It all began in the early days of summer, on a couch long worn down by the rigors of college apartment life. Seated on its peeling leathery folds were two men, one yellow and one brown.
Anthony: “Eh, wanna go to UP?”
Thus were the wheels set in motion for a weekend sojourn to the Upper Peninsula (UP) of Michigan. The preparations themselves were arduous; Multiple people were invited, and multiple people backed out for a variety of (some, bs) reasons. Finally, as June turned to July, four men (and no women, though not for a lack of trying) were in: Anthony, Karl, Ji Onn, and myself.
I awoke early on Saturday, the first of July, and departed at four in the morning. I wanted us to arrive as early as possible to our desired campground (Bay Furnace), since most campsites had long been snapped up and only the non-reservable spots were left open to the public. Only one of many #YOLOs on this trip. Fueled by the caffeine of a Starbucks drink purchased the night before (since none would have been open at four AM), I drove through the darkness of I-65, stopping by West Lafayette to secure two of my passengers. We continued on in the light of the dawn sky to Naperville, for our final passenger and breakfast at the International House of Pancakes (IHOP) – less fancy than it sounds.
We arrived at the campground just shy of four in the afternoon. Thankfully, we managed to snag one out of the two remaining open spots, though only for a single night. Pitching the tents was an entertaining affair that took longer than it should’ve – a result of us not having gone camping in a long, long time (or never at all). We eventually managed it, and went to explore the surrounding area. We played frisbee on an open field by the lake, and listened to a US Forest Service intern’s presentation on the ‘historic’ Grand Island. In the evening, we discovered just how woefully clueless we were in the arts of fire (well, I knew that we needed firewood and starter fluid, but we had neither on hand). We eventually got a small flame going that barely had the strength to heat our sausages. Mercifully, we discovered that our sausages were pre-cooked, and so our stomachs were not empty when night fell on the first day.
Night brought with it rain, damping any hope for nighttime activities. We slept under the loyal cover of our tents, and I was only woken up once by the sounds of distant thunder (and more annoyingly, the awed voices of my companions in the other tent). The clouds broke with the coming of the dawn, and we feasted on packed pastries for breakfast (thank you, prescient Anthony). We then proceeded to the nearby town of Munising for my most-anticipated activity: Kayaking to Pictured Rocks.
Unfortunately, we were told that due to strong waves, we would not be kayaking to Pictured Rocks but instead to Grand Island. Nevertheless, we endeavored to make the mos out of it, and so we did: Extracting maximum entertainment value by placing the two rowers with the least experience in a single kayak. They would end up bumping into things (such as branches or other kayaks) or being bumped (by myself and Anthony) into other things (such as a waterfall). Coupled with the magnificent views of Lake Superior and Grand Island, and the experience was totally worth it (more so if our tour guide actually did some tour-guiding).
It was one in the afternoon when we returned to our campground. To our dismay, we found that there were no spots left available for the night there; we had to pack up and search for a spot elsewhere. Totally #YOLO. I struck gold on my first call to a randomly-chosen campground, however, and we rushed in the direction of Marquette for a campground just outside it. There, we were treated to the ramblings of the ground’s owner, Jeff, who wanted more than anything else to tell us all about the ‘engineering’ he had done on his campgrounds. It was pricey, but we took it, and after further minor curve balls, we were finally given quite the quaint location.
The second set-up went far more quickly than the first, since we had a better idea of what we were doing. We were all unexpectedly exhausted after the kayaking activity, though, so we limited ourselves to grocery-shopping, firewood-hunting, and fire-starting (again). This time, we had marginally greater success, with a (slightly) better fire that managed to singe our sausages and cook our pork chops and chicken drumsticks (though not in a short amount of time). Finally sated, we checked out the beach at sunset and went to sleep after.
The third day was the most ‘productive’ in terms of activities, though we first had to drop Anthony off at Starbucks so he could do this soul-sucking thing called ‘work’ for the entire day while the rest of us enjoyed the sun and explored the world. We first hiked Sugarloaf Mountain (which was a lot easier than we expected, even with us going intentionally going off-trail many times), where we were rewarded with a gorgeous view of Lake Superior and the forests around Marquette.
Our next stop was Presque Isle Park, a peninsula (and park) northwest of Marquette. There, we happened upon a little beach tucked away in a tiny bay; it was gorgeous. We walked around the rest of the park, exploring the bays and cliffs; arguably one of the prettiest places in the entire UP region. In another fit of #YOLO, we ended up completing a full lap around the park, no small feat on empty stomachs (which would eventually be filled by bags of chips and a scoop of ice cream each).
The most regrettable thing I did on this trip was next: Climbing across the rocks to this lighthouse by the park. I was aghast at how there were kids happily jumping from rock to rock; one wrong move, and you would likely break a leg (or your neck). Karl and I braved the rocks and clouds of mosquitoes and prevailed; then we had to go through it all again on the return journey. I did snap some great photos, though.
After retrieving Anthony from the clutches of Starbucks, we returned to the campsite for our third attempt at cooking dinner. This was our most successful round yet, with excellent sausages and chicken drumsticks that did not take an obscene amount of time. Oh, and actual vegetables. Lessons to be learned: Don’t buy quick-starting charcoal, do buy started fluid, and even better, do bring a gas stove. We walked to the beach post-dinner for frisbee-throwing and people-throwing (into the lake, which was cold). Beers were popped open as the waves lapped at our feet, celebrating a successful end to an eventful trip.
On the fourth of July, we packed up and journeyed back south, stopping by Beloit to visit Randy. We had a great ‘Murican lunch there, complete with burgers and potatoes and cheeses. We resumed our homeward trip before long, and it would be ten at night when I finally arrived on my own doorstep to an antsy feline.
All in all, a memorable adventure. I would wholeheartedly recommend a roadtrip to the Upper Peninsula to anyone in the Midwestern United States.