The story I am going to tell is about a weekend excursion I lead for Calvin University in Pictured Rocks Natural Lakeshore. On this trip, I lost something important: my sanity.
Pictured Rocks is one of the most beautiful parks in all of Michigan, so backcountry campsites fill up fast.
So when we went to make our reservation, four days before the trip, almost all of the most beautiful sites were booked. We devised a plan to take one of the less scenic campsites for the second night, but before we hiked there, we would walk the most picturesque loop in the park.
When the weekend finally came, my two co-leaders and I prepped our students for the trip ahead. We drove nine hours (though the drive should have taken five) and arrived at our car campsite at midnight. After the tents were set up, we told the students our plan to do a ten-mile hike then backpack to our next campsite.
After eight hours of sleep, we woke the students up, packed our tents, and drove to the best bagel shop in northern Michigan. As everyone was ordering, a student realized that she had left her boots back at the campsite. As my co-leader, Tori, was backing the twelve passenger van from the parking spot, she avidly watched an older man walking past so she wouldn't hit him. Instead, she backed into a pole.
Fortunately, the car was fine and the boots were found. But unfortunately, we were an hour behind schedule with a full day ahead of us.
Tori, our camper, and I got back into the van to pick up the rest of the crew. We met Martin, the leader holding down the fort in the bagel shop, and drove to the trail-head. We realized we didn't get maps so we made a stop at the visitors center. Tori ran in as Martin and I blasted 80's music in the van. One song went by. Two songs. Three, four, five. We started to wonder what sinkhole might have swallowed Tori whole.
As I was walking in to check on her, she was walking out with a frazzled expression on her face. "We were supposed to print our backcountry reservations." She said as she waved two green slips in my face. We ran back to the car while "Living on a Prayer" shook the seats. After avoiding construction, we completed the drive that was supposed to take three minutes in twenty.
So with a ten mile hike, a drive to a separate trailhead, another two-mile hike, and a camp to set up ahead of us, we started hiking at noon. An hour in, we realized we hadn't eaten since nine in the morning. So at one, we took out the trail mix, tortillas, and Nut Thins. Our feast was spread out across the rocks while the students grazed.
After eating, the warm shelf was so inviting that we all took naps. Before we knew it we had been sunning ourselves like lizards for over an hour. So the leaders convened to decide if we should keep hiking the loop or turn around.
"The prettiest parts are coming," Tori said. "We came here to show them Pictured Rocks."
"Alright but we gotta go fast," I said.
We then turned to the group and told them we were going to be marching on.
The further into the hike we went the prettier it got. So pretty that at every vista our students had to take a picture. I looked at my watch, we were hiking at around a mile and a half an hour. We kept hiking and stopping and hiking and stopping until we saw clouds rolling into the sky. Angry clouds.
There was a junction in the trail with two paths leading back to the car: one a half-mile longer than the other. At this junction, there was also a path down to the water. So we took our shoes off and went down. Martin and I spent our time finding the smoothest rocks by putting them in our mouths.
This is when my sanity started getting away from me.
The leaders formed a huddle on the shore and tried to figure out what to do. We unanimously decided to take the shorter path back, as we had two miles left, an hour hike to dinner, and the weather looming over our heads.
We gathered the troops and told them to get their boots back on, which was apparently a very delicate and time costly task.
We finally got back on the trail. I was leading the pack. I was hauling ass. Then someone had to pee.
We all waited on the trail; Martin and I stood under a tree with big leaves. I reached my hand out from its cover. "I think its starting to rain."
Then it started coming down. Our students were still peeing. The leaders huddled again. "I don't think we're gonna be able to make it to our campsite tonight," I said.
"I don't want them to be miserable," Martin said.
"So we either go on as scheduled and eat dinner at nine, or we get another car campsite and go to the beach tomorrow," Tori said.
The students came back, and we all started hauling ass back to the car.
When the heavens opened and the van was in sight, we sat our students down on the curb and had a moment of transparent leadership. We asked them if they'd like to set up camp in the rain, or find a new campsite and have time to go to the beach in the morning.
I'm sure you're surprised to hear they chose the latter.
We drove around, asking our students for cash to pay for the campsite because we had not gotten enough at the beginning of the trip. Finally, we found a place that had open campsites. Tori and I left Martin alone with the students in search of firewood. We drove to the entrance of the park as we released our pent up frustration.
We took our damn sweet time bringing the wood back to camp.
The next day we got up early and went to the water. And even though it was mid-fall, we went for a swim. The water was cold and uncomfortable, but it was good. It didn't give me my sanity back, I don't know if that will ever recover, but the sharpness of the cold woke me up.
Things lost in the past are never all gone; I will always be a little bit crazy. But if I may deviate from the story for a moment, we never fully lose anything.
As I was talking to my boss, the one who oversees the trips I lead, about all that I've lost in my life recently, he responded with a prayer. A prayer that I would not lose my core self. A prayer that all that is me, will not get caught in the pains of what was.
And though there are hardships and pitfalls and troubles in my past, I remain intact. And though the mishaps of Pictured Rocks drove me crazy, I still ran into the water.
And even now, I can still dive, headfirst, into the blue.