When I'm not holding down the fort at Granite Sports, or writing for our website (which, by the date of my last blog post, is clearly most of the time) I'm on staff with a pretty rad organization called Young Life. One of the raddest things about Young Life is our summer camping program for adolescents and, more summers than not, I get to spend a month or so at one of our excellent properties helping to ensure that kids are having a stellar, life-changing experience.
The last four summers I've found myself at our camp in Northern Michigan, myself the lone "westerner", surrounded mostly by Michiganders. Let me tell you something about folks from Michigan: they love Michigan. They are all smitten with their own mitten. You only have to spend a few minutes with them before you begin to hear about the beaches, the dunes, the food scene in Grand Rapids, the bikes on Mackinaw Island, the trails on the coast of Lake Superior, and the oddities of the UP.
My first several times visiting Michigan looked like this: fly into Grand Rapids, get picked up at the airport, take a two-hour trip up the interstate, spend three to four weeks on a single 100-acre property, catch a ride back to Grand Rapids, fly home. But by the end of my third month-long stint at the camp and a few weekends as well, I too was enchanted by their beloved state. And I hadn't even seen most of it yet (behold, the power of storytelling). So a year ago when I got news I'd be headed back again I decided it was high-time I take my own car so when my month at the camp ended I'd have the freedom to go exploring and investigate these allegations of awesomeness. I invited a few friends to fly out and join me on my adventures but they all mumbled some nonsense about jobs and responsibilities.
So I decided I'd go it alone.
Maybe one of my better decisions in life.
In the weeks before my trip life got busy, as it tends to do, and I ran out of time (or maybe forgot) to make travel plans. Just as I got the trusty Corolla all packed up for my time at the Young Life camp, I remembered that I was also going to be camping...real camping...and, in a hurry, tossed my tent, sleeping bag, and headlamp into the trunk. Necessities, ya know?*
The morning after we loaded our last group of Young Life kids up on buses and sent them home I loaded my bike on the back of my car and headed north.
As a thirty-something single woman you mainly get three types of reactions when folks discover you're going to drive the 1,300 miles home tenting, hiking, and kayaking along the way...alone.
Reaction A: "'Bout Time" affirmation bordering indifference. This crowd either offers knowing encouragement, or is simply unimpressed. This is the (small, but mighty) crowd of women who travel alone on a regular basis. They are unfazed because a stateside road trip is child's play compared to their back country forays.
Reaction B: Wholehearted enthusiasm followed by wistful resignation. These folks get really excited when they hear about your plans, and then they say things like, "That's fantastic. I could never do that." This bums me out a little to hear people say, so definitively, that they are incapable of something that they haven't tried yet. But I'm guilty of the same. I mean, just this morning there was a guy here in the shop telling me about some falls he wants to kayak, and I said - out loud - to my own chagrin, "That's fantastic. I don't think I could do that."
Marci, Marci. How do you know???
Reaction C: Fear. This group includes my mother, and people who watch too much CSI. In their minds the risks of going alone into the woods far outweigh any imaginable perks and as anyone who has seen "Taken" can tell you, when women go places without Liam Neeson things are bound to get really bad, really fast. Whereas "B People" tend wish they were "A People", "C People" usually just think "A" stands for "asinine".
I'd love to tell you that I naturally fall into camp A. That is not the truth. I was born with my feet safely planted in Group C. But then when I was in junior high I picked up a copy of Bill Bryson's A Walk in the Woods and by the third chapter made a beeline for Group B. And there I stayed for fifteen years. Most of us dream of being the kind of person who goes and does and discovers, but the practical limits seem overwhelming and in the end we resign to letting others handle the going and doing so that we can read about it from the comfort zone of our couches. It's cheaper, safer, and there are less mosquitoes.
Many of these couch-sitters are perfectly content. Books and blogs and their annual viewing of the Banff Film Festival are enough to quell their thirst for adventure. But for some of us, the more tales we hear the less we can sit still, and you realize at some point that you're not going to wake up some morning and magically be that hard-core, mountain climbing, back country-foraying person you dream of being. You have to start with what you have, where you are. You have to start with your medium-core self and your medium-core experiences. Even if that means car camping in crowded state parks with your off-brand tent (a bit ridiculous, since I work at Granite), or burning a half-box of Duraflame fire starters in one evening because you can't light a real fire to save your life, or learning the hard way that your Chaco is not a sufficient replacement for a rubber mallet. Believe me. I know these things.
(And just to be clear, your medium-core self and experiences aren't any less legitimate or valuable or precious than those of the hard-core variety. In fact they are often far more interesting. Just ask Bill Bryson.)
My trip was pretty much everything I had dreamed it would be. I toted my bike onto a ferry so I could ride the whole coast of Mackinac Island, Instagramming cairns and eating fudge for lunch because I could. I camped in what is reportedly the most coveted spot in Straits State Park with a million dollar view of the Mackinaw bridge. I hiked the 9-mile Mosquito Chapel trail by Pictured Rocks and stuck my toes in Lake Superior and marveled at the way it has made the shore more lovely over the years by it's persistent, seemingly mundane day-to-day presence. I didn't go kayaking, because it was incredibly windy and some local folks said I might die...and while it's good to push our limits, it's also good to know them. I lived off of Cliff bars and green apples for three days because I didn't have a camp stove (also ridiculous, since I work at Granite) and really only bemoaned this fact because I had no way to brew coffee in the mornings...which is the one true necessity that I overlooked when tossing random supplies into my trunk. I had hours and hours to pray slowly and breath deeply and discover who I am when I'm not filling a role in relation to anyone else. I shut off my smart phone and learned to just listen to the sound of the shore, or my footsteps, or the highway. I experience true solitude for the first time in who-knows-how-long and found out that, to my surprise, I can do something like that.
Like I said, maybe one of my better decisions in life.
*Disclaimer: I feel obligated - for the sake of your safety...and because I write this blog for a gear shop...but mostly for your safety - to tell you that there are a few other thing you might be wise to consider camping necessities. Most of them are available at Granite Sports.