Note: This is part 1, which turned out to be the adventure before the adventure. I didn’t take any photos, so I’ll leave part 2, the actual adventure, to Ike, who took plenty.
Prologue: Semper Gumby
Ike and I have done two backpacking trips together now, and neither of them has gone off as planned. The first one, in Pennsylvania, was delayed by a day when one of Ike’s daughters got sick. This time, for a trip to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, an uncharacteristic snowstorm in the Washington D.C. area - the fricking D.C area for crying out loud! - caused us to delay the trip for two days. Fortunately, both Ike and I are pretty flexible, so both times we’ve made it happen. And that’s only the beginning....
1. Having a plan is not the same as planning.....
Just like the first trip, Ike and I had been planning this for quite some time before we could both make it happen. Of course, just because we planned it well ahead of time doesn’t mean I actually PLANNED it ahead of time. So a week before I was supposed to fly to Michigan I began paying attention to the weather in the UP. Cold. Really cold. Like iced-over testicles cold. “Should be in the 30s in March” said Ike in an earlier email. Not so fast said NOAA. More like teens to lower 20s, with wind chill taking that down to the single digits. During the day. Below 0, by a bunch, at night. Suddenly I began to worry that my quilts weren’t going to get me there.
So, like any good single dude without children, I pulled out the credit card and ordered a WM Sequoia 5 degree bag and had it shipped express. Done. Well, almost, you know, done, but not really quite done in the ‘that’s all I’ve got to do’ way. Because, you see, I got the bag, and boy was that thing big. Stuffed it into my pack. Shoehorned my shelter in there. Some food. Oof. The poor pack started looking like me in my wetsuit - which is to say not really pretty, with odd, pudgy bulges all over the place and seams crying UNCLE! I was definitely gonna need a bigger pack. And thanks to the weather delay, I might be able to find one.
A quick call to HMG - on a Sunday, god bless ‘em - and Dave and Mike confirm they have a Porter in stock in my size, and they can overnight it the next day. So, out comes the friendly plastic ‘make a wish’ card again, and Monday morning a pack is on it’s way to Ike’s.
My driveway shoveled, the snow finally melting (which meant my sitter would be able to get to my house and take care of my puppy), I headed off to BWI for the short flight to Grand Rapids, where Ike would pick me up on our way north. Finally, we were on our way.
2. We’ll be fine....
It was an uneventful flight, and Ike and I smiled a hello to each other as I put my bags in the back of his Subaru and then settled into the passenger seat. We had a long drive ahead of us, 5-6 hours depending on traffic, and we were both anxious to get on our way. While it was only the second time Ike and I had spent any time together, we quickly fell into an easy, conversational rhythm as we hit the highway. Ike and I have a natural familiarity, as if we’ve known each other for a long time. We brought each other up to date on the various things that had been happening in our lives over the past year - he told me about his kids and I told him about all the women I hadn’t dated, things like that. He filled me in on the bits of Michigan we passed through as we headed north.
We stopped in Gaylord for a Starbucks coffee and a bathroom break. We still had a ways to go so we didn’t linger long, quickly getting back on the highway. I took a nap, having gotten up pretty early to catch my morning flight. I woke to Ike saying, “We probably should have gotten gas in Gaylord.” “Should we turn around?” I asked. “No, we’ll be fine,” he assured me.
We continued on, figuring we’d stop for gas just before crossing into the Upper Peninsula. Then Ike laughed. I was a bit puzzled as I didn’t think I had said anything funny, so I asked him why he laughed. “We just ran out of gas,” replied.
He coasted the car for a bit, then slowly pulled it over onto the shoulder. We didn’t really discuss the situation, we just started acting. I grabbed my Kobuk jacket out of my bag and, after putting on the emergency flashers and locking the car, we headed up the highway, my thumb darting out toward approaching cars. A kind, Canadien soul, perhaps the tenth car or so we encountered, pulled over and offered us a ride. We were, as you might expect, pretty darned grateful.
Unfortunately, he could only take us to the gas station, some 20+ miles away from where the car sat, sadly blinking, on the side of the highway. He was in a hurry to get home so he couldn’t take us back to the car.
We, or more properly, Ike, bought a gas can and a gallon of gas. It was, without a doubt, the most expensive gallon of gas he has ever purchased. We then trudged back to the highway and began heading back to the car.
A number of cars passed us up before one finally pulled over to offer us a ride this time. And, strangely, he only gave us a ride to the next exit, perhaps a mile down the road. A dozen more cars passed us by before a van pulled over and offered us a ride the rest of the way. With frozen ears and fingers we quickly clambered in. Ike had set the spot where we left the car on his phone, so as we approached we asked the driver to pull over under a bridge, figuring that would be the easiest place to cross over the wide, snow-filled median. Ike figured we were only a quarter mile from the car from this bridge.
Ike is distance challenged. I hadn’t realized this before, but as we bounded through the snow, across the median, and began walking back toward the car I realized I couldn’t see it. “Where’s the car?” I asked, for surely if we were a quarter mile from the car I should be able to see it, especially since the emergency flashers should be batting the car’s eyelashes at us. And we hadn’t been gone that long, it couldn’t have gotten towed.
We ambled on, still in pretty good spirits, and after a lengthy trudge of perhaps 15-20 minutes we could finally see the car ... in the distance ... perhaps a bit over a quarter mile away. “A quarter mile, huh,” I sneered. Ike just smiled and kind of shrugged his shoulders.
After a quick stop at the gas station to fill up, we were soon on our way again. We got to the hotel much later than expected and were in bed shortly after dragging our bags from the car to the room. Our backpacking trip would finally start the next morning, but we had already started the adventure!
3. The Ice Shelf
After a big breakfast in the hotel lobby we headed into town to get our permits. We arrived about 20 minutes later than we had wanted, but Ike was in and out with permits in hand pretty quickly. We still had about a half hour drive, if I remember correctly, to the parking area, which was about a mile from the trailhead. We reached the parking area to find it unplowed. Undaunted, Ike drove his Subaru in, and promptly got it stuck. We spent perhaps half an hour digging the car out, then then digging the area in which we’d park out, before finally donning our packs and heading down the road to the trailhead. We wore our Microspikes on the icy road, and then swapped them out for snowshoes as we got to the trailhead and headed down the trail.
Our plan was to hike down to Mosquito Beach and pick up the North Country Trail, which followed the top of the cliffs. We got down to the beach and stopped just short of the water. Well, where the water would have been. Lake Superior was frozen and covered in snow. We both just stood there looking out over the frozen expanse.
Suddenly Ike turned around to face me, a big, goofy grin pasted haphazardly across his face and a slightly crazed gleam in his eyes. He was kinda slowly shifting his weight from one foot to the other and back again, you know, like a child does right before it wets its pants.
“I really, really want to walk the ice shelf (I think that’s what he called it),” he pleaded. How could I say no, looking at that face? “Okay,” I replied. “I’ve been up here so many times hoping to do this, and now I actually have the chance, I’d really like to do it!” he continued. “Okay,” I replied. “I mean, if you’re really worried about it we won’t do it, I don’t want to talk you into anything that you really don’t want to do.” “I’m fine,” I replied. “It’s just that I’ve always wanted to walk .....,” he bleated. “DUDE, you don’t have to keep trying to convince me, I’m fine, let’s do it,” I said. Though I didn’t think it possible, his smile actually broadened. Then he took a bunch of pictures. He put his camera away and then, giddily, he turned and headed out onto the lake. With a slight shake of my head and a pretty broad smile myself, I willingly followed......
(I’ll let Ike pick it up from here since I didn’t take any photos, and he took plenty....)