The Perfect Hike
October 18: Surprise! The first flick of winter snuck in while we were sleeping.
The day dawns cold. And rainy. "Oh, and it was in the 60s last week! " laments Wendy Peterson, owner of our cabin and the resort next door. (We find out after we’re back home that sunny Indian summer weather returned the following week.) Ah, well, fall is always fickle. We shrug it off and opt to enjoy a leisurely small-town cafe breakfast in Ontonagon and let the weather improve a bit before we hit the park.
Only Bergie and I have been to the "Porkies" before, so we head first for the park’s iconic view, Lake of the Clouds Scenic Area. Trees line the easy trail from the parking lot to the edge of a 1,400-foot basalt escarpment that surveys this storied mountain range. Here, the forest simply falls away; hundreds of feet below, the Porkies spread out in all their glory. The serene, deep-blue lake cuts through a rumpled landscape of peaks and valleys, now splashed in crimson, copper and gold. "I had forgotten how beautiful this place is, " says Bergie, soaking in the postcard scene. "We camped at the Porkies when the kids were little. I need to get the family back here. "
Some of the park’s finest hiking trails strike off from the overlook, including the Big Carp River Trail, a beauty that leads west along the exposed bluff before descending to old-growth forest and a gurgling trout stream. But it’s a blustery day, so I suggest the more protected Overlook Trail, a three-mile route that winds through fat birches and hemlocks.
Not the best idea. The deeper we venture into the woods, the wetter and sloppier the trail becomes; eventually, we encounter snow. For those of us with hiking boots, it’s no big deal, but poor Faith is in tennis shoes. She soldiers on with her perennial good cheer, but when we get back to the van, her feet clearly are wet and cold.
"For me, this is a good lesson on being prepared, " she says as she peels off her socks. †I’m a Girl Scout leader, for Pete’s sake! For me, it’s a reminder of the selflessness of moms; you can bet Faith’s kids always have warm, comfortable footwear. I look down at my waterproof/breathable boots and jacket a little sheepishly.
We regroup in front of a glowing fireplace at a local pub and a delicious dinner of fresh lake trout, accompanied by the sound of Lake Superior washing onto the shore just beyond a wall of picture windows. Back at the cabin, we curl up on couches and talk until the wee hours. No TVs, no CDs, just the soft ticking of the wood stove.
"You know what’s so great about this? " Nelly says thoughtfully. "We have all this stimulation in our lives. People don’t talk to each other anymore. And then we come here, and there are no distractions. You have your friends and nature. What else do you really need? "