Up North

Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, MI

20-22 August//

For two nights and three days my best friend and I embraced a time honored Midwestern tradition: going “up north” to the lake. She told me the thing to do in Michigan in the summer is head up to your cottage in the north and hit the lake, so thats what we did!-with the slight modification of camping rather than staying in a cottage.

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Hittin’ the road and headin’ Up North

We camped in Empire, MI at a campsite equipped with RV and camper sites and primitive tent sites. We stayed at a primitive site with a tent, picnic table, fire ring, and plenty of woods space; it was fairly closed off from the rest of the campers and altogether quite lovely. Because we were car camping we packed a cooler of s’mores fixings, sandwich stuff, snacks of fruit and granola bars and Cheez-itz, and eggs and bacon because we had glorious plans of cooking on our fire-

which ended up being almost nonexistent other than a few flames big enough to make a s’more apiece each night. For all our fire starting techniques, FaceTime calls to wilderness semester friends, and tinder collecting we were unable to get a good fire going (I know I know, I was shocked and ashamed too).

On our first night we meandered around the town of Empire where we had dinner, visited some touristy shops, and caught a glimpse of the sunset at Lake Michigan.

On our second day we kayaked on Lake Fischer in Empire and later ended up at an eclipse viewing party put on by the National Parks Service. We were given glasses and had a wide open field to view the eclipse from. Our location was at about 75%, and it was one of the most interesting things I’d ever seen.

Following the eclipse we visited the sand dunes, which were essentially mountains made of sand. Let me tell you, it was no joke hiking up a steep giant sand pile in the hot sun. Though sand hiking wasn’t my favorite outdoor activity, the dunes were really fascinating. Running down them was the best part!

Because Sleeping Bear is a national park Kendall and I were able to become junior rangers, which is available for park visitors ages 1-110. I would recommend the junior ranger program to anyone visiting a national park; we had to fill out a booklet and bring it back to the ranger station where we were “sworn in” and received a patch and badge. It was a fun way to learn more about the sand dunes, plus-free souvenirs!

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Junior Ranger certificates & souvenirs

Following our dunes experience we went swimming on Lake Michigan. As a girl who has lived in Florida for a while now it was weird to be in a body of water and not be worried about alligators, sharks, snakes, or anything else that could eat me. Following our freshwater dip we got some ice cream and proceeded to fail once again at fire building.

Overall, it was a fantastic weekend of new experiences with old friends. Summertime in Michigan did not disappoint!

 

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OLDS: Sea Kayaking

For our last wilderness section the water and I met again. If you remember from my River post  the water is not my favorite place to be, and this definitely held true for sea kayaking as well.

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Prepping before leaving camp!

This section began with a ten hour roadtrip down to Florida, which was a blast. Once we arrived in FL we practiced wet exits from our boats and maneuvering in the water. Before setting off we also had to pack 7 days worth of food, our clothing, tents, sleeping bags, journals and bibles, camp stoves, etc and enough water to have a gallon a day per person into the two hatches on each of our kayaks.

We took this trip in the Everglades and camped on islands, ground sites (campsites attached to the mainland), and chickees, which are raised wooden platforms. The islands were by far the favorite places to camp. They were not as buggy or hot as the chickees and ground sites and it was fun to hang out on the beach and be able to shell hunt and build fires in the sand. On the islands you had to beware of raccoons though, as they are notorious for opening the hatches on kayaks and stealing the fresh water. Luckily, none of our water was stolen.

Sea kayaking was radically different from all the other wilderness trips we went on. Even basic things like packing and cooking were different. We had spent three months packing 100 liter backpacks, and now we had to pack the same items but into boats, and make sure no sand got into our stoves.

The environment was different as well; we spent all day paddling on the ocean rather than hanging out in the mountains under the trees. Instead of wondering if we’d run into deer and bears we saw sharks, turtles, lots of alligators, sting rays, manatees, and dolphins.

It was interesting to put our knowledge and previous experiences up to a completely different environment and activity.
It was challenging, really challenging, for all of us.
The ocean is tough; it pushes and shoves you and reflects the sun back up at you and makes you sandy and salty. Unlike when you’re walking in the woods, we were at the mercy of the tide, which could either help us along or push us back.

Along with the physical challenge, I found there was a mental and spiritual challenge as well. The whole atmosphere of OLDS was unreal: we were cut off from the realities and distractions of the outside world and as such could focus on our relationships with Christ and building community in a way that is difficult to replicate in the real world. I know that for the whole section having to go back to reality soon weighed on me. We were all a little apprehensive about going home and leaving that environment.

In total we spent 7 days out on the ocean. The first day we paddled out on a channel through mangroves to get to the open ocean. The mangroves produce these long green seed pods that we nicknamed cucumbers. I was in the back of the line everyday on this section with the sweep (which is the person designated to bring up the rear of the group) and on the first day we made a game out of seeing who could throw the most “cucumbers” into someone else’s boat. We camped on an island called Pavilion the first night, and it was one of my favorite campsites from the whole semester. On a walk around the island we found a dead sea turtle which had been preserved from the salty air and saw the bones of many horseshoe crabs.

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The undead turtle 

On day 2 I was Leader of the Day (LOD), which meant that I was supposed to stay in the lead and set the pace, but as previously stated I was in the back the entire time. For lunch we stopped off at an island and later landed at a campsite called Lopez River, which was a very swampy ground site.

10/10 would not recommend camping in a swamp.

On day 3 one of my friends noticed that I was paddling really ineffectively and showed me how to do it correctly, which served to fix some of my slow pace issues. This night we stayed on a chickee. This was a fascinating experience because we had to sit on top of our kayaks while they floated to unpack our things. Precariously balancing on top of water we knew was home to many alligators was quite thrilling. All ten of us were also confined to two small wooden platforms connected by a small walkway; we had to rub shoulders the whole time because there was literally no where else to go. Alligators also circled us almost the whole night, which again was both interesting and also slightly terrifying.

The next day we paddled to another island called Mormon Key to camp at. On the way we met up with the rest of our group for a game of frisbee because the tide was so low. We also saw a shark, sea turtle, and manatee, which for me was definitely a highlight. We had a lot of the day left after we landed so we were able to explore the island and have some time to relax and hang out on the beach. On this night we left our kayaks too close to the shoreline and had it not been for one of the instructors waking up in the middle of the night some of them would have floated away as the tide came up, which would have put a significant damper on the next morning.

Day 5 was both the worst and the best day of sea kayaking. We left early in an attempt to go out with the tide, but the tide and the wind actually ended up pushing against us almost the whole paddle. It was very hot, I was very slow, and almost the whole pod had gone on ahead. It was me and the sweep, by necessity, in the back of the pod. One of our friends ended up waiting for us and the three of us spent the last 40 or so minutes of the paddle goofing off and having a good time and creating the Low Tide Paddling Pod (LTPP!). It ended up becoming one of my favorite memories of the whole semester 🙂
Once we landed on the island (Pavilion again) we were able to walk out where the tide had gone out and see all manner of marine life: starfishes, conchs, scallops, crabs, little fish, and many other things I couldn’t identify.

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The Low Tide Paddling Pod!

The next day we had a zero day and were able to explore the island, contemplate our semester, go swimming, and just relax and hang out before the impending end of our time together.

On the last day we began paddling at 4:45am to beat the tide. We paddled under the stars and moon, which was very eerie but also very beautiful. One of the most spectacular things I’ve ever witnessed was the sun rising over the ocean while floating on a kayak in the ocean. There was no obstructions from seeing the sky come alive and turn the ocean into a fire for a little bit. This was another difficult day, and it concluded a difficult but overall growing and fun section.

Shortly after we ended paddling one of my friends asked me if it was worth it, despite all the challenges. And it was, every moment of strife and frustration and feeling like I couldn’t do it was worth it, because these are the things that make us grow and help us realize our strength and potential. And much like on other sections, I learned again to not doubt myself so much, to lean on the people around me for strength and encouragement, to loosen up and have fun, and most of all to give my frustrations to God and let Him take care of them.

On this section we studied Ephesians 6:10-23, which is the armor of God. This was very fitting and uplifting because we were able to dive into the tools God has given us to live for Him most effectively right before going back out into the real world.

Some of the highlights from my notes are:

Asking how the enemy attacks me and becoming aware of that to better combat it.

“Forgiveness is easier when we see our sins and the sins of others in the light of satan and the flesh at work.” -realize that we are all fallen and broken and have things to work on.

We are most effective when we are wearing the whole armor, not just pieces of it.

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Wekiwa Springs

Taking a break from my wilderness semester blogging to catch ya’ll up on a more recent excursion!

From 12 May to 13 May my dad and I camped at Wekiwa Springs State Park, which is in the Orlando area. The park boosts paddling on Wekiva River and Rock Springs Run, camp sites ranging from RV hook ups, tent sites with water and electricity available, to primitive sites that can only be accessed by canoe or kayak, an educational nature center, hiking and horse trails, and a spring-fed swimming hole.

My dad and I arrived around 5pm, set up our hammocks at our campsite, and went for a swim in the spring water. The water was crystal clear and 72 degrees, which is where it stays year round. Because this park is so popular a small beach has been built around the water and there are steps that can be used to enter the water in order to make it more user friendly.

Our campsite was very populated with tents as well as campers and RVs, there was even one refurbished school bus. Every campsite had been reserved for the weekend so we had may neighbors.

For dinner we had Good to Go meals, which are dehydrated meals you add boiling water to and then eat! Not quite as satisfying as cooking over a camp stove, but definitely better than an MRE. After some chitchatting around a would be fire if not for a state-wide fire ban we each climbed into our bug netted hammocks for bed.

For breakfast we had tea and coffee courtesy of an MSR pocket rocket and oatmeal, which I made bearable with a handful of craisins and some Nutella.

Wekiwa struck me as a very family friendly and easily accessible place to camp and hike. People of all outdoors skill levels and interests could find something to do here. I cannot speak for the primitive sites, but the sites with water access and electricity hookup were perfect for someone looking for an easy car camping trip.

Though being very populated and therefore noisy with much artificial light it was a nice place to sleep outside for a short, quickly planned one night camping trip. However, for someone looking for a more authentic wilderness camping experience I would recommend a less popular camping area or checking out a primitive site.

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Underwater selfie game strong

Summer Camping

Camping in the summer? In Florida?

Definitely as crazy as it sounds, yup.

Although not terrible 🙂

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27-28 May 2016
Withlacoochee State Forest, primitive campsite

My dad and I packed everything up on Friday and walked 4 miles into our campsite from the state forest parking lot.

We stayed at a primitive campsite, meaning there was no water source or close neighboring sites. We had a picnic table, fire pit, plenty of space for a tent, and almost perfect hammocking trees.

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After setting up camp we hiked over to the river (Withlacoochee River) in order to cool off. The river had a nice sandy shore and down a little from where we were a rope swing hung above the water. The water was murky and had an orange tint from the trees. Lots of bubbles attached to unseen river life appeared on the surface mysteriously.

 

After swimming we came back to camp and had a dinner of MREs and a fire building lesson. After hanging out for a bit we went to bed. It was terribly hot, almost too hot to sleep, but our insomnia was awarded with the nostalgic sight of fireflies lighting up the night sky.

On Saturday we hiked a ten mile loop off of our campsite. Hiking in Florida in the summertime is not necessarily something I say I recommend. The heat was almost unbearable, making the hike a lot less pleasant than it could have been. I also got a number of blisters from my hiking boots…not the best day spent on the trail.  Following another lunch of MREs and some more hanging out in our hammocks (ha ha, get it?) we packed up camp and headed home.

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2o-21 August 2016
Withlacooche State Forest, Crooked River campgrounds, site 63

For this camping trip we opted to stay in one of the tent only campgrounds, meaning each campsite was marked off with a number and came equipped with a potable water source, a place to park your car, a picnic table, a firepit with a removable grate, bathhouse access, and the potential for neighbors.

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On Friday afternoon we set up our tent and hammocks, but this time we had bugs nets for our hammocks as well. We hiked a trail right along the river, but I am unsure of the mileage. The trail was very canopied and the sky was a little cloudy and it was almost evening time, so the weather felt very pleasant.

After finishing the hike we attempted to build a fire. We started out with a cottonswab soaked in vaseline (it works, I swear), tinder, and twigs. Following that we added more twigs and then bigger pieces of wood, stoking the coals and flames along the way. All things considered, it should have been a great fire, but all the rain we’ve been getting had made everything damp so the flames never quite caught the bigger pieces of wood. We worked at the fire for almost an hour, adding lint, steel wool, more wood, trail maps, several more matches, and even toilet paper, but it never become a solid, roaring fire. However, we did manage to get enough flames to make a few s’mores and thats really what matters most.

After s’mores we had an MRE dinner and then played a couple hands of a card game called Spit that I learned at summer camp from some campers. Around nine we climbed into our bug netted hammocks for bed (the tent was set up incase it started to rain at night). After about an hour of reading Harry Potter with my headlamp I went to bed. In my hammock (ENO double nest) I had a small inflatable backpacking pillow and a woobie, which is a poncho liner that is standard issue in the army. Essentially, its a poncho liner that can also be a blanket, rain tarp, insulator, something to sleep on top off, etc. Its thin and light but also warm and rain resistant. 10/10 would recommend getting one off Amazon.

I slept very well in my hammock. The air was cool so I wasn’t hot, the wind was minimal, and it didn’t end up raining after all. The moon was so bright it practically lit up the whole sky.

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The next morning after an MRE breakfast and coffee and tea courtesy of a small portable camp stove we packed up camp and drove to our next hike location. We hiked a short 2 miles in another part of the Withlacooche. The heat and bugs were killer, so we hiked short and then drove on the dirt roads cutting through the woods before going home.

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Camping in Florida in summer might be slightly insane, but, despite heat and bugs, not summer is complete without a camping trip.