Embracing the Peace of Nature

Embracing the Peace of Nature

There are so many reasons in life to be grateful.  One of them that gave me great joy on this trip was that there were no ticks.  Yep, that’s right, no ticks, specifically deer ticks.  Ticks that could latch onto me in indiscreet places on my scalp, behind my ears, on my back, anywhere that they could sink their nasty little blood sucking fangs into.  And ticks that could give me lyme disease.

This truly changed the entire experience.  I could go without a hat if I chose.  I didn’t have to be constantly checking every time I felt a little tickle.  I could brush up against an overhead branch, or walk through overgrown brush and not have to worry about having a tick latching on.    Over and over I was grateful for this!

Upon deciding to come to Isle Royale I decided to quarantine strictly to ensure there was no risk of developing Covid while on the island.  Mike always follows a strict quarantine, but I had been going out to stores, etc. (with a mask) periodically.  It was well worth the time spent at home as there were just no concerns.  We had limited contact with other humans on the island, and all were at a distance.  The rangers also told us that there had been no cases on the island; I guess other visitors also decided it wouldn’t been a real cool place to get sick, especially when the only way off the island was via a seaplane – and how unfair (I think) to expect a pilot to have to do that!  It was a great respite!

This was another big day.  I decided to put on a clean shirt AND clean pants.  Seriously.  Both in the same day.  As I was getting ready for my coffee though I noticed that I was wearing my shorts backwards.  And inside out too.  Very stylish, I thought.  And that was that.

When I was in eighth grade my cousin Karen and I did a 4-H project called “The Great Outdoors.”  It was during this that I learned many many different kind of trees and I still know most of those today.  I discovered the sycamore tree then and it still my favorite today.  And I believe this is what spurred my love of trees.  The simplest things can touch and change us, without us even knowing it is happening.

I read a book a while back “The Hidden Life of Trees.”  It can be a bit technical but it has only caused me to love trees even more as I’ve come to understand they are living nurturing beings.  I think if only we could live like trees, our world would be a better place.  If you’d like the cliff notes on this book, take a quick read!  I think you’ll be surprised!!!  https://watsonadventures.com/blog/fun-stuff/10-amazing-secrets-from-the-hidden-life-of-trees/.  And pay attention to #10 :).

The Isle Royale forest had a significant number of coniferous trees – hemlock, fir, and spruce.  Also, more paper birch than I’ve ever seen in my life, many of them fallen, with their bark remaining intact and laid out like rolled up sheets of cardboard.  I thought this would be great kindling for a fire, remembering Gerry.  And then the (quaking) aspen, whose leaves make a rustling sound when the wind blows, with the striking silhouette of the round leaves against the sky.  Aspen, by the way, are the most widely distributed tree species in all of North America.  Betcha didn’t know that! :).  I saw only one small oak, which was weird (where was its mama? Perhaps the acorn was carried in by a squirrel?).  But underneath it all, throughout the forest, I knew there was this underground web and the trees were looking out for each other, communicating with each other, perhaps whispering about us.  I wondered what they were saying . . .

It would be cooler today and we were only hiking about eight miles.  I had been really sore when I laid down last night but woke up feeling good once again.  And I was certain it would be an easy day.  There were the usual planks though.  So many planks!

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We would be tracing back on part of the trail from yesterday, including a lengthy plank over a fairly large body of water.  When we had approached the plank the day before, we noted a message left by a kind hiker.  “Bad Spot!  Bees Under Bridge!  About 2/3 the way across.  Where the grass starts.  Wear pants.”  And then . . . “No Joke.”  Oh GREAT.

I continued to be nervous on planks, with my nervousness level coinciding with how deep the water was underneath.  And this was deep.  And now I had to worry about bees.  I started slowly and stubbornly, talking to myself.  “I am just going to walk my own pace. I am not going to get scared.  If they attack me I am just going to ignore them.  I am not going to fall in this water.”  And once again, I was grateful I was not attacked by bees and I did not fall off the plank.

So we passed over this plank on the way back;  I was again lagging behind Mike, and then I heard him whispering.  Lo and behold, there was a moose in the water, right by the bridge!  A cow!  We stood and watched her for a long time, from the trees (and I made sure to be very near a big tree, just in case), but she seemed oblivious to us.  I expected her to at least raise her head and look our way but she was more intent in looking across the water toward the trees on the other side.  Then she started climbing out of the water and we saw the calf on the other side, its long legs blending with the trees.  Mamas and their babies.  There is nothing so touching to me, how mothers just intuitively look out for their babies.

We waited until she had moved on and then quickly crossed the bridge, barely thinking about the bees.

We were a bit further down the trail when we met another hiker, who also spoke in hushed tones.  “There are two moose up there!  About 20 feet ahead, lying in the woods on the left.  They crossed the path right in front of me.”  I got a shot of adrenalin and moved forward cautiously.  I could only see one, and it blended cohesively with the forest.  Without the hiker’s alert we would have never seen them.  Ahhh nature, and how it all works together.

We had elected to hike back to Rock Harbor and spend the next two nights there.  While I felt good when we took off, as the day progressed I lost my energy once again.  I struggled with this a lot and when I would get tired, it seemed the destination always outdistanced me.  I would think it was just an hour away, and then would discover it was not.  And reminded myself frequently to not focus on getting there, but to enjoy the journey, enjoy the moment, enjoy the blue skies, how the thimbleberries clung to their stems, the flowers that reached toward the sun, the white birch, all of it.  And embracing the peace of nature, where it all flows and you can just be.

IMG_4992 (1)We arrived at Rock Harbor to a slightly higher population of other humans.  Decided to stay in a shelter so we wouldn’t have to deal with varmints taking our “stuff” but I also reminded myself that we were the intruders in their home, and I had no reason to find any fault with them.

I had adapted to sleeping on the ground or the hard floors of the shelters.  I use a body pillow at home and am accustomed to laying half on my stomach, half on my side.  I replaced this body pillow with my bag that held my extra clothes, my first aid kit, and my extra food, including my little beers.  As my food dwindled though, my sleeping prop got smaller.  It’s crazy how you wedge all these things under you just to get a decent’s night sleep.  Nevertheless, I often woke during the night and I would be cattywompous, completely off my mat (which is one of the wider mats at 24″ wide) lying on the hard ground or floor.  It made me grateful when I got to sleep on a real mattress that was soft and molded to my body with real sheets that smelled like Downy and a real pillow and a real comforter.  Yeah.

Another beautiful day in nature.

 

 

I’m Hangry and the Moose are Ticked

I’m Hangry and the Moose are Ticked

We woke to a gentle rain.  Ahhh, the dilemma! Take off now while it was cooler and risk a slippery trail or wait until the rain subsided?  The risk of taking a fall on the trail ultimately deterred us; we finally hit the trail for Lane’s Cove about 10 a.m.

The three year old on my back was getting lighter – I had eaten some of the food of course, and every day there was one less eight oz. beer.

It felt soooo good to be on the trail!  I’m not sure if it was a partial day without a pack the day before, a good night’s sleep, or me just getting stronger from the time on the trail.  But I felt amazing.  I walked along just marveling at how good I felt, how strong I felt, almost on a high.  It would be a long day with Lane’s Cove 12 miles away – and by my best estimate, I’d have racked up 37,000 steps by the time we got there.

But for now, I was just enjoying it, enjoying that awesome feeling in my quads, the smell of the earth, the swaying of the plants in the breeze, the bark on the trees.  We had a good pace going and I was panting.  I love when that happens, that I’m working hard enough to get a good pant going, for an hour, or maybe two.  I found myself being immensely grateful that I had this opportunity.  So grateful.  And reflected back on when I was in my teens and twenties.  Never, ever, could I have imagined that I would be doing this at 64 years old.  And reflected again on what an incredible time in life this is.  Simply grateful.

But the hours wore on and the miles wore on.  We stopped occasionally for breaks, to grab a snack, sometimes sitting down and taking our packs off.  At times I would just stop on the trail and bend over at a 90 degree angle to get the weight off my shoulders.

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And they call this a trail

And then, I started to get hangry.  The 80+ degree heat was wearing on me, I was tired of sleeping on the ground on my one inch mat, and I was hungry for something like a real burger.  Mike was leading and was a ways ahead on the trail so I just stayed back in my grumpy little world.  “Why am I doing this?  This is ridiculous!  So we’re hiking all the way across this frickin’ island for some frickin’ VIEW?  Can’t we just look at it on the internet?  You should know better than this!  Why are you torturing yourself?”  On and on.  Fortunately though, I know myself well enough to know when I’m hangry and rode it out.  We stopped for a late lunch – peanut butter in a burrito shell – and I was all better!

I’ve had a rough couple of years for injuries, most of which shut me down for a while.  I was quite aware that a single misstep could result in me messing up the day’s hike – or the entire trip, or the weeks ahead, or even the rest of my life.  I reminded myself regularly of the reasons for most accidents – rushing, fatigue, complacency, or frustration.  Think about a time when you’ve had any kind of accident and no doubt one of those states of mind will apply.  So I took my time, paused for a bit when I was really tired, and worked at not being sloppy in choosing where and how I stepped.  Had a couple little minors trips but nothing more!

IMG_4858 (1)Nevertheless, I still shake my head at myself at times.  On one occasion Mike was up ahead and I caught up with him at one of the plank crossings.  The plank had collapsed, and he was on the other side, where I needed to get.  It looked – well, challenging.  Swampy.  Yucky.  But he had made it to the other side so I guessed I’d have to figure it out too.  I approached the plank skeptically – like this thing was sunk in the water!  And herein is the reason why I am grateful for his experience.  As I headed for the plank he hollered – “No!  Go around!”  Duh.  Other hikers had worn an alternate trail to the left . . . Duh.

Right before heading for Isle Royale I finished a book “When You Find My Body.”  It was about a woman about my age, Gerry, who had headed out on the Appalachian Trail a few years back.  Well into her hike her hiking partner had to head home and Gerry proceeded on alone.  On her first solo day, nature called and she ventured off trail, into the woods, and got disoriented.  There was a massive search and she ultimately hunkered down in her tent, attempting to survive, leaving a journal for those who found her body two years later.  Those involved in the search detailed a number of things that could have changed her outcome.  Know which plants grow in the wild that you can eat (clover and Queen Anne’s Lace are two that you may know that can be eaten from top to bottom).  Find a stream or river and ALWAYS follow it downstream – there will be some type of connection to civilization at the bottom.  Don’t rely too heavily on your cell phone.  Learn how to navigate with the sun, and learn how to use a compass.  Know which bark can be used to start a fire (birch and sycamore are excellent sources).  All of this was on my mind as I hiked, but most importantly, I was grateful that Mike was guiding.  While we passed solo hikers, I knew I was in no way experienced enough to be out here alone.  He also had a satellite phone which provided us access to emergency services if needed (again, there is no cell phone signal there). And I made sure I knew where he had it in his pack, and how to use the SOS button.

Isle Royale is known for its moose and wolf population, both which are interdependent.  Warmer temperatures over the past years have had a huge impact; the ice bridges that have existed between Canada and the island have declined and wolf nor moose can travel between the two as readily during the winter months.  Winter ticks, which latch onto moose, have thrived because of the warmer temps on the island.  (Fortunately, these ticks are dormant during the summer and we had no concern about them.). But – these ticks thrived during the winter, and moose could have up to 80,000 ticks on them!  This makes my skin crawl, and I just scratched my head at the thought.  EIGHTY THOUSAND!  As a result, the moose become weakened from these blood suckers.  And then the wolves can take them down.  So the moose population declines.  And then the wolves don’t have enough to eat and their population declines (down to two wolves on the island in 2018).  Which allows the moose population to increase as there are no other predators.  And then they destroy the vegetation on the island.  What a delicate balancing act!  Anyway, the park service recently imported a couple of packs of wolves and another one came over randomly on an ice bridge, bringing the island’s population to seventeen (eight females, nine males).  Bringing other wolves in is important as it expands the dna pool of the island’s wolves; the pair that was there was not able to produce offspring because they were so overbred – the pair are a father and daughter, and they were born from the same mother, making them half-siblings.

All the wolves have gps collars and it is extremely rare (even for the researchers) to spot a wolf – or even hear a howl.  And we were told that wolves avoid humans and were not a danger.  The same goes for moose; leave them alone and they’ll leave you alone.  Of course you don’t want to get between a cow and her calf though!

We continued to hope we would get a close up look of a moose in the wild!  We knew they were out there!

 

After nine hours on the trail, we reached Lane’s Cove.  I had estimated well and had exactly 37,100 steps as we pulled into camp.  We did not see other campers and had our pick of a site, right on Lake Superior.  We threw down our packs, dug out our warm beers, and sunk into our chairs, tired from the day but with a feeling of accomplishment.

It had been a great day on the trail.

Squirrels, Squats, and Pondering Bath Wipes

Squirrels, Squats, and Pondering Bath Wipes

I woke up with the sun, the sounds of birds chirping in the distance and waves rhythmically lapping on the shore.  And the occasional cheeping of a red squirrel, a sound I had never recognized before.  What a wonderful way to wake up.  In my head I was singing “The best part of waking up is coffee in my cup!” It’s what gets me up and moving every morning, dreaming of holding that warm fragrant cup with steam wafting off it!

So making coffee.  Of course you need water.  All of the camping areas on Isle Royale are on a body of water (for this reason) and there are rare opportunities to get water outside of that.  Lake Superior is superior for getting drinking water (no pun intended :)) as it is moving water, but if you’re on an inland lake, then you take that option (thank you Mike for teaching me this).  You scoop up a container of water, force it through a filter, empty it into a clean container, and repeat until you have what you need.  This process takes out nearly everything, but there are a couple of viruses that can survive, so we’d drop in an aquatab to kill any other gunk.  I thought the water tasted great.  And gosh did I drink my share of it! In most cases we carried water for the day as there wasn’t a water source along the way.  Need I say that water is heavy?  And I have to confess, I was kind of a slackard and really didn’t do much of the water work.

1C2E7E77-2635-472F-80B1-01631142D2BFAnd then of course you heat the water over the gas stove and mix in instant powder before you settle back in your camp chair, gazing out toward the calm blue water surrounded by a leafy tree halo, with warm fragrant steam wafting to your nostrils and the crispness of the morning air on your skin. 🙂

Breakfast was typically oatmeal with nuts or freeze dried (rehydrated) eggs.  While the eggs provided fuel, they weren’t my favorite and I think I’ll stick with oatmeal in the future.  The label was also quite interesting . . . an expiration date of 2050!  I wondered who would expire first, the eggs, or me?  I’m hoping the eggs, and I’m making it my goal to be out here backpacking, eating OATMEAL, in another thirty years!

I also found this quite funny.  When researching freeze dried eggs I came across a review that said “tastes like eggs!”  The writer seemed totally shocked by that, and I now get it!

IMG_4807And as we were packing up, getting ready to head out, Mike held my poles out to me.  “You really did a number on these!”  In my head I’m wondering what’s he talking about but then I saw it.  One of the handgrips on my poles, my awesome lightweight titanium poles with cork handles that absorb the sweat from my hands, had been snacked on during the night.  Likely a red squirrel, who clearly had been right up against the tent.  That is definitely a new one for me!  But, the squirrel was kind and chewed just one side of the grip so I was still able to use it as my right-handed pole :).  Admittedly, I’ve since pondered how that squirrel’s digestive system handled that cork and whether it had a tummy ache.

Poles become my third and fourth feet when I hike.  They steady me, catch me when I trip on a root or rock, and I use them to pull me up steep climbs or brace me when going down sharp drops.  Using poles also redistributes your weight – and your effort – so your legs aren’t doing all the work.  Another huge advantage of using poles is that your hands don’t swell.  You’re constantly gripping and using your arm and hand muscles, and your hands aren’t just hanging down and swelling. In the winter, the same holds true – your hands don’t get as cold because you’re using muscles and thus moving fluids in your hands.  Many hikers don’t use poles and I am in awe of them, but me? I’m a pole gal :).

We had decided to head just a couple miles down the trail to McCargo, claim a site and drop our packs and just carry water and basic supplies to Todd’s Harbor, which is supposedly one of the most beautiful places on the island.  It was about six miles out and back, and a twelve mile loop without carrying my three year old child on my back sounded like a piece of cake.  But we dallied and didn’t get on the trail to Todd’s Harbor until 12:30, and on a day in the mid-eighties and often with no tree cover, it was scorching hot.  And our bodies were feeling the wear and tear on them from the day before.  Because there is no signal and you’re usually not able to pick up your location on your phone from a satellite, there’s not a real reliable way to figure out how far you’ve come.  My phone though, did track steps and I began to use that.  While my typical stride is 1800 steps per mile, I had been running about 3100 steps per mile on this trip.  So if we were going ten miles, I knew that we were about halfway at 15,500 steps.  This approach ended up being quite reliable.  At the same time, I began setting a timer on my phone for one hour, and we would push through for an hour before we would stop and take a break – which meant sitting down, and sometimes taking our pack off, having a snack, or using . . . the facilities.  This day we got about four miles out and we were both hitting a wall.  We were both just beat.  So we turned around, just like that, and headed back to McCargo.  It was a nice option, to not have to keep going to get to a camp.

Nevertheless, the trail was beautiful!  Endless green, trees swaying in the breeze, occasional berries and many flowers.  At one point when I was just really frustrated (and a bit hangry) this beautiful purple flower reached out in front of me as if to say “C’mon, you can do this!  There’s so much beauty here for you to see!”  I thanked that flower :).

160AFFDC-96D2-41C4-B6D2-0C60547968F9There was evidence of beaver on a number of occasions.  One can’t help but question why a beaver would choose to tackle such a large tree when there are a plethora of smaller trees nearby. Later research says they choose to fell these trees as they provide a huge number of branches for building their dams.  I guess they know best.

We also happened upon two moose racks (antlers) that someone had left lying on a table, and then another that was lying off trail, assumably where the moose dropped it.

One of the many profound lessons I learned from this adventure is that I need to bring more chocolate when I hike.  Yes, chocolate.  I had three candy bars at the start, two of which I consumed on the first day.  Oh my were they delicious and even better, they gave me a quick burst of energy!  I suppose there are other foods that can do that, but I’m sticking with my theory that chocolate will get one through damn near anything!  If you take nothing else from this blog, never go hiking without chocolate!

I try to eat healthy and have a fair amount of veggies every day.  I knew these would be absent from this trip so had ordered kale chips and beet chips to take along.  They were both quite tasty (but no where as good as chocolate!) and I always made sure they were the first snack of the day.  I also had pre-portioned ziplocks of nuts and dried fruit and would nibble on these as the day passed, keeping a constant flow of fuel into my system.

So people ask “But . . . ummm . . . where do you pee?”  And one of my offspring even asked “Where do you go dodo?”  I had to think on that one :).

I grew up on a farm in rural Ohio in the fifties and sixties.  We had a gravel road that really led to nowhere and seeing a car was rare.  Our busdriver called it a goatpath.  With six kids in the house, it didn’t take long for my mom to want to get us out of her hair.  “You kids get outside!” she’d say.  And off we went.  We don’t appreciate or even begin to comprehend how awesome it was to be forced outside but what a blessing that was!  Get outside! We had a barn with cattle and pigs and of course, our beloved barncats.  And livestock dogs that regularly birthed puppies.  Fields to run through, a lane to the woods, and a creek.  Weeds to make vegetable soup.  Caterpillars and frogs to collect.  One bike that we would pile as many kids as possible on.  And one or two fields with 10,000 turkeys.  And when you’re outside for the day, you will have to pee.  And it became as normal to squat to pee as it was using the toilet.  It’s just what we did.  I still can squat quickly and efficiently.  And I think every human being should learn this skill as at some point in life, it’s likely you’ll need it. Perhaps you know that a significant portion of the world squats (especially in Asia and Africa).  As a result, they have greater balance and flexibility in their lower half, fewer falls as they age, less bowel and bladder IMG_4898dysfunction, stronger pelvic floors, and for men, fewer prostate issues.  What’s not to like about that?  And I’m curious how many of you can – as my offspring and I say – pop a squat and hold it for a minute or two?  Perhaps an opportunity for you :).

There are though, outhouses at the camps.  These are surprisingly clean, but nevertheless, they are outhouses and serve a purpose when you’re at camp.

I had brought along a package of bath wipes leftover from the hospital when my daughter had surgery.  These were not your flimsy little wipes, but thick and lightly scented.  And you could really wipe down with these, getting off that layer of salt and grime that you accumulated on your skin throughout the day!  I had eight for the week and these were a precious item.  One day when I was particularly hot and dripping sweat I cogitated over how I could get the greatest benefit from my rationed wipe.  Should I wipe down, then rinse it out with filtered water, add soap and wipe down again, or pour water over me, rub a little soap on, pour more water and THEN use the wipe, or . . . well, I came up with endless approaches.  It is great when your mind is so clear and not being constantly attacked by technology, people, and day to day demands and you can really think about the best approach for using a bath wipe :).

I had a hiking t-shirt and and an evening t-shirt that I slept in – and that one remained quite clean, thanks to the wipes.  Well, at least I thought it was clean and didn’t smell (how would I really know?!).   And shorts that I wore after my wipedown, and that I slept in.  I washed my hiking shirt one night in the lake and hung it in the tent to dry during the night; it was still damp in the morning but I put it on and body dried it as I hiked.  Wore the same pants the first four nights and switched then, but if I went again, I’d wear the same pants the entire time.  Every single thing you bring adds weight, and ounces add up to pounds and pounds add up to misery!

IMG_4850At many of the camping areas on the island there are a few shelters, and we decided to stay in one that night.  It is essentially a three sided lean-to with a roof, a wood floor, and one side screened in.  The advantage of being in a shelter is you don’t get wet if it rains and you’re safer if it storms.  You also don’t have to be so concerned about a squirrel chewing up the handgrip on your pole.  Which means you can strew your stuff about, if you are confident there aren’t mice.  We weren’t, so we set the tent up in the shelter.  I should add that the only place on the island where there is running water or electricity is at the harbor where we flew in, so these are still primitive sites.2FC511B2-08DA-4010-9B34-3FD34D441CBE

It was a long day in the heat, we’d racked up 28,000 steps, and I fell asleep to a  peaceful view of the evergreens and water surrounded by the total silence of the wilderness.

 

A Speck in the Universe

A Speck in the Universe

Nature called a little after midnight.  What a struggle it was to peel myself out of my sleeping bag, my body aching as it was.  I should have known better.  The week before we left I went for four walks – each four miles – on even terrain with a 20 pound pack on my back.  What would one expect from that almost non-existent training?!?  I was also wearing relatively new hiking boots that weren’t broken in . . . really, I know better!

But, I was sleepy eyed, with one thing on mind . . . find a spot very close by and getting the job done so I could go back to sleep.  But Oh My Gosh.  I have never ever seen anything like it!!!  The sky was pitch black, but splayed across it were brilliant shining sparkling stars, all across the sky.  Everywhere! I woke Mike up and we headed to the beach . . . there were a hundred times – or maybe even a thousand times – the stars I’ve ever seen in the night sky before, and the dimmest stars were like the brightest stars at home.  And as we craned our heads to the sky overhead (while making a great effort to not fall backward in the process!) we saw the hazy band of the Milky Way painted across the sky.  The Milky Way that we were part of.  The Milky Way that holds somewhere from 100 to 250 billion stars (it’s kinda hard to come up with an exact number ;)) . . . which is just one of 200 billion galaxies in our universe.  And here I stood, feet planted on a one foot square on a tiny island on Planet Earth.  It is humbling, when one thinks of our miniscuality, mere specks in the Universe.  The questions come, the “what do I mean in all this?” but yet, there is a sense of peace, a sense of belonging in this quiet dark world dotted with shimmering beacons of light.

This was the one of the few times in my life I have been someplace with zero light pollution.  A few years ago Julie and I did a bike ride in Death Valley; we were excited about riding up to Scotty’s Castle as it was said to have the least light pollution and best star viewing in the southwest.  The generators operated just a couple hours a night so people could shower, but other than the lights provided then it was pitch black.  Our guide shared a story about a man who was on a tour there a few years before.  He had left his tent during the night for a nature call, and they believe he got disoriented and couldn’t find his way back.  They found his body in the desert a few days later.  Anyway . . . the night we spent at Scotty’s Castle was overcast, so we never saw the stars there.  But that story has stuck with me.

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The gas stove for heating water

Morning came and we made coffee (over a little gas stove) and breakfast, tore down the tent, and jammed our stuff in our packs.  We got started around 10 am and proceeded to make our way to the West Chickenbone campground, which sits on Chickenbone Lake, about eight or ten miles north west.  Hours passed without us seeing another human being, and then we ran into a young couple from West Virginia.  I got a whiff of them as they passed . . . and managed to ask how long they had been on the trail.  Five days.  Hmmm . . . five days . . . so now I know how I will smell in five days :).  (Did I mention that there aren’t showers in the wilderness?)

As I walked I pondered the sky of the night before.  For much of my parents’ lives (born in 1912 and 1916) there would have been no light pollution.  The sparkling sky would have been normal to them through the first half of their lives.  And as a kid growing up in rural Ohio, I likely also had brilliant starry night skies.  With electricity making its way through our country that would have all gradually changed, likely without people even realizing it.  Later research told me that 80% of the world’s population is affected by light pollution today, and that it has a significant impact on animals, especially migratory birds.  It also contributes to the sleep problems many people in the world struggle with, which is no surprise – for 200,000 years, there was day, and there was night, and suddenly there is no longer true night.  I also read a piece suggesting that we can all contribute to improving this, simply by closing our blinds and shades at night when our lights are on.  Thought provoking to me . . . can I REALLY make any difference?

Isle Royale is the least visited National Park in the country.  Typically you have the option of taking a ferry over or a seaplane.  Most opt for the ferry as seaplane schedules are limited and it is costlier.  But without the ferry traffic the number of visitors was down considerably – from the typical 18,000 to 2,000 projected for 2020.  This made a somewhat remote island even more isolated.  Which was perfect!

IMG_4705The ranger had mentioned that we may find thimbleberries along the trail – a berry resembling raspberries but tarter and softer – and that these were safe to eat.  It didn’t take long until we spotted a few bright pink berries along the trail, and these were our occasional snacks along the way.  What I found interesting is that on each clump, there was always just one ripe one.  Never more.  We also learned that during a normal season when crowds are heavier that thimbleberries are hard to find.

We began to see moose tracks now and then, sunk into the muddy trail, and Mike spotted one moving far in the brush for a moment.  My research – and the ranger – said that as long as you stay a safe distance away and don’t get between a cow and her calf they typically don’t bother you.  But we continued to hope to see a moose up close!

The trail varied; sometimes it was this beautiful needle covered path through a coniferous forest and then there were areas where the plants and ferns were so overgrown it was hard to even see where the trail was.  Long pants were a must as we were constantly plowing through plants. The lineup of planks continued and I began to gain a bit of confidence as I navigated them.  At places it was just plain black muck that we plowed through.  And sections that were covered with roots and rocks.  We also hit sections of what I call mashed potato rocks – it looks like a pile of mashed potatoes have been dumped and then smoothed over. I detest these rocks. They are always in sunlight as trees can’t grow on them. And it’s hotter than blazes. Your feet are angled in weird ways as you attempt to cling to the rocks  And there are grasshoppers flying everywhere making a clicking sound.

So often when hiking I get caught up in just plodding along, looking at the ground ahead, carefully choosing where to place my feet, one step after another.  But we went slowly enough that we could manage to take in what was around us and still keep up a decent pace.  It’s easy to get caught up in looking for something sensational and miss the simpleness of a tree’s bark, or the intricacies of leaves on a plant.  I marveled at the bark on the trees of course, and the plants that covered the forest floor; how did they know how to grow EXACTLY the way they were supposed to in order to turn into THAT kind of plant?  How did thimbleberry plants know how to produce thimbleberries?

As we approached camp we met up with a young man coming from the other direction.  Elijah said he had hiked 20 miles without seeing a single soul and he had been out of water for three hours.  He had been on the Greenstone trail, which runs along a ridge with a significant amount of sun exposure.  This was Elijah’s first backpacking experience – he was a college sophomore and decided to get away before classes started again.  We got him to the lake so he could filter water and learned he only had a 1.5 liter water reservoir – which is about what you need for an hour or two on the trail.  He was sleeping in a hammock (which technically isn’t allowed on the island due to the damage to the trees) and when I asked if he had enough food he said “I wanted to cut back on what I ate so I’m okay.”  He ultimately decided to head to another camp two miles down the trail for the night, and as he left I worried that he was in over his head.  I couldn’t help but think of all the things that could have happened on the trail – especially without water in full sun on an 85 degree day – and that he would have no way of getting help should he need it.

IMG_7963We rolled into camp with 28,000 steps (maybe ten or 12 miles?) under our belt, tired, sweaty, and hungry.  Pulled out our chairs, dug through our packs for the warm beers that were tucked away in the bottom.  For me, I love to finish off a hike with a beer, ideally icy cold!  I’m also kind of a lightweight and often don’t finish a whole beer, and I really didn’t want to carry 12 oz. beers all over the island – my pack was already heavy enough.  So before leaving I called around Columbus to find a canned “baby” beer.  I think I found the only 8 oz. cans in the city – a Nicaraguan Hazy Pilsner, which was the perfect end to a day on the trail. I had also been fantasizing about the freeze dried marguerita pizza I had in my pack and it didn’t disappoint!  Mostly, it was just a big cheese glob with dried tomatoes and basil, which rehydrated quite well.  Really, there is no such thing as bad cheese :).

I headed for the tent around 8:30 p.m. again.  The rangers had warned us that the squirrels and red fox were pretty aggressive and would drag away anything they could grab onto, including hiking boots or backpacks.  So these were all tossed in the tent, with the hiking poles tucked under the awning up against the base of the tent.

Tonight was touted as being the best night to view the Perseid Meteor showers (we had seen a number of shooting stars the night before, including one that looked like Venus times ten as it dropped through the sky) but the sky tonight was overcast.  I was kind of grateful as I was exhausted and my body hurt and I just wanted to go to sleep :).  And so I did.  Just a speck in the Universe.