(Written Monday, October 14th at 9pm)
Total Days: 11
Total Mileage: 3,650
There is magic in the air up here in the North Woods of Michigan. We’ve only been in the Upper Peninsula (the U.P., hence the name “Yooper”) for 3 days but the warm welcome we’ve received has made us feel right at home. It all started when we drove into the night from South Dakota to northern Wisconsin. We weren’t sure where we’d stay once we got there, but we had our eyes set on the small town of Livingston as a potential stopping point. When we were only five miles away from the town we came across a boat ramp with a park and pulled in to look for “No Camping” signs. There was nothing posted so we set up our tent in a grassy spot near a picnic bench and enjoyed our first night of reasonable temperatures on the trip; it didn’t get below 50 degrees!
The next morning we were able to watch the sun rise over a scenic little lake before hopping in the car and driving the remaining 3 hours to Escanaba, the town where Don lived for 3 years before moving out to Portland. When we got to town the first place we stopped was Elmer’s Diner for a Midwest breakfast of waffles, corn beef hash, sausage, and eggs. Fighting off a serious food coma, we then drove “downtown” and stopped at Don’s old place of work. First we visited the shop across the street, The Beaten Path, to say hi to an old friend John, and then I finally got to see where Don got his start as a bike mechanic, Mr. Bike Ski and Fitness. It’s a great shop, well organized and clearly run by people who are passionate about outdoor recreation. From there we went to the local brewery, Hereford & Hops, for a late morning beer before heading over to Don’s friends’ house to shower – our first in over 5 days.
Stefan and Ashley were Don’s friends when he lived in Escanaba and they were wonderful hosts – providing us with lots of cute animals to cuddle, a comfy bed, showers, and endless laughter and conversation. After getting cleaned up Don tried to show me his favorite place to sit and look at Lake Michigan. Unfortunately, the drizzle that began as we started walking quickly turned into a downpour and by the time we got back to our car, our jeans and shoes were completely soaked. We went back to the house to change and then relaxed until later in the evening when we ate some beef pasties (a Yooper delicacy) and headed to another friend’s house to surprise him. Matt is Don’s old boss and is an all-around awesome guy. He and his wife Holly have 6 kids and their home is full of love, joy, and a healthy dose of silliness. We all enjoyed a wonderful night of drinking, sharing stories, eating dinner with the family, and even celebrating the youngest’s 7th birthday with cake and presents. By the time we got “home” my cheeks were sore from so much smiling.
The next morning we ate breakfast with our hosts at the gaudy but cozy Swedish Pantry restaurant where I got a cinnamon roll the size of my head (we actually still haven’t finished the whole thing) and then began driving north. We made our way to Pictured Rocks along the Lake Superior coast…our destination for our first backpacking trip since leaving Portland. We couldn’t have picked a better day. We hiked 7 miles from miner’s Castle to Chapel Rock all along the coastline and we had perfect blue skies by mile 2. Pictured Rocks is a spectacular coastline and a must-see if you’re in the U.P.. The hiking is easy because it’s mostly all flat, and you get a rewarding vista around almost every corner. We found ourselves a campsite near Chapel Rock, ate dinner on the beach while watching the sunset, and then relaxed in our hammock with some whiskey and cookies. It was a perfect night of camping.
Today was equally as marvelous. After packing everything up we hiked the 7 miles back to the car, taking even more photos because now the sun was in the east and everything looked different. We made it back by early afternoon and headed straight to the town of McMillan, where we had made plans to stop by a dog sledding kennel that we are interested in working at when we get back from South America next year. I first heard about Nature’s Kennel through a NOLS job posting over 2 years ago. Ever since I was a little girl I’ve had a fascination with dog sledding, Alaska, and the Iditarod. I almost applied to Nature’s Kennel last time I was between jobs, but at that point I had wanted to stay in Portland a while longer. But now that Don and I are together and both share this interest, it only makes since to fit it into the “life plan” that is slowly unfolding. It doesn’t hurt that Don already has an affinity for the U.P., or that we need a way to save money for a winter before thru-hiking the PCT. We were pretty excited about the prospect of guiding sled dog tours before we even visited, but we didn’t expect to be as impressed by the establishment as we were.
Jess, the manager, gave us a full tour of the property, answering all of our questions and providing answers to questions we didn’t even know we had. We got to see almost all of the 150 Alaskan Huskies on site and they were all gorgeous, healthy, well-mannered, and happy dogs. We even got to play with 8 husky puppies while walking through the fall-colored forest. By a fun stroke of luck, while still in Portland I met a friend of a friend named Ginny who just happened to be working for this same dog sledding company this winter, so we got to see her and hear about her first month of work. Just as we were about to leave, the owner Ed drove up and we got to meet and talk to him. Ed has raced in the Iditarod 7 times and has won Michigan’s U.P. 200. He lives in a rustic house he built himself with his wife and two little kids and he is one kind-hearted, dog-loving man. The whole experience at the kennel was more than we could have hoped for and it got us that much more excited about our potential employment there next winter.
From McMillan we drove south over the Mackinac bridge into lower Michigan, but before we got too far down the Lake Michigan coast we stopped ina church parking lot for a restful night of sleep. Saying goodbye to the U.P. was hard, but our next stop, after viewing Sleeping Bear Dunes, is at Don’s parents’ house where we are looking forward to family time, a few nights in a bed, and a little R & R.