Backpackers Getaway: North Manitou Island – Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore

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.

the boys

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. 

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Photos property of The Traveling Chili Pepper

Thanks for reading. Until the next adventure!

Categories: Hiking, Michigan Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Fall Colors: Vibrant and Peaceful

The trees looked ablaze in their radiant colors. Bright morning sunlight amplified the vibrancy of the earthy tones. Dark green, bright yellow, dark orange, to blood-red seemed to color the foliage along the road to the Manistee National Forest.

We wanted to experience fall colors up close (and be outdoors as much as we could). So we headed to the northwest part of Michigan where the colors were at their peak. A hiking trail inside of the national forest overlooking a curvy river was the perfect choice. The sun was bright and the air was warm. It felt like summer weather came back in early October. The scenic trail and the breeze kept us cool and made our eight-mile hike easy. The colorful leaves seemed to filter and soften the sunlight that tried to sneak inside of the woods. They created a soft yellowish-green tone that illuminated the forest.

The sound of the leaves swaying and the river flowing became our soundtrack along the way. What a fine day!

Photos property of The Traveling Chili Pepper

More on Manistee River Trail: Fall Hike

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A Michigan Summer Destination: Pictured Rocks

Summertime tends to get a little serious in this part of the country. It could even feel tropical in some days. In sweltering hot days, when the heat index gets pushed to high 90s and above, a cooler-spot getaway is much-needed. In Michigan, a state that is surrounded by four great lakes: Michigan, Superior, Huron, and Erie, outdoor spots are easy to find. One location we visited this past summer was Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore. Located in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, on Lake Superior, the largest, deepest, and coolest of all the Great Lakes, this outdoor enthusiasts’ must-go-to place stays in the pleasant temperature even in the peak of summer.

Miners Castle


  • The national lakeshore is maintained to be very natural. So, please EXPECT rustic campgrounds and sites. Trust, when I say rustic, it really IS. If anything rustic is not your thing, am sure you can find lodgings outside of the park.
  • Take the boat tour to see the whole formations along the lake shore. The tour lasts for three hours under the beautiful blue sky and bright sun. So be sure to protect your skin. Bring a hat and long sleeves for layering.

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Photos by The Traveling Chili Pepper

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Feeling the Old Earth

Badlands National Park, South Dakota

(The adventure in nature begins, Labor Day weekend, September 2010)

The sky’s blue color intensifies as we approach Badlands. The towering walls and small hills that compose the National Park look parched, harsh, and lonely. The sharp contrast with the backdrop is magnificent. I have never seen such beauty.

We hike a short trail through these massive deposits. I touch the rock layers as I walk, trying to feel the earth’s past. I imagine the natural forces that formed and shaped the 65 million year-old fossil beds and wonder what the planet looked like back then. The formations feel like molded dry sand and solid mud. Rough, craggy. The trail takes us up a hill overlooking a flat terrain with miles of smaller formations. I see a group of tourists come out of a bus down the hill, loud and crowded. But up here, it is only the four of us and our shadows.

Badlands is a gateway to our whole adventure out west trip. Its bizarre form, its mesmerizing history of formation, and its gripping human tale lured us. We filled our itinerary with places of natural beauties that we wanted to add to our memory banks.  I think this Badlands experience and its amazing images will continue to be an easy retrieve for us.

All four of us have traveled and experienced almost all of the country’s metropolises and we wanted to experience something new. Curiosity and admiration of nature lead us to a different fashion of travel. Hence the birth of our ambitious eight-day, 3427-mile road trip plan that also includes a series of hiking and backpacking!

Our trip (by Google Map)

I look back to see the hills of Badlands one more time as we drive away toward Black Hills. There in a vast land they stand the test of time. In full surrender to nature’s willful acts and constant change. The wind and rain will continue to erode and transform the small hills of Badlands until there are no more. But until then they remain, quietly holding some secrets of the earth.

Photos property of Traveling Chili Peppers 

Special thanks to JN, LM, TJ, FW

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Catching Sunset

(Adventure Out West Series, September 2010)

We rush to beat the sunset today. I hear Fifi coughing as she tries to catch her breath. We’re walking really fast, close to running almost. We only have three and a half hours to finish a seven-mile hike up Harney Peak before the sky turns dark. So the hike that normally takes about four and a half to five hours, if done leisurely, gets accelerated. The trail we pick starts from the beautiful Sylvan Lake and through the woods, up the rocky ground, and ends at Harney Peak. Soft wind and sunlight support our hurried steps. We notice glitters on the trail coming from Black Hills’ mineral-filled ground, they look like bits of granite that sparkle with sunlight. From a distance we see the peak with a tower on it. It looks so far away, across the pine valley and hills.

Earlier this afternoon, we arrived at our second hiking destination at Custer State Park in Black Hills National Park, South Dakota. After a short hike at Badlands National Park we drove  through Mount Rushmore and the Needles Highway and set up camp at Custer State Park. We still have our long hike at Grand Teton and a camping trip at Yellowstone. Ambitious? Very much so. I feel like we were trying to squeeze in every natural beauty we can take during this short adventure out west.


The trail gets steep and narrow closer to the peak. Friendly fellow hikers say hello as we pass by, telling us that we are not too far away and that it is all worth the hike when we get to the top. Finally we see the stony structure with stairs going up to the tower on top of the peak. The air feels cooler as we climb up the tower. We get to be on the highest peak east of the Rocky Mountain, at 7242 feet elevation, with a view of Black Hills and beyond. A land of stony hills with sharp peaks and pine trees stretch as far as the eyes can see. Some of the tree tops look dry and yield this brown and red color that match well with the beige tone of the hills. Other trees cover the rest of the area with its green leaves. The sunlight peaks through a batch of white clouds casting a shadow on some hills while other part bask in the bright light. The sky seems to be bigger out here.

The sun starts to set as we descend back to the trail head.  We’re walking much faster trying to get out of the woods before dark. I see the sky turns pink and then dark red about halfway through the hike.  Afterward the sunset catches up with us and wins the race. We see the ground sparkles once again as our flashlights illuminate our way out of Black Hill’s wilderness.

Photos property of Traveling Chili Pepper

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Into the Mountain: A Childhood Dream

(Adventure Out West Series)

Towering mountains stand close together like they are guarding something precious behind them. They remind me of city skyline reaching out to the sky, only in a much more incredible magnitude. The peaks look sharp like shark’s teeth chewing off white clouds that try to cover their magnificence look. Birds’ squawks bounce off the grey and rough Teton walls. A moose sneezes as we walk by. The animal glances at us, looking uninterested, then continues feeding itself. We laugh and keep on hiking toward Lake Solitude. Rocky trail demands my attention.  I keep my head down to watch my step. Up the hill is the only way to go. Walking with a 15-pound backpack is definitely not easy, especially in the mountains!

That morning we woke up at Cascade Canyon, up in the mountains.  The sun tried to peak from behind the mountains as we enjoyed breakfast. We had a long hike ahead of us. The five-mile hike we did the day before would be nothing compared to the 11-mile we were about to do. Novices in hiking in the mountains, we overestimated our powers. I know I did.

We spent the night before enjoying dinner and wine under the star-filled sky. The spot we found was nestled in between mountains and close to a creek. Songs of Gilberto Santarosa played from my cellphone mixed with the sound of water flowing from the creek serenaded the night. The stars made the sky glow. I had never seen that many stars in my life and forgot about the arduous hike.

This backcountry trip at the Grand Teton National Park was probably the most challenging part of our 8-day adventure out west. The four of us drove after spending a night at Black Hills, South Dakota, and hiked our way to Harney Peak. We arrived at our cabin at Colter Bay late at night and prepared what’s needed for the backcountry. I was nervous and eager at the same time. The trip was our first backpacking trip in the mountains, home of many bears. I had no idea what kind of terrain we were going into.

Growing up in Surabaya, one of Indonesia’s most populous cities, I remember going to the foothills of Mount Penanggungan just outside of the city with my family in the weekends. My parents love the fresh and cool mountain air. We would stay at a local hotel, swim, and hang out together. I’d always plead with my dad to go up into the mountain. He’d say that we are already in the mountain.  I would argue that I could still see the mountain, so I knew we were not up there yet. I was so intrigued. There was something mystical yet majestic, about these mountains, especially the ones in Indonesia as they sit on the Pacific Ring of Fire. I was always so fascinated by these earth’s towers and their magnitude.

The grueling terrain finally takes us to Lake Solitude. The water stands perfectly still, giving the mountains, clouds, sky, and birds a chance to see their reflections. Silence radiates and echoes all over.  The rocky and rugged panorama of the surrounding gets softened by the quiet body of water. The scene dwarfs us. I think I could spend hours here, just to sit and stare at the beauty. But a few minutes later I am reminded that we all still have to walk for another eight miles back to Jenny Lake and catch a boat to go back to our cabin. I don’t remember how long Jeff carries my backpack as we descend  but I do remember wanting to cry and call it quit. I think I may have satisfied my childhood dream of going into the mountains. It is very tough. But I would do it again.

Photos property of Traveling Chili Pepper

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Circling the Devil’s Lake

The gap between the rocks on West Bluff trail, on the north entrance, seems to get bigger each time I try to step forward. I can feel my heart pounding hard like an engine trying to boost me up about 500 feet to the top of the steep hill. The trees sway with the breeze while protecting Jeff and me from the blazing sun. It’s only nine in the morning but the temperature has gone up close to the high 80s and the air feels a bit too damp. We just started hiking with our backpacks at the Ice Age Trail at Devil’s Lake and I am already drenched. I drop my backpack and climb my way up to the first scenic overlook to take a breather. This is my first try at hiking on a steep and rocky slope trail. On the top of the bluff I see the quiet lake that offers an ancient tale of being a good provider to life around it. Above the water, blue sky becomes the backdrop for three eagles who are flying like they are in some sort of an air show. The beauty restores my energy.

I got up to the sound of birds chirping outside of our tent that morning. Jeff was already up. The smell of coffee invited me to crawl out of my sleeping bag and tent. The weather was still cool and the rest of the campground was still asleep. We were so excited to test our new camping and hiking gears. We wanted to find a hiking trail around the Chicagoland for the weekend. The search took us to a portion of the Ice Age Trail on the 1.6 billion year old rocky Baraboo Hills, Wisconsin, surrounding the Devil’s Lake. 

The clear blue lake seems peaceful and friendly, despite the name. It seems to be inviting so many people to celebrate its existence.  Little children with the biggest smile on their faces shriek happily when their little feet touch the water. Some cry, like their hearts are broken, when their mothers ask them to get out of the water for lunch. Families bring their big coolers filled with food and drinks. People say hello as we pass through the park on the way to the next steep hike on the Balanced Rock Trail. The sweet aroma of barbecue fills up the air around the park as we sit and enjoy our sandwiches.

The rocky and steep Balanced Rock Trail on the south part of the east bluff is pretty narrow. But since this is our second climb on this trip, I feel a lot more prepared. Still, the 0.4 miles with another 500 feet of elevation gets me to slow down once in a while to catch my breath. This is definitely a good cardio exercise! I hold on to the stones as I go up, trying to absorb the strength that they have demonstrated for the past billion years. We get to the top of the hill and see the Balanced Rock. The rock is wider on the top and narrow on the bottom standing tall on the top of another rock with a flat surface high above the ground. Literally, well balanced! We continue hiking through the woods of the scenic East Bluff Trail where the breeze feels cooler and butterflies roam free. We have circled the lake and still have a couple of miles until we reach our campground. Only this time the hike feels a lot easier.

Photos property of The Travelling Chili Pepper

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Summer is Like My 16th Minute

My good friend swam with sea turtles in the Atlantic this spring. She said that when actively swimming in the ocean, these animals would come up for air every 15 minutes. Summer is like my 16th minute, a time to catch my breath.

I enjoy the constant and striking change of seasons in this part of the world. It is quite refreshing to observe and follow the changes in nature that allow people to have variations in what to wear, food to enjoy, and activities to do. The tropical island I come from always feel rich of sunlight and warm and wet air. It seems like the climate supports all sorts of trees, plants, and beautiful flowers to grow all year-long without too much effort. But here, in the middle of the US, approximately 9742 miles away from Java, I think the earth and the air feel different every four months. The varying temperatures seem to color the plants and the sky in many shades and moods.

After living for several years in this region of the US, with its long and sleepy winter months, I began to develop a love affair with summer days. During these long and warm days I find myself wanting to just stay outside. This summer I want to do more things like rustic camping and hiking. There is a good feeling that comes out of letting nature’s beauty take my mind off daily concerns and surroundings for a bit. It is also quite peaceful and rewarding to be okay in nature’s standard of comfort level.  To let things be.

My next entries will be about my hiking adventures with Jeff and our friends. This is another affordable and healthy fun for anyone who loves to be outdoors.  So, let’s find good trails, gear up, and hike!

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