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Me and my dog at Section Four Pond during a July 2009 hike with friends.

Out, See, Go: Adventure is relative

By Chris Engle, contributor

A friend of mine works for the U.S. Forest Service in Colorado. His job is to four-wheel and backpack his way up Colorado mountainsides and clear trails with his chainsaw. On his days off, he posts pictures to Facebook for every 14,000-foot mountain he summits in the Denver area. He’s at 24 and counting.

Another buddy in the Forest Service – coincidentally they’re both named Eric – has fought forest fires on an island in Washington’s Puget Sound. He and his fellow firefighters spend days at a time living in the backcountry working 14- and 16-hour shifts digging trenches and bulldozing fire breaks in the trees. They sleep in tents and eat out of cans and he wouldn’t have it any other way.

I, on the other hand, feel like I live on the opposite end of the high-adventure spectrum. I’ve rarely wandered outside of Michigan and have never left the country. I didn’t go to a university where they offered rock climbing or backcountry canoeing as electives. I regret that I’ve never seen Yellowstone National Park or the Appalachian Mountains but it doesn’t mean I never will.

Even so I’ve still taken some really great camping trips with family and friends and some of my best memories come from time spent in the Pigeon River Country State Forest with the two Erics.

I hiked the Shingle Mill Pathway with Eric Collins – “Colorado Eric” – and another friend Nathan in July 2009. We took our time covering the 12-mile loop.

The first day we stopped at Section Four Pond, an emerald-green sinkhole lake once stocked with trout. We fished for an hour in the hot sun before a thunderstorm rolled in and, for the next 20 minutes, it rained harder than I’ve ever seen before. We took shelter under overhanging branches – I chose to sit in a patch of poison ivy.

Once the storm passed Nathan caught a beautiful little rainbow trout that glimmered in the sunshine like a piece of silver jewelry.

That night, by the fire, Eric unpacked a small Rubbermaid container with all the fixings for three smores. He recited a line from “The Sandlot” as he assembled his sandwich of chocolate and marshmallow.

“First you take the graham,” he said. “You stick the chocolate on the graham. Then you roast the mallow. When the mallow’s flaming, you stick it on the chocolate then you cover it with the other end.

“THEN you stuff,” he said, taking a bite. We were rolling laughing with his ridiculously spot-on memory of the 90s movie.

MY FIRST TWO winter camping adventures were shared with Eric Dasso – “Washington Eric” – at Cornwall Flooding in the Pigeon River forest.

On the first trip we spent over an hour chopping through two feet of ice with a hatchet to try and catch a meal of panfish. Our cone-shaped hole tapered to just a couple inches wide when we finally broke through the bottom. Maybe it was all that chopping which scared the fish away but we never even got a bite.

That night our tarp shelter crinkled in the wind so much that we hardly got any sleep.

On the second time out I had a 30-minute lead ahead of Eric snowshoeing through the woods to our campsite. The sun set, it got cold, my sweat froze and I got nervous. My snowshoe caught a hidden branch and I fell. My bag chair, camera tripod and sleeping bag came loose from the straps of my pack and sank into the snow. I was miserable and it was the scariest moment I’ve ever had in the woods.

I collected my things and eventually made it to camp in the dark. I had time to build a fire and dry some of my clothes before Eric finally showed. He had reluctantly followed my tracks into thick tag alders knowing I’d made a wrong turn. Instead of taking the correct route, he pursued me to make sure I was OK.

Now there’s a friend.

THAT’S what these kinds of trips are good for. Whether it’s one night or 10, special bonds form when you spend time together in the outdoors.

Another friend of mine, Alex Code, has climbed rock cliffs in at least six states and met his girlfriend on a month-long canoeing excursion they were leading together in Canada. They had 20-some college freshmen tagging along as they paddled from lake to lake, spending as much time on the water as they did on shore.

He taught one girl, who had never canoed before, how to hold her paddle sideways while portaging over a bog so that it would stop her fall if she were to break through the floating mat of moss.

Another student ran screaming into the woods when the constant swarms of mosquitoes caused him to crack the first night.

He’s spent the night on a rock ledge jutting out from a cliff face and resumed climbing the next day.

Alex told me these stories Saturday while we fished together on Manuka Lake. This was no high-adventure trip, just a short drive and a very short walk onto the ice where we caught a couple bluegill and a bass.

I told him about a five-day hike I took along the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore in the Upper Peninsula – my longest and greatest backcountry trip ever but a cake-walk compared to his experiences.

“I’ve always wanted to do that,” he said. “I love that place.”

– Chris Engle is an avid outdoorsman and stay-at-home dad who lives in Hayes Township, Otsego County. He can be reached at englemobile@gmail.com.

A memo to all golfers this spring: Enjoy the game regardless of course conditions!

GolfPRGuy

Finally, after one of the longest and coldest winters in history, golf courses in northern Michigan are now open and have apparently battled the elements and avoided the tough conditions many courses in the southern part of the State are enduring.

Many courses have opened later than normal and may take extra time to get their fairways and greens in shape following one of the most brutal winters ever. Golfers heading out to their local courses or making that special golf trip this spring should be prepared to accept course conditions that might not be as perfect as in previous years.

Do not be upset with your local golf courses about the conditioning. It is not their fault. Point the finger at Mother Nature. The upper Midwest experienced some of the worst ice storms and frost levels in more than 100 years. Courses are scrambling and working hard now to get their facilities up to par, but it will take time.

Be happy about getting out and playing this wonderful game. Take time to appreciate all of the good things golf brings to us. One of the problems that the American golfer always has is often called the “Augusta National Effect,” as in expecting every course to match the lush, green landscape they see on television each spring when watching the Masters Tournament. Superintendents, who work in a different climate area and can’t possibly maintain a budget or staff to match Augusta National, deal with very high expectations when it comes to course conditions. It’s ludicrous.

Public and private golfers should take note of the history of golf’s origins overseas in Scotland. Golf is not a game of perfect conditions. Courses overseas are often brown, imperfect and have slower green speeds. Yet, the golfers love to play there, and Americans spend great amounts of money to travel there and play. So why then do we expect so much from our courses and conditioning here? If our courses were brown in a few spots and firm with slower greens, the game can still be enjoyed. It would also be easier and take less time, but that is a story for another day.

For now I suggest to golfers and course operators: Let’s start the season by rolling the ball. Yes, this former PGA golf professional said it. Let’s play “winter rules” through the green this spring, enjoy the game and not be upset about the conditions.

In this era of trying to make the game more enjoyable, easier and make it play faster, this spring would be the perfect time for “winter rules.” This would allow golfers some positive relief and allow them to enjoy the game more.

Be patient golfers. Your superintendents are the best in agronomy and they will get your course back to its prime condition. It will just take some time!

Father’s Day at Wings Over Gaylord

Tiffany Larson

I have to admit, trying to come up with a great idea on somewhere to take my husband for his first Father’s day was haunting me for weeks. Our son was born in December, and in just a few short months we had transformed from a young couple with no children, to a mother and a father. I wanted to be able to give my husband a great day to celebrate all we had accomplished, but between late night feedings and sleep deprivation my creative side was clearly lacking. When I had pretty much given up on making father’s day special, a co-worker mentioned the Airshow that happens in Gaylord every Father’s Day weekend.

I logged online and found out all the information I could on Wings over Gaylord. This is an awesome airshow that features a ton of unique aircrafts including a B-25, a Super Decathlon, and a 942 Consolidated Vultee SNV-1 Valiant. Let me first say, I have no idea what any of these things are, but I can tell you that my husband was ecstatic about all of them! I decided that the best way to celebrate father’s day was to make it a family event, so I purchased tickets for myself and my husband, my in-laws, and my parents so that we could all go together. At only $10.00 a ticket (for a two day show), I could not have found a better deal!OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

We headed down around 10:00am on Saturday even though the aerial performances did not start until 1:00PM. Parking was very organized, simple, and free! It was a little bit of a walk from parking to the runway, but nothing major. We had a lot of fun just walking around, there were plenty of things to see- and even some inflatable bounce houses for the kids to play on. Not my child of course- he was only a few months old and sleeping very soundly in his stroller. We brought our own chairs and set them up right on the side of the runway and watched the aerial show until 4:00PM when the show ended for the day. It was amazing to be able to see all of the planes up close!

Overall, it was an incredible weekend, and my husband said that it was the best Father’s day gift he could have received.  We are very much looking forward to this year’s airshow. I think we are making it a Father’s Day family tradition. This year I am even more excited because I plan on surprising my husband with a helicopter ride that they do right at the show!  I would highly recommend Wings Over Gaylord to anyone, for a $10.00 ticket you can enjoy two days’ worth of unique entertainment for the whole family.