August 28, 2009


While you were all busy trading in your 1989 Geo Prizms (with the rebuilt motor, and the scraping brakes, and the rusty wheel-wells, and the dashboard that gets the awful convulsing seizure every time you drive faster than 55 mph) for a suspiciously large government subsidy to buy a car that, let’s face it, you really can’t afford because your college loan payments are due and you couldn’t get the hardship deferment, which you wouldn’t need if you’d forego a latte here and there, that –

Anyway, while you were all recklessly buying cars thanks to Cash for Clunkers, I took off for the U.P.

I flew solo. Not my first choice, mind you, but my potential fellow journeymen backed out (disclaimer: They did it for legitimate and understandable reasons). So I could have stayed home and watched TV and sat around and sneezed because of the cat, or I could have gone out to see a small woodsy part of the world. Naturally, I opted anti-cat, pro-road-trip. So last week Thursday, I left.

My only locked-in plans: a reserved campsite for Saturday and Sunday night at the Porcupine Mountains in far west of the U.P. Other than that, I had only my slightest whims to obey. Of course, I had plans in the back of my mind.

Pictured Rocks. Never seen ’em, that I can recall. The Porkies, of course. And, probably, I thought, a ride back through Minnesota. I had at that point only been to 28 states, and Minnesota was not among them. Social rounds in Chicago. Then home.

A while ago, I learned that driving alone was actually kind of fun. There’s nobody to dispute musical choices. Or routes. Or pit stops. Or anything else. Nobody to grip the door handles nervously when you narrowly miss an exit. You have complete control over the radio and the route. But no one to banter with.

No one to chip in for gas money.

Okay, flying solo isn’t ideal. I never said it was. I only said it was kinda fun. Five days on the road/in the wilderness all by yourself can stretch you. You’re the crazy guy in camp, the one the other campers wonder why he’s out here all alone, the one roasting hot dogs each night, the one trying desperately to dry his boxer shorts on the picnic table before the sun sets (they didn’t.) You’re the one who, when the sun goes down and you hear funny noises outside the tent, there’s no one else to shove awake for fight-off-the-bears-with-a-hatchet-duty.

And the UP does have bears. I just didn’t see them with my own eyes. When I got to the Porcupine Mountains, I asked the mustachioed guy at the ranger station a question. I phrased it this way:

“Okay, na├»ve city-boy question… Are there bears around here?”
“Ha! Well, what do you want the answer to be?”
“Well… I kinda want to see a bear. Just not at 2 am.”

He told me they hadn’t seen a bear in this campground for a while, but there were plenty in the park. And I might hear some wolves at night.

Bears are bad enough, but…Wolves? That’s not how I want to go. If I’m going to get eaten, I want to be enjoyed by one single animal, not ripped to shreds and evenly distributed by a pack of wolves. I’ve heard they’re sloppy eaters. They’d leave my various pieces strewn about the park. Perfectly tasty pieces of Jim, left for the lowly turkey vultures, then ants, and finally fungi to finish off. No, I deserve to go in one whole delicious piece.

Well, my food supply was pretty sparse. And I kept it in my car anyway. And besides, I heard the hyenas outside my tent in Tanzania and they didn’t eat me. Maybe I’m just not appetizing to wild animals. Moral of the story: I did not get eaten by wolves or bears. God must need me around for something else.

I have this one other fear when I travel: Leaving stuff behind.

In my head, I’m leaving something behind unknowingly everywhere I go. At first, it’s a few candy wrappers. Then, a few miles down the road, it’s actual food. Then money. Then camping equipment. And clothes. And finally, essential car parts. I picture myself driving down the road, items of increasing importance hemorrhaging from the automobile, leaving a trail like Hansel and Gretel so when my parents get worried in a few weeks and need to find where the wolves left my body parts, they need only to follow the trail of junk. I lose things until I finally arrive in my driveway in my underpants and hiking boots, steering wheel in hand, running along inside a frame Fred Flintstone-style.

Of course, I don’t really leave anything behind. I just worry incessantly about it. It drives me nuts. But that’s part of the beauty of car-camping. You can just cram everything into your car, and if you don’t see anything on the ground of the campsite, you can safely assume it’s all stowed somewhere among the pile of indiscernible stuff in your back seat. To the best of my knowledge, I didn’t leave anything important behind. I just felt sick each time I left a campsite.

I went to Minnesota. Have you been to Duluth? This guy has. Nice area. The downtown is unique, a strip of buildings, shops, and ports narrowly spread near the shore of Lake Superior. I didn’t stay there long. I went on toward Minneapolis, also a cool city. But I rode the light rail. Paid for my ticket, and apparently there’s nowhere for them to check it. Everybody just kinda gets on and off, like an old trolley. Honor system, I guess. I went to a Twins/Orioles game at the Metrodome. My first indoor baseball game, and one of the last in Minneapolis because they’re moving to Target Field next summer. It’s my hope they won’t need the Metrodome in November, as the Tigers should be in the playoffs. But that’s all beside the point.

From Minneapolis, I rolled through Madison, Wisconsin to see Mark, then to Chicago to hang out with Kyle and Linda. I came home Wednesday afternoon and promptly collapsed on the couch in the basement. I just don’t get enough sleep when I’m in a tent, fearing for my life, gripping a hatchet inside my sleeping bag so the bears don’t get me.

Would I do it again? I probably would. About half-way through the trip, I realized that the scale of this adventure was considerably small, and it was more of a practice for a bigger adventure someday. We’ll see what that ends up being. And next time, I probably won’t fly solo. Though it’s worth it, the experiences are all a little better when there’s someone to share them with, even if they’re going to protest your musical choices, veto the random roadside memorial visits, and grip the handle nervously when you narrowly make your exit.



Anonymous said...

I love the way you write. period. I'd read it every day... keep writing! :) - Marita

Anonymous said...

So you really slept with a hatchet, hm? Brave.

Dan said...


Next summer. You, me, a car, supplies. Let's make it happen. We deserve to go on an adventure together.

You have a similar style of writing as Bill Bryson. Author of "A Walk in the Woods, and "Thunderbolt Kid". Hilarious author. Check him out.

ThisGirl527 said...

I see you are displaying a bit of self satisfaction.

What else is new?


(Just kidding, totally love you and am jealous of everything but the outdoor stuff.)