North Country Trail: Trains, planes, boats and on foot | News

I have now logged over 600 miles on the North Country Trail. It’s about one-eighth the length of the trail. After a month and a half, maybe this hike is starting to get real. My goal is to hike the full length of the trail, hoping to finish in December 2022.

I started in Lake County, Michigan on Dec 1, 2021 and am hiking south (east trail). When I reach the eastern terminus of the trail in Vermont, I will drive west to Lake Sakakawea and hike back.

This is my second NCT hike. However, my first end-to-end trip was in sections. This time I hope to hike continuously, taking the occasional day off to rest and recharge.

After about 300 miles in Michigan, I crossed into Ohio where the North Country Trail competes for over 800 miles with the Buckeye Trail. On the west side of Ohio, the trail runs primarily along the Miami-Erie Canal towpath. This canal stretched 274 miles from Cincinnati and the Ohio River to Toledo and Lake Erie.

Western Ohio is a great place to get a glimpse of what life on the canal would have been like. There are several places where a living historical ride can be taken on a reconstructed boat, in a restored section of canal, pulled by mules or horses. Locks remain, some in ruins, others intact.

There were freight boats, hybrid boats, and passenger-only boats called packets. The canals, like the airlines, offered first-class accommodation. Elite packages stopped each night for passengers to stay in hostels. If speed was your thing, you could take an “express”. You slept on the boat and sailed the full length of the canal in just 80 hours, an incredible amount of time considering there were 103 locks to go through!

After crossing the summit of Loramie, the highest point in western Ohio at just 953 feet, the Miami-Erie Canal begins to descend toward the Ohio River. This part of the canal is not as well interpreted or preserved as the northern part, but there is still plenty of transportation history to enjoy along the trail.

About the time I started the long descent to Cincinnati, the trail started following Loramie Creek which leads to the Great Miami River where the trail follows the Great Miami River Recreational Trail. In the past, keelboats crisscrossed these waters. Before the steamboats, long boats climbed upstream with difficulty. One can easily understand the popularity of canals that made uphill travel so relatively easy.

But the railways quickly supplanted water transport. Trains could run in the winter when the waterways froze and the ice split the wooden hulls. For the past few days I’ve been following the Little Miami Railroad, now the Little Miami Scenic Trail. Beautiful historic buildings appear alongside the “tracks” – a powder magazine, beautiful restored or recreated station buildings, a woolen mill and various buildings of unknown use. Preserved bridges now carry hikers over the waterways.

Planes? The North Country Trail runs through downtown Dayton, Ohio, home of the Wright Brothers. The United States National Air Force Museum is directly across the trail, and Wright-Patterson Air Force Base is nearby. Various locations in the Wright Brothers’ hometown commemorate Orville’s and Wilbur’s accomplishments in powered flight.

Dayton is the largest city through which the trail passes. Sure, it’s not a wooded or grassland section, but it’s a pleasant walk through parks and along the Mad River. The North Country Trail experience is diverse and different from other National Scenic Trails.

I’m about to “turn the corner” in Milford, Ohio and head further east. So far I’ve encountered cold temperatures and an icy day (luckily it wasn’t a day hike), but my hope for a milder winter through this part of the hike is working out well.

My feet and legs are holding up and I have continued to average over 15 miles a day. Muddy, frozen ground can force me to cut back a bit, but I take it one day at a time and do what I can.

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