Anandhi Chandran: Hike 100 Finisher
“It became more about the journey than the destination going solo. I have to say, as much as I enjoy the company of others while backpacking, solo hiking connects you more with nature; you hear more, you see more, and you feel more.”
In the summer of 2020, Anandhi Chandran of Farmington Hills, Michigan, backpacked 100 North Country Trail miles southbound through the Manistee National Forest in Michigan over five and a half days – four days/night solo and one and a half with a dear friend. Anandhi generously shared the story of her journey with us, in both written and visual form, and we hope she will inspire you to find your own adventure, too.
NCTA: Had you hiked in the Manistee National Forest (NF) before? Have you hiked and/or backpacked on the NCT before?
Anandhi: I have backpacked the northern portions of Manistee NF: Tippy Dam/Udell Hills area, NCT 797.5 to NCT 815 over one trip, and then the Manistee River Trail Loop on another trip, which covered NCT 779.5 to NCT 791.5. I have backpacked the Fife Lake Loop, Jordan River Valley Loop, and day hiked portions of NCT in Battle Creek/Kalamazoo/Yankee Springs Recreation Area. I backpacked all of NCT through Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, and day-hiked sections of NCT through the Porcupine Mountains and Black River/Ottawa National Forest.
NCTA: What drew you to this particular area / the NCT?
Anandhi: I loved backpacking through the Tippy Dam/Udell Hills section of the Manistee National Forest and wondered if I could continue that section either north or south. I stumbled upon a Facebook post which talked about the beautiful NCT section along Nichols Lake. I chose the southern section and planned it out.
NCTA: We see this was your first time solo backpacking. Do you have other backpacking experience?
Anandhi: I have prior backpacking experience, but always with a group. I have only been backpacking since 2017, after taking backpacking classes at a local group called Solar Outdoors. Since then I have avidly backpacked every chance I got with Solar Outdoors members, Northern Michigan Backpacking Facebook group events and with friends made through both groups. I typically fit in at least six backpacking trips over the three seasons, usually four days/nights on average. Besides backpacking trips mentioned above, I have backpacked Isle Royale National Park, half of the John Muir Trail and southern section of Lake Superior Provincial Park in Canada.
NCTA: What made you decide to go solo this time and what were your feelings about it?
Anandhi: I find that scheduling is the biggest obstacle when trying to backpack with a group. Not everyone is available when I can take time off work and vice versa. I had a sudden week off from work, I could not put together a group at short notice and considering Covid-19, decided to try going solo. I had a tentative plan choice of the southern section of the Manistee National Forest or the Superior Hiking Trail in Minnesota. Considering a bailout plan since I was going solo, I kept it close to home and chose the Manistee National Forest instead. I am glad that I did.
I really enjoyed going solo. I set my own pace, it was my own flexible plan; I stopped when I wanted to take a break, enjoy the moment, take pictures etc. I also loved the flexibility of dispersed camping. It became more about the journey than the destination going solo. I have to say, as much as I enjoy the company of others while backpacking, solo hiking connects you more with nature, you hear more, you see more, and you feel more. At camp, however, I did miss company. I did not enjoy having dinner alone and missed the chatter with friends at camp.
NCTA: What were a couple especially memorable highlights of your trip?
Anandhi: At night, it was so wonderfully quiet, you could hear all the nocturnal animals: the owls, loons, coyotes, crickets, etc. I also loved how the Trail went through different ecosystems: the pine forests, oak savannas, wetlands, lakes, grasslands. The frequently changing landscape kept it interesting. All through my hike, I appreciated how well the Trail was marked and maintained. You could tell it was loved dearly by many people.
NCTA: What was your favorite Trail section or camp site?
Anandhi: I loved the oak savanna section of NCT north of 7-Mile. It was a surreal landscape: wide open skies, oak bushes as far as the eyes can see, simply serene and beautiful. It was a landscape I have never seen in Michigan before. As for camp, if I backpack this section again, I will choose the beautiful Highbank Lake to disperse camp. If it had not been the middle of my hike for the day, I would have camped there.
NCTA: What miles were the most challenging for you, physically and/or mentally?
Anandhi: My first day was about 10 miles and I had planned on a water source based on the map and planned on camp near there. But when I got there, the creek was dry, and I had only half a liter of water left. Self-doubt on my solo backpacking capability set in. I conserved water, got through the night with worry on my mind about water sources for the rest of the trip. In the morning, I shrugged off my insecurity, rearranged the rest of the trip to make sure I cameled up and refilled my bottles at every water source after. I did not face any physical challenges, I was lucky to have great sunny weather, a trail in excellent condition and no biting insects.
NCTA: What advice or words of encouragement do you have for others who might be considering a trip similar to yours? To other women who might feel hesitant about solo backpacking?
Anandhi: If you really enjoy and appreciate nature, solo backpacking will give you a unique immersive experience. You set your own pace, schedule, the freedom to enjoy the trail as you would like it. I completely encourage all female hikers who wish to go solo to try it. It’s liberating.
I think one of the primary concerns for women who want to backpack solo is safety. Besides the usual hiker/backpacker safety recommendations, my advice specifically for women would be:
- Carry a Garmin mini or a Spot for SOS, especially if there are chances you may not have cell service.
- Have a flexible plan that includes a contingency bailout plan. Choose safety over everything else, if something feels unsafe and risky, do not do it. The trail will always be there for you to revisit another time.
- Backpack over the week instead of the weekend so there would be less people on the trail.
- When you come up to a road intersection, wait in the woods to cross until you hear no vehicles on the road. This way, you minimize revealing that you are alone on the trail to general public.
- Make it a point to greet fellow humans on the trail, stop and chat if someone tries to make conversation. Psychologically it makes you feel safe, confident and appear strong.
- The first day and/or night you might feel apprehensive, but it wears off quickly.
- Make entries in trail log registers along the way.
I did not carry a bear spray or any weapon, not even a knife, but kept my ears and eyes open for bears. I did carry a Garmin mini for SOS if needed but had cell service most of the way. I have to say, I felt completely safe, even at night.
NCTA: What are your plans for future NCT exploration? Any more backpacking this year or day hikes? Any NCT-related goals or dreams like completing the 2021 Hike 100 Challenge or visiting another Trail state?
Anandhi: This year, I plan to day hike through the winter with a group led by a woman that organizes NCT section hikes called Border to Bridge hikes. Next year, I have plans to hike the Superior Hiking Trail and the Border Route Trail. I also want to backpack all of NCT in the Michigan UP next year. Of course, I would love to complete the 2021 Hike 100 Challenge as part of this.