The sunrise this morning is beyond description. Mom and grandma are perched on the couch, looking out the window at the horizon like children waiting for a mysterious visitor to knock on the door. Their innocence and wonder melts my heart and I join them. As the sun rises, is it pierced in half by a narrow thick cloud that creates two mini-suns out of the one. It looks like two egg yolks merging, or rather one egg dividing. I’ve this sort of thing in biology textbooks and through zoomed-in scopes but never at the macro level with my own eyes. We are watching creation, the origin of light, our eager anticipation is being rewarded.
Every February, mom and grandma take the long drive up to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula to experience the heart of winter in the tiny town of Paradise and watch a dogsled race. The UP 200 is a qualifying race for the Iditarod and I am fascinated by its modest exoticism.
Even before I reached a maturity level where it occurred to me to be nice to my mom, I reluctantly admitted that the trip sounded rather awesome. Now that I’ve reached the maturity level where I deign to love and appreciate and enjoy her, I have been trying to come along on one of these annual trips but it’s never happened before now. I’m doubly excited to be here because we will be returning to some of the sanctified scenes I passed through on foot a year and a half ago en route to a new life.
Well, that life is approximately as messy as it has ever been and I need a break. I don’t know of a unit of measurements for internal chaos but this is registering pretty high. I need to escape that other life for my sake and the sake of those I’ll be leaving behind for awhile. This trip presented itself on the horizon from the squiggles of my everyday life and I am clinging to it. It’s time to rise up: up to the UP, up from the morass of my self-pity and confusion, and up to a place where distance grants perspective and climate demands clarity.
I woke up at 5:30 and hiked through the dark and the dawn. I passed a few places that I thought were all but a sure thing for a moose sighting but came up short. As I walked in the dark, I didn’t need my headlamp because the moon was so full. I was tromping along with my eyes trained on the path and I happened to lift my head and look to the right. And then, a moose! I swallowed a squeal in my throat and stood as still as I could. I stared for a few seconds and then averted my eyes to avoid giving the impression that I was challenging her. Then she took off running into the thick brush. I hugged myself, I grinned. It finally happened! I didn’t get a picture, but it’s ok. I know what I saw! I enjoy these days of starting early, talking long breaks and not going quite as far. Continue reading “Day 43: Todd Harbor to Moskey”
Isle Royale is awesome, I am camping at Todd Cove after my first full day on the island and I feel great. I swam naked again, there was absolutely no one around. I was in the open sun for a lot of the day and I used dirt as sunblock. Unable to see myself, I wasn’t sure if it actually worked but I just took a selfie and yup, it stayed on just fine. There is a dock near the campsite and I jumped off of it and into the water. It made me laugh. I don’t usually do those playful things alone, I guess. I realize how rarely I laugh on my own, which is kind of sad because it means I haven’t laughed very much on this trip. Laughter is just a social thing so it’s understandable why I haven’t. Still, it’s a very sweet thing to laugh on my own in joy. I looked at my naked body while I laid on the dock to dry off. Certain things displeased me, like the small padding on my stomach or my hairy bikini line. It was nice to simply observe those things and let them go. I can’t do anything about them and there is no one around anyway so why would I suck in my gut? Continue reading “Day 42: Lane Cove to Todd Harbor”
I’m on the ferry to Isle Royale planning my itinerary. I want to do an impressive number of miles but I have 4 days and 3 nights so it’s just long enough that I can convince myself that I’ll see plenty without killing myself trying. The terrain will be tougher than I’m used to so a mile is not just a mile. I want to see sunrises and sunset and wildlife and I will make time for that even if it cuts into my distance. Continue reading “Day 41: Copper Harbor to Lane Cove”
I am at the West Bluff of Brockway Mountain Pass overlooking the lake, it is extremely beautiful. I sat and tried to take it all in, one or two tears escaped. Some people showed up though and that was enough to stifle any more. I am struggling to figure out how to end this trip. Copper Harbor will be the first of many endings which will also include Isle Royale, the end of the Keweenaw Peninsula, and returning home. Actually, there have already been endings: my last resupply package, my last book, my blue blaze on the North Country Trail. Ending are just milestones later in the journey.
My birthday was a month ago today, its strange because it actually seems like longer. I’ve come a long way since then but I’ve also fallen back quite a bit. Even though I’m still battling every day, I do know that I have come a long way from where I was 4 or 5 or 6 or 7 or 8 or 9 years ago. I am so much closer to recovery and health, I am headed in the right direction even though I haven’t yet reached my destination. Continue reading “Day 39: Calumet to Eagle River”
I’m now in the last week of my trip. I feel very solemn about it. I want to honor the journey by ending it right. I’ll try very hard not to use my phone or to escape into social media, texts and phone calls. I want to be in my head. I want to think things and do things that I couldn’t do in my normal life.
Yesterday I arrived in the town of Houghton, today I passed from Houton through Hancock and am now here in Calumet. They are all beautiful. The fact that I am on roads instead of trails means that I am around more civilization now than ever, even though in many ways I am in the most remote area. Continue reading “Day 38: Houghton to Calumet”
It’s 5:00 and I’m resting at a campsite along the trail. I have a few hours to go but Im due for a rest. I had yet another intensely frustrating morning, the unmarked trail often passed through very sparsely wooded areas so it pretty much all looked like “potential trail.” It was like a Magic Eye optical illusion where I could make out imaginary lines coming in from all directions toward me like an asterisk. I learned to detect if I was not on the trail by whether or not I had to block branches. The ground was ambiguous but these paths are groomed sometimes and trees don’t grow fast enough to extend over the trail. In this way I figured out that if I had to duck, I was in the wrong place. I bounced around the woods like a pinball, running up against the property line here, a cliff there. I finally saw a road from a cliff but, I couldn’t get to it. I contemplated the steep rocky side: so close but so far away. I decided not to be an idiot and finally resigned to making my way down the gradual slope instead.
Finally, I saw two people. I wanted to cry. I asked them where the trail was and they pointed me to a trail head in a parking lot only 200 meters away, the end of the McCormick Wilderness. Ugh. The thing about being lost is that as soon as you find help, you’re no longer lost. It was nice to see them anyway though, and they gave me two Cliff Bars and a Gatorade.
I was considering using my low rations of food as an excuse to catch a ride to the nearest town of Baraga while I sat and ate my snacks and waited for my water to purify. Then two more cars pulled up (party!) with more kind souls in them, 4 men and a woman on a little fishing outing. They gave me more delicious food and took a picture of me for mom with instructions to send it to her as proof of my well-being. It’s been a long time since she heard from me so I’m sure she’s worried. The woman was a mother, and she seemed touched by my attempt to comfort my mom with a picture. She gave me a long hug and said “this is from your mother.” She smelled like perfume. It was a deeply touching moment, my eyes teared up.
For the second time today I wanted to cry but couldn’t do it. I think I need to feel utterly helpless to let go like that. This trip is such an interesting combination of empowerment and humility. Sometimes I feel so self-determined “I am in charge, no one else.” Other times, I realize how helpless I am: when I’m lost, when I’m out of water, when my mail is late, when the wolves or coyotes or moose come alive at night, when the weather is bad, when all I want to do it lay down but can’t because no one will come and save me. The truth is, no one else is in charge but I’m not either.
I have traveled a record distance today- nearly 29 miles. I was so rejuvenated by that hug and by being back on a marked trail that I pounded out the miles. A lot more hills here too. I felt strong. Last night in bed I felt my body and there was a definitely a noticeable change in my thighs- less to grab. That sense of “muscular toughness” powered me on today. I was so in the zone that I didn’t fully realize that I have officially left the North Country Trail. At some point I passed my last blue blaze but there was no ceremony, I just tromped right by. I guess it’s fitting in a way.
From that point on I will be on roads and snowmobile paths and shorelines but no more true trail so there’s more navigating to do. My first choice was to decide between going North (my direction of travel) or take a slight detour South to the “town” of Nestoria. It was out of my way but I wanted to charge my phone and see about buying supplies. I saw a billboard for a general store and when I made it there I was crushed to see that it was boarded up– out of business. I sat pitifully in front of it for a minute and saw a dusty electrical outlet on the side of the store and charged my phone! It’s amazing how little things like that have such a powerful impact on my mood, it felt like a major victory.
This is the longest I’ve gone on the trail without bathing. The last time was Monday night with my Marquette monsieur, it is Friday now and I don’t know when my next chance will be. Somehow I honestly don’t feel that dirty though of course I am filthy.
I made it to Highway 41, a hugely symbolic destination for me. This road travels from Key West in Florida all the way up here to the northernmost tip of the Upper Peninsula, ending in Copper Harbor, where I will end my trip with it.
Continue to the next entry in this series here: Day 36: Herman Road to South Entry Road
Go back to the most recent entry in the series here: Day 34: Red Road to McCormick Wilderness
Last night I slept 12 hours. I was cold. I should’ve put the rain fly on but when I opened my eyes to get up, I immediately saw a shooting star. I didn’t want to cut myself off from the sky so I closed my eyes with a smile and snuggled in.
My light is dead so I am writing blind. I hope I can read this later. I made it to 500 motherfucking miles today. It feels really good. I say “…and I would walk 500 miles…” but it was rainy and hard going so I wasn’t exactly happy in the traditional sense.