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April 14, 2012

Andrew Skurka (inset) was in Kalamazoo on Saturday, April 14, sharing with an appreciative audience of around 130 people his experiences spending six months hiking by himself for a distance of 4,700 miles around the outer reaches of Alaska.  The program Saturday afternoon took place in Dalton Auditorium on the Kalamazoo College campus.  Some 83 people had attended Andrew's program the previous evening at Western Michigan University.
Andrew displays a map showing the route he followed in his nearly 4,700 mile trek in Alaska and the Canadian Yukon.

Andrew Skurka back in Chief Noonday country:    A native of Massachusetts and now based in Colorado, Andrew Skurka has managed to make what many would consider a dream career out of doing something he obviously loves doing.  Which is hiking and backpacking more miles in more places than most people could even imagine, and then writing about his experiences and traveling to all sorts of places to share his adventures, his experience, and his hard-earned wisdom about how to get it all done. 

An accomplished adventurer and athlete, this man has backpacked, skied and pack-rafted more miles than I daresay most people have flown intercontinentally the equivalent of 1.2 times around the Earth's equator, I learned from his Web site

He is best known for long-distance solo backpacking treks, including spending seven months doing a 6,875 mile trek over what he named the Great Western Loop, and his eleven-month 7.775 mile trek on the Sea to Sea Route from Quebec Province to Cape Alava in Olympic National Park, Washington. 

Pack-rafting in Alaska.  Wonder who took this picture and how....

This latter trek was where Chief Noonday Chapter first got to know Andrew as he hiked our stretch of the North Country National Scenic Trail in the winter time at his usual stunning Skurka pace typically 30 or more miles in a day.  Did I mention that the man is an athlete?

The focus of his programs during this visit to Western Michigan University and Kalamazoo College was his 4,679 mile expedition along a great loop path through Alaska and the Canadian Yukon done between mid-March and early September 2010.  His lecture was accompanied by stunning images and compelling video.

This was my second time hearing Andrew's presentation, having caught it last year at the NCTA National Conference in Dayton.  I still was spellbound hearing again about his experiences not only what he did and the incredible places he saw and the experiences he had with the "natives" (the caribou, the grizzlies, the bugs, and other denizens of this vast wild region), but the feelings and emotions he had to deal with, traveling mostly alone, entirely dependent on his own personal wit, wisdom and courage for 176 days.  It blows me away.

Nobody had ever done it before: Hike, ski, and raft 4,679 miles through eight national parks, dozens of mountain ranges, and the length of the Yukon territory.  Then along came Andrew Skurka.  (National Geographic)

Andrew demonstrates one option for sleeping comfort that complies with ultralight requirements.

You can read more on-line about Andrew's adventures:

On Saturday evening Andrew gave a workshop at Lee's Adventure Sports in Portage, his Backpacking: Ultimate Gear & Skills Clinic, attended by more than 70 interested parties including Lee's staffers, Chief Noonday members, and many others. 

Andrew is known for his minimalist ultralight approach to backpacking which probably helps account for how fast and how long the man can move on the trail. 

Depending on the situation, Andrew can travel contentedly with 10 lbs of gear, 10 lbs of food (for a week), and 2 lbs of water.  There is a page on Andrew's Web site where you can learn more.   Best bet is to get a hold of a copy of Andrew's book, The Ultimate Hiker's GearGuide.

The Webmaster looks a tad dumbfounded after winning the door prize of a gift certificate for gear from Lee's Adventure Sports.  Thanks to Skip Lee for making this happen!  (Photo by Christi of Lee's Adventure Sports staff)

But as Andrew emphasized both in this clinic and in his earlier presentations, careful, meticulous, thorough planning is essential to successfully pulling off ultralight backpacking.  This is not a situation where you can make it up as you go along.  Andrew displayed slides illustrating the way he'd commandeered his mother's living room and kitchen laying out all his gear and food during the intricate planning process.

Coming as my brother and I do from a more "everything but the kitchen sink" philosophy of "be prepared for any eventuality" backpacking, I was intrigued by Andrew's techniques, although feeling somewhat like a dinosaur too.  I rued the 50 lb packs I'd lugged on the Jordan River and High Country Pathways years ago with my brother, who didn't even weigh his pack because he didn't want to know.  Andrew's 22 lb pack sounded amazing.

Chief Noonday Chapter president Larry Pio and his helpers deserve major kudos for pulling off a great event for Andrew Skurka's visit to Chief Noonday Country.  Thanks to all involved.  And thanks to Andrew for a great visit and a great experience.

Mick Hawkins   
Webmaster, Chief Noonday Chapter  

Backpacking: Ultimate Gear & Skills Clinic:  Those who came for Andrew's workshop not only learned a lot but found they also had a lot to unlearn!
March 25, 2012

 (Picture by Julie Makarewicz, J-Ad Graphics /
Middleville Sun & News.  Used with permission.)

Trail Town in the making?  The Village of Middleville in Barry County could become one of the first (if not the first)  North Country Trail Town in Michigan if a team of committed Chief Noonday Chapter members have their way.

The North Country National Scenic Trail follows a large section of the Paul Henry Thornapple Trail into town from the south and continues through the Village and on to the Middleville State Game Area northeast of town.

On March 20, Ron and Linda Sootsman, along with Jean Lamoreaux, made a presentation to the Middleville Downtown Development Authority board aimed at promoting the designation of the Village of Middleville as Chief Noonday's and Michigan's premier Trail Town.
Ron is CND's VP/Administration and Linda is CND's Treasurer.  Jean is also Events Coordinator for the Village of Middleville.

According to Andrea Ketchmark, NCTA's Director of Trail Development, although the concept was not invented by the North Country Trail, the pilot program for the NCNST Trail Towns started in Pennsylvania. The towns of Parker and Wampum are now official Trail Towns on the North Country Trail.

Using support materials generated by the NCTA to promote the Trail Town concept, Jean, Ron and Linda underscored the mutual advantages afforded to the Trail, its users, and the Village as a result of the approval and implementation of this designation. 

A Trail Town is a community through which the North Country Trail passes that supports hikers with services, promotes the Trail to its citizens and embraces the Trail as a resource to be protected and celebrated.

With the endorsement of the Middleville DDA, next the team will be presenting the proposal to the Village Council on April 3.

In addition to Middleville, Chief Noonday Chapter's section of the North Country National Scenic Trail passes through the Cities of Albion, Marshall and Battle Creek, the Villages of Homer and Augusta, and the hamlets of Ceresco and Prairieville.  However, simply being on the Trail is not enough for a town to qualify as a Trail Town.  The concept entails a mutual, active commitment between a town and the Trail to work together in a symbiotic relationship that significantly benefits the community of residents, providers of services, and all those who use, tend to, and enjoy the Trail.

Mick Hawkins   
Webmaster, Chief Noonday Chapter   

.March 24, 2012

March madness stepping out CND-style:

Winter vs. spring hike in Kalamazoo:  A hike on March 10 on the Kalamazoo River Valley Trail may have had an early spring look to it, but you can tell from the way these folks are bundled up that it definitely didn't have a spring feel to it.  The temperatures that day were moderate for the time of year, but there was quite a breeze that brought with it a chill factor in the teens.  (From left) Eric Longman, Linda and Ron Sootsman, Jeff Fleming, Verle and Charles Krammin, and (inset) Bob Sulaski who was behind the camera for this picture.  Bob serves as Chief Noonday's one-man Hike Committee, planning and organizing the chapter's monthly hikes.

At our March chapter meeting we had an "open mike" night featuring our own members.  (Above) Ron Sootsman with wife Linda gave a presentation with pictures and commentary on the many miles Ron has hiked on the North Country Trail in three states.  Bob Sulaski gave a presentation on Chief Noonday's grave site in Barry County and displayed his own handiwork of several beautiful native American-style dream catchers.  Cal Lamoreaux gave a presentation of slides and commentary on the Manistee River section of the North Country National Scenic Trail.

And (left) Chief Noonday President Larry Pio presented Ron Sootsman with his "third annual" Hiker Challenge Cup for once again coming in at first place with 341.6 one-way miles on the NCNST under his belt in one year!
Hiker Challenge 2011 shirts were also awarded to (from left) Michael Wilkey, who came in fourth with 84.3 miles, Mick Hawkins, who with 34.2 one-way miles didn't finish in the Top Ten but won the "at large" drawing, and to Larry Pio, who came in second at 114.0 miles.

Our March workday was ... different.  Because our scheduled project at Kimball Pines fell through due to factors beyond our control, we ended up sort of making the day up as we went along.
     First, a crew of eight stalwarts made short work of moving the kiosk at Fort Custer (Armstrong Road) to improve its accessibility from the Trail.  The kiosk was one of our older and definitely heavier ones, but they got the job done in less than 45 minutes.
     Previously (left) the kiosk had stood on the edge of a rapidly eroding run-off ditch, and you almost needed boots and a stepladder (or binoculars) to read the stuff on the front of the kiosk.
     The crew was made up of Jeff Fleming, Ron Sootsman, Bill Winstanley, Alan Wiseman, Larry Pio, Steve Secrest, Al Graves, and Bob Cooley.  They were later joined by Tom Parker.
     From Ft. Custer they went to Augusta Drive (lower left) and made repairs on a kiosk and an old leaning railroad switch on display there. 
     And they concluded the day by heading up the Trail at Kellogg Biological Station to clear some downed trees and encroaching brush a common challenge at KBS.

Mick Hawkins   
Webmaster, Chief Noonday Chapter   

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