Tuesday, August 6, 2013


Miscellaneous notes on our group camping trip to Ludington State Park

Will Drive for Beauty
A five-hour drive for only a weekend of camping seems long for people like us whose eyelids get heavy after just one hour of tires humming and scenery blurring. Our friends seem to have more energy for driving and need only a brief bathroom break in a five-hour drive. Yesterday, on our way home from a group campout, my husband and I stopped three times, once to eat lunch, once to buy Michigan blueberries, and once in desperation at a Starbucks where we sat nursing coffee and discussing which one of us the caffeine would take quick enough effect on to keep eyes and brain alert for the last hour and a half between there and home.

Although we struggled with the drive, five hours to Ludington State Park was so worth it. For 25 years, I have appreciated southwest Michigan’s pristine ribbons of sand and pure, refreshing Lake Michigan swimming. Going further up the coast meant even more of the same, with the added benefit of forested sand dunes to hike and inland lakes to canoe and kayak. If southwest Michigan’s Lake Michigan playgrounds are convenient natural beauty, northwest Michigan’s Lake Michigan playgrounds are breathtaking natural beauty.

Our friends are experienced campers who bring tools enough to improvise just about any fix needed. Our group has Philips screwdrivers and four types of camping lanterns, butcher knives, cutting boards, spatulas and tongs, nonstick skillets and percolating coffee pots. Camp stoves and red-and-white-checked-clothed picnic tables sit under an expansive kitchen tarp. An assembly line of kitchen helpers prepares hot meals for 7 to 14 people and washes, rinses, and dries their dishes and silverware. We sleep in tents, but we are quite comfortable.

In one respect, camping simplifies life. One’s campground stuff is significantly less than one’s household stuff. I find this freeing, similar to living out of a suitcase on vacation. On the other hand, on this trip I was surprised to note I was more preoccupied with keeping track of my stuff. Maybe it was my attempted simplicity that caused this, I don’t know.

I took only one little backpack that I thought could double as my bathroom bag and my beach bag. Good plan, but then I ended up packing, unpacking, and repacking the backpack two to four times a day. One doesn’t need a camera at the bathroom, but one might want a camera at the beach. Flip-flops are good for both communal showers and beach walking, so they stay in the bag. To walk to the bathroom just to brush my teeth, I transferred a zipper bag with toothbrush and paste to my pocket and then had to remember to return it to the backpack—but not if the bag’s next trip was to the beach.

Camping Prayers
Prayers fell into three categories: thanksgiving before meals, awed praise for God’s creation, and protection requests—the last for traveling mercies and communal bathroom mercies. Water (or worse), sand, and long hairs snaked over every surface—and park staff cleaned these restrooms twice a day. “Oh God, please don’t let my toothbrush fall on the floor.” “Oh, God, please don’t let my washcloth fall on the floor.”  Again, our camper friends seemed to take bathroom crud in stride, but just the possibilities turned my stomach.

Romance vs. Reality
One day we walked a long stretch of white sand to Big Sable Point Lighthouse, built in 1867. Our friends who’d been there before had suggested we bring $3 so we could go inside the lighthouse. Well, going inside a lighthouse sounded historically interesting. And seeing, for example, the tiny light bulb that was beacon to Great Lakes ships as far as 18 miles away was interesting.

But what our friends had meant about going inside was climbing up inside. Even as I trudged barefoot in the sand approaching the lighthouse, I thought how fun to be in the aerie way high up by the beacon. What a great view from there. Even as I stood at the bottom of the wrought-iron spiral stairs and looked up, I thought how pretty the lacy pattern on each step was. Even when I knew I’d be climbing 130 steps, I thought the climb would be only a mild challenge.

Well. Climbing to the first landing, I thought, “I can’t believe there’s only one handrail.” Climbing to the next landing, I wondered, “Are these steps getting skinnier and steeper?” My self-talk became, “Keep looking up, Jane; keep looking up. Look ONLY at the handrail.” Occasionally, the opening above me narrowed, and I had to bend forward to avoid bumping my head. It’s very hard to tilt your head down, keep your eyes open, and not look down. My stomach flipped a few times. On a couple landings, when I stopped to peer out a porthole, I remembered my lifelong fear of heights.

By the time I stepped outside near the top, I was afraid enough for 20 people. Buffeted by wind, I plastered my body against the lighthouse itself and a smile on my face. So many visitors blocked my view, however, I knew I would have to surmount my fear of standing at the railing, too. Gripping the railing for dear life, I circled the top of that lighthouse several times to take panoramic snapshots.

Eager to touch ground again, I poked my head in at the top of the stairwell to find my stomach doing back flips at the sight of the ground through all those see-through steps. All pride aside, I asked a lighthouse volunteer to hold my hand while I sat down on the top step. I managed to stand on most steps, but I did sit down again in a few sections. Upon final touchdown, my stomach settled, and I enjoyed a short video about the lighthouse. Curtains breezily billowing further calmed me.

As each visitor emerged from his tubular trek, a lighthouse volunteer handed him a bright yellow reward sticker to wear. I wore mine proudly for two days. I still can’t believe I got up and down that lighthouse, but I’m glad I did. I’m sure there’s a life lesson somewhere in this story. The difference between succumbing to and overcoming fear is in what you look at? Maybe being too far into a fearful endeavor to turn around helps? Worthwhile achievements may not come easily?

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