Special thanks to Neil Miller and Brian Prodin. They risked their butts and heard banjo music as they finally filled the gap left by Verlen in 1990.
On April 17, the same day the Challengers left Belle Isle in the Detroit River, these two brave, foolish guys stealthfully left Portage Creek upstream of McIntyre Lake and waded and walked and sometimes crawled though bog, marsh and Tag Alder thickets to get to dry land so they could sneak across private property to a small chunk of State land known as the Unadilla Wildlife Resource Area. Keep in mind as I tell this story, Brian is carrying their canoe upside down on his shoulders and Neil is carrying a 60# pack. They weren't just crossing the portage they were trying to duplicate the 1790 Hugh Heward experience,
From the wildlife area they took Bowdish Road and Leeke Road south thus crossed the height-of-land between the Lake Erie watershed and the Grand watershed, eliciting stares from passing motorists and attracting the attention of a noisy, aggressive farm dog. At a big oak tree they had scoped out during an earlier recon they headed into the marsh. They tramped through alternating marsh and islands just as Hugh's crew did 219 years before, sometimes up to their ankles, sometimes up to mid thigh, battling brush that the Frenchmen did not encounter since portages were kept clear in those days. The pair had a Gerber Brush Thinner, a nasty looking weapon (Google it),
to hack their way thru the puckerbrush. They marked their way with pieces of surveyor tape like Hansel and Gretal dropping bread crumbs. Neil said it was like being in a 40's African jungle movie.
They came to an island with two chairs chained to a tree and Neil sat down to rest, pack and all, not knowing or not remembering that Charlie had "borrowed" a chair there the year before (he claimed he was only picking up litter on State land) to make himself comfortable at his next campsite (banjo music).
Hugh Heward, being the leader, didn't ordinarily stoop to carrying labor, leaving that to the Frenchmen, but if you will remember from his journal, he was carrying about 60# of corn on his back in a blanket coming up from the Ypsilanti settlement as the Frenchmen were making the carry across the portage and "hawling" their canoes through the swamp.
The burdened two crossed Topith Road and followed a two-track south to the edge of the big marsh (Portage Lake Swamp). They would have been following the ancient portage path exactly at this point. I know the spot. It is the south end of the portage that Hugh and the French paddler Joe measured with a 100 foot rope and blazed trees on April 19,1790. They found it to be 14,100 feet to the north end. That means Neil and Brian had carried their canoe and pack the full length of the portage, approximately 2 2/3 miles.
From that place at the south end of the portage you plot possible routes across the marsh and think you may see a low place on the horizon where you hope the downhill river begins.
Remember, Hugh had no map. I and Charlie and Neil and Brian had every possible topographic map, aerial photo and satellite photo and had reconnoitered on land, water and ice. Hugh's only advantages were he had been shown to the portage by an Indian guide and maybe there was a sort of visual path worn through the marsh. Sounds about even.
Tomorrow: The rest of the way across the big marsh.