Today, my journey began. Serendipitously, 99 years ago the National Park Service also began its stewardship of federally protected lands. After numerous delays, today finally felt like the right time for me to shove off. I had packed for just about every situation I could imagine. My mom and I had made numerous adjustments to Sam, the Element, in order to make my new home as comfortable and as functional as possible. If not for her constant help and supervision, I probably wouldn’t have left until September! She was hugely helpful throughout the process. In short, the stars had finally aligned and my departure date synced up perfectly with the anniversary of the creation of the National Park Service.
Despite my best efforts to make things as ready as possible the night before, the morning flew by in a blur. All of those little tasks that you put off until the last minute tend to add up once that last minute finally rolls around. In my case, this meant squirreling away the duffels I would be storing in Bayfield, amassing all the odds and ends that would eventually make it into the Element, saying goodbye to old friends, double checking my lists, and organizing my front seat storage systems. It was a wild few hours, but as soon as I sat down in the car, I knew I could leave that stress behind me. The trip had suddenly transitioned from an exercise in packing to a meditation on exploration. That shift was palpable as I left Bayfield in my rearview mirror.
At this point, I was on my own. I was headed east towards adventures unknown. At the last minute, I decided to route by Conserve School, a wonderful semester school in Land o Lakes, WI where Jeff and Jill, two of our families closest Bayfield friends, work. Nestled up against the Sylvania Wilderness, Conserve really is a gem. I had heard stories about its beautiful campus and epic access to the outdoors, but experiencing it firsthand finally made it a reality. As Jill and I wandered the campus, our conversation transitioned seamlessly between their experience at the school and the adventure I had just embarked on. I even got to speak to roughly thirty students about what I was doing and why I thought it was important. I realized then, as eager eyes surrounded me, that I should probably have a fine-tuned version of that elevator speech ready at the drop of a hat. It would clearly be something I would have to talk about again…
I left Conserve with hope for the youth of tomorrow and two jars of Jill’s homemade Bayfield strawberry jam. Not a bad combination if you ask me. From there, I hopped back on M28 towards Marquette, stopping sporadically for gas, pictures, or intrigue. One of my stops, however, was particularly exciting. Those of you that know me personally know that I drink a lot of water. This trip has not changed my hydration habits, which means that I make pretty frequent stops. Yesterday, as I was chugging along M28, I felt the urge. Seconds later, I saw a rest stop ahead and pulled in. Michigan has copious roadside rest areas, so this wasn’t necessarily that surprising, even though it was quite the coincidence. When I pulled off the road, I noticed a plaque and an old water pump. After I had answered nature’s call, I meandered back to the sign and read up on some culturally relevant sights in the area. My attention then turned to the water pump, which I pumped awkwardly into my empty water bottles. As I was loading them back into the car, I noticed, out of the corner of my eye, a sign that read “Waterfall” with a big arrow pointing off into the woods. Intrigued, I grabbed some leftovers and headed off into the woods. Two minutes later, I found myself eating dinner beside a gentle waterfall in the woods of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. Not too shabby.
Although I easily could have dozed off in that rest area, I pressed on towards Marquette, a town I had heard so much about, but had never been to. 45 minutes later, I was parking my car to walk around the trendy, yet northwoodsy downtown area, complete with a store called the “Flying Moose”. Its sign said that it sold “Organic Food, Gear, and Beer”, which meant I had no choice but to explore further. From there, I headed down to the massive ore dock on the shore. From that vantage point, I could see across the Whitefish Bay to the National Seashore I would explore tomorrow. Having spent six seasons guiding sea kayak tours through sandstone cliffs in the Apostle Islands, I had heard the Apostle caves compared to Pictured Rocks more times than I can remember. Tomorrow, I would finally get to make the comparison myself.
Having made it to Marquette, I wanted to get a little closer to Pictured Rocks before bedding down for the night. I drove lazily towards Munsing, stopping frequently to take in the Lake. There, I checked the hours of the National Park Ranger Station there before heading into Hiawatha National Forest to find a campsite. Now, I am lounging in the back of the Element, collecting my thoughts before turning in for the night. Let’s hope the sun comes out tomorrow!
For those of you who are more cartographically inclined, here is a map of today’s route!