Posts Tagged With: Outdoors

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

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

Categories: Affordable Fun, Hiking, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , | 5 Comments

In the Middle of the River

The river flowed steadily that warm afternoon. The water had the color of a thick hot chocolate, sans the aroma, due to rain the night before. The sun was beating down pretty hard but we had the tall lush trees along the edges of the river as our umbrellas. A couple of turtles hung out on a tree trunk that looked like it had fallen into the water a while ago. Seven ducks swam closely together while checking their surrounding. A friend kept saying, “Watch out for the branches, watch out for the branches!” as Jeff deliberately (and many times) stirred the canoe towards the low-hanging tree branches along the river. I did not hear anything else other than our laughter.

One of my friends was moving to the east coast for a new job this spring. My friends and I asked what he wanted to do to celebrate his accomplishments and he said, “Canoeing on the Grand River.” Hmmm…okay. I had never done canoeing before or imagined to be able to do it on the Grand River. But this summer, my theme is all about keeping an open mind and trying new things. So that Saturday eight friends drove to the Grand Fish, a canoe and kayak rental by one of the river’s access points in Lansing.

We rented two canoes and two kayaks. The owners of the Grand Fish recommended for us to go upstream to the river branch and take a left to the Red Cedar River, towards Potter Park Zoo. “Just paddle for about 10 minutes upstream, then after you get to the Red Cedar, it will be easy.” said one of the owners. Well, what was supposed to be a 10-minute paddling turned into 20 due to the strong current. After trying hard to race each other, we regrouped in the middle of the river, chatting, laughing, and being silly. It felt just like college days.

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Categories: Affordable Fun | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Hugged by the Sleeping Bear

“Long ago, along the Wisconsin shoreline, a mother bear and her two cubs were driven into Lake Michigan by a raging forest fire. The bears swam for many hours, but eventually the cubs tried and lagged behind. Mother bear reached the shore and climbed to the top of a high bluff to watch and wait for her cubs. Too tired to continue, the cubs drowned within sight of the shore. The Great Spirit Manitou created two islands to mark the spot where the cubs disappeared and then created a solitary dune to represent the faithful mother bear”. (Chippewa Indian legend)


The sky turned pink as the sun gently descended and kissed Lake Michigan’s horizon. Bonfire gave out a perfect wood-burning scent at the secluded Peterson Road Beach in Honor, MI. Sitting on the beach with my friends, I saw Venus hanging not too far above the horizon on one side and the Sleeping Bear Point and Empire Bluff resting on the lake on the other side. The soothing sound of small waves crashing was perfect to be recorded and played before bedtime. I inhaled deeply and closed my eyes, hoping to absorb everything. When I opened my eyes I saw Farah busy preparing the smores, Fifi spraying everyone with mosquito repellant, Theo looking deeply into his camera to capture the moments, and Jeff pointing the video camera at me and said, “Hey, Birthday Girl!” Then the dark sky brought out thousands of stars. Everyone sank into their own beach chairs, buried their feet deep in the playful sand while sipping their drinks. My senses were babied by nature’s beauty and my heart was full.

It was my 30th birthday. I wanted to do something different for my birthday celebration. So I said, “Let’s go camping!” Jeff, an outdoor enthusiast, found a campground by the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore on Lake Michigan.  He booked it in January for my birthday in… May. He called up some of our closest friends and three were able to join. So we packed up our camping gears, food, and drinks and drove northwest.

I think the location was perfect for good friends to celebrate beautiful summer days. The weekend was filled with great cookouts, conversations, and plenty of laughter with nature’s sounds in the background. Deer would lift up their heads to catch a glimpse of who’s passing by and who’s calling them “Bambi.” The breathtaking views from the scenic drive along  the Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive or the Old Mission wineries, the easy breeze, the smooth sand, and the cool water definitely forced everyone to slow down and be playful.

I would definitely come back to hug the Sleeping Bear.

Photos property of The Traveling Chili Pepper

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Categories: Michigan Travel, Travel | Tags: , , , , | 8 Comments

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