This was my third trip (first solo) to UP Michigan's Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park, the second-best hiking destination in the Midwest after Isle Royale National Park, and probably the best for scenery. Ninety-two square miles, with sixteen miles of Lake Superior shoreline, huge stands of old-growth hemlock, pine, and hardwoods, several waterfalls, rapids, two gorgeous lakes and a large lily pond, and, most importantly, places for the shirtless dads and their broods to park the RVs where you never see them.
In the absence of Vioxx my Poor Wife's knees won't take this sort of strain, but she was kind enough to forego my company for the week, though perhaps a tad overeager. So she stayed home and got rained on all week (at least she didn't have to water plants) and I made the twelve hour overnight drive by myself. I've never figured out a better way to do it--stopping en route would just mean getting up early to finish the trip, and getting there later means you're more likely to run into the one social problem the wilderness area does have, the packs of Boy Scouts like miniature dismounted cavalry. "Wearing a uniform in the woods" is definitely one of my turn-offs.
So I started off a bit worse for wear, but took the couple-mile detour to the Lake of the Clouds overlook to get a natural grandeur pick-me-up, then took to the Lake Superior trail. You can't really see the lake through the underbrush for about the first four miles, it's just a blinding bluewhite in your peripheral vision, but I had the trail to myself and plunged ahead until I got to the clearing at Lone Rock, which, oddly enough, is a big rock a couple hundred yards offshore. I watched the gulls and made some tea and stuck my feet in the sub-60º water. It'd be a good spot for the sleep-deprived middle-aged hiker to set up camp, except there are two "rustic" campsites with firerings nearby, and those things draw Boy Scouts the way George Bush draws evangelicals. So I dried my feet, tossed a few interesting rocks in the pack for my wife, and pressed on to a more secluded overnight spot. I found one with a view of the lake and enough open sky to get a view of the stars from my tent. Which turned out to be a worthless exercise, since I fell asleep the minute I crawled inside.
I didn't bother with a sleeping bag, just a ground pad and a flannel sheet, and I hadn't put the tent fly up since I was gonna enjoy the stars, so naturally I caught a brief rain squall in the face at 4:30 AM, jumped up, grabbed the fly and a couple of clothes pins off the line where I'd hung my socks and shirt and clamped the thing on. It rained for all of about two minutes, but I was awake so I went down to the bank and ate breakfast and waited for it to get light enough to get back on the trail.
In another couple miles I turned my back on Superior, but just at that spot, thirty feet above me in a tree, was either a Golden eagle or a young Baldy, and I stood there enjoying his company before he launched a prodigious torrent of birdshit about ten yards. Fortunately we were at right angles, though when I thought about it later getting shit on would have made a better story. He finally flew off over the lake and I turned to spend the day winding around the Little Carp River, past three waterfalls, around the lily pond, and off to find a spot to pitch the tent at Mirror Lake so I could go to sleep with the loons. Hearing loons at night is the best wilderness experience there is. Isle Royale is the best place for that--I came close one night there to getting up and asking them to keep it down. I was hoping I might get to hear wolves as well. They're thankfully on the ascendancy in the UP, but if there were any nearby they weren't feeling talkative.
The Porkies are black bear country, too, but I've never seen one. I'm scrupulously clean about foodstuffs, but I never hang my food. I put everything in two stuff sacks and find a spot 100 yards or more away that's low lying and leave it there. So far that's thwarted everything.
Five trails meet around Mirror Lake, and I hadn't decided which way to go until breakfast. I headed off for Trap Falls, the last of the big waterfalls in the wilderness area, which was the only time I ran into other humans in any number, including a warren of Scouts. (Is there a collective noun for Boy Scouts? I propose " a meritocracy".) Fixed a little lunch, doubled back, followed a beaver for about a quarter-mile of the trail, then brought it on home through wetlands full of chanterelles and then the most astonishing old-growth hemlocks. One more trip to the lookout to see where I'd been. That, and twelve more hours on the road, which couldn't wipe the smile off my face.