Becoming an Outdoor Woman – Pure Michigan

bow bow1A fresh snow on Moon Lake made it finally feel like winter. The snow coincides with me getting the latest travel guide from Pure Michigan. Inside, I finally got to see an article I put together last winter in print. It is all about being an outdoor woman. The assignment was perfect for me. I absolutely love the UP and being outside. The trip was my first time away from Jake for a vacation. Granted, I was working the entire time but I left being reminded of how much I love experiencing nature and how I couldn’t wait to share some of these experiences with Jake once he’s a bit older. The edited version of the piece can be found here. Or, here is a much earlier draft that shared a bit more about some of the amazing women I met over this 72-hour period in Big Bay, Michigan. For anyone interested in experiencing the outdoors in an environment that embraces women and all of the insecurities we sometimes face when exploring the great outdoors, this camp couldn’t be better. Happy Reading!

Girls just want to have fun! The DNR provides a grown-up version of Summer Camp for women twice a year in the northern tip of the UP.

Ding, ding, ding! A bell rings signaling the start to my weekend long adventure along with dinner in what’s fondly referred to as the Big House. I follow the bright eyed, enthusiastic group of 70 women to cafeteria style tables where food and stories are passed with similar enthusiasm. Glancing at the hearty homemade lasagna and catching a whiff of the fresh baked garlic bread, it is easy to understand why. By the time I savor my last bight of homemade apple pie, it quickly becomes clear there will be no carb counting this weekend.

In fact, nothing is off limits this weekend at the Winter Becoming an Outdoor Woman (BOW) Camp at Bay Cliff Health Camp in Big Bay, Michigan (25 miles north of Marquette). Over the course of the next few days, I watch and participate with mother-daughter teams, friends, seniors and strangers as we build snow forts, sleep outside in sub-zero temperatures, dogsled, snowshoes, ski, cook, learn self-defense, tie flies, fish and laugh… a lot.

Laughing is key. BOW is a national program that originated in the 90s when a professor recognized one of the reasons women weren’t getting into fishing and hunting is because they prefer to be taught by women and want to learn in a non-competitive atmosphere.

This weekend, that sentiment rings true. “I love the instructors,” says Catherine Sanborn of Bruce Cross, Michigan. For 10-years, she’s made the trek to Big Bay. “They teach you to do things without yelling at you the way your husband might.” Over the years, she’s tried everything from fishing to handgun safety, while making friends along the way. “The people here become life-long friends.”

It is easy to understand why, given over half the participants and most of the volunteer instructors have been making the trek to Big Bay for years. “I’m a BOW junkie,” laughs 5-year veteran Carrie Moritz. Each year, she and her mother-in-law drive up from southern Minnesota to attend the summer and winter camp. She’s taken many of the classes, but one in particular has stuck.

“I’ve taken wood burning every year. Over the years, I’ve really honed my skills and now I’m selling pieces on Etsy and making things for friends,” she explains. “It is something I love that I never would have discovered without BOW.”

Woodburning, like so many of the other courses, empower you to try something new. As someone who is more comfortable running a half-marathon than drawing a stick figure, I quickly learn that pushing your comfort zone isn’t just physical. By the time I’m done etching a flaming red pen along a freshly sanded piece of Baswood, my charred name tag and swirling oak leaves are barely legible. But, this doesn’t stop me from wearing it like a badge of courage the rest of the weekend.

In-between classes, impromptu snowshoe hikes along Lake Superior, bonfires and S’moreos, saunas, board games, and relaxing in front of the fireplace provide a backdrop for new friendships to develop and memories to be made.

For Ilene Smith, her only goal was to do something special with her college aged kids. Chatting with them prior to our final meal together, her 19-year old daughter Alex casually says, “I don’t want to be morbid. But, this is something I could see talking about at my mom’s funeral. My mother doesn’t have a ton of money but what she’s given me is memories.”

Mission accomplished mom.

As I make my way to my car, I pause for a moment under the gazebo basking in the surprisingly warm winter sun. Before me, the world’s largest freshwater lake looms large. I soak it all in and can’t help but think back to our speaker the first night who shared her personal story and struggles while circumnavigating Isle Royale. “It doesn’t have to be perfect. Just worth it.”

Thirteen Seconds

Before you read this, I want you to pause for thirteen seconds.

Did you do it? It really isn’t that hard, right? I mean 13 seconds is nothing. It probably took me that long to type this sentence. But this past weekend, I discovered that 13 seconds in running is comparable to 8 seconds when riding a bull. It is flipping hard!

I ran my second timed 5k in my life this weekend. I showed up to the start feeling pretty good about things. I was still a bit sore from a cardio course earlier in the week that reminded me I’m old and need to cross-train but that’s a whole different story. All in all, I thought for sure I’d shave at least a minute off my time.

stillwaterThe race was in Stillwater. Great town for a race. I knew the finish line had moved but figured the course was roughly the same. Turns out it wasn’t. But, that’s no excuse. Both courses ended lower than they started. And, both were on the road so all in all, they were equal races. Similar to the May race, there were also many parent/kid duos racing. And yes, it is equally as disheartening to watch a child blast past you. This time around, it took me about ¾ of a mile to finally pass the pint size 5-year old who was racing with dad. Luckily, he found something interesting in the dirt to distract him or I might still be chasing him today. Granted, I could probably run a lot faster 30-years ago but regardless, it is humbling.

So anyways, I hit the final stretch of this race giving it everything I had. It felt good. In fact, there was a moment in that final stretch where I felt a bit like a superhero. I really need to add chariots of fire to my playlist. I was running so fast, I didn’t even have time to think I was going to fall over. As I approached the rubber mat, I glanced at the clock and was shocked. It had to be wrong. The time was much too similar to my last race.

After getting my medal, I propped myself against the wall and contemplated how this was even possible. The only reason I could come up with was there was a huge bottleneck at the start so when I factor in my start time, I’m sure that’s off by a few minutes. And in 5k time, that’s acceptable. A few hours later I received the email… it was in fact my PR but by 13 seconds. Yep. That’s it. Thirteen seconds. As I sit here, TWO days later, there is still some muscles in my inner thighs that hurt. And for what? Thirteen seconds.

Ugh. It doesn’t take a brain surgeon to understand why my time isn’t improving. This has been a summer filled with shortcuts on the course and quite a bit of overindulging. While I’ve completed my long runs to ensure I don’t injure myself at the half, I’ve been a little less focused on everything else that goes into running.

Running really is a sport where you get what you put into it. And to be honest, if I asked myself did I deserve to finish with a PR stronger than 13-seconds, well I didn’t. So for now, this is going to have to be good enough.

Good enough is tough getting used to. Even tougher is knowing that in 3-weeks the outcome will likely be very similar or even worse. I know I can change that. But saying it and doing it are two different things. This year’s goal of a half-marathon in less than 3-hours isn’t going to happen. But, I’m going to keep trying. And given everything going on right now, I am finding a way to be ok with that.

So that’s the latest from the back of the pack. It isn’t all rainbows in Moon Lake Runningland. Instead, a lot of ibuprofen, swearing and sweaty spandex. But, at least I’ve managed to keep all of my toenails!

Predator Round-Up, Sea Cave Mayhem, Playing Hookie and an Unwarranted Pity Party

Newsflash: Last week I had an unwarranted pity party. It started during my 5-hour drive home from the UP after a weekend of bonding with women at a 3-day Becoming an Outdoor Woman camp (more on that experience in a different post). I left the camp recharged and excited about life. But then, I had a bout of road rage with an irrational SUV somewhere in God’s country. In the heat of the moment and cursing him out for almost running me off the road, I missed my turn. It was an important turn that resulted in my 5-hour drive being more like 6.5 hours… in a place where there is no coffee. Seriously, look at a map of coffee shops (or any shops for that matter) in the route from Big Bay, Michigan to Iron River, Wisconsin. It is dismal at best. (Although Mount Huron Bakery in Ishpeming and Marquette makes up for it… almost).

About this time, I came upon a small town where trucks lined the highway on both sides for as far as the eye could see. My heart jumped for joy believing that any winter festival that draws this many visitors, must be stocked with some fabulous food and a well-kept porta potty. Imagine my surprise when I learned at the epicenter of this UP traffic jam was dozens of dead animals hanging from a poll. It turns out this winter festival was in fact the Kenton Predator Round-Up in which sportsman harvest as many bobcat, coyote and fox over a 3 day period as possible. Despite my curiosity, I opted to not stop at Hoppy’s Bar in Kenton.

It was about this time, something in me snapped. A full-fledged pity party began. I was irritated. I missed my son. I wanted to be vacationing somewhere warm, drinking something indulgent, and sporting cute summer sandals instead of oversized fishing boots. By the time I got home, my mood had only lightened somewhat. Then I logged onto Facebook and saw friend after friend posting photos from somewhere other than here. I was instantly jealous.

This sour mood continued for a few days. And then this happened. A co-worker was connecting with me on a project and mentioned she was taking the rest of the day off to hit up the Apostle Island Mainland Sea Caves. The sun was out. Temps were above freezing. I had no pressing deadlines. So, after a few logistical phone calls, I crashed her party and checked out of work a half day early. For those of you who know me, this is unprecedented. I’m a planner. I don’t randomly use my precious vacation time for spur of the moment events. This was huge (my life is in fact this boring).

Yes, the Sea Caves were busier than they’ve ever been when I’ve been there. Yes, I was a bit appalled by the number of folks I saw talking on their cell phone or shooting selfies even though I’m totally guilty of doing at least one of these things. But, somewhere along the way my mood lightened. I discovered that my life doesn’t involve cocktails on the beach…. right now. But man I’m blessed. I won’t bore you with the details but suffice it to say, crabby pants was squashed by the blessings in my life.
Looking back, it frustrates me that it took a day on a frozen beach to put things back into perspective. But then again, if I hadn’t, I wouldn’t have gotten these great shots. And for those who missed the memo, the caves are now closed for the season. So for all those folks sipping margaritas in the blistering sun, I’ll see that margarita with a locally made mead and Mother Nature’s glory.

Apostle Island Sea Caves Set to Open this Weekend!

The latest from the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore… Sounds like the mayhem could start-up again in northwest Wisconsin again this Saturday! PS If you are looking for some tips on what to do while visiting, be sure to check out my post from last year… 

Apostle Islands Ice Caves Open for Winter Viewing

seacaves1Bayfield, WI – For the third time this winter ice has formed along the Apostle Islands mainland ice caves.  This time it has formed with enough thickness and extent to allow viewing of the ice caves along the mainland unit of Apostle Islands National Lakeshore.  If conditions remain as they are or improve, the Ice Caves will open on Saturday, February 28th.

The Apostle Islands mainland ice caves feature some of the most spectacular cliffs and sea caves found in the Great Lakes.  The features are different every year, as is the route to see them.  This year there is very little snow and a lot of glare ice, making the route exceptionally slippery.  Ice cleats (e.g., stabilicers) will be a necessity this year and ski poles are highly recommended.

Ice conditions can change rapidly, so it is important to keep safety in mind at all times.  High wind speeds, such as those forecast for the near future, is a factor that can quickly change conditions and cause decreased visibility.  Visitors must prepare for cold conditions and possible extreme wind chill.  Beware of ice formations falling from the cliffs.   Because of such slippery conditions, bringing your pet is not recommended.  However, if you do, pets must be on a leash and under control at all times and pet owners must properly dispose of pet excrement in trash receptacles.  Finally, don’t forget a camera to take home a tangible reminder of this spectacular landscape.

The sea caves can be reached from the end of Meyers Road, 18 miles west of Bayfield off State Highway 13.  There is a $5/person/day fee for those 16 and older for visiting the caves, regardless of access point or method.  Please bring cash.  There will also be an annual pass available for $10/person. The annual pass is only available at Park Headquarters in Bayfield (415 Washington Ave.) during the Ice Cave Event.

For the most up-to-date information, visit the park’s Facebook page:  https://www.facebook.com/apostleislandsnationallakeshore or call the 24-hour “Apostle Islands Ice Line” at 715-779-3397 ext. 3. Information can also be found on the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore (www.nps.gov/apis), Bayfield County Tourism (www.icecaves.org), and Bayfield Chamber of Commerce (www.bayfield.org) websites.

(xxxx)

2015 Apostle Islands Sea Caves Update

february2
Photo Courtesy: Apostle Islands National Lakeshore

This post is a general public service announcement for those who are stumbling across this site due to my posts last year about the Apostle Islands Sea Caves. As of today, February 4, 2015 they are not open to the public. In fact, the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore posted this shot of the Sea Caves on Monday.

Again, I’m just posting this because I’ve noticed a spike in traffic of people reading posts about my Sea Caves experience last year and I don’t want anyone coming up here thinking the caves are open. Should they open, please note there will be a $5 parking charge. This is a great deal and would help cover the costs that come with having so many people visiting this national treasure. While the Sea Caves aren’t open right now via walking on Lake Superior, you can still access them from the top via a great walking trail. There’s also plenty going on in terms of the Apostle Island Sled Dog Races coming up this weekend, along with the infamous Bar Stool Races and Book Across the Bay on Valentine’s Day. What better way to spend time with your sweetie.

Meantime, I’m looking forward to an upcoming expedition that’s going to include the Eben Caves in upper Michigan. Expect to see plenty of photos from that adventure in early March.

The Wild Waterfalls of Iron County, Wisconsin – Part III

The tough ones.

I’m using tough in a generic sense. The falls I was able to find weren’t necessarily difficult to access or remote in terms of mileage on foot. However, they either involved fleets of steps, vague directions, or a lack of signage making it a bit of a hit or miss in terms of finding. That said, each of these falls is definitely worth visiting. Each ones presents an impressive view and in many cases an opportunity to enjoy the falls in complete solitude. Despite it being fall peak, these falls were not overly packed. In fact, with the exception of Potato River Falls, I was a lone hiker at each of these falls.

Potato River Falls
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
This falls barely makes this list. The primary reason is the falls involves at least 150 steps to and from the parking. The waterfall is a 90-feet drop on Potato River near Gurney. The falls is located within a town park that has rustic picnic campsites. I also found the outhouse to be particularly photogenic among the golden leaves. Once in the park, you have two main options. The first is to head to a nearby observation deck where you can see the river valley. This does not provide great views of the falls, though. From there, you can take a footpath to the dramatic descent down. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOne thing worth noting on this staircase, the step sizes vary dramatically depending on the steepness of the grade. In some areas I felt I could skip two steps each time while in other areas, a single step was the height of three. This is something to watch if you are use to uniform stair steps. In terms of finding the park, it is relatively easy. Take Highway 169 South from US 2 through Gurney. Turn west on Potato River Falls Road and drive approximately 1.5 miles. The park is clearly labeled.

Peterson Falls
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAPeterson Falls was my first stop of the day. At first glance, I thought this waterfall would be simple to find. To be frank, it ended up being way more complicated than it needed to be due to false directions. Both the Iron County website and Travel Wisconsin provide directions that reference an Ero Nasi Construction sign. I’m not sure at what point in time this sign existed and/or if I’m blind but after multiple drives along Highway 2 outside of Hurley and never noticing this large construction sign, I finally veered off highway 2 in frustration at Stoffel’s Country Store. It was here I noticed a dirt road heading the approximate direction of the falls. At the intersection of 2 and this road, a white TODD sign indicating Peterson Falls. Once you find that road, you drive approximately .3 miles. Directions imply a small turnaround. Highlight the word small. I missed what is the turnaround and ended up driving on what I can only describe as an ATV trail. Keep in mind this is literally 1 mile from a major state highway. Regardless, it definitely felt remote. Once parked, the rest is easy.

A spacious footpath through a dense forest leads you directly to the East Branch Montreal River. From there you follow the path and river upstream to Peterson Falls. It is a 35-feet drop and takes about 5-minutes to walk to. From there, you can continue along the footpath for additional views of the river. I followed the path for approximately 25-minutes before turning back due to a mixture of rain sleet. In addition to a couple of waterfall snapshots, I also enjoyed the side pools of water filled with swirling fall leaves.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Spring Camp Falls
Since several folks have written about this waterfall, I have to believe the falls does in fact exist. However, despite my best intentions to find this remote waterfall I certainly could not find it. It doesn’t help that the Travel Wisconsin website cuts off its directions mid-sentence. My secondary source from the County was more helpful but I was unable to find East Branch Road. Or, if I did, I didn’t know it was East Branch Road and the rustic path signs never came into my view. After more than an hour of driving up and down gravel roads in this approximate area I gave up. Next time, I may have to use a GPS.

Foster Falls
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOn the flip side, finding Foster Falls was a walk in the park compared to Spring Camp. The falls is somewhat remote in the sense that you are once again driving on unmarked roads. However, this waterfall has just one dirt road you travel down making it easier to navigate. Also, the road abrubtly ends when it intersects with the Potato River. From there, you just put your car in reverse until you see a dirt road on your right. You travel down this road right into a remote riverside campsite. Once parked, you can hop out and hear the falls. Follow your ears to Foster Falls. The 25-feet falls is the only thing you’ll hear in this country. Not much for traffic, homes, hikers, anglers. I was not only the lone sightseer on this fall Saturday afternoon but the only car on Sullivan Road. To get there, go north from Upson on Highway 122 for 5 miles. Turn left on Sullivan Road (this was not marked when I drove so be sure to use your mile gauge) and proceed 2 miles until the road abruptly runs into a raging river. When you get there, you’ll know you’ve gone far enough.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Wren Falls
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOf all the waterfalls in Iron County that I visited, this was my favorite. I’m not sure why. Perhaps, it was the drive in. It was particularly picturesque. It was also the most adventuresome portion of my journey. My 10-hour journey took place immediately following a solid 12-hour rainfall. Many of the roads were muddy and at times had standing water that I was never quite sure about. Each time, though, my trusty Subaru plowed through… except this time. During my drive to Wren Falls, I hit a particularly muddy patch of road. Unfortunately, my car halted. I’m confident, with a little acceleration motivation, I would have continued along my journey. However, it was during this time that a lone truck drove around the bend. In it, a man determined to rescue the damsel in distress. As someone who has watched a few too many after school specials, not to mention my remote location, it caused me great angst. Once standing in the muddy waterhole knocking on my car window and gesturing he could help, I decided to accept his help. In addition to being quite nice, he was very effective in getting my Subaru back on dry land. The timing was odd given he was the first and last truck I saw in this portion of my journey, but sometimes that’s how life works. I continued along until I hit the hairpin turn where a center road would take me to the entrance of the trail to the falls.

To my surprise, when I hit this turn, a large sign summoned me to the falls. The only downside – it was a rusted out sheet of metal, filled with bullet holes and spray painted Wren. It didn’t exactly scream pristine waterfall but at least it verified the directions. Once parked, I hopped out my car and made my way to the falls. The falls, which is located on the Forks River, is 12-feet. While this may not sound large, the vantage point from where you can see the falls makes if feel much larger. While there isn’t much in terms of a footpath to walk along the river, the natural rock formations lend themselves to scrambling up and down over ridges providing a number of angles to look at the river. In every case, the view doesn’t disappoint. I ended up spending nearly an hour taking in the sites of this waterfall and wandering through the woods. For those wanting to spend even more time exploring, a primitive campsite positioned just a hop, skip and jump from the falls await. To get there, head 5.5 miles south on US 2 on Highway 169. Take a left turn on Vogues Road. Travel about 3.5 miles until a hairpin turn. From here, take the center road for about 1 mile where the road forks. You can hike up the hill to the primitive campsite and waterfalls from there. (I missed that part of the directions though, and drove which is also a possibility. In all honesty, it is very easy to mix up ATV trails and dirt roads in this country).

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The Wild Waterfalls of Iron County Wisconsin – Part II

The easy ones.

Iron County has no shortage of water. The county boasts 300 crystal clear lakes covering 34,000 acres. To the north, the county line is Lake Superior. This creates the perfect storm of waterfalls—some easier to access than others.

Upson Falls:
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAUpson Falls is located within a well-maintained town park. The falls is a mere 18 feet drop along the Potato River but has picturesque river views that you can access via a rugged walking trail. In terms of amenities, there are a couple of shelters, grills, camping spots and a permanent out building with bathroom facilities. To access the park, take Highway 77 into Upson. Turn north at Upson Town Park. This particular waterfall is well signed.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

 

Gile Falls:
In full disclosure, I did not photograph or see this waterfall due to torrential rain. However, I did find the parking area and view the nearby Gile Flowage. Given its proximity to Upson Falls, I thought this was worth mentioning. This is a beautiful flowage with a modern park, boat launch and amenities. According to the Iron County website, the falls include a 15 foot drop on the West Branch of the Montreal River. To access, take Highway 77 into Montreal. Turn left of Kokogan and then right onto Gile Falls Street.

 

Superior Falls:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASuperior Falls hugs the Wisconsin/Michigan border. It is an impressive waterfall and at least during my viewing, a popular spot for anglers. The waterfall itself is a 90 foot drop of the Montreal River. It is the final drop the river makes before heading into Lake Superior. The falls is located next to an Xcel Energy dam. There is a dirt parking lot. The walk down to the falls is a bit steep and rather than stairs, it is a mix of cement, dirt and gravel along what I imagine service vehicles could drive down. There is a rope you can grab as a hand railing. Once at the bottom, go behind the Xcel dam along a trail and head upstream. Within minutes you’ll be at the falls. If you head the other direction, you can enjoy an expansive and untouched view of Lake Superior and its shoreline. There is not much in terms of picnic benches, rest areas, etc. To access the falls, take Highway 122 north off Highway 2 in the Saxon area. Travel approximately 4.7 miles and then turn left on a gravel road. This falls is marked with an Xcel sign.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Kimball Falls
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIt’d be difficult to find an easier waterfall to access. Kimball Falls is located within a town park in Kimball, Wisconsin. The park has paved roads, gorgeous picnics areas, a small playground and restrooms. It is also next to the West Branch Montreal River. The Kimball Falls is small—a mere 10-feet drop. But, the park marks the perfect spot for an afternoon picnic. Little to no hiking is needed to enjoy this waterfall. And, it is just minutes off of Highway 2. To access the falls, turn south on Park Road just 3 miles outside of Hurley. The park is clearly marked. There is a small one land bridge that goes over the river. Those wishing to hike can follow the footpath upstream for additional scenic views of the river. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Read more about my adventure touring Iron County’s northern Waterfalls.