We’ve slept inside been doing a lot of sleeping inside in the last couple of weeks. It’s not that we haven’t wanted to enjoy the dregs of summer, but I’ve got friends all over, and given that tomorrow
could apparently bring nuclear war isn’t promised, I’ve been making it a point to see them where I can. I haven’t been too worried about it, mostly because I know that our trip to Isle Royale National Park is fast approaching. This’ll be the second time in as many weeks that I’ll have gotten out to hike, and while we’re trying to do 50-odd miles on this latter trip, any amount of time sucking wind and enjoying the outside feels good these days.
I go hiking with my friend Nekomata at Goose Pond Fish and Wildlife Area in Indiana, which, in addition to being a somewhat popular area for hunting and fishing, sits in a migratory resting spot for birds. It’s not so much trails as dirt roads around over through wetlands, but there is so much life – we’re far enough away from the roads that the car noises don’t bother us, but the birds yell and the fish leap and the lilies slowly, imperceptibly, continue to bloom.
Nekomata and I have been friends, or at least acquaintances, for a long time, but we’ve developed a lively friendship over the book of many faces – a friendship that I’m happy to discover carries over to the real world effortlessly. We don’t want for conversation, or for silence, when a moment calls for it. I find it effortless to be in their presence, and I’m so glad they found this cool space for us to hike in.
I’ve been feeling a strange amount of in-between lately, in the inside like nothing’s changed and in the outside like I’m working this crazy awesome job, not sure I’m spending enough time in either. It feels like we’re working on projects two to three days a week, working events two to three days a week, and driving or sleeping the rest. You’d think I’d be used to this duality already, having hiked and paid attention, having lived abroad while trying to stay connected, always having different feet in different worlds. It’s changed, but it’s not any easier. That’s probably why I’m pretty excited about heading to Isle Royale, where I’ll be forced out of cell service and into my body, my experiences, into making miles like it’s my job. Which, it will be, though it’s the best job in the world.
But Isle Royale National Park sits in one of those weird liminal spaces, too – water and land and sky, close to Minnesota but part of Michigan. An island in the middle of Lake Superior forty-five miles long and nine miles wide, it’s home to over 100 miles of trail and 200 lakes and ponds. It’s the site of derelict copper mines and flourishing populations of moose and wolves and foxes that basically run the place, given there are so few people that visit the island.
At an average of about 18,000 people visiting per year over the last 20 years, it’s one of the least visited national parks, and that makes sense – the cheapest ferry there and back is about $106 per person, and that doesn’t count the $7 per day you spend on permits to stay on the island. When you add in travel to the UP or northern Minnesota, where you often have to fly in to one place and then rent a car to drive into port – it adds up for a single person, let alone for couples and families. Still, the lack of visitors means the National Park Service’s been able to keep the island in a pretty pristine condition, which brings up all sorts of fun questions:
- Isle Royale is a part of our public lands system, but with the cost of getting and staying there, who exactly constitutes the public that’s able to access this public good?
- Do we have a social responsibility to provide better access to this and other ostensibly-public places when there are so many other, more important(?) things going on?
- Is the only solution to reducing impacts reducing visitation, through an Isle Royale type of isolation or through permitting systems?
- How do we get people to care about the outdoors or the environment generally if they can’t make personal connections through visits to awe-inspiring places?
- Can we meet people where they are when it comes to the outdoors – is it possible to take a place that you’ve known all your life, like a local park/trail/bike path, and make it special or in some way new again?
I’ve got thoughts about the answers, but they’re in and out of my mind – we’re producing a video and running inventory on our backpacking gear and going shopping to augment our hiking food supply and it’s a lot to weigh and measure. We’ve got most everything we need, sure – we’ve been carting along all our gear for the last three months in preparation for a time like this – but there’re always bits and bobs and details that you want to make sure you’ve got covered. Nothing like getting out
into the Boundary Waters and forgetting insect repellent something super important.
I don’t know that I’ll be able to have the answers when I get back, either – we won’t quite get a day to breathe before heading into eight straight days of work. I’ll initially post pictures, if not thoughts and comments, but I’m sure I’ll have a lot to say about the Isle Royale experience eventually.
Starting Subaru Mileage: 10,131 • Ending Subaru Mileage: 10,987 • Week’s Mileage: 856
Notable Accomplishments: Showered more than twice in a week • Actually got a lot of Leave No Trace work done • So many friiiiiiiends