Saturday, June 26, 2010

Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, Michigan

Adam and I just got back from our first ever camping trip together. Adam had never been camping at all, and I had never been camping as an adult. Why would 2 yuppie adults like ourselves who are admitted foodies with increasingly high standards in travel accommodations decide to rough it in a tent with Ramen noodle dinners for 4 nights? Well in addition to good food and nice hotels, Adam and I are both huge fans of nature and wildlife. I would go so far as to say that my very favorite thing to do in the world is to look for, find, and watch wildlife (especially bison). So I view camping as a means to an end. Adam and I are both really excited about a big Alaskan adventure we're planning for Summer 2012. I think the only way to truly experience Alaska is to spend time in the wilderness. For example, Denali National Park has only 1 road in a 6 million acre park so the only way to truly get a feel for the place is to do some backcountry camping. The same is true for Glacier National Park and many others.

Therefore, we decided to use our short June vacation this year to "practice" backcountry camping in Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore on the Michigan coast of Lake Michigan. We stayed at 3 different campsites: 2 in the park on the mainland and one on North Manitou island. All 3 were backcountry sites, meaning we had to hike a certain distance (in this case it varied from 1-5 miles) to get to our camp sites. Obviously we had to provide our own water, fuel, shelter- anything we needed we had to carry on our backs. The "everything I need I must carry on my back" concept is not new to me as I've backpacked in Europe, Africa, S America and New Zealand but I've always stayed at hotels, hostels or huts that at least provided a mattress (usually) and a roof over my head. I love the simplicity backpacking (both camping and non-camping) provides- knowing that all you need you can carry with you (plus an American Express card for anything you may have lost or forgotten ;) ).

Here are the 10 things I enjoyed the most about our little camping adventure:

1. Our REI shopping spree. We just walked into REI one evening and bought everything we'd need from tent to sleeping pad to cooking device to cookware. Who doesn't love a good shopping spree?

2. Our tent. Our tent is way cool. Adam read a lot of reviews to pick the perfect tent and he did a great job. It's a all season tent, very light, made for 3 people so roomy for 2. Super easy to put up and take down. Below is a picture I took from inside the tent.

3. Sleeping in the tent in a thunderstorm/downpour. At home I have a noise-maker that plays crickets, ocean sounds, rain, etc to help me sleep. Sure didn't need that on the trip! The thunderstorm was so fun to listen to from the perfectly dry confines of our awesome tent!

4. Implementing bear precautions. I was excited to hear there were a few black bears in the area (who knew Michigan has bears??!!) so we implemented about 75% of our bear precautions. Adam had a good time devising ways to keep our food and toiletries suspended between trees out of reach of any bears (if you look close on the very top picture you can see a blue bag in the background hanging from a tree-that's our food). I think this was actually Adam's very favorite part of the trip. When we are really in bear country, we will also have a separate cooking site away from our sleeping camp and keep the clothes we cooked in out of the tent.

Adam using our water filter to purify the Lake Michigan water for drinking.

5. Dinners. Adam found this amazing little device called a Jet Boil, that boils water in about 3 minutes. The whole device is the size of a nalgene bottle (including fuel). Really cool. I really enjoyed our dinners of Ramen noodles with various proteins (tuna, chicken, and jerky). Fun to make and fun to eat.

6. Scenery at dinners: The camp site we spend 2 nights at was a 5 minute walk from a pristine Lake Michigan beach. Below is me surrounded by all our cooking gear after dinner on the beach.

7. Wine and chocolate after dinner. Adam found plastic wine bottles, so we got to enjoy some cheap and good Cab Sauv each night after dinner.

8. The Lake. Though we see Lake Michigan every day from our apartment, it was great to see it in its more natural state. We spent most of our days on trails right next to the lake so were rewarded with many beautiful lake views.

9. Spending quality time with Adam. I'm so glad to be married to such a great traveling companion!

Adam showing that we saw the exact view advertised on the Sleeping Bear Dunes brochure;)

10. The first shower and meal once we returned to civilization. Nothing like a few days in the wilderness to make one appreciate hot running water with soap!

Stay tuned for 1 more post about our night on Manitou Island....

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