Superior Odds and Ends

Dear Friends and Family,

The journey continues!

Thanks again for camping with me buddy, I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did 🙂

Andrew and I split up after a couple days, as he had to return downstate while I continued meandering west across the Upper Peninsula.

Ore docks in Marquette, from which Lakers were once loaded with iron ore bound for steel mills around the lower Lakes. But now the cathedral of industry lies empty.

This is a form of ore the Lakers loaded; Taconite, an iron concentrate containing perhaps 50-55% iron ore.

The tenor of travel through the UP is different than elsewhere in the country. The Upper Peninsula is very, very large (its westernmost corner is closer to Lincoln, Nebraska than Detroit), but there are no interstates. Roads are winding and tunnel-like through the pines and birches, formed by wind and sunlight into canopies over the pavement. Slow, circuitous routes arc around the deep lakes and doze through empty mining towns, speckled here and there with vacation homes. You don’t really drive anywhere in the UP, you just sort of end up there after some time. Does that make sense?

Well, maybe I just got too distracted following road signs like this.

Gay is a tiny hamlet in the Keweenaw Peninsula, way up at the end of the state, jutting into Lake Superior. But I was obliged by law and custom (due to being queer, not by virtue of being a Michigander this time) to stop in.

Here is the Gay Bar!

There were 7 people in that bar, including me, a gay, which means the LGBT percentage of Gay was briefly much higher than the national average.

Here is the Gay Town Hall!

Here is the Gay Museum!

Here’s the Gay Sands!

Here’s the Gay History!

Here’s the Gay relics of industrial times long gone!

And that’s everything there is in the town of Gay!

Bete Gris Bay? More like Bete Bris Gay this water feature is 30 miles further up the Keweenaw and nowhere near the town of Gay.

At least all this driving takes you to some fun diversions ¯\_ (ツ)_/¯.

Eventually I ran out of UP to drive through:

“End of the Earth” yeah it sure felt like it!

Virginians, stay your tears; the Porcupine Mountains aren’t in nearly the same category as the Blue Ridge, or even Massanutten. Because Michigan was scoured by the Glaciers ten thousand years ago, the state is relatively flat, with even the most mountainous areas rarely rising more than 1100′ above the Lake level (Lake Superior being about ~560′ above sea level itself). The Porkies aren’t even the tallest mountains in the UP, a title which belongs to the Huron Mountains further east.

But they sure are beautiful!

Above is Lake of the Clouds, tucked away between two ridges of the Porkies, and so named because the still air often causes the lake to mirror the sky above it. I have heard from a friend that this looks much like Acadia National Park in Maine, except prettier.

The Porkies are one of the great, true wildernesses of the Midwest. Much of the “wilderness” you see in the lower peninsula has actually been logged out and replanted two to three times in its history, or turned into cornfields further south. The UP is more rugged, but has been domesticated somewhat by the coming of the roads, and is a far cry from when a steamboat was the only way to reach towns like Houghton and Marquette. But here, in this far corner of the UP, the wilderness is still pristine. And I am grateful that you can see it from these expanses.

I camped in the area, and the next day I made one more day trip west, to Wisconsin.

A long time ago, before I moved to Alexandria, I lived in Green Bay, Wisconsin. It was a sleepy and frustrating time in my life. I felt slaked and worn very often back then. All the anger I had swallowed into myself throughout college failed to firework when I got my first job in Sturgeon Bay, and I did not enjoy the liberation that a stable income and the first leisure time you get in eight years tends to exalt upon most college graduates. To be perfectly fair, it was all my fault. And it was to be expected that I slipped into listlessness and languor.

Except for the drive down I-94 a week prior in this trip, I had not returned to Wisconsin since I left it in December 2018.

I think I could ramble on a while about those years apart and why I left. But I choose not to.

Anyways, at the very north end of Wisconsin is the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore, something which I had always wanted to visit, but never made the time or the money for while I lived in Green Bay. And when I finally saw it, well…

It was kind of a dud, to be honest. But it’s not the Islands’ fault! You see, the Apostles are a collection of twelve or so wooded islands off Wisconsin’s Superior shore. But they are only accessible by canoe or kayak. So if you are only commencing a day trip, and not planning a couple days’ expedition to canoe camp out in the islands, you’re missing kind of the whole point of the Park.

I feel like I knew this while I was heading there, but I just wanted to see it for myself. I think I wanted to experience this anticlimax at the end of America’s Dairyland. This whole trip felt like a tidal wave of unimaginably new experiences, but this time I just wanted the feeling of checking a box. I did it. I did what I wouldn’t, or couldn’t accomplish in 2017 or 2018. And in some regards I am glad that I checked the box, because I would have been far more sorely disappointed if I had seen the Apostles in those old years rather than in these bright new ones.

I am rambling, but I digress.

I returned to the Porkies in time for one more evening above the Lake of the clouds:

I remember feeling very sleepy when I returned to Michigan. I gazed into the westward exit of the valley and felt like I was drifting into the beginning of time. The late summer haze deadened the day, like a stone falling into sand from an overturned palm. I did not feel the haze approach as some stormfront, as a cloudbank rolling in from the Lake. I felt it manifest; I felt it grow in density and humidity, not really rising from anywhere, nor appearing anywhere else, just increasing all around in imperceptibly small advances. I drew breaths long and slow in the haze and remembered an empty memory. I smelled nothing and heard less. I drifted marginally into an old and shallow ennui.

And I said “this is not for me.” And I left.

That’s all for now,

Stay well everyone,

Evan 💙