(Editor's Note: A link in the March 23 Roadtreking newsletter incorrectly leads readers here. For the post, “I'm the General's Driver – Understanding Single Women Drivers,” please click here. We apologize for the mistake.)
Roadtrekers know just about any time is the right time to visit some special places. Rhonda and I get into the coolest spots, set up, play around in nature's playground, and retire to our 210P whenever we want. The Platt River Campground in The Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore in Michigan is one of our favorite haunts and we go often. There the dunes beckon, the sky invites and Lake Michigan positively seduces.
Heeding these siren calls on our last visit, we started from our campsite along a lakeside bound railroad trail. Trails like this, if you think about the train tracks you have seen, rarely rise or fall more than a 3 percent grade. That’s 3 feet up or down for every 100 feet traveled forward. Essentially, that’s flat. An easy-peasy walk.
This trail used to be a narrow gauge logging railroad that ran from near the mouth of the Pigeon River inland to the lush pine forests of the 1840’s. With the track long gone, all that remained was the roadbed sheltered by a canopy of birch, beech, and pine trees. Like everything in this area, sand was its base, though the park personnel have covered it with a thick layer of mulch to make the walking easier.
As the gray day gained a brightening luster, late summer reluctantly allowed the arrival of autumn. The pure white and blue of our RT 210 winked an invitation to hurry back as the promise of glorious color invited us onward. Indeed, we would have forged ahead uninvited.
The canopy fell away as we walked and we knew we were nearer the lake with each step. The trail gradually lost its mulch base and sand became our unstable walkway. The dunes were near. Easy-peasy was over.
Hiking the dunes means paying attention to everything; the sand, the hills, the wind, the sky, the water and the personalities of those around you. I know my abilities, I know my limits, and though it is nearly suppertime and hunger is near, I admit I can sometimes be over-adventurous. There have been times when the others around me may not be so prescient, but I know what is going on and the challenge of the first hill faces me.
“It’s not all that tall or treacherous,” I reassure myself, “What’s a little climb?” Little is always a relative term. This first hill had a mere 20-foot rise with about a 20 percent grade, not quite a wall of sand, but conquering it would surely reward you with a view of the lake. But still I know myself.
“Aw man, I know what comes next. I’ve done dunes before. Do I really want to do this? I’m getting hungry, if we head back to camp now we can have an early dinner…”
But it’s just one hill. The sun is coming out from behind the clouds. The weather’s getting better by the second.
“You want to see the lake don’t you?” whispers her seductive voice from behind. It definitely could wait until tomorrow, but grudgingly I agree I do want to continue. So the first hill is conquered to reveal—another hill. The sun peeks out a bit, and I'm rewarded with the caress of a cool, comforting breeze. That's what I really need, a sweet caress.
“See, I knew you’d like it.”
And so I trudge on, hill after sandy hill, enticed by the siren’s call, the command from behind.
“See the flock of birds all taking to flight at once? Look how they seem to move in unison.”
“Yeah. Oh. Wow.”
Immeasurable quantities of sand surrounds us. Is it awesome? or just getting to be awful?
“The blue of the sky on the horizon contrasts so well with the gray just above us. Pretty, no?”
I hear my own voice announce a mild protest, “You know these new sneaks are really high quality. They filter out the sand so only the finest grains make it through both my shoes and my socks to settle between my toes. It’s like Dr. Scholl sent me out here to get my own personally fitted, 5-pound, arch supports and foot pumice scrub…”
Hills continue on. Pine trees mingle with wild grape bushes, and give way to various tall grasses.
“The hills are lower now, and see how close the lake looks, aren’t you glad…” her voice coos.
But that’s it. All I can take. Heavy feet dragging on my legs and making my buttocks cry with every step have kicked me to the edge. ENOUGH! I prepare to yell as I whirl around to look her square in the face and redress her for getting us into this long, sand sodden walk.
But my woman is ten paces back, well out of cooing range, dutifully trudging along. And a quick look around reveals no other explorers.
The one personality I hadn’t reckoned on, Lady Dune herself has grabbed me by my spirit of adventure, challenged my virility, and all but forced me on this march of grit and strain. It is she who shines the sun on my spirit as it sags, who gives me a downward slope just as my butt begins to cramp, and gives gentle breezy caresses. And as frustrating as she is, I love her almost as much as I love my Rhonda. And so I call back to my wife in cheerful appreciation,
“Hey babe! Almost there!”