A quick weekend trip to the Ottawa National Forest in Michigan's Upper Peninsula
Recently, I accompanied my best friend Mandie and her husband (and their dog) to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan for an extended Memorial Day Weekend. We were going for a memorial for Mandie's father and since I knew the area pretty well (and Mandie and Chris had never been to that part of the U.P.) I tagged along as an unofficial guide.
The entire drive from Flint took about 8 hours – a solid hour and a half short of what we expected. We only stopped at a rest area three times, plus lunch in Gaylord (yes, it's a real town and it's actually not terrible). For most of our trek across the U.P., we were desperately trying to spot a moose. Sadly, we didn't see any.
We stayed in Silver City, just west of Ontonagon, in a cabin right on Lake Superior. It was super cute and cozy with a lot of room for the three of us. The only thing I would change about our cabin would be making it a little more "rustic" looking on the interior. However, it was kind of nice to not feel so far away from city life with all the necessities (toaster, coffee maker, fireplace, TV). The cabin had a large, screened-in porch with a table and chairs off of the dining room which went out to the open-air deck with a view of the lakeshore. Each cabin had a picnic table, wooden swing, and fire pit on the beach – perfect for morning yoga with the sunrise or soaking in the views of a Lake Superior sunset.
The cabin did have WiFi, which I normally don't care about while going up north, but since we didn't have very good cell phone reception, it was nice to be able to send Facebook messages to family members about the cabin and surroundings. I did my best to use my phone for nothing more than updating family and taking pictures.
We got to the cabin on Friday afternoon and on Saturday afternoon, went to Norwich Bluff where the Norwich Mines were located. The ruins have mostly been cleaned up by the local universities (Northern Michigan in Marquette and Michigan Tech in Houghton) but a few shafts still remain. The trail is dense but fairly easy to navigate – once you got around the muddy points. The weekend we were there was pretty muggy. Although we were covered by a lot of shade from the treetops, it was in the high 60s and rained at night. The snow melts a lot later in those mountains than it does downstate (obviously), so a lot of bugs and pests were just coming out. I was fully covered in leggings, a hooded jacket and athletic shoes with a backpack for water and bug spray. I put up with being a little warmer than I normally like in order to protect myself from mosquitoes and ticks. Ticks are TERRIBLE this time of year in that area and this year is supposed to be one of the worst in recent history. We made sure our bug spray was the type that protected against ticks.
While we trekked through the muddy parts, we noticed that it was incredibly silent. All I could think of was how amazing it would be to bust out a yoga mat (in a non-muddy area) and just be for a while.
Mandie's brothers and nephews went ahead of us a bit to find the perfect place for their dad's memorial while the rest of us hung back a bit. At one point, we had to turn around (Mandie and I were not thrilled) and go back about ¾ of the way to an adjacent trail, the Mule Trail. While walking back, we noticed some hoof prints in the mud after we had gone through – meaning a deer or another hooved animal had been right behind us without us knowing.
We ended up needing to go up the Mule Trail – literally a trail where mules were required to get up to the top – and eventually, Mandie and I along with her dog, gave up to go back down (I swear, this trail was at a 40-45 degree angle going up! No wonder they needed mules!). Long story short, the entire group ended up coming down the Mule Trail to the main trail and we met at a brook for a memorial.
We were lucky to have found the brook since we were running out of the bottled water we brought with us. I filled up two bottles from the brook and it was so cold and refreshing. Mandie's dog, Danger, was certainly happy we found it, too.
Just before settling at the brook to wait for the others, as I bent over to fill up a bottle with water, Mandie said she saw a tick on my back. I was surprised since I was covered except for my hands and face. Then I remembered when I took off from her at one point – to her dismay – to look for the cemetery and had to climb over a fallen tree. While climbing a dead pine tree that blocked the path, my jacket rode up a little bit. It had to have been the only chance one had to get on me. Luckily, since she was able to swat it away easily, it hadn't embedded itself in my skin (sorry, that was graphic but true). Once her brothers and nephews met up with us, she told them what happened and said we should all do a thorough tick check when we got back.
The memorial was now over and we all got back to the parking lot to head home. Mandie, Chris, and I went back to our cabin and instantly did a tick check. After a solid 9 years, the friendship between Mandie and I reached a whole new level – hahaha! We wanted to be as absolutely thorough as possible. Thankfully, Danger is on a preventative and any tick that got on him wouldn't stay long. However, we were worried he would carry them into the cabin, so we checked him anyway. In total, we brought back three on us plus one that was on Chris's jacket and jumped to the wall when he hung it up on a hook. The best idea we had was to put all of our clothes in plastic bags and then an empty cooler – to suffocate them to death. Needless to say, the whole tick-tastrophe kinda ruined the rest of the weekend for us.
Later, Mandie and I went out to a local restaurant to grab some take-out for dinner and it really cheered her up after a crappy day. Apparently, all it took was orange Sunkist out of the fountain machine and the possibility of seeing a bear…
We left the next morning for a long trip home. The only big issue we faced was a thick layer of fog over the Mackinac Bridge which made it impossible to see either side (either lake) or too far in front of us. Luckily, we didn't hit any traffic issues going up or coming home – which is unheard of for Memorial Day Weekend in Michigan.
I'll always love the Upper Peninsula and missed it immensely when I moved out of state (I once had to explain to the locals that Michigan even has an Upper Peninsula, believe it or not). I'm going back in August with my mom and grandma to Au Train, so I'll have a post about that once we get back. And if I can get Mandie to go back after tick-a-geddon, I'll post about that, too.
Hopefully, this post didn't sound too remedial and elementary! I'm writing it a couple of weeks after the trip, so it's hard to put everything together in a way that makes total sense. Next time, I'll write as I go. Lesson learned!