June 11-14, 2017
To celebrate our 10th Anniversary in 2015 my husband and I decided to try something different, so we spent a few days backpacking in the Porcupine Mountains in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. We really enjoyed ourselves and vowed to do it again soon. Fast-forward to two years later and we finally were able to dig the backpacks out and put them to use, except this time we added two more.
We love to travel with Red and Fred and decided this would be another fun adventure to include them on. There was some hesitation though due to the fact that neither of our kids had yet to sleep outside in a tent before. Also, both kids are terrified to be outside after dark, of bears, wolves, snakes, spiders and the dreaded Hodag. We decided to choose adventure and do it anyway, even though we were uncertain of the outcome.
We purchased each kid a backpack that fit them just right along with a pillow, sleeping bag and sleeping pad. Like most kids, ours are not the most adventurous when it comes to the variety of food that they eat. I did a lot of research on what packed well and what would be filling. Many people highly recommended lots of snacks and stopping often, which we found to be wise advice.
Our adventure started off on a Tuesday afternoon after stopping for a filling lunch at a restaurant near the entrance to the state park. During lunch, the clouds rolled in and there was a nice thunderstorm. Thankfully, by the time we set off on our hike the rain had stopped, but there continued to be consistent rumbles of thunder. We set off to get to our first campsite, about two miles in, as quickly as possible knowing that it could start raining at any time. Initially, there were some issues with the kids in getting the packs adjusted just right and the realization this is going to be work! Fred stopped after 50 feet and refused to take another step, but we expected that, and eventually the kids started getting more comfortable with adjusting their own pack’s belts and straps. It was hard to move quickly when the scenery around us was so beautiful. We had to remind ourselves that the trip was not about a destination but rather the journey. The kids needed the frequent breaks and we needed to slow down and enjoy the slower pace. The trail that we were on paralleled the Little Carp River which had a lot of little waterfalls to enjoy. It also goes through an old growth forest. The centuries-old trees towering over us were magnificent to look at.
Going into the trip we plotted the sites where we hoped to spend each night. This state park has designated campsites that have a fire ring and bear pole. Backcountry camping can sometimes be tricky when it comes to sites as they are first come first serve. We figured the kids would be able to do 3-4 miles each day and picked where we hoped to end up. We also let the kids explore the map and get an idea of where we were going. This helped to pacify a few of the “are we there yet?” type of questions that are always present on any trip with children. Thankfully, when we reached our intended first campsite it was empty. We quickly set up the tent and a tarp covering an area near the campfire as the thunder seemed to be getting closer. The kids had a blast camping right next to the river and of course, both of them fell in with their shoes on within 20 minutes of arriving. A neat feature right in the middle of our site area was a large boulder with a tree growing over the top of it that acted as a wonderful natural jungle gym. We had our first meal which consisted of Easy Mac and hot dogs that slowly thawed from the frozen state they started in when we began our hike. It started to gently rain soon after dinner. Fred and I went to unroll the sleeping pads and sleeping bags. When traveling or doing anything with children, we all know that unexpected things tend to happen. Well, while Fred was helping me, he ended up spilling his entire water bottle and quickly soaking two of our sleeping pads. It was so damp out that we knew they would not dry very quickly and it was approaching bedtime. So, my husband and I put the kids in the tent with their journals and proceeded to hold the sleeping pads very carefully near the fire to dry them off. Eventually, we all got settled into the tent. Surprisingly there was very little apprehension about sleeping outside. One of the most successful items we packed were glow sticks. They gave off just enough light to act as a perfect nightlight for the kids. With glow sticks lighting up the tent and the peaceful sound of the rapids on the Little Carp River, we all quickly fell asleep.
On the second day, we woke up to sunny skies and birds chirping; it was a peaceful morning. While we packed up camp, the kids ran around exploring the forest and river with the camera. We were packed up and moving by 9:30, stopped for a break by 10, but that was OK. We made it to a beautiful large waterfall for lunch. We stopped there for quite a while and allowed the kids to play in the water and explore the small pools full of life. The kids were able to experience lots of things about nature. Due to it being a nice sunny day, over lunch, a large snake decided to sun itself right next to where we were eating. The kids were initially freaked out but then just kept their eye on it for the remainder of our time there. Their fear turned to curiosity and then acceptance that we were visiting the snake’s home. The second half of our trip consisted of two river crossings. The first one had a nice large tree that had fallen over the river that we were able to carefully navigate. Once across this log, the forest was very dense and had the smell of a sweaty gym bag. The kids were wondering why Dad was talking so loud and whistling so much. We were thankful that we didn’t bump into any large black animals. The second river crossing was a bit more difficult. An adult with a good walking stick could have traversed it just fine, but for a child with little legs and not the best balance it was quite difficult. We ended up having them take off their shoes and walk through the water. It ended up being easier and more fun for them. For both of the crossings, my husband carried their backpacks across. Towards late afternoon we made it to Lake Superior and our second intended campsite. Unfortunately, our first choice was already taken. We hiked a bit further and were able to get a campsite only a few feet from the coast. The water was so calm when we arrived that we could easily skip rocks across its surface. Unfortunately, that also meant that there was no wind and that made it easy for the black flies to swarm everything. We quickly got the tent up as a place for shelter. Throughout the day we had promised the kids that they could go swimming in the river. Even though it was freezing cold they were still begging to go by the end of the day. My husband took both the kids and left me at the camp to make a fire and start dinner. Thankfully, with the smoke from the fire, I was able to at least make the pesky flies bearable. The kids returned frozen, but happy, and settled in for our freeze-dried Mountain House packaged dinner. They were surprisingly good. Due to the flies, we settled into our tent early. With the front flap open we were able to write/draw in our journals and watch the sun go down. It was a very relaxed evening.
On the third day, we awoke to the sound of the waves crashing against the shore. The wind had picked up and it was a bit chilly. Fred and Dad started a fire so we could stay warm while we had breakfast and packed up our camp. Our plan for the day was to hike back down the trail we had come up and make our way back to somewhere around where we camped the first night. We made it over the two river crossings again. This time we attempted to engineer a bridge for the kids with a few logs that were nearby. This probably ended up taking more time than the kids taking their shoes off, but we didn’t have to deal with drying off wet feet and putting socks back on. I am very thankful that I threw jolly ranchers into our supplies. They were great motivators for the kids. They would get one every half hour or so and would check their watches frequently to see when they could have their next one. We also played 20 questions. By keeping their minds busy, they didn’t seem to complain as much. They really didn’t complain too much in general. We were very surprised by how well they did. We stopped for lunch at the same waterfall again and spent a bit of time relaxing. The sky started clouding up and we knew there was a chance of storms that day, so we packed up and hit the trail. Our cell phones did not work anywhere, so we were unable to know what the weather forecast was. Within a half hour, we started hearing a little thunder and could see a very dark wall cloud coming. At one point, we started to hear this very loud noise. We couldn’t tell if it was very heavy rain bearing down upon us or a strong wind. Soon after that, we could see the trees behind us starting to bend. Thankfully we were right next to an old tree that had fallen down on top of another tree allowing for about a three-foot space beneath it. We quickly had the kids hide under that and covered them with a tarp. Fred was crying. Red did a great job of putting her fears aside and attempting to comfort her brother. It was a great moment in a very tense situation. As we were arranging the kids under the log a large branch fell and hit my husband’s backpack that was on the ground behind him. A few moments later a very large, very old tree toppled over just 50 feet away from us. The situation escalated quickly and then just as quickly it was over aside from a few rumbles of thunder and the rain falling. Once the wind settled down, we knew that the front of the storm had hit and the worst had passed for now. We brought the kids out, all put our ponchos on and started to hike. As we started to hike we had to traverse around the tree that fell next to us and blocked the path. Just five minutes prior to this storm blowing in, we had encountered another hiker. We stopped and chatted for 30 seconds or so and then continued on. After the storm, we reflected on how everything happens for a reason and that had we not stopped to chat, we very well could have been taking cover near this tree and where it fell. As we hiked on we came across a few more trees that had fallen across the trail. We love weather and we love our radar, but not knowing what was bearing down on us was a little frustrating. The kids decided that at that point they didn’t want to spend the night. Not knowing what kind of storms might be in our future for the night, we decided that might be the safest plan. It would be hard to relax under those large trees if another storm rolled in. The day turned quite cold and it rained for the remainder of the hike out. The kids did an absolutely amazing job. They hiked a total of seven miles and in those last four miles or so they hiked straight through with no complaints and no breaks. It was interesting to see how much they could accomplish with the proper motivation!
Even though we ended up hiking out a day early and had a pretty alarming experience, it was still a great trip and we would do it again. And we “will” do it again. The kids are asking to do it soon. Surprisingly, when asked what their favorite part of the trip was they say that it was when they were hiding under the log.
Children are continuously curious. As a parent, it is easy to sometimes get frustrated by the nonstop inquisition. Being unplugged and having no electronic distractions allows one to feel less hurried and more available to focus on your children. Going into this backpacking trip we did not have any specific educational topics that we wanted to cover with the kids. Instead, we allowed their natural curiosity to guide the questions and made sure to spend time answering them to the best of our abilities. Here is where the lack of electronics and an immediate answer was prevalent. This lead to actual discussions as to why we might think things are the way they are. We were able to touch on so many topics. From how big Lake Superior is, to how the logging industry worked in the 1800’s, how and why erosion happens, how rain makes many small rivers that eventually flow into larger bodies of water, the variety of forests inside of one big forest and many other topics regarding wildlife that we found. It is easy to take for granted the information that we as adults have stored within our minds. The smallest bit of information imparted upon a child can be so important. It is also a good reminder that we are never too old to learn. Although in the beginning, we viewed this as just a camping trip, we became enlightened as to how much learning goes on just by observing and asking questions and putting down the electronics.