To say goodbye to 2015 and hello to 2016, Jon and I went to the Porcupine Mountains for some backpacking in the snow. I hadn't been to the UP of Michigan since I was a little lady in the early 90's and Jon had never been. We were both very much in love with the area as soon as we rolled into Ontonagon and saw our beautiful friend, Lake Superior.
The Porkies are in Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park, which was established in 1945 to protect all of the amazing trees and wildlife. It contains the largest number of old-growth northern hardwood forest in North America, west of the Adirondack Mountains. And man, were they gorgeous. Some of the trees we saw seemed impossibly tall and wise for how close to home we actually were. Just a handful of hours. These trees have seen it all and are still standing. It's quite incredible. The air was alive.
Animals that live here are moose, wolves, coyotes, lynx, bobcats, bears... kind of exactly what you'd think when you think "wild". Oh yeah- they have porcupines too :) All in all, we saw one squirrel and a bunch of crows. Oh, winter! Although we both love seeing wildlife, I think in this type of situation, we were relieved to not run into any. Okay. Maybe I wanted to tame a moose and ride him home. I'll have to save that for a different trip. At various times during this adventure, we'd comment that we had stepped on some very unique feeling and sounding ground. Somewhat hollow and light...just, different. Bear dens. That is the thought that crossed our minds. Suspicions grew stronger with more time and thought. We were off-trail in true backwoods. It was a liiiittle bit scary. Upon investigation, I feel confident in saying yes. Bear dens. We absolutely walked on some and I think Jon may have broken through one on our first big hike. So I'll add "not waking the wrath of winter bear" on my list of gratitude's for 2016.
This camping experience was full of new things for me. First, it was the longest I've spent outside in the winter. Ever. 99% of this was most excellent and without issue. 1% of this was unpleasant. I have a condition call Reynaud's, which makes me extremely cold sometimes. Even in super hot weather. On our second day, after we had hiked to our new base camp, my Reynaud's hit very hard and I ended up with some full body shakes for about an hour. It was alarming and a good reminder that while I fancy myself invincible, I am not. Jon built me a fire and told me to get into my sleeping bag. Everything worked out and went without incident the rest of the time.
Our tent had no floor. How this worked was truly rad. You pitch the tent and bury the walls with snow part-way up to trap the heat and seal off the outside. Jon acquired a wood burning stove and has his tent customized for a chimney. We used this set-up for the first time on this getaway and it was spectacular. The weather we were dealing with was 15-25 degrees, but when we'd really get that stove going, our lovely home would get warm enough for us to take off most of our layers and kick back without boots on. Which let me tell you, feels unreal after sporting 3+ layers at all times for days. I hate layers. The hot tent was my bff. Tending to the fire, I've now discovered, is my true calling. I found absolute peace and stillness in that. Hearing snow falling and wind howling (wind right? not a wolf... right?!) outside, with a crackling and cozy fire to feel safe by was a beautiful thing.
This setup also allowed us to make tea easily by melting snow and boiling water quickly for our food. I made a very macro-friendly discovery of instant oats with protein powder that made me extremely happy. Camping while being a clean eating body builder is a little bit tricky when it comes to macros and simple ingredients. I'm slowly figuring it out and plan to write a post about it once I try out a few new recipes. One of the big highlights food-wise was wild caught salmon, heated over our open fire. So simple and pretty and yummy.
We did a lot of hiking around and exploring. Honestly, just taking in all of the incredible scenery was enough for us. When you think of a winter wonderland.. that's where we were. I feel like the luckiest woman in the whole world. I got to spend the last bit of 2015 with the guy I love and together we welcomed the new year. 2016 is starting on the brightest note. A sparkling snowflake fluttering through the air. This is going to be a year to remember.
I often times find myself wondering how I am able to live such a magnificent and lovely life. I am so thankful for nature. She fuels my mind, body and spirit. Thanks, Michigan. I like what you've got.