Lens-Artist Challenge: My Travels

I met Steve eight months after I was widowed. In the tumult of grief and transition, he offered me something that was transformational – a chance to go camping. My husband and four kids and I did not camp together. I hadn’t been camping for years, but I consider myself a lifetime Girl Scout. Getting back into the outdoors, practicing self-reliance and adaptability, and surrounding myself with the beauty and non-judgmental, non-moral embrace of Nature was just what I needed to consider Life worthwhile again. Steve’s style of camping has a distinct difference from mine: his motto is not “Be Prepared”. His motto is “Be Open”. My instinct to make lists and consult maps was challenged at the very outset. We spent the first hour of one of our early trips parked at the curb outside my house in a deep philosophical discussion of what it means to be on an adventure. 

Steve also introduced me to the wonder of the National Forests of the U.S.A. There is no fee for camping in the National Forests, but there are Leave No Trace rules. A world of freedom opened up for us when I discovered we could easily make camp, cook, clean up, sleep and deal with personal waste (!) outside of crowded developed campsites.

We have, however, depended on either his former Toyota or my late husband’s Honda to transport all our gear.I would love to be able to experience the freedom of going into even more remote wilderness areas, either with a 4-wheel drive vehicle with higher clearance or a backpack. (The latter would be more realistic if I were ten years younger and in better shape…)

We have enjoyed the diversity, the grandeur, and the autonomy of places not dominated by human impact. I find those sacred spaces truly inspiring… and extremely photogenic.

(I had to include that last photo just to prove I’m not kidding about the Girl Scout bit…)
I thank Amy for sharing her inspirational Travel stories and for inviting us into this Travel Challenge. 

Autumn in the North Woods: Part One

Steve and I spent the last 8 days traveling through the North Woods of Minnesota and Wisconsin. We camped the first night at the St. Croix National Scenic Riverway and the western end of the Ice Age National Scenic Trail.  Here’s Steve modeling his fashionable Aussie outer wear (an estate sale find) against the cold and damp. This was the night of a truly extraordinary moonlit hike.  I awoke at about midnight to find that the sky had mostly cleared and the moon was full.  A pink ring of vapor circled the bright light, and although devoid of color, the landscape was clearly visible without a flashlight. I woke Steve up, and we walked for about two hours, through the campsite and down to the river. Luminous surfactant foam floated by, and we could tell that the water level was extremely high. The next morning, we stopped by the Visitor Center to learn more about the area. We then continued northwest into Minnesota to find a camping spot in the Chippewa National Forest. On the way, we found Lake Emily. I had to take some photos for my youngest daughter. 

The ever-helpful National Forest staff person at the Deep River ranger station gave us an armful of maps and great tips for exploring the forest. We found a dispersed campsite by an unnamed lake (labeled M13) on Orange Lake Road. This lake was our home for 4 days. It was also a more permanent home for beaver, red squirrels, bald eagles, and deer. It changed constantly in color, light, temperature, water vapor, sounds, inhabitants, surface, and semi-submerged “furniture”.

On Saturday, we explored “The Lost Forty”, a 144-acre area that was mistakenly marked as a lake by surveyors in the 19th century and spared logging. Old growth white and red pines dot this virgin forest. The sun came out spectacularly, and we could see why this remote area attracted so many weekend visitors. One hiker greeted Steve with “you old hippie!”. I admit I hugged a few trees. I was awed to be in the presence of these Ancients. 

The following day dawned foggy and damp. We decided to explore the area just around our campsite and have a no-drive day. Minnesota is truly the land of 10,000 lakes. Every bend in the path seemed to lead to another one. We found sunshine at Littlehorn Lake, just down the road. Sunshine is a definite mood-changer!

On Monday, Indigenous Peoples Day, we hiked a golden path for 7 miles in order to explore the remains of a non-indigenous settlement along Trout Lake. The Joyce Estate was constructed from 1917-1935 as the retreat of a wealthy Chicago family. I imagine it was a roaring 20s bootlegging Gatsby-type scene, with guests being flown in by seaplane to play on the shore. In recent months, it was severely vandalized. I feel sorry for the Forest Service – managing land on a tight budget is tough enough without having to deal with unruly citizens as well. 

 

The next day, the Ranger Station was open, and we returned to thank them for hosting our Minnesota stay. We spent no money whatsoever on accommodations this entire trip, so we wanted to make sure that we expressed appreciation for the folks who protect Federal land and work to keep it open to the public.

We headed next to the Apostle Islands and were able to splurge for The Grand Tour cruise, thanks to the savings. I will cover that in Part Two. Stay tuned!