Peace In A Tin Can

Peace In A Tin Can

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!