Taking a new look at an old trail/Dan Schneider

Most of the trips I take into the woods, whether hiking, mountain biking or snowshoeing, I take solo or with one or two close friends.

So the outing I took this past Sunday, leading a group of 15 on a hike on my adopted section of the North Country Trail in the Trap Hills of Ontonagon County, was an unusual experience for me. I came away with three impressions:

First: it was good to hike at someone else’s pace for a while. I am typically a fast hiker, often hurrying too much to cover miles and get to the next overlook or creek crossing at the expense of looking at things worth seeing along the way. As a group, spending most of an afternoon hiking the 3 miles of trail, we moved at a pace conducive to spotting tree toads and lingering wildflowers I would likely have missed had I been hiking alone.

My second observation: having company over makes a person more aware of the cobwebs in the corners of the ceiling. Since the 3 miles of trail we hiked is my adopted section of the North Country Trail, I am responsible for its maintenance and upkeep. Knowing 14 people were following behind me, stepping over the same fallen logs I was stepping over and brushing back the same branches of maple saplings – logs I should have sawed up and branches I should have trimmed back by this point in the hiking season – made me resolve to put more work into the upkeep of my adopted trail section.

My third observation: different people see different things in the same woods. I have hiked the three miles of trail we covered Sunday more times than I can count, and looked at its various aspects from both directions. But it took one hiker in the group asking me “Do you know much about mushrooms?” (I don’t) to get me thinking about the fungi that I have overlooked all this time. In a quarter mile of looking at the ground, we spotted 10 or 12 different species of mushrooms, making me wish we had a field guide on hand to identify them.

Another hiker in the group answered a question that had dogged me the last three summers: what was the story behind the hollow tree trunk, standing atop a small hill, with a pile of scat pellets pouring out of the hole at its base? It had been, she explained, the home of a porcupine.

A third member of the group pointed out a towering aspen, one whose quiet leaves proved the stillness of the air, which I had not noticed before. With a trunk fully 2 feet in diameter, it was the largest aspen I had ever seen (or at least the largest I had ever taken notice of) and it was only a few feet off to one side of the trail.

So while hiking with a group was an unusual experience for me, it was one I should probably repeat more often.