Friday, July 3, 2015

The North Manitou Island Vortex

I arrived at the North Manitou Island ferry to a scene of chaos. Boy Scouts, people dragging coolers, so many people. What had I gotten myself into? Back at home, it had seemed so simple. I was going to be in Michigan, and I had two free days. North Manitou Island is part of Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, a mostly wilderness island where, I had read, you can backpack and find solitude.

Solitude? I was not so sure. However, it was entertaining to see what other people had brought. Ridge Rests still in plastic! Five ditty bags hanging off a backpack! Five Nalgenes clipped to a backpack! Duffel bags clipped to a backpack! Clearly, this crowd didn't get out much. The exception was a man toting a cuben fiber backpack. He stood aloof from the crowd, not inviting conversation. I was curious: who in Michigan backpacked enough to spring for a cuben fiber pack?

We shuffled onto the boat like cattle, and I was glad to see that the majority of the crowd was to be dropped off at South Manitou, a non-wilderness island with assigned campsites. However, several groups disembarked with me for the ranger orientation talk at the North Manitou dock. I'd better outpace them, I thought.

Uh-oh.
True to form, Cuben Fiber Guy bolted down the trail as soon as the talk was over. I would never see him for the entire weekend, even though I covered all the trails on the island. Where did he go? He wasn't telling.

There were three main directions to go: north, towards a large freshwater lake that the ranger warned us against swimming in ("swimmer's itch"); straight across the island to the most popular beach, and south, towards some old homesteads. I chose south.

There are lots of these old, decaying houses. You can't go in them.
The trail was completely flat, and I couldn't help thinking how great it would be to come over and run a big loop. As far as hiking went, it wasn't all that interesting, because I was in the woods most of the time. Occasionally the trail would break out into old clearings and orchards. But when I got to where I thought I was going to camp--the Johnson Place--I couldn't find a legal site. All the sites on the bluff were marked "No Camping."

Turns out the Park Service has a 300 foot setback from water rule. Let me digress a minute here. I have worked in and managed several wildernesses, some with a setback rule and some without. In my opinion, setbacks cause way more impact than they intend to correct. What happens is that people are woefully unable to calculate distance. Thus several rings of campsites are created, as people make them and are ticketed and have to move back. When people finally find a legal site, if the terrain even permits it, they naturally don't want to hang out in the viewless woods. Many little user created paths to the shorelines develop, and people do everything but sleep at the water's edge. Not worth it. I can see how a small setback might be appropriate, but 300 feet is kind of insane.

Unable to find a good site, I marched on, noting two women miserably swatting mosquitoes as they set up in the woods at a legal site. No way, I thought. I didn't intend to end up at the old Crescent dock but it took that long to find a legal campsite. It was worth the walk, even getting into camp at seven. But no worries, the days last forever here in the north country.

Lake Michigan!
There were five other groups camped there, but luckily everyone was quiet and not very close. The next day I crept past snoring tents to complete a long loop in the island's interior. Flat trails meant that I could hike 17 miles before 2 pm. And I only saw a handful of people. Where had everyone gone? I could only surmise that the vortex had swallowed them up.

Along the way I ducked into some old pastures and to the freshwater lake. There was plenty of poison ivy, striking fear into my heart. A botanist told me recently that cashews have the same compound as PI, and once she started eating them, she was immune to PI. I picked out the cashews in my trail mix and ate them frantically.
Old cars at Stormer Camp. There's a history of orchards, logging and other development here.
I hiked back to my camp to find everyone else had vanished. Where had they gone? I had the whole beach to myself. It was strange, a little lonely, but peaceful.
The sunsets on the west side were amazing!


The next morning, I hiked back to the boat. Group after group appeared. Where had they come from? I had not seen them all weekend. At the last minute Cuben Fiber Guy rushed up, having nearly missed the boat. Where had he been? It's all a big mystery. I chalk it up to the vortex, where the days last forever and you can vanish on a small island completely.

16 comments:

  1. Ah ha...Sedona has nothing on Michigan when it comes to vortex (vortexes?) Who knew? Lovely days and photos.

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    1. This is a better vortex than Sedona!

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    2. Yes, and with significantly fewer people, even with the crowd of ferry-goers.

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  2. Ha ha. I've been wondering what you meant by the vortex. People disappearing and no poison ivy sounds like a good time to me.

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    1. I can't believe it, but I didn't get it. Maybe cashews work.

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  3. I had completely forgotten the term "ditty bag." It made me crack up!

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    1. Yep, couldn't think of anything else to call it!

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  4. What's a cuben fiber backpack...something only hardcore hikers know?

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    1. Really light space age material.

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  5. Hi Mary, WOW! That first picture with all those people would freak me out. Alaska campgrounds on the road system are getting overrun by tourists and city people, fishing is combat style. I thank my lucky stars I can go remote and get away from those "yahoos",lol. I miss the old days. Thanks for sharing.

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    1. I know! I felt like getting back in the car! Thankfully everyone vanished and I was reminded how lucky I am to live where I do. We have tourists but they are mostly confined to the main drag.

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  6. You were brave to continue on after seeing the hordes at the ferry. I might have bolted.

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  7. HI.. Heading to NMI in a few weeks. Did you head north or south from the Johnson Place to find your "legal" campsite???

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  8. Find the exclusive collection of ditty bags and the customised ditty bags for your need at our website.

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  9. Shipcanvas.com makes awesome bags, and a good quality Duck canvas is actually waterproof once it gets wet. The fibres swell up when they become moist. Just like a canvas bucket, the sailor's canvas ditty bag keeps your stuff dry.

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    Replies
    1. I've had a shipcanvas bag for years! You're so right, its awesome.

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