Late September breeze carried a little chill, a preview of what’s to come in the coming months. The blazing sun balanced the cool air and offered a perfect hiking weather for us that weekend. Trees on the outer part of North Manitou Island have begun to change colors. Inland, the leaves stayed green like refusing to accept that summer was over. After the hour-long ferry ride to the island and checking in with the ranger, the three of us sat on the grass and enjoyed turkey pita sandwiches for lunch. We had packed enough food and snack for the weekend. We were in the wilderness, which means no restrooms, showers, let alone restaurants. The ferry would be back to pick us up on Sunday, two days away. From where we sat, we could see other backpackers, all came in on the same ferry, eagerly dispersed into the wilderness, racing to get to their solitary and exploratory mode. Seemed like we all wanted to feel that the non-populated island was our own playground for the weekend.
After lunch, we headed south on the trail. About three miles later, we took a break on a beach. I wanted to stay there and just sleep under the sun.
My guy wanted to have one more backpacking trip before winter returned with its cold air and long nights. The dreadful thought of winter made me jump at the offer to spend two nights out in the wilderness, sleep under starry sky, walk in the woods, and take naps on a beach.
A novice in this whole backpacking-universe I find myself learning about new places, the art of exploration, and the technology that supports this hobby (the latter: my guy’s biggest attraction to this backcountry activity). I never realized that there were many little islands in Lake Michigan. Maybe this is why people keep saying that hobbies would do us good: they open our eyes to things we hardly notice before.
North Manitou Island of the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore offers a friendly terrain for hiking enthusiasts. The scenic panorama of Lake Michigan, endless white sandy beach wrapped around the island, and a manageable trail for outdoors lovers make this tiny island an ideal place for a backpacking getaway.
After hiking for nine miles, we found a perfect spot on the southwest part of the island to camp that night. With the three of us, setting up the tent took less than five minutes. I prepared the sleeping pads/bags inside of the tent while the men got some water from the lake to filter and then drink. Not long after that we sat around a tiny but powerful gas stove heating up our dinner: beef rendang and rice. I had cooked them the night before, put them separately in zip lock bags, and froze them. By dinner time, all we had to do was boil hot water in a pot, drop the food bags in it, and let them warm up—a trick my guy taught me a while ago. We had a fantastic dinner overlooking sunset by the lake.
In the morning, we walked six miles northeast toward the village where the ferry would come to pick us up the next day. By this time, every muscle of my feet sent painful signals to my brain. Other than that the hike was far from arduous. Thankfully, our friend Dod’s hilarious stories about his college friends distracted me from the pain. At lunch time, we all shared sliced corned beef deli meat with pepper jack cheese, sliced honey roasted turkey deli meat, pita bread, hummus-to-go, and herbed olive oil that we put in a tiny little bottle. Pretty gourmet wouldn’t you say? 🙂
We arrived at the village campground in mid afternoon. Once we set up our tent, we had a second lunch! It was amazing how ravenous we got from being outdoors all the time, well that…and walking for miles with heavy backpacks. We prepared chicken and vegetable soup. My guy mixed the dehydrated vegetables soup mix with boiling water, added dried beef stock, and sliced chicken (chicken in a pouch). After our second lunch, we decided to do more hiking toward the northeast side of the island. We moved a lot faster without our backpacks. By sunset, we finished another five miles of the trail and went back to our site. A total of 20 miles in two days.
The menu for dinner that night: pasta and meatballs with marinara sauce. Dod boiled the pasta and heated up the frozen meatballs and marinara sauce. Having hot meals during a backpacking trip always felt luxurious. I also think that the wilderness never failed to intensify the taste of food. Everything became incredibly delicious, even the add-boiling-water-to-the-pouch freeze-dried meals we had. Maybe it was my brain’s way of being grateful to find something comforting in such a rugged and undomesticated environment.
The air got a lot cooler that night. We met a few backpackers at the community fire pit and shared our hiking experience with each other before turning in for the night. The bright full moon illuminated the area. Even inside of the tent.
On Sunday morning, the ferry came back to pick up all of us backpackers. At exactly 11AM, as scheduled, we all boarded the ferry to return to Fishtown Dock in Leland, MI and then drove home. Despite of my aching feet, shoulders, and back, I was happy we did this trip. It was a perfect way to close our hiking season for the year.
Photos property of The Traveling Chili Pepper
Thanks for reading. Until the next adventure!