The ride to the Porkies is surrounded by good scenery, but long… especially in a full 15-passenger van. The back seat's been taken out and replaced with backpacks; the rest are full with our group of 11.
Arriving at the Porcupine Mountains, everything and everyone climbs out of the van, the backpacks get stuffed with the groceries we've picked up, and I'm reminded of why these trips bother me: there's a brief break down pointing out that hip straps make your life better, but no mention of the compression straps on the backpacks. Hiking is full of little things which add up in a big way when you're walking for miles and miles. The attitude here seems to be simply about mucking about in the woods, with little attention paid to the quality and safety of one's mucking.
However, I have promised myself to have a better trip this time than I did with the last school-sponsored trip I went on. That one had been to the Superior Hiking Trail and was jarring for me: I'd just hiked ~150 miles on the trail, going upwards of 20 miles per day, and now to hike just 14 in a weekend was a huge change of speed and style. But there was also a degree of incompetence among the people leading the trip (all of whom have long since left the University!). They got lost driving to the parking lot; they lost the trail (which is among the best marked of any long-distance trail in the U.S.) in the night; they lost the trail during the day, while holding a map and a compass (where lost means we hiked a mile in the wrong direction, contrary to suggestions from a fair subset of the group that this was, strictly speaking, not a good idea).
It cannot possibly be that bad again. And, in fact, I know it won't be this time, because Sarah and Gretchen from the Cumberland Island trip are leading this. And they are awesome.
I'm also hopeful because I've never been to the Porkies before, so there's no prior conception—no previous me—lurking in the woods.
We get to camp as the sun is setting. I've gone all out vegetarian for this trip, so supper is pasta and a chunk of the giant blocks of cheese we've brought along. Afterwards, we sit around the fire, trying to dodge its smoke (which invariably follows someone!) long into the night.
At one point, on the Superior Hiking Trail, I was crawling on my hands and knees up a trail because I hurt. A lot. And I was hungry. Quite. And thirsty. Badly. And I knew there was a lake on the other side of the ridge. And I wasn't thinking, "Why didn't I bring more water?" I was thinking, "Why is my backpack so heavy?" So, later on, I got rid of a few unnecessary things I'd been carrying with me: my stove, my tent, my sleeping bag, and my sleeping pad. Carrying only garbage bags and a cotton sheet, I was able to make much better time.
And since then, I've always tried to avoid bringing tents. So, when everyone else pitched for the night, I wandered off alone into the woods, spread out my bivy sack (which is like a Premium Garbage Bag), a 15F sleeping bag, and slept staring up at the stars. Much prettier. And, for once, my feet stayed warm. I think I may need to purchase a new sleeping bag because of this. (And, indeed, I bought new 0F and 15F bags a couple of months later at the Gear Sale.)
Where I slept, by the cliff.
The trail followed the cliff for a few more miles before plunging down to the valley floor.
Lunch by the lake was more cheese, and tortillas, and humus, and Cadbury chocolate. It got to the point where we would break down laughing every time we pulled out the decreased, but still unnecessarily huge, cheese supply. I am always a little paranoid about starving when I go hiking, and I guess the cheese blocks expressed that.
As evening came on, we reached our campsite by the shores of the lake we'd seen first upon arriving. The Lake of the Clouds, I think. Searching for firewood, I wandered back away from the deciduous trees by the lake side and into a forest of tall pines. The ground around me was littered with fallen branches, some quite sizable. Looking up, I saw why: there were many dead branches hanging in the trees. Waiting to fall. On me!
The vegetarian triad didn't have to make anything for supper because everyone else made waaaay too much rice and beans. With the addition of cheese, we had quite a nice meal.
Afterwards, Gretchen and Sarah egged me into telling the tale of my hitchhiking trip around Scotland and the tree people I met there. I'd told it to them as we (and Mary) were passing Albert Lee on our way to Cumberland Island and it was an interesting experience telling it to them again… they remembered parts I'd left out or forgotten. How the signs always said, “The North”, but never, “The South”.
The next morning, we packed up just as it began raining.
In Duluth, we tried to get to Amazing Grains (“Be Brave. Be Kind. Don't eat bad bread.”), took a wrong turn, and ended up getting caught as the lift bridge went up. Despite my precautions, I still haven't recovered all the numbers I had in my phone when it disappeared: one of the missing is the number that would have told me the name of the ore ship as it went by.
And yes, the trip did go better this time :-)