Don’t Be a Pantywaist

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I woke up really emotional this morning. Perhaps I’ve been affected by spending several days in the woods. Maybe it’s the coffee I drank yesterday. Or it could be the releasing of all the stress of the last few weeks and finally relaxing my guard. It doesn’t really matter. All I know is that I cried at least three times today.

A tear rolled down my cheek when I read a New York Times article about the drastic declines in the shorebird populations. I am gripped in grief over the ongoing loss of our wild animal species. I had to pull myself together and stop crying after Ashok had an altercation with a very old dog at the kennel. It destroys me she can’t get along with other dogs, especially when they are so old. And I cried as the author of Grandma Gatewood’s biography recalled her heart for walking and her spirit of persistence until the ripe old age of 86.

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I am in the land of Grandma Emma Gatewood, the first female thru-hiker on the Appalachian Trail. In fact, today is Grandma Gatewood Day, and this book signing by author Ben Montgomery was held today as a celebration. The event began with a showing of the documentary Trail Magic which details the 67-year-old woman’s hike of the 2200-mile Appalachian Trail. Her hike was in 1955. Yes, she was 67, and she wore tennis shoes and carried a canvas sack. She had no tent and stuffed leaves in her sack so she could sleep on top of it at night. In a word, she was a trooper.

Grandma divorced a man who beat her for over 30 years although she told people she was widowed. I won’t tell you her whole story, but I find it interesting that after divorcing a man who beat her and raising 11 kids, she decided one day to go for a walk – a very long walk. That’s what she told her kids. I am going for a walk. She was gone for many months when she decided to send them postcards to inform them of her trek because reporters had gotten wind of it. She didn’t want them to read it in the paper.

What made her want to walk? And what made her want to keep walking? After her first trip, she hiked the trail again two years later at age 69. And then she hiked it a third time doing section hikes even later. Oh yeah, and in between all of that, she also hiked the 2000-mile Oregon Trail. What makes someone who stayed for 30 years of intolerable abuse finally walk away? Then the walking became the obsession.

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Author Ben Montgomery and Me!

I’m not sure what touched me so much about her story. It could have been that I’m just raw right now. But I related to her desire to leave it all behind her. I know the freedom and the grief of extricating yourself from an abusive relationship. It is both insanely difficult and wildly freeing. I felt so happy that she found a way to step into her power and make a name for herself during a time it was considered selfish. I doubt she had a plan to be famous, but she ended up on the cover of the 1-year-old Sports Illustrated magazine. She wanted to walk and walk and walk.

One of my favorite feisty Gatewood lines was uttered when asked why she did it. “Most people are pantywaists,” she said. “Exercise is good for you.” Maybe we just need to decide what we are going to do and do it. We get all caught up in what we are supposed to do or in waiting for the perfect time. She taught me today that there is still time left. There is no time like the present, and there are no rules. Life is short. And, above all, just keep walking.

What would you do if you weren’t a pantywaist? Why don’t you just start walking and see what happens?

Hiking in Newaygo and Coffeehouse #8: The Bitter End

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Ahhhhhh…. finally. I’ve been waiting and waiting and waiting. Today it was warm enough and dry enough to get out for a long hike on the North Country Trail. Yes, I can hike around for a an hour or two with my dog in the snow, but I was looking forward to a day warm enough to get out and hit the trail for a long, long walk. I could hardly wait to get out of bed this morning – even though I was up until midnight last night.

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I picked out a spot on the trail map within a 2 hour driving distance, finished up my coffee, packed my backpack and hit the road. On the way, I listened to an issue of the She Explores podcast on women over fifty. It was very inspiring. I saw myself in several of them, and I was inspired to hear that they continue to be active while they are accepting a different level of intensity as they age.

I didn’t really start hiking until I turned 50, and I only started backpacking in the last few years. I’m not sure how long I will backpack, but I do hope to get a few trips in this year. There’s just something about waking up in the woods that feels wildly spiritual. And my dog loves it. I know that it won’t be too many years until that might be too hard on her, so it makes me want to get out and do it now. I refuse to stop until it’s obvious I must. And I can definitely enjoy day hiking.

I wanted to get my #8 coffeehouse on the way in, so I stopped at The Bitter End Coffeehouse in Grand Rapids. It was tucked away in the cutest little area called the university district. Students probably love its 24/7 hours. It had the look of an English pub. The ambience was dark and masculine, and when I saw the ceiling in all of its original grandeur, I said “Wow” under my breath.

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They had a really nice menu with lots of specialty drinks, so it took me a bit to decide. I’ve been daydreaming about the Kona coffee I had when I was in Hawaii, so I asked for the Kona mocha and walked around while I waited. Unfortunately, I did not realize that the Kona mocha was a frozen drink, so I was a little taken aback when the barista handed it to me. But I promised myself I was going to roll with the agenda on this coffeehouse exploration, so I didn’t make a fuss. I’d already paid for it, and it was my mistake any way. It was very yummy and quite a fancy treat for 9:30 AM.

This coffeehouse roasts their own beans, so I purchased some of their Kona beans to make at home. Recently, I got a KitchenAid Precision Press, and I love the coffee that is coming out of that thing. I love French Press coffee, but I never get the measurements right. This one helps keep it consistent. The sieve is better, too, so I don’t get grounds in my coffee.

I will definitely stop back by The Bitter End when I have time to stay. And, since they are open all the time, it won’t be hard to schedule a visit.

Ashok and I drove up to Newaygo which is a little less than an hour north of Grand Rapids. I’ve been up there hiking before on the North Country Trail but not on this section. I planned on doing around 9-10 miles, so I turned on my Runkeeper app to see if it would track my distance. Some snow and ice remained on the trail, but for the most part, it was dry. It was a nice forested hike, and we walked up and down small inclines, across gravel roads and rested when we wanted.  There were no fancy views or water features, but it was a great way to get a jump start on spring. I look forward to seeing wildflowers soon!

Around the 4-mile mark, we came upon a grassy meadow. It was quite lovely and very different than the habitat we’d been seeing. A sign told us this was a Coastal Plain Marsh, and, apparently it’s quite rare. It has the same plants and trees that inhabit the marshes up on the East coast. They also contain some very rare animals including the Massasauga rattlesnake. These little spots could be the remnants of the preglacial era. What’s more, the sign said there were 40 of these rare eco-systems in Michigan. When I looked it up on the internet, there’s one just down the highway from my home! Put that on the list.

So now I’m curled up on my sofa with one tuckered out dog and two very affectionate kitties. My house is still a mess as I played all weekend. That’s just the way it goes. I enjoyed a great party with friends both Friday and Saturday nights, got my monthly facial yesterday, ran a long run yesterday and enjoyed an adventure today. I’m thinking I’ll crawl up under the covers and go to bed early tonight. I’m sure I’ll hear no complaints from Ashok.

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Coffeehouse #6: Play Date in Muskegon

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Tomorrow it will be 55 degrees and raining. The snow will disappear like whipped cream in my mocha. I decided I’d best pack up my girl and head into the woods before it was all gone. We’ll probably get more, but you never know. Better to strike while the iron is hot, I always say. I had Muskegon on the brain, so we packed up our hiking gear and headed north.

I thought we’d head to the Winter Sports Complex in Muskegon State Park, but then I had second thoughts. Maybe I’d prefer something quieter. I decided on the trails in North Beach Park in Ferrysburg. This lovely little county park had 10 miles of trails complete with stairs and boardwalks up and over the tallest dunes. Fabulous views of frozen Lake Michigan took my breath away, and we hiked for about two hours in the woods. I will definitely return there for trail running in the warmer months.

I knew that I had to visit another coffee shop this weekend, so my google search for “coffee near me” gave me several options. I drove by one, and it looked more like a cafe than a coffee shop, so I took the next one that popped up – Ryke’s Bakery. It didn’t really look like a coffee shop from the outside, but I decided to go in anyway. If I’m going to go on this year-long adventure I need to trust the journey.

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It was a bakery rather than a coffeehouse. But they did feature Kona coffee, and I happen to be in love with Kona coffee ever since I went to Kona. I ordered a cup and told Cassandra about my blog project. “Would you like a tour?” she asked. She told me the building was an old dairy mill. “Those ramps over there,” she said pointing toward the cafe,” are for the horses that came right through here.” She pointed me to some pictures of the old dairy carriages, and I took a look while she was getting Ashley to give me a tour.

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I know it’s a bad picture, but it’s the best I could do!

 

The bakery has been in business in Muskegon since 1937 and has been in its current location since 1967. They have over 60 employees baking, preparing and serving lunch and catering in the local area. Their business was built on their Butter Thins which were displayed in a big cabinet up front, and the recipe has never changed. But they do much more than that now. A night shift bakes and decorates their cupcakes which are delivered to customers all over town.

Ashley, who is fresh back from Disney’s college program in Orlando, has been working with Ryke’s for several years, and she said with a giggle that the best part of her job is getting to bring home cake remnants. She also told me that I just missed the Paczki that they sell on Fat Tuesday. Being a Louisiana girl who is familiar with the King Cake eaten during Carnival Season, I had to know more about this delicacy. This Michigan tradition has roots in Poland. It is pronounced (POONCH-kee), and I could not get it right. I am so sorry that I missed it this year. I will have to remember next year to stop by for one … or maybe two.

Me and my tour guide, Ashley…

Mel came out just as I was leaving. She’s from Memphis, and she wanted me to pronounce ‘bayou’ because she gets teased about the way she pronounces it. We shared memories of our favorite southern town, and then I grabbed some Butter Thins and headed out to the State Park. Note: Since I’m supposed to be writing about coffee, I should say that their coffee was excellent, and I even refilled my cup before I left. Ashok and I promptly ate several of the Butter Thins which were divine.

On the way to the State Park, I was stopped dead in my tracks by the ice fisherman on the lake. I had a chance to talk with Jim, a retired game warden, and his grandson who were headed out for some afternoon fishing on the two feet of ice we had today. They showed me the tool they use for cutting the hole and explained how their little boat opened up into a tent. I am fascinated by this whole ice-fishing business. I gave them the rest of my Butter Thins and wished them luck on their fishing.

On the way home, I spotted a place called Brooklyn’s Beans, Bombers and Bagels. I might as well get #7 while I’m at it! But you’ll have to wait until later this week for the write-up. It deserves its own space. Stay tuned.

All in all, I met some pretty special people today, drank some great coffee and learned a lot about the history and traditions in Muskegon. I would love to go back and experience ice fishing, do some more hiking and trail running up there and grab lunch at Ryke’s. And when I stopped by the Winter Sports Complex, I found out they have an ice skating trail! That would be interesting to try for sure.

I left my house today without a plan. If I’d stuck with my original idea, I would have missed the best parts of today. People really do like to talk about their hobbies and their businesses if I just take the time to listen. Some days it’s better just to let go of the reins and let the road guide you.

How could you let go of the reins and let the journey take you this week?

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Sundays in Sawyer: Dancing With Darkness

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The house across the street when I left this morning.

It was dark when I left out this morning at 8 AM. Christmas lights sparkled red and green against the soft luminescent snow. The Winter Solstice is this week – Thursday to be exact. I love Solstice celebrations. When I think of the significance of lightness and darkness in our lives, it makes sense to me that the days with the most light and the days with the most darkness should be marked in some way. And what would Christmas lights be without the long interplay of darkness in December?

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I’ve always loved the dark. I love seeing the stars at night, and I love the long nights of winter. They are times of rest and reflection. I don’t sleep as well in the summer with the long days of sunshine. While I feel more energetic during the summer, I don’t think it is good for us to be revved up all the time. There is a reason for the season, and I believe the reason is rest and rejuvenation – of our bodies, our souls and our lives. Our ancestors felt these seasons were so important, they were the biggest celebrations of the year.

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Part of my plan for getting through the winter this year is to be open to doing something different. I signed up for an 8-class yoga pass at my old yoga studio where I completed my teacher training. And, I decided that I would start doing my Sunday blogging at Infusco Coffee in Sawyer since it is on the way to the Sunday yoga class.  When I visited their website last night, I read about their mission. This is much more than a coffee shop. They sell “relationship coffee.” It makes the coffee taste much better when there is such a good cause behind it. If that’s not a light in the darkness, I don’t know what is. So now my Sunday blog will be called Sundays in Sawyer…. until I do something different.

The mission and history of Infusco ….

A sign on their counter said their eggnog latte was divine, so I ordered one. Ashok was out in the car waiting like usual, and I thought to ask if they allowed dogs. They do! Ashok can now hang with me instead of waiting in the car. I set down her blanket, and we both enjoyed the Christmas tree and the quiet setting of this comfortable and welcoming coffeehouse.

The darkness of depression is still lingering with me this evening. But I got up and made myself a nice, healthy dinner. A task so simple feels overwhelming when I’m depressed. But, I have to say it made me feel a tad better to put some effort into taking care of me. I think I’ll turn off this computer now and go read for a bit. Surely I have something light and humorous on my Kindle to ignite a little lightness in my spirit. If not, I can always fall asleep and get some rest. Either way, tomorrow will be another day.

We got out for a hike today at Warren Dunes State Park. That helped my mood a bit, too….

 

The Underdog: Base Layers of Merino Wool

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You can’t see it, but I have my Smartwool base layer on!

The Daily Prompt today is underdog. For some weird reason, the only thing I can wrap my mind around is underwear. Is there an underdog of underwear? Honestly, my base layer I wear when I’m running is sort of like the underdog of my wardrobe. It may not get the audience or attention that my outer layer gets, but it is definitely an unsung hero. With out it, I would freeze. (How’d you like that transition?)

When I took a job as a bird keeper at the Knoxville Zoo, I had to learn how to dress for winter. Much of my day would be spent outside raking up bird poop, washing water bowls and checking on the health of our bird collection. My supervisor told me to get lots of long underwear, and I ordered it from Land’s End. I was astounded at how much difference it made to wear a base layer. I was always toasty warm. But the long underwear in those days was thick cotton or silk. While both had advantages, they are not nearly as nice as the base layers we have today.

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I have a hard time convincing my friends in Louisiana that I don’t get really cold up here.  I dress in layers. These days, I almost always have a merino wool layer next to my skin which keeps me toasty even when wearing skirts. Smartwool makes tights that are cute, soft, warm and very durable. I wore one of about 4 pair almost every day last winter. I’d throw them in the washer and dryer, and they still look great even after a year of constant use. I bought three more pair at the end of the season on clearance.

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I bought Smartwool base layers two years ago for backpacking. Our backpacking teacher said they were the best for sleeping and for wicking moisture on hikes. I wear those things on runs and even for sitting around the house. Occasionally I wear them for sleeping. I could easily use another 2 or 3 pair, but they, too, are expensive. And now I’m salivating about some Smartwool running tights. If I could wear that stuff year round from head to toe, I’d be thrilled. I even have a Smartwool balaclava and neck gaiter!

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Yesterday I ran upon a blog claiming that Merino wool is the hot new technical wear for athletes of all kinds.  Those sheep live in very cold climates but have to suffer through pretty warm summers. So, the wool is very warm but is breathable enough that it’s not too hot when temps rise. This stuff is like a miracle. And, another blogger I follow was laughing at himself because he has never been happier since he paid $25 for a pair of Merino wool cycling socks. Who knew wool was the workhorse of the underwear business?

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Yoopers, Fudgies and Trolls: North Country Trail Conference

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Two years ago when I was hiking in North Carolina, I ran into a couple who was very active in the Appalachian Trail Conservancy. They told me I should check it out. Promises of meeting like-minded people and getting inspired to hike the Appalachian Trail really attracted me to the idea but I never got on the ball to make plans to go. So, when I saw that the North Country Trail Association had a conference, I registered on the first day it was open. I was so excited!

I planned my vacation around the weekend festivities in Marquette, my new favorite place. I also prepared myself to create a Plan B in case I got there and didn’t feel comfortable. I do get socially anxious sometimes when I’m around new people, so I never know how it’s going to go. Besides, all these folks know each other, so I was a little unsure if I’d feel like a fifth wheel. So, Plan B was in place, and I showed up Thursday morning for the first hike.

It was a lovely hike to Little Garlic Falls in the Little Garlic River. The trail reminded me so much of the Appalachians. The beautiful little stream snaked through a dense forest with rocks and evergreen trees. Although it wasn’t as hilly as North Carolina, it was every bit as beautiful and not nearly as well-traveled. We sat on a boulder and had lunch at the waterfall while the others crawled over the boulders and crossed to the other side of the stream.

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It was easy to talk to people on the hike, but I was a bit worried about dinner. I arrived at the social hour at 5 PM, and there was no one there but me. Eventually, a few other people arrived, and I started to talk with a couple from the Eastern Upper Peninsula. Pat and Bob were long-time members and very active in trail work. We talked for awhile, and they invited me to sit at their table. I met the rest of their group, and happily I met my “family” for the week. Every night we dined together and enjoyed the programs. I even took Ashok to their campfire at the campgrounds on Friday. They were very nice and were very excited to have someone new to add to their hiking and trail work group.

As we talked, they each held up their hands to show me where they live in Michigan. If you’ve ever noticed, Michigan is shaped like a pair of mittens. The Lower Peninsula is one, and the Upper Peninsula is the mate. They also informed me that there were two kinds of people in the world – Yoopers and people who want to be Yoopers. ( A Yooper is a person from the UP.) Furthermore, they said that anyone from below the Mackinac Bridge (me) was a troll. If a Troll moves up to the UP, they are then called a Fudgie. Apparently, you are only born a Yooper……you can never become one.

So, any dream of becoming a Yooper was dashed at that point. However, I can certainly visit. I liked pretty much everybody I met up there, and the conference was highly educational and entertaining. The first night we had a phenomenal presentation on history of the Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park. It has the largest stand of old-growth forest in the country. I cannot wait to get over there and do some hiking.

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I attended a long distance hiking session, a “comedy on the trail” session and a fascinating session where Alex Maier showed his documentary about hiking across the UP. I gasped out loud when I saw the stars and the Northern Lights, and I made a mental note to get out to see that as soon as I can. I’m going to include the links to his documentary below for your enjoyment. It is worth watching to see this beautiful country through the lens of a great filmmaker. He even has some great footage of his winter backpacking. I don’t know if I’m up for that yet, but it was really interesting and beautiful to see!

Have a great week, y’all! Don’t ever be afraid to try something new. You never know how it might change your life.

Yooper Tours Teaser 

On Da North Country Trail: Section 1

Section 2

Section 3

Section 4

Going Up and Up and Up: The UP

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“Go West, young man,” is the rallying cry that drove many of our forefathers to the Western U.S. to find their fortunes. For some reason, my compass always tells me to “Go North, young lady”. Now that I live north, the only place to go is to the top of the world that ends at Lake Superior – the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.

I went from Calumet to Eagle Harbor to Copper Harbor….

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Because I was heading even further north this time to the Keewenaw Peninsula, my GPS sent me around Lake Michigan on the Wisconsin side. I drove up to Green Bay on Sunday. My friend Dan who is visiting in Michigan this week told me to be sure and explore Door County. I thought it might add too much time to the drive, but when I realized it was only about an hour and back out of the way, I jumped at the chance.

Sturgeon Bay

 

I only had a few hours there, but we stopped at a cherry farm to score lots of cherry yummies and had a cup of coffee and a potato pancake in Sturgeon Bay. Sturgeon Bay is a lovely sort of canal that runs across the peninsula. Big ships were parked at the docks alongside one of the biggest yachts I’d ever seen. I spent a little time watching the water go by and then took off to Cave Point which was recommended in a brochure.

 

I thought I’d go by Cave Point and Whitefish Dunes State Park, and I was pleasantly surprised when I saw that they were right next door to each other. In fact, I walked in and out of the parks as I strolled along the almost-California-like shoreline. This was a stunning rugged place that sounded almost as beautiful as it looked. Water crashed and popped under the cliffs like small explosions. I can’t even imagine the intensity of a winter storm.

Scenes from Door County

 

After dragging myself away from the peaceful place, I set my GPS to north, and up, up, up I went. I ended up in Calumet MI. On my itinerary it was just a place to stay, but Calumet was much more interesting than I imagined. The Keewenaw peninsula was a rich copper mining area in the days when America was installing electricity all over the country. Native Americans first mined copper here for tools. Then immigrants landed in the frozen land to find their fortunes in copper mining.

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Eventually greed, the Great Depression and a big strike dealt a blow. It didn’t kill the industry, but it would never bounce back. I would have loved to have taken some of the tours provided by the National Historical Park, but most of them were not scheduled while I was there. It was fascinating to run downtown through the mostly empty magnificent old buildings. The city’s population was over 60,000 in its heyday, and now it’s only about 1,000. But all of those beautiful buildings and mining operations are still standing. It was like a big, beautiful ghost town.

The Drive to Copper Harbor

 

I continued to drive north. This last stretch is the narrow peninsula that juts out into Lake Superior. Even though the UP is remote, this area is even more remote than the rest. It is also extremely beautiful. Known for its outdoor adventures, the upper Keewenaw is just as crowded in winter as in summer. People are either snowmobiling, skiing, snowshoeing, mountain biking, canoeing and kayaking or hiking. And there is always fishing.

And then there is the Jampot…. a monastery of baking monks.

 

I stayed in Copper Harbor which is a tiny little town on Lake Superior. The entire village wasn’t more than a half-mile long. I stopped at an ice cream parlor and talked to the teenage girls that worked there. They said summer is fun, but they get out and snowmobile and ski in the winter. They said there are always kids playing hockey on the lakes, and snowmobiles are constantly flying by. They spent a little time talking about some of the boys they know and which ones were dangerous snowmobile drivers. In the summer they find natural diving boards for diving into the freezing waters.

Copper Harbor

 

The whole trip has been interesting to say the least. It’s been beautiful, too, but I’ve enjoyed learning about this area. I bought myself a pendant with greenstone, the state gem. Apparently, it’s hard to find now. I suppose now that I’m a Michigander, I should have one!

I’ll be in touch later…. 

A Watery Loop Deep in the Woods

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In planning a hike for my first day here, I got out my handy guide to hiking in the Upper Peninsula and researched the popular hikes. Some were heavily traveled. Nope, I’m not looking for that. Some were not well-marked, and the guide said to bring a compass. Hmmm… I’m not that confident in my navigational skills that I’d go off alone in a strange land. And one or two of them just sounded like a little woods hike. I wanted to see something special.

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I finally broadened my geographical search and found a section on Craig Lake State Park. The guide promised that this trail is so remote that you wouldn’t hear another mechanical sound after you parked your car at the trailhead. It was also in moose country which meant I might have the opportunity to see a moose although it would be highly unlikely. I loved the remote nature of it, and it said the trail was well-marked, was part of the North Country Trail AND went around a lake. If worse came to worst, I could just follow the lake around. This sounded easy enough to navigate but rugged enough to feel like I was deep in the woods.

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I was a little worried about the drive to the park. The guide said the dirt road to Craig Lake State Park was 7 miles long and was very rough – rough enough that you had to have a vehicle with pretty high clearance. I wasn’t sure about that, but I sort of figured if it looked like I couldn’t make it, I could always turn around. I googled the State Park, and the same warnings were there with no additional information that made me feel better about my Rav4. But there was a Facebook page, and I got on it and read some of the posts. It sounded like people went back there on a regular basis, so I got a little less worried about the road.

That is until I saw this sign….

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I looked at Ashok and asked her what she thought….

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“What? You gonna let a little dirt road scare you?” she said. “We’re going. Drive.”

So, we started down the road, and all looked pretty good most of the way. I read later that the park service had come in and removed some of the larger boulders, so I guess the road was worse at one time than it is now. About 6.5 miles in I came upon a huge puddle of water all the way across the road. I wasn’t sure I could get through it without getting stuck, and there was no way I could get help if I did. I walked up and looked at it, and the mud did seem pretty soft. Just behind me was a little place I could park, so I decided to park there and hike the rest of the way in.

Which one doesn’t belong?

 

 

Right at edge of the lake were four guys getting out of their tents and having breakfast. Their canoes sat at the edge of the water and the campsite, and I waved as we walked by. The first part of the trail was an old logging road. The forest was lovely, dripping with last night’s rainwater and painted with every shade of deep green. A carpet of ferns covered the forest floor with a feathery touch. Sunshine dappled through the leaves, and I could hear nothing but birds.

 

A mile or so in, we came upon the cabins. A woman was walking to the outhouse when we passed by, and a man was standing in the kitchen with his cup of coffee. You can’t drive back there, so I guess you have to haul your stuff by foot or wagon. In fact, it became obvious that you would have to portage your canoes at least a mile and as many as four miles depending on where you wanted to camp and launch. This must be a great place to come for peace and quiet. And I hear the fishing is phenomenal, too.

Tadpoles!

 

The logging road ended, and the trail became single-track at the cabins. After that, the woods looked more and more like the woods in Appalachia. Except we saw no one until we got almost at the end of the trail. So, we had the trail to ourselves for the full 4 hours it took to hike it. It seemed longer than the 7.9 miles mentioned in the guide book. And the last part was really hilly. We got a workout for sure.

Lunch…

 

We stopped for lunch at little river that had been dammed up by beaver. A beautiful suspension bridge provided an easy cross, but I opted to go sit on a boulder and look at the lake for awhile while I had a lunch of fresh cherries, smoked whitefish and Wisconsin cheddar. I kept hoping to see a beaver, but I only saw dragonflies – lots and lots of dragonflies.

Toward the end of the trail, the markers got a little murky, and I got a little nervous that we weren’t on the trail anymore. However, I’d see a marker every now and then of a different color, so I felt sure we were on some trail. And I could see the lake on my right. The map confirmed that was right, so we kept walking. And, sure enough, we finally ended up right where we started. More men were arriving with their backpacks and loaded up canoes. I suppose it was going to be a great fishing weekend and guy’s getaway.

 

I’m not sure what impressed me the most about Craig Lake. The forest was really beautiful. There were a couple of lovely points where we sat to take in the view. Those were nice enough to make me want to come back and throw a tent for a few days on the campsites. But what struck me most was how remote it was. Man had not changed it much over the years. It was pristine. I had the distinct feeling that I was just a tolerated visitor in a world where I didn’t belong. They say the UP has more animals than people. I sensed that here. I felt like an intruder. And I felt immense gratitude to witness what most people never will.

 

An Outdoor Playground in Michigan

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If you recall, last weekend I had so much fun backpacking that I wanted to try it again over the Fourth of July holiday. I’d love to do the Manistee River Trail. However, as I researched it, that trail is very popular over the summer and particularly crowded on holiday weekends. No…. that’s not what I had in mind.

As I thought about Plan B, I remembered that I have always bad experiences camping on holiday weekends. Holidays are amateur hour in the woods. More than once I’ve been camped next to a bunch of drunk men who couldn’t keep their voices down after midnight. No, thanks. That’s not what I had in mind either.

The Mackinac Bridge that spans the Straits of Mackinac…..

I’ve been wanting to head to the Upper Peninsula (UP) of Michigan. I’m going to the North Country Trail Conference in late July in Marquette, but my agenda will be set with conference activities. Although I’ll be doing lots of hiking, I won’t have the freedom to explore. So, I started thinking that maybe this would be a good time to tack an extra day onto my four-day holiday and drive as far north as I can go without going into Canada.

The UP reminds me of a mini-Alaska. Winters sock it in for months at a time but that doesn’t stop people from enjoying snow sports. Snowmobiling is huge up here, and snowmobile trails are as plentiful as roads. I really want to come up here to see it in winter, but I’ll have to get my adventure hat on and take the chance on driving in even snowier weather than at home. And the summers here are divine.

Cut River Bridge and Delta

 

 

I got here yesterday, and I’ve been driving around and hiking as much as I can. I’ve been to the UP twice in the past. As I pass the places I stayed with my second husband, I realize that we didn’t do any of the outdoors stuff up here at all. WTF?? I’m not sure what we were thinking. We stayed in McKeever Cabin which is a remote cabin, but all we did was stay in the cabin and skinny-dip in the lake. I passed the road where we rode bikes, and I laughed because we rode our hybrid bikes on a stupid highway. Why didn’t we get in the woods? What a waste of time!

Lake Michigan Recreation Area…

I took the long way up here and stopped in Manistique, the Lake Michigan Recreation Area and hiked around the Cut River Bridge. The lady at the Welcome Center in Mackinaw City told me about a place called Big Spring where the water is so clear you can see huge fish all the way to the bottom. I stopped there, too, but I didn’t take the glass-bottomed boat ride. It was jammed with people and dogs, and I was looking for a more secluded experience. But the spring was lovely just the same.

Big Spring aka …..

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I don’t know if I’ve ever seen Lake Michigan look so raw and beautiful as it was yesterday. And Ashok and I saw and waded in three Great Lakes in one day – Lake Huron,  Lake Michigan and Lake Superior. All were cold. All were sandy. And all were stunningly beautiful. It was a very special drive.

Lake Huron

Most of the businesses here are locally-owned, so I visited with the shopkeepers and asked for recommendations on what to buy. I bought smoked whitefish and Wisconsin cheddar from the man that smoked the fish at the Cut River Store. I had my first pasty from Lehto’s Pasties as soon as I got on the peninsula. Pasties are meat pies that are a UP tradition. I can just imagine eating these hot hand-held pies in the dead of winter. They are so filling! We didn’t eat any of those when we were up here before either!

Ashok and I hiked today, but I’ll tell you all about that in a post of its own. Suffice it to say that I am falling in love with the UP. As I drive down the road surrounded by wildflowers, water and green, my mind’s eye overlays an image of what it might look like in winter … then in fall with the leaves changing. Click, click… those images keep shifting in my head and I wonder what it would be like to live up here. Could I take a snowmobile to work? How about munching on a pasty after a winter run? What might that cold wind feel like off Lake Superior in January? Brrrr …. I’m chilled already. Or maybe it’s the 50-degree July evenings that are raising goosebumps on my arms. No sweating this year!

Michigan Goodies!

 

 

 

The River IS Your Life

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With my meditation practice becoming a regular part of my life, I am starting to realize what it feels like to settle in and just be. About 40 minutes a day, I am comfortable just allowing the world to flail wildly around me without my participation. I just breathe. It feels comforting to just let it all go on about its business.

As the feeling of “just being” becomes more normal, I am very aware of the stark contrast of how I feel when I’m “trying to make things happen”. I am aware of my striving. I am aware of my judgment and criticism of the things around me. I am aware of the difference in the way I feel in comparison with my few minutes a day of just being me. And I’m developing a strong preference for just being. Not ironically, I’m starting to realize the benefits of meditation.

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I was canoeing last weekend, and I had a gentle reminder about striving. The person in the front of our boat was hell-bent on steering the boat to where we needed to go. This person was also the strongest in the boat. So, when he saw an obstacle ahead, he’d dig in and paddle, paddle, paddle furiously in the other direction. The current in the river kept coming, of course, and the rest of the boat would lurch in the direction of the obstacle. Our rudder person ended up in the trees every time. I spent most of my time paddling backwards trying to compensate for his over-compensation. I had to use my meditation practice to just let it be what it was and play my part. A few times I suggested that he not do that as it was throwing his wife in the trees, but he couldn’t stop this habit. And it was, in a word, frustratingly meaningful.

At one point in our journey, there was a tree felled across the river with minimal space between its branches and the water. Our “wild man” decided we should paddle wildly to get under it. The only problem was there was no room for us to get under it. I suggested just as we were about to hit it that we slow down and just pull ourselves under the branches SLOWLY. I can’t imagine what would have happened if we’d slammed into that tree. Thank heavens he relented.

Even though my job and my new preference is to just be, it doesn’t mean that I don’t have something to contribute. In fact, it is quite the contrary. Part of “being” is being who I am. The river didn’t change because our canoe was struggling. The river just kept being the river. It was beautiful. We complained because it was cold. We complained because it was high, and the water was swift. We railed against its tendency to be inconsiderate of us in where it landed its debris. The river said, “It is what it is, and I am who I am. Your job is to learn to work with me – not fight against me.”

The person in the front of our canoe seemed to have the attitude that we needed to hurry up and get this done and avoid any obstacles. I’ve been that person myself so I’m not judging. But we got better as we learned to navigate obstacles, work together even if it meant compensating for someone else’s shortcomings and just let the boat float for a time and enjoy the scenery.

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I realized that paddling – and life – is about the journey. It’s about teamwork if you are with a team or honing your own skills if you are alone. The challenge is to work when it’s time to work and to “just be” when the waters are calm. And sometimes, you have to “just be” and let the obstacles overtake you. The trick is to learn to work with the river. Use the current to help you navigate instead of fighting it. Harness its energy and work with it, and you can go right where you need to go. Let the obstacles teach you. Let the calm spells quiet you. Realize that you are not fighting the river for your life. The river IS your life.