A Long Walk for a Superior Sunset (May/June 2011)
by Dylan McBride, age 14, Michigan
On a Sunday morning at 9:00 AM I would normally be reading a book, but on this particular day I was dressed and ready for what I was sure would be the worst idea I'd ever had. I was about to set off on a 42-mile (68-kilometer) backpacking trip through the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore in Michigan's Upper Peninsula. I was going with a small group of Girl Scouts whom I had never met before and, needless to say, I was kind of nervous.
I met up with the three other girls and our two leaders, Jody and Barb, and said goodbye to my parents. We traveled together to our campground, went wading in the unusually warm Lake Superior, and got ready for the first leg of our journey.
On Monday we hiked 6.4 miles (10 kilometers), pausing for lunch at a small waterfall. By the time we made it to our campsite, I was dying--backpacks can be heavy! After we got our tents up and hung all of the food on the bear pole (a tall pole with hooks on the top), we had to walk a little ways to collect water. Along the path we found some ripe raspberries, lots of mud, and a very nice sunset spot. I was amazed to look back at the distance we had covered in one day. Looking down from a cliff to the beautiful turquoise water was awe-inspiring--but, in my opinion, taking my pack off was just as great as the natural beauty around us.
The next morning brought our shortest hike, at 5.6 miles (9 kilometers), but it was also our hardest. We faced sand and the most painful hill I have ever climbed. It was worth it, though, when we reached the Mosquito group site. A short walk brought us to Mosquito River and Lake Superior, where we could soak our feet in the icy cold river or the nice warm lake and explore the sandstone layers.
We hiked 7.2 miles (12 kilometers) the next day. When we were still a good distance from our campsite, the wind picked up and it looked like a storm was brewing. That was sort of a problem because the trail was at the very edge of a cliff. In some places, slipping would have meant a disastrous end to a lovely (if exhausting) trip. Happily, no one fell off the cliff, the rain decided to fall further inland, and we found a very nice campsite waiting for us. Right across from the campsite we had a wonderful sunset spot with a number of downed trees that we could sit on. A little way down the trail we had access to a very small beach where we spent the afternoon and pumped water.
After dinner, Jody and Barb went back to the beach and the rest of us were playing cards when we heard a strange rustling in the brush. Naturally, we freaked out and ran to hide in one of the tents, wishing our leaders would come back. Then we realized that we had left the food unguarded. We were all too scared to leave the tent. Someone said, "I'm not going out there! It can have the food if it wants to!"
Eventually, our leaders returned and the food made it onto the bear pole. As we set out on our 9-mile (14-kilometer) trek the next morning, we saw a fresh paw print like that of a coyote or a wolf.
Oddly enough, our longest day of hiking was also my best. It helped that we had nice terrain and only one mildly painful hill. On the side of the trail we found a very old, abandoned, rusted-out car with lots of names and mesages scratched into the paint. The beach near our campsite, once we reached it, was a great sunset spot--and we didn't hear any frightening rustlings.
The day after that, we hiked 7.3 miles (12 kilometers) over some more nice terrain to our next campsite. Since the site was close to a light station, we took a tour. The view from the top blew me away! We got to raise the flag at the light station when we got up the next morning. Then we set out under a light drizzle on our 7.1-mile (11-kilometer) hike. Our destination: the van.
For our final hike, we ended up strung out according to our different walking speeds. I was on my own in the middle of the group. The forest was peaceful and it was nice to enjoy it alone.
It was almost unbelievable to reach the Grand Sable Visitors Center and see flush toilets after so long! It must have been kind of funny watching us get all excited over trivial things like riding in a car and electricity. We drove back to the campground we stayed at the very first night, took a walk on the beach, and watched the sun go down. The next day, after we met my parents at the rest area and I was headed home, it seemed more like a dream than something that really happened.
The trip was definitely worth the sore knees and feet. Even if you don't like to backpack, there are some places you can get to more easily. But you will miss the beautiful sunsets, the cliff-top beaches, and looking down to the bass of a cliff without a railing between you and the air.