Local trio takes on, passes tough test in Michigan Shore-to-Shore Trail

By: Jeremy Selweski | Woodward Talk | Published June 22, 2011

 Friends Mike Dempsey, 21, of Harrison Township, left; Loren Mitchell, 25, of Huntington Woods; and Tom Miedema, 28, of Harper Woods, not pictured, recently completed the 230-mile Michigan Shore-to-Shore Trail.

Friends Mike Dempsey, 21, of Harrison Township, left; Loren Mitchell, 25, of Huntington Woods; and Tom Miedema, 28, of Harper Woods, not pictured, recently completed the 230-mile Michigan Shore-to-Shore Trail.

Photos provided by Loren Mitchell


HUNTINGTON WOODS — It takes an inherently adventurous spirit to leave civilization behind and journey out into the woods, but three local men have that spirit in spades.

Loren Mitchell, Tom Miedema and Mike Dempsey set off on an adventure of their own recently when they completed the Michigan Shore-to-Shore Trail from Oscoda on the state’s east coast to Empire on the west. Over a span of 10 days, the men hiked more than 230 miles through the forests of northern Michigan, never encountering another human being except for a pair of days when they stopped for food and supplies in the cities of Luzerne and Kalkaska.

The trio traveled more than 20 miles per day on average and set up tents each night at campsites along the trail. Carrying heavy backpacks up and down hills, alongside rivers and through densely wooded thickets, they hiked quickly and arranged strategic pit stops every three days.

A fourth man began the trail with them, but dropped out a few days into the hike.

Mitchell, 25, of Huntington Woods had taken hiking trips in the past, but never anything close to the magnitude of the Shore-to-Shore Trail.

“I wanted to aspire toward doing longer backpacking trips, and this was by far the longest trail that I had ever attempted,” he explained. “I just wanted to see if I could handle the challenge, both mentally and physically.”

If Mitchell had a moderate amount of hiking experience going in, the other two men — both of whom work with Mitchell at the Moosejaw Mountaineering warehouse in Madison Heights — were at opposing ends of the spectrum. For Dempsey, 21, of Harrison Township, it was his first-ever hiking trip. Miedema, on the other hand, is a veteran hiker with a great deal of experience. In 2009, the 28-year-old Harper Woods resident spent five months hiking the famous Pacific Crest Trail, which spans more than 2,600 miles along the West Coast of the United States from Mexico to Canada.

“I hadn’t done a big hike since then,” Miedema said, “so I sort of got the itch to do something like it again. I wanted to find some other people who were willing to try (the Shore-to-Shore Trail) with me. Luckily, I work at a place where there are a lot of other outdoorsmen.”

The journey from Lake Huron to Lake Michigan was filled with challenges and learning experiences for the hikers. Though it was late April and early May, the weather was unseasonably cold. There were some nights where temperatures dropped below freezing, and the men awoke the next morning to find frost inside their tents.

For Mitchell, who did a great deal of organization and physical preparation for the trip, guiding the group along the trail provided its own obstacles.

“It was a big challenge learning to navigate the trail and trust my instincts,” he said. “Since I had only done a few miniscule backpacking trips in the past, the most difficult part was just not getting lost. Even though you’re on a trail, it can be really tough to navigate.”

Dempsey faced a tremendous physical challenge when, about six or seven days into the trip, he developed tendonitis in one of his ankles. He managed to soldier on until the end despite the pain. Although Dempsey was modest about his achievement, Miedema was amazed by the toughness that his friend displayed.

“I’ve rarely seen a hiker keep going through so much pain,” he said. “He continued on with us like a champ, so I definitely give him credit. For a first hiking trip, that was really impressive.”

When the group made it to the end of the trail and found themselves on the beaches of Lake Michigan, they originally planned to find a place to camp for their final night. But they wound up in a slightly cozier environment than the wilderness to which they had grown accustomed. At a gas station in Empire, they met a nice couple who let them camp out in their backyard for the night.

For all three men, the feeling of accomplishment upon completing the trip was immense. “It was great knowing that we planned this 230-mile hike and were totally self-reliant for almost two weeks,” Mitchell said. “When we finally got to the beach, I felt such a strong emotion. I was so gratified just to make it to the end.”

Mitchell’s mother, Jody Mitchell, could not have been more proud of her son and his friends. She was initially concerned about the severe weather that they were encountering Up North, but she knew that they would be able to safely navigate the trail.

“I wasn’t too worried because Loren has a really good head on his shoulders,” she said, noting that her son has always been an avid fan of camping and the outdoors. “He’s very organized, so he knew exactly where they were going to be every day. … More than anything, it was fun to see him get so excited about this trip. I know that it’s very rewarding to put so much time and effort into one goal and then actually accomplish it.”

The experience also brought the three co-workers closer together as friends. As Dempsey pointed out, the camaraderie between the hikers was one of the best and most worthwhile parts of their journey.

“We got along really well, which I think made it a lot more fun for all of us,” he said. “I was able to really just enjoy the trip and take in all the amazing scenery. I could definitely see myself going on another long hike with these guys again.”