Peace In A Tin Can

Peace In A Tin Can

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

When Decisions Go To The Dogs

I've been reading several blogs, with lively commentary, regarding the definition of Adventure.  Some say adventure is doing things you've never done before, others say the purest form of adventure involves giving up a "normal" life to hike across New Zealand or kayak the Nile or some other such extreme endeavor.  True adventurists scoff at guided tours and companies that capitalize on the human spirit by promising adventure while doing all the hard stuff for you.

I don't fit neatly into any of those categories.  Most of my adventures come about accidentally, and almost all of them involve my friend Debbie, who is not an adventurer at all.

Every year in October, Debbie and I go camping together.  At this point I can't even remember how this tradition started, but in the beginning I tried to ignite a passion for outdoor adventure in Debbie.  She gave it the old college try, but our annual trip has evolved into a few days of Debbie reading by the campfire and me restlessly prowling around the campsite.  Debbie knows how to relax and unwind; I do not.

This year I told her we would be camping in Petosky, Michigan, because Petosky is synonymous with shopping, restaurants, and luxury hotels.  I figured if she equated camping with Petosky, she would be more likely to enjoy the experience.  But camping is camping, and the Petosky State Park is a world away from the posh downtown area.  Throw in four straight days of torrential rain, and we had ourselves a true outdoor camping experience.  Sorry, Debbie.

By the third day, I was very restless, wanting to explore and hike and find myself immersed in nature.  Debbie and I had walked 25 feet away from our campsite to look for Petosky Stones on the beach.  But I found that foray into nature boring, so I left Debbie to go walk the dogs.

Because dogs are domesticated animals, they generally are not as adaptable as wild animals.  In other words, dogs are creatures of habit, and my big dog, Rooney, was having difficulty in this new environment with his digestive system.  To put it bluntly, he hadn't pooped.  In three days.  I was a little concerned.

Normally, when I take Rooney camping (which I do often), on our first morning in a new place I will walk Rooney until he picks a spot he likes to take care of business.  Every day for the remainder of the trip Rooney will go to that one spot each morning for his daily constitutional.  Even though there was a nice wide trail right behind our Petosky campsite, a 2 mile jaunt with plenty of weeds and underbrush, Rooney hadn't taken advantage of this perfect spot.  So after fifteen minutes of staring at the waters of Lake Michigan looking for that one special stone, I announced to Debbie that I was going to walk the dogs down the trail again, in the hopes that Rooney would find relief there.  I said to Debbie,

"I will be back in about 15 minutes."  Famous last words for someone who has a tendency to get lost in the woods.

As I walked the dogs down the familiar trail, Rooney pulled off on a side trail.  I thought maybe I should let him take the lead to find his spot where he was comfortable.  I left the decision of the direction of our hike to Rooney, thinking that we were in Petosky State Park; we couldn't possibly get lost.

We crossed the road that leads into the campground.  On the other side, the Yellow trail began and Rooney pulled ahead.  Had it not been such a pretty trail, perhaps I would have paid closer attention to the trail markings.  But at the first juncture I simply followed Rooney, and it wasn't until much later that I realized the yellow marker was in the shape of a diamond.  A DIAMOND.  For you non-hikers out there, that means the highest level of difficulty.

We climbed a very steep hill.  We went down another steep hill.  Then we plodded up a steeper hill, with the rain turning the loose soil to mud and the wet trees I had to use to pull myself up the hill were slippery to grasp.  I won't tell you that I slid back down a few times on my knees, because in my mind that didn't happen.  The dogs and I labored up and struggled down.  Finally, we reached a high ridge and I thought the trail had to be almost back to the campground.  But then, in a break through the trees, I saw something that made my heart drop into my stomach.

Earlier in the day, Debbie had wanted to visit a French antiques shop in Petosky.  We drove 2 miles down the State Park road, and another 5 miles on the highway to get to this shop.  Across the street was a four-story brick building that had been converted into a pub.  From the top of the ridge I was now standing on, I was looking down on the roof of the four-story pub.  I was 7 miles from my campsite!

I hadn't planned on this hike.  I had no water, no food, and no cell phone (not that it would have worked in the deep woods anyway).  I didn't even have a camera to capture the amazing beauty around me.  I debated about whether to turn back and re-trace my steps, or keep going.  Because the demon hills I was traversing were on a more direct route to the campground than the road, I decided to keep going ahead thinking it would be the shorter way to go.  We forged on, down and up, sideways, upside down once, looking for any sign of the end of this trail from hell.  After a particularly slippery slide down one ridge, I looked up to see a trail marker pointing to the easy yellow trail, and the campground.  I almost wept with relief.

We still had another mile to go to connect back to the original trail.  As the dogs and I plodded down the wide flat trail, thirsty and tired and soaking wet, I was anxious to get back and let Debbie know we were ok.  She must be worried sick!  I had no idea what time it was, or how long we had been gone, but it was much longer than the fifteen minutes I had told her.  I hoped she hadn't informed the ranger we were missing.  Oh geez, what if they were out searching for us?  Debbie must be frantic!

We literally ran the last 1/4 mile, I was so worried.  As we burst into the campsite, Debbie looked up from her chair and the book she was reading, cozy with a blanket, sitting by the fire that was still burning despite the rain because I had set an awning up over it, a glass of wine at her side, and she said,

"Oh.  Did you go out again?  I thought you were napping."

What?  We were missing for three hours and she didn't even know?  She thought I was napping?

With a certain amount of indignation, I told Debbie what had happened.  I also pointed out that if I were ever to get lost for real I guess I couldn't count on her to raise the calvary.  I sat in my chair to pout, drinking a gallon of water, when Rooney stood up, walked a few steps from the fire, and pooped in the campsite.  He found his spot.

It was a mini adventure, but an adventure nonetheless.  The terrain was difficult, I wasn't sure where I was, and no one else knew where I was either.  After consulting the trail map later, I discovered that I had only hiked about 3 miles total, not the 14 miles that it felt like, but with the level of difficulty I had a pretty good hike.  I saw beautiful scenery deep in the woods, and it was all good.

I don't seek adventure.  It usually finds me when I am least prepared for it.  Spending as much time as I do outdoors, it is bound to happen.  When I leave decisions to the dogs, it is a given that an adventure awaits.  But I like it that way.  Sometimes when I plan an adventure, it falls short of the vision I had in my mind, but when adventure happens accidentally, I have a story to tell and fond memories to keep.  Maybe that's the true spirit of adventure, just going out and seeing what happens.

The dogs were exhausted that night and slept deeply, as did I.  As for Debbie, she suffered a restless night of tossing and turning, feeling deep guilt over my struggles while she sat cozy by the fire, not noticing I was missing.  At least that's the way the story goes when I tell it.

Monday, March 24, 2014

The Top 10 Things I've Learned About Camping

Since I started tent camping 25 years ago, and added camping in the tin can 10 years later, I've learned a lot about exploring outside and camping.  Some of these lessons will help readers who are new to camping or getting outside, and experienced adventurers will most likely be able to identify.  At least I hope they will, otherwise I am the most incompetent outdoor adventurer ever!  (Which actually might be true).

1.  Never leave your Mackinac Island Fudge on the picnic table overnight.

Chip discovers 5-Star Dining
This one is more important than you'd think.  Leaving fudge, or any other food, out overnight is an open call to all the creatures of the woods.  I only needed to spend one night in a tent listening to Rocky the Raccoon munching on my fudge, then rolling on his back with indigestion to learn the perils of leaving food out.  This same rule holds true for coolers.  Raccoons, bear, chipmunks, and other wild animals are rather industrious.  Put your food in the car or camper, folks, and this includes the dog's food.  Lets keep wild animals wild, and not habituated to people; that's when animals become dangerous.

2.  Never stake your tent at the bottom of a hill.

It was all fun and games until it rained
A newbie mistake, I was scouting out a campsite on a windy day, and discovered the hill behind me blocked the wind, making it easier to set up and keep the tent warmer.  But guess what windy days usually lead to?  Rainy nights.  All that water running down the hill has to go somewhere, and most likely it will all go into your tent.  If I wanted a houseboat, I would have bought a houseboat.  Put your tent in an open, high, flat area, away from trees and hills.

3.  Always carry a walking stick while hiking.

I visited Drummond Island once for a week, snowshoeing and hiking during a mild winter.  I fell in love with the island and its people, so while there I bought a hand-made walking stick from a local merchant, more for sentimental value than anything else.  However, that stick has been a lifesaver on a few occasions.  A clumsy hiker like me finds it very handy to complete my hike even after I've sprained my ankle or twisted my knee.  It also works as a snake beater.

4.  Never trust someone who says "Trust me".

"Is this CO 412? or  CO 423?  Didn't we already pass that fern?"
My friend Debbie will tell you that all of my reassurances that I know what I am doing are of little comfort when you've been lost for eleven hours on two-track after two-track that all look exactly alike.  The experienced outdoor people recognize that in the wilderness, things change but look the same.  Never assume you know where you are going or what lies ahead.  Be prepared, and rely on your own skills to get out of a perilous situation, even if the only skill you have is to carry an emergency beacon so trained rescue personnel can find you.  Been there, done that.

5.  Always look up.  TRUST ME.

I can't stress this enough; educate yourself about wildlife and their habits prior to exploring the wilderness.  When it comes to the elusive black bear, especially in Michigan, they are likely to avoid human contact if you follow the rules, therefore you likely will never see one.  However, when hiking, kayaking, climbing, or just sitting by the campfire, don't forget to look up.  Do NOT carry fruit and berries in your backpack, unless in sealed containers.  You might end up with a close encounter you are not prepared for.  Learn how to avoid wildlife.  A bear might look cute and friendly, but he would tear you apart for an apple.

6.  Always unplug your electrical cord before driving away.

Is that a raccoon hanging out of that camper?
This may seem like a no-brainer, but for a camper new to RVing and in a hurry to leave, you'd be surprised how many things you can forget to do before you pull out.  The good news is, you will only make that mistake once.  Seriously, you wouldn't believe how much damage can occur when you drive off with your electrical cord still plugged in and locked to your camper.  Always remember, all those people waving at you on the highway are not being friendly; they are trying to tell you something.  Check windows, doors, steps, hook-ups, and awnings before you leave.  The same goes for tent campers.  Those straps are called tie-downs.  Make sure the kayak on top of your car is, in fact, tied down.

7.  The macho men in the campground are there for a reason.

No carbon monoxide poisoning for me!
I used to get offended by the men who would rush to my aid every time I backed my trailer into a site, but I have gotten over it.  Those same men have, at times, kept me from hitting a tree, changed a tire on my tin can, fixed my propane leak, and found the tiny fuse that fell out of my battery.  Macho men in campgrounds are wonderful.

8.  Always follow the rules.

How many times have I been hiking a trail and seen something very
intriguing off the trail?  Yet every trail head has a sign posted, "Please Stay on the Trail."  This is a good idea for many reasons, but the most important reason is the environment.  Michigan's DNR and DEQ have worked very hard to preserve the delicate balance of nature for all of us to enjoy.  You might think one person walking off trail would be no big deal, yet you'd be wrong.  Follow all posted rules in the woods, wilderness, and waters.  They really are for your protection, and the protection of the beauty all around you.

9.  Always keep your dog on a short leash.

I used to have a furry tail.
There is a narrow, dirt trail that follows a high ridge line along the Big Sable River at Ludington State Park.  When camping there, I walk my Newfoundland, Rooney, every morning along this trail, with the river running below a steep embankment.  I always keep him on a retractable leash and let the leash out 12 feet or so while he runs and does his thing.  After several days of walking that trail, one morning without warning Rooney took off down the steep hill for the river.  After I ended up wrapped around a tree about halfway down, still clinging to Rooney's leash, a macho man once again came to my rescue, pulling me and my dog back up to the trail.  Even if you have a well-behaved dog, the leash rule is important, because someone else might not have a well behaved dog (like me), and there are wild animals out there.  Keep your furry friend close by your side, unless you are sitting by the campfire.  Rooney has caught his tail on fire 3 times while sitting at my side.  It took us awhile, but lesson learned.

10.  Carry duct tape.

Even camping in a well-populated campground can bring unexpected challenges.  Be prepared for just about everything you can imagine going wrong, and a few things you haven't thought of yet, though eventually you will.  Weather, drunk campers, animals, equipment failure, and an aging, forgetful mind can lead to all kinds of potential disasters.  When the disasters come, make sure you've brought your sense of humor and an extra bottle of water along, but most importantly, always carry duct tape.  A fresh bottle of water and a full roll of duct tape can solve 99% of your problems while camping and enjoying the outdoors.  Hole in your boot?  Duct tape.  Sudden downpour?  Secure a natural shelter with duct tape.  Broken fishing pole?  Duct tape.  Leaky tent?  Duct tape.  Loose wire on your camper?  You know what to do.

I am sure as time goes on, I will discover many more tips for surviving outside.  But these are the top things I've learned so far.  Do you have anything to add?  I would love to hear your stories and advice!

Happy Spring everybody, and Go Outside!

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Rifle River Recreation Area: You Always Remember Your First Time

Sometime soon, when this long winter is finally over and the first week of sunshine and warmer weather is predicted, I will just up and leave my home.  With a tin can hitched to my Yukon and my dog at my side, I will drive north to Rifle River Recreation Area to live for a few days in my beloved woods.

I haven't been to Rifle River since 1998, but I have wanted to return there since my inaugural trip with the tin can.  After years of tent camping, I was ready for something a little more comfortable, but still looked with disdain at the RVers who "pretended" to camp while living in the lap of luxury.  I wanted to sleep in a warm and dry bed, but was unwilling to let go of the simplicity of tent camping, so I bought a tin can.

The 1970 Airstream Landyacht is not nearly as fancy as its name suggests.  Back then, it needed a lot of work, had no hook-ups, and some questionable upholstery.  But it had a bed and a roof with only one leak.  It was all I needed.

In late September 1998, after hours of instruction from my husband on how to back up a trailer, I hit the road for the first time pulling a trailer.  Driving up the highway, with my dog hanging out the window, I was on cloud nine!  I kept thinking "I'm doing it! I'm pulling a camper and going all alone to live in the woods!"  Maybe that doesn't seem like much, but I had never camped alone before, never pulled anything attached to my truck, and never felt so free.  I remember that later, my husband told me a truck driver he knew had seen me on the highway and remarked that I was pretty awesome to go alone like that.  I felt so empowered!
Photo Credit: Dave Case
I chose Rifle River Recreation Area for that first trip because it wasn't too far away, but off the beaten path.  Upon arriving, I was pleased that a few campers were there (I wasn't ready to be ALL alone) but they were spread out.  Of course, as soon as I started backing the tin can onto my site, five guys in hunter's camo and orange hats materialized from nowhere and began shouting instructions to me.  All they did was confuse me.  I had my method, and though I was slow to back in, I wanted to do it by myself.  I'm sure their intentions were good, but seriously, leave me be.

I hand cranked the trailer off the hitch, got her level, and hand cranked the stabilizers down.  It was raining, and chilly.  But once I had my site set up, I walked the dog, returned to the camper, and changed into dry clothes.  Sitting in the camper that first night, listening to the rain ting!  on the tin can, with a hot cup of soup and a lantern to light the pages of my book, I realized that maybe RV camping wasn't such a bad thing.  I was pretty cozy.
Photo Credit: Dave Case
The next day dawned cold but sunny, and I did some exploring.  Rifle River is a gem, with over 4000 acres of exploring, ten lakes, countless streams, and 14 miles of trails.  It plays host to fishermen, boaters, kayakers, hikers, bikers, and swimmers.  A 3-story observation tower presents sweeping views of the area.  Birders will keep busy with field guides and binoculars.  There are highland hardwood and pine forests, grasslands, lowland forests, cedar swamp, bog, and marsh.  There is also plenty of open water.  Hunting and fishing are permitted.  Rifle River Recreation Area has something for every lover of the Michigan outdoors, even offering modern camping and rustic sites.

Wildlife viewing at Rifle River includes deer, grouse, woodcock, duck, goose, and rabbit.  In season, hunters are welcome.  The park is also open to trapping for muskrat, beaver, and mink.  Anglers come to the area for trout, as well as yellow perch, bluegill, rock bass, and  northern pike.  Permits are available at Park Headquarters.
Photo Credit: Dave Case
Love waterfowl?  Look for Trumpeter Swans and Loons, but not too close!

Rifle River is even open in the winter for cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, ice fishing, and snowmobiling.

I spent my weekend at Rifle River exploring streams and trails during the day, and relaxing by a fire at night.  Late September is an excellent time to go;  its not too cold yet, and there are not many campers.  My first trip alone in the tin can brought to light a truth for me.  I can go anywhere, do anything, and be outside learning from my experiences in nature.  Even the coyotes fighting in the woods behind my tin can didn't bother me.  I was safe and secure, and could listen to their howls and yips as part of the symphony of the night woods with joy, not fear.

Since that trip, I have revised my opinion of RVers.  It doesn't matter if you are in a tent, or a Class A Motorcoach, or anything in between.  Campers all have one thing in common; they love to be outside.  Over the years I have added many updates and amenities to the tin can, and expanded my horizons by sometimes camping in State parks with hookups and showers, sometimes choosing State forests with an outhouse and shared water pump.  I can go anywhere in the tin can, depending on my mood.

I am eager to return to the Rifle River Recreation area, the place where my tin can adventure began.  It was the beginning of my journey as a part time wanderer, not to mention the place where I learned my first valuable lesson as an RVer.  Make sure the windows are firmly latched before hitting the road! And I thought all the people waving at me on the highway were just being super friendly.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Timing Is Everything: Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park

A long time ago, my husband told me that all of life's happiness is due to timing.  When you do the right thing at the right time, good things happen.  After 6 months of planning a winter trip in the Porcupine Mountains, in Michigan's western U.P.,  it turns out my timing was all wrong.  Then again, my timing couldn't have been better.

This pretty much sums up the entire experience of snowshoeing through the Porkies and staying overnight in Yurts during the winter:  Extremes.

It turns out, a winter Yurt only has two temperatures; hot and off.  

Winter in the Porkies means you are either surrounded by dense forest, or in the middle of a vast emptiness.  

The terrain is either up, or down.  Snow is thigh deep and fluffy, while ice is flat and hard.  A gale force wind blows all night, then the sunrise brings an eerie calm.  Everything is extreme.

Another extreme is the level of difficulty I experienced, though this is not true for everyone, including the two young couples I met who bounced over the trails in their snowshoes while I labored with each step.  They carried everything they needed in packs that I know were heavy, but seemed not to burden them, while I huffed and puffed and fell down pulling my sled full of so many things I didn't need.  Perhaps experience is still the greatest teacher, but youth is the greatest student.

Maybe I wouldn't have struggled so much had my timing been better, but several things were at play.  A week before my scheduled trip, my dad had an accident which put him in the hospital where he received frustratingly substandard care.  It quickly became obvious to my mom and me that we would be responsible for his care, not the hospital staff.  Between making sure Dad was never left alone at the hospital, and running Mom to oncology appointments, and checking in on my 95 year old Grandmother, while trying to keep up with things at home and see my husband and daughter each day, I was exhausted.  It was an emotional week as well, and by the time everyone convinced me to go ahead with my trip, which I was ready to cancel, I couldn't think straight or see straight.  I was so worn out and tired.

Then, the day I was scheduled to leave, we got an ice storm.  I stayed up late the night before packing my sled and backpack, then started out the next morning.  I made it 10 miles out of town on the highway before turning back.  The roads were pure ice, and I just couldn't handle the drive on top of everything else.  I came home upset, discouraged, and thinking that there were an awful lot of signs that this trip was not meant to be.  My husband said to just wait one day, then try again.  My dad begged me to go.  My sister promised she would take care of things in my absence.  So I tried again the next day.

The next morning, school was cancelled.  So how do I leave my young daughter home alone all day?  A friend called and invited her over.  For every sign that said "Don't Go", a solution appeared.  I left.

After 8 1/2 hours of driving on icy back roads because the highway was closed, I had made it to Gaylord, about 58 miles south of the Mackinac Bridge.  In normal circumstances, I would have reached Gaylord in 3 1/2 hours, but there was nothing normal or even reasonable about that drive.  I found a hotel and hunkered down for the night to wait out a blizzard the likes of which I have never experienced.  My second day of driving wasn't any better, but I forged ahead and reached the Porcupine Mountains Headquarters with an hour of daylight left.

Once I had checked in with the Ranger and parked my vehicle at the trail head, all I really wanted to do was curl up in the back seat and sleep for a week.  What was I thinking, believing I could handle this winter excursion?  I gathered what little strength I had left and pulled it around me in a shroud, and set off on the groomed trail.  In about an hour, it would be fully dark, and Bob Wild, Park Naturalist, was busy on the trail filling lanterns with oil and lighting them for the Saturday night lamplit ski.  I took great comfort knowing he was close by, because I will admit to being uneasy about pulling my sled alone through the woods.  Bob pointed out the ungroomed trail to the Yurt, which I would have missed, and I left the safety of Bob's domain to break a new path, alone, to the Yurt.

It was very cold.  I was dressed properly and working hard to pull the sled and navigate the deep snow in my snowshoes, so I stayed warm, but my fingers and toes were cold.  It didn't take long to reach the Yurt, and God bless the previous occupants who had left me plenty of split wood for the stove.  Inside, I made fire my first priority, as it was just as cold inside the Yurt as it was outside, 8 degrees below zero Fahrenheit.  Without removing any layers of winter wear, I unpacked my sled and pack, gathered snow to melt on the stove for water, then stoked the fire up and left to join the lamplit ski tour.

It was dark inside the Yurt, and really dark outside the Yurt.  Again asking myself why I was here, I turned on my headlamp and started back the way I came, terrified at every sound until I realized that most of what I was hearing was other people.  Other people meant safety.

Every Saturday night in February, Bob Wild lights the lanterns and people come from all over to ski or snowshoe the lamplit trail to the warming shelter, an outdoor bonfire, and hot chocolate.  Some of the people are staying in various shelters throughout the park, while many others come from nearby.  I met some amazing people, people who didn't think I was crazy or particularly adventurous to be there alone.  They were people like me, who believe that snowshoeing through the Porkies in the winter and staying in a Yurt is just something to do, no big deal.  I felt like I belonged.  I actually did belong.

I returned to my Yurt about 10:00pm, this time feeling overwhelmed by the peacefulness of hiking alone down a barely marked trail after dark.  I almost went right past the Yurt, I couldn't see it, but I could see millions of stars winking at me, whispering a calm encouragement.

Remember those extremes of which I spoke?  Opening the door to the Yurt, I was hit with a forceful blast of heat.  Ten minutes later, I was stripped down to my underwear and standing in the open doorway trying to cool off.  It was a sauna in there!

I thought that if I kept the fire low in the wood stove, I could reach a comfortable temperature, but that first night I discovered that the Yurt was either stifling hot, or as cold as the outdoors.  There simply was no in-between.  Reading the Yurt journal, I was pleased to see that all previous hikers complained of the same problem, so at least I wasn't stupid.

I lay there that first night, thinking my timing was all wrong.  My parents needed me, I had driven
through one of the worst blizzards in 20 years, I was exhausted.  Many of the tasks required of me called for energy and strength and I struggled to collect firewood that was buried under 4' of snow, carry out my garbage to the bear-proof container, cook outside in subzero temperatures, and snowshoe through the mountains.  I did it all, but my limbs were tired and none of it came easy.

Then again, I was in the Porcupine Mountains in the middle of one of the coldest, snowiest winters ever recorded.  You might think this is another item for the "bad timing" list, but this is what actually turned out to be the best timing possible.

How many people can say they walked on Lake Superior two miles from shore?  How many people can climb on top of a 6' wave and stand there, only to slide down the back side?  How many people will willingly hike for days with the temperature below zero and the 45 mph winds creating a feel of -30 F?  It is unusual for Lake Superior to be 90% frozen, and I picked the best winter to experience her in a way few people ever will.

An awe crept into my days.  Awe for Mother Nature, the weather, snow,wind, and bitter cold.  Awe for the mountains, blanketed in deep snow, and then Lake Superior, frozen and suddenly reigned in from her fury.  There was awe for the fresh kill site in the deer yard, wolf tracks telling the story of life and death.  A curious pack of coyotes who came too close to the Yurt inspired me to be brave and trust that these wild animals had no real interest in me.  Mostly, though, I had awe of myself.  Little ole' me, who has always taken the safe route and lived such a normal life, was here, in a Yurt in the middle of the mountains during a brutal winter, surrounded by coyotes, and unafraid.

My husband was wrong.  The best things don't come from good timing, they come from believing.  

With elderly parents, kids, and a husband, it's not the right time for me to be an outdoor adventurer.  Yet, I believe the wilderness is pulling me to her, I believe there is a purpose for me that I don't quite understand, and I believe in myself.  I can be stronger, smarter, and a better example.  I can walk with wolves, stand on a tundra, climb mountains, and use these experiences for something good.

There is nothing special about me.  I am just like you.  But if you think you could never snowshoe in the Porcupine Mountains in winter and stay in a Yurt, or if you think you'd never even want to, you are wrong.  If I can do it, stumbling and frightened the whole way, you can too, and you should do it at least once, to believe in the balance of our natural world, believe in the role of every human, tree, wild animal, and body of water.  Most important, do it to believe in yourself.  But don't pull a sled.  You really don't need all that stuff!

For more information about winter hiking in the Porcupine Mountains, please visit the Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park web page.  There you can find information for camping and activities in any season, and some great tips for a winter experience.  For a list of what you need to pack, check out REI's Winter Camping Essentials.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Where Is That Boy's Mother?

Google Images
It's been an unusually snowy and cold winter here.  We used to have winters like this when I was a kid,  and I remember my mom would make me wear a heavy coat, boots, hat, and mittens just to run errands with her.  I thought it was stupid since we would just be in the car, but there are two things about my mother you should know:  1) Never argue with my mother, and 2) My mother makes "Worst Case Scenario" look like a fairly tale compared to what she can imagine.  So I bundled up to sit in the car with the heat on high (because if we slid off the road AND ran out of gas, we would want the car to stay warm as long as possible), and the sweat would run down from my hairline sticking out beneath my wool hat while my hands turned wet inside my double-lined mittens.  My feet actually swelled from the warmth inside my boots, making them so tight I could no longer wiggle my toes.  Even though we
Google Images "A Christmas Story"
never once got in an accident (which would have been hard, because my mom wouldn't drive over 20mph in winter) or ran out of gas or became trapped by falling ice-covered trees or got lost in the two miles between our driveway and the grocery store parking lot, we were prepared.

Some of the lessons I learned from my childhood stayed with me.  When the snow comes and the temperatures drop, I pack an emergency kit in my car.  Just a few basic things that would come in handy if I slid off the road.  I also keep an extra set of gloves, hat, and face shield in my car.  I prefer driving without being all bundled up, but I make sure my winter gear is close at hand.

As most women do, I follow some of the same habits my mother did; the very same habits that made me question her sanity as a child.  I've modified my rules a bit, but I insist my kids never get in their cars during the winter months without being prepared.  They call me the "worry-wart", or sometimes they say "Ok, grandma" to me, which they know I don't like so they say it again.

I think, though, that some of the most satisfying moments in a mom's life come when she gets the opportunity to say "See?  I told you so."  I don't really say it, and the kids won't ever admit it, but they know when I'm right.  Last week, I was driving with my youngest daughter, Bean, during a snow storm.  We passed a pizza place, and this teenaged boy was in the parking area just off the street, on his hands and knees, trying to dig out his car after the snowplow had buried it.  He was wearing jeans and a hoodie, tennis shoes, no hat, and no gloves.  I stopped at the red light and exclaimed to Bean,

"Look at that!  That boy is completely unprepared for winter!  Where is his mother?"  

I couldn't stand it.  I turned the car around, pulled in and parked right next to the boy, jumped out and opened the back of my Yukon.  Pulling out my emergency kit, I quickly assembled the shovel, turned, and held it out to the boy.  He stood and stared at me dumbly, and I said "It's called a shovel.  Use it".  He somewhat warily took the shovel from me and began digging his car out while I watched.  When he was finished, he remarked that the shovel was easier than using his bare hands, so I took the opportunity to lecture him.  I questioned where his hat and gloves were, why was he not wearing a coat and boots, and why did he not have anything in his car to help him out of this situation.  He said,

"Geez, you sound like my mother!"

Ah, so that's where he mother is.  She's sitting at home worrying because her teenaged son wouldn't listen to her and refused to believe he needed the things she begged him to take.  Been there, done that. Because the fact is, I have my car prepared for a winter emergency, but my two older kids don't.  They are in college, they don't listen to me, and they think nothing bad will ever happen to them.

I ordered two Justin Case kits from Sam's Club today.  When they arrive, I will add extra hats, mittens, and socks to the kit, and I WILL put them in their cars the next time they come home.  Nobody is going to look at my kid and say "Where is his mother?"  I am right here, being over-protective and proud of it, and if my kids slide off the road during a snow storm, they can dig themselves out.

These are the items I always have in my car during the winter months, in case you'd like to put together a kit for yourself or your kids:

Bag of Bargain-Brand Kitty Litter
Collapsible Shovel
Emergency Triangle
Tow Strap
Jumper Cable
Thermal Blanket
Basic First-Aid Kit
Gloves, Hat, Socks, and Face Shield
Flashlight and Extra Batteries
Snow Brush/Ice Scraper

The Justin Case from Sam's Club is under $20 and contains most of these items; just add the hat, mittens, socks, and face shield to the pocket on the outside of the case and throw a bag of litter in the trunk, and you are good to go.

It's inexpensive, easy, and will go a long way in helping a bad situation while winter driving.  Don't leave home without it, your mother told you so!

Thursday, January 16, 2014

More Amazing Things About Indian Lake State Park

There are several things that fit my goals by camping at Indian Lake State Park.  I prefer camping in Michigan's U.P., but many places require a very long drive for me on two-lane roads, which Yoopers call highways.  But Indian Lake is located just outside of Manistique, MI which is only an hour from the Mackinac Bridge, the gateway to the U.P.

Not only is it not so far away, the drive down U.S. 2 parallels the Lake Michigan shore, and every moment offers beautiful scenery.  If you have to pull a tin can on a narrow road to get to your destination, a view of a Great Lake takes away much of the stress.  Once you arrive in Manistique, there are actually gas stations and places to stop for coffee before the 5 minute drive out to the State Park.  Indian Lake is easy to find, and any camping next to a body of water is good camping.

After spending a day exploring Kitch-iti-kipi and an evening hunkering down during a storm, I awoke to a flooded campground and 40mph winds.  I don't think the flooding is typical, it was just a massive storm that dumped a lot of rain.  The temperature had dropped 30 degrees, so instead of a calm sunny day in August with temps in the 70's, I was greeted with a cloudy windy day in the 40's.  Big difference.  I had to put my awning in, which meant I had no protection from the rain that was coming, and a campfire was out of the question.  The wind would have carried the embers and potentially started an unwanted fire.  So, what to do with my day?  I visited the DNR ranger station, and was given some ideas.

Heading back to Manistique, I pulled into the parking area for the public beach on Lake Michigan.  Only a couple other cars were parked, and upon climbing over a small dune, I was greeted with a site more akin to Lake Huron than Michigan.  The beach looked awful, with debris piled up in small mounds.  It wasn't until I started down the boardwalk and came to an informational sign that I understood the truly unique source of the debris, not to be found anywhere else.

During the lumbering era of the late 1800's and early 1900's, lumber mills in the Manistique area deposited wood chips and sawdust in the Manistique River, which flows into Lake Michigan.  It is estimated that 5.1 million tons of sawdust (that's a lot of sawdust) washed into Lake Michigan, where it settled on the bottom.  Storms, water currents, and large vessels churn up this sawdust, and over 100 years later, the sawdust is still washing up on the shore at Manistique.

I was fascinated by this.  Taking my shoes off, I walked down the sandy dunes to the sawdust debris piled at the water's edge.  At first I was apprehensive about walking barefoot, imagining millions of tiny splinters embedding in my feet, but the moment I stepped onto the first mound, I was immediately transported to a natural spa.  The sawdust, soaked in water for over a century, felt like warm rum custard (or any kind of custard, I just prefer rum).  I sunk in about 4-5 inches, and it was so soft, creamy and warm!  Unlike mud, it didn't suck my feet under, and I was easily able to pull my feet out and walk some more.  I felt like a child discovering the beach for the first time, with a sun-warmed carpet on which to walk while the chilly wind whipped my hair.  I was completely enamored of the sawdust beach.

I found a piece of driftwood and sat down to take some pictures.  There was a storm brewing over the water, but it had not yet clouded the sun and I knew I had plenty of time before the tumultuous clouds reached the shore.  I watched a big ship loading it's passengers, stared up at the lighthouse, and marveled at the diamond-like quality of the surface of the water, with the sun shining on my back and a distant storm making its way toward Manistique from the south.

Even with the wind roaring around my head, I found a peacefulness, a serenity to the scene before me.  I was seeing Mother Nature in all her forms and experiencing the pleasant side effect of an unpleasant contamination of the lake.  My thoughts drifted, my body relaxed, when CRACK!  BOOM! startled me   in every single cell of my body.  Turning around, I saw a doozy of a storm had snuck up behind me, from the north.  It made the storm out over the water look pale in comparison.  My first thought was I should prepare to head back to the campground.  My second thought was "What's going to happen when these two storms meet each other?"  That got me moving.

I made it to the car just as the first rain drops started to fall, and by the time I pulled out to the road the rain was coming down in sheets.  Trees were bending over with the wind and lightning was flashing in every direction.  I couldn't see to drive, but wanted so much to get back to the tin can and make sure she was holding up.

It took me 30 minutes to drive 7 miles, and the two storms met as I pulled up next to the camper.  I didn't think it could get much worse, but I was wrong.  In the four steps it took me to reach the camper door, I was drenched, and when I opened the door the wind threatened to rip it off the hinges.  Safely inside, I changed into dry clothes and grabbed a book to wait it out.

It was only early afternoon, and the storm raged for three more hours.  By the time it was over, the campers at Indian Lake had torn awnings, blown away furniture, and a general mess to clean up.  As people slowly emerged from RV's and tents, we all greeted each other and helped put things right.  I had fared well, having put everything that was outside my camper in the back of my Yukon that morning.  It was still too windy to put anything back out, so I helped others while forlornly looking at my bare campsite.  Camping for me involves sitting by a fire, being outside, and enjoying nature.  The only thing left for me at that point was to stay outside.

I walked the entire campground to see the damage and take pictures.  I found a general day-use lodge, empty, and took some pictures while dreaming of what it would be like to live there, sans all the other campers.  A stone lodge on a lake had me planning where the living area would be, the kitchen, and mostly my bedroom, which would occupy the space of the current men's room with an incredible view of the lake.  It wasn't just that I love dreaming about my cabin in the woods on a bluff overlooking a lake, it also gave me a break from the relentless wind.  I found myself wishing I could start a fire in the massive stone fireplace and spend my evening there.

Leaving the lodge, I discovered the trail system at Indian Lake State Park.  What an amazing system of trails, well-marked, surrounded by tall pines and following the shoreline.  The wind was marginally less abusive in the trees, allowing me to walk for a couple of miles before looping back to the campground.  My camera never stopped clicking away as I had the trails to myself.  Apparently, I was the only camper crazy enough to go hiking in this weather.

Another stormy night ensued, but the next morning broke sunny, cold, and still windy.  I planned to hike the Hiawatha National Forest (which I'll write about later) before leaving the next day.  Locking up the tin can, I headed out for yet another adventure surrounding Indian Lake State Park, eager to embrace the sun and confident it was far too cold for the snakes to stalk me in the forest.

There is just so much to do when camping at Indian Lake!