Circling Lake Michigan


(This 1116th Buffalo Sunday News column was first published on August 12, 2012.)



A Roadside Sign along the Northeast Side of Lake Michigan


Long time readers of this column will know that I have taken scooter-camping trips around Lakes Ontario (2001), Erie (2004), Huron (2005), and Superior (2007). I even circled that Great Lake step-sister Lake Champlain in 2004.


Those Great Lake circumnavigations left me with Lake Michigan still not done and a wife's (aka home administrator's) pronouncement: from now on scooter trips must originate at home. Finally, however, the boss gave in to allow me to drive my car around Lake Michigan. Not wanting to give her a chance to change her mind, I quickly loaded the car and set off for this 2000-mile excursion.


Simply driving around this lake offered few of the advantages of riding my scooter there. Views at 15 to 30 miles per hour are much better taken in than those at 50. And the scooter encouraged more stops.


In any case the trip degenerated into a whirlwind chase around the lake. I completed the entire trip in three days. That included hours of bumper-to-bumper driving through Chicago.


Of all the Great Lakes I found Lake Michigan most like the Finger Lakes with cottages lining the shore even in the northern sections. Thus, even when the road came close to the lake, most views of it were like a slowed motion picture: brief interludes between house walls and hedges.


There were, however, notable exceptions. Both Wisconsin and Michigan have small lake access parks as well as state parks. I should have taken advantage of more of them, but I seemed always to be just beyond the turn-ins. My too often repeated mantra was, "I'll stop at the next one." Unfortunately I never did.


Okay, the excursion was pretty much a flop.  But even a failure cannot discount the attraction of a beautiful lake simmering in the heat. The best features of the trip were my two nights camping along the shore. And one of those nights offered an especially interesting experience.


On one I camped in a state park, but the other night I found an opening some distance from houses and within only about thirty yards of the beach. It was a lovely spot and two trees were just the right distance apart to hang my hammock.


The advertisements for that hammock say it takes just five minutes to set up and for normal people that would be about right. But it had been several years since I had used it so it was with some trepidation that I dumped the contents of the bag on the ground between those trees.


After a first abortive attempt I did manage to get the ropes tied to the straps around the trees and the four stakes set out to hold hammock and tarp. But then when I got into the canvas and lay down I went thump down on the ground.


Not a good start.


I got out, adjusted the height of the straps and tightened the lines. By now it was already dark, about ten o'clock, and I was ready to sleep.


Into the hammock I went together with my sleeping bag and pillow -- the latter a benefit of going by car. Again my weight slumped the hammock down but I remained at least a few inches above the ground.


Now came a bonus benefit of my location. I was in one of those rare spots in this country where it was full dark with none of those urban lights competing with my view of the sky. The result was spectacular. I could see more stars just out of the side of my bed through the mosquito netting than I ever see here on the Niagara Frontier.


And I was also remarkably comfortable. I had forgotten just how pleasant it was sleeping in a hammock. I hardly had time to contemplate that when, tired from my day of driving, I fell into a deep sleep.


Hours later something wakened me. That something was brushing against the side of the hammock an eighth of an inch from my hip. I remained perfectly still, my mind cataloging the many possibilities: I went through every North American mammal from coyote to bear.


Then suddenly as I was thinking through my list, the tarp flapped with a sharp snap, making my heart jump. A breeze had come up and the loose lines had allowed that to happen. I decided that what had briefly frightened me was just knapweeds blown against the canvas by that same breeze.


Or was it?


I'll never know as, satisfied with that answer, I immediately fell back fast asleep.