Friday, July 21, 2017

Backpacking Michigan: Isle Royale National Park

There's a reason Isle Royale National Park is the least visited park in the lower 48. It has nothing to do with its beauty. It has to do with the fact that it is WAAAAAAAAAAAY up north in the middle of nowhere. 
Allow us to entertain you with details about our 45.3-mile backpacking trip across Isle Royale National Park. 
When we were planning our return western route for our summer speaking tour, we thought, oh hey, we have a full week, let's go hit some parks and highpoints that are out of the way while we have this time. "Out of the way" is a relative term and for most people, it doesn't mean a 2-day drive to get there. 

But, we're committed to seeing all we can about America, so to the north we went. 

Isle Royale NP is an island off the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. People seriously understate Michigan. When you meet someone from Michigan, they hold up their left hand (because that's the shape of the state) and point to where they live. But then there's the whole Upper Peninsula, across the 5-mile Mackinac Suspension Bridge (the longest in the western hemisphere). The "UP" is a forested region of Michigan bordering 3 of the Great Lakes. 

As you reach the northern side of the UP and peer across Lake Superior to Canada, there sits several islands, one of which is Isle Royale NP. It's actually a chain of islands totally 850 square miles, but 75% of it is under water. 

You can either take a 3-6-hour boat (depending on the departure/arrival port) or a 45-minute seaplane ride to the island. After much debate and detailed planning of our tight itinerary, we opted for the seaplane ride.

We used Isle Royale Seaplanes (the only vendor currently allowed to land at the NP) and it was smooth flying with our pilot Tomas both directions. It was also a wonderful way to see the whole island!!!

 This picture really shows the island underwater. 

We landed on Monday morning at the Windigo side of Isle Royale. We went in without a real itinerary, just knew we had 3.5 days to get to the other side of the island at Rock Harbor.
 Windigo Harbor
Rock Harbor: much more crowded & built up

There are 165 miles of trails that meander around the island, so the options are really endless. Backcountry permits for camping at the established sites are free and operate on a first-come, first-serve basis. So while you discuss and plan your itinerary with the ranger, you don't need to stick to it. 

After talking to the ranger and some others, we opted to take the Greenstone Ridge. It is the most popular route across the island, and most direct. 

Day 1: 12.6 miles to South Lake Desor Camp 
Day 2: 16 miles to West Chickenbone Lake Camp
Day 3: 13 miles to Threemile Camp (on Lake Superior)
Day 4: 3.7 miles to Rock Harbor to meet our afternoon seaplane ride
Total mileage: 45.3 miles

All of our camp spots were beautiful, on one of the many island lakes.

 South Lake Desor
West Chickenbone Lake
Threemile Camp overlooking Lake Superior

The Greenstone Ridge is almost entirely forested with birch, balsam fir and spruce trees. Given that, the Greenstone Ridge affords fewer views, but when you get them, they are worth it! Besides being surrounded by Lake Superior, there are tons of smaller lakes on the island.

That's Canada in the distance!

There's a very cool history about the island. At one time, there was a community of 130 people living on the isolated island. Now, the NPS operates it seasonally, closing during the winter to give the animals a chance to run nature's course. 

Speaking of animals, that's another neat piece of history for Isle Royale. The island's distance from the mainland has limited the diversity of species; only those who able to make the crossing of Lake Superior have called it home. Wolves crossed via ice bridges on Lake Superior from Canada years ago (though there are only 2 wolves left right now!). Moose swam to the island and are still thriving. And no one knows how the red squirrels got there.  It's pretty unusual to think about a place where wildlife is ever-changing! We saw no wolves (but maybe wolf poop?), only 1 moose, but plenty of other goodies, like hearing the loons every night, lots of cool snakes and the most beautiful fox I've ever seen.
 Unconfirmed wolf scat. 

Sorry, I really need to work on my wildlife photography!
Two snakes intertwined ... we'll leave you be ... 

Our verdict about Isle Royale is that it is gorgeous. It really reminds us of hiking in northern Maine. With just as much mud! 

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Virginia: Family, Friends and Storage Units

We're making our way West after 3 very full weeks on the East Coast. We only had 5 events in the East, but if you've been reading my previous posts, you'd already know our road trip was more about seeing the people. Not all the people we could possibly see, but many of the people.

Our last eastern stop was Virginia, where we spent a full week. First, we headed to Virginia Beach for our 30th speaking tour event. We purposely planned an event in VA Beach because J's Grandma lives there (along with a few other extended family members). Though she can't hear a dang thing, she really enjoyed watching our mouths move.

From VA Beach, we visited our storage unit, err, friends, in Danville. 

Excuse me while I take this opportunity to lament about our the storage unit. A big "what should we do?" in our life. Basically, the bane of our existence. 

When we sold our house/rental property in Danville in 2015, we threw everything from it into a 10x10 storage unit. We hoarded in that 2000-square-foot house and for the first 10 years of our relationship, so it amounted to a lot of stuff, even after a few recent years of purging. At the time of the storage unit rental, we didn't know if we'd ever have a house for furniture again, so we kept it all. Though we still don't know if we'll ever have a house for furniture again, we can't seem to part with our big pieces of furniture that we spent our hard-earned money to buy once upon a time and can't sell for a fraction of what we paid. Soooo ... we complain to anyone who listens about our ongoing debate and paying storage unit fees (albeit very reasonable in Danville). Ultimately, we keep saying, "one more year" for the storage unit.  

I am happy to report progress during this visit!! We purged at least 2 dozen boxes of STUFF. 

If you look really closely, use a magnifying glass and squint, you can see a difference. 

By the way, spending all day in a metal, exposed box while the mercury rises to 98 degrees is a grand idea, in case you wondered. 
The point is, we see a difference, and that's all that matters!

Besides sweating our arses off at the storage unit, we visited our Danville friends. I can't say this enough, visiting all these places we've lived is like an out-of-body experience. I am instantaneously transported to a different period in my life. We lived in Danville from 2004-2007 during our dating/newlywed phase, so it feels like an eternity ago. And as usual, our friends welcome us with open arms! 

We first spent time with Bobby (Bolt) and Tammy, exploring their new land purchase via 4-wheelers. I've only been on an ATV twice in my life and needed some instruction, which Bolt is always good for. But this was the first time Justin even got on one! He was nervous at first, but as with anything, he was a very quick learner. 
Bobby "Bolt" taught me how to rock climb, mountain bike and now to drive a 4-wheeler through the woods! What's next????

We visited with our other group of friends the next night at our friend Rod's restaurant. He opened it in 2015, but we weren't able to go last time we were in town. 

 The story behind this photo is that J plays fantasy football with these friends, and won this season. The trophy is passed from winner to winner (previous years' winners in the photo here), but we chose to leave the trophy in Danville. Doesn't quite fit in our van or NM cabin.
The story behind this photo is that our friend Jon is "Johnny Fairplay," two-time Survivor contestant. Justin found a Survivor hat in our storage unit and had him autograph it! 

Last Virginia stop was the Red Wing Roots Festival, where our Backpacker friend, Randy, was working. We thought it'd be a good chance to catch up and help out at the Backpacker booth, all while Justin could listen to music. We were a lot of help, I assure you. 

We are heading off the grid for several days, so don't expect to hear from us anytime soon! 

Thursday, July 13, 2017


If it seems like we are doing more visiting than presenting these days, you hit the nail on the head. We've definitely slowed down on presentations as we are hitting the tail end of the tour. And it sure feels like we are just going from one friend's house to the next. Believe it or not, we are still not hitting everyone we could possibly visit!!
We have prolific friends. 

Making our way south from New Jersey, we visited friends from three different walks of our lives along the way.

First up, following a presentation at the King of Prussia PA REI last Thursday, we visited with 2 of my college roommates. I met these gals my freshman year of college and we stuck as friends all the way to the end, sharing an off-campus apartment for 2 years. I hadn't seen them since 2013, so it had been too long. And clearly, we still know how to make each other laugh until we cry!

Next up, we squeezed in a lunch visit with some post-college friends. I lived with Chris in Arizona for a year and now he and his family live in the DC area. Too quick, but we are hoping to plan a reunion with the rest of our roommates for next summer. 

We spent the most weekend time with some of Justin's cronies from Seton Hall Prep (J's all boys' high school) at a mini-reunion at one of the guy's houses in Maryland. We just saw some of this crew up at a wedding in upstate New York. But there are a lot of people in this framily, so any chance to get some peeps together is welcomed, especially since we are just about the only ones who don't live within a few hours of everyone. 

Though kids outnumber adults in this group, the parents took advantage of some teenage babysitters to enjoy a rare adult night. We bar hopped in DC and did an "escape room." I'm not surprised that J & I had no idea what an escape room is since we mostly live under a rock, but I have to say, I am hooked. What a fun way to hang out with friends and use our brains. Admittedly, I was no help in figuring out the clues that would aid us in unlocking the codes, but no one noticed. 

I find it particularly amusing that most of our friends' kids only know as the "aunt and uncle with the van." Some of these kids have seen us with all three versions of our campers. Just call us Matt Foley (Chris Farley SNL character--if you've never seen the clip, you need to watch it!!). 

We are now finishing up our time in Virginia and I'm hoping to get you another blog post on that before we unplug for the next week or so on a backpacking trip!