Peace In A Tin Can

Peace In A Tin Can

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Where Is That Boy's Mother?

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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!

Monday, January 13, 2014

Indian Lake State Park…Something for Everyone!

There are so many beautiful and fascinating places in America to explore!  Because my vintage Airstream needs to be treated with lots of tender loving care, I never get to see those places.  The old tin can just isn't up for long road trips.  The good news, though, is there are still lots of places right here in Michigan that I haven't seen, and the Mitten State offers endless opportunities for camping, lodging, outdoor recreation, and breathtaking scenery.  In just the last two years, Michigan has given me ice climbing, kayaking, mountain biking, hiking, mountain climbing, and winter survival skills.  Last summer I stopped in at Indian Lake State Park for one night, and ended up changing my travel plans to stay there four days.

Indian Lake State Park in Michigan's Upper Peninsula has something for everyone.  Looking for a Great Lakes Beach?  Got it.  Looking for the 4th largest inland lake in the U.P.?  It's there.  Don't have a camper?  Stay in a cabin.  Want to hike or kayak?  Done.

The campground itself is diverse, with a few sites offering privacy, and many suitable sites for families and friends to camp together.  It has the usual S.P. amenities of a modern campground with electrical hook-ups, water and dump station, clean bathrooms and showers, and a semi-modern area with electricity and vault toilets.  For those without camping equipment, modern cabins are available as well.  The landscape is a mix of wide-open spaces with tree-lined sites in between.  The entire campground sits on the south shore of 8400 acre Indian Lake, offering stunning sunsets and sweeping views of water and distant shores.  I found it is an excellent place to also watch an approaching storm.

But it was in venturing only short distances from the campground that I found all the gems of this trip.  First up was Kitch-iti-kipi.

The brochure I found at the campground said Kitch-iti-kipi is one of the U.P.'s Seven Natural Wonders (which makes me wonder what the other six are, and have I seen them?), calling it Mysteriously Awesome!  and a Mirror of Heaven.  It sounded a bit like a tourist trap, but the campground DNR ranger encouraged me to go, so I did.

A quick 7 mile drive had me pulling into the parking area of Palm Books State Park, which does not allow camping or fishing.  You'll find out in a bit why the no fishing thing could be a big deal to some people.  Walking down a very short path to the edge of the Big Spring, I got my first glimpse and was highly intrigued.

I have never seen water, or anything else for that matter, the color of Kitch-iti-kipi.  You know those sticks you can buy to throw in a bonfire and turn the flames colors?  It was like someone had thrown one of those in the water, except the informational plaque assured me the color was natural.  From the brochure I learned that the Big Spring is two hundred feet across and forty feet deep.  An even more amazing fact is over 10,000 gallons a minute gush from fissures in the underlying limestone at a year-round constant temperature of 45 degrees F.

Stepping onto the self-guided observation raft, I immediately saw a burst of sand from deep below, looking like a volcano eruption without the fire.  The sand swirled and rose, and I could actually see the water pushing up from below.  It was an awesome display of nature.

As if the color, depth, and eruptions aren't enough, there is an even more amazing feature of Kitch-iti-kipi; the trout.  Hundreds of massive trout swim in its depths, sometimes suspended in time, sometimes drifting lazily, and occasionally darting to and fro.  Looking down through the opening in the center of the raft, I could barely comprehend how deep the trout were below me, while being able to see every mark on them through crystal clear water.  I could only imagine that it would just about kill an avid fisherman to stand there and not drop a line!  But these trout are protected from sportsmen, which might explain their massive size.  Or perhaps its that the fresh water surging into the spring from deep in the earth provides the most healthy of environments for them.  All I know is the trout are magnificent!

I met a man as I was leaving the raft, who inquired about my camera.  We chatted, and it turns out he is a writer from a secret society in the middle of the desert.  Seriously.  He lives in a small community in the desert which its citizens prefer to keep a secret.  They love their little town and do not want its beauty to be ruined by interlopers.  He is writing a book about the flowers of the desert, but has been asked by his community not to publish it, for fear they will be found.  Only I could meet a secret writer from a secret town with a secret book.  If the man had not been so warm and genuinely nice, I might have been a little creeped out.

I visited the gift shop, and bought (on sale 60% off) a lap blanket for my friend Debbie.  It had a big bear on it, of which Debbie is terrified but now uses as a bear and people repellent.  I bought a matching one for myself.  I also left the gift shop happily licking away at an ice cream cone.  I do not normally have ice cream when camping in the U.P. so it was a big deal, trust me.

This morning, I came across a photo on the internet by U.P. photographer Tiffany Trepanier, of the observation platform at Kitch-iti-kip on a cold winter's day.  It looks much different, but what a beautiful photo!

Credit:  Tiffany Trepanier
After leaving the Big Spring and arriving back at Indian Lake State Park, I was rather dismayed to find the wind, which was pulling a massive summer storm across Lake Michigan, had destroyed my artfully arranged campsite.  My camp chair was in the woods, my vase of wildflowers shattered and flowers strewn everywhere, and the ground mat had blown beneath the tin can.  The first flash of lightning lit up the sky, so I went straight to the tin can to wait out the storm.  It was a wild night, with winds rocking the Airstream and thunder echoing, but I stayed warm and dry while I slept deeply.

The next morning I stepped out of the tin can to find myself in a shallow lake that was not there the day before.  The single backpacking tent on the site next to me was floating in the flooded field.  Had it not been for the spectacular sunrise I was greeted with, I might have been worried.  As it was, the 40 mph winds would most likely dry the campground out by noon, and I had more places to go!  Check out my next post in which I will introduce you to centuries-old sawdust, a sneaky storm, and Hiawatha.  Like I said, something for everyone!

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Two Tyttos on the Way to the Kaymala

After leaving the Porcupine Mountains to join Debbie at Brimley State Park, I was feeling a bit out of sorts.  I had dreamed my whole life of going to the Porkies, and I wasn't ready to leave yet.  Arriving at Brimley in the cold and rain didn't help.  But since I enjoy time with Debbie so much, I was starting to settle in, though with a lingering sadness that I just couldn't shake.  Our second morning at Brimley was still cold and overcast, but the rain had stopped.  I took advantage of the weather to stock up on firewood, fill my water tank, and clean up inside the tin can.  Then we were off again to explore the more civilized sites around Brimley.

First stop:  The Old Indian Burial Ground on the Ojibwe Reservation.  Debbie and I wanted to explore inside the grounds, but signs on the wrought iron fence prohibited entering, and I am a rule follower, so we used our imaginations to determine what was inside all the little boxes.  I had read somewhere that Indians would bury their dead in a shallow mound for 9 months, then dig up the bones and place them in a wooden box above ground.  I didn't know if this is true, but a quick internet search at the Coffee House revealed the boxes to be Spirit Houses, which were built to house the spirits that protect the grave, and supplied with tools and resources the dead would need to enter the spirit world.  We couldn't see what was inside the boxes, but had fun guessing!

I had promised Debbie we would go to a lighthouse.  The previous year was the first time she had seen one, and after falling in love with all the lore about Michigan Lighthouses, Debbie made a pledge to see as many as possible.  We drove 7 miles to the Point Iroquois Lighthouse, and by this time I had to use the restroom, like now.  (This seems to be a recurring theme on my travels with Debbie).  As we pulled into the parking lot, I spotted a restroom building on my right and parked in front of a sign that read "Due to the government shutdown, this facility is closed".   Noooooooooooo!  The Point Iroquois Lighthouse is federally owned.  Did not know that.  We got out of the car, and with a certain amount of envy I let Rooney pee on a bush.  An old man came ambling over to us, asking if we needed to use the restroom.  I guess his first clue was the fact that I parked right next to the door to the Ladies' Room.  His second clue may have been the fact that I was walking with my legs crossed.  He explained that he was a volunteer light keeper, and had keys to the bathroom.  

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"What are they gonna do?  Fire me?  I'm a 78 year old volunteer, I don't care what they do!"  I fell a little bit in love with the old light keeper.

We couldn't tour the lighthouse, but after gratefully using the restroom Debbie and I walked down to the shore of Lake Superior.  The lake was whipping herself into a fury, with cloudy skies and a fierce wind.  Wearing my Hunter rubber boots, I was able to wade the frigid waters to find a few interesting rocks, while Debbie braved going barefoot.  It was a beautiful area and we happily spent some time rock hunting and letting Rooney swim.  As we were leaving, we saw a sign informing us it is a Federal Crime to remove any rocks from the beach.  We ran for the car, laughing and emptying our pockets along the way, lest some Secret Service Agent was hiding in the trees with binoculars, waiting to slap the cuffs on us and haul us away to Leavenworth.  

That pretty much ended our exploring for this trip.  The weather really was miserable.  A bonfire and a good book sounded just right, so we headed back to the campground.

I always try to keep moving on these trips, because I am well aware of what habits we will fall into at the campsite.  Sit, and eat.  Sit some more, eat some more.  Watch the clock until it's 6:00pm, then add drink to the routine.  To be honest, sometimes I enjoy doing nothing for a while, but then I get bored.  That's when the trouble usually starts.

I was restless.  The rain had started up again, this time harder.  There are no trails in Brimley, nowhere to hike.  The beach behind our campsite was cold and wet.  The campground was just about full with Halloween campers, people were outside around campfires with massive tarps over their sites, children were running and laughing, families shouted back and forth, and here sat Debbie and me, anti-social, alone.  Boring.
Then I realized that the official campground Trick-or-Treating had begun!  If you can't beat 'em, join 'em.  Debbie rudely ignored my newfound enthusiasm as she stayed right next to the fire reading, but I went out to the front of our site with a bowl of candy and my Martha Stewart decorations to greet the families.  While I wasn't technically wearing a costume, Debbie pointed out that the wind and rain had done such a number on my hair, I easily could pass for a scarecrow.  
I spent an hour exclaiming over the kiddies' costumes, calling out to Debbie who pretended she couldn't hear me over the wind, and passing out all the candy.  By the time the last of the trick-or-treaters moved on, I was restless again.  Then the rain picked up, coming down hard enough to make the fire sizzle, and we were forced to run into the tin can.

If you've never seen my tin can, let me explain how this works.  Even though the trailer is 22' long, there is about 4' of empty floor space inside.  Within that 4' space, I have a chair and table.  Now, add my 130lb dog to the 4' space.  You start to get the idea, right?  It was crowded in the tin can.  
Between leaving the mountains too soon, the crappy weather, no trails, a crowded camper and a full campground, I was starting to get a little crazy, and Debbie was not a happy camper.  It was time for a change.

The rest of our evening definitely involves shenanigans, probably involves a little rule-breaking, but I will neither admit or deny the involvement of Captain Morgan.  That's for you to decide.  It began when I heated some apple cider and pulled out a booklet called A Troll's Guide to the Better Understanding of the Yoopanese Language.  Things really started looking up when, after the third mug of hot cider, which may or may not have been embellished by the Captain, Debbie challenged me to speak nothing but Yoopanese the rest of the night.  I double-dog dared her to do same.  All of that would have been great for a few laughs, but we upped the ante when we decided to take our skilled language use to the streets…or at least the drives in the campground.  Donning raincoats and flashlights, we left the warmth and safety of the tin can to visit the four-holer (a bathroom with four stalls) and speak to as many people as possible in our acquired language along the way.
At each decorated site we passed, we called out to the groups of hardy campers huddled under their awnings with kegs of beer, "Lookin' spooky over there, eh?"  If the campers replied with "Oh ya, you betcha!"  Debbie and I laughed and high-fived each other, knowing we had found real Yoopers.  We easily conversed with natives about such important matters as terrorists (people from Detroit who only come to the U.P. during deer season), Chicquito Repellant (12-gauge shotgun), Nubbas (knitted hats worn by Yooper grannies), Camp (Yoopers' second home), Side By Each (standing next to each other), and Kits (children).
One such conversation went something like this:

Yooper:  "I see yer wearing da Kromer" (Official hat of Yoopers, a Stormy Kromer)

Me:  "Oh, ya, you betcha.  Youse guys dem guys wit ta Yooper Caddy?"  (Chevy Impala with no rust)

Yooper:  "Ya.  She was in da crotch, (garage), but we git her runnin"

Me:  "She do a Yogi?" (a controlled 360 degree skid)

Yooper:  "Oh, ya, you betcha.  Not wit a Trooper doh"  (Meaning a student from the lower peninsula who attends a U.P. college should not attempt a Yogi, even in an Impala)

Me:  "Youse got sinkers dere?"  (asking for one of their donuts)

Yooper:  "Ya, but dey got hard.  Need mud"  (coffee)

Me:  "I got mud.  Need sinkers"

Everyone:  Laugh

I must say, Debbie and I got pretty good at Yoopanese.  Or in udder words, we was reg-you-lar Jackpine Savages, eh?  All we needed was plaid shirts and no one would have ever guessed we were Lopers.

We weren't making fun of Yoopers.  I love the way they talk, and the way they laugh with us, not at us.  I love Yoopers because they are cheerful, positive, and hardy.  They welcome even a Troll like me, make me feel like I belong.  They are helpful and creative and strong.  Maybe, that's the real reason why I keep dragging Debbie to the U.P.

Maybe I wasn't really trying to force Debbie to love the wilderness.  I think, all along, I wanted to introduce her to a place where community is everything.  Perhaps I wanted Debbie to know that when I leave home, I go to a place that is its own little country, with its own rules and language, its own culture, and its a good place, with good people.  I just want Debbie to know she is welcome here.

We get so caught up in everything in our real lives at home.  Cell phones, iPads, and internet govern our time.  Throw in a few meetings and a crisis or two, teenage kids' drama, and the PTA, and it's easy to forget about the people in your life as you are overwhelmed by the problems in your life.  But in Michigan's U.P., the information age still consists of neighbors visiting neighbors.  The problems arise from a fickle Mother Nature, and life's joys come in the simplest packages.  Yoopers are slow to judge, quick to help, hard to offend, and easy to know.  For one hour that night, Debbie was one of them.  She walked in the rain.  She laughed.  She ended sentences with "eh?".  She left all her fears and worries in the tin can and put herself out there with no pretensions.  This is what I wanted to share with her.

The tin can is a means of travel.  It makes it possible for me to find peace.  But perhaps Debbie and I are cheating ourselves by hiding in a corner of a campground.  The peace isn't found in the tin can, it is found when we leave the tin can, put ourselves out there, and join a community of good people.  We are already talking about where we might go next year.  She still has her list of requirements for our location, with things like water and electricity listed as a high priority.   I have only one condition:  we must go to the U.P.   It's where we belong.
AUTHOR'S NOTE:  The title of this post uses two Finnish words commonly heard in the U.P.  
Tytto means "girl", and Kaymala means "toilet".  

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

The Not-So-Adventurous Adventures of Two Anti-Social Introverted Recluses

In October 2012, I tried to ignite a passion in my best friend Debbie for outdoor adventure.  It was an epic fail.  To be fair to Debbie, getting her lost in the wilderness for 11 hours probably wasn't the best way to introduce her to my love of adventure.  She gave it her best shot, but Debbie will never share my love for hiking in the middle of nowhere among the wild animals, though somewhere out there is a hibernating bear who can't get "God Bless America" out of his head, thanks to Debbie's attempts to warn him of our presence.

Our annual Fall Camping Trip had become such an important part of our friendship, that despite her fear, Debbie agreed to join me again in October 2013, though she offered up a few rules, contingencies, and guidelines.  She would come, but if I wanted to set foot on a trail, she would be happily waving me on my way from the campfire.  If I wanted to venture any distance from the campground, she would only accompany me if we were going someplace with lots of people.  And electricity.  During our travels, she must have the opportunity to take a break from exploring and eat real food, not the leaves from a plant that is probably not poisonous, if I'm reading the Field Guide correctly.

Ok, it's not quite the way I camp, but for Debbie, I would do anything.  After exploring the Porcupine Mountain Wilderness area for a week on my own, I agreed to meet Debbie at Brimley State Park in Michigan's Upper Peninsula.  Brimley is a little more connected to civilization, has hot showers in the Bath House, and is close to the Bay Mills Ojibwe Indian Community.  After experiencing temperatures in the 80's the week before, we arrived during a steady rain and 40 degrees.  Brrrrr.

I got there first, and found a deserted campground located on the shore of Lake Superior, just north of Sault St. Marie.  Much to my delight, I only saw three other campers in the entire park.  Then the park ranger informed me I had arrived on the busiest and most fun weekend of the whole year, HalloweenFest!  Within a day, the campground filled up, happy campers turned their sites into haunted houses and cemeteries, and echoes of eerie halloween music and owl calls were ringing through the air.  Lovely.  The two introverted anti-social recluses on Site #55 didn't stand a chance.

I like to join the spirit of things, so I ran back into town, and on a meager budget, did what I could to decorate our campsite.  I thought it looked nice, until
another camper remarked, somewhat snidely, that my decorations were "very Martha-Stewart".  I don't think it was a compliment.

By the time Debbie arrived, I had the camper all set up and a fire going.  It was drizzling rain, but the massive tree in our site kept most of the rain at bay.  I grilled the Salmon, brought by Debbie, over the fire, while she used her legs as a barrier to keep Rooney from stealing our dinner.

Debbie and I could easily spend days doing nothing more than sitting by an open fire, reading, talking, laughing, eating M&M's, and enjoying the outdoors.  But there were a few things in the area worth seeing.  On Friday morning we took our time getting ready.  It was very chilly and rainy outside.  I think we both were reluctant to tell the other we really didn't want to go anywhere, so we each showered and prepared for the day ahead, reluctantly getting in the car to go explore the nearby civilization.

Our first stop was at a delightful coffee cafe in Bay Mills.  Owned by an authentic Ojibwe Indian woman and aptly named "Coffee House", the ramshackle building held the promise of intrigue and treasure within.  The owner proudly explained to me her ways of growing organic beans and preparing the purest cup of coffee I've ever tasted.  She did not disappoint.  Debbie and I enjoyed fresh bowls of soup while we surfed the internet - yes, I said internet, while camping, no less - for the timetables at the Soo Locks.  Then, after a leisurely exploration of the local art for sale in Coffee House, we left to watch the big boats go through the time honored tradition of transferring from Lake Huron to Lake Superior through a 21' drop in the St. Mary's river.  Canada lies on one side of the river, Michigan on the other.  In Sault St. Marie, visitors can view the ships passing through the lock system from a platform, and the Visitor's Center provides schedules, information about each vessel, and an in-depth look at the history and construction of the locks.

If you have never been to the Soo Locks in Sault St. Marie, it is worth the trip.  While the two oldest locks are no longer in use, vessels carrying iron ore, coal, cement, limestone, grain, salt, or sand use the MacArthur Lock, built in 1943, which accommodates vessels 800ft long, 80 ft wide, and 31ft deep.  The big Lakers need to use the Poe Lock, added in 1968, built 1200ft long, 110ft wide, and 32ft deep.  Debbie and I were lucky enough to watch the largest vessel on the Great Lakes, the Paul R. Tregurtha,
go through the Poe Lock.  It was an awesome sight to see, even though we had lost all feeling in our fingers and toes and our noses were turning blue from the cold rain.  We toughed it out, then walked across the street to a local bar and had a hot lunch, which had no leaves, berries, or twigs whatsoever on the menu.

We agreed that seeing the Soo Locks was a
worthy experience, but we were ready to head back to the tin can for heat, naps, and dinner.

Even though Brimley State Park isn't exactly in the wilderness, there is something about walking
through the door of the tin can when you are wet, tired, and cold, feeling her warmth descend over you, and welcoming you to rest.  I crawled into my bed, Debbie fought with Rooney over the couch and won, and as we drifted off to la-la land, the rain was singing a lullaby on the tin roof.

When we emerged once more into the rain, Debbie, Rooney and I spent a relaxing evening by the fire, admiring the campers who strung huge tarps over their campfires while we huddled in our chairs with blankets and umbrellas.  Debbie will be the first to tell you, it is hard to pour more wine when you're hanging onto an umbrella and fighting off the glowing embers that keep landing on your lap, but she rose to the challenge.  We watched with some dismay as the new campers continued to arrive late into the night, setting up their rigs in the rain and cursing their spouses loudly.  (That's what happens to otherwise loving couples when setting up camp in the dark and the rain while the kids are running loose, wreaking havoc).  Halloween lights were being strung, dry-ice fog machines were fired up, and the general atmosphere of the campground was a spooky forest surrounding my Martha Stewart decorations.

The next day, however, and in true Kiki-Debbie form, things got much more interesting.  Unfortunately, children are about to descend into my quiet writing space, so you'll have to wait to hear the rest of the story.  Suffice it to say, it was a cold and blustery day, and our good friend Captain Morgan made an appearance.