The Benefits of Paying Attention

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Last night I met a couple of my team members for dinner. At one point, my manager said, “Look around this restaurant at the people on their phones.” I looked around, and in the restaurant, every single table was filled with people with heads down, staring at their phones. And every one of them was sitting with at least a couple other people with heads down, looking at their phones.

As I’m becoming more aware of my phone usage, I’ve noticed a couple things. My dog doesn’t get real attention from me when I’m on my phone. She’ll look over at me on my phone, roll over and go to sleep. I’m sleeping better since I put my phone away about an hour before bed. I’ve been charging it in another room. My new app tells me I picked up my phone 36 times yesterday. 36 TIMES!! Today, I actually stashed it in my desk drawer so it wasn’t anywhere near me. I felt a little lost, but I felt present.

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I’m trying to leave my phone at home whenever I can. I lock it up in my purse so I can’t easily grab it. I created a lock screen that reminds me where I want to put my attention. And last night at dinner, I left my phone in the car.  Our table actually engaged in conversation. This morning, I deleted all my social media apps and drove to work in silence. It felt liberating.

I’m in the phase of discovering how my phone makes me feel – before and after I use it. I feel anxious when it’s put up. I feel even more anxious when I go to pick it up, and it’s not there. But I haven’t gotten lost in a rabbit hole for a couple days. And still …. I picked it up 36 times yesterday.

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My goal is to pay more attention to people, nature and my writing. On Monday, I took a walk with Ashok and noticed the maple leaves on a tree near the sidewalk. It made me think of fall. That made me think of Knoxville and how much I loved fall in the Smoky Mountains. I remembered my sister’s visit to the Applewood Farmhouse restaurant with her young daughter. And I thought of my favorite apple pie at Jollay Orchards in Michigan. That led me to remember my friend Autumn who lives near there. I felt happy remembering those things. My life felt full. I felt excited that fall was coming. I felt connected to friends and family. And I felt all of that because I noticed a leaf instead of a notification on my phone.

When I got home, I used that leaf as a writing prompt for Monday’s blog. Because of one second of being present, I paid attention to a leaf in nature. It led me to pay attention to the people I remember in my life, and all of that inspired my writing. Let the exploration continue. I like where this is heading.

 

Who Am I?

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Last night’s dinner was warm at the last bite. The meat, tender and juicy was saturated in blood. I discarded the innards so that the birds could eat them, and then I laid down for a needed nap. I dreamed of birds soaring against the blue sky and became fixated on one that landed next to me. It’s song when tit-tit teet-teet in a quick chatter. I saw my reflection in its eyes and was fixated on my soul. I awoke before I had a chance to eat it or let it fly.

I licked my fur slowly and hunched behind the grass as the neighbor across the street got in a machine that took her away. I napped again and was awakened by barking. “Idiot,” I thought. “Silence and stealth are the lethan weapons.” I walked toward the sound and peered around the corner to catch a glimpse. Secured by a rope to my young neighbor, the creature was clueless that I was even close.

A rustle underneath the ground caught my attention. I could hear it move beneath the soil, pushing it aside. Little grunting noises were barely perceptible even to me. I could taste last night’s warm offering on my tongue. My teeth ached for the kill. My body surged with energy. Calmness harnessed my nerves, and I waited – until it was time to pounce.

Tonight, I’ll bring home my dinner and watch her scream.

Who am I and what’s for dinner?

The Shoulder Season

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Chicago was sweltering yesterday. I kept thinking myself in January bundled up in sweaters and hats trying to keep warm as the north wind howled down the Chicago River. But still I sweated. In and out of the AC, my friend Nancy and I meandered trying to appreciate the warmth of summer but keep from frying in the sunshine. I was so excited to get on the air-conditioned commuter train only to realize that the AC couldn’t keep up with the relentless heat of hot bodies and the summer sun. I sweated all the way back to Michigan.

In Louisiana, I’d know this will be the state of things for awhile. It could be hot until Christmas and beyond. But, here in Michigan, relief is in sight. Boots and scarves are on the horizon with at least a crisp cool front or two possible in mere weeks.

I first fell in love with fall in Knoxville. The Smoky Mountains were a breath away, and the hills were ablaze with orange, red and yellow. Traffic snarls of southern heat warriors plunged the area into gridlock. But, ahhhh ….  the crisp fall air, apple pie and falling leaves stole my heart every time.

In Michigan, fall is a mixed bag. It’s beautiful, and I love the bite of the crisp, cool days. Hiking and camping are at its best as the bugs die down, and a campfire feels all the more cozy. A long run on a 55-degree day is perfection. But it’s also the signal that winter is coming. Oranges and browns give way to winter’s blacks and grays as the temperature falls. Fall is at once lovely in its own right and glorious in its comparison to what come next.

I received an Oktoberfest invite from one of my neighbors yesterday. Upcoming races don names like the Thru the Leaves Trail Run and The Great Pumpkin Race. The young woman at the fruit stand says apples will be in soon. And Labor Day – the end of summer up here – is fast approaching. The sweating will soon be over.

 

Gratitude

What a glorious day my higher power hath made! What am I grateful for?

  1. I spent the day with Nancy who traveled with me through relapse, recovery, divorce and rebirth. She’s one of those easy friends who totally gets my story and loves me through it. I am grateful for love in all kinds of packages.
  2. I ran 5 miles last nights got, 5 miles this morning, and walked 6 miles this afternoon. I’m grateful for my health, access to healthy food and my stamina. I can sleep when I die.
  3. I am grateful for a job that lets me afford little trips into Chicago.
  4. I am grateful for sobriety. It’s the only way to live.
  5. I am grateful for Ashok who is so patient and flexible with me.
  6. I am grateful for this big, beautiful body of water called Lake Michigan.
  7. I am grateful for ice cream. Even though sugar seems to be really hard on me, the fat content of ice cream makes it a little less troublesome.
  8. I am grateful for my little house in Michigan. It’s a comfortable spot to return home to.
  9. I am grateful for laughter. No matter what troubles occur, laughter makes it more palatable.
  10. I am grateful for peanut butter. It is an inexpensive, tasty, easy to carry source of protein. I couldn’t live without it nor would I want to.

Headed home… y’all have a great week!

The Pacifier

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I always tell my friends that leaving is a process. When you are ending a significant relationship or making a big change, it’s rarely a single decision. Most of the time, there are a thousand little decisions and awarenesses that move you away from the current state to the new state. And it usually involves a lot of back and forth, too.

Price’s book How to Break Up With Your Phone is not just a “put down your phone” sort of plan. There is a 30-day calendar that walks you through a process of discovering how you use your phone, experimenting with some boundaries and finally encouraging a trial separation for a weekend. My trial separation is going to fall when I’m on a camping trip somewhere in the Appalachians.

My first thought was, “Oh no. That wouldn’t be safe to be without my phone out hiking. What if I need my GPS? Perhaps I could change the weekend.” After my initial resistance, I talked myself down. Did people hike and camp before phones? Maybe I could pull out a map for heaven’s sake, and navigate the old-fashioned way. Wouldn’t that be a novel idea!

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So, I’m all in. Day 1 – which is on a Monday – asks me to download a time-tracking app. I’ve already downloaded Moments which tracks how many times I pick up my phone during the day and how much time I use it. I have to admit that I didn’t use it as much yesterday. Even thinking about this has made me aware of times I really don’t need it. I went for a walk and coffee with my friend Abby yesterday, and I just tossed my phone in the car. And I used my computer yesterday afternoon at home instead of my phone. That’s one way to get around that damn app!

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My screen time yesterday was 3 hours 58 min. Granted, an hour of that was when I was running and using my Runkeeper app. So, I really had 3 hours of screen time where I was engaging with my phone. I picked it up 26 times. 26 TIMES!!! And that’s on a Saturday when I took a 2-hour nap, ran for an hour and walked for an hour and a half without my phone. This is definitely an eye-opener. I’m not supposed to make any changes yet, so today I’ll use it to my heart’s content.

The goal of the next few days is to decide where I really want to place my attention. She encouraged me to answer the question “What do you want to pay attention to?” and save it as my lock screen.

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Yesterday, I was driving, and the Benton Harbor bridge went up. I instinctively reached for my phone. I saw that lock screen, and I put it down. I watched a sailboat glide beneath the bridge and some Canadian Geese peck at the ground for food. I noticed that the Whirlpool building on the river had a trail and some picnic tables near the water. “That’s nice,” I thought. And the interesting this is, I felt better. My mood lifted.

All day I noticed how I felt when I had the urge to pick up my phone. Sometimes I was bored. Other times I was anxious. All of the time I wanted to distract myself with something. A phone was what hung on the wall in my parents’ house. It had one purpose. It never solved any of my problems. This is entirely something else. My smartphone soothes me. It relieves my boredom. It assuages my loneliness. At one time alcohol did it for me. Sugar and food serves that purpose, too. It can be an addiction, but it’s most definitely a pacifier.

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Instead of reaching for my phone yesterday, I visited with a friend. I read two issues of Runner’s World magazine. I haven’t been able to read through a single copy of Runner’s World for years. Pre-smartphone, my favorite day of the month was when Runner’s World arrived. I’d grab a cup of coffee and devour every word. As I was reading through the May issue last night, a question popped into my mind. I instinctively reached for my phone to google the answer. I hesitated. “I don’t need the answer right now,” I told myself. “This is not an emergency.”

 

 

 

Sorry, Baby…It’s Over

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I have noticed lately that I’ve been obsessed with my phone. I’m sick of it. I’m sick of the news. I’m sick of social media (except my blog, of course). I’m sick of comments from mean, nasty people who incite anger and fear in me. I’m tired of missing pieces of conversations because I’m distracted. I’m way tired of looking for it. I’m even sick of charging the damn thing. And, yet, I’m still constantly checking it. Even my dog seems to hate the damn thing.

Psychologists refer to unpredictable rewards as “intermittent reinforcements.” I call them “the reason we date jerks.”

~~ Catherine Price in How to Break Up With Your Phone

I’ve listened to several podcasts about our addictions to our smartphones. Tristan Harris used to work at a tech company where they worked day and night to develop ways to addict us and manipulate our minds. They use psychology to hook us. And they hook us in order to sell our attention to advertisers. In the meantime, we are being used, manipulated and coerced into looking away from our lives, our feelings and our creativity.

Check out this Ted Talk for more on how they do it…..

I’m not going to get outraged by what “they” are doing because that’s not productive. I’m going to do something about what “I” can do. Since I’ve listened to the first podcasts, I’ve changed a few habits. I take breaks every now and again. I removed social media apps from my phone. I turned off all notifications. But, inevitably I get sucked in again. I wake up and do it again…. over and over.

I’m in an addictive cycle, and it’s not good for me. I spend too much money because crap is so easy to buy online. And if I do manage to not buy something I’m obsessing about, the ads haunt me until I eventually give in. I stalk people I don’t even care about on social media out of boredom. And I consume way too much news. I used to be the girl that said, “If it doesn’t happen on my front porch, I don’t know about it.” And , the thing is, I was very happy and content in my ignorance.

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Catherine Price has developed a 30-day program that introduces a new habit every day to help me understand what works for me with my smartphone and what doesn’t. Right now, I’m just blindly driven by the dopamine-induced habits the tech companies have created. I’d like to be able to use my smartphone for my good instead of to my detriment.

Honestly, one of the reasons I don’t write as much anymore is because I’m so distracted by the news that my mind doesn’t wander. In order to write, my mind has to wander, make obscure connections and come up with random ideas. I want to be creative again. So, I’m committing. I’m going to break up with my smartphone. We can still be friends, but the romance is over. It’s just not working for me.

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The first thing Catherine says is to recruit a friend to join me. I’ll remind you that we don’t have to give up our phone. This is simply a series of experiments to understand what is good about our phones and what we’d like to surrender. Anybody in?

You might want to buy the book, too. The first section gives you some great information on why that smartphone is killing your memory and your ability to read books, destroying your creativity and maybe even ruining your relationships. What have you got to lose?

Buy: How to Break Up With Your Phone

 

 

 

 

Sunday Night Check-In: Racing, Friends and Sand

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I drove up to Dewitt Mi on Friday night to stay with my new friend Michelle who was going to run The Legend with me on Saturday. She lived in an adorable historical home in downtown Dewitt. We didn’t have a lot of time to visit before bed but we took a short walk downtown where she showed me the local coffee shop and the beloved bakery. I would have loved to visit both, but alas, they were closed when I got there and didn’t open until our race was to begin on Saturday. I’ll just have to go back to let you know how they are.

We drove to Sleepy Hollow State Park just as the sun was rising over the cornfields in rural Michigan. The beauty of a Midwestern countryside is understated next to mountains and oceans. But when the sun rises and sets over the fields dotted with ancient farmhouses, there’s a magical quality to it that always surprises me. What can be beautiful about corn, you say? Well, all I can tell you is you have to see it to believe it.

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Trail races are smaller than the big road races. The announcer was providing instructions as we arrived. “There will be falls,” she said. “This is a trail race.” My friend Michelle snickered and whispered, “but we’re all still here anyway.” She admonished those with headphones with a reminder that they were against the rules. If they were going to use them anyway, she warned, they’d better pay attention to other runners passing on the single-track course.

Trail races attract a different type of crowd. The courses are often longer, so the runners are often fitter or just plain daredevils. But trail run participants are a little harder in appearance. It’s not unusual to see heavily bearded and tattoed men with bulging biceps lining up at the start of a trail race. Middle age seems to be the predominant age range although all ages are represented. The starting gun was simple. The announcer said, “go”, and we were off.

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We ran through grassy meadows dotted with wildflowers, heavily wooded forests and on well-traveled mountain bike trails. For the first 3 miles, I traded places with several different runners as we adjusted our paces and then eventually I found myself alone. Because I have to pay so much attention to the trail ahead of me, I don’t listen to anything when I’m running on a trail. This race was 3 hours of quiet contemplation of the growing ache in my left knee, increasing fatigue in my quads and the beauty of nature. Volunteers broke up the monotony with frequent water breaks and conversation.

I quit using Gu because of the sugar and caffeine, but they offered it at the water stations. After mile six I started using it, and I noticed a significant lift of my aches and pains and my energy immediately afterward. I will add that back into my fueling routine. It definitely made a difference. By the end of the race, I was tired, but I was not beaten. I am very happy with my accomplishment. Now, the Mt. Baldhead Challenge is in my sights.

My friend Dan from Knoxville passed through St. Joe this weekend. He visits Michigan every summer, and since I’ve been back, he makes a stop here. We toured downtown St. Joe’s Chalk the Block last night and had dinner at the Buck.

Buster approves of Dan… sort of.

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Today, we had a hiking and beach day in Saugatuck. It was a great way to refresh after the effort yesterday. We even stopped at Crane’s Pie Pantry for some blueberry streusel pie. We’ll end the weekend with some tacos and maybe even a Lake Michigan sunset. The weekend has been friendly, challenging and fun.

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Try to be a badass this week, will ya? You never know what you can do unless you try it!

A beautiful wildflower garden in Benton Harbor….

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Tomorrow: A Trail Half Marathon

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The trail at Sleepy Hollow State Park that I’ll be running tomorrow…. without Ashok. 😦

Tomorrow I’m attempting a trail half marathon. I’ve never done this distance on a trail, and I’m not sure I’ll be able to finish. My half marathon legs are not quite solid yet, and I’ve been training mostly on a flat straight surface. I opted last weekend for an unpaved trail run, but the trail was designed for biking so it was flat with relatively few obstacles. I hope that my backpacking trip a few weeks ago helped with some of the strength and flexibility I’ll need in my ankles this weekend. At any rate, the race is upon me. 

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I’ve been doing some trail running in preparation for the Mt. Baldhead Challenge in September. And this weekend’s race is a training run. Although, for me, most races are just runs. I don’t shoot for time. I just try to enjoy myself and to use the event to motivate me all season. It works, and I’m really happy to be up to the half marathon distance for the first time in 5 years. I really thought my half marathon days were over.

I’m enjoying the trail running. I love hiking, and I love running, so it shouldn’t be a surprise. It’s more physically challenging, but the mental challenge is the more difficult adjustment. My mind can wander on a street run and look at the scenery. There are no holes, sticks, rocks or snakes that might cause a fall or a twisted ankle. I once tripped on trail run in Memphis and impaled my leg on a stick – literally. And I still had to run a mile back to my car! The pain was awful, and my thigh turned purple from the bruising and trauma. I am much more careful on trail runs now.

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My favorite trail race is the Sylamore 25K. I ran it when I was in Memphis and was in great marathon shape. It is in the mountains in Arkansas, and when I say I “ran” it, I’m exaggerating a bit. I hiked most of it and ran when I could. Within the first half mile, you cross Sylamore Creek – in February. This creek can be knee-high or chest-high. And everybody talks about it. It was waist-high when I ran it. You could hear people screaming way in advance of approaching it.

Halfway to the turnaround was an aid station. Locals cooked the most amazing chocolate cake and boiled potatoes with salt. The tables looked like a church pot-luck dinner, and I literally pulled up a chair and ate. I talked with the locals, fueled up and got back on the trail. I couldn’t wait for the return trip to fuel up again! I decided right then and there that trail running was far superior to road running.

I’m not sure what the race will be like tomorrow. I ran about six miles on the trail a few weeks ago. It’s pretty, and it’s certainly not mountainous like Sylamore. It’s a lovely little wooded loop. I’m staying with my new friend Michelle whom I met on one of the recent Wanderlust trips. She’s running the 10-miler. I’m considering switching to the 10-miler, but a part of me wants to go the distance just to see if I can. I can always walk. It’s not like a bear will be chasing me. I hope!!

Y’all have a great weekend! And #getoffyourass! There’s so much to be seen.

 

Sunday Night Check-In: Running, Blueberries and Open Windows

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When I got off work Friday it was 70 degrees. I was so damn happy that I decided to wait until the evening to run. I packed up Ashok and headed to Grand Mere to try out my new trail running map supplied by the retired cross-country coach on our backpack last weekend. It did not disappoint. I finally figured out how to gain some miles without running in the dunes and then headed toward the dunes for intense hill work. Ouch!

Saturday was a wide open slate, and I went to my favorite recovery meeting, touched up my roots, cleaned up my house and enjoyed my new windows with cool breezes blowing through. Oh yeah, and I bought another 5-pound box of blueberries. That’s two for this week. I’ve added the beautiful silvery-blue honey drops to everything including my chicken and rice. I even made a sugar-free milkshake with sugar-free ice cream and chocolate syrup and lots and lots of blueberries. It was divine.

I had a long run scheduled for today, so I went to bed early. A cat chucked up a hairball and woke me up way too early. Luckily I went back to sleep but I was a little short-changed. I had to do 12 miles, and I wanted to go ahead and run the half marathon distance if I could make it. So, I picked a linear trail called the Kal-Haven trail. I ate a healthy breakfast of avocado, fried eggs, olive oil and Ezekiel Bread, make some homemade sports drink of maple syrup and green tea, packed up some after-run snacks and a change of clothes and headed north.

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Ashok has gotten too old to run the very long runs with me, and it is very sad when I leave the house. She knows what I’m doing and gets very excited. She pouts when I tell her to get in her kennel, and I feel so bad. It’s just that thing we do together. It breaks my heart to leave her. But I know I could hurt her if I brought her along. Seven miles is the longest she can do now, and I try to keep it around five.

I arrived at the trailhead, and it was actually a little chilly. I knew I would warm up, and I quickly did. It was a lovely little limestone trail that I had ridden on a bicycle a decade or so ago. I even remembered some of the road crossings. It was nice to see that it still existed. I came upon a little cat, some sandhill cranes and lots of bunnies and squirrels.

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My legs started really hurting at 11 miles. Actually, everything started hurting. But that’s part of the game. I have to go through the pain to build up my stamina. I struggled through it and made it to 13.1 with no energy left to expend. I’m so glad I was able to get through the distance. I have to run it next weekend in a trail race on a trail that’s not nearly as flat as this one. If I’m honest, I’m afraid I may have bitten off more than I can chew. We shall see. Walking is always an option.

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The breeze is still blowing through my windows, and I am happily tired. I should sleep good tonight. I grabbed some tacos from my favorite taco stand for dinner, and I need to run out to Aldi for a few necessities. But tomorrow is a rest day, and I’ll be very happy to shut it down early for a long night of great sleep. I am going to treat myself to some blueberry pie, though. I think I deserve it.

Have a great week, y’all. #getoffyourass

On the Shores of Gitche Gumee

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I’m not sure when I first learned of the Pictured Rocks. I’m quite sure I didn’t know it was in Michigan. Michigan, was, to me, the land of auto-makers, industrial plants and a burned-out Detroit. But I do remember seeing a picture of the magnificent sandstone cliffs at some point in my life and longing to see them in person. This would have been long before I discovered backpacking but after I had taken up hiking. The thought of sleeping on top of these beautiful cliffs would have never crossed my mind.

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Last year I took a Pictured Rocks cruise, and I was reminded of how enamored I had been of those cliffs so many years ago. But, now I wanted to sleep on that hallowed ground. I longed to be immersed in the lushness of its landscape and feel its heartbeat under my feet. I vowed I would go there. Had I been able to take my dog I probably would have done it in an instant, but the park doesn’t allow pets.

I haven’t been ready to backpack alone yet. It’s coming, but I’m still a little wary of being by myself in bear country with my limited experience. My search for trips came up empty-handed until I walked into Wanderlust Outfitters this spring. I signed up on the spot and counted the months and then days until last Friday.

Our little tribe traveled by van to Grand Marais where we embarked on a magical weekend filled with big and small surprises. Strangers at first, we got to know each other walking single-file through a mountain-like setting with sandstone cliffs, gurgling streams and small waterfalls. With almost 40 pounds on my back, I immediately realized this was going to be physically challenging. The easy paths of Louisiana would not prepare me for climbing up rocks and boulders and man-made stairs with all of my belongings on my back. My knees scolded me.

After stopping by a peaceful lake, we arrived on the shore of Lake Superior. We dropped our packs and instinctively gave each other space to take in the big water of Gitche Gumee. Shoes came off and toes reached into the crystal clear startling cold water of the northland. I spotted a canoe coming round the far-off cliffs. I saw young women gathering water on the beach and gazing upon the shore with dreams as steadfast and broad as mine. One of them turned to me, I gazed into her ancient eyes and recognized myself. “This place,” she whispered,” is sacred ground.”

We spent the first night in pouring rain, and I hoped that this would be an anomaly. My little tent kept me and my friend Abby dry overnight, but we begrudgingly dragged ourselves out into the rain for coffee and breakfast. It stopped almost immediately, and gratefully that was the last rain we saw for the weekend.

Our first night camping….

Saturday was a magnificent 11-mile-hike on top of cliffs, pristine natural beaches and sandstone outcroppings. It was also a day of bonding. Hiking, for some reason, has a way of tieing people together. Spans of silent trudging are interspersed with meaningful chatter. By the end of Saturday, our little band of travelers had become fast friends. We’d endured the rain, backpacks full of wet belongings, sore feet, amazing and glorious scenery, aching knees and a unique and changing outdoor experience. Even if we came again, we would never duplicate this experience.

Our group ranged in age from 19 – 69. A doctor, a cross-country coach, a Buddhist, a yoga teacher, a Chamber of Commerce communications director, a vagabond climber and backcountry guide, an organic farmer and other interesting people with diverse backgrounds made up our tribe. I learned about custom-made hiking boots that fit your feet like a glove, and I learned how to set up my tent on the beach in a windstorm. I learned how to fire-roast a banana, cook with a pocket rocket, train to climb Kilimanjaro and prepare for the pilgrimage to El Camino de Santiago.

The sandstone beach near Mosquito River. We camped there the second night.

Most of all, I learned up close and personal about Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore. I’m much more prepared now to plan my own trip. We spent much of our time on the magnificent cliffs, but there is much more inland I’d like to explore. The U.P. is rugged and remote. Even the popular beaches were not crowded. You have to hike your ass several miles to get to them, so most people are not going to do it. And the U.P. is a long drive for most of the country. It was 7-9 hours for us, and we live in Michigan! You don’t get to Pictured Rocks by accident. It’s a choice.

The young woman that met me at the beach showed up everywhere. She led me up stairs so steep I had to kneel to drag myself up. She stood on cliffs unreachable to me and smiled as she looked over Gitche Gumee. She built a warm fire on a sandstone beach and walked with me as I searched for stones. I saw her swimming in the frigid waters in the heat of the day. She encouraged me when my feet hurt at the end of a long day. But most of all, she inspired me to live my life. “This place,” she said, “is sacred. You are sacred. Keep walking… keep dreaming … keep being you.”