Warning: This is a long post, and the formatting just might suck, as I pasted it in from a Word doc. Just so's you know.
As Jim and I begin to make arrangements for our summer vacation, I thought I would share some notes adapted from my travel journal last year.Camping the Porkies, 2004Jim and I had been stoked for months over our vacation plans. We had rented a rustic cabin on the interior of the Porcupine Mountains state park (this is in Michigan's Upper Peninsula, so far west it's almost in Wisconsin), and would thus escape the usual summer insanity of a child-infested campground. Now, don't get me wrong, I bear no grudge against children; it's just that the last time we camped, my blissful afternoon nap was more than once interrupted by children from the next camp running two feet behind my head and screamin' louder than lungs that size have a right to scream.
We also planned to backpack out one night and set up camp even further into the park. The last week before we left, I could scarcely think of anything else, so anxious was I to live the life of a rugged mountain woman for a week. Those of you who know me, ponder that statement for a moment before you are taken with laughter. Even though we'd known about the trip for months, as usual, we had most of our packin' to do at the last minute. Finally, Snickers was secure at the kennel (I don't think he's ready to have a mellow encounter with forest creatures just yet, especially the big ones with the sharp teeth), Jim wrestled the back seats out of my Cruiser, and we had filled the car with backpacks, daypacks, tent, mattresses, clothes, add-water cuisine, and a cooler. Let the games begin!
Saturday, July 10
Sure, the drive to the Porkies could be made in a day, but why? Our traditional stop on the way up is in Escanaba (in da moonlight or not), at the trusty EconoLodge. It may not be the most swank joint in which I've ever chosen to rest my head, but the room we always rent has a fridge, a microwave, and a decent-sized bathtub, and you can't beat the price.
The motel is next to the Upper Peninsula State Fairgrounds, and the locals were havin' a music festival. I was excited until I found a brochure; the headliner was Shaniah Twin. Not Twain, but Twin. Yup, their biggest act was a Shaniah impersonator (not even sure it was a woman, but who gives a rat's ass?). The only act I was tempted to see was Reverend Raven and the Chain-Smokin' Altarboys, but the $15 cover was a little steep, so we just cruised around town, were roundly ignored by the locals at their pub, as if by not lookin' directly at us they could make the scary downstaters disappear, and wound up downin' a few beers on the shores of Big Bay de Noc and quite possibly defiling the gazebo there, though I wouldn't care to say exactly how.
We had settled in for the night when one of the bands from the music fest made their noisy way into the motel. Oh, goodie -- they were stayin' right down the hall from us! I believe they had the impression that they were the Who, and not some cheesy classic-rock cover band. Note that I have every right to say that, having been the voice of several cheesy classic-rock cover bands in my day. In any event, they made a lot of racket and did a lot of drunken shouting in the hallway until at least 4 a.m. Since they were not the Who, Jim and I did not appreciate most of this. The situation was not made any better by my new (very cheap) watch, which I wasn't entirely sure how to control, and which kept soundin' its alarm at all hours of the night (the fact that this watch is still more or less intact is a testament to Jim's love for me). This was, perhaps, not the best night's sleep we'd had recently.
Sunday, July 11
Revenge is a dish best served cold. . .and fleaky. Jim went out to get breakfast while I readied myself for my turn in the driver's seat. When he came up, he didn't have any breakfast, but he did have a mischievous grin lighting up his face. That left me with only one question:
"WHAT did you do?"
Well, it seems the lady at the buffet was keepin' a close eye on the syrup, so there was no swipin' any of that without pancakes. However, nobody seemed to care if he walked away with a big cup of orange juice and strolled casually out to the parking lot. Seems our not-the-Who boys were all from Wisconsin, which made their cars easy to spot. After a hard night of partying, what red-blooded rocker wouldn't want to grab hold of a car-door handle saturated in sticky orange juice? Normally, I don't condone vandalism, but I was havin' too good a time picturing the weary, hung-over, not-so-pretty-in-the-sunlight poseurs grabbing a handful of sticky metal and swearing up a storm, really I was, to be bothered by ethics. Rock on, dudes. Escanaba to Silver City (the foothills of the Porkies) was only about a four-hour drive, and it was kind of a foggy day, so we didn't do much sightseeing along the way (we even passed up the rest stop that has its own little waterfall on highway 2). We arrived at the Silver Sands Motor Lodge before noon, and were so early, in fact, that the girl at the desk didn't think I was there for a room reservation, and instead assumed we were there to register for some biker rally that was also happening that day. To be fair, with my black skullcap, wife-beater t-shirt, and big ol' tattoo, I suppose that was not an unreasonable assumption. We finally got the issue straightened out (and the owners were so embarassed that they kissed our asses all during our stay), and settled into our tiny room with a pretty nifty view of Lake Superior.
We went back into Silver City for dinner (you can find good, fresh trout at most of the restaurants up there), and stopped at the Rainbow for ice cream. As we stood against the back of the Cruiser, eatin' our ice cream and lookin' across the street at the lake, someone tipped us off to the fact that we were missing bears! Sure enough, two black bears had become accustomed to showin' up at the back door of the ice cream parlor in order to receive treats. There was a fence up betwixt the seating area and the bears (is "bears" a correct plural, or is it just "bear"?), but as we soon found out, there was no fence on the other side of the building. A boy of about eight years old suddenly appeared next to the big bear, and at that point, I wondered what the hell his approving parents were thinkin'! I'm sorry, but just because the bear likes ice cream does not make him any less a wild bear! Maybe these folks figured they already had enough young'uns back at the doublewide. . .
At this point, the owner came out, just a little freaked out (Liability! Liability!) and ordered the kid back to the other side of the fence. But not before I'd gone around and had a face-to-face, no-fence-in-between-us encounter with the big bear. He was about two feet from me, and looked at me with a face that said, "Got any ice cream you're not usin'?" Unfortunately, I did not have my camera with me at that moment. It was probably incredibly stupid of me, but it was so cool!
It was time to settle in for the night, as we dreamed of our backpacking fun the next morning.
Monday, July 12
We had breakfast in Silver City at the Foothills Restaurant, where the waitress, Mandi, was totally mystified when Jim ordered his eggs "up" (to be fair, I didn't know what this meant until he explained it to me, either). As almost an afterthought, we purchased some walking sticks from the gas station. After securing our cabin key and backwoods camping permit from the park ranger, we were ready to head back to our cabin, the 2-bunk unit on Mirror Lake (there are three cabins on Mirror Lake: ours, the four-bunk model, and the eight-bunk model). The ranger made sure we knew it was a three-mile hike to get from the trailhead to the cabin. Wow! That sounded like a lot, but we weren't daunted. In fact, so cocksure were we that we decided to make two, count 'em, two trips the first day to bring our whole week's supply of provisions back. Our frame packs were bulging, my day pack was attached to my frame precariously, and we also had inflatable mattresses and sleeping bags to make the cargo even bulkier. Grippin' our new walking sticks like we had any idea what we were doin', we set out on a hike to our own secluded paradise.
It took perhaps fifteen minutes of hiking for me to decide, almost seriously, that I was going to have a heart attack. I guess the word "Mountains" in the name of the park should have tipped me off that this was to be no cakewalk. Hiking upwards at a 45-degree angle, with an awkwardly full pack and little serious preparation, is at best a daunting task. I also found out that coming downhill just as steeply, even though it takes some of the weight off the pack, will push one's feet into the front of one's hiking boots and cause a new kind of misery. Three miles. And this was voluntary. Fuck me gently with a chainsaw.
We were lucky in that the mosquitos weren't nearly as bad as they could've been. This is not to suggest that we didn't have plenty of the little buggers tryin' to find non-DEETEed spots on us, but they didn't come at us in clouds like they do some years (we had our 'skeeter netting with us, just in case, but never had to use it). There were a couple of benches in the course of our trek, and they beat the hell out of resting by leanin' on our walking sticks. Those walking sticks, by the way, were the best money we spent on the whole trip! I managed to spill the contents of my daypack at one point, and with about a mile to go, my sleeping bag came completely undone. I was too exhausted to try to fiddle with it, so I just carried the fucker the rest of the way. My feet were screamin' to be severed, my hips were threatening to secede, and I had a nasty bruise on my right arm from tryin' to take my pack off and havin' the strap slide viciously down my arm. By the time we got back to the cabin, I couldn't even let myself think about the fact that we planned to walk this trail again today. . .two more times.
We let ourselves relax for a couple of hours before attemptin' another round of hiking. The cabin had its own private "driveway" (no vehicles are allowed on the trails, not even bicycles), and thus, unlike all the other cabins on the lake, did not have a hiking trail goin' through its front yard. This was the best isolation in the park, short of climbin' a tall tree, and it was a nifty little place. There were two rooms inside (a bedroom/kitchen and a sitting room with a table and a woodstove), and a bench and a fire ring out front.
There was also our own private outhouse, but after Jim examined it, I decided never, ever to go in there (and I never did. . .we were in the woods, fer chrissake, and there are plenty of places for that sort of thing). After searching the area, however, we found one thing missing that we had for some reason assumed would be available: potable water. We were on Mirror Lake, of course, and I guess they just expect you to either pack in your water or use the lake water and purify it. Ick. We decided we would just bring back lots of bottled water on our next trip in. Since I'm writing this, you can probably figure out that we lived through hikin' out, packin' up more stuff, and hikin' back in. We figure we hiked at least nine miles that day, if not ten (and most of it in full packs).
My feet were really startin' to burn and cramp, and when we finally made it in for the night, it was after 8:00 (and since the Porkies are on eastern time, even though we're practically in Wisconsin, it stays light really late). By 9:00, I couldn't keep my eyes open any more and retired to my bunk. Aaaaaah, my bunk. There were two bunks, a top and a bottom bunk. Jim, being old and nearly incontintent, claimed the bottom bunk. Fair enough; as I had never slept in a bunk bed in my life, I actually thought this might be fun. Let me clue you in to something: when they call this a "sleeping platform" they do not lie. It's not a bed. It's a platform. And this particular platform was so close to the ceiling that I couldn't flex an arm without hitting wood. I woke up in the middle of the night, and the darkness is more profound than a city girl is used to, and the slant of the ceiling was right above me, and it felt like I was in a coffin when I reached my hand out and immediately found pine. I'm not normally too claustrophibic, but that combination had me sweaty and freaked awake for a while. And my poor hips were in agony (I'm a side sleeper and I can't change!).
Tuesday, July 13
The final straw was when I tried to get out of the top bunk. In case no one had noticed, I'm not a terribly graceful girl. It took me a full five minutes to get a foothold I felt was firm enough to climb down the ladder. Jim, for once valuing his life, was smart enough not to laugh at me while it was happening (he values his life, and I'm not generally in a great mood upon awakening, even when I've slept on something other than a slab of wood). I had a grumpy morning, exacerbated by the fact that neither of us had thought to bring coffee, but started to feel better after the rain stopped and we were able to explore a little.
Jim attempted to fish in Mirror Lake (no luck, and no trout for dinner). After the failed fishin', we hiked around the other cabins on our lake, which both had better boats than we did (the 2-bunk cabin gets a canoe, the 4-bunker gets a little boat, and the 8-bunker gets two little boats), but much less privacy (the trail is about five feet from the front door of the 8-bunker). The scenery was lovely (lots of brooks and big chunks of rock, and a buck who hadn't started growin' his new antlers in yet, and obliged me by standin' and starin' at me for a while). We probably did about a four-mile round trip hike, and then as it became gloomy out again, we sequestered ourselves in the cabin with the woodstove fired up and a hot game of Texas Hold-'Em (well, it was hot for the first half, when I was winnin' every hand).
I'd enjoyed the hike, but I was still feelin' pretty sore and cranky from the previous day's exertion and sleeping arrangements, and was gettin' just a little, um, bitchy. We gamed by the "glow" of a flashlight we'd hung from the ceiling; the flashlight made a circle of light on the floor, and during the card game, a large black ant began marching round and round in the light circle. Normally, I would have found this somewhat amusing. This night, however, I was not in the greatest of moods, ahem, and after seein' him walk his little walk for the twentieth time, I suddenly leapt off the bench and began vigorously stomping this poor, blameless ant.
Jim, who had no idea an ant was doin' performance art next to me, inquired: "A little softshoe?"
Me: "That ant was walkin' around and around the circle of light and I HAD ENOUGH!"
Jim: (Long pause and strange look in my direction, then chooses his words carefully) "Honey, let's hike out tomorrow, rent a room for the night, and sit in the tub."
I, of course, agreed before he'd finished the sentence. In retrospect, I do feel bad about the ant thing. What kind of karma will this bring? Do ants have a "Wanted" poster with my picture on it? Since I had decided most definitively that the top bunk and I would have no further contact, I used my inflatable mattress on the floor. It didn't exactly inflate to full capacity that night (the instructions, which you don't see until you unroll the mattress, warn that it could take three or four tries to get a proper inflation), so it wasn't much better than sleepin' on the floor. The thought of a real bed and a real bathtub the next night, however, allowed me to sleep through the night as if there weren't white stars of pain shootin' out of my hips.
Wednesday, July 14
Did I mention that this cabin was extra secluded? And did I mention that it's secluded enough that I could look out the window at dawn and see Jim, clad only in hiking boots, answerin' the call of nature in our side yard? Well, it was that secluded, and Jim did look fabulous in his stripped-down ensemble.
We packed out everything we had decided we could possibly do without, so that we'd only have to make one trip out on Saturday. Why, oh, why did I think it was a good idea to bring my PDA out into the woods? I didn't have any appointments that week! Jim packed his air mattress out, as I'd made it clear that there was NO WAY IN HELL I was going to backcountry camp this week. The thought of setting up yet another camp sounded like too much work. Our packs were somewhat heavy, but not as bad as they had been on the first trip in, so I figured that this hike would be a breeze. I didn't know it, but I was about to be scared shitless!
About a quarter of a mile into our three-mile hike out, we were ascending a fairly steep incline that was quite muddy and filled with rocks. About halfway up the incline, Jim had to stop and rest, leanin' on his stick and breathin' hard. We'd had many stops like this in full pack, so I didn't think much of it. I was up the incline a little, musin' over some plants, when I heard Jim from behind me:
"You're gonna have to catch me!"
I turned to see Jim collapsing into the mud. He just plain went down, fell on his pack, and
then rolled and smacked his head on a somewhat flat rock. He was just lying there, his eyes
open and staring at nothing, and his mouth hanging open; I was 100% certain that he'd just
had a heart attack (I did the math: 51-year-old man + heavy pack + steep inclines = bad
idea), and I would have to hike nearly three miles to find help for him. Truthfully, I wasn't too sure it wasn't too late for that already. After involuntarily shouting "JIM!" I managed to keep my cool, but I was having a whole new kind of freakout inside my head. I rolled him over so his pack wasn't all on top of him, and just about wet my pants with happiness when he started to blink his eyes and talk to me. I was able to get his pack off, and when he could stand, we went down the hill to a flat spot where he could rest for a while.
As it turns out, Jim had succumbed in a spectacular way to his low blood sugar condition. I've been with him since early '87, and had seen him have small reactions, but never a full-blown blackout like this one (he'd had a few of those before I knew him). He'd been doing all the right things, stockin' up on protein-rich food (I mean peanut butter, pervs), but he figures he just ran out of gas. Bam! So, we sat for a little bit and I fed him peanut-butter crackers. It was very nearly romantic. After he caught his breath, he decided we should move on, so we put our packs back on. . .and Jim started walkin' back from where we'd come. I thought maybe he thought it was best to just go back to the cabin for a bit, but still I felt the need to ask him where he was goin'. It's a good thing, too, because he was still so disoriented he was walkin' back to the cabin when he really meant to make for the trailhead like our original plan.
Once we got our directions straightened out, the rest of the hike was without incident. Sometimes, boring is good. I later related the whole incident to Jim, and when I told him he'd said "You're gonna have to catch me!" he threw back his head and laughed; he had no recollection of saying it, and the thought of me tryin' to catch him, especially on that incline, was pretty hilarious (I think the best I could've done was let him fall on me).
Back in town, the Silver Sands just happened to have our same room available, so we stocked
up on epsom salts, gorged on delectable trout at the Foothills (where the hostess remembered
me by my tattoo, even though it must have been five years since we'd been there), and spent the
rest of the night takin' turns usin' the tub (unfortunately, the tub would not possibly hold us both, but I'm sure you're all glad to be spared that picture).
Verbatim from my journal:
Got to watch General Hospital and Jeopardy! Can y'all believe that Ken Jennings? He's a hero to geeks and nerds everywhere (I say this from the heart). They finally got around to having Lila Quartermaine die on GH (the actress died a couple of months ago), so there was really no plot movement today. I didn't care. I was so happy to have TV, I would've sat through an hour of Carly saying "They're tearing my family apart!" over and over again (any other day, though, and I'm gouging out the bitch's eyes).
Did I mention that this was the best bed upon which I have ever slept? I slept until an obscene 8:00 the next morning! Aaaaah, bliss. . .
Thursday, July 15
After breakfast at the Foothills (now Mandi knows what "eggs up" means), we went up to see
Lake of the Clouds (it's a short hike up a paved walkway). It's so easy to get to, and such a breathtaking view, that we see it every time we're up there. It's considered the plum view of the park, and is usually what you'll see on the cover of their brochures. After much picture takin' and pettin' of other people's dogs, we stocked up on liquids and hiked back to the cabin.
This time, however, instead of parkin' at the Mirror Lake trailhead, we parked at the Summit Peak trailhead, which leads to the highest point in the park. I didn't know if this was a great idea, even though it seemed to cut some distance off our hike, but I figured if Jim wanted to do it, I'd go along. Hey, I wasn't the person who became one with the mud just the day before! The initial incline from the parking lot was just killer, but after a certain point, there were (cue trumpets) stairs! Sure, it's still uphill (or up mountain, if you want to be semantically anal), but flat steps up are infinitely better than just a rocky incline. I felt positively spoiled! Once we got to the final platform, I could see why people made such a fuss about getting up here. The view is not quite as spectacular as the Lake of the Clouds Overlook, but it's gotta be second best. We sat on the benches and admired the view for at least 45 minutes, where we met a man with one tooth and zero sense of humor - mister, I was only kiddin' about my wish to drop a cabin in this spot, kiddin', okay? - opted out of climbin' the tower for an even HIGHER view, and made our way down from the peak. The downhill was so steep that we knew we would be in for a challenge when we packed back out.
Two chipmunks had spent the week vyin' for our attention and food in the front yard of the cabin. We finally got to see a real chipmunk rumble happen on Thursday. The long-tailed gregarious 'munk caught sight of the short-tailed shy 'munk eatin' our handouts, and dealt with this immediately. Long Tail ran as fast as his little legs would allow and smashed into Short Tail, who popped straight up in the air -- I swear it was at least two or three feet, straight up. It was almost as funny as watchin' me get out of the top bunk!
We had what Jim calls a "heap good fire" (he can say that with all the Chippewa and Shoshone runnin' through his veins) that night, the best fire, in fact, we'd had all week. Many marshmallows were sacrificed that night. My mattress seemed a little better inflated this time, so my sleep was slightly better.
Friday, July 16
After a hearty breakfast of smashed Pop Tarts (I was gonna chew 'em anyway), Jim and I decided to hike down the Little Carp River trail. With lots of stops along the way for snacks and smokes (because when you're winded on the trail, nothin' helps like a cigar), the hike didn't seem like a big deal at all, and we wound up expanding the hike to end up at the Lily Pond (that made it three miles there). We were catchin' our breath on the bench by the Lily Pond when we encountered a hippie dude, wearin' his jammy pants and carryin' a super-nice camera, who was currently stayin' in the Lily Pond cabin. He stopped and we chatted, and he offered us some water (we had some with us, but that was really cool of him to offer). You do meet some very cool people when you're camping or hiking. There's something about the setting that makes it easy to peel away that layer of
indifference and isolation that one wears in the course of urban life. On a city street, you work hard to avoid eye contact with passersby, and casual conversation is out of the question unless one wants to be considered, um, "special." Out on the trails, you happily greet everyone you see, and often have actual conversations with strangers!
We hiked back to the cabin (our six miles that day seemed like nothin'), and I set about addin' our adventures to the journal that's left in the cabin. People have been writin' in this particular one since October of 2000, so there are some pretty good stories in there (including the tale of the Mirror Lake Monster, complete with illustrations). Not to be outdone, I detailed our story and made sure to include lots of drawings in the margins. The picture of Jim with his head smacked down on the rock is surely one of the best I've done! Our last campfire at the cabin was a little sad, but I wouldn't be lyin' if I said I was also pretty excited about gettin' back to electricity and running water.
Saturday, July 17
We packed up our gear and headed out. We still had a bit of food left, but there was no way we were packin' out anything we didn't have to. Like many others before us, we left what we didn't eat, and then split. I had my whole pack arranged in a much less awkward fashion than when we first came in, and it was a whole different experience this time. Remember on Thursday, when we hiked back in, and I said the last downhill of the Summit Peak trail was gonna be a sonofabitch as an uphill? Well, ding ding ding ding, was I ever right! Steep, narrow, muddy. . .if I said we stopped to gasp for air every five minutes, I wouldn't be stretchin' the truth at all. Killer, killer, killer! If my pack had been done up as badly as it was on the first day, I'd have thrown myself off Summit Peak after this walk.
Once we got to the top and rested (gasped) for a while, we decided to climb the tower this
time. For all the trouble to get up there, I still have to say the better view is down a little further on the platform where we rested our bones on the way in. Oh, well. . .
We made it down the stairs, and there it was. It was a lovely sight, the parking area. At that moment, I so loved my purple car that I would've married it on the spot. We had our final lunch at the Foothills, farewell ice cream and bear photos at the Rainbow, and then made a beeline for the Comfort Inn in Munising (about a four-hour drive).
We'd come up to Silver City from the south (much of it on Lake Michigan's shoreline), and we took
the northern route to Munising (and it also happened to be mostly along the Superior shoreline). I can't really say anything exciting happened in Munising, aside from the fact that I got my monthly helping of pizza and it's never tasted better! Took a shower and two epsom-salt baths, and slept like a drunken crack baby on the crappy but oh-so-servicable mattress.
Sunday, July 18
Nothing from the breakfast buffet was used to vandalize any cars this day. We checked out and headed down the 38 miles or so to Seney, where we drove through the Seney Wildlife Refuge and Jim attempted (again, in vain) to fish. No fish, but we did see three adult osprey and an empty eagle's nest. It's a slow seven-mile drive 'round the refuge, after which we gorged on almost-palatable food at the Jolly Inn in Germfask. Who makes up the names of these places? Drunken Yoopers! What the fuck is a "Germfask"?
My journal does not go into any more detail, so I think I can safely say that nothing worth noting happened the rest of that day. But, obviously, we did make it home, and I am, obviously, glad Jim didn't keel over and die on the trails.
You hear that, mister? I'm glad you're alive! But don't let it go to your head.