Month 3: 8/1-8/31/22
The Marquette Public Library is large, well-lit, and well-used. I sit at one of their new computers, writing to you, my reader. When I was with my parents in Baldwin, downstate, we picked up a few cheap movies at their local library to watch back at the trailer. One, a B-rated film called "Public", we played that night. It wasn't a great movie, but I've thought of it often. The premise is that dozens of homeless men refuse to leave a library in a big city when it closes because the weather outside is so cold. They fear death and feel they deserve the right to take shelter in a public building. After negotiations, they surrender and the city arrests them all. Though not before local residents hear about it, many arriving outside with bundles of charity. I provide this anecdote to foreshadow a topic I will expand upon soon.
My first night in the UP was spent at Straits State Park in St. Ignace. Surrounding my campsite were a group of Detroiters, young adults on a camping trip through an internship with the Belle Isle Nature Conservancy. Their leader told me that many had never been camping. I was not surprised. Back home in Detroit, many of my neighbors have never camped outside, let alone visited the upper peninsula of their state. When I ask them why, many say they haven't had the resources to do so, they're afraid to do so, or they don't trust being "in the wild". This isn't an anomaly. In fact, there's a term for this: "The Adventure Gap", coined by author James Edward Mills. In his book of the same title, Mills explains contributing factors to this gap, including lack of transportation and/or funds, generational trauma, and the blatant presence of racism in rural areas.
If we choose to claim any sense of ownership over the land and its resources, then we must be held accountable for preserving it. If we feel that we belong in these places, then we must help others feel this sense of belonging too. To abuse or withhold access to these places, I believe, is to forfeit your right to them. I was thrilled to see fellow Detroiters in the UP and I would again at Pictured Rocks, where I crossed path with the Sierra Club's "Inspiring Connections Outdoors" Program Coordinator. This was a coincidental encounter as I knew this person from attending a "Camping Leadership Immersion Program" at Rouge Park in Detroit. I thought of him when I met the group at Straits State Park, and I was not shocked by the magic of seeing him leading a group of YMCA pre-teens on their first backpacking trip not long after. Their faces glowed with the sun over Lake Superior as I played them a few ditties on my flute. I encouraged all to try the challenge of backpacking again, despite complaints of aching knees and homesickness.
My trip to Pictured Rocks from St. Ignace took less than 3 weeks but it felt like many more. From St. Ignace, I hiked north through the eastern UP. This was the most challenging section of my hike thus far due to overgrown trails, lack of cell signal, and mosquitos... lots and lots of mosquitos. It rained for days and my feet were never dry, but I made it to my first resupply of the month at Tahquamenon Falls State Park, where a good friend and her family met me. Laughter was abundant and the amusement of her 5-year-olds oddity was uplifting. After leaving them, I hiked inland, then to my furthest point north at the mouth of the Two-Hearted River. Before reaching this destination, I hiked atop a dune overlooking Lake Superior. I met a group from Marquette exploring and exchanged contact info with a woman who offered her assistance when I reached that city. This connection would later prove to be trip-saving.
From where the Two-Hearted River flows into Lake Superior, I hiked the beach to Grand Marais. This was the most exciting part of my adventure. The trail traveled inland to avoid private property that meets the shoreline, though I stayed on the beach. Deciding that I would wade into the water if I crossed any residences. I did so also to pass around trees that had toppled from bluffs and dunes and blocked the beach. At times, the water lapped at the bottom of my pack and I walked on my tip-toes to avoid it getting wet. While "blazing my own trail", I battled a sense of well-deserved guilt. "What gives me the right to continue along the shoreline when the trail does not?", I asked myself repeatedly. I usually answered with thoughts of the people who lived here before me, the people who thrived on this land before it was colonized - people who blazed the trail and utilized the land graciously. If I too treated the land as they did, then perhaps my travels were legitimate.
After hiking through Grand Marais, I entered the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore. Through this area, the trail is not blazed, rather marked with wooden sign posts. At the first campsite on the federally managed shoreline, I met my sister, Liz, and my partner, Andy, for my second resupply this month. They arrived after dark and we hiked from the parking area to our site (~2 miles), marveling at shooting stars and exhausting our laughter and chatter before silently setting up camp at Au Sable East. We enjoyed the beach and explored the area all weekend. Andy and I even got to kayak Grand Sable Lake while Liz relaxed in her hammock. Saying goodbye was difficult. Nonetheless, after they left, I continued west through the Pictured Rocks, a national treasure and popular tourist destination.
Along this stretch of the trail, I was frustrated by all the toilet paper left by campers and hikers. I suppose they think that since it's biodegradable, it can be thrown in the woods and will "disappear" soon enough. Though the process of degrading takes two to six months and, during that time, the TP can negatively affect the ecology. As I hike, I pick up small pieces of litter and put them in my "trash pocket" for later disposal. If I'm headed to an area with trash service, I'll try to fill a grocery bag with larger pieces of litter. I do not touch TP or wet wipes, for obvious reasons, but I often think of collecting some in a bag and posting it at a trailhead with a sign that reads "Pee Litter". Ladies and people who wipe when urinating: please look into using a pee cloth or bring a resealable bag for your litter!
I hiked through the city of Munising after Pictured Rocks and stopped at the only Native American business I've been able to find: Aadawegamik Trading Post. The owner, an Odawa man, shared with me advice on my flute playing and knowledge of his customs. I played for him a ditty inspired by the great Gitche Gumee (Ojibwa word for Lake Superior). He said it sounded Scandinavian, then suggested that I attend a pow wow and seek a native flute player, offer them a pouch of tobacco, and request counsel. For native flute players are a conduit of nature, they allow the Earth to speak through them and their feelings to be expressed by their playing. He told me that he and his people are walking "The Red Road", but he couldn't tell me what road I'm on, though I must be very brave for walking this road alone.
From Munising, I hiked inland and navigated difficult terrain through Rock River Canyon Wilderness and Laughing Whitefish State Park. Although beautiful areas, I was miserable through parts as my feet got sucked into mud, my knees throbbed from climbing log, root, and rock, and the mosquitos were incessant. You can imagine my joy when I made it to the Lakenenland Hiker Shelter, east of the city of Marquette. If you visit this area, you must see this free sculpture park, created by a naturally artistic man with a huge heart. The shelter provided cots, supplies, and a coveted jar of peanut butter, which I dug into happily. The next day, I hiked to Gitche Gumee Campground, where I was scheduled for two days of rest and my final resupply of the month. When I arrived, the owner did not seem to remember the hour-long conversation we had before my journey. He told me at the time that he'd be happy to hold my resupply package till I arrived, though when I did, it was no where in sight. He kept forgetting to look for it and it was never found. This was a huge blow and I left the next morning, hiking 10 miles on an empty stomach to the city.
Lucky for me, I had the number for the woman I met east of the Two-Hearted River - a true ally. She picked me up at the library a few days ago and took me to her and her husband's home. Two of the kindest people I've known, I felt saved. They provided a room with a cloud-like bed, a hot shower, books, a bike to take into town, and pretty much anything one could need on such a journey. Conversation was easy and their warm energy was an elixir. I am inspired by this woman, her powerful mind, body and soul, and her generosity. She brought me back to this library today, where I continue to write to you, reader, trying to draw a conclusion to this month, but realizing that there is far more I'd like to say. The library closes soon and this update is long enough, so I'll leave you with this piece I wrote in April 2020. Thus far, I have only shared poetry written on my journey. Tonight though, I share this poem as I feel it is relevant to my travels over the past month.
We need each other.
We need interaction & affection.
We need to be able to call upon another for the messages our hearts know.
we need you.
I need you.
She/he/they need you.
Without you we are lost.
We try to return to the place we came from, hoping to be found.
Hoping to be searched for where we saw each other last.
Separated in places we've never known before.
Yet know this,
You must hold out your hand for the person that needs you most.
Maintain your distance, but know that our hands stretch farther than arm's length.
Our hands are voices, songs, and stories.
Our hands are the words of a friend that pull us from bed,
the foods that feed those with empty cupboards,
the help that gives someone a glimmer of stability.
We are needed & in need. I will only get through this with you. You will only get through this with me.
With our hands, we will build a livable future
& lead our neighbors to higher ground.
Hold out your hands
& hold on.