Peace In A Tin Can

Peace In A Tin Can

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

The End of The Story…But Not The Journey!

Even though this story is too long already, I will continue, because it's almost over, and I promised my readers I would finish it this time, so here we go…

After spending eleven hours in the wilderness, lost at times, and completely unprepared, we had finally returned to the old Airstream and settled in for the night.  However, when I turned the light off at midnight, I found that I couldn't sleep.  I could hear Debbie flipping and flopping in her bed, and I was suddenly wide awake.  Calling to the front of the tin can, I said,

"I'm wide awake."

Debbie replied,


We jumped up, went outside, lit the torches again, stoked up the fire, and got our camp chairs out.  Rooney chose to stay in the camper, and I made hot chocolate which may or may not have had a little Peppermint Schnapps in it.  

Because we were now safely in familiar territory, we began recounting our day with a different spin on it.  Looking back, we found it to be rather hilarious.  I'm not sure if the memories we made that day were really that funny, or if the exhaustion had finally demented our minds, or if the alleged schnapps played a role, but we laughed hysterically for the next hour and a half.

During the course of this very long day, we hiked to Clark Lake, we saw Culhane Lake, we explored Crisp Point Lighthouse.  We saw bear tracks.  We walked the beach where my dog ran free.  We met an old and bitter woman, and saw a phone booth where no phone booth should be.  We searched for cell phone reception and forget about OnStar.  We never saw a snake, a bear, a moose, or a mountain lion, but we saw the effects of a recent forest fire, and walked on a bouncy bridge.  We breathed in the Two Hearted River.

It was a good day, the best kind of day, because very little went according to plan.  

We learned to throw away the plan, and let the wilderness take us down a new path.  Debbie learned to trust me again, and I learned to trust her, to trust that she is stronger than she believes.  When I finally went to bed for the second time that night, I slept deeply.  I no longer dreamt of the Two Hearted River, because it was now a living thing inside of me, the river became part of me.  I was so filled with its delicate balance that I became balanced.  It is the reason I came to the U.P. and the reason for my memorable adventure with Debbie and Rooney.  I will hold on to that memory forever!

So this is the end of the story, but…we still had a few more days to go, and trust me (you really can you know) I have new stories to tell!

Monday, November 19, 2012

You've Got Four Wheel Drive, Right? - Part 3

On the brink of discovery, Debbie and I were poised to begin the final phase of our adventure.  Having roamed the back roads of the U.P. for the last six hours with purpose but no direction, we were finally armed with clear instructions on where to go.  But first, we had to make it through Rabbit Patch Road.

Apparently, the U.P. uses the term "road" loosely.  The path that lay ahead was most definitely not a road.  I could vaguely recognize two distinct tire tracks, though they were intermittent at best.  Mostly, the path ahead looked liked a trail.  I think I would have named it Rabbit Patch Trail with a big sign at the entrance,  "Drive At Your Own Risk".

I honestly don't remember much of the drive down Rabbit Patch Road.  I think I've blocked it out to protect my sanity.  I have blurry recollections of powering the Yukon through deep sand, eyes widening at the proximity of large trees in front of my vehicle, and Debbie calling out my name.  She didn't say much else, she just used my name as a blanket warning for whatever danger was imminent.

I wish I had a picture of Rabbit Patch Road to give you a visual account, but once we started rolling we were not about to stop for photos.  I searched the internet for a photo too, but I guess nobody out there stops on Rabbit Patch Road for photos.  With both hands gripping the steering wheel tightly, steady pressure on the accelerator, and eyes focused ahead, I just kept going, wishing for the end of this road around every bend.

Finally, we shot out onto a packed sand road.  It's a good thing you never see any other vehicles when driving the back roads of the U.P., because one second we were on Rabbit Patch Road, and the next second we were perpendicular across 423.  I pointed the Yukon north, and even saw a sign for the Rainbow Lodge, which had burned down in the fire but was just up the road from the Two Hearted River.  This was it!  We were in the right place, aiming for my river!

My Memory of the Bridge. Courtesy Google Images
I was so excited.  I shared with Debbie my recollections of the brief glimpse I'd had of the Two Hearted River as a young child, the picture in my mind of a place that had so captivated me it never left my dreams.  I told her of the suspended rope bridge that I never walked across, high above the river, swaying with the weight of each footfall, weathered planks sewn together with thick nautical rope, and the same rope acting as a loose handrail.  The footbridge was so high over the river, you could get dizzy looking down!  Huge boulders dotted the water below, forming swirls in the current and shooting up drops of water that sparkle through the sunlight in the air.  It was magnificent!

My description was making Debbie a bit nervous; she was pretty sure she would not be walking over that bridge to the other side, where a pristine beach awaits, welcoming us to the shore of Lake Superior. Personally, I couldn't wait to walk over that bridge!

Courtesy Google Images
We came upon the Rainbow Lodge, or what little is left of it after the Duck Lake Fire.  Many locals had spoken to me of the Rainbow Lodge.  Located in the serious middle of nowhere, it was a dwelling with a gas pump, a store, motel, and campground.  Though a small venture, the owners stocked everything that could ever be needed out in the serious middle of nowhere.  They had canoes to rent, fishing poles, tackle, and bait.  They sold spark plugs, oil, gas, and thermal underwear to snowmobilers.    They had electric hookups and a water source for campers, and propane refill.  They were the be-all, end-all resting place for outdoorsmen (and women).  The locals are concerned because Rainbow Lodge's owners are not going to rebuild after the fire.  This could affect winter tourism all along the North Country Trail (which, incidentally, we had crossed a dozen times that day) because it was the only place for snowmobilers to refuel.  The Rainbow Lodge was an icon, and looking at the charred remains of it made me sad for the owners, the locals, and for myself, because I never got to stay there.

Rainbow Lodge after the Fire, Courtesy Google Images
The location of the Rainbow Lodge is just three short miles ahead of the Two Hearted River, and as we passed it to begin the final leg of this very long journey, I glanced back through the rearview mirror for a last look at the ruins, and it was then that I saw…it.

With a growing sense of complete and utter stupidity, I turned my eyes straight ahead and quietly spoke.

"Debbie?"  She looked at me as I continued,  "I've got OnStar".

In the silence that ensued, I could actually see Debbie putting the pieces of that simple statement together.

We were lost.  We had no cell phone signal. We couldn't access navigation.  We were lost.  We just passed the same place for the third time.  We were lost.  No cell phones.  OnStar.  Satellite.  Signal in any wide open space.  Duck Lake Fire.  No trees.  Wide open spaces.  Satellite.  OnStar.  Directions.

These thoughts went through her head quickly, and as she turned to look at me, I could see the fire in her eyes.  She said,

"Wait.  You've…got…OnStar?  Oh Kiki."

I pushed the little blue button on my rearview mirror, and a lovely voice filled the vehicle asking how she could help.  I disconnected.

This could have been a turning point in mine and Debbie's friendship.  

Though she stayed quiet, I pretty much knew what she was thinking.  We had just spent seven hungry, thirsty unprepared hours driving the same dirt roads over and over, looking for that one road that would lead us to Paradise.  She hadn't made it to the Tahquamenon Falls Brewery, she didn't have a glass of wine in her hand.  We had peed in the brush, our hair and skin were covered in dust, and Rooney was emitting an unusual odor.  We were tired, sick of being in the car, and anxious to return to camp before dark, and all this time I could have pushed that little blue button and saved us hours of searching.

All day long, even in my growing desperation to find my dream, it never occurred to me that I have OnStar.  I simply forgot.

So this could have been a turning point for us, and probably would have been, had I not at that moment turned the corner in the road that opened up to the entrance to the Two Hearted River Recreational Area.  We had arrived, and the view before us took our breath away.  No more words were spoken as we drove in to park.  Even Debbie got out of the car, drawn to what I was seeing.  Please, readers, feel free to take a moment of silence, to absorb the enormity of this pivotal moment in my life.

"The Journey to the Dream"

"Sweet" by The Dave Matthews Band Away From The World

Letting Rooney out of the backseat, I walked with purpose toward the rope bridge.  Except it wasn't a rope bridge anymore.  Still a suspension footbridge, it is now commonly called "Little Mac" with a nod to the big bridge that grants access to the U.P.   This new bridge still swayed and bounced, but had much firmer footing and an actual wood railing.  Despite its charm, I was devastated.

Debbie felt comfortable enough on this sturdier version of my memory to cross the bridge with me.  It wasn't very high, maybe 10 feet above the river.  It wasn't very long either.  And there were no boulders in the river, just a few rocks at the bottom.

It seems that the memories of a child are significantly larger than reality.

Yet we had traveled unnecessarily far today for this moment.  I was not about to hold on to my disappointment, instead I looked at the bridge and the river through the eyes of an adult, determining that Hemingway was right; the Big Two Hearted River is a spiritual renewal.  Looking out at the rivermouth and Lake Superior beyond, I felt that renewal.  Like God and Hemingway, I saw and I knew that it was good.

In this place, I was seeing nature in its purest form.  Everything worked the way it should.  In any direction I looked, I saw proof of the intricate balance of nature, the significance of it, and the power of an infinite will for life.  I saw God in the current of the river, I saw Him in the waves crashing onto the shoreline.  I felt His presence in the air around me, and I felt peace in this holy place.  Everything worked perfectly, in a way that man cannot recreate.  This was more powerful than the presence of every person who ever stood here.  This was living, breathing, moving life that cannot be fully extinguished.  The river embodied hope and faith.  It filled my spirit.

We stayed longer than we should have.  We crossed over the bridge, walked the beach on Gitche Gummi, watched some anglers heading back in the waning light of the day.  We hand-pumped drinking water, let Rooney drink from the river, and laughed at the warning signs posted for the bridge and the boat launch.

We sat on the bank of the Two Hearted River and watched the sun go down, staring out over the far bank to the powerful waters of Lake Superior.  We waved to the fishermen as they trolled past us in the river.  I said hello to the Two Hearted River, and then I said goodbye to it.

Our journey was not yet over.  We had to drive back to camp.

Chapel of the Two Hearts, Google Images
Debbie and I were both certain of our route home.  Actually, if you look at the map, which I really wish I'd had with me that day, it is a simple route.  South on 423, left on 414, right on 500, then left on the paved 123 to Tahquamenon.  When we drove past the ruins of the Rainbow Lodge again, I saw a sign for the Chapel.  If it hadn't burned down, I wanted to see it.  I asked Debbie if she would mind if I took a quick side trip.

I think at this point, Debbie's will had been broken.  Her belief that she would ever see the tin can waiting for us at the campsite was gone.  But her disillusionment had been replaced with something else.  She was learning to trust me again.  We may have been lost all day, but we saw things that she had never seen, and experienced things new to both of us, and we did eventually find my river, and by now we both knew these roads so well that she trusted me to get us where we needed to be.  I'm pretty sure she fully expected that we would sleep in the Yukon tonight, but at this point she had given herself over to our situation and simply didn't care anymore what happened.  So when I asked if I could drive down yet another dicey two track in search of something that I wasn't even sure was there, she said "Sure, why not?"

Duck Lake Fire, Google Images
The Chapel wasn't there.  I could not even find the precise location of where it had been.  We were in the heart of the Duck Lake Fire path, and everything had been obliterated.  I got out of the Yukon, asked Debbie to join me, she said no, then I walked up a steep hill to look out over the land.  In front of me was Lake Superior, behind me was a barren forest.  The loggers had not been here yet, and the trees, some with blackened pine cones still hanging from their branches, were charred.

It was getting dark, making the forest look ominous.  There was no sound at all.  The fire had taken away the habitats of every creature.  No birds called, no chipmunks scurried about, no leaves rustled, and no bugs buzzed.  There was absolute silence.  And yet, nature finds a way.  Looking closely at the ground, I saw green sprouts reaching up.  Ferns had already begun growing back.  Life goes on.  Always and everywhere, life goes on.

I made a couple of detours from 414 as well.  Debbie went with the flow.  I took a couple of two tracks in search of Moose feeding in the dusk, but saw nothing.  We approached the junction with 500, I slowed, then had to stop because we saw our first logging truck of the day, barreling toward us on 500 with a full load of black tree trunks.  Pulling out behind it, I was immediately enveloped in a cloud of dust so thick we couldn't see the truck in front of us, or the road.  Perfect.

Courtesy Google Images
We followed that logging truck all the way to 123.  Completely blind at this point, I just tried to stay in the center of the dust cloud and hope for the best.  Finally turning onto pavement, and the road home, was an iconic moment for us.  I looked at Debbie and said,

"See?  I told you I'd get us back.  Trust me!"  With a merry grin, I drove the final 20 minutes in the dark, relieved that I would soon be brewing a pot of coffee and building a fire.
Junction of County Road 500 and M-123 during the Duck Lake Fire.  Google Images

The campsite was a welcome sight, though very, very dark.  I lit the torches and unlocked the tin can, started the coffee brewing, fed Rooney real dog food, for which his digestive system was most grateful, gave him a bowl of water, gave him another bowl of water as soon as he finished the first one, and grabbed my stuff - what little I had - from the car.  Debbie started a fire.  Yes, Debbie actually started a fire, (she's getting really good at it!) while I grabbed all the fancy food she had brought and carried it out by the fire.  With a glass of wine in Debbie's hand and a cup of coffee in mine, we sat down by a roaring fire and devoured cold egg quiches and cold veggies and cold pasta.  It was 10:00pm, and we were too tired to talk.

Exhausted, we left the fire shortly after and prepared to sleep.  Once we were blissfully settled in our beds I grabbed a notepad and pen, and started writing down all the things I wanted to remember from our trip thus far.  I called out to Debbie, who was in the front bed, asking her what things she remembered.  We yelled back and forth for a while until we thought we had everything captured on paper, then turned out the lights.

It was midnight.  You'd think this is the end of my story.  But once again, you'd be wrong!

So with a thousand apologies to my biggest fan, Jo, I must end this for now because the kids are about to come home.  I will finish the story tomorrow…trust me! 

Sunday, November 18, 2012

You've Got Four Wheel Drive, Right? - Part 2

There are times when I choose to get lost in the wilderness.  I can always find my way out eventually.  On this day, however, with Debbie as my partner in crime, I did not choose to get lost.  It just happened.  I only worried about being lost because I just had to make it back to the Two Hearted River to fulfill my childhood dream, and because Debbie was dreaming of a glass of wine waiting for her at the Tahquamenon Falls Brewery while we were driving aimlessly with no food or water.  Or cell phone reception.

Traveling to the U.P. means going back to the time before cell phones and iPads and easy access to the internet, with all its wonderful GPS maps and navigation apps.  Time spent in the U.P. requires that you  be willing to break off all communication from loved ones, friends, and emergency personnel.  Debbie was a little uncomfortable with that.  But as we left the Crisp Point Lighthouse I had a picture in my head of where we needed to go to experience the river of my dreams.  The picture looked something like this:

Please note that nowhere on this map is an indication of, well, anything, but still, I knew where I had to go.  What I hadn't factored into the directions was the Duck Lake Fire, a forest fire that had burned for two weeks back in May and destroyed, in places, all trees and vegetation.  It also apparently destroyed road signs.  We drove back out on 412, but because I didn't know exactly where we were going, I turned left onto 500, going back the way I came, because I had originally planned on taking 414.  Turning right on 414, I told Debbie we just had to follow signs for the Two Hearted River.  Eventually, after passing several unmarked two tracks and dirt lanes, we saw a sign at the junction of 414 and 410.  Wait…we weren't supposed to be this far west.  Hmmmm…

I turned around, deciding to go back to 500 and take 412 to the west.  It took us about an hour to drive back, but once we were on 412 again, I saw a road heading north, unmarked of course, but knew I had to go north and I figured this was 423.

Courtesy of StockPhotoPro, Google Images
It wasn't.  About 100 feet down, we saw a sign that read "Impassable Road".  It didn't look impassable. It just looked like a wide, sandy road, and we've got four-wheel drive, right?  Off we went.

You can guess where this story is going.  The road became impassable.  Not only that, it got pretty difficult to find a spot big enough to turn around.  This wasn't a road, it wasn't 423, it was a logging lane for loggers clearing the land after the Duck Lake Fire.  Keep in mind, we hadn't seen a single logger all day, but supposedly this was the road they would use.  Maybe the monster logging trucks could get through, but we did not want to risk it.

Heading back out to 412, Debbie spotted a woman walking down the road.  We hadn't seen another vehicle, person, or building in the last 90 minutes, so we got pretty excited.  I rolled up to her, leaned out the window, and said "Excuse me?"

The woman turned to us, but did not approach the car, so I called out, asking if she knew where the Two Hearted River is.  She said,


Perhaps living a solitary life in the U.P. teaches one to say less and feel more.  So I asked if she could give us directions.  Her reply,

"You're going the wrong way".

We went back and forth like this for a few minutes, until finally she said we had to turn around and go back to the Impassable Road.  She asked,

"You've got four-wheel drive, right?"  She felt confident that we could make it through.  I then asked her if she lived there full time, and didn't she just love it?



"It's hard work to live here."

Then she walked away.  We turned around, made one more pass at the Impassable Road, got scared, turned around again, and went back to 412.  The woman was gone.

By now we were pretty comfortable with 500 and 414, so we drove back that way.  We encountered a truck with a bear hunter and his son, but they glared at us so we didn't ask them for directions.  At one point, we were going south on 414, past the junction with 410, and we saw a sign pointing to a campground, so we went to explore.  We never found a campground, but in the middle of nowhere, along another uninhabited lake, we found a phone booth.  No, the phone didn't work.  Going northeast again on 414, we came upon another unmarked intersection to the north, and two guys in an open-top red jeep were stopped.  I called out to them,

"Do you know where the Two Hearted River is?"

The driver laughed and said they had just come from that direction, all we had to do was turn here and we would see it just up the road.  Ah, so this must be 423.  The sign had burned down.

We ended up back on the same Impassable Road, but from the other side.  How did this happen?

I could go on with this story, but you are probably getting bored at this point.  Suffice it to say, from the time we left Crisp Point, in the next four hours we passed Culhane Lake 4 times, we drove portions of the Impassable Road 5 times, we passed the boarded up Gas Station at the junction of 414 and 410 twice, and we were losing daylight.  We were tired, hungry, thirsty, and had no idea where we were or where the Two Hearted River was.

My disappointment was mounting.  As we were driving west on 410, hoping that the road to the river was just ahead, we came to a stop sign, and a paved road.  Looking right, I saw a sign advertising Gas and Groceries, 4 miles north.  I said to Debbie,

"This is this the first paved road we've seen in hours.  It has to go somewhere, right?"  By now, it was 5:10pm.  I fully expected that the gas/grocery store ahead had either closed for the day at 5:00pm, or was closed permanently, but we headed that way anyway.  I cannot adequately express to you our jubilation when we crested a rise in the road and saw trucks, store lights, and an "Open" sign.

I needed coffee.  I had a caffeine-deprivation headache, and I needed the warmth and comfort of my ole friend, Java Joe.  If you're assuming that the gas/grocery store had no coffee, you are correct.  But it did have water, and Pepsi, and an ample supply of nutritionally deficient food.  I settled on BBQ chips, while Debbie stocked up on chocolate.  With water and Pepsi and food in our arms, we approached the check-out counter where a rather attractive middle-aged woman was waiting for us.  I asked her if she knew how to get to the Two Hearted River.  Raising an eyebrow, she said,

"Why would you want to go there?"  I explained to her that I had been waiting 37 years to see it again, and the next question she asked was "You've got four-wheel drive, right?"

"See that sign right up the road?  The red one?"  I nodded.  "That's Rabbit Patch Road.  It's not really a road, but you should be able to get through it.  Take that until it ends, turn left on 423, which isn't marked, and keep going until you hit the river.  You can't miss it."  Obviously, she didn't know us.

Courtesy Google Images
Back in the car, we ripped open bottles and packages, devouring sustenance.  Rooney was whining in the back seat, and even though my judgement was questionable in light of the effect butter toffee peanuts had on him, I handed him a bunch of BBQ chips.

 Once I'd had a few guzzles of Pepsi and could feel the caffeine coursing through my veins, I sat back and looked at Debbie.  We were exhausted, it was getting late in the afternoon, and we weren't sure if Rabbit Patch Road was something we wanted to try.  I said,

"Well, what do you think?  If we go south on this paved road, it runs into M-123, which takes us to the campground.  We could be there in 45 minutes."

She pondered a moment, but decided this was my decision to make.

"I'll be back here in the Spring.  I can wait to see the Two Hearted River."  The decision made, we buckled up and headed south on 407.

About 500 feet down the road, we approached the red sign, the one for Rabbit Patch Road.  Suddenly, I just couldn't keep going, I had to see my river.  I whipped the steering wheel left and careened onto Rabbit Patch.  Stopping the car, I said to Debbie,

"I have to try.  I need to see the Two Hearted River".

Courtesy Google Images
God bless Debbie, she popped a Rolo in her mouth and said, "Okay".

The Yukon was still in four wheel drive.  We looked ahead, seeing that Rabbit Patch Road was not really a road.  I wouldn't even call it a two-track.  It looked more like a wide hiking trail.  Debbie and I looked at each other, Rooney groaned in the back seat, I said "Ready?" and we rolled forward.

But again, I've gone on too long, so you'll just have to wait until my next post to find out if I saw my river.  I promise, next time I will bring our story to it's dramatic and stunning conclusion. And hey, thanks for reading!

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

You've Got Four Wheel Drive, Right? - Part 1

Two women set out on an adventure.  It was supposed to be a three hour tour, but like the Captain and Gilligan, things didn't quite turn out that way.  We got hopelessly lost in the wilderness of Michigan's Upper Peninsula, where friendly strangers who give helpful directions are few and far between.  We did, however, encounter a few strangers who gave bad directions.  They were lost, too.

But being lost in the wilderness isn't always a bad thing, if you are prepared.  We were not.

As we gathered ourselves that morning, we discussed the plan.  Debbie was really nervous about retracing my earlier steps to Clark Lake, but I was being stubborn because I so wanted her to experience it.  I promised her a quick ten minute hike, since I now knew I could drive to the parking area instead of walk to it, take in the beauty of an uninhabited lake, walk ten minutes back to the car and she would be done.  I compromised on the rest of the plan, promising that we would drive more and hike less, and she could stay in the Yukon any time I set out to explore.

I gave us an hour in the plan to see Clark Lake, then we would drive another 30 minutes or so, according to my map, to the Two Hearted River.  This was a very personal quest for me; when I was a young child, my parents took me there, but due to a series of mishaps we only spent a few minutes at the river and I have always dreamed of going back.  Debbie planned to stay in the car for this part, so I gave myself an hour to explore the river, then another 30 minutes back to civilization in the form of a brewery at the Upper Tahquamenon Falls.  I said to Debbie,

"Trust me.  Three hours from now you'll be sipping wine and surrounded by people".

This isn't my idea of exploring the wilderness, but I was so happy that Debbie had agreed to join me, I was willing to alter my adventure to give her some peace of mind.  I wanted her to enjoy it, pushing a little bit outside of her comfort zone without ruining her recent appreciation for camping.

I put a couple of bottles of water in my Yukon, a blanket, my hiking stick, and my gun.  Debbie came out of the tin can wearing designer boots (at least the heel was flat), a ski jacket beautifully accessorized with a silk scarf, and carrying a telescopic pole in one hand, a can of pepper spray in the other.  Huh.
I once again reassured her that we would not see any snakes or bear, or moose, or mountain lions.  Trust me.

Rooney jumped in the back of the Yukon and we set out.  The road to the Clark Lake trail head was only two miles away, but the two-track to the trail was not in very good shape, so it was slow going.  Once we parked, Debbie did not want to get out of the car.  She was a bit dismayed by the fact that we really were in the middle of nowhere, and far removed from civilization.  She admitted to being really scared, but took a few deep breaths and got out of the car.  It wasn't until we had been on the trail for a few minutes that I realized just how frightened she was.  I started regretting my decision to push her, but in the spirit of adventure Debbie forged on.

She kept up a constant stream of noise, holding her pepper spray out in front of her.  She called out to the bear, "Yoo hoo, bear, we're coming!"  She whistled.  She talked.  Loudly.  Finally I begged her to just take in the incredible quiet and beauty around us, but she was incapable, so I joined her by singing patriotic songs at the top of my lungs.  There we were, hiking up a stunning trail in the wilderness, me with my gun at the ready, Debbie calling out and pointing pepper spray in every direction, pointy pole poised in front of her, singing "God Bless America".  Rooney looked back at us like we were crazy.  Maybe we were, but Debbie was out there, putting one foot in front of the other, and I was about to show my friend a place of untouched natural beauty and calm.

Prepper Debbie!
As soon as we came within sight of Clark Lake, Debbie fell silent.  Our surroundings made her fear fall away and her exhilaration return.  Clark Lake is that beautiful!  We sat on the ground at the top of a steep bank overlooking the lake.  There was total silence, broken only by a quick wind.  Even Rooney stopped panting and simply stared at the water.  This is what I wanted Debbie to experience, to feel.  I wanted her to breathe in her surroundings and feel the touch of God on her shoulder.

I think Debbie was a little less scared on the hike back.  Rooney's escapade of stealing the bowl of butter toffee peanuts came back to haunt him several times on that walk.  We never found out if a bear shits in the woods, but Rooney definitely does.  Debbie was visibly relieved to see the car, but she was quieter as we walked, and I hope that she was feeling a bit of what I feel when hiking in the wilderness.
Me, Rooney, and Clark Lake

It wasn't until we drank some water and were safely driving back out the two track that I confessed my dirty little secret to her.  When I had hiked out here a couple of days ago, I saw a snake.  So much for trusting the firewood guy.  Or me.

Rooney tangled around a tree
We were headed to the River!  I was so excited to see it again!  I turned onto a dirt road, County Road 500.  Having studied Google Maps for hours, I knew right where to go.  As we drove north, we passed a turnoff for Culhane Lake.  It looked intriguing.  We turned around and went back to take pictures, encountering three men who were scouting out fishing places.  Chatting with them, I mentioned where we were going, and they remarked that they didn't know where the Two Hearted River is, but assumed we were heading to Crisp Point to see the lighthouse.  Since Debbie has never seen a lighthouse, I asked them how far away it is.  They said it was just seven miles up the road, saying,

"You've got four-wheel drive, right?"

We altered our plan a bit and followed signs for Crisp Point.

Crisp Point was one of four original Lake Superior Life Saving Stations.  Fifteen acres of land with a quarter mile of Lake Superior frontage were purchased in 1903 for $30, and the light became operational in 1904.  Since then, the severe weather conditions of Lake Superior have decreased the acreage through erosion to less than 3 acres today.  The tower stands 58' in height, and the station included a service building attached to the tower, a two family brick keepers house, a fog signal building, a boat house, oil house, and barn.  Over the years, all buildings have been so vandalized that in 1965 the Coast Guard destroyed all buildings except the lighthouse tower and the attached service building.  Storms and erosion have also taken a toll on the structures.  In 1993, the light was decommissioned, but since then the Luce County Historical Society has taken over the lease and raised funds to restore the service building, build the visitor center, construct boardwalks, and bring in large boulders and vegetation to slow down the effects of erosion.  Today, it stands as a reminder to days gone by, and is wonderfully restored for visitors to enjoy.

The dirt county road 414 to Crisp Point was treacherous as soon as we left 500, but well marked with signs telling us how many miles we had to go.  About a mile in, I had to stop and engage four wheel drive, then we blundered onward.  Those seven miles took about 45 harrowing minutes to drive, but worth every second of panic when the wheels spun and  the car slid around hairpin turns.  All of a sudden the road ended and we were staring at a concrete building with a parking lot.  I said to Debbie,

"Oh, thank God, there's a bathroom!"

We parked, and as I approached the bathroom I burst out laughing at the sign on the door.

Debbie and I went into the Visitors Center, where there is information about the Lighthouse and sweatshirts and other trinkets.  We each bought a Crisp Point sweatshirt to always remember our adventure by, then Debbie asked the keeper about wildlife.  He took us outside and showed us the tracks of a very large bear that had walked through that morning, with her cub.  Debbie's eyes got very big at the sight of them, and she asked the keeper about coyote (yup) and foxes (yup) and moose (plenty) and mountain lions.  The keeper replied, "We have cougars.  Those are mountain lions".

"Trust me?  TRUST me?" she said to me.  I'm pretty sure Debbie will never trust me again.

Debbie and the Bear Track

The Keeper's Camper
Crisp Point Lighthouse is immaculately cared for by a procession of keepers who have the privilege of guarding over it for a 5 day stretch.  This keeper had his motorhome parked by the shop, he told us he was only able to get it there because the road is in such good shape at the moment.  That was the road in good shape?  I wouldn't be able to drive it if it was in bad shape.  We walked out to the lighthouse, climbed to the top, and snapped pictures of the breathtaking view.

Boardwalk to Lighthouse

Back at the car, I let Rooney out and asked the keeper if he could walk on the beach.  Normally, that's not allowed, but there were so few people around, he said it would be okay.  Of course, he was unaware of Rooney's digestive problem, and I forgot about it.  Rooney and I joined Debbie on the shore of Lake Superior, I unsnapped his leash, and he had the time of his life!  Running head down into the waves, diving, swimming, running out onto the beach, up to the woods, and back again.  He acted like a puppy, and I loved being able to allow Rooney to have his own adventure!  As we walked, he ran down the beach when suddenly I saw him stop, back up, and squat.  I yelled "Nooooooooo!" but it was too late.  Marking the spot with a piece of driftwood, I later had to walk back with a plastic bag.  Damn butter toffee peanuts.

Rooney Enjoying the Beach!
Walking back to the parking lot, we encountered an older couple who called out "Hey!  It's Rooney!"  Wondering how my dog got to be so famous, I then recognized the couple from the campground.  They couldn't remember my name, but they knew my dog's.  Whatever.

We spent two hours at Crisp Point, and even though we were way off schedule, it was worth it, because the beauty and the peace we experienced walking on the beach rejuvenated us for the rest of the day.  Debbie got to climb to the top of her first Lighthouse, we took our shoes off and let the frigid waters of Lake Superior numb our feet, and Debbie didn't make any noise walking on the beach.  It was blissful.

As we were leaving, I asked the keeper if he knew how to get to the Two Hearted River from Crisp Point.  He had never heard of it (apparently he doesn't read Hemingway either) but I thought if we retraced our route back to 500, I would be able to get us there.

Rooney was passed out in the backseat, the sun was warming our faces, and this unpredicted gorgeous day in October was just about perfect.  Our water bottles were empty, we were getting hungry and didn't have any food, but we would still make it to the brewery by 2:00pm, I assured Debbie, and with my four wheel drive engaged, we left Crisp Point for the Two Hearted River.   Only 30 minutes, and I would make another dream come true!

That 30 minutes turned into 6 hours, but that's a story for another day.

A Different Kind Of Travel

Due to all kinds of stuff hitting the fan, I am finding it increasingly difficult to sit down and write, but in an effort to keep my blog going, I want to take a quick moment to tell you about a different kind of traveling experience.

My teenage daughter will be traveling to Jamaica for the third time this April to embark on an extremely fulfilling journey.  She doesn't travel on Spring Break to relax and sit on a beach with friends, she chooses to travel to a part of Jamaica that most tourists never see.  She participates in a Mission trip to help the poor, the sick, and the forgotten.  Through the wonderful efforts of her Priest, each year a group of 50 students participate in this life-changing experience, and because the students are so affected by their time spent in Jamaica, the Mission trip has become quite popular at the school and this year Fr. Rose had to increase the group size to 65.

My daughter is most affected by the joyfulness of these people.  They have nothing, yet each morning they greet their day with joyful prayer to God, full of gratitude for the blessing of life.  The people of Jamaica have given my daughter far more than she gives them; they have taught her the lesson that God has a plan that is not ours to question.  She has learned from them that joy comes from a choice to be loved by God.  I cannot find the words to adequately express what this trip has meant to my daughter, but Fr. Rose has captured it beautifully in a video that I would like to share with you.  I hope you enjoy watching it, and if it leads you to a yearning to travel with a purpose, more information can be found at
IsleGo Missions

Happy travels all!

IsleGo Mission Trips - Video

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Is This The End Of The World?

For days, my family and I watched the reports of Hurricane Sandy, and the development of "The Perfect Storm".  As it approached the East coast and we saw how far reaching this hurricane is, including inclement weather for us here in Michigan, my kids asked me "Is this the end of the world?"

They have heard that the world will end in December of this year.  They are wondering if this is just the beginning of weather events that will build to a cataclysmic end of life on earth.  Kids will believe anything.

As I sit in my warm home while ice and sleet are pinging against my windows, thrown by 50mph wind gusts, my heart and prayers go out to the people on the East coast, the people in the mountains, and all those affected by this massive storm system.  I am safe, my friends and family are safe, and I am grateful to live in a region that is pretty unaffected by the weather.  Michiganders know that if you don't like the weather here, wait five minutes, it will change.  But in my lifetime, I have never seen flooding, a tornado, or a blizzard.  We don't experience earthquakes or hurricanes.  We have four beautiful seasons, and the worst weather event we ever see is an occasional ice storm in winter.  We always have ample warning, and if we do get an ice storm, we hunker down for a day in our homes, because the next day it will either rain or snow and the ice is gone.  This is Michigan, after all.

When I was a kid, news of a coming storm was a source of excitement.  Again, we never experienced deadly or catastrophic weather, just summer thunderstorms and winter snow, so I cannot speak from experience regarding severe weather, and certainly do not speak for the people who have lived through it.  But a forecast of 12 or more inches was a reason to celebrate.  No school tomorrow!  These days, my kids get the day off if we get 2 inches or more of fluffy white stuff, which I find utterly ridiculous.  Two years ago, the IIC (Idiots In Charge) cancelled school one day in January, and it was 40F degrees and raining all day.  So now our kids miss school for a chilly rain?  Puhlease.  I walked to school on days when there was 8 inches of snow falling and the winds made the air feel like 10 degrees.  Below zero.  If a Spring thunderstorm blasted in, we stayed at our desks and kept learning.  When Indian Summer hit in October and it was 90 degrees outside, we didn't complain because there was no air conditioning in our school, we rejoiced because it meant one more time through the sprinkler when we got home.

It wasn't just that we were hardy.  We embraced the weather as kids.  Whatever season, whatever precipitation, whatever temperature, we found something about it to celebrate and get outside.  Thunderstorms meant sitting on the covered porch to count the seconds between a lightening strike and the big boom that followed.  Snowstorms meant ice igloos, snowmen, and frozen toes.  I still remember limping into the house for dinner because my toes were so cold and red I couldn't walk on them, and the feeling of taking off my snowboots and the pain that ensued as my feet warmed up.  It was a good pain, the pain of knowing I didn't stop playing for a minor inconvenience like frostbite.

So is the world ending?  No.  It's just weather.  Deal with it.

I saw the news reports from Hurricane Katrina, from the Tsunami, from the raging fires out west.  I know people lost their belongings, their homes, and tragically, sometimes their lives.  The elements give us what we need to live, and sometimes they take life.  But the weather is no more to fear or blame than cancer, or driving in a car, or even sleeping in your home at night.  Every day, everywhere we go, we don't know what unforeseen circumstance can take our lives.  A criminal with a gun, a drunk driver, a silent tumor, a rotting tree that falls in the road just as you're driving under it.  Each morning when we wake up, we don't know what will happen.  That's the joy in living.  Some things we avoid, some things we create, some things we just deal with.

I have taught my kids to be safe in inclement weather.  Don't stand under a tree when its lightning, don't drive on icy roads, wear warm clothing when its cold.  But still my kids worry.  It's always the what if question.  What if a bad man breaks into our house?  What if a tornado rips up our home?  What if we are in a car accident?

My kids have fears that I didn't have as a child.  As their mom, I have the same fears they do, but because I am an adult, I have tools for coping and not letting fear govern my life.  But my kids worry more than they should.  It bothers me that they are so exposed to the news that the scary stories they hear have so much power over their thoughts.  It makes me sad that children have to cope with the reality of life long before they are emotionally capable.  We don't shield our children, we don't protect them.  They hear it all, they see it all, they know it all.  They just don't understand any of it.

I don't have an answer.  It is what it is, and I can't change society or the media or the world.  I simply keep focusing on the positive, and hoping my kids will learn from my example.  There is beauty and goodness in our lives everyday if we will look for the quiet examples set for us.  If a teacher takes an extra five minutes to help a child, it won't make the news, but it can make that child's day.  If a stranger holds a door and smiles, that simple act of kindness whispers "You matter to me".  On a day like today, when the cold wind is blowing ice and snow against my face, I am happy to be home and safe.

As I watched video footage of all the people stuck in airports today, my first reaction was "how awful!".  Those poor people can't shower, have to sleep on hard floors, and are stuck right where they are with no choice.  But then I think, they are not in the storm.  They are safe.  For the moment, that's all that matters.

I pray for the people that are stuck in the middle of the perfect storm today.  I feel for their loss, and the devastation of their communities.  But I rejoice for the millions that are safe in the midst of the storm, for the people who made it to a shelter or simply went somewhere else until its over.  I am grateful that those people will find the strength to go on and rebuild their lives, with our help.  I am confident that our country will come together and do what we can as people to get the victims of the storm back to their lives.

So when my kids ask if this is the end of the world, I tell them no.  It's the beginning of an opportunity to be grateful, and to help.  The weather destroys, and we rebuild. Human nature is to take what comes, deal with it and go on.  People become stronger, they survive, they see the good in the middle of the devastation.  My kids have fears I never had, but they also have the chance to be stronger than I ever was.  See?  There's good in everything!

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

The Toll Booth Is On The Wrong Side!

Debbie is coming, Debbie is coming, Debbie is coming!  Today was the day my friend Debbie would join me for a few days, and I was so excited for her arrival!  Let me tell you a little bit about my friend.

Courtesy of Google Images
Back in the day, when Debbie and I were stalking members of Fleetwood Mac during their "Say You Will Tour" and beyond, we would take long road trips to follow the band to various states for concerts. While I drove (because I'm OCD and I have to be the driver) Debbie would pull magazines from a huge satchel, flip through the pages, and tear out any page that had something pretty on it.  This…drove…me…crazy.  One simply does not destroy a perfectly good magazine by ripping out pages.  She would then remove the mailing label and save the magazine carcass for recycling, filing away the ripped out pages.  Debbie has boxes and boxes full of files for "pretty things".  I was grotesquely fascinated with her obsession, like when you have to slow down to look at a car wreck.  With the advent of Pinterest, Debbie now has more boards than anyone I know, with a board for every color, every room of her house, every outside area, every accessory, even a board for different types of clothes.  She will pin one picture to umpteen different boards.  Finally, I couldn't take it anymore, and I asked her why.  Why, in the name of all that is good on God's green earth, does she file away all these pictures?

Her answer is simple.  She likes pretty things.

Debbie takes the challenges she has faced in life and turns them into opportunities to grow, and she seeks the positive lesson in every situation.  She knows the world can be an ugly place, so she wants to make it pretty.  She is even dreaming of starting a website that connects people with pretty things, hence all the Pinterest boards and files full of ripped out pages.  She believes in beautiful things, and wants to share them.  I will only grudgingly admit that I admire her for it.

I like to simplify my world, remove all the clutter so I can clear my mind and my time to focus on things that matter.  Debbie likes to fill her world with beautiful colors, textures, fabrics, art, and music to fill her mind and heart with beauty.  I run away from the world; Debbie runs into it full-speed and embraces every moment filled with the good, the bad, and the ugly, because she has the amazing ability to find something good in everything.

Debbie is a beautiful, smart, strong, and joyful woman.

That being said, Debbie is also kind of a wimp, though I had no comprehension of the depth of her wimpiness  prior to this trip, and I've known her for 20 years. She claims she is not a camper, but I know she likes camping with me and Rooney.  Because she loves pretty things, which I really mean as a compliment, when Debbie comes, I glamp up the campsite.  For her, I'd do anything.

Having previously set up my glampsite, I woke early on Sunday to freshen things up and take care of a few necessities before she arrived.  I started inside the camper, kicking an unhappy Rooney outside and cleaning all the surfaces with organic orange cleaner (not so much because I'm an environmentalist, more because it smells really good) then vacuumed the significant amount of dog hair left by Rooney in the rugs and on Rooney's, oops! I mean, Debbie's bed.  Then I showered, started a fresh pot of coffee, and headed outside.

Rooney had been howling the entire time I was in the camper, because he gets very upset when he can't see me.  So I gave him a bone to chew and went to work cleaning the tables outside, adding water to the wildflowers in a vase, watering the mums, and sweeping the mats.  I filled the empty wine bottles with lamp oil, put the hurricane lamps on them, and took a final look to make sure everything was pretty and perfect, just like Debbie.

Courtesy Google Images
I then made five trips to the water pump with my 7-gallon water jug to use it to fill the tin can with water.  Of course, every time I walked away with the empty jug, Rooney howled until I returned to the campsite with a full jug.  I kept thinking there has to be a way to design a harness for Rooney to carry the jug on his back.  Then I could just walk him up to the pump, fill the jug, and let him carry it back.  Maybe next year I'll figure that out.

Then I had to perform the unpleasant task of dumping my black tank into an external tank, and hauling it up that steep hill in the campground to the dump station.  Last year, I invested in the Thetford top-of-the-line external dump tank, a spectacular device that makes this "crappy" chore much easier.  I love the swivel wheel in the front which makes it so easy to maneuver the tank away from the camper and over to the car, and the design which allows me to raise the handle on the tank and hook it over my vehicles hitch, without having to lift the tank.  I drove to the dump station pulling the Thetford tank behind, dumped, and after hosing down the tank, drove back.

Whew!  By now it was noon, and I only had a couple of hours before Debbie arrived, so I loaded Rooney in the car and drove to Paradise for firewood.  Filling the back of my car with loose wood, I inspected each piece for snakes before throwing it into my vehicle, and again the guy who sold me the wood said,

 "It's too cold for snakes, trust me."

I arrived back at camp with a good supply of firewood, stacked it all outside, then surveyed my surroundings.  Debbie would arrive any minute, and as I looked around at my clean glampsite, with the river running swiftly below us, the sun shining through the trees, and a fire crackling, I knew she would be happy here.
Okay, I don't actually stack my firewood like Gary Tallman of Montana, but his website has inspired me!

Filling a basket with butter toffee peanuts, I put it on the table by the fire, grabbed a book, and sat down to read and wait for my friend.  I didn't wait long, for five minutes later she pulled in!  Debbie is here, Debbie is here, Debbie is here!

Courtesy of Google Images

She didn't even unload anything from her car, instead Debbie went straight to her camp chair to unwind and enjoy the fire.  I asked about her trip up, just to be polite, and was shocked at her level of anxiety regarding this trip.  By the time she reached Clare, two hours south of the Mackinac Bridge, she was having panic attacks about driving over the bridge.  She had never driven over the Big Mac and was terrified.  She said she kept envisioning the conversation she would have with the toll booth attendant where she expressed her fears and the attendant kindly offered to drive her vehicle for her.  I thought, "Uh oh, she was in trouble".  She then rather indignantly told me that before she knew it, she was actually on the bridge, thinking, "where is the damn toll booth?!"  I had neglected to include, in my pages of instructions for Debbie, the fact that the toll booth is on the other side of the bridge, in the U.P.  Debbie proclaimed, 

"Well, the toll booth is on the wrong side!"  

Courtesy of Google Images

She made it over the bridge without plunging off the side by focusing on the taillights of the car in front of her.  Good call, Debbie.  Once she reached the other side, her relief at having crossed the bridge was so great that she stopped to buy a Diet Pepsi and celebrate.  Per my instructions, she knew that the rest of the trip would be unencumbered by McDonald's and Gas Stations at every corner, so after fueling her thirst and her gas tank in St. Ignace, she began the best part of the journey, driving up M-123 to Paradise.

Debbie enjoyed the rest of the drive, but as is normally the case, she was unable to take in much of the surroundings because she was busy following my pages and pages of directions.  She did comment that the only restaurant she saw on the way was called "The Bear Butt Bar and Grill".  At this point, Debbie was really wondering what I had gotten her into!  
Courtesy of Google Images

I told Debbie of my desire to retrace my hike to Clark Lake with her.  Because I had managed to post the picture of the bear from Oswald's Bear Ranch, with no explanation, Debbie had seen it and assumed, as I hoped she would, that I had seen the bear while hiking.  I began telling her a rather embellished story of my quest for the bear, when she interrupted me with objections to following in my footsteps.  When I got to the part about seeing the sign on the side of the road for Oswalds, she was visibly relieved, but still nervous about the next day's hike.

I had talked to so many locals, and DNR officers, about the bear, and repeated to Debbie what I had learned from them.

"We won't see a bear, Debbie.  Trust me."

Debbie reminded me that I had neglected to tell her the toll booth is on the wrong side, so trust was apparently becoming an issue for her.  She was far more nervous about our foray into the wilderness than I realized, and started expressing all her fears.

Debbie:  "What about mountain lions?  My husband said there are mountain lions here."

Courtesy of Google Images

Me: "Your husband is just trying to scare you.  There are no mountain lions here.  Trust me."

Debbie:  "What about snakes?"  (She shares my phobia)

Me:  "It's too cold for the snakes to come out.  Trust me."

Debbie:  "There are moose up here.  What if they charge us?"

Me:  "We would be lucky to see a moose, but we won't.  Trust me."
Courtesy of Google Images

Debbie:  "What if we get lost?  There are no cell phone signals here!  What if we bump into evil hunters?  What about foxes and coyotes?  And WOLVES?"

Me:  "Trust me, we will be fine."

Later, Debbie unloaded her car, and carried in a lot of food.  Why did she bring all this fancy food?  I have nuts and M&M's and soup, what more do we need?  But she brought fancy cheeses and crackers, pasta salads, veggie salads, scrambled egg casseroles, and wine.  Lots of wine.  I don't even drink wine.  When she stepped outside to get more things from her car, she called out that Rooney was eating the entire basket of butter toffee peanuts I had set out for us.  Uh oh.  This could be bad.

My Bed
Once we had her all settled in, I showed her how to make her bed.  Sleeping in the tin can is an almost holy experience for me.  My bed is in the back of the camper, and stays made up with my bedding all the time.  I have very nice bedding for the tin can, it is my one weakness for "fancy", and my bed is heavenly.  For Debbie, I have to put down the table and pull out the couch in the front of the camper to make her bed each night, but this year I left the sleeping bags at home and also made her bed with fancy bedding.  Once we were both comfortably resting in our beds, with Rooney giving Debbie dirty looks from the floor, she called out to me,

"I brought a wilderness survival guide.  I am going to read a few things to you."
Debbie's Bed

Oh boy.  For the next hour, Debbie read to me the safe and proper way to handle many situations.  We learned the following procedures:

1. How to Scare Away a Bear (You know, the bear we won't see?)
2. How to Avoid a Charging Bull (we substituted Moose for Bull, but I had a hard time picturing Debbie in black pants and shirt waving a red flag at a Moose)
3. How to Defend Against a Mountain Lion Attack (if a mountain lion jumps on our backs from a tree, I'd say this section was pretty useless)
4. How to Survive in Quicksand (Hmmmm….)
This isn't really the Mackinac Bridge, but you get the idea!
Courtesy of Google Images
5. How to Survive in a Car Plunging Off a Bridge (Remember the photo from my earlier post of a barge passing beneath the bridge?  Well, now if a barge is too tall and hits the Big Mac while one of us in driving over it, we will know what to do.   Scream.)
6. How to Survive a Jump or Fall from a Bridge (As if either one of us would be in the right frame of mind to remember to clench our butt cheeks as we hit the water.  Seriously, that's what the guide told us to do.)
7. How to Survive a Poisonous Snake Bite (Doesn't matter, we will both have died from a heart attack at this point)
8. How to Survive a Bullet Wound (Okay, so I do carry a gun, but I really don't plan to shoot Debbie with it.)

There were more, but you get the idea.  Debbie was scared.  Wimp.

Before we fell asleep, I commanded Rooney not to throw up half-digested butter toffee peanuts in my camper, and I revised my plan for tomorrow.  I promised Debbie I would drive us all the way to the parking area (I was pretty sure I could make it with four-wheel drive), and from there it would only be a quick ten-minute hike to Clark Lake.  I told her that the other places I wanted to explore could be driven to, instead of my usual hiking, and that she could stay in the Yukon anytime she felt uncomfortable getting out to explore.  I had a full tank of gas, we weren't going that far, and we wouldn't see any wild animals.

"Trust me."

Courtesy of Google Images