Trekking through the north country
Man hikes across Upper Peninsula, stops in Marquette
MARQUETTE — Some people perform challenging tasks out of necessity while others do them because they can.
R.J. Regan is the latter.
The 53-year-old from Grand Rapids, who is hiking across the Upper Peninsula on the North Country Trail, made a stop in Marquette earlier in the week, taking in a few familiar sights while in town.
Regan started in Copper Park near Ironwood on July 7 after a friend drove him to Ludington, where they took the S.S. Badger ferry across Lake Michigan to Manitowoc, Wisconsin, and drove the rest of the way to the western terminus of his trek.
Marquette was the halfway point at about 265 miles, he said, so he stayed at the Ramada Inn to take a break and a shower. While in the city, he visited the Coachlight Restaurant, DIGS Spirits & Streetfood, and Aubree’s Pizzeria & Grill.
Regan also jumped off Black Rocks.
“I did everything I’m supposed to do in Marquette,” he said.
Regan expects to arrive in St. Ignace in mid-August.
“I’m going to take it one day at a time,” he said. “If I feel good, I might just keeping going south to Grand Rapids.”
As ambitious as hiking across the U.P. is, Regan had maybe a more ambitious plan to hike across Europe, but traveling during COVID-19 gave him pause for concern.
“I decided to just stick around Michigan and really explore the Upper Peninsula,” said Regan, who acknowledged in 2016 he finished the Camino de Santiago trek in Spain — a trip of about 500 miles.
Regan, an entrepreneur, gave a simple reason for making the U.P. trip.
“Really, that I can,” he said.
Regan said he has talked with many retirees around the Presque Isle River area near the Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park where they would take their Harley-Davidsons, pickup trucks or RVs and visit the waterfalls.
He happened to be hiking the area.
“When I would see these older couples — 60, 70, 80 years old — the women were always like, ‘Wow, that’s amazing. What a great trip. Be safe,’ but the men always looked at me with the combination of regret and envy, like ‘Oh, I wish I could have done that’ or ‘I would have done that, but my knees,'” Regan said. “They just don’t have that ability or the physical capability of doing it, and I just don’t want to be that guy when I’m 90 years old in a nursing home getting Jell-O fed to me, saying, ‘Wow, I wish I would have.'”
He said that the “older generation” can live vicariously through him.
However, Regan said he met young adults at Hidden Beach while he was in the Marquette area.
“The younger guys were going, ‘Man, that’s just sick,’ and when you hear a younger guy say something’s ‘sick’ that means it’s really cool,” Regan said.
He’s ready for what he called another “Etch A Sketch” moment after his Spain journey.
“What I mean by that is I have chunks of my life,” Regan said. “I was married for 21 years, went through a divorce six years ago, did the hike to kind of clear my mind, shake the Etch A Sketch, wipe the slate clean.
“The last six years, I had other projects that I was working on, and now it’s time to start a new chapter.”
Why the U.P. for this new chapter?
“It’s close to home, and I didn’t have to worry about the COVID,” Regan said.
It appears to have been a good choice for him.
Regan said that when he got to the Copper Harbor area, he realized the extent of U.P. history.
“This was the place to be in the mid-1800s and early 1900s with the copper mining,” he said.
A discovery of history notwithstanding, Regan still has to make the challenging walk on the North Country Trail.
Of course, it’s not easy.
“I definitely have lost probably 15 or 20 pounds in the last 20 days,” Regan said. “I would say every night my feet are very, very sore.”
He rates the pain on a scale of 8 or 9, but takes a couple of ibuprofen tablets to alleviate the discomfort. In the morning, the pain scale is down to a 1 or 2 — which no doubt makes him happy since he travels about 15 miles per day.
“I’m ready to hit the trail again,” Regan said.
He has a food system and plan that entails stopping 2 or 3 miles before he camps to eat, so he doesn’t have to open his food sack until the next morning, thus keeping a clean camp.
Weather doesn’t always cooperate, though, and sometimes the precipitation comes.
“It’s miserable hiking in the rain,” Regan said.
He was walking in soaked boots during one recent downpour, he said, but he still had to set up his tent. It rained all night, with thunder and lightning.
Regan then had to hike the next day with wet boots.
“There’s part of me that’s like, ‘Why are you doing this? Just quit,'” Regan said.
He didn’t want to make “permanent decisions based on temporary data,” so he stayed at Hidden Beach.
“It was fabulous out there,” Regan said. “You just have a beautiful part of the country here in Marquette.”
There’s also a lot of solitude walking the NCT.
“There were stretches of four days where I would not see a soul,” Regan said. “It was just me, my tent, nature, and that was it.”
Christie Mastric can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 250. Her email address is email@example.com