A Michigan Mountain Guide | Midwest Living

A Michigan Mountain Guide

Five high-school friends reconnect during a weekend of lakeshore hiking at Michigan's Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park.


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    Comfortable, sturdy shoes are a must.
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    "I live on a lake, but this has given me a real appreciation of the wilderness rivers and the power of big lakes like Superior."
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Lake Superior's Magnificence


October 17: The autumn sky is fading into gauzy blue twilight as we pull up to the vacation cabin we’ve rented on Lake Superior. I can hear the waves before I’m even out of the car.

A native Midwesterner now living in the Pacific Northwest, I miss Lake Superior most of all (its wild shores, remarkable clarity and seemingly endless blue horizon).

Julie "Nelly" Neal, a big-water sailor who prepared for the ocean on these waters, loves it, too. We beeline right past the house for the beach and marvel at the giant lake’s muscle, jacked up into stiff white peaks, breakers curling and crashing like Pacific rollers onto the broad boulevard of sand. It feels good to be back home.

Within 15 minutes, the Milwaukee contingent of our group arrives: Nancy Lorenz from Elm Grove, Faith O’Leary from Oconomowoc and Julie "JJ" Eiselt, who flew in from Charlotte, North Carolina. Anne "Bergie" Burbach, who now lives in Lake Elmo, Minnesota, will arrive tomorrow morning. (That’s six of our usual group of eight, all classmates from Brookfield Central High School in suburban Milwaukee. Two other friends couldn’t make it, but we’ll call them tonight.) We exchange shrieks and hugs all around and begin a warm whirl of conversation that won’t stop until Sunday afternoon.

The rambling house has more than enough space, and our party, like all good ones, starts in the kitchen. We each settle into our familiar roles, some the result of old habits, some reflections of our newer lives. JJ, who loves to cook, begins whipping up appetizers complete with spices she brought from North Carolina. Nelly tends bar.

I’ve spent lots of time in this park and the surrounding Upper Peninsula of Michigan researching books and travel articles, so I pull out my maps and plan some hikes for the weekend. Faith, our social nucleus who keeps in touch with everyone, brings us up-to-date on other classmates as she and Nancy unpack groceries.

We particularly enjoy the story about Nancy, who looks like she stepped off a magazine cover in a gorgeous orange sweater and scarf, turning heads at the local IGA this afternoon. We also tease JJ mercilessly about her love of creature comforts, including the "sound machine" she brought along to help her sleep. She’s slightly horrified by the ’70s decor of our cabin and perhaps by the North Woods in general.

"Are jeans OK out there? " JJ asks at one point, trying to be a good sport about it all. "I mean, if I go out there? "

Over pizza and red wine, we plan a bonfire on the beach, and time later in the cabin’s hot tub. When we finally turn in for the night, Nelly and I opt for nature’s sound machine, cracking the window of our shared room and letting the rumble of Lake Superior lull us to sleep.


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