Notes from the North Country, by Lon and Lynn Emerick

The small group of hikers sat on a sunny, rocky outcrop overlooking a small wilderness lake. There were no sounds except their own, the ripples of the lake and the call of a loon around a nearby point. Joining in a trip sponsored by a local organization, they had enjoyed the hike to the lake, lunch in this beautiful spot and respite from daily life. For a few, it was their first venture into the woods.
One of the leaders passed around a single-spaced outline page titled “Suggestions For Things To Take On An Outing. Prepare And Avoid: Dehydration And Hypothermia.” There were six kinds of medications, insect repellent, bee sting kit, bandages, poncho, food, extra socks, windbreaker, gaiters, gloves, bug hat, extra fleece, bandanna, water, space blanket, cell phone, map, compass, GPS, knife, whistle, matches, extra paddle if canoeing.
Two beginning hikers reviewed the list, then looked at each other with raised eyebrows. You could almost hear their thoughts: “Being in the woods is too scary.” And, “Holy Cow, I thought this was supposed to be about fun.”
If you plan for every possible exigency, you may have a walk in the wilds—all wrapped up and protected—but you won’t have an adventure. The overabundance of protective gear tends to make one pay more attention to what could happen rather than what is happening all around you.
It has to do with immersion, we believe. Our lives are couched in comfort, cloistered with convenience. Rarely do we have the opportunity to immerse ourselves in an experience that lets us look inside ourselves, explore our boundaries, flirt with the unknown. Even more rarely do we seize those opportunities.
“Sometimes, the opportunities occur when we least expect them,” writes Sam Cook in Up North. “We don’t plan them. We simply put ourselves in situations where such challenges are more likely to occur. It involves risking more than we might be accustomed to risking, biting off a little more than we are used to chewing.”
Two recent opportunities: friends were canoeing on the Indian River—a day trip out of the ordinary, in wild country, off the trails and away from “reassurance markers” (trail signs). Just when it seemed the day’s outing in the wild couldn’t be more perfect, a timber wolf dashed across the river in front of them.
On an afternoon exploration off-trail in the Harlow Lake area, we crossed over a rocky outcrop and spotted fragrant, blooming lilacs—on a late October day. We call these times diamonds, because such experiences are so rare and beautiful.
Be prepared…the familiar Boy Scout motto. Plan responsibly for your adventure in the wild, but don’t overplan to the extent that you are immobilized with fear. What joy is there in that? Be prepared. But if you take an entire medicine chest and warnings of possibly dire happenings, why go? Why not stay in the comfort of home and take a virtual hike on your computer?
Electronic devices and other aids are—or should be—the last resort, to be used when we cannot complete our planned outing due to unanticipated weather events, injuries from slips and falls, unlikely encounters with the resident wild animals in whose habitat we travel.
Are we saying to go on adventures with no preparation or awareness of the weather, the terrain, the way home? Of course not. Marquette County Search and Rescue is called almost every weekend to rescue hikers who start up Hogsback late in the day with snacks and a cell phone—no map, no compass, no trail-finding skills and no real awareness of where they’ve been and how to get back. Once the snacks are gone and darkness is descending, they use the cell phone to call for rescue from a situation where most could have relied on their own skills and preparation.
Find your own balance point between judicious preparation and the weighing down of mind and body with equipment designed to meet every contingency and insulate you from any discomfort and reliance on yourself. The purpose is to be out there exploring and experiencing our beautiful peninsula. Meet the outdoors on its terms…rain, cold, wind, warmth.
The desire for total safety (not possible) ends up diluting the impact of an outdoor adventure—it’s like wearing your raincoat in the shower.
“If you hold onto the handle, she said, it’s easier to maintain the illusion of control. But it’s more fun if you let the wind carry you.” —Brian Andreas, StoryPeople
—Lon and Lynn Emerick

Editor’s Note: Comments are welcome by writing MM or e-mailing

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