After waking up the next morning around six, I took a shower at the campground before heading to Leland. They were the nicest I've ever used at a campground, even though I had to share it with Shower Mothra, a giant odd-looking winged bug. The giant eye shaped patterns on his wings made me feel like I was being watched. I took a longer than normal shower. I knew it would be the last for a few days. Another reason to enjoy solo trips.
I drove up to Leland where the Manitou Transit was located. I really enjoyed this place, especially the area around the docks called Fishtown. There were some little places to eat and a lot of activity to sit and watch. Inside of a fishery at around 7 in the morning, I'm pretty sure the Gordon's fisherman was preparing the early morning catch. He looks older now than he does on the package but still has all the charm. (if not more!)
I still had a couple of hours to kill so I went to the Early Bird Cafe and had breakfast. Veggie Omelet and toast for you die hard Ryan fans that want to know all. It was much tastier than the four days worth of dehydrated gourmet I had waiting for me in my pack.
At around 9:45, I was able to pick up my ticket, load my pack onto the boat, park the car, and once again wait. Which was fine, luckily every place I visited on this trip was worth the drive in itself.
Once we were allowed on the boat I grabbed a seat followed by several others. The passengers ranged from boy scouts preparing for badges, experience backpackers preparing for another satisfying hike, families preparing for a short fishing, day hiking, or camping trip, and teenage couples preparing for unsupervised time in a tent. There was only one other solo backpacker that I could see.
The sky was threatening to rain all morning. The only time it ever did was when on the boat ride (both coming and going actually). I went inside to try and locate my stuff in the storage area to grab my raincoat but it was buried under dozens of packs. When I went back I saw North Manitou just up ahead, so spent the rest of the ride inside the cabin watching the island approach with much anticipation. In all the trip out there took just over an hour.
I stayed back with a few others to help unload the packs. This was my first backpacking trip, so I was worried that I packed too much (thirty five pounds). After lifting fifty to sixty pound packs and packs made from trash bags, comforters, and duct tape, I wasn’t concerned at all anymore.
As mine came out, my flash light's built-in emergency siren was going off as it was passed down the line. Someone evidently hit the annoyingly easy to accidentally press button. That was kind of embarrassing. The thought of pretending it wasn't mine crossed my mind, but I realized I'd be found out eventually. I had to slow the line down to find it and turn it off.
So far so good, Ryan.
When we first arrived we were given the rules and regulations just outside the ranger’s post. He cautioned us to be careful as there are no ambulances or hospitals (or anything at all really) on the island. Days before there was a boy complaining of stomach pains when he arrived and was later air lifted to the hospital to have his appendix removed (after having to wait several hours for the helicopter.)
The ranger also warned us about being late for the boat ride back. A group of people that had come to the island the day before were seven minutes late and left behind. They had only been there for a day hike and were not prepared to spend the night on the ground. For those of you reading this that are planning a trip to North Manitou, take two alarm clocks to be safe and wake up early.
There were about 150 people on the island on this day. The ranger said that was as many as a busy holiday weekend. Although on a 15,000 acre island with 150 people, mostly in groups of 3 or 4, you still hardly see anyone. After our orientation was over, we were released into the wild to try our best to create some lasting memories and remain uninjured. Most people started heading west towards Lake Manitou or north to the one campground. So I headed due south.
People once lived on the island, so occasionally you run into proof of this. An old cemetery was my first stop just over three miles from the ranger's station. It was a good time to take my pack off my, evidently, out of shape body. Most of the graves were gone, damaged, or had noticeably starting sinking back into the earth. The most recent grave was dug in 1938.
This is where I would first meet the people that I saw four or five times on the trails. I mention this because other than them I only saw other humans maybe five times combined. Also, because they were some of the most interesting people I've ever talked to. They were retired educators that pack more adventure into a month than I have in years.
I passed more leftovers from a town long gone. Old rusted cars, that I assume date back to at least the forties, seem to sneak up on you like a foraging bear. It can be mildly startling at times.
I hiked up the shore to Dimminick's point for my first snack break. I discovered that it's hard to walk on sand a few hundred yards with thirty five pounds on your back. I had a minor setback afterwards though when I couldn't find the trail again, but fortunately, I was able to use my photos I had taken to remember where I was. (If you're planning a trip, keep in mind that this area is usually closed from May - August to protect eggs from the endangered Piping Plover. It had just opened so I was fortunately able to go there.)
I laid my blue foam sleeping pad on the sand and sat for an hour taking in the sound of the lake, the view of a distant lighthouse periodically flashing, and had a snack with my new squirrel friend.
Now where's that trail again? I know it was in those trees back there somewhere. The squirrel ran away after realizing he was getting no more food out of me and was no help at all.
One thing I like about solitude is my mind becomes much more open to a strange imagination. An imagination that not even a childhood in front of the television could totally squash out. I often wonder what I would be like had we not had television, as I do not have now. My brain was like an indifferent happy parent on vacation with their children, not caring that they are running around annoying everyone. It just let me have fun.
Once I found the trail again I headed a few miles west on the most southern stretch of the designated trail towards Fredrickson’s Place. Once there I took a Clif Bar snack break and enjoyed another amazing view of Lake Michigan. I sat again for a while but had to get going because I wanted to find a place to set up camp before it got too late. Luckily, I turned around, hiked about fifty more feet, down a narrow trail, and I found the best campsite I've ever had.
I loved this site so much that part of me wanted to spend the rest of the time there. But I would have been disappointed with myself if I didn't see as much as possible. The rule is you have to be 300 feet from the water. The passing ranger said I was at 280 but let me stay anyway. So if you are in the area remember to look for the perfect camping spot next to Fredrickson's Place. I highly recommend it. Just try to stay away from it when I’m back on the island if you could please.
I pulled out my camp stove and cooked dinner consisting of rehydrated veggies with instant rice. I then headed down to the lake to fill up my hydration pack. It's hard filtering water when there are waves crashing around you, just so you know. I got kind of wet. The clouds that hung overhead all day started to break just in time for a beautiful sunset. So, I pealed off my wet socks and once again unrolled my foam pad and waited patiently for the sky to fade from blues to reds.
I haven't done enough of this in my life. And with the moon coming up on the left, the sun setting on the right, and not a single person in sight, could it be more perfect?
When changing clothes that night bats started fluttering around my head. It sort of freaked me out. That is, being half naked while this was happening. Otherwise I probably would have laid on the ground and just watched the frantic jarring of our closest non-primate relative.
The night was quiet except for the faint sound of waves breaking over rocks and sand and the rhythmic song of cicadas and crickets. It was the quietest night camping I've ever experienced. At times it was so quiet you could feel the silence press against your ears almost like you are underwater.
I slept pretty well throughout the night. As I slowly and peacefully slipped into unconsciousness my brain was playing tricks on me again. It was so quiet that even the smallest animal walking through the grass sounded gigantic.
At one time I could have sworn chipmunks were circling my tent occasionally chirping waiting for me to come out, poised and ready to attack. Maybe it was just a dream, or perhaps they just wanted me to know whose island it was. They number in the thousands on the island and at any moment could seize total control if they were so inclined. Needless to say I could swear they all looked at me differently the next day. Sort of like when you see someone with their zipper down and you don't want to say anything but you find it difficult to keep the slight smile off our face. That is how they looked at me on day three.
A Backpacker's Life List by Ryan Grayson is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.