Manistee National Forest, MI
Have you ever taken a walk late at night? A walk where it is just you and the breeze jumping from tree to tree above you in the darkness. Pitch black surrounds you. What’s 10 feet in front of you is a mystery, and the journey feels long as you shuffle your feet through the leaves of the forest floor. A walk like this shows you the power of the nature around you. A walk like this can separate you from all the troubles in your life and let you escape for a brief moment.
A walk like that makes me think about why I love being outside.
We'd been planning the trip for a week, yet we still ended up in the wrong place. Sometimes things just work out like that. Sometimes, not ending up in the right place, is when you know you are in the right place. That's a thing right? Almost 200 miles north west of Ann Arbor lies Manistee National Forest, and the shores of Lake Michigan, known to us simply as the right place. Somehow, we ended up there instead of Huron National Forest much farther east along Lake Huron. Call it back luck, call it shitting the bed. Whatever. All I know was we were jamming. The group was solid. Hell, it was more than solid. This particular group of adventurers were guys that you knew wanted to explore. I always say that there are two types of adventurers: The type that asks to stop when they need to pee, and the type that will suck it up, knowing that the destination is all that matters.
I was with the suck it up type of roadie. Getting to that campsite along Lake Michigan meant relief for all four of us. But no one complained. That would be too easy to do. Instead we set off to business. "I've got tent detail," or "check me out on fire detail, boys." And just like that we were off, firing on all cylinders. And although the fire proved harder to start than we thought, within 15 minutes we had a nice fire being swallowed in the darkness of the night and a more than stable tent, ready for what lay ahead.
Grab a stick, grab some kielbasa, throw a can of baked beans in the fire pit, wait 5 minutes. That's the cooking book we adhered to. Campfire cooking: One part planning ahead, Nine Parts making it up as you go along. Easy and good. Throw some tunes on in the background and you've got me in one of my favorite moods of all time. A full, happy, worry-free mood. The type of mood ideal for a late night stroll. The type of mood where one invites the darkness around rather than running from it. And so, we were off. One by one. A time of unspoken uniform agreement: It's time to take a walk. The things you can think of when you are alone, even for such a short time are magical. As your eyes adjust, slowly the outlines of trees become apparent. Off in the distance, your campsite sits there with lights. You can see the tent, but the tent can't see you. It's times like these that make me realize why I love being outdoors. I can do whatever I want with no outside factors. No bullshit, no superficiality or third party involvement. The purity is like a dream. Walking back from my stroll I wasn't ready to have it end. But I knew I was ready for the next day to start. And after a great night sleep in a cozy, stuffed tent of four dudes, start it did.
A Great Lake Sunrise Is a remarkable thing to see
Being able to see it while barefoot wading in the water makes it that much better. The cold water rushes around your feet and throughout the walk you can't stop contemplating just jumping in and going for a swim. On one side of you an endless horizon of water, at your back large sand dunes hug the coastline. In between, ponds and an even different environment. As we trudged through these ponds, we moved closer and closer to the top of a hill where we could lookout towards the horizon. By this time, the early morning fog had began creeping out of sight, and the day welcome sunshine and warmth. We reached the top and sat down. Wind the only sound for miles. It was a landscape unlike any we had ever seen before. We must've just sat there for an hour. I mean why wouldn't we? The day was ours. We could do whatever we wanted with no restrictions. We didn't have to move until we wanted to.
And we didn't... This was all that we had worked for and more. The drive, the packing, the setup. All of it was geared towards this moment. The waves of the powerful Lake Michigan kept us humble. The frailty of the ponds just behind the shoreline reminded us of our role in this natural world. And the wind... well, the wind tied it all together in a nice bow. This was all that we had worked for and more.
While our night had been communal, our morning was collectively quiet. We were in far too much awe to be distracted by each other. We were all thinking in our own minds, contemplating our own things. But in the back of our minds, we were all thinking the same thing: A Great Lake Sunrise Is A Remarkable Thing To See...