Peace In A Tin Can

Peace In A Tin Can

Thursday, January 28, 2016

The Roadtrek Winter Freezeout Mantra: No Bugs, But Cold Seats In The Pit Toilet

People say I am crazy.  When I tell friends and acquaintances in my hometown I am going camping in Michigan's Upper Peninsula in the winter, they shake their heads and look at me like I am not quite right in my head.  Won't it be cold?  What about wild animals?  What if your truck gets stuck in a snowstorm?  They express all kinds of worries, letting their imaginations and fears get the best of them.  It's really no big deal to go, but it is a big deal to be there.

I have been hearing this sentiment for years, longing to meet people who are more like me, with the same interests, passions, and desire to experience nature.  A few years ago, I stumbled across a blog by Mike Wendland,  Roadtreking:Discovering the Small Motorhome Lifestyle.  This guy, and his wife, Jennifer, travel around the country in a Class B Roadtrek motorhome, a big van really, and see things most people don't see, meet interesting road warriors who do the same, exchange stories and experiences, and teach the rest of us how it is done.  I began following his blog, listening to his
podcasts, subscribed to his newsletter, and eventually began an online interaction with Mike.  Most of his group are Roadtrek owners, they go to rallies together, have smaller meet-ups, and wave to each other on the road.  I was delighted when Mike said I could join a Roadtrek outing in Winter 2015, even though I would be camping in my car, at Tahquamenon Falls.  I had a great time playing in the snow with a small group of adventurous souls who took good care of me, bringing me coffee in the morning and checking to make sure I hadn't frozen to death in my car.

This year, our group grew, as did my camping accommodations.
We had about 50 people arrive in our winter wonderland as I greeted them from my truck camper.  Still not as convenient as a Roadtrek, but a definite step up in comfort from last year.  The park staff at Tahquamenon Falls State Park are top-notch and had plowed additional sites out for us, brought us snow shoes to borrow, and a bucket of sand in case anyone got stuck in a snowbank, which one of us who shall remain nameless ended up using.  The outhouses were clean and well-stocked with toilet paper. (You'd be surprised how pleased we all were by that).  Our weekend began with happy reunions and getting to know the newbies.  I was so happy to be there my face froze in a great big smile.
Road treks parked at
The Inn in Paradise.
Photo Credit: Ari Adler

Yoopers - people who live in the U.P. of Michigan - call the land above the bridge "God's Country".  Indeed, it is.  They even have signs posted along the road, to remind drivers they have no worries, they are in God's Country.  The Roadtrek Band of Merry Men and Women embraced it, got out in it, breathed it in, let it fill them, and became part of it.  Collectively, we snowshoed to the lower Tahquamenon Falls with Theresa Neil, Michigan DNR Interpreter, then a small group took the challenging  route to the upper Falls, a strenuous 8 mile hike wearing snowshoes designed to keep your feet on top of the snow but aren't that effective on the steep up-and-downhill terrain.  Some went to the dogsled races, while others explored Whitefish Bay with Lake Superior waves frozen mid-curl, where time stands still and the winds do not.  Mike set up his HAM radio at the upper Falls, on a section of the North Country Trail to participate in the National Parks on the Air. You can read all about it here. Photographers broke trail and captured places where no man had walked since the freshest snowfall.  I drove to a parking lot, left my vehicle, and spent two hours of solitary hiking on the North Country Trail while waiting to give a ride to that small group of hearty snowshoers making their long journey to the upper Falls.  They were unusually happy to see me at the end.

Photo Credit: Yan Seiner

Photo Credit: Yan Seiner

Photo Credit: Ari Adler

Photo Credit: Lynn Ellen Kaiser

Habushu: The Essence of Snake
We spent most of our time outside, some of it in remote areas.  We weren't cold, because we were moving and dressed for the weather.  We weren't miserable, or isolated, or hungry or thirsty.  We were alive!  At night, we built a bonfire and sat around its warmth.  Some of us supplied a little bit of our own warmth.  Yan even brought Habushu, but that is an entire story in itself which I will tell later.  Tired from our day spent exploring outside, we enjoyed good conversation, Gouda cheese, a warm fire, and stories of our travels.

Photo Credit: Jim Diepenbruck
Roadtrekers aren't crazy, but they are my kind of people.  They had come from Michigan, Ohio, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Illinois, Indiana, and Ontario, Canada.  They have traveled through Canada to Alaska, from Maine to the Outer Banks to the Florida Keys, from Texas to New Mexico and Arizona.  They have boondocked at Yellowstone, Glacier National Park, and along the Pacific shores in Oregon and California. They have been to the Heartland and made it part of their own heart.  Jim, a photographer in our group, boondocked in an extremely isolated wilderness on the way to and from the U.P., looking for Elk.  He didn't find any, but Jim did get a fleeting look at the Coyote who was none too please to have Jim as a guest in his home, and expressed the sentiment late at night while Jim was outside photographing the stars.  Jim's not crazy, but he experienced something most people never will, a close encounter with a wild animal late at night, and shared a moment with a Coyote, a moment he won't forget.  That Coyote is part of Jim's journey now.

I have turned my dream of owning a Roadtrek into a goal.  I have no idea yet how I can make it happen, but I can open a conversation with my husband about his retirement in a few years.  Together, we can decide what we can live without (you'd be surprised what you can live without), what we can give up, and what we can gain by traveling the country together and immersing ourselves in the adventure of living.

I want what these people have.  They have worked hard, raised families, overcome tragedies and health issues, have faced the challenges we all face.  Some are still facing them, still working, still planning.  But they all know this very important secret:  whatever came before today is over.  Whatever will come tomorrow is unknown.  So take today as the gift that God gave you, go out, and explore.  Fill your soul with a spirit of adventure!  Embrace the mantra of our Winter Freezeout; No bugs (the perks) and a very cold seat in the pit toilet (little inconveniences that don't matter).  Wherever you are right now, in your home, in your office, out shopping, or camping in two feet of snow...there are perks and minor inconveniences.  We are not crazy.  We are fun and full of life.

Photo Credit: Yan Seiner

If you still think we are crazy, watch this video by Roadtreker Ari Adler:

To be on the edge of a cold wind and a warm sun, and watch the melding of water and ice; to stand where there are no footprints and breathe; it is the igniting of imagination, the freefall of spirit, and the stillness of your soul.  But it's not crazy

I am grateful for my time with the Roadtrekers in a winter wonderland.  I love their stories, their warmth, their laughter, and their willingness to explore.  I love their sense of humor.  I love them. Most of all, I love being in God's Country with them.  No big deal to go, but a really big deal to be there.  Crazy, eh?