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Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Camping with Fred in Michigan's UP

If you're like me, a non-Michigander/Michiganian, you may be wondering what UP means. It's Michigan's Upper Peninsula, the area north of Lake Michigan south of Lake Superior. It's a wonderland full of the beauty of nature, trees, lakes, waterfalls, and campgrounds.

In the UP the people who live there call themselves "Yoopers." If you Google you'll find a lot of humor written about the "Yoopers," particularly for their regional speaking dialect.

That's Fred's Northern Lite Traveler to the left of The Glampette above.

And if you're wondering who Fred is, he's The Glampette's builder I met on the Teardrops n Tiny Travel Trailer forum in June. Some of you may have been wondering what he looks like because I've been posting about him here and there for the past 11 months but hadn't ever shared a photo of him. Why? Simply because I didn't have one to share. LOL

When I left Michigan in June I realized I hadn't seen much of anything in the whole state except for the inside of Fred's garage, house, and the local grocery store. He said the next time I came back he'd take me camping and at the very least, show me Lake Michigan. Well, he's a man of his word. Not only did he meet me at the Camp-Inn Camp-Outt rally in Mauston, WI in September, after the rally we headed north and camped along the UP for five days.

The funniest part about the trip (to me) was after it was over Fred told me when I drove away towing The Glampette behind me in June he watched the trailer going down the road away from his house and thought to himself he'd never see it again. But there she was back in his garage just four months later :D

The good, the bad, and the ugly.

As in all of life's experiences there was good and bad. The good was that we were there to enjoy the colors changing in the thousands of trees that lined the roads and highways as we drove from campground to campground. Also, it turned out that Fred was a perfect travel companion. We got along just swell. I'd imagine camping would be a real drag if you ended up stuck with someone you don't get along with or who gets on your nerves. So, choose wisely.

And the bad? I did mention there was some bad. Well, there were still a lot of mosquitos around and they devoured me. One night I had so many bites my left forearm and hand swelled up so badly that Fred was concerned enough to offer me an antihistamine.

Then there was the flat I almost had when I picked up a screw in the trailer's tire. That actually happened on my way to WI. I noticed the head in the tire while we were sitting chatting the day after my arrival in WI. But, there was a silver lining because it never did go flat and the next day (as an added travel tip bonus) Fred taught me how to patch a tire with my handy new patch kit that I now keep in my tool box.

And there was the ugly. On our second night of camping is when the government shut down. We were in a National Park at the time and the next day the closure prevented us from camping at the National Lakeshore Park we wanted to stay at.

Our first night after the rally was spent at Holtwood Camping Grounds, an rv park, in Ocanto, WI. We arrived just before dusk and chose two spots along a picturesque river running along the outer edge of the campground. When we went to self-register we found out that they were "premium" slots that cost $2 more than the regular interior slots. We decided to live a little and be big spenders rather than opting to move to a more economical location. LOL

Everything about the campground seemed great. The grounds and restrooms were clean, the location was nice, everything seemed fine until a train blew through town just a block up from the other side of the river and blared its horn all the way through town several times that evening. I know people say you get used to those kinds of things when you live somewhere long enough but I just can't imagine ever getting used to a train that close and loud.

The next morning we slept in, got up, made a simple breakfast, and hit the road. I soon learned sleeping in is part of camping. It's not something I'm good at at home but I was getting the hang of it by the end of the week.

Along the way to our first official National forest campground we made a quick stop so that I could see Lake Michigan for the first time, up close and personal. There were a few things I couldn't help but notice:
  1. It was big enough to look like an ocean since you couldn't see the other side.
  2. Instead of seagulls there were swans and Canadian Geese along the shore.
  3. There were bright rusty colored reddish streaks in the sand. Fred said it was iron. I Googled and learned that it is probably hematite, a type of iron ore/oxide.
  4. It struck me as odd that a lake has a sand beach, just like an ocean beach. All of the lakes I've ever been to in WA, ID, and CA have gravel beaches. 

Just a short drive 2 hour drive from our lodging the night before and we were at our next destination. Standing between our two trailers this was the skyward view at our campsite at the Hiawatha National Forest. Gorgeous! At night the sky was full of stars. I would have set out my camera on a tripod and tried to do some long exposure photography but it was cold, dark, and Fred had already gone to bed. . . So, I wimped out.

We'd chosen to stay at the Flowing Well Campground, a small, rather intimate camping area where each campsite is secluded by forest on three sides with one side openly facing the entry road. We were the only ones there that evening. Fred pointed out that in the future if I'm alone this would not be a safe way for me to camp.

On the bright side there were no signs warning about bears so I felt fairly comfortable that evening except for the hordes of mosquitos that attacked me when I went to register our campsite at the self registration booth. I would have taken a picture of the booth but seriously had to get out of there as quickly as possible due to the sheer number of mosquitos lurking about waiting for an easy meal.

Most of my life I've told people that I enjoy looking at nature more than actually being in it. Well, between my new'ish love of nature photography and now camping I've decided that I really don't mind being in nature all that much. In fact, I rather enjoy it. Just to see the fern fronds, a paper hornet's nest, and the lichen growing on the bark of a tree gave me a rush of peace and serenity. I think I'm hooked.

The Sturgeon River runs right alongside the campsites.

Because of the iron the water is the same rusty color as the streaks were on the sand earlier that day. I read online that the water available in the campsites has a funny taste due to both the iron and sulfur, but it is safe to drink. Given my issues with not enough iron in my diet I was thinking I should drink up while I was there!

That night I received a text from my mom that the US Government was going to shut down at midnight if an agreement about the debt ceiling couldn't be reached. As we all know now that shutdown came to pass. But in the morning we slept in and made breakfast. . . I have to say it was nice to feel removed from the dramas that consume the news cycles.

Part of what I loved most about my time camping with Fred was finally learning how to cook while camping. There were many small tricks like cooking food ahead at home and keeping it in an ice cooler to reheat at the campgrounds. We also had a nice variety of produce and dry goods. In the cooler Fred had milk, sour cream, some cheese, and a few other staples that were enough to make our meals interesting and delicious all week long. Every couple of days we'd stop somewhere for a fresh bag of ice. It wasn't nearly as problematic as I'd envisioned it would be keeping a cooler cold for a week straight.

Fred the Navigator charting the day's course on his trusty atlas.

And this is Fred. Some of you may have been curious what he looks like since I've been talking about him since last December when he started building The Glampette. This post is the first time I've shared any photos of him. One thing we have in common is that neither of us like to have our picture taken. I kind of snuck this one in while he wasn't looking. That became our MO on the trip, to take pictures of the other person on the sly. LOL. But I was glad he did so I had some to share to prove I was there.

Even though we were in a National Forest at the time of the shutdown we saw no sign of anything amiss in the late morning, no park rangers came to evict us, by the time we headed out to visit a couple of tourist stops and move on to that evening's campground.

Upon our arrival to visit Miners Falls and the Pictured Rocks reality reared its ugly head. The road leading into the area was cordoned off by big orange barrels due to the government shutdown. I, being a goody goody would not have gone in. Fred, being a bit of a rebel, reasoned that if the government was shutdown there wouldn't be anyone there to arrest us if we did go in. . . So, in we went as the park rangers had left enough room between the barrels for cars to pass.

A little blurry due to using a long exposure with no tripod :)

Was it worth it? You bet. Miners Falls was gorgeous! A short hike on a clear path through some beautiful trees and we spotted the waterfall probably around the same time we heard it. Up close it was something to behold. The photo above has a man in the lower right corner to give you a sense of scale. At 40 feet tall it is one of the area's most visited waterfall attractions due to its accessibility. Turns out there are hundreds of waterfalls in Michigan. It would be fun to return someday and hunt down more of them to photograph.

After we left Miners Falls we drove a bit further to the Pictured Rocks. The water looked like the Caribean ocean. It wasn't Curacao blue but it was a stunningly vibrant aqua green color you wouldn't expect to see in a land locked body of water in North America. At least I didn't.

I was really glad Fred didn't let those orange barrels stop us from going in. Having seen Miners Falls and the Pictured Rocks National Lake Shore I can't imagine driving all the way there from CA only to have been turned away.

Our next stop was the Twelvemile Beach Campground just a few miles away. The one downside of traveling with a friend and two tiny travel trailers between you? All of the time you'd normally be able to spend chatting with them is solo time. You're all by your lonesome in your car either being followed or following them. Fred was in the lead so this was my view that week. Not too shabby. I'd imagine the drive is also pretty in the summertime but I'm sure it can't compare to mile after mile of autumnal hues lining each side of the road.

When we arrived at the Twelvemile Beach Campground this is what we saw. Other entries into other National parks and campgrounds were similarly blocked that afternoon. Even a lookout was cordoned off but we drove into it anyway. I swear I was feeling like such a rebel if there'd been a crosswalk I would have jaywalked, on purpose. At the lookout lot we learned about a dirt road just past Grand Marais that would take us to the Lake Superior State Forest Campground where a couple we'd just met said there was still room available if we made it there before all of the other campers being evicted from Twelvemile Beach Campground beat us to it.

We found the dirt road no problem. I had it easier following Fred. Every time I saw his trailer fly up in the air from a particularly deep rut in the road I moved over to the left or right to avoid it. After what felt like more miles than we actually traveled on that dusty, rutted road we finally arrived at the campground.

In the top photo you can see the blue of the lake just over the top of my car.

Unlike Flowing Well, the campground at Lake Superior was full of guests and from one campsite you could see into several around yours. Which was fine. We even got to know a couple two sites down with a teardrop trailer. That's the thing when you have a tiny trailer and you're in close proximity to someone else with a tiny trailer, one of you will walk over to make an introduction and the next thing you know you're chatting away about both, or in this case all three, trailers :)

It looks and sounds like the ocean. It just doesn't smell like the ocean.

And another camping lesson learned. I'm such a newbie I was ready to relax at the campsite and start preparing dinner. But Fred said "Come on, let's go." Go where? Down to the lake before it got too dark to see it! Just a short walk through the two nearby campsites and a path took us right over a very small ridge to the beach.

The expansiveness of the lake was rather awesome, like it left me in awe. It is so big, and so loud, we could hear the crashing of the waves from our campsite that evening. Fred told me this is where the Edmund Fitzgerald sank. I'd heard the Gordon Lightfoot song before but had no idea it was a real life event or that one day I'd be standing and looking out upon the very waters she sank in.

Realizing that real people had drowned in that historic event made it a little odd in that moment to appreciate just how beautiful the water was. It may not be much of a shot but I did love this one because of how monochromatic it is. The blue of the water and shadows on the sand and stones go together in a cool and soothing color palette that helps me to remember what it was like as we, and other campers, sat on the shore as the sun went down.

But before that there was just enough time and light to take a few photos. Fred captured this fun shot of me hiding from his camera behind my camera. And I didn't even realize he'd taken pictures of me walking down the beach photographing the lake. I did get one of him taking a picture of me but it didn't come out as good as the one he got of me. I really need to practice photographing people sometimes too and not just food all of the time :P

In the morning another walk down to the beach was in order. It looked so different by day. Fred got another picture of me. I'm working on that whole aversion I have to having my picture taken so I even posed for a few.

We hit the road again and were off on a new adventure.

Honestly, I can't even tell you where we were. I have no idea. I was following Fred and when he pulled over on the side of the road near a bridge I parked behind him. I thought we were stopping to take a break but we'd arrived at a very special river he wanted to share with me.

When he was younger he'd canoed down the Two Hearted River, Ernest Hemmingway had written about in the Big Two Hearted River, with a friend years ago. He'd asked if I wanted to try canoeing down it as well but when I replied I'm not a strong swimmer that kind of put an end to that discussion. LOL

For the record I do know how to canoe, I was a Girl Scout after all. The summer I went to Camp Four Echoes I even had to take a tippy test where you purposely tip your canoe over in the lake and swim to shore. But that was decades ago and canoeing a winding river is very different than canoeing on a calm lake.

Fred beat me down to the river.

Once there I was not only able to photograph the river, I did get Fred to pose for a picture. As we stood beneath the bridge I caught his profile with the river behind him and told him I thought it would be a nice shot. I think in return for posing for the pictures at Lake Superior that morning he returned the favor and let me take a few of him.

When I tell people I camped the UP the first thing most of them ask is if I went to Mackinac Island or if I crossed the Mackinac bridge. Not only did we cross the bridge, we documented it. I didn't notice Fred stick his camera out the window shooting a few frames blind behind him. Not only did he catch me on the bridge, his pictures were all perfectly level. I in turn was shooting his trailer from behind. I didn't hang my camera out the window (it's too big and heavy) so the windshield diminished the clarity of my picture of his Northern Lite Traveler. But, what I lost in clarity I think I may have made up for in composition ;)

After crossing the bridge we drove a ways then stopped for gas and used the side of their parking lot to make a light lunch. Another thing Fred taught me: WIth a tiny trailer you can pull over on a quiet road or a parking lot and make lunch. That whole week we never ate at a restaurant. Not once. We prepared every meal ourselves. I loved that. As much as I enjoy good restaurant food I equally enjoy home cooked/prepared meals as well.

Unlike a traditional teardrop where the hatch swings upwards, his Northern LIte Traveler has a rear door that drops down and becomes a perfect work counter for cooking and preparing meals.

This time I knew to go look at the lake first before it got dark.

Just a little further and we arrived at South Higgins Lake, our final campground. It's another place that Fred last visited in his childhood. He said while the lake looked the same the campground had changed dramatically since his last visit. He recalled one could park right on the beach to camp. Now, the park is divided into dozens of RV slots with electricity, water available at posts in each area, and had the nicest camp showers on the whole trip.

The sun was setting when we arrived and the sky was lightly painted with colors that reflected in the almost still surface of the water. It was even more gorgeous than it looks in the photo. It had a peaceful, calm quality to it that just kind of took my breath away. Being it was the last night of our trip I enjoyed the view feeling blissed out and serenely happy.

Soon it was dusk, then dark. Thank goodness we had my dad's vintage Coleman lantern. It is truly a camp necessity as far as I'm concerned. Without it we would have only had the light of  Fred's galley and the campfire light to dine by. Which wouldn't have been bad, but having a light at the table was sure nice. Fred had cooked dinner so I did the dishes. The lantern light was very handy to be able to actually see that I was getting the dishes clean.

In the morning Fred got up and made hot water for coffee for him and tea for me. Since then I have made one cup of tea with my propane stove and have practiced in the backyard mastering making eggs (scrambled, over medium, and omelets) on my camp stove.

LOL I wasn't sure if I should show this picture or not. Because I'm still trying to naturally increase my omega fatty acid and salt intake I often have canned salmon mixed with diced avocado, apples, and a little soy sauce for breakfast. Though I offered some to Fred each morning I made it he politely declined fish for breakfast. I don't know why. I did tell him the next time we go camping together I am going to make him my salmon hash because it's awesome and it's fish for breakfast that I think he'll love.

After breakfast we packed up and headed back to Central Michigan where Fred lives. He was going to build out the rest of the interior of the trailer for me adding my new countertop and shelves that I had procrastinated building myself.

Here's the thing, though the UP may be more famous for its fall colors, Central Michigan has its own share of gorgeous locations including this old, double arched, railroad bridge in Belding. I don't even know the name of it. But if you know a local they might know how to tell you to get there. Fred had looked for it before and that week it took us two tries to find it. It was almost like going on a treasure hunt and well worth the effort.

Along with the autumn colors I also enjoyed the last flowers of the summer in Fred's garden. While I was there the temperature dipped one night leaving the yard covered with frost in the morning. Not only was it beautiful, it killed all of the mosquitos. After that night I didn't see another one the rest of the week. So there you have it, the best time to visit Michigan for me is after the first frost and before the first snow. LOL

To Fred I can only say thank you for being such a great builder and friend. You took so much time and care teaching me how to camp and I just wanted to say your efforts were truly appreciated. Your tips, advice, and the experience I gained that week I will use often in the coming years as The Glampette and I continue our bonding process.

P.S. I'm hoping we (You, me, The Glampette, and your Northern Lite Traveler) can make the Camp-Inn Camp-Outt followed by a week along the UP an annual tradition. Next year I'll have to try a pasty :)

For more information about the things I saw and the places I stayed at here's all you need to know:

Holtwood Campground (RV Park) -  website
400 Holtwood Way
Oconto, WI 54153

Hiawatha National Forest
Flowing Well Campground - website
Rapid River, MI 49878

Miners Falls - website
Munising, MI

Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore - website
Grand Marais, MI 49839

Lake Superior State Forest Campground - website
Newberry, MI 49868

Two Hearted River - 

South Higgins Lake State Park - website
Roscommon, MI 48653

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