The Hike

(I first wrote this a year ago while hiking near Bean and Bear Lake near Silver Bay, MN. But, on this blustery fall day, I cannot help but share again.)

The anticipation was killing me. For months, I had patiently watched the calendar waiting for that brief moment in northern Minnesota where fall comes to life in a vivid, rainbow of colors. As the calendar ticked down to my day off, the gobs of storm clouds grew larger than life. Soon, warnings were out, communities in southern Minnesota were flooding, and the sky was black. For most, this would not be the ideal hiking conditions. Add to this, my husband’s stern warning that should I destroy my new Canon 5D by hauling it through the rain I was not getting a new one. Together, this should have been enough to hold me back. But, the stubborn Fin in me refused to back down. Mother Nature doesn’t wait for the skies to clear. Plus, a gray, rainy day means solitude, right?

The morning goes smoothly. A gorgeous drive along Heartbreak Ridge, accompanied with a perfectly brewed latte and Blueberry Scone from the Coho Café. And then, a quick glance at the map in the trailhead parking lot.

My hike starts out simple enough. Up and down, round the colored bend. Within minutes my underused hiking boots are covered in mud. I look up only to be blinded by needlelike mist piercing my face. Soon, the up and down just become up. Having glanced at the topography map prior to jumping on the trail to Bean and Bear Lake near Silver Bay, Minnesota, I knew what I was in store for. But, the lines always seem a lot less intimidating from the comforts of my car.

One hour, two hours, mist evolving into a steady rainfall, muddy trails transitioning into trails underwater… I’m starting to have second thoughts. Seriously Mother Nature, logic says as you climb higher, the drier the trail should be, right? Soon, the only break in the squishing of my boots is me cursing under my breath as the wind whistles by my face. Having chosen to do this hike solo, I have nobody to blame but myself. What am I thinking?

And, just as the gas in my tank was running out I have one of those moments. You know the ones I’m talking about. The ones where you are huffing and puffing, trying to catch your breath, and then you look up and for just a moment, the entire world stands still. Suddenly, everything is put in perspective. Suddenly, I realize how small I am in the grand scheme of things. And, looking out over the vast, untouched countryside, I can’t help but be in awe of how fortunate I am to experience this beauty—even if it is just for a moment. The moment isn’t perfect. The sky is far from blue and the fog removes the crisp color I had planned on seeing. But, in this haze everything in life seems clearer. One foot in front of the other, and eventually you reach your summit. Is it exactly what I had expected? Absolutely not. It is better. The hike down doesn’t seem nearly as bad.

I am 99.9999% sure I will not climb Mount Everest, hike the Poles, or save Polar Bears. It is unlikely my experience on this day will have any impact on anything other than my knees and my poor husband listening to my pathetic whining when the Ibuprofen wore off. But at this moment, nobody can take this beauty away from me.

Fall is an extremely busy time of year. The commitments are endless. But, we live in this place for a reason. Find time to take advantage of it. The past few years, I’ve stumbled across multiple reports about a decline in young people connecting with the outdoors. A Minnesota State Park survey shows the median age of users is on the rise faster than the median age of the state. The Department of Natural Resource conducted focus groups only to find that young people have their lives just too planned out to find time for visiting State Parks. Hunters, anglers and wildlife watchers are aging. And, some speculate that there is some correlation that this decline is loosely connected to the growing popularity and reliance on technology.

Today, I challenge you to prove “some” wrong and get outside. It doesn’t have to be a four-hour hike in the rain. It can be as simple as turning off your Blackberry, lacing up your tennis shoes and taking a stroll through the park. At the end of the day, life’s commitments will still be there, but perhaps you’ll be able to tackle the day-to-day with a clarity that can only be found in a hazy fall day where heaven and earth intersect in a grandiose view of what matters in life.

Fall’s Final Hurrah – UP of Michigan

High winds have taken a toll on fall in northern Wisconsin. So, I opted to head east to the Porkies this week to see what’s left of fall in the UP of Michigan. The Porcupine Mountains never cease to amaze me. Grandiose, humbling and frankly beautiful. Someday, I’d like to take a week to just throw on the backpack and log some serious miles within the Michigan wilderness. In the meantime, here’s a few shots of some popular hot spots at the park. (Please note: I did refrain from posting a pic from the Lake of the Clouds overlook. It wasn’t easy).

Frog Bay Tribal National Park

I’ve decided that my random posts on my official website is getting a bit out of hand. So, from now on I’ll post stuff on this site.

I have a story in today’s travel section of the Pioneer Press about Frog Bay Tribal National Park near Bayfield, Wisconsin. It is worth reading if you’ll be in the Bayfield area for Applefest next weekend. I have a hunch it won’t be nearly as packed as the Apple Orchards. And, by now I’m sure fall colors are spectacular. In case you want to see a few more pics from Frog Bay Tribal National Park, here you go.

Happy Hiking!

Homeward Bound

A room next to the highway makes for an unpleasant sleeping experience. On the flip side, it does mean we’re up and moving at an early hour. I’m feeling mixed about our final day. On the one hand, I’m anxious to see our pets and dive into my gardening that is getting a late start due to our vacation. On the other, the thought of returning to the daily grind and all that comes with it seems jarring compared the quiet days of reflection, contemplation and enjoyment we’re experiencing.

Our final day involves driving from Thunder Bay to Iron River. Along the way, three stops. The first is Kakabeka Falls. Steve rolls his eyes at the thought of another waterfall. This one does not disappoint, though. The falls drops about 130 feet, giving it the nickname “the Niagara of the North.”

 

We follow-up this stop with a very Wisconsinite thing—we visit Ontario’s only gouda farm. Thunder Oak Farm features more than a dozen types of gouda; many of which we taste test after watching a brief video and seeing some of the cheese making in action. The cheese curds are particularly delish. At less than 24 hours old, the expected squeak in our mouth is refreshing and fun. We do not leave Thunder Oak Farm empty handed. From here, we make our way to the border. Once again, we experience an unexpectedly and welcomingly easy crossing of the border.

Within minutes, we are parking at Grand Portage State Park. Steve and I have traveled the North Shore countless times. But, none of our journeys “up north” have made it to the high falls at Grand Portage State Park. The high falls, which are located on the Pigeon River and plummet about 120 feet, are the largest in Minnesota. We spend a few minutes watching the river cascade over the rocky canyon and make its way towards Lake Superior. As a kid, I spent a lot of time in school learning about the countless streams that have carved their way through layers of rock to find their way home to Gitchee Gummee. Today, watching the river in action, it helps me realize why I’m so strongly drawn to this region and why I’ll always consider the Lake Superior Basin my home. The clock is ticking. Steve is getting anxious. It is time. Stealing a kiss by the falls and snapping some final waterfall shots, I realize this is the perfect high note to end our trip around the big lake.

Divide and Conquer

We awake to sunny blue skies and plenty of heat. By mid-morning temperatures approach 80 degrees. Our jaunt through customs proves to be brief and unadventurous. I cannot complain. We stop at the tourist information center to pick up a map. After Steve struggled to find Lake Superior on the Ontario map, I question whether we’ll ever make it back to the states. A helpful volunteer points him in the right direction (or in this case, the correct side of the map).

After a brief drive thru the urban sprawl of Sault Ste.Marie, Ontario we enter the woods. It quickly becomes apparent that today will be one of the most isolated, undeveloped and in many respects, scenic stretches of the trip to date.

As we approach Lake Superior Provincial Park we make several stops along the coastline. The lake looms large here, dotted by a rocky coastline and endless horizons of towering pines. Our first major stop of the day is Chippewa Falls. This falls divides the Trans Canada Highway at its halfway point. The highway, which is the world’s largest national highway, extends lengthwise across Canada and is the only road we’ll travel today. During our stop we meet a couple from Germany that is making the Trans Canada trek over a course of 3-months. Our 8-day journey suddenly seems short.

After several more stops along the scenic coastline, we enter Lake Superior Provincial Park. It is here that my heart begins to race. We pull off at Agawa Rock. Here, we descend down a steep, unstable, and undeveloped quarter-mile drop through jagged rock. The trail alone is a heart stopper.

We finally reach the lake, where a steep drop-off with a tiny ledge awaits. After removing our shoes and socks, Steve slowly tiptoes out on the ledge. A rusty old chain is his only support. Beneath him, slippery rocks fade into the icy cold waters ofLake Superior, daring him to make one misstep. My heart is pounding through my chest.

He soon returns and questions whether I have the courage to walk out. This is something I must do. Why, you might ask?

The answer is simple. I am a photographer. And, along the rock ledge are multi-century old paintings created by native people. As I make my way down the slippery rock, my husband provides these words of encouragement, “if you fall into the lake, I can’t come get you. Just don’t panic and if possible, don’t smack your head. Once in the water, just make your way over to that point and pull yourself out.” As he’s shouting these words of advice I see the life vest attached to a 10-foot pull along the ridge, just in case.

Snap, snap, snap. I focus on balancing and trying to take a good snapshot of the faded caribou etched in the crimson stone. My adrenaline is pumping. On the way back, my legs seem weak but I somehow muster the courage to grab the rusty chain and make my way back to Steve. He grabs my camera and snaps a quick shot before I pull myself to safety. Another couple watches, patiently waiting their turn. Within moments, they strut their way to the rocky edge. They make it look so easy… Despite this, Steve says he’s proud of me. The coward in me is conquered. In this moment, I feel fearless.

Our next stop isn’t quite as adventurous. We decide to enjoy an afternoon beer on the beach at Katherine’s Cove. Under the sunny afternoon sun, I sip away at one of the last Keweenah brews we have left, enjoying an entirely deserted beach. Joey frolics by the water, barking uncontrollably at a rock. Suddenly I hear my husband chuckle. It appears the sun has taken a toll on our lounge chair, leaving him anchored in the sand.

From here, we head to Wawa. We check into a questionable motel at best. But somehow, the turquoise toilet seems appropriate here. We look forward to our free muffins in the morning, which marks the start to another day on our adventure.

Moose Capital of the World…

The sun is in full force today. With it, the bugs. More specifically, lots of hungry mosquitoes. Despite this, we forge ahead. Our first stop is the Seney National Wildlife Refuge where we encounter a variety of animals floating about the marsh. Eagle nests, baby geese, swans, and plenty of unidentified birds flutter around us as we wind along the unpaved road. At one point we let our puppy out to run full speed ahead. She loves the warm weather and open trail. All is well as long as we are moving. We pause to soak in the view and the infamous buzzing instantly becomes like a bad surround sound system. It is time to move on.

Our second stop for the day takes us to Newberry, Michigan where we enjoy a self-guided tour of an old CCC Logging Camp. In addition, the camp now features a variety of artifacts from that time period, including a museum of chainsaws. Suddenly, Steve thinks the $5 entry fee is the steal of the decade!

It is here we learn two things—first off,  Newberry is the Moose Capital of the World. Second, the main route to our next stop is under road construction. It turns out the road construction isn’t an issue. And, even though we never actually see a moose in the Moose Capital of the World, it makes for some fun souvenirs… including a sledding moose for our Christmas tree.

The drive to Tahquemenon Falls takes us down a windy, deserted paved road filled with garage sales that clearly are a weekly affair. Finally, we reach the entrance of the park. What a contrast. It is like the Disneyworld of northern Michigan. The packed parking lot reminds me of  Gooseberry Falls on on a fall weekend. Better yet, (or worse if you are going for an authentic hiking experience) a brewery sits within the park along with multiple cheesy gift shops. I cannot help but smile. A cold brew sounds good about now and I love a good, funny t-shirt.

It turns out staff isn’t expecting such a large crowd this Memorial Day weekend. The waitress apologizes at least a half dozen times for the obnoxiously long wait. It is after 2 pm and the lunch crowd is massive. The Lumberjack Lager settles our stomach until the fresh whitefish arrives. It is worth the wait. Then, a short ¾ of a mile hike to the largest waterfalls east of the Mississippi (minus Niagara Falls of course). It is a spectacular view.

For those wondering how a brewery ends up in a state park, it turns out long ago a man used to canoe upstream to see the falls. A time came when he was finally able to buy all of the land around the falls. Eventually, he sold the land to the state with the condition that there always be at least a short hike to the falls so that its beauty is maintained. I’m guessing he somehow worked the brewery into the deal as well… I’m not minding this arrangement today at all.

After hiking the lower falls, we continue heading north for our last major stop of the day—the Shipwreck Museum on Whitefish Point. It doesn’t disappoint. The artifacts are authentic, including the bell from the Edmund Fitzgerald. Growing up in Duluth, I always heard about the great ship and the “lake that never gives up her dead.” After touring the museum and outbuildings, we go by the lighthouse and over to the lake so Joey can get a drink from the big lake and stretch her legs.

As we climb over the observation deck, we are met with a graveyard of driftwood, endless calm blue water, abandoned pilings, a great lakes vessel, and an infinite number of skipping rocks. This is the Lake  Superior I love.

The tour book hinted at multiple moose sightings in the Moose Capital of the World. What it overlooked was the great sighting of all—A little slice of Heaven, right here on Earth.

Back in Civilization

Day one equaled no internet access so I’m already delayed in my posts but I did manage to write a quick recap last night of our first day adventures which I can post now, along with hopefully some photos from yesterday and today. In about 30-minutes, we’re headed out for a Sunset Cruise on Lake Superior around the Picture Rocks National Lakeshore. It is 70, sunny, and absolutely gorgeous! This is good since the first half of our day was solid drizzle. I’ve discovered that I have way too many photos to post (over 200 in the first 24 hours) but I’ll post a few at least. Enjoy!

Day One

Our morning starts out simple. After loading our car (and making one last trip to the house for that must have thing we “almost” forgot), we head east. Soon, we find ourselves inMichiganfor our first roadside attraction of Hiawatha – the world’s largest wooden Native American statue. After figuring out the self-timer, we snap a few shots and hop back in the car for the Porcupine Mountains Wilderness Park. There, we hike some trails and enjoy a cooler lunch under a bright green canopy.

Our focus for the afternoon is historic sites along theKeenewahPeninsula. Our first stop—Old Victoria. The mini-village is impressive from the parking lot. Unfortunately, the caretaker is nowhere to be found. This doesn’t prevent some great photos from happening, though.

As we role into Calumet, my guide book casually mentions Schute’s as the oldest known tavern inMichigan. I figure the bar is one more thing I can check off the list. Plus, my husband looks like he could stand a beer. Walking in, it is readily apparent this isn’t just any old bar.

Schute’s dates back to 1890. On tap, Keenewah Brewing Company’s favorite brews. (I highly recommend the Pick Axe Blond). What’s more intriguing, though, is what’s behind the taps. “Pretty cool glass,” my husband casually says to the man behind the bar. The bartender’s eyes immediately light up. He soon dives into a story about the Tiffany stain glass backdrop that 10-years ago sold for $1.3 million to a tourist. Unfortunately, (or fortunately forCalumet,MI), not a single insurance company would insure dismantling and shipping the piece so the piece remains. It is now owned by the town and is registered with the historical society. As the bartender wipes down the counter, he takes us back toCalumet’s mining boom. Stories about the original bar owner and the Speak Easy during prohibition role off his tongue, bringing me back more than 100 years.

Our historical trip continues at the Old Delaware Mine where a self-guided tour gives me a glimpse into mining life. Despite being in the 60s above ground, the weather is cold and damp in the mine. Our dog runs ahead, indifferent of the chill. I find myself grateful that my life is easier. On the way out, we meet Snickers and Oreo—two pet skunks who are an unexpected touch and attraction for an old copper mine.

Soon we arrive in Copper Harbor. The town itself takes mere minutes to explore. We’ve arrived too late to hit any of the shops. But, after chatting with the owner of the local bookstore in-town, we find ourselves driving down an unmarked (and unpaved) road to a hidden cove called Horseshoe Bay. The bay, which is now owned the Nature Conservancy, is speckled with skipping rocks and an expansive horizon of blue water. The million dollar view is preserved in perpetuity.

Our day comes to a close in front of a bright orange fireplace fire in a private cabin at the Keenewah Lodge. The lodge, which dates back to the 1930s, was built entire off the sweat and tears of the Great Depression. Following the Mining Boom, unemployment sat at 70-80 percent. Rather than sit, the men joined the CCC and built an impressive series of cabins, a lodge and an endless brick wall. Today, the lodge and golf course are owned and managed by the county ensuring many of the historical aspects remain.