200 yards down
to the water. Easy work with quick progress and a beautiful, useful result.
I cleared a picnic site at the river's edge then had a beer by the water
and drove off to dinner in town.
I went to the Log Bar and called home and said I was alive. I went out
into the main bar area and noticed who was at the old horseshoe-shaped bar.
About 10 pig-eyed blutos. As I strolled past they were making noise but
I didn't catch them using words much less sentences. I left.
I strolled down to a bar called BMG Sporties. I was thinking it was likely
a black bar. I went in. It was. The Marvin Gaye wasn't too loud. A mix of
black and white people. An old guy sitting at the bar was wearing a nice
hat. He welcomed me in and asked where I was from. Within minutes everyone
had said Hi in passing. A college-aged DJ came up and called the old guy
Mr. Shep. Mr. Shep is the manager. He told me that this was a "mixed
bar." I don't frequent any black or mixed bars where I live, but I
had a nice, lively dinner.
I got back at twilight and hauled my tarp, sleeping bag, pad, book, flask,
treats and other goodies down to the river and set up a sleep-out place
next to the babbling water under the stars. I clicked up my Thermarest pad
straps into a camp chair and popped on my new Petzl LED headlamp and read
a little Don Quixote while nipping a little Mr. Williams. Whipporwill cry.
Fishflop. Now, the bugs were out. So here's what I did when I finally turned
out the lights: I zip into my bag and pop a mosquito head-net on, the kind
with a flexy hoop to keep the mesh away from your face. My bag, tarp and
net combine to make a great, cheap bivy set-up for coolish weather. I curled
up and fell asleep. Got awakened a little while later by a rustle and a
splash. I shined my highpower micro Streamlight tactical light across the
river as if I had a floodlight. I heard gnawing and saw an alder bush shaking
in the grass. Beaver. Back to sleep.
I had all kinds of wild dreams then woke up to a vireo. At least that's
the kind of name I'd give the bird I was hearing at 6 a.m. Soon the woods
were full of birdsong.
I packed up and headed into town for breakfast. I should've brought my
own. I read something last night about microlight camping. The guy made
"fist-sized" campfires and used a mini-hatchet to make the kindling.
Nothing like a little campfire and your own coffee and breakfast.
After a greasy breakfast I drove back and readied for a bike ride exploration
of the public lands nearby. I've been blowing the maps and compass angle
on outings lately, so I brought the right stuff this time in my fanny pack:
snacks, water, safety gear, tools. The area had been logged over a few decades
before, but the map showed some possibly interesting terrain
The two-tracks were sandy and my ride was bumpy from just one set of
horsetracks. I'd also knife in a little occasionally. I stopped and let
out a lot of tire air, down to about 20 lbs front, 30 rear. That greatly
A mile into the ride I took a map reading and stashed the bike off the
trail and hiked down through the scrub pines into a little hidden valley.
I had seen on the map that Blood Creek went through there on its way to
a populated area and that it looked interesting. Sure enough, there was
a lovely creek down in a dark, cool forest. It looked like it would be full
of brook trout.
I rode awhile longer, up to a bridge over the South Branch of the Pere
Marquette. A gorgeous "wine dark" river. I noticed a two-track
on the map that cut in to the river and discovered a modest hardwoods bluff
overlooking the river. Heavenly public camping spots. I saw only 2 camp
areas being used along a mile of two-track running along the bluff over
It's Memorial Day weekend and so far I have only noticed a few people
out and about. Where is everyone? Fine by me.
I came out onto the road and a guy in a truck pulling ORVs went by and
waved. I started riding back to our lot then found another two-track cutting
into public land. This one was bermed and had an old 'No Motor Vehicles'
sign. It was great to ride a leafy trail where no one had been. I took it
a mile through high hardwoods until it intersected a sandy, open powerline
yahoo-trail that cut back to our area. I hopped into the sand, let out even
more air, and had a fine time. Twice the trail dropped down big steep areas
of wide deep sand. I got way back, pedaled, coasted and floated no problem.
I popped out onto a paved road close to our lot. A guy was mowing his
trailer yard and waved. I rode back in and had lunch then loaded up to go
I drove downstream several miles and dropped off the bike for my shuttle,
then drove back and carried the canoe down our new trail to the picnic spot
and put in on our tiny stream. The locals say it's not paddleable. It's
what I call boat-o-cross. It took me an hour to do the 5 miles of swift,
twisty stream. It's a gorgeous stream, maybe 15 feet across and sometimes
5 feet deep. It's covered much of the way by tag alders that I had to aim
right between then lift up over me. That was easy. It's tougher doing log
crossings combined with alder lifting...in swift current. The main rule
for brush-boating is to bring nothing and use a light, short canoe. My favorite
kind of boat-o-cross involves poling and stepping out into shallow water
and walking while leading the boat on the painter. A river makes a lovely
You know, I wonder how bad it would be if I did a little river clearing.
It's anathema to trim the shady alders. Fishermen do it who want easier
fishing. It warms the water and kills the trout. I only want to cut narrow
slots in the logjams. It would make the bushboating actually tolerable.
As I paddled closer to the bike the river got bigger, then the South
Branch dumped in and I was suddenly on wide water, then I saw the bike and
stashed the boat in swampy weeds and rode back and got the car and then
got the boat. Party people were using the put-in while I did this. They
gaped a little and said funny things, but my jungle tactics and weird old
exotic gear don't lead to anything but fun.
I passed only one set of fisherfolk, near the bridge, near the end of
the paddle. They were decked-out Orvis people. It's funny how they don't
get too far from the cars. I whipped around a bend in the still-tiny stream
and there were three of them. I say a quick Excuse-me. They reel in. Two
dips and I'm past and around the bend and out of sight.
I like seeing the drunk kid canoe renters at the put-in. It's boys, girls,
nature and river water. A perfect mix. Better here than the bars. Do a little
sunbathing on some island grass. Just don't litter.
So, I did all I set out to do and had a fine time, all in a quick daytrip.
On the way out of town I pass up a fancy new franchise ribs trailer.
A few miles later I see a beat-up old trailer run by black people and stop.
The folks are jovial and the ribs homemade. I get an order and hit the road
for home. Inside the car is a mess of favorite outdoor equipment, all accessible,
and all making for a nice quick adventure.
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