Jesus what a day already. I was out on the trail by 8:15am and it’s only 9:30 now. I walked all of 5 minutes from my little cabin shelter and what a shock to see my first view of Lake Superior! I actually laughed out loud when I saw it because it was such a thrill. I can’t believe I was so close to for over a full day. There was still a bit of distance between me and the lake but I could see it!
I was nervous-excited as I made my way down to the shore. I had to make a pit-stop which literally made me sad. It seemed to spoil the spiritual purity of the experience (also I was mad at myself for passing up a porta-potty, the first “real toilet” I had seen in days). I dug my hole, did my business and stepped out into the water.
This part of the lake is called “the shallows,” which makes sense because I was walked into the water for hundreds of yards before it even reached the top of my legs. Lake Superior is notoriously cold but, in that shallow water, I was almost warm.
Finally I took a surface dive and bathed myself. I floated on my back awhile, watching the clouds go by. There was a family of loons floating not too far away, the sun was just coming to from the clouds, still low enough to cast rays down in angled streaks, and the water was beautiful and calm. I felt like the smartest person in the world for getting myself to that place in that moment.
Walking back to shore, I decided I would drip-dry in the sun and write about the magical experience I just had. As I was digging my journal out of my pack I looked up to see a man was standing there looking at me!
He was middle-aged, overweight, wearing black pants and a black turtleneck. In one hand he held a large black camera. I let out a weird yelp and ducked behind my bag. My pack is big enough to cover my body almost completely but I was still naked. I started rambling, the first words I’d spoken in awhile “Oh my god, I’m so sorry, I wasn’t expecting anyone to be here, I haven’t seen anyone in days….” On and on and on.
“So….” he said “you’re alone?”
I had already given myself away in that regard so I just told the truth, after a long pause. “Yes”
“Where ya from?”
Are you fucking kidding me? Are we having a chat right now? “Down-state” I said.
“You wouldn’t happen to want your picture taken, would you?”
Oh my god. You mean, do I want any pictures in addition to the ones you probably already took? “No” I said, “goodbye.”
He took off again down the trail. I got dressed immediately and am writing this now in a state of shock.
I don’t think he’s a “bad guy” or a predator. I think he is probably an amateur photographer who got a little more than he bargained for on his morning nature hike. I think he probably just “had to ask” because, you never know.
It does not escape me that this is pretty much the exact scenario I have spent the last week daydreaming about- a scandalous mid-hike rendezvous where I place the role of the confident sexy nature girl. Talk about being careful what you wish for! In my imagination the guy was a lot sexier, but I never even considered I’d already be naked! And I never truly considered that I might be a crouching shivering ball of fear. Jesus Christ.
If I had to I could’ve used my mace, I could’ve run or fought. But I know I’m so lucky that I didn’t have to. I’m so lucky it turned out the way it did. Reaching this big body of water means that I’ve returned to areas where people actually live, I’ll have to be more careful.
I’m going to take a picture of this spot before I leave but I know it won’t be able to capture the magic from my time out in the water. I’m ok with that. I know what I saw out there, I know it was beautiful, and that’s enough.
This is the day of close calls. This morning, it was that man. Tonight, it was food. I have been considering myself “in recovery” since my ritual on the 45th parallel (not quite the same as “recovered” but still meaningful). If I weren’t on this trip and if I weren’t “in recovery” I would definitely have given in. I know that the more distance- physical, temporal, and emotional- that I put between myself and the last relapse, the better. I also believe that these difficult times strengthen my recovery, temper it. But I can’t help but be afraid and cautious after such a close call. I have a strong respect for the power of this addiction over me and I can’t be complacent.
After my experience this morning I walked awhile toward highway 123. I decided to use up the last of my phone charge that I’ve been saving for an emergency to call mom. It was a difficult phone call. She has been extremely worried about me and claims she was about to call the cops after one more day of not hearing from me. I understand and I don’t. I know it must be really scary for her to think of me out here, but I don’t think I qualify as a missing person when I intentionally go out on a backpacking trip. I don’t like feeling like I owe her check-ins at pre-described intervals. I don’t like feeling tethered.
Since I was out of food and it’s lame to walk along a paved road, I hitchhiked for the first time, to the little town of Paradise. I’ve never hitchhiked on my own before. I couldn’t bring myself to raise my thumb in the traditional way, so I put my New Yorker flair on it by holding my arm in the air like I was hailing a cab.
Once, a car stopped pretty far up the road ahead of me, and I walked up to it. I guess the driver expected me to run or otherwise changed his mind because he took off before I got there. My eventual rescuer was a guy who is road-tripping across America in his van. He said “we used to hitchhike all the time and it was no big deal. You’re not supposed to do that anymore but I figured that I’ve gotten plenty of rides that way so I’m happy to return the favor.” I told him my name and told me his but said it really didn’t matter. I already forgot it.
I got dropped off in Paradise, a tiny little town on the Lake Superior coast. It is apparently known for its proximity to Whitefish Point (home of the Edmund Fitzgerald!), Tahquamenon Falls, and the UP 200, an awesome dogsled race that doesn’t happen to be going on while I’m in town. Mom comes here at least once a year and had some recommendations for me while I’m here. I went to the “Blueberry Patch” “restaurant” and had my first pasty. Pasties are authentic Yooper fare, apparently a traditional meal for copper miners. I would describe them as “meat-pie calzones” and “not very good.” Every meal seemed to be served with a side of applesauce. I met a couple who invited my to dinner tonight at their RV at campsite #72 in Tahquamenon Falls Campground.
The owner of the restaurant is a gregarious senior citizen named Shirley. We took a picture together for mom- see how alive I am?! She speaks so loudly to every customer that the entire dining area is engaged in an open-ended communal conversation. There is a homemade sign above the cash register that says:
“The only thing more over-rated
than Natural Childbirth
is Owning Your Owning Business!”
I did some “grocery shopping” in a little store across the street. It was dingy in there and I wondered if this is where everyone in town does their shopping. The woman at the register and her husband own the place. Her husband was taking the afternoon off to go golfing with his buddy so they dropped me back off on my trail near where I’d gotten picked up before.
I felt guilty for taking rides so I decided to tack on a few extra miles by exploring an abandoned logging town that the golfer guys told me about. It was a huge disappointment. Not much to see at all but it is interesting to think about a bustling town and a thriving industry here not so long ago.
I was sorry to leave the Lake Superior coast so soon after arriving but the walk along the Tahqua River heading toward the campground is beautiful. I started daydreaming about the possibility of hitchhiking on a boat along the river, just throwing out my arm on the shore and getting picked up for a ride on a boat. I love that idea.
Into the evening, I knew I was going to miss dinner at site #72 so I decided, yet again, to catch a ride. Every time I stuck out my arm it got attacked by bugs, so I think I was sending ambiguous signals to the cars. Finally a van stopped and I got in with a bunch of elderly folks who fretted over my and gave me a pitch for the local Christian radio station that they work for.
I was lucky to get a site here, the campground is very popular and fairly full. I set up camp and went to find my new friends for the possibility of a late meal. They gave me leftover tacos and a beer and we chatted a long time. It felt strange sitting in their in their weirdly modern RV and I was uncomfortably full and surprisingly drunk off one beer. Finally the man said to me “if you need a shower you can take off any time.” I was mortified. I realized that I had been constantly scratching my bug-bites, compulsively rubbing my dirt-caked, bug-spray greased skin in their pristine motorhome. I have completely lost all social decorum. I am disgusting. I thanked them and left.
I am freaked out over how much I ate today and it’s all connected to the guilt I have around getting rides. I am not “through-hiking” and it is not my goal to hike every step of the North Country Trail so it’s ok if I get rides. I have that right. But anything resembling a shortcut feels like a slippery slope into all kinds of bad habits. I’ll just have to try to get on track tomorrow.
From where I lay here in my tent I can hear the noises of the campsite. A woman in the campsite next to me is playing a book on tape. It is a “bodice busting” vampire novel and I find it absolutely hilarious that she is listening to it so indiscreetly. It’s like watching porn in public. Admirable. Hilarious.
Continue to the next entry in the series here: Day 21: Lower Tahquamenon Falls to Paradise
Go back to the last entry in the series here: Day 19: Day of Nothing
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