(Note: this is a true story that was written by Neil and edited and formatted by Alex. Photographs were taken by Alex.)
You are about to read a true story about two men, whom together braved the elements and hiked over 100 miles. The entire trip took seven days, nowhere near civilization. The hikers fought through an unbelievable number of problems to successfully hike from a little town, called L’Anse, to an even smaller town, called Big Bay.
Day one, the two men woke up late, around 10:00 AM. The two men scrambled, realizing that their alarms failed to have awaken them. They needed to get supplies together, including a detailed plan for emergency purposes. By the time they were ready to go it was past 1:00 PM. The two men didn’t have much time to make it to the first camp sight.
Neil, the trip leader, started down a path he knew well. Unfortunately he failed to foresee something; the path had become overgrown with vegetation. The path became hazardous, completely covered with thin shrubby trees and the land had become a swamp. With Alex’s compass and Neil’s memory, the two men navigated through the knee deep, buggy, and brush covered swamp. After the swamp, and walking on a real trail, Neil turned around, with middle fingers in the air and said, “Fuck all that back there”! His friend Alex, the “brains” of the hike– laughed until red in the face.
The two men hiked down a well overgrown trail, thankfully it wasn’t a swamp. While hiking the men ran into a rain storm. Neil said, “We are both all wet, let’s take a short cut!” Veering downhill on wet rocks and brush, they made their way to the first camping spot. It wasn’t long until the rain became torrential. The men pitched a tent, anticipating the rain was going to last. Neil tried to make a fire before realizing he forgot most of his fire making equipment in the chaos of the morning rush.
Suddenly the rain stopped. Oddly enough, the sun then came out and the men were able to enjoy their time sitting on a sand cliff. The cliff was over 80 feet high, with a river bending at the bottom, and had a beautiful view overlooking the forest. It was then the men felt they had the worst behind them. Neil finally could make a fire, while Alex started hanging wet items on a rope. The night became late; the two men enjoyed eating dinner to a beautiful sunset. Neil then discovered he forgot his cell phone.
The respite from the storm, however, would not last. All of a sudden the Alex’s cell phone went nuts with messages of the impending storm. The wind had shifted direction, and picked up great speed. Alex said “Oh shit, those clouds look weird”.
A tornado touched down in L’Anse, the very town they came from. The men listened, as the siren yelled from town and they witnessed the cloud formation of the huge Supercell. Now the men were between a cliff and a tornado. They had no choice but to endure the night and hope for the best. Frequently waking to rain so heavy, they felt as if their tent was pitched under a water fall. The night became long and uncertain.
Finally, morning broke and the two adventurous campers awoke to sunny skies and ate oranges for breakfast. The tent survived, much to their surprise. An unbelievable message from home; a tornado had struck down in L’Anse, destroying multiple buildings, causing power outages, and blocking roads. However, the two determined men could not be dissuaded, and packed up to continue their journey. They didn’t expect the rest of the trip to be easy. This expectation was met when a river typically no deeper than the knee, was instead a 12-foot deep raging torrent. A bit taken back, they filtered water while working out a plan to cross the river.
Alex, who has been uncomfortable with swimming in water since childhood, dives right in, trying to find a path to walk across. With little success, Neil-who is crazy, said, “I’m putting on my back pack and hiking across the river”. He was occasionally stopped by the amazing turbulence of the water, chest high, but slowly, he was determined to get to the other side. Faced with a floating log, hanging by a root on a severely eroded bank, he climbs. Soon he discovers, the log was a home to millions of carpenter ants. He couldn’t stop now, he muscled his way onto the log with 50 lbs. on is back, dropped the load and went back to help his friend. Neil put on Alex’s back pack and they both went down the same path with the same problems. Alex climbed over the log hanging by a root and helped Neil get out of the water. As they put on some dry cloths, Neil said “Shit I had my camera on my side pouch”. He discovered it was still dry.
The men continued down the trail towards their next camping location, Arvon tower. Neil hiked bare foot and Alex enjoyed the Vibrams he brought. Soon the men come across a beaver dam four feet high protecting a trail from becoming a pond (and another problem). The men admired how the beaver built the dam alongside the trail, saying things like-“that’s a beaver with a civil engineering degree.”
The hike was long and beautiful with miles passing uneventfully, on a straight path on an old abandoned railroad grade with occasional flat cliff walls and cliff drop offs on both sides. The men stopped at an old bridge (they later learned was an old rail road car) and rested with the sound of moving water from the river. They made it to the end of the trail and onto a logging road; with almost 15 miles on their feet they took another break. Neil shouts to Alex “What is that”! Alex said “wooow, holy shit”, there was a huge bug on Neil’s back pack. It looked like a hornet about 3 inches long with a stinger about 6 inches. The men drew guns, pointing at the beast, and took pictures. Neil moved the bug with a stick and as it sat on the gravel Alex shot the bug with a P-22 pistol, disintegrating the nasty bug.
The men moved on, freaked out by the bug. Making jokes and laughing all the way up hill to Arvon tower-a large hill that once had a tower for fire watch. There had been active logging recently and Neil became confused with the new roads put in. But Neil and Alex found their way, and the trail became very steep very quickly.
Finally, the survivors made it to the site. Taking turns on the chores, Neil built a fire and cooked macaroni and cheese for dinner. The sun started to set and Neil laid in the tent alone with a book watching an army of wood ticks crawl up the screen of the tent, and Alex laid in his hammock. The night came and “good nights” were exchanged, when suddenly, a big “thump, thump,” right outside of the tent. Neil drew his gun not sure what it was, and shouts “Alex”, no response or sound, Neil shouts louder, “Alex”, still no response or sound. With time passing Neil knew if Alex was in danger he would make him aware of it, and so Neil went to sleep.
“Good Morning Alex,” said Neil, when he woke up and saw his friend sleeping. Alex replied, ”What was that sound”, Neil, “I have no idea”! Neil walked away and Alex discovered a Raccoon took a shit under his hammock. The men had some Raviolis for breakfast, packed up, and took off for Mt. Arvon- Michigan’s highest point. Still wondering what it was they heard that night.
While walking down the hill they related each other’s stories. Alex mentioned he heard Neil call for him and said nothing in the attempt not to provoke the “thing”, knowing Neil had the gun for the job. The men both agreed it had to be a large animal, such as a moose or bear. Alex was smart and held Neil’s second hand gun in his arms that night. Alex also learned a super valuable lesson. You don’t want to sleep in a hammock without a sleeping pad, unless you like half of your body freezing while the other half is boiling. They also couldn’t help but notice all the fresh wolf tracks on the trail.
Once more the day was beautiful and perfect, not too hot and not too cold. The men took a break at a bridge, with time to spare. Ate some snacks and both realized some brown butter was being stirred (they needed to take a shit). Looking around Neil remembered a cabin nearby. Alex borrowed the outhouse but Neil thought it was too nasty. So he went in the woods a little ways and found a happy home for his brown butter. Some sleep could then be achieved in a nice shaded area, with the sound of a gentle river.
Then the men headed up hill, on an old logging road. The road was covered with more wolf tracks, did a number of turns, and up and downs. The men made it to the top, pitched the tent and had ice cream. Neil made a bon fire while Alex tried to make a cooking fire and Alex was having a little trouble. With some help and friendly advice on fire building from Neil, Alex was able to get food cooking in no time. It wasn’t long till Neil saw something he just couldn’t help but laugh at. Alex had burned himself, and was jumping around shouting “Fuck, Fuck, Fuck!” He then paused, while standing still and said “That was dumb” then continued to jump around singing “Fuck, Fuck, Fuck!”
While having dinner they enjoyed a beautiful view over looking Point Abby. Alex was writing in his diary. Neil came and sat next to him curious as to what he was writing. Alex was writing out the story and all the funny things Neil said. Neil sat and worked on a crossword puzzle book. Neil was stuck on a question; Christmas song? Alex replied “Yuletide tune”. Neil got what he was looking for. Laughing, Alex replied, “it’s good to think less smart sometimes”.
Soon on top of Mt. Arvon, two friends from home showed up in a Jeep with pasties. Andy and Mike were happy to see Neil and Alex still alive since no communication was made since day one. The men shared stories about the tornado and the crazy nights, and let’s not forget about the bug. Everyone was creeped out about the bug. The gentlemen brought with them some guns and ammo. They had shooting contests with a 12 gauge, an AK-47, a Walter P-22, and a 45 long colt.
The night came and the men sat around the bon fire telling stories and good jokes, when a noise distracted the men on the mountain. It wasn’t scary this time, it was four to one and the group had guns and gear, and so they chased after the creature for fun. They never found the noise maker, but it was figured to be something small like a coyote. The men went to sleep and Alex woke early to see the sun rise over the lake. Alex tried to wake Neil up, but Neil was too lazy to get up. Later Neil asked Alex did you take a picture of the sun rise, and Alex replied “no, you were too lazy to get up this morning,” they both laughed.
Everyone packed up and started to have breakfast together. The campers shared chocolate, bacon, and dehydrated food. Then Neil and Alex went on their way to Leatherby Falls, while Andy and Mike took the Jeep back home to spread news of their friends still alive (for the time being). It was another beautiful day and amazing weather for the hikers. The campers hiked down the mountain and continued toward the water falls.
Soon the hikers were faced with another problem; the bugs became so bad they couldn’t handle it. Alex was wearing shorts and Neil was wearing pants. The bugs loved Alex, and made his life hell. It didn’t take long for Alex to lose his patience. Alex went nuts, hiking fast, screaming “Grrrrrh.” They took a break and Neil made a comment “did you take the legs off a Zombie”? Alex was laughing again. Neil found it amusing that if he swatted a bug, the little red ants on the ground would finish it off. Neil pointed it out to Alex and Alex replied “Yes, kill for me little ants.” Oh, the fun they were having.
The men decided to pass Leatherby Falls and make their way to Split River Falls. The men stopped at a bridge named Million Dollar bridge, and took a break from the long day.
Alex asked, “I would not mind staying here tonight, but how much farther is split river falls?”
Neil said, “About 4 more miles”, which isn’t far.
The hikers continued and soon learned Neil was wrong, it wasn’t till near dark when the campers arrived. Neil and Alex had blisters on their feet. Neil built a fire and cooked macaroni and cheese, with potato’s for dinner while Alex pitched a tent and filtered water. The men could only afford 6 hours to rest that night.
Morning came and the men set out for 40 foot falls. The trail changed once again and confused Neil. The campers found themselves in bear country with plenty of fresh tracks. Neil said, “I know we are going the wrong way, we need to go back and find a path to the right.” Alex took a GPS coordinate and they headed back. Alex spotted a path on the right and they followed it to a river. Neil recognized the river and commented “yes, this is the trail, thank you Alex.” The men made their way to 40 foot falls.
The men were stopped by 2 partridge–wild, edible birds. Neil tried to get his pistol out of Alex’s back pack, but the birds flew away before Neil could shoot. The men tried to find them with no luck.
They arrived at the falls, washed clothes, took a bath, and had dinner. Neil started getting crazy; he was hungry and had a can of raviolis. Neil started to get crazier, looking around for wild plants to eat. Then Alex said, “I have a hard time understanding people sometimes, but I think we need to go hunting”. The men went out hunting, even for something as small as a chipmunk. With no luck hunting, Neil started to get even crazier.
There was a tree cut up but not split, so Alex and Neil started splitting wood for the next visitors to the sight, in the effort to distract Neil from his hunger. Then it happened, the axe became stuck in a 20 inch in diameter log, and Neil lost it. For an entire minute, Neil swung the axe with log still attached violently against another log, sinking the splitting block into the ground. When it was over Neil said “Ho, that’s better.” Alex slept in a hammock that night, a distance from Neil.
The men woke up and had breakfast together. Alex commented to Neil he was not afraid for his life last night, figuring Neil would have taken him in his sleep if he were hungry enough.
There were some frying pans and dishes left from other visitors to the sight which made their lives amazing. Neil tried drying his clothes on a frying pan over a small fire. It was working, but it failed miserably when his T-shirt burnt.
Hiking down the trail, the next destination was the Yellow Dog Plains. They both commented on how blistered their feet were. Neil said “the skeletons are coming out of my feet.” While walking a green bag caught their attention. It was a fishing gear bag with a fishing license and few fishing items. The two decided to take turns hauling the bag back and get it to the owner, for a good deed. They soon hiked up a continuous zigzagging path that never seemed to end. They reached the top and commented on the hill, they nicknamed it “Ridiculous hill.”
The path was short to the Yellow Dog Plains. When they reached the plains, they were amazed by the blue berries. It was early in the season for blue berries, and totally unexpected to the hikers. For hours they picked blue berries. Happy and satisfied, Alex commented on how he never went berry picking before. They had all the blue berries to themselves, with no one around. Right after picking blue berries, Neil decided to put his arm through a hole in his shirt and make like a monster was coming out of his stomach. This surprised Alex when he turned to Neil screaming “Ahhhh”. With bags of blue berries and full stomachs, the hikers continued to hike.
A mine was in production along their path and the hikers were stopped by patrol. The hikers had guns on them so it was the patrols job to see what was going on. The hikers talked to the patrol and marched on.
The hikers decided to attempt to finish the trip early and did a full 30-plus mile hike attempt. Hiking through the Yellow Dog Plains and a good distance past, the sun set and the campers needed to find a place to stay. They discovered a bridge with a three-year permit that was nearly up and the bridge would be removed shortly after. Walking down the path they bumped into a wall of rocks and trees. Trying to find a way through, they moved some of the very large rocks. The campers found a spot on a hill loggers had cleared. Neil started a huge bond fire and Alex cooked dinner. After dinner Neil set up the tent and admired Alex struggling to lasso a branch with a rope to hang the food in.
The sun rose on the final day of the trip. They ate the last of the food for breakfast, and then hiked out ready to see civilization. While hiking they couldn’t help but start singing. They started with, “25 wood ticks, 24 more wood ticks, and 23 more wood ticks, 22 more wood ticks, 21 meals” and finished with “One really messed up buuug”.
They hustled down the long dusty gravel road, and came to the main road. Determined not to touch pavement the whole trip, the men followed down the snowmobile trail. Alex said I think it’s only a short distance and soon learned he was wrong. While hiking on the snowmobile trail they started singing again, “99 bottles of root beer on the wall, 99 bottles of root beer” and made it to under 20.
When they found the truck parked in Big Bay they announced “Finally we made it back to civilization”, and soon discovered they forgot money. A phone call was made for a credit card number and the men sat and ate a full meal like it was an appetizer. The crazies agreed they would try for a food competition the next time they come out of the woods from a long hike.
They jumped into the truck and headed home. Alex knew of a bridge project with an interesting view on the way home, so they took a detour. When they arrived, Neil found it amazing. After taking in the sight they trucked on home enjoying the wind in their hair and the feeling of going fast with no effort. While heading home traveling through Skanee; a heavy rain came down for a brief moment and a full double rainbow appeared over a small school. They took pictures, admired and traveled the last few miles home; alive and with many stories to tell.