Peace In A Tin Can

Peace In A Tin Can

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.