We live in Michigan, the Great Lakes State, and we try to enjoy the recreational opportunities the lakes afford as often as we can. For those who have never seen the Great Lakes it is difficult to describe just how cold, clean, and vast these freshwater inland seas are. Not only a source of drinking water for tens of millions of people in two countries, they also power our State and Provincial economies and support numerous unique and interconnected ecosystems. Rover Haven supports the causes that protect and enhance this amazing jewel of a resource.
Michigan is comprised of two peninsulas of land sticking out into the Great Lakes basin, the Lower Peninsula (the "Mitten") and the Upper Peninsula (the U.P.). The state's motto is "Si quaeris peninsulam samoenam circumspect," which translates from Latin as "If you seek a pleasant peninsula, look about you." Up in the northwestern corner of the lower peninsula (the "pinkie" of the mitten, as a Michigander might say) there is a National Park called Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. A visit there is a summer-must, and as timing would have it our visit in 2016 happened to coincide with the 100th anniversary of our country's National Park system.
Sleeping Bear Dunes is a large park, comprising 35 miles of shoreline and two islands about 10 miles off the coast. The islands are the North and South Manitou Islands, which according to native lore are two baby bears following their mother across Lake Michigan, who sleeps on the shore waiting for them to arrive. Mama Bear's profile is suggested by the shape of the largest and most famous dune in the park, Sleeping Bear, from which the park takes its name. Access to the Manitou Islands is by passenger ferry out of the Village of Leland.
The goal of our weekend adventure was to get to North Manitou Island and explore a shipwreck I knew of from past visits, this time with mask and camera. Scuba skills aren't required to access this shipwreck, making it perfect for us. But backcountry camping skills certainly are, and who among us wouldn't include a good tool watch as essential kit on a backcountry camping trip? Elsewhere in this blog I have described what the Precista PRS-82 is and why it's such an outstanding value. I won't be repeating that here, but suffice to say the characteristics of the watch that suit it for a trip like this are its water resistance, excellent lume, useful timing bezel, good timekeeping, and solid construction. Time Factors really hit a home run with this watch. I bought mine brand new when Time Factors released it in October, 2013.
A quick aside -- our family tends to be one of car spotters as well as watch freaks, and our trip began with a very special car sighting. After we had boarded the ferry but before it had left the dock, an Amphicar came down the adjacent ramp and took to the water. If you've never seen an Amphicar, it's probably because only 3,878 of them were made. When I was growing up there was a collector near our house that had two of them. It's worth a visit to Wikipedia to learn more about these amazing machines.
The ferry crossing takes about an hour, after which visitors to North Manitou Island arrive at the Village, which dates to the mid-1850's. The buildings of the Village are all protected assets of the park; some are restored, maintained, and in use, and some are in a state of stabilized disuse. The Village functioned as a US Coast Guard Life Saving Station from 1854 until 1938, saving the lives of 772 persons over the years of its operation.
After disembarking the ferry and getting your camping permit in order, the Village is quickly left behind as hikers disperse into the Island, each party seeking its own privacy and solitude. Our hike takes us along the beach for some way, and we are lucky enough to find a Petoskey Stone, a beautiful specimen of Michigan's State Stone. The Petoskey Stone is a fossilized coral found only in the northwestern corner of Michigan's lower peninsula. Sadly, they are not as prevalent as they once were and my family now practices a catch-and-release policy. Years of collecting and gift shop sales have made them a rarer find.
After a three hour hike we reach our secret spot and set up camp. The Great Lakes are famous for fast-changing weather and a storm has blown in. After weathering the wind and rain for several hours in the tent, we emerge to some awesome waves on the beach, the biggest about 6 to 8 feet in my estimation. Body surfing these waves is a blast, and we spend a good hour riding them in and feeling their unbelievable power. I've body surfed in the ocean before, and learned that a dive watch's bezel can be compromised with silt, sand, and particles. For some reason this never happens to me in Lake Michigan; I think maybe because the sand consists of particles that are relatively large and uniform and not a bunch of ground up sea shells mixed with marine sand. Another advantage a Great Lakes experience offers the swimmer: no pesky sharks, jellyfish, or venomous sea anemones. The Lake is also our source of drinking water while we are camped.
Back in camp, the Precista makes itself useful timing a dinner's boil on the camp stove. The Vigo is added, the timing bezel set, and thirty minutes later our Cuban black beans and rice are done. As night falls, the watch comes into its own as an all-night phenomenon of luminescence.
The next morning dawned wet, windy, and rainy. After a few hours hunkered down in the tent, however, we emerged to rain that had subsided and we set off for our ultimate goal, the shipwreck. We packed some snacks and water and took off on an easy half-hour beach hike. In past years when the level of the Lakes has been lower this wreck has been in waist-deep water. But the water level in Lake Michigan has been significantly higher the last couple of years and now this shipwreck sits in about 6-8 feet of water, meaning we had to swim and tread water the whole time we were over it. Here are some pictures from our discovery.
Eventually the rain returned so we swam back to shore, packed our stuff, and headed back to camp. Another rainy night in the tent but we were dry and snug and very satisfied at our expedition success. The following day was sunny and nice, of course, but at least this made for easy take-down of our tent and other gear. We loaded our packs and left camp at about 9:00 AM. On our hike back to the ferry's pier, we decided to look for a different trail, which required a little bushwhacking. As we were making our way through the woods we came upon a land-bound wreck, the remains of a 1937 Ford Tudor Humpback Sedan. Other parts of the island have similar ruins that stand testament to the full-time residents that lived here into the 20th century, but this was one I hadn't seen before.
After 2.5 hours with a full backpack of gear nothing seemed more refreshing to us than a dip in the cool waters of Lake Michigan. Fortunately, we had a spare half hour until the ferry was due to arrive so we took advantage of the time to explore the ruins of an abandoned pier at the Village. The crystal clear waters of the Lake are perfect for swimming and photography. Just a few more shots of the Precista and the pier and our trip would be finished.
After a couple days of deprivation, I was anxious to enjoy one of Michigan's best products, a Bell's Two Hearted Ale, which fortunately for me is served on the ferry. Looking back at the island, I reflected on how lucky we are to live in this amazing State and have this incredible resource in our backyards.
I hope you enjoyed reading this entry, and I'd love to hear about your own adventures with your Precista PRS-82!