|Here's me with maximum beard and long hair. I couldn't wait to shave this crap off.|
Finishing this hike in Ironwood on July 18th was something I will never forget. The welcome I received was just amazing. The main thing I remember about it was this overwhelming feeling of gratitude. All the people that helped me, all the support, the kindness... It washed over me in a giant wave that lasted for two whole days. I'll make another blog entry thanking people specifically but, for now, let me just describe to you the last couple of days.
The main person who made my Ironwood experience so positive is Lee-Ann Garske. She's a member of the Downtown Ironwood Development Authority. She's worked very hard on a beautiful park and a multi-use trailhead right in the middle of town. She contacted me and asked if I could time my hike to arrive on the first day of Festival Ironwood which worked out perfectly for me. She said Ironwood wanted to 'welcome me'. I had no idea what I was in for...
|Lee-Ann Garske and me.|
I met Lee-Ann and her husband John as well as the Mayor of Ironwood and members of the community a few blocks away from the park. After greetings and handshakes all around, we hiked into town together WITH A POLICE ESCORT! That's right, sirens and waving to people... Drivers pulling over to yell "Are you the guy who hiked here from Detroit? That's awesome!" It was surreal. Most hikes end with a shrug of the shoulders and a murmur of "Glad that's over." Maybe you high-five the guy next to you if you're with someone. When I finished the Appalachian Trail, I was lucky enough to have my faithful Resupply Coordinator, Martha, there and a glass of sparkling grape juice from the Appalachian Trail Conservancy for a toast. This, by comparison, was WAY over the top. There were hotel marquis and banners with my name on them. There were hundreds of people at this festival and they all seemed to want to meet me and welcome me to Ironwood. It was overwhelming. Before I knew it, there was a plate of delicious food in front of me and a cold beer in my hand. Seems like the whole town came out for this festival and I felt like the guest of honor. At one point, I was being interviewed by a woman from the local paper when Lee-Ann interrupted "We're going to have to cut this interview short, the mayor is about to introduce him on stage." Who? Me? I don't think I'll ever hear those words again: We're going to have to interrupt the newspaper interview because the mayor is about to introduce him on stage. Amazing.
So I made a short speech and accepted a round of applause and went back to eating and drinking and meeting cool people and answering questions about my hike. Has any other hiker in the world ever had this kind of experience at the end of their hike? I can't imagine so. The only downside was that I was still covered in a thick coating of trail funk. I hadn't showered in weeks. During this hike, I couldn't even soak in a swimming hole or take a hippie shower in the rain because if I exposed my skin for one second, the black flies would tear me to pieces. Thus, I stunk.
After a wonderful evening, I was invited to stay at the Classic Motor Inn owned by Bob and Annette Burchell. It was so nice to take a nice hot shower with real soap and clean towels, to sleep in a nice soft bed and to make use of a fancy flushing toilet. I didn't even have to tie my food in a tree! I wasn't bitten by bugs all night long. I didn't get rained on. I didn't spend 20 minutes in the morning pulling off all the ticks that latched onto me during the night. It was, in a word, comfortable.
|Bob Burchell, Me, Annette Burchell and Lee-Ann. This place is awesome and it's right on US2 if you're passing through Ironwood.|
I spent the next day checking out Ironwood. What a cool town. The whole Gogebic Range area of Ironwood, Bessemer and Wakefield in Michigan and Hurley in Wisconsin seems like it's growing. It once had a huge population and mining community but that kinda fell off over the years. Now, families looking for an 'outdoorsy' lifestyle are moving back to the area and tourism is booming.
|When they asked me to be a driver for the Soapbox Derby, how could I say "No"?|
I spent Saturday evening at Festival Ironwood which had some great live music and more people than ever. I had a bus ride home leaving at 11pm so I tore myself away and headed over to the bus station. The ride home was tough. It's hard to go from the freedom of life on the trail to being cooped up in a giant metal tube but mostly, I was just glad for a way to get home (thanks Sandy Lowe!). I didn't get to Lansing until late Sunday afternoon and, by then, I was ready to be home. Ready to see my family and friends again. Ready to sleep in my own bed.
|Thinking back to when I started from Belle Isle on April 26th.|
I've got more pictures and stories to tell. I'll post every couple of days until I run out so stayed tuned and please, leave me a comment!