The Wind Turns

We woke on Sunday morning a bit tired and decided to spend the morning relaxing at the trailer. Jim had the Sunday crossword to do and I am always happy knitting and reading. It was a delightfully sunny morning and it felt deliciously lazy to just hang out.

After lunch we walked over to the Ranger Station to rent kayaks for the afternoon. We always intend to go kayaking, but on previous trips were hampered by lack of a life vest for Dakota. This time we had brought his and the Tahquamenon River was much too alluring to resist.

Kayaks on order, we decided to walk the rustic campground at Rivermouth. This campground did not loop as most do, but ran alongside the Tahquamenon River. Heavily wooded, the campsites were generously spaced and had views of the river through the trees. I would definitely forego electric hook ups to stay here if we ever were to return.

As we walked, I began to feel an uncommon disturbance in my tummy. When we got back to the trailer, our kayaks were there, but I needed to lay down for a moment. I went back to the bedroom and just kept feeling worse and worse. I was increasingly in distress, sweat began pouring down my face and body and I couldn’t even lie down I was so uncomfortable. Indigestion? Flu? With alarming speed, the pain increased until I finally realized this was something I could not deal with on my own.

Jim headed to the Ranger Station to find out options for medical intervention. The ranger said we could drive to Sault Ste Marie, an hour and a half to the east, or we could head west to Newberry. She recommended Newberry as it was her own home hospital and she thought they were good.

We chose the latter and by the time we got in the truck all I could do was writhe in pain and moan. My thoughts, my whole being was just consumed by pain. Jim made the trip in about 45 minutes and I have only brief recollections of trees flying by and passing many cars as he sped as quickly as possible to the hospital.

Newberry coalesced as a collection of streets and buildings. The blue sign with the H was a beacon. We pulled up and I staggered into the Emergency Room. They rushed me back and I was never so thankful to be anywhere. When the morphine failed to quell the pain, they switched to something called Dilaudid. It took multiple doses and then finally the all-consuming pain was under control. At this point I had no idea what was wrong, but they ordered a CT scan. The CT scan revealed my small intestine was obstructed. They ordered an ambulance to take me to Marquette, which was over two hours away, and where they had the facilities to perform surgery.

Poor Jim had been most of this time in the waiting room, but he was on hand to say goodbye as I was loaded into the ambulance. It would be left to him to head back to the trailer and Dakota and the next day hitch up all by himself and follow me to Marquette. It had to have been a lonely and dismal night.

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My surgery was scheduled for the next morning. At the same time, Jim was hitching the trailer. He texted his sister, Linda, to bring her up to speed. Enter the goddess/saint Linda. She called him immediately and said she was jumping in the car. It was about a seven-hour drive, but she would meet Jim in Marquette to provide much needed and desired moral support. Linda would stay with us several days and, while we may have managed without her, it made all the difference in the world to us.

As terrifying as this whole episode had been, we were incredibly fortunate to have been not too distant from care. The Helen Newberry Joy Hospital in Newberry did a great job of stabilizing my pain and diagnosing my problem. We were again fortunate that they have a close working relationship with the UP Health System–Marquette Hospital. The transport they arranged arrived instantaneously and we began the two hours plus trip.

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The UP Health System—Marquette Hospital turned out to have just opened in June. It is a gorgeous state-of-the-art facility. I had arrived at the hospital Sunday night and my surgery was scheduled for the next morning. Any concerns I had about who my surgeon would be were irrelevant. I was grateful to be there and hoped for the best outcome.

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All went well with the surgery. They removed 19 inches of small intestine, but that’s okay because there is plenty left. The eight inch incision did in all likelihood put an end to my bikini modeling career, but it was a small price to pay.

Jim arrived to visit in the late afternoon. Linda was on hand and they were busy scouring the area for appropriate places for my recovery when I got out. The average stay after my procedure is 5-7 days. My recovery was an upward trajectory. I rejoiced each time a tube was removed and by Thursday, my happiness was transcendent as I surveyed my first meal.

Jim and Linda had found the perfect place for us to recover. The Country Village RV Park in Ishpeming is about 20 minutes up the road from the hospital. Abutting the campground is the pet-friendly, Jasper Ridge Inn. We would have the trailer on hand and the comfort of a hotel room within a few hundred yards.

Linda drove me from the hospital and Jim followed in the truck. It was great to be out and floral tribute greeted me at the hotel. Linda left shortly thereafter having taken incomparable care of both Jim and Dakota. This was the end of the trip we thought we were taking and the beginning of a homeward voyage. We would take our time convalescing and, when it was time, hit the road back east. It was a little sad, but mostly we were grateful that everything worked out so incredibly well.

Day Two in Paradise

We wanted to give Dakota an opportunity to rest up a bit after yesterday’s hike. Even though he didn’t seem over-stressed by the hike, one month post-surgery, he needed to come back slowly.

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The solution was a delightful day exploring the eastern peninsula of the UP in a graceful loop from Paradise to Whitefish Point, back south and then east to Sault Ste Marie and back to the park.

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We were really excited to visit the Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum at Whitefish Point. The Shipwreck Museum is co-located with the Whitefish Point Lighthouse Tower. The later is the oldest operating lighthouse on Lake Superior. The shipwreck museum does a fantastic job of documenting the fury of Lake Superior, which really should be classified as a sea, and the thousands of wrecks resting at the bottom of its depths.

Happily, the collection of buildings comprising the complex are all dog-friendly. While we strolled the exhibits in the museum, Dakota lounged in my arms. Of course, the star of the museum is the bell from the Edmund Fitzgerald, but there were plenty of other breathtaking wrecks to discover. You can bet Gordon Lightfoot’s song runs throughout the exhibits and was an earworm for me as well.

The exhibits were really well curated and gave an unwavering portrait both of the importance of the shipping pathway around Whitefish Point and the tremendous dangers presented. Lake Superior is unforgiving and only the essential economics of shipping cargo, mostly iron ore, around that treacherous point could overcome any trepidation sailors might have felt.

Thousands of wrecks lie below the surface of Lake Superior and this was a theme we would encounter throughout our travels through the UP.

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After the museum, we wandered over to another building to watch the 15-minute movie, The Mystery of the Edmund Fitzgerald, chronicling both the story of its sinking as well as the effort to raise its bell. This was no mean feat as the Edmund Fitzgerald had come to rest over 500 feet below the surface of the water. The original bell is on display at the shipwreck museum and was replaced in situ with a duplicate bell featuring the names of all who perished on that terrible night.

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Equally compelling was the awesomely restored Lighthouse Keepers Quarters. Life tending a lighthouse was not easy. In addition to keeping the enormous lights in good working order, fueled with trimmed wicks, lighthouse keepers lived in semi-isolation. They needed to grow their own food and be very self-sufficient. This looked to be a comparatively comfortable living quarters, but one could easily imagine how difficult life could be in the winter as the lake threw storm after storm against its coasts. With fifteen feet of snow the norm, this was a tough life in the UP.

We opted not to climb the tower, but walked out onto the deck by the beach. The beach was inviting and off the coast we could see an enormous freighter off the shore. That freighter would accompany us all day as we made our way towards Sault Ste Marie and the Soo Locks.

We had gotten to the museum right when it opened which was a good thing. By the time we left, the parking lot was packed. We retraced our path down past Paradise and took a left on to the 33-mile scenic Curley Lewis Memorial Highway.

The highway ran along the coast of Lake Superior sometimes close by and at other times separated from the water by trees and houses. On the left were woods with more remote cabins often grouped in small settlements. Partway along the drive we found the Point Iroquois Lighthouse Tower. At 155 years old, this is one of the oldest lighthouses on Lake Superior.

Dakota remained in the car as we toured the grounds. One exhibit featured the lighthouse keeper’s quarters as it was in the 1950’s. Pretty grim actually.

We did climb the tower to enjoy the view and there was that freighter again inexorably heading to the locks in Ste Sault Marie.

Tummies were rumbling as we reached Brimley and passed a driveway leading to a gravel parking lot and signed “Pickles.” Dimly, I remembered the school teacher from Newberry telling some fellow passengers about a little known gem of a restaurant on the scenic highway to Sault Ste Marie.

We pulled in and Pickles was indeed quite a hidden gem. We sat on the deck overlooking Lake Superior and had marvelous meals. I enjoyed beautifully spiced White Fish tacos and Jim had a fried Lake Perch basket.

After seeing so many beautiful miles of coastline, lighthouses and other curiosities, Sault Ste Marie was an abrupt change of pace. The land around the city was flat and unattractive. That isn’t totally fair, it was clearly agricultural and, therefore, very different from what we had previously seen in the UP. The town was pretty unattractive as well crammed with tourist trap shops and sidewalks packed with tourists.

We made our way to the famous Soo Locks. We stood at the gates to the park and inspected the crowds watching the locks. We were un-enthused and the park was not dog-friendly and that was as far as we wanted to take it.

We drove around Sault Ste Marie a bit just to confirm our first impressions and then headed back out of town south on I-75 and then M-28 back to Paradise. It was clear that this far eastern outpost of the UP was agricultural flat land and we were ready to immerse ourselves in the forests further west. We arrived back at our Airstream tired, but having had a really excellent tour of this part of the UP. We had done our tourist bit and tomorrow we had great plans to kayak the Tahquamenon River.

Five Days in Paradise

We motored along two-lane highways through piney woods and marshlands. Traffic was sparse. Cars were outnumbered by rv’s. Tahquamenon Falls State Park is an enormous piece of land. It is almost 50,000 acres of wilderness punctuated by few roads and little else. This is the stomping ground of Hiawatha and the Chippewa Indians.  The Tahquamenon River runs through the park down to Whitefish Bay. The river is 89 miles running though woodland with the Upper and Lower Falls punctuating along its length.

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The park features four campgrounds. There are two campgrounds at the Lower Falls and two campgrounds where the river empties into Lake Superior. We were staying at Rivermouth Campground which has both a modern campground as well as a rustic loop.

This park books up early in the season and we considered ourselves fortunate once again to have gotten a site. In our case, our site was in the modern loop (electric hookups) right next to the bathhouse. While many people would love the proximity to the bathhouse, we prefer to be further away, but, hey, we had a site!

With a five day stay, Jim let it all hang out and broke out all of his bling. We had the palm tree, the glowey flowers, the pineapple, the flamingo, the flip flop/flamingo lights along the awning and my five American flags. One thing about being next to the bathhouse, you get good visitor traffic. We like to think we brightened a few people’s evening trip to brush their teeth.

Despite weeks on the road, we had yet to enjoy a real hike and that was first up on the agenda. The most exciting hike runs along the Tahquamenon from the Lower Falls to the Upper Falls. The beginning and ends of the trail are paved for accessibility, but the middle is a lovely run through the woods and along the river. Signage warned of rough going and roots along the trail in addition to elevation changes.

It was a really nice run. The weather was delightful. The sunlight filtered through the woods and clouds skidded across the skies. It was easily five degrees cooler under the leafy canopy. At exactly the right moment, a rough wooden bench appeared with a prospect of the river below. We broke out our sandwiches and enjoyed lunch.

Dakota showed no signs of his recent surgery. He was hot to trot along the trail. Trails are his favorite and we like to imagine all the scents he picks up as we walk along. There were plenty of wet spots along the trail. Dakota can be relied upon to head for the muddiest bits. I carried him over those parts. He does, after all, sleep on our bed. At a bantam weight 24 pounds, I didn’t want him to lose any more weight. To his delight a lunch was served and would be moving forward each time we hit a trail.

We emerged from the trail to an unpleasant scrum at the Upper Falls. Now I understand why the DNR claims 600,000 people visit Tahquamenon Falls State Park each year. They all park at the Upper Falls and walk the pavement to the viewing stations. After our extremely pleasant hike, we couldn’t get out of there fast enough.

An enterprising social studies teacher from Newberry runs a summer season shuttle back and forth from the Upper to the Lower Falls ferrying hikers back to their starting point. Dogs are free. We arrived back at the Airstream dreaming of hikes to come.

Been There, Dune That

We did get to visit Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. Jim did some careful research and pinpointed a nice trail to a dunes overlook which was very dog friendly. This checked all of our needs.

The Empire Bluff Trail IMG_2322 (002)is a 1 ½ mile loop up and down hills and through the woods. It proved very popular with people and their dogs. We got there later in the afternoon which was a good thing as many people were leaving the crowded parking area.

The weather was again perfect and we hiked briskly along the trail to the dunes overlook. It was a very pretty sight.

An alarming number of people on the trail were sporting flip flops. While this was not a hugely demanding or long trail, I can’t quite imagine negotiating it in flip flops. The trail map at the trail head warned of mosquitoes and poison ivy. While we did not encounter many of the former, Jim brought a bit of the latter home with him. Happily, it does not seem to itch.

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Frost Family Fun

Brighton Recreation Area was an unanticipated treasure. Originally chosen as the closest decent campground to Ann Arbor, Northville and Livonia—all key concentrations of Michigan Frosts, it ended up being a super place to camp.

We spent three days catching up with Jim’s brother, Phil, his wife, Renee, Jim’s sister, Linda, and her spouse, Lisa. We also were fortunate enough to catch Chris and Sarah, Jim’s nephew and his partner. And, of course, the main event was seeing the matriarch of the extended Frost family, Jim’s mother, Betty.

Many delightful hours were spent chatting. Phil and Renee were tremendous hosts offering us tasty treats and libations. Dakota was happy relaxing on their deck listening to the conversation. Betty seemed as tickled to see Jim as he was to see her.

On our last full day, Linda and Lisa joined us at Brighton to continue enjoying the perfect summer weather and each other’s company.

We sat and enjoyed our fire long into the summer’s evening.

Tempus Fugit

We drove east and northward through Virginia to our next destination. Virginia flattened out a bit as we headed east. We drove through Lynchburg and gazed upon the sprawling campus of Liberty University. It lined each side of the interstate. The President had just spoken there so I, at least, was more aware of this place of Christian education. It was indeed an enormous campus. I had to wonder how the students negotiated such distances especially with a big highway running through the middle.

Next we passed the Jerry Falwell Memorial Highway. We were certainly in the white-hot center of things Christian.

We arrived at Holliday Lake State Park on a beastly hot afternoon. A heat wave had engulfed half the country so we weren’t alone in the sweltering heat. We un-hitched at our camp site. Halfway through the process we were both dripping with sweat. There was a little breeze so it was cooler sitting in the shade outside.

We needed to do some planning. We had reserved two nights at Holliday Lake. Our next stop was in College Park, MD and that was quite a distance from our current location. All told it was a 220 mile drive, but much of it was in urban traffic which would make the drive more taxing and certainly longer.

 

Sitting at our camp site, we were becoming convinced that we should only stay one night at Holliday Lake and then push on. We were also feeling oddly detached from this park. Perhaps it was the heat or the concern about the drive in two days. Maybe it was the fact that this was the last state park scheduled for us to stay in. In any case, we decided that we would leave the next morning and find an intermediate stop before heading to the DC metropolis.

However, the camp ground was deep inside this state park and any whiff of a cell signal had long since faded. We identified two potential places to stay, but with no signal, we wouldn’t know which path we would take until we were under way. This was all somewhat out of character behavior for us.

Our site was next to the Campground Host’s site. We met them coming out of their Fifth Wheel. They were off duty and it looked like they were heading to town. Reluctantly, we closed up the trailer for the night. It was just too hot inside and there wasn’t much of a breeze. We had a somewhat desultory dinner. We listened to some music and then turned in.

The next morning was cool and lovely. The campground at Holliday Lake was so deep into the forest, there was only the sound of birds singing. We had driven close to five miles from the highway through the forest to get to the campground. We hitched up in the  cool air knowing the heat would soon come.

There was one particularly enormous bumble bee hanging around the campsite. He had been there when we arrived and Dakota had barked angrily at him as if he were a small dog. That is how big he was. Now, as we put away the awnings and prepared to hitch, he buzzed around us like a small aircraft. He was an interested bystander and seemed to be watching everything we were doing. He was a benign and friendly presence.

The Camp Hosts had told us this was their favorite park. They loved being here. We tried to see what they saw. It was pretty. Mountain Laurel was in bloom and there was a bush just inside the trees. We had driven past the lake for which the park was named when we arrived. It had a wide beach and was undoubtedly popular on the weekends. There were trails all through the park, but in the heat we had no desire to hike them.

We set the GPS for one of our two proposed destinations. We drove for miles through rural countryside before there was enough signal for me to call to see if they could accommodate us. The woman on the phone at the campground paused when I asked if they had availability. Whether it was because she was checking or hadn’t been asked that question in a while was an open question. Once we got to Shenandoah Hills Campground, it seemed like the latter was the stronger possibility.

We were somewhat aware this campground had mixed reviews when we chose it. We read online that the roads were pot-holed. The campground personnel were not very friendly or nice. More recent reviews had been positive and that had emboldened us to give it a chance.

The campground at Shenandoah Hills could have been nice. There were plenty of trees and appropriate space between the sites. One of the issues with campgrounds which we had slowly come to understand is full-timers. When a campground has a significant number of full-time tenants, things begin to deteriorate. Rigs begin to age and can become covered with moss and dirt. Since this is an inexpensive way to live, the trailers and rv’s aren’t always high-end to begin with. Camp sites become untended as they fill with accumulated possessions. The infrastructure begins to degrade. It is almost counter-intuitive, but transient guests help keep a campground looking fresh and tended. This campground was almost half filled with full-timers.

Indeed when we pulled in the potholes were terrible. The woman at check in was friendly enough. Tipped off by the reviews, I asked if there had been some fairly recent change in management at the campground. She said there hadn’t although they had been a KOA campground until five years ago. She explained that they had dropped KOA because they didn’t like paying the marketing fee. Cash flow did seem to be an issue at Shenandoah Hills.

Our next door neighbors were a friendly family who had just bought their travel trailer used. They were planning a big trip west through Texas in June. That’ll be hot all right. The man was full of questions and Jim was only too happy to share his newly gained wisdom. He was no longer a newbie, but a seasoned Airstreamer with knowledge to share.

We ran our air that night for the second night in a row. We really missed the open windows, night sounds and fresh breezes. We were up the next morning ready to hitch and go. Even though we had cut the day’s driving distance in half, we had a lot of ground to cover. But there was a big payoff. A major incentive to head to our next stop.

A Mother of a Park

Our drive took us from North Carolina, north through the easternmost tip of Tennessee and on to Virginia. We were headed to Hungry Mother State Park.

According to park lore, Hungry Mother got its name from a tragic story. Hostile Indians had attacked several settlements just south of what is now the park. A woman settler and her child were taken prisoner. They escaped the Indian camp and wandered through the wilderness foraging for food and looking for rescue. The mother finally collapsed, but her child was able to wander along a creek and found help. The only words the child could utter were “hungry mother.” Sadly when the rescuers came upon the mother, she was dead. The park and its man-made lake take their name from this legend.

We arrived at the park headquarters and were told we could choose any of the unreserved campsites. The road to the campground was exceedingly narrow and twisty with drop offs on each side. It was really only wide enough for one vehicle. This made it exceptionally exciting when we came upon first one and then a second car going the other way. Jim edged the truck and trailer as far to the side as possible and we squeaked past with millimeters to spare. I confess there may have been some verbal exclamations on my part.

The campground, named Creekside, featured a lovely stream running along the side. There was only one unreserved site along the creek and we struggled to back the Airstream into it. The site doglegged right. Trees and large rocks formed extra challenges and it was clear we would never make it into the site without damage to something. The Camp Host wandered over as we gave up and told us that they had just had a cancellation on site 16. It was the best site in the campground and it could be ours!

After checking with the ranger station, we backed in to the most exceptionally lovely site and un-hitched. There were ducks wandering along the creek and a momma duck and her ducklings came along to welcome us.

We opened awnings, got out our chairs, decked the awning with lights and prepared for a delightful evening. After dinner we sat out by the fire. It couldn’t have been more wonderful. With our trailer windows wide open, we slept deeply with the babbling sound of the water a natural white noise.

Rain began overnight and was expected. We knew our first full day at Hungry Mother would be a washout and planned accordingly. We hung out in the trailer listening to the intermittent stacatto bursts of rain on the trailer roof. We made a trip to town, cruised Marion’s historic downtown, bought diesel and enjoyed lunch at a local Mexican restaurant, Mi Puerto. The rain continued all afternoon and provided a perfect sound track to a long afternoon nap.

We spent the evening listening to music and watching video clips of late night comedians on YouTube. In a questionable moment of consideration, Jim logged on to Netflix and we enjoyed an hour of Slow TV: National Knitting Night—the ever popular real time program from Norway documenting spinners and knitters in a timed contest going from raw fleece to finished sweater. Perhaps not for everyone, but a total fascination to me.

Saturday dawned grey, but the rain had stopped. Our little babbling brook was now a turgid torrent. It had swollen its banks and ran brown and raw. We puttered around the trailer for a while. Just about noon the sun came out. We ate lunch and then headed out to hike the Lake Trail Loop around Hungry Mother Lake.

The park was full of people enjoying the now gorgeous day. The picnic shelters were occupied. A mountain bike and running event had taken place on the same trail we were planning to hike. A wedding was set up to take place with the white chairs in orderly rows and pretty flowers lining the aisle. We were happy to think that the wedding party would have a lovely day for the ceremony after all.

The first half of our trail followed the bank of the lake and the park road. We passed many happy fishermen standing casting their hooks into the water. We passed the dam and the trail wound into the woods. It emerged briefly at what is now the park boat launch.

This park is the oldest state park in Virginia. It, too, owes its infrastructure to the efforts of the CCC. The former CCC camp was located by the boat launch. This camp seemed a tiny bit less rustic than some. They actually had barracks rather than tents and bath facilities. We couldn’t help but remember the CCC baths at Mission Tejas.

The woods here were just lovely. The run off from the rains made streams down the mountain sides. It was cool and green in the woods. Rhododendron were in full bloom. The trail had just enough ups and downs to make it good exercise and plenty of pretty scenery to keep us occupied.

IMG_2315Hungry Mother was unusual compared to every other state park we had seen in that it boasted a restaurant. There was a sign right at the park entrance and we passed the building in which it was housed as we headed to the campground. I was dubious. How good could it be? The Camp Host mentioned it when we were selecting our site and urged us to try it. So, we planned a big Saturday night out.

We drove back to the rustic, but attractive building. The structure was wood and cabin like. The interior of the restaurant was pleasantly rustic as well. The tables were actually unassuming, topped with formica. The wait staff was college age. What a super summer job to work at the park. It would be like camp all summer long. The menu was quite nice. I ordered Fried Green Tomatoes and Shrimp with Grits. Both were scrumptious. The Shrimp with Grits was clearly full of wonderfully unhealthy cheese and butter.

We eavesdropped on the couple at the table behind us with intent. They were the new Camp Hosts at the second campground at the park. A ranger was talking to them and we found out that Virginia’s state parks are pretty much self-sustaining. They are encouraged to run for profit ventures, like this restaurant, to supplement the meager budget. It made a lot of sense and, from the sound of it, worked really well.

It was heady stuff to be out on Saturday night and we really enjoyed our dining experience.

Once again we enjoyed a camp fire in the evening. The roaring river was slowly returning to its former babbling brook status. We finished off our firewood and crawled into bed confident that the next morning would be so delightful, it would break our hearts to leave Hungry Mother.

We were right.