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Gabe's Gripes: Trying new things

2005 LOHS graduate and Review Co-editor Gabriel Ouzounian stands at a precipice overlooking the mighty Manistee River. Ouzounian quickly realized how out of his element he was. Photo by M. Lambie. (click for larger version)
May 16, 2012 - Hello readers and welcome to an another column by your favorite home-bred reporter. This week we're going to try something different.

There will be no moral, no lesson, no "try-to-rememeber" motto, just a story about something new I tried over the weekend of May 5 - backpacking.

The idea was originally pitched to me by an old high school friend, Marshall Lambie, whose father made sure to go often in his youth. The end result is a resurfacing interest in the outdoors and having never camped before, I found myself interested as well. We set about to planning the trip and landed on the idea of hiking the Manistee River Trail - a 20 mile round trip up and down the river of the same name.

The learning experience started from the get go with my backpack swiftly being dismissed as a child's pack (which considering it was purchased in the late 1990's is probably accurate.) From there I learned despite what I thought, 25 percent of body weight is the preferred pack weight. This flew in contrast to my original assumption that I would be perfectly fine carrying nearly 100 pounds.

More lessons were learned as the day drew near and with nearly all my equipment being borrowed I had plenty to absorb. I realized as we stuff the large sacks that I didn't even know how to pitch a tent, build a fire or search for water - a task made necessary by water's relatively heavy weight. Finally, with one day left, the packs were tied shut, final directions were perused and I went to bed looking forward to the new experience to be had.

The journey to the trail was largely uneventful spare the gradually changing scenery. After Flint, the road became mostly woods and the natives showed me that while Lake Orioners might consider themselves living in "the boonies" we are truly anything but. I have never in my life, even in Africa, felt like a city slicker. Not that the people were rude or anything but pleasant, but everything seemed to run just a bit more casually the further north we got.

Finally, we hit the Manistee National Park - an immense wooded area that I can earnestly say is the largest concentration of woods I have ever seen. We started on the trail, me with my trusty camera in hand and were immediately beset by spectacular mountain, forest and river sights. I turned to Marshall and said I would be sad to see the car again at the end of the journey, words he told me to record and listen to again once we finished.

The first day was easy enough; with about 5 miles hiked in roughly 2 hours we made good time, ate a hearty freeze dried chicken and mashed potato dinner, set up camp and were asleep before midnight. The trip was easy with gentle slops and fantastic views, especially as the sun set. Yet with the easy section coming to a close, Saturday would prove to be a day I won't soon forget.

We hit the mid-way marker for the trip just before noon and took a long break by the side of the river. We had just crossed on a small walking bridge and decided to try our hand at fishing - after-all it's said Manistee is great for fishing if you're looking for trout or salmon. Marshall managed to fix the ailing water filter with Chapstick of all things, so we no longer had to fear for lack of water.

Two hours later (and no fish in hand) we went back to hiking, this time on the North Country Trail which proved the Manistee River Trail's bigger nastier cousin.

I've never found walking to be grueling, but open trees letting the sun beat down on us while the trail dragged us gradually up hundreds of feet then dropping us down the same distance in a tenth of the time made mincemeat of my legs. The feeling one gets while exercising where the muscle literally gives out and will no longer operate was the feeling throughout my lower half. Blisters began to form in the borrowed hiking shoes I wore and general fatigue was prevalent. On top of it, we just filled the two liter water sack at the river and the added weight wore heavily.

Finally, three hours into the second leg of the hike, when I felt as if I could no longer continue safely, a chance discovery of a camp site on the peak of a mountain ended the journey. I hobbled around the camp site after removing the pack, tending to what needed doing while my friend built a fire. Finally I could take no more, pitched the tent and fell onto my sleeping mat, nearly passing out.

An hour later I braved the outdoors again where the fire was nearing self sustainment. We made food and relaxed by the warmth of the blaze that frightened off the gnats which had pestered us to no small extent the entire day. I lay down on the bed of leaves that covered the plateau and looked out at the endless expanse of woods and smiled at my accomplishment.

It really is something to see. I cannot wait to go again.

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