Up here people are proud and independent. Hard working but in their free time, they like to hunt and fish. They’ll get out on the massive lakes in their canoes or ride on frozen water in snowmobiles. Camp is a way of life and pretty much every one seems to have one: little rustic log cabins or sheds where you can retreat, breath in the pine-scented air and dip the canoe in for a paddle. It’s a good life.
I’m trying to get a taste of this and learning I am not the most expert camper alone the way. Thankfully, there is the kindness of strangers to lean upon.
Day 6, I got a bit of a late start due to my chatty landlady, Dawn, in Sault St. Marie. She was a delight, but after 45 minutes of chatting about the road construction in Sault, how Airbnb was like “winning the lottery” for her and her husband whereas the steel and aluminum tariffs would ruin Canadians working in those industries, to the details of how they go out to camp on their three-wheeled Harley’s, I was ready to get going. It was hard since she was a true wealth of information. I even got instructions on how to can everything from tomatoes to chick peas and how she avoids sugar and dairy due to her rheumatoid arthritis.
By 11:30, I crossed the steel bridge back into the USA, over the turbulent waters of St. Mary’s River and locks that connect Lake Superior to Lake Huron. The border guard did a quick peak into the Rav4 and waved me on when he realized the mess was simply luggage and not illegals. I was now back home and in the Upper Peninsula: The Yupper.
I re-supplied water, yogurt, bread, and ice at the local Meijer’s supermarket and filled up the tank. Then, the long, lonely drive across miles and miles of pine forest began. Only the occasional one-horse town with a store that sells everything from gas to beer to crawlers. A display of a stuffed black bear, required.
I made it to Munising (not Munsing, as I kept calling it) and checked in at the ranger station. They directed me to the Little Beaver Lake campsite which turned out to be glorious. A short drive up the coast of Lake Superior, past Pictured Rocks National Park I found the dirt road and drove down the three miles of pocked and narrow road to a camp with only eight sights. All were taken except the disabled site. I rolled down my window and asked another camper if it was okay to set up camp there. This was Janice, wife of Bob, who were here for summer “camp” from Alabama. Retired couple and sweet as pie. She told me the rule was to wait until 6 PM (it was now 4) and if no one showed up, I could camp there for one night. Perfect.
I parked the Rav, made a peanut butter sandwich, then headed off on the trail to Lake Superior, leaving instructions with Janice to allow anyone who rolled up with a disability to over-ride my claim.
The trail to the Lake was marked with hemlocks and birch trees. Only 1.5 miles to the big lake lead me along sandy boardwalks, past trees marked with bear claw scratches, and even a small garter snake. The trail ended on a white, sandy beach where the sand was so fine it squeaked when I walked along it. The waves lapped gently upon the coast and if I didn’t know any better, I could have sworn I was on a beach in Maine. Rocky cliffs rose up along the lakeshore with the magically color-streaked sandstone that they refer to as “pictured” due to the yellows, greens, and blues created by different mineral deposits. The best way to see these cliffs is via canoe or kayak but since I didn’t have the time, I had to suffice with a walk and a few vista turnouts provided by the parks department.
When I returned to my campsite, it was past 6 and no one else had come to claim my spot. I thanked Janice who said a few young people had come by but she shooed them off. The campsite was mine.
I set up my tent and camp chair, cracked open a beer and then Bob came by and helped me make a fire with the scavenged twigs I had found and few pieces of wood from his pile. These were good people. The helpers you find on your way, as Mr. Roger’s has said you should look for. Janice told me they were Catholics and I smiled. I killed my urge to reply that I was “raised” Catholic, but I knew that was a loaded response, and I didn’t want to offend.
I was grateful for their help, even if they do it for heaven’s salvation, and thanked them. The offer of a shared beer was turned down, and so I sat alone in front of my camp fire and praised the higher power I call “god”: Nature. Looking up at the multitudes of stars and warming myself with the fire started with love, I let myself relax. Tears of gratitude came to my eyes and I knew at that moment, the driving, the discomfort, the challenge was all worth it.