The 1,000-Mile Great Lakes Adventures

Monday, May 25, 2009

Black Star Farms: An Agricultural Destination

Usually, my brother drops me at the lake, then picks me up at the end of the segment and drives me home. At the end of Segment 5, though, the distance from home had elongated to the point that it made sense for us to stay the night, then head home the next day. I wanted to treat Phil (and myself) to a nice place after this

longest segment so far, so I made a reservation at Black Star Farms.

This unique property has an inn, an equestrian

center, a tasting room, a creamery, gardens, orchards, vineyards, and some farm animals. It bills itself as ‘An

Agricultural Destination’ where guests can watch cheese being made, taste the products of the vine, and eat an amazing breakfast direct from farm to table. This may make it seem like a busy place, it was actually the most relaxing place I’ve ever stayed.

I had a long, inland hike in over 80 degree weather to reach Suttons Bay, and when I finally got off route 22 and turned into the driveway of Black Star Farms -- bordered by a terraced vineyard and shaded by large trees -- I felt my pack lighten on my sore shoulders. I walked the curving drive up to the stables and the red inn. Several horses noted my arrival by raising their heads before resuming grazing. Maybe they hadn’t seen people arrive on foot.

Inside the inn, the marbled foyer was much cooler than outside, and Kellie, the manager, greeted me and showed me to my room so I could drop off my backpack. Then she showed me the rest of the small inn (including the stash of cookies in the breakfast room and the Jacuzzi/sauna room upstairs). I grabbed a cookie and returned to my room to sink into my own Jacuzzi tub. When I emerged and slipped on the sumptuous robe in my room, I felt reborn and ready to explore the rest of the property.

Phil arrived and we visited some of the horses before strolling to the tasting room. Guests of the inn are able to sample wines for free and also get a sample of the mild raclette cheese produced in the creamery housed behind glass in the tasting building. Phil and I worked our way through the whites and reds and then sipped at the dessert wines and even tried some of the spirits distilled there. The wines, overall, were quite good. Phil loved the Riesling. The Sirius Maple Dessert Wine was a unique flavor we had not experienced before. When our server mentioned that she used it to finish her grilled salmon and even poured it over vanilla ice cream, we thought it brilliant and purchased several bottles.

We had dinner in nearby Traverse City (the inn will soon begin serving dinner on the weekends, but didn’t when we were there), then returned to our room and a wonderfully restful night. In the morning, we had a delicious gourmet breakfast featuring a fresh vegetable torta with herbed crème fresh circling the wedge of egg and veggie delight (all of the ingredients came from the property). It was topped with two slices of cherry wood smoked bacon that were so perfect they continue to haunt me.

Don Coe, managing partner of Black Star, joined us at our breakfast table and spoke about what he and his partners were trying to accomplish with this idyllic place, the marriage of agriculture and tourism, the offering of ‘An Agricultural Destination.’ And the concept of ‘adding value’ to products from the farm. For example, instead of trying to compete with other maple syrup producers in the region, they add their syrup to the unique dessert wine we had tasted the night before.

After a few minutes with Don, you realize that he is a bit of a visionary. He’s retired from the corporate world and could have just relaxed, but, instead, has helped build Black Star Farms into a place that now employs 30 people, preserves the land for agriculture (it almost got sold off for a subdivision before becoming Black Star), and supports ancillary businesses (the creamery and farm market).

It is a place where you can relax and feel connected to the land once again, relax and stroll the many acres of hiking trails on the property, relax and watch the fruits of the land and farm be gleaned and transformed for your consumption, or merely relax and relax.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Segment 5 Complete!

Segment 5 took me from Ludington to Suttons Bay, May 14-20. It mapped out at 107 miles and took 7 days. A gear mishap on day one of this segment necessitated me omitting some miles from Ludington to Manistee. I will head back north this coming week to cover those missed miles.

I passed the 350 mile mark in the trek, and the total now stands at 355.

The lake has a wild side and I got my first real taste of it in this segment. There were bobcat tracks and deer who had been taken down by a larger predator. While camping in Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore I heard owls and coyotes and deer and one extremely loud raccoon.

I visited one new bookstore in this segment. Check out the link for Brilliant Books in beautiful Suttons Bay. And I stopped in at The Bookstore in Frankfort again.

UPDATE: On June 3, I went up to Manistee and covered the missing 18 miles between Manistee and Ludington.

Segment 5, Day 7 Leland->Suttons Bay 13 miles

High of 86 degrees!

This was by far the warmest day of the Lake Trek so far. And, since I was running out of time on this segment, I had to cut across the Leelanau Peninsula instead of hugging the shore to the tip and then back down. I was sorry to miss the town of Northport, and hope to get back to this lovely area in the fall to cover these miles if time allows.

The first photo here is of Lake Leelanau (the north portion), the second photo is where I crossed between the north and south parts of the lake at the narrows.

I stopped in at Brilliant Books in Suttons Bay. This bookstore had a great selection of Great Lakes books. And, even though I had to carry it for several more miles, I bought a book that I had not seen anywhere else.

This segment ended just south of the town of Suttons Bay at the Inn at Black Star farms. I'll post about this idyllic place soon.

Segment 5, Day 6 Glen Arbor->Leland 21 miles

High of 70 degrees, breezy.

I hiked from Glen Arbor up to Good Harbor Bay where I got out to the lakeshore once again. The orchards along the way were in bloom, along with the trillium and many other flowers.

The lake was fairly calm this day and I made good time covering the 21 miles up to the city of Leland.

Leland (bottom photo) has preserved its historic fishing village and it is also the departure point for the ferries to North and South Manitou islands

Segment 5, Day 5 Platte River Campground->Empire 9 miles

High of 59 degrees.

After a long, cold night, I packed up camp and hiked the two miles back out to the lake and walked the length of Platte Bay up to the city of Empire.

Though I only traveled 9 miles this day, it was a tough hike because the wind pushed the lake up on shore for the last 6 miles and I had to hike in the rolling dunes.

It was a gorgeous day, and the meticulous stone pyramid on the beach was an interesting sight (below).

I was glad to reach the city of Empire, though, and was able to catch a ride to Glen Arbor from George, a crafter of fine writing instruments (he gave me a lovely wooden pen) and an enthusiastic kayaker. I didn't have the stamina this day to trek the middle part of Sleeping Bear Dunes, but this section is the one that I had explored many times before.

I had a restful afternoon in Glen Arbor so I could put in a long day on day 6.

Segment 5, Day 4 Frankfort->Platte River Campground 15 miles

High of 55, sunny.

This was a gorgeous day, the winds were light and it wasn't too warm. I walked the 5 miles to Point Betsie Lighthouse and took
a break to eat my caramel apple from
Frankfort before pressing on into the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. This is an awesome park which protects three sections of lakeshore (over 35 miles) along this stretch and also the North and South Manitou islands just off the coast. I hiked the shore into the park, then headed inland on a trail, then a road to the campground and set up camp.

The fire wasn't just for atmosphere this night, as it got down to 32 degrees! I heard owls and coyote and deer and one extremely noisy racoon.

Segment 5, Day 3 Arcadia->Frankfort 12 miles

High of 61 and windy!

I had hoped to hike all the way to Platte River Campground this day, a distance of over 20 miles. After hiking 17 the day before, though, and waking up not feeling very well, I wisely decided to split this distance between the next two days and stay the night in Frankfort.

I hiked US22 from Arcadia to Frankfort since it hugged the lake and also had several scenic turnouts which gave me sweeping views of the lakeshore. It climbed several steep hills along the way, the tallest was over 1000 feet (according to my GPS), a distance of over 400 feet above the lake.

I took a break in a cemetery and remembered the saying 'you can rest when you're dead!' In Frankfort, I drank from the town's mineral spring which promised healing properties.

I also visited The Bookstore there (check out link in sidebar). I had stopped in to this store in the winter before the trek had even started and it was kind of amazing to stop in again and tell them that I'd hiked all the way from Chicago to their store.

Segment 5, Day 2 Manistee->Arcadia 17 miles

High of 68.

From Manistee north to Portage Lake, it was a lovely hike. I saw dozens of crayfish along this stretch along the waterline and congregating in the shallows. I also saw my first round goby, an invasive species from central Eurasia which was brought to the Great Lakes in ballast water. (in photo below)

Portage Lake is crystal clear and lets out into Lake Michigan in a wide channel. Two high school teachers from Muskegon's Orchard View High School, Tom and Brent, had a day off and were fishing when I got there. They graciously agreed to give me a ride across the channel (saving me an inland hike of 6 extra miles). With my larger pack and a hike of 17 miles this day without the inland diversion, this was a welcome jaunt on their shiny fishing boat.

North of the Portage Lake outlet, the shoreline quickly got more rugged and remote. Alongside a small stream, I saw my first wild cat prints, probably bobcat. This wild stretch of lakeshore is quite a contrast to some of the industrialized miles I walked earlier in my adventure.

Segment 5, Day 1 Ludington->Manistee 3 + 18 miles = 21 miles total

High of 63 degrees.

I began this segment in Ludington's State Park. I wore my larger pack on for this portion of the trek because I would be camping part of the time.

Since my pack was new, I had to figure out where to store everything in it. I decided to attach my filtering water bottle (which allows me to drink Lake Michigan water) to a strap using a carabiner clip.

Just three miles into this lovely day's hike, I reached back for my water bottle to find that it had detached at some point along the first three miles. I back tracked, hoping to find it nestled among some of the driftwood piles I had climbed over, but had no luck. The waves were reaching up the beach that day, so it was probably swept out into the lake.

I called my brother and he came back to the lake and picked me up. I was hoping to find a replacement bottle in Ludington and resume my day's walk (~17 more miles to Manistee), but we couldn't find one in Ludington. We heard about an outfitter store in Manistee and went there, but they suggested trying Traverse City. By this time, it was getting too late to complete the miles for that day, so we drove to Traverse City, got a new filtering bottle, then Phil dropped me in Manistee where I resumed this segment the following day.

On June 3, I covered the 18 missing miles in this segment.

It made sense to begin in Manistee and hike south to Ludington, but it felt strange to have the lake on my right side the entire way. The day was gorgeous and most of the way I had flat beach to hike on. There were areas where the lake was cutting into the shore and old, wooden seawalls. I had to climb the rolling dunes to get around these obstacles. In a low spot in the dunes, I almost stepped on a sleeping fawn. We scared each other, and it jumped up and ran off.

Below is the lighthouse at Big Sable in Ludington State Park.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Segment 4 Complete!

Segment 4 took me from Grand Haven to Ludington, May 6-10. It mapped out at 75 miles and took 5 days. I broke my record for the longest day on the trek. It now stands at 24 miles.

I reached the 250 mile mark during this trek. I had some great company along the way and a wide range of weather and scenery.

I visited one more bookstore in this segment. Check out the link for the Book Nook & Java Shop in Montague.

Segment 4, Day 5 Pentwater->Ludington 10 miles

High of 50.

Milene bought enough goodies at the fantastic Cosmic Candy Company in Pentwater to keep us walking to Ludington! She even bought a bag of Pentwater Gourmet carmel corn that was bigger than my head. Today's weather was much more pleasant and the lake was calm. We walked the beach up to Bass Lake, then jogged over to Lakeshore Drive. This gave us occasional views of the lake and also allowed us to climb the bluff that almost meets the shore on the way to Ludington. Some rain tried to follow us, but mostly stayed to our south.

It was also necessary to go inland because there is a power plant south of Ludington that takes up a chunk of the shoreline (and you can't walk there). We saw our first morel mushrooms along the way.

It was fascinating to walk by the pumped storage hydroelectric plant. There is a reservoir at the highest point on the hill that measures 2.5 miles by 1 mile and over 100 feet deep. This holding area is up the grassy hill in the photo below (left).

Water is pumped from the lake uphill into this holding area using electricity during the time of day when the rates are the lowest, then electricity is generated by allowing the water to flow back downhill during peak usage hours when they can charge more money for the energy.

There were plans to add wind turbines along the lakeshore to use the Lake Michigan wind to generate power. This could be used to assist in the pumping of the water, but we did not see any as we passed the facility.

Segment 4, Day 4 Mears->Pentwater 12 miles

High of 44 degrees, 20+mph winds.

The weather was wild this day, wet and windy. Les and Milene were envisioning more of a stroll
on a sunny beach, but they geared up for the challenge.

Once we got out to the lake, the wind picked up and the waves were rushing up the beach. The rain had turned little streams into obstacles that we had to carefully cross.

Milene got caught by a couple of huge waves and had to change socks. Good thing she'd painted her toenails! The garbage bag method of crossing worked pretty well for us, but the streams were growing larger as we walked, so we went inland to get out of the wind and away from the reach of the waves. We were delighted to reach Pentwater (and the spacious Channel Lane Inn).