There is a great expanse of wispy aqua water outstretched on the horizon as far as the eye can see. There are no clouds to be seen, and a crisp, light breeze passes through periodically. A white beach contrasts the cool tones of the lake, which resonates an ocean vibe. Then, off in the distance, a misty blend of dark clouds and rain is casually noted. Surely, that weather won’t travel in until a much later time; conditions can’t move that quickly. Yet soon appears a chill in the air.
And the winds pick up.
And the clouds roll in. Quickly.
And the waves grow longer, stretching their whitecaps.
And suddenly, sand particles are lifted and whipped about in the air.
The beach itself is not altered, however, all of its surrounding elements are transformed completely, from tranquil to raging. One minute it represents serenity, and the next it’s filled with a wild temperament. That is the power of Lake Superior.
During our week of exploration, I had the privilege of spending my time at Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore in Munising, Michigan. My group backpacked the forty-two mile stretch of the North Country Trail which snakes through beech forests, sand dunes, and along 200-foot sandstone cliffs overlooking the beautiful lake. We encountered extreme weather: tree-bending straight-line winds, thunderstorms, twelve-foot waves, all the like. If I learned one thing from the trip, it’s that camping ain’t for softies.
There were, of course, a number of challenges we faced, from choosing our navigation route, to rationing our personal snacks in a way that we wouldn’t eat it all within the first four days. The problem of the latter was especially difficult for me. However, those challenges taught me a wide variety of things about myself. I was able to reflect on my comfort levels and preferences while camping, as well as how I work with others. Though there might’ve been difficulties we faced while backpacking, there were also plenty of beautiful moments. At times, I felt a strong sense of independence, and at others, I felt intertwined with my surroundings, whether that be the deafening winds or the enormous whitecaps. Most importantly though, I gained a deeper appreciation for the wilderness and everyone who ventures into it at the expense of their convenience.
Though backpacking depends on teamwork and grit, it wasn’t all elbow grease. There were plenty of pit stops to take in the view, capture photos, and simply relax for a while. In addition to that, our group specifically bonded over peanut buttery messes and accented dialogue during our hikes. At times, I was easily distracted by the thoughts of hot showers and soft beds, but when I felt present in my surroundings, I felt a more interesting feeling than those of my longing for comfort. It was in the moments when I heard the waves call out, and the winds howl, that I felt liberated and unassociated with anything besides myself. I was simply myself. It’s when I wasn’t comfortable that I learned, adapted, and grew. I learned about nature and finding my place within it. I adapted to the unforgiving conditions; it’s a humbling concept that nature won’t resist for the sake of us or our plans. I grew from drawing these understandings and gaining experience of being outside for a longer period of time. I raised questions to which I didn’t know the answer, and may never know.
At the end of the trip, I felt tired and hungry, but mostly proud of the forty-two-mile trek our group had accomplished. It altered my perception of nature and the concept of wilderness. I also felt greatly humbled in that my existence in nature was only a temporary presence in the grand scheme of things. It’s the actions of our temporary presences that determine the outcome of the future for the wilderness.
Photos Contributed by Emily, CS17, Bayfield, WI.