Thursday, August 2, 2012

Pictured Rocks Crazy-Hike

Thru-hiking the Lakeshore Trail at the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore. 43.2 miles. 2 days.

So we decided to hike 21.7 miles. Then we woke up the next day and did it again. It was challenging, beautiful, and as always, worth every bit of energy it took us to accomplish.

I set out on this trek with Rachel again, as you all probably know, my best hiking buddy… the newest member of what is a small endurance-craving junkie population. She may not realize it yet, but she’s as addicted to this as much as I am (sorry, Rachel – you are one of us now!). When you can eat 5 pieces of bacon and not feel the slightest bit guilty about the calories and fat you are putting into your body because you've just burned 8 times that hiking, it doesn’t take much to sell this type of adventure. It really comes down to one question: “How much does bacon mean to you?”

How do you really feel about your bacon, Rachel?

With kidding aside (not really kidding about the bacon thing, though!), we did hike 43.2 miles in two days with our full backpacks on, which weighed in at about 30ish pounds each. It’s a tough job, and we were happy to do it. Well, maybe all except for that last .8 miles that we didn’t expect. I wouldn’t give them back for anything in the world now, but then? Yes, I would’ve teleported to the finish if I’d had the option.

We drove up to Munising, Michigan after work on Friday (with a stop in at Mickey Lu’s for delicious fire-grilled butter burgers!), so we got up there quite late. We didn’t have any plans, so we drove down to Sand Point Beach and parked the car. We got out, walked out on the beach and sat down, enjoying the stars in a clear sky, a bright moon, and gentle waves along the Lake Superior shoreline. We could see the lights of Munising off in the distance, and we were even gifted some shooting stars and a bunch of satellites! It was a very active night sky! 

Munising in da' moonlight, eh.

We decided we’d just crash in the car for the night – it’s cheap, and we’d be close to our shuttle pick-up in the morning. I took the passenger seat and Rachel spread out in the back of the car. It didn’t take too long and we were both out, ready to start our first of two long hiking days.

In-the-car camping.

We woke up early and had coffee and oatmeal on a bench by the parking lot. We had a little extra time before catching our shuttle, so we visited a small waterfall before stopping in at the Visitor’s Center for our backcountry camping permit. After that we drove a small distance to the Munising Falls Visitor’s Center where we arranged to be picked up by their regular shuttle. We were the only ones on the shuttle and it was an hour drive. Rachel started to feel pukey about halfway in, so she went up front and took a seat, holding her head against the window just trying not to get sick. It’s a curvy, long road, and it’s a big, open shuttle bus with nobody else in it! We made it without her getting sick! Whew!


The hike began at the Grand Sable Visitor’s Center near Grand Marais. We snapped a few “begin” photos and hit the trail. We were hiking fast, but certainly weren’t passing on any of the pretty views! We enjoyed a leafy trail to start, with huge patches of giant ferns lining the trail. The leaves above were bright green against a deep blue sky, and there were no bugs! We hiked on with our first planned break stop at the Log Slide, which was 5.8 miles in, according to trail signs. When we arrived at the Log Slide, there were a TON of tourists and a group of other backpackers there already, so we head down a little side trail and sat in the shade to eat our snack and rest our feet. It wasn’t long after that we got up, had a photo snapped with our first view of Lake Superior in the background, and head back on down the trail.

Looking back at the dunes.

We took our second break at Hurricane River, which was 8.7 miles into our hike. We treated water, ate bacon, pastrami, cheese and mayo bagels and took our shoes off and walked them through the cold water a bit. It was really nice. I laid back with my head on my backpack and got really tired. There were so many people milling around at this site, though, that we were quickly antsy to get up and get moving. 

Heavenly cold water.

We both had our battles for the day. I was battling feeling tired, and Rachel was dealing with a cold and what we were calling “cement snot.” This turned out to be sort of the regular for the entire trip. But we still pushed on and despite our little “issues,” we still felt pretty darn good!

We had fun naming all the animals. You have to do something when you’re hiking so many miles! You tend to get a little crazy. It all started with our backcountry pass stating that no domestic pets were allowed on the trail. Rachel asked if her undomesticated pet squirrel was allowed, and I thought it would be fine, so the first critter we saw, a chipmunk, became Rachel’s undomesticated pet. We named him “Clyde,” and we saw him off and on quite a bit through the entire trip, sometimes jumping down the trail in front of us as if to say, “Hey, come this way!” A couple of times he stood inches away from us, letting us snap photos. He became our buddy. We later also met Reggie the red squirrel, Gordy the gray squirrel, Sully the seagull, Caldwell the crow and Dora the deer. We also named Billy the bear, even though he never made an appearance.

Hi Clyde!

A little under 3 miles later, at Twelvemile Beach Campground, we took another short break to use the pit toilet. Hard to pass that up on a hike! We were now 11.5 miles into the hike and well over half way. That perked me up a little bit. This is where Rachel spotted a giant caterpillar! He was bigger than my thumb, and I let him walk across my hand, but he left behind a nasty, sticky slime. Thank goodness for hand sanitizer!

Ginormous caterpillar!

We really enjoyed some pretty views of the lake and the sand dunes back from where we came from. The sky stayed clear and blue the whole day, and we didn’t encounter any mosquitoes or flies at all until way later in the evening, and even then there were maybe five. Yeah, five. That’s all. It was a great day for weather and bugs!

We took our next break at the Sevenmile Group Campsite with less than 6 miles to go to our campsite at Coves. On this break, Rachel accidentally set her backpack on her bladder mouthpiece and it leaked out onto her pack, but thankfully not through it. Her reaction to it warranted a giant f-bomb that was appropriate and funny. “Son of a ****!” We laughed about that all weekend. For some reason, when we get out into the woods, we pick up the vocabulary of a sailor. It must have something to do with getting away from everywhere that we are supposed to act "civilized" or something. But we've both been working really hard on limiting the use of our colorful vocabulary while in the woods to only important and warranted situations. Having your bladder water leak out all over the dirty ground and through your pack is one of the perfect times to drop the best-of-the-best curse words. Hey, we never claimed that these hikes are kid-friendly, folks! ;)

Hot, sunny break!

We took our next break in a random overlook with the sun beating down on us. We took maybe 10 minutes and were up and back on the trail in the shade. We started to race for the sunset. We really wanted to reach camp so we could head to the beach and sit down, relax and watch the sun sink into the horizon. We got there right in time – 8:00pm (we stayed on Central time, even though we were in Eastern in this section of the UP). We dropped our packs, grabbed our water bottles and Aqua Mira and head to the beach with plenty of time to fill our bottles and watch the show. We took a ton of pictures, then head back up to camp, anxious to get the tent set up and dinner rolling.

A perfect sunset, as always.

We shared a firepit with what turned out to be two groups of folks from Ohio that didn’t know each other. They were all very nice. I had some sort of chicken noodle side with tuna in it, and Rachel had fried rice. After dinner we head back down to the beach to wash off our nasty hiking grime from the day. It was a perfect time to swim – the moon was super-bright, but it was dark enough that we had some privacy when it came time to change.

Then we got back to the fire, stoked it, had a little celebratory mini plastic bottle of wine, and hit the tent and crashed. Again, I don’t think it took long for either of us to fall asleep. We were TIRED!

We hiked 21.7 total miles from 10:05am – 8:00pm. Our lunch break at the Hurricane River was a full hour, and we had a few smaller breaks scattered in there, so our actual hiking time was under 9 hours, and we were pretty excited about our pace for the day. We hoped we could match that the next day, so we’d get out in time before restaurants closed.


We were up at 5:30 on Sunday morning, and it somehow took us a whole two hours to get onto the trail. But we ate our breakfast, chatted with the others around a morning fire they’d built, packed up and hit the trail at 7:30.

After about 4 miles we stopped at Chapel beach with the thought of maybe swimming. It’s a beautiful, sandy beach, but we felt it was too early to swim, so we opted to wait until the Mosquito beach for our longer break. We grabbed a quick snack and hit the trail again.

The trails delivered a LOT more deep sand to hike through, and this became more and more challenging as the day wore on. Our feet were sore and the balls of our feet were taking the biggest beating, because apparently that is where you naturally dig your foot in when hiking in sand. Rachel even discovered later in the day that a blister was forming under the callus on the ball of her left foot (this is after 33.5 miles total, by the way!!). But we stopped and duct-taped it up before it got out of control. It should dry up and callus just fine, and in the end it will only be able to take more of a beating! I bet her foot curses her for the thought of that! We really do have some tough feet, though. The long day hikes we’ve been taking have been really paying off, and we’re both starting to notice greater hiking strength. This makes us very happy hikers!!

Deep sandy trails are difficult!

Our views were instantly spectacular from the start of the day on Sunday. We were able to view the typical bright blue and teal waters of Lake Superior from the trail, with incredible cliffs in the distance. Once we reached Grand Portal Point, we stopped for a second to just gawk at the views. A ferry was going by loaded up with tourists on the top deck. We were in the wide open, and we noticed they were waving. Then their camera flashes started to go off. So Rachel and I naturally posed for them by giving them a nice side-shot with our backpacks in view, then a cheesy paused high-5 with a leg up in the air. So if you happen to be visiting Pictures Rocks and see two crazy backpackers in the brochure high-fiving on Grand Portal Point… yup, that’s us nutters!

No enhancements here, folks. That's what it looks like for reals!

Mosquito beach was a great break. When we arrived we had the whole beach to ourselves except for 2 kayakers. We’d been hiking only 8.7 miles for the day, but we were already sweaty and completely ready for that swim we’d talked about. We took an hour and half break there, and it would have been longer had we not been chased out by more kayakers. We swam in our underwear and sports bras (colors purposely chosen to resemble swimming bikinis) and by the time we ate lunch (more bacon!) and needed to change there were probably 20-plus kayaks that had pulled up and scattered along the beach to eat their lunch. Changing became a real challenge, but we faced it with our standard, “I don’t give a crap” hiker attitude. I figure "I’ll try to kind of hide under this tree when I change into my dry sports bra, but if you want to watch that badly, then whatevs. Have at it!" So we changed – and I don’t think anyone really saw us, so I think we did a pretty good job being discreet enough. We put on our sun-dried socks and shoes and head out once again.

Rachel under the crystal-clear water at Mosquito Beach.

Super-clear underwater. And super-pretty.

Our last significant break was at Miner’s Castle, which was littered with loud tourists. We tried to enjoy our break, but were again quickly chased onto the serene trail – well, mostly to get away from the terribly misbehaved 8-year old that would not stop screaming everything he had to say to his mates at the top of his lungs. Gah! So annoying to everybody around! Anyway, we sat on the grass and enjoyed our smorgasbord of snacks we had left, used the flushy toilets (such a treat!) and head into our next challenge.

The last miles after Miner’s Castle are mentally tough. You enter pretty much forest just enough away from the cliff edge that you just get peeks and teases of the lake, but rarely too close to the edge for a clear view. It’s a beautiful forested area full of ferns, trees, soft trail, shade and small critters. We even encountered a super-friendly deer that didn’t care that we were there talking to it at full voice and taking pictures. In fact, Rachel almost ran into her! She just walked across the trail right in front of us without a care in the world. But the challenge is the drastic change of scenery from the lake to pure forest, and it being the last stretch of 7.8 miles. We were tired, our feet hurt, and we were craving burgers like nobody’s business.

Gorgeous forest trails.

We hiked. And hiked. And hiked. We took two small breaks to try to break it up (one out of a trowel-trek necessity), and I even put a headphone in one ear for the first time hiking. A little Tom Petty and Neil Young helped me through those last miles. Rachel called this stretch “the trudgery.” We were starting to have a hard time enjoying much around us because we were tired, and this is when you know it’s time to be done. We were also hearing thunder rolling in the distance, and even though we were prepared for wet weather, we hoped to beat any rain that might hit us.

Once we finally reached the Munising Falls Interpretive Center where the car was parked, we looked back at the trail sign and it read, “Sand Point, 3.7 miles.” No big deal, except that we thought it was 2.9 miles. At the end of two long days like that, when you’re starting to calculate your pace and finish time in a terribly obsessing fashion, and drooling and daydreaming about cold sodas and burgers, .8 miles is too much farther to have to go. Except you have to do it. Because there’s trail that lies between you and those sodas and burgers. And the only way to get past it, is to hike it. So we did. Grumpily, to be honest, but we did.

As always, we were proud of our accomplishment, and still mustered up the energy to lift our packs over our heads to show our success.

Success once again!

It was a quick succession after that. We got in the car, drove to Sydney’s in Munising, ate burgers (still sweaty from the hike, even! We didn’t waste any time!), then drove to the Munising Tourist Park campground where we got the LAST campsite available! We bought firewood, set up the tent, swam in the lake, took showers, and finally…finally relaxed around the fire with a couple of drinks. We were both so tired. It wasn’t long and we were in our sleeping bags. Rachel claims I was asleep in 30 seconds and I believe it.

The next morning we woke up and took our time since we had the day off work and time to go at our own pace. We swam again, packed up, had a giant, delicious breakfast with an extra side of bacon and lovely brewed coffee at the Navigator restaurant, then hit the road for home.

It was hard. But if it wasn’t, it wouldn’t have been as awesome as it was. Mission joyfully accomplished.

If you haven't been to Pictured Rocks, I recommend you add it to you bucket list. It is really this gorgeous and magical.


Brandi said...

Wow, amazing. Beautiful pictures. I felt like I was walking with you as I was reading your blog. WOW!

Anonymous said...

Robin, you write so beautifully. I enjoyed every word and the photos were great.

Judy Stuber