Earlier start today than usual. At Nate and Nancy's suggestion we get up at 5:30. By 7:00 we're packed and moving. Lunch at Mitchell State Park. Just as well as they had few spaces left, even for a Sunday afternoon. Picked site 420, back near the Railroad Grade Trail to Lake Michigan.
After camp is set up, we walk to the Peterson Road Beach. The water is cold, but invigorating. I've never seen so many cars parked here before. Don't know if it's because of the weekend or the weather being different this year. Nate and Nancy played like the water sprites they are, leaving me slightly to one side, as I've never really cared for swimming much. I suppose the round trip to the beach is something like 2 miles. The trail follows part of the route I took when I walked back from White Pine Campground last year. The ground wasn't as dry this year, and as a result the moss was a vibrant green. I thought I recognized some waxy-looking, small green leaves along the trail. I was right-wintergreen. The last time I was conscious of that smell was at Grandfather Bauss's farm-the place was covered with the stuff. It wasn't much of a farm either. No one recalls when anything was last planted there. He only bought the property for the timber to build his house in Midland. I'm pleased to be able to show Nate the source of something he understood growing in the woods. Perhaps he will remember the lesson-that there are things which come from non-cultivated plants; that foods and flavors can be found all around us.
I would like to study plants-began Gibbon's "Stalking the Wild Asparagus" but found the information a little sparse. I want something which could be titled "All the Edible Plants of the U.S.", with extensive color plates and range maps-much like Peterson's bird books.
Today is not as much a complete shift in attitude, since I've already spent the last three weeks on leave from the U of M. The month off has let me do quite a bit, yet I've accomplished far less than I wished.
After dinner, we went to Pierce Stocking Drive, and walked the Cottonwood Trail-about 1.5 miles. Cooler than last year's midday hike, and less crowded. Nate suffered his first bee sting, making me glad I'd brought my small first-aid kit. A few tears, and then hardly any further notice. Thankfully, he proves not to be allergic to bee stings.
Back to camp and bed, with just a few droplets from a sky that was supposed to yield thunderstorms this afternoon. Perhaps we'll have them tonight. If so, I've not made the mistake of leaving the rainfly off the tent this year.
Drove into Leland first thing this morning to locate the boat landing and time the trip. Almost a flat hour from Leland to Platte River. Need to depart on Wednesday morning no later than 8:00 to leave time to find parking and the like. Had lunch at the Good Harbor Bay trailhead; 2.7 mile loop in the woodland behind the dunes. Marshy and low, with some beech-maple forest. Mushrooms of maybe two dozen varieties everywhere you look. It's been a wet year according to Becky Thatcher. I'm reminded how little I know about mushrooms. I'll have to see if I can find someone who does a mushroom class next spring. I'd like to be able to try a few different varieties when I'm out here. Nate has exhibited an irrational fear of daddy longleg spiders-which were also abundant today.
Later, we did part of the Pyramid Point Trail-from the trailhead to the overlook and back. Total distance about 1.2 miles. The steep uphill climb is rewarded with a spectacular view of N. Manitou Island and the lighthouse from about 400 feet above the water. Another of the incredibly steep bluffs this area is full of.
A brief stop at Becky Thatcher's to catch up on news, and meet David-her new husband. After dinner, we set off in a rain squall to see if we could find some place to walk. We end up at the Dune Climb just as the rain ends. Dramatic sky, with evening chilling down the sand. The idea that only 3.5 miles could take 4 hours seemed pretty silly to us, until we tried walking it in loose sand. I suppose we made about 1.5 miles round trip. All in all, Nate has done well with all of this walking. His shoes fit, and he seems capable of extended effort, though not without some complaining as the day wears on. If we ever decide to do the complete Dune Trail, we'll make it a whole-day affair-bring lunch and play at the waterfront before returning. We might also cheat a bit and begin from the Cottonwood Trail, which would let us avoid that first really awful slope.
Nate wants to go back to Pyramid Point. This time we do the whole trail. Nate holds up well, with only minor kvetching about the distance. In a sense, this is our last training hike-and a test to see whether or not Nate will hold up to it. We get back to Platte River mid-afternoon, and begin packing for the island. I'm forced to rig a tarp to protect us from the rain. Dinner and an early bedtime.
Up at 6:00, to face a cold breakfast, and packing the site. Arrive in Leland at 9:00. There are two boats in service, one for each island. Smaller one, obviously, is for North Manitou Island. About 18 people on board. Unloaded at the pier, then had to stand around while the rules were explained, as dark clouds moved in from the west. The talk was abbreviated by the start of rain, as everyone scrambled to get covered. The rain, cold and fairly heavy, lasted only about 30 minutes. So we began the day wet. We went south to the Centerline trail, then over to the clearing at Crescent City. Until then the entire hike was in beech-maple climax forest-very wet and dark, with the exception of maybe two clearings. At the Carlson Place we saw a large bird passing overhead-and heard it scream, possibly annoyed at our presence. I'm not certain, but it may have been one of the pair of Bald Eagles nesting at the south end of Lake Manitou this year. Perhaps I should have stopped at Swenson's Barn to camp, but the area was already occupied and I wanted to get a bit further along. The maps implied I'd be able to find a place to camp on the bluffs overlooking Lake Michigan about a mile north of the Crescent City dock. Unfortunately, the secondary trail was impassable, so we had to make camp quite late, still in the forest. Finding a level spot far enough from the trail proved challenging. We made a hurried camp and dinner, then settled down to a damp night.
The flat spot I found to camp on may have been an old logging trail running by a small ravine. It also seems to be the favorite travelling route of a large deer-who expressed his displeasure at our presence by snorting-almost screaming-for about half an hour sometime in the middle of the blackest night I think I've ever seen. The noise blew Nancy and I right out of a sound sleep, but never even caused Nate to stir. Otherwise uneventful night-with no attempted raccoon raids on our food supply. Another dry breakfast and early departure, as we had to make a dry camp. An incredibly wet morning, very heavy dew. Passed old logging camps-including a huge dump of #10 size cans; then down into a swampy valley, and back up again. Even the clearings are wet-with waist-high raspberry bushes encroaching on the trail. We finally get a chance to dry out at the Frank Farm-a huge clearing and orchard. From there it's only a mile or so to the village campground and some sort of civilization-which we reach about noon. Reliable water, and a clearing to dry out in. We spend a pleasant afternoon wandering around the area and the beach. Ah, to be clean and dry again!
Awake at 6:30 for a leisurely camp breaking. Carried our gear down to the dock, then explored Cottage Row. Some lovely old derelict cottages-any one of whose sites I covet. Late boarding the ferry-about 45 minutes behind schedule. On the way back the reason becomes obvious. Three and four foot quartering seas slow the boat-not because of its limitations, but rather as a courtesy to the passengers-the pilot picks a dog-leg route to minimize discomfort. This also has the result of adding a good half hour to the trip. Several green faces among the group-including Nancy, who perks up noticeably when she gets out into the fresh air above decks. Nate seems to be completely unaffected. Back late enough that both Platte River and D. H. Day campgrounds are full. We spend some time calling around, until we find a commercial campground 3 miles outside of Empire. Modern conveniences, but crammed about twice as tight as I'm used to at Platte River. No privacy at all-plenty of mobile homes and small children running about. Not too bad for just a single night. After some much-needed showers we go into Empire to dinner at Cafe La Rue-our long-time favorite restaurant attached to a laundromat. Last year breakfast there seemed steep at $21. Dinner was even more of a surprise at $67 for three-but worth it. Nate ordered a marvelous shrimp scampi on angellini. The sauce was butter, garlic, and lemon. I could really come to love seafood with a sauce like that. I think a little mint trimming was there as well.
It's now 10:10 PM-quiet hours here. The Platte River Campground wasn't this noisy at its worst. It's livable, and certainly beats driving home tired and dirty, but the situation highlights the essential differences in attitude between those who demand modern conveniences and those who crave a little isolation. Overall, this year has been better planned than last year. If nothing else, we only went to the store once, and that wasn't a special or even necessary purchase. I seem to remember we did grocery shopping at least twice last year due to forgetfulness on our part. I think it was even more often on our upper peninsula trip of two years ago. I'm gradually working my way back to the level of skill I had some fifteen years ago. One of the thoughts that occurred to me more than once in dealing with the group from a summer camp travelling on N. Manitou was that I had tents older than most of them-including the group leaders. I want to get in at least one more quick trip this year-I need to investigate solo equipment and approaches.
Up and away from camp early this morning. Checked out the Empire Beach this morning. Went into Glen Arbor to check on Becky, but she wasn't there. Took a bunch of dirt back roads, and found some distinct photographic possibilities. I'll have to explore some of these next year. A relaxed ride back home, reading the books we picked up at the park headquarters.
All images and text Copyright Dale Austin, 1962-2008