About two weeks ago I drove from North Carolina to Michigan to be a volunteer lighthouse keeper for five days. But before our tour of duty started, I made a few stops.
First, I spent Memorial Day weekend with my fantastic Ohio friends camping at Lake Hope State Park. We laughed, ate well, and drank well so, of course, it was a successful weekend. On Monday I headed north.
I traveled alone for a few days before meeting up with my friends Tanner and Alex at the lighthouse. If you have never traveled alone, I definitely recommend it. It’s hard. You’ll see things in yourself that you don’t like a bit.
But you’ll also see things in yourself that surprise you. You’ll probably find that you’re tougher than you think, that you’re more resilient than others know, and that you’re fearless, at least in some situations.
I was feeling all of that about 3 days into my solo journey when reality slapped me upside the head.
I had booked campsites in Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, a national park along Lake Superior on the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. When I was heading to the first site at Hurricane River, I punched the address into Google Maps and took off.
A side note is necessary here: I blindly follow everything my GPS says. Everything. My natural sense of direction is so non-existent that I think it should qualify as a birth defect. I have been known to call my brother Matt, a man gifted with an infuriatingly perfect sense of direction, for help getting home from 6 blocks away. I know. It’s pitiful.
So when the GPS said, “Turn left on XYZ Trail,” I did it, no questions asked. Sure, it was a dirt road but that’s true for a lot of the UP. And yeah, I briefly wondered about the fact that it was XYZ Trail and not XYZ Avenue, but I easily ignored my brain’s effort to get my attention.
Google Maps said the trail was about a mile long. Piece o’ cake for me and my trailer @tticus. But about a quarter mile in, the trail narrowed until branches were slapping both sides of my car and trailer. No cell service. Absolutely no way to turn around.
Ok, no big deal. I can do this.
Then I encountered huge ditches filled with mud and the trail had gone from dirt to sand. I’ve never driven in sand but Mary Gossage didn’t raise any crybaby drivers so I thought, “OK, it’s probably like driving in snow. Low gear, foot off the brake, hands only loosely on the wheel.”
That worked for about 8 seconds.
At that 8-second mark, the nose of my SUV was in that giant mud puddle and @tticus was following along dumbly. I was cussing like, well, like me, and gripping that steering wheel like it was the floatation device thrown to me by the Coast Guard.
The cussing and death grip got me through XYZ Trail only to discover that I next had to turn right onto You’re Gonna Die Trail and it was 2.3 miles long. YGD Trail was actually worse. I inched along in first gear through more mud-filled ditches, never knowing which would be deep enough to swallow my trailer forever. About that time, I was struck with the thought that my hitch might fail. Great. A new cause for terror.
YGD Trail then turned into Why Are You Still Alive Trail, another couple of miles of fun and joy. My cussing was now peppered with, “@tticus, just don’t come unhitched!” So yeah, I was talking to a trailer.
After an hour of white-knuckled driving, countless bottomless ditches, a few boulder crawls, and one incredibly creepy RV that seemed to be abandoned along WAYSA Trail, I found asphalt. Seven miles. I had dragged my tiny trailer through 7 miles of a damn snowmobile trail.
This just got funnier. I tried to find a map that would show where I was and it seems that what I drove included Blind Sucker Trail. That’s about the most appropriate thing ever.
If you’re ever in the UP it’s important to know a few things.
- Trail = Trail, not pleasant dirt road with bunnies and butterflies.
- Tiny stop signs and tiny directional signs set about 6 feet off the “road” are for snowmobiles so take them as an indication that you don’t belong there.
- Google Maps lies.
- When nüCamp says their Boondock edition trailers are good for off-road travel, they’re not lying.
In the end, I loved the two sites at Pictured Rocks; the first was at Hurricane River and the second was at Twelvemile Beach. They weren’t worth the death drive but they were amazing!
Lighthouse stories coming soon. I’m still recovering.
P.S.: I’ve been asked whether I had to drive out on the same awful trails. I should have addressed that before! No, there were real roads with real asphalt that would have gotten me to the campgrounds and that definitely got me out. I never had to be on the snowmobile trails at all. Just another bad decision on my part!