It is almost 23:00, Saturday, February 5, 2000. I'm in my tent just a couple hundred yards from the shore of Lake MIchigan behind the modest shelter of some sand dunes. Even on the leeward side of the dunes the wind is blowing through our camp site nearly continuously at at least 25MPH. I know this tent is designed to handle much stronger winds, but I also know that I may not have pitched the tent in the most effective fashion. My tent certainly seems to have more ripples running through its fabric than some of the others. When the wind is not blowing though the temperature is probably only a few degrees below freezing, where it has been most of the day. Therefore, I am cozy in here nestled in my sleeping bag. I just wonder how things will appear tomorrow morning.
Jeff, Doug, and I left Lansing at 06:00 to drive to Jeff's brother's home and fetch Alec. After getting Alec squared away with gear and assuring his parents that things would be great we left to meet the rest of the group at the Bob's BIg Boy. We arrived half an hour early which gave us ample time for a sizeable breakfast. Other people trickled on in and soon our group had swelled to 14 people. Besides the people with me we had: Eric, Tony, Curtis, Joe, Don, Paul, Brian, and new to the group (at least to me) Tracy and Tina with there German Short Hair dog.
We reached the Nordhouse Dunes Wilderness Area (?) close to 11:00 and found that the information gleamed from some ranger had been essentially correct. There was only about 6 inches of snow, sand was showing through in places, and though you could find 14-16 inch deep sections well off the lake they were the exception not the rule. Still most everyone strapped on snowshoes and we followed our intrepid "nordic viking" leader into the back country.
The day was clear and there was little wind. I hoisted one leg after another trying to get accustomed to the snowshoes as I wandered into the snow laden forest. The vast majority of the trees are dormant for the winter, but some evergreens can be seen. I heard sounds that suggested at least some squirrels were active along with the occasional bird such as a Chickadee (?). As we tromped along the rolling hills towards the lake we also saw ample signs that deer were around. Eric even said that there are rare bears to be found as well as fox and coyote though , unlike the deer, no one said they saw any tracks.
I imagine we walked for about 45 minutes before we reached what would become our campsite. When we cleared the forest we were greeted by the shorelineŐs seemingly constant companion: high winds. We looked for a site in the woods that would hold us all and be proof against the breeze, but failed to locate one (Brian, who had come and gone at the trail head , only to be seen many hours later - I don't think we even really considered him part of the group since his impact was hardly felt - did find himself such a site).
So, we continued on near the lake shore and eventually came to the site we are now at. Initially it wasn't too breezy, but we tried to find a better place with no real luck. People pitched there tents; what a slow process this can be in the winter. In my case a tough one too until you get both poles in. The wind can so easily catch the Stephenson and turn it into a kite. In due course everyone was established and chatting while having lunch. The day was progressing at a leisurely pace. No one had really expected anything different.
We did do a mid afternoon hike. In hindsight wearing my snowshoes was of limited value at best. But, how else will I learn if I do not try things out. I was hiking mostly with Eric and Tony. The majority of the group had moved out much more rapidly and went there own way. I believe we made a great clockwise circle, heading away from the lake shore into the woods where things once agin became winter quiet. If it weren't for the sound of my snowshoes crunching on the ground or the infrequent voices the sounds reaching our ears would have been those of silence.
Our walk eventually brought us to a fork. We learned, as we surmised at the time, that most everyone else had gone left. We went right. This, it was felt, would take us back to the campsite more quickly by way of the parking lot. The other group took a more circuitous route.
We spent some time in the parking lot futzing around with some Y2K rejected MRE meals that Eric had in his car. Our intention was not to satiate any hunger pangs we had (I didnŐt have any), but to try and use the chemical heat to melt some snow in a water bottle. OK, this is silly since to get the MRE warm you need water to get the reaction going, but hey it was fun and we had the time.
We returned to the campsite, I a bit more slowly, and found that we were back before most everyone else. I took a tiny detour to walk along the dunes and try to get some lake shots. I think they would have come out better with at least a polarizing filter (certainly an ND filter). The lake looked angry with churning wind blown waves rushing across its deep blue surface. I could see ice floating along the shoreline too.
When I returned to camp most everyone else had come back too. It was time for dinner and that was what everyone set their minds to preparing. My experiment with dehydrated meatballs and spaghetti sauce was a success. The meatballs could have been a bit spicier, but they did not start life out with much spice so that is understandable. The sauce came back to life and was pretty tasty too. This will become a regular trail meal.
As is often the case eating with others brought us closer together especially once the fire, brought to life by Jeff H with the aid of JundogŐs Duraflame logs, was blazing. People broke into conversation groups and we spent the better part of the evening chatting around the flames. In fact, Jundog, Eric, Jeff, and I were the last to go to bed as we talked around the ever shrinking fire waiting for it to finally die. That actually took quite a while. The fire would wink out and within a few second flare up again. It would burn for a bit, wink out, and then flare back up. The fire did this several times before winking out for good. It was a very nice way to end the day.