North Manitou Island is a 15,000 acre wilderness island in Lake Michigan, ten miles off the coast of Leland, MI. The island doesn't see a lot of visitors, so once you're boatload of visitors scatter into the trees, you often feel like you've been drop off on a deserted island. It's 20 miles of shoreline almost ensures you'll have your own private beach to watch the sunset.
There just isn’t another place like it within a six hour drive of my home in Indiana. Needless to say, I added it to my bucket list the moment I learned of its existence.
I was finally able to go in late July 2007. I took 5 days off of work and spent a couple weeks before that over-planning. I went alone. I love the solitude. There just isn’t a better way to experience nature. Although, I’d love to go back with friends someday.
I got up early on a Thursday to begin my trip. For my job I'm on-call 24 x 7 and people start arriving in the office a few minutes before 7:00. So I headed out at 6:45. I wanted to be out before the phone could ring. I had the next five days off and didn’t plan on picking up the phone if it did, but I preferred to not hear it ring. My mind needed to be free of the thought that I was needed at work.
Once I got in the car I only stopped once, for gas and a Jimmy Johns veggie sandwich, before arriving at Sleeping Bear. I saw a sign for the Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive and quickly turned hoping to find some places to get out of the car, stretch my legs, and take some photos.
Even if you don't make it out to the islands, the mainland side of the park is worth the trip. I was later surprised by the small number of people that were on the islands considering the large crowd of people crammed together on the mainland side. It’s one of America’s unknown gems and most people there didn’t seem to give it much consideration. Or maybe a trip to an unspoiled wilderness island with no electricity, phones, motorized vehicles, restrooms, restaurants, department stores, televisions, or ambulances isn’t exactly everyone’s idea of paradise. Even though, with the exception of no restrooms or ambulances, it happens to be my definition of the word.
My boat wasn’t going to leave until 10:00 the next morning, so I had some time to kill. Along the Lake Michigan Overlook just off the scenic drive, I stared out at the lake from the top of a 450 foot sand dune.
This was a lot of fun to run down. Coming back up... not so much.
I planned on staying at D.H. Day Campground the first night. On the few trips I’ve taken in my life, I typically just get in the car and go and deal with the consequences as they happen, but I got mildly panicked when I saw a sign that said 'Full' when pulling in.
“There are about a dozen campgrounds in the area,” said the gentleman working in the campground office, which was comforting. “But they are pretty much all full except one,” which was not.
I was certain I’d be sleeping in my car. I drove to Empire, a small town about fifteen miles south, to find that campground and luckily they only had about a half dozen sites being used. For it being the less popular campground in the area, it was so much better than anything around my hometown.
After registering the site with the friendly couple that owned the place, I drove back into town and stopped at Gemma’s Coffee shop. I thought to myself, “I need to do something anti-roughed before heading to the island.” And what's more anti-roughed than a trendy coffee shop, an iced caramel mocha with whipped cream, various pastries, soft cushy couches, and Wi-Fi?
I sat sipping my drink, reading a book, then headed back to camp. Oh yeah and the book was Harry Potter book 7. It has only just occurred to me exactly how anti-roughed this moment was.
I ended up sleeping in my car anyway because I didn't want to unpack and risk being late the next morning for the ferry. Plus, after unnecessarily unpacking and repacking at home so many times to make sure I was prepared, I just didn't want to do it again. So I stayed up late reading some more while lying on the picnic table in the silent empty campground, then eventually fell asleep in my reclined front seat.
A Backpacker's Life List by Ryan Grayson is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.