If rocks could smell fear, I’d be in trouble. I was never one blessed with agility, balance or sense of adventure. Yet, I always seem to find myself at river intersections that involve rushing water, a series of unstable rocks unreasonably spaced out before me and at least one expensive piece of camera gear around my neck. And, I’m generally alone with my irrational thoughts contemplating how many ways a simple slip could send me plunging to my death. Today was no exception.
But, today also marked a sense of wonder I haven’t had in a while. Today was a time out. It was an opportunity to wander in the woods and get lost in my thoughts. To remember why I choose to live here. I put on my tourism pants, loaded up my camera gear, filled my traveling coffee mug to the brim and set out on a day-long adventure in northern Bayfield County. I had exactly 8.5 hours from daycare drop-off to pick-up for just me.
My first stop may or may not have involved some doughnut holes from B’s Busy Bakery in Iron River. Listening to the Growth Show and snacking on sugary sweets, I drove the windy and scenic county highway to Port Wing. It was a perfect summer day. Once in Port Wing, I did a quick leg stretcher at Twin Falls. In the past, I’ve generally stayed up top but today I opted for the lower falls trail. Recent rain had the river higher than normal for summer, but certainly not the powerful rage spring often brings. It also meant repeated river crossings, to my final resting spot of a gentle waterfall. It was a great warm-up to the day.
From there, I headed to Herbster beach to enjoy a few more sips of coffee and catch my first real glimpse of the lake. I never tire of seeing or listening to her music. The rippling of waves washing up along Lake Superior stones far surpasses any meditation tape. I leave, ready for a power walk thru the woods.
Next up is a 3-mile hike at Lost Creek Falls. Thanks to the Bayfield County Forestry department, the trail is much improved from my infamous first date with the hubby (you can read more about that here). In fact, it even has a trailhead with parking, signage and a pathway patched with gravel and crafty boardwalks. It is quite impressive. But, the trail is just a prequel to this out-of-the-way waterfall.
I have yet to meet someone on this trail. Of course, a river walk wouldn’t be complete with a series of rock crossings, but I’m feeling extra dangerous today. (It helps that the water is only 5-6 inches deep). This sense of adventure ends with me getting my feet wet but saving my d-slr. Success comes in many shapes and sizes.
Someone has left an Inukshuk directly in front of the falls. This Inukshuk, which is a signal of one being on the right path, resonates with me today. While much of today is about having fun, one can’t help but contemplate life while immersed in nature. This symbol seems all to appropriate for the questions I’m trying to answer in my head.
I glance at my watch. It is approaching lunch time and decisions must be made. I opt to skip lunch and instead, consume my weight (and then some) in calories at Harbor House Sweets. This is a somewhat new candy and sweet shop in Washburn. I plan for just a few small chocolates and some almond bark but out of the corner of my eye, I cannot help but notice the luscious chocolate cupcakes staring me down. I casually ask about them. As the words, infused with caramel come out of the owner’s mouth, I’m immediately sold. I know mood can affect one’s taste buds and perhaps that had something to do with this experience, but honestly, it was the best cupcake I’ve ever consumed. And, I have consumed quite a few cupcakes in my day. I would have shot an interior shot of this gem but I was driving. By the time I reached Houghton Falls outside of Washburn, the only thing left to photograph was an empty wrapper.
I haven’t been to Houghton Falls for a few years. I must admit, I was a bit taken aback by the intense signage in the parking lot. Lots of lines through things, warnings about surveillance cameras, and even an automatic gate that will lock you in the parking lot if you are there after 8 pm in the summer. If you happen to get stuck, plan on paying a fine. I’m sure all of this is being driven by a few nimrods who can’t respect public land and a community that wasn’t expecting usage of this trail to be quite so high, but still, I’m having a few moments of Gooseberry Falls PTSD and the time I had to take a bus into the park during fall peak season. Pretty sure there were more people in nature that day then in my entire town. That said, my car is the only one in the parking lot on this beautiful day.
Round trip, I’ll only clock about 1.6 miles on this trek. It is a short, yet interesting walk. The massive rock gorges, multiple waterfalls, and ultimate view of the rocky ridges of Lake Superior reminds me slightly of the North Shore, but without the crowds. It is peaceful here. Once at Lake Superior, I take a few moments to take in the views. A single bird floats past me, basking in the sunlight.
I jump in my car and head north to Bayfield. It is the first time I’m seeing crowds of any sorts. Main Street is full so I park on a side street next to Silver Waves Jewelry. I pop in, hoping to purchase a bracelet I had seen at a holiday sale last December. It has already sold. My heart dips a little until I learn she’ll remake a similar one for me. A custom bracelet—seems like the perfect trinket to wear as a reminder of today.
Next up, one last power walk above the well-known Sea Caves. My husband mentions a shortcut that may or may not involve parking illegally on a road named after his favorite home improvement store. Accurate directions including, just go to the end, are my guide. Turns out the town road is closed before I get to the end, but given my poor sense of direction, I figure I have to be closer to the caves than if I drive to the trail head. Turns out that my poor sense of direction is still strong. Pretty sure I clocked more miles on that town road than if I had just hiked the trail. But, before long I’m hearing the deep bass of frigid Lake Superior water pushing up against the sandstone caves before succumbing to the wall of stone and heading back out to sea. Standing above the caves, I can’t help but question when the caves might finally accept defeat and collapse under the power of this majestic beauty. Lucky for me, it isn’t today.
I hop back in the Subaru determined to make one final stop before the day is done. As I approach Cornucopia, I see the ship graveyard next to the green shed. I turn right into the parking lot and head into Halvorson Fisheries for some smoked fish. Within minutes, I’m leaving, armed with Lake Superior Trout for dinner, poor man’s lobster and the most beautiful piece of Brown Sugar Smoked Lake Superior Trout. I fill up my water bottle at the artesian well and plop on the sandy beach. I remove my shoes and run my feet through the white washed sand. Sitting hear alone on the beach, I can’t help but fill mom in on all that’s happened to me this past year. In this moment of quiet reflection, I know she’s listening.
Once done refueling on my savory and salt-infused snack, I make my way back to the car feeling more relaxed than I have in ages. I know some people have judges me for living a simpler life. They don’t understand why I’m not more aggressive in my professional life or pursuing life in the big city. The pressure to do more is always there. And I admit, I’m human. At times, I find myself equating my worth with job titles, mortgages and zip codes. But, today I’m reminded of all of the reasons I’ve chosen to live a simpler life. Simpler doesn’t mean less fulfilling, less meaningful, or less important. It isn’t for everyone. But, it certainly suits me. Any lingering doubts are quickly smacked down when I arrive home.
My son grabs my hand and pulls me down the trail to throw sticks in our lake. Afterwards, we head up to collect eggs and grill supper. We top off the evening with a game of baseball, biking up and down country road and a single two-handed hug that makes me feel like the richest woman on the planet.
Some people travel the world to find what matters. For me, a simple day in the woods in a place I’m lucky enough to call home is enough.