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Thoughts on a Wilderness Island

Posted on October 29th, 2012

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Editor’s Note: Jim DuFresne has long since departed the Manitou Islands of the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore  but he filed one more blog entry for MichiganTrailMaps.com since his return to the mainland.

Mark your calendar for a pair of Jim DuFresne presentations in November. DuFresne will be in Traverse City to give his new presentation Alaska Marine Highway: High Adventure and Easy Travel on Nov. 8 at 7 p.m. at the Backcountry North store, 2820 N. US-31. See the Backcountry North web site for more information. On Nov. 20 DuFresne will be at the Matthaei Botanical Gardens in Ann Arbor to present Wondrous Wilderness: Tramping in New Zealand at 7:30 pm. For more information see the Huron Valley Chapter of the Sierra Club web site.

By Jim DuFresne

Thoughts from the trail at the end of the hiking season:

Jim DuFresne

Jim DuFresne

On my fifth day on North Manitou Island I departed the meadow they called Crescent City on the west side of the island and headed south. My eventual destination was the sweeping beaches in the southeast corner of this wilderness island where I plan to camp for the night.

But at lunch time I decided to take an extended break at Fredrickson Place. The old farm is now a grassy clearing where from the edge of the shoreline bluff you can view South Manitou Island and Manitou Passage that separates the two islands.

On this particular day, Manitou Passage was wicked. I didn’t need the Weather Station to know that there were small craft warnings. I could look down and see four- and five-foot waves sweeping across the passage and crashing into the beach just below me. At times you could hear the wind roar between the two islands.

Powerful stuff.

If I was in a kayak or even in the Manitou Island Transit ferry I probably would have been clinging to the gunwales. But I was on solid ground, high above the stormy sea, practically alone on a 15,000-acre island, out of reach of cell phones and the Internet and editors and those endless campaign messages from robocallers. I was as content as I had been all summer.

I unfolded my small camp chair and plopped down to see what was left in my food bag. I found a can of sardines in mustard sauce, a piece of pita bread, a good chocolate bar that my German friend gave me just before I departed on this trip, enough water so I didn’t have to trudge down the bluff to filter another quart in four-foot waves.

Life was good.

A backpacker pauses along a beach on North Manitou Island.

A backpacker pauses along a beach on North Manitou Island.

I ate the sardines, nibbled on some of the chocolate and read a few pages from a novel, my sole entertainment. But mostly I just sat there and took in the scene that surrounded me. I was in the lull just before Labor Day when the ferry will deliver boat loads of backpackers to the island for the extended weekend.

Right now, however, I was alone and had been since breaking camp two days ago. But I hardy felt isolated in the middle of Lake Michigan, rather invigorated by the seclusion.

Backpacking is a tonic for me. It allows me to get-away and slow-down … uninterrupted. It provides me opportunities to think and ponder. To sort out my life and get back on track with what’s important to me.

Even a couple of days in the woods is beneficial but spend an extended amount of time on the trail, like eight days on North Manitou Island, and soon you fall into that rhythm where the watch becomes irreverent because the only deadline you have is to pitch your tent before dark.

It’s the simplified life on the trail that I find so appealing. Everything I need is strapped to my back. This is when you discover what’s really important in life; clean water, food, a dry fleece pullover for when the temperature plunges at night.

And you discover what is a true luxury; a seat with a back on it, a warm shower, a flush toilet.

Eventually I return to what they call The Village on the island where the ferry dock, ranger station and the only spigot for drinking water is located. The next day I was on that dock waiting for the ferry to take me back to the mainland.

At first I’m like everybody else. I’m looking forward to a cold beer, a soft bed, even some sinful junk food like a Taco Bell burrito.

But by the end of my first night off the island I’m thinking, even planning, my next wilderness adventure. It’s how I survive the winter, trying to figure out where I am going to pitch my tent the next summer. By the time I nod off to sleep that night I’ve already made an important decision.

The next time I hit the trail I have to pack more of that German chocolate.

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