Monday, September 29, 2014

Close Encounters in Yellowstone

Last week we stopped for a few days in Gallatin National Forest, just outside of the West Entrance of Yellowstone National Park in Montana. This is an excellent, well maintained campground and the price is right at $22 a night (electricity included). We chose to come here because we wanted to scratch Yellowstone off of our bucketlists. So, off we went to explore this world famous park. (fun fact: Recent online rumors state that roads were melting in Yellowstone due to volcanic activity. These rumors are false. They have closed some roads but the closures are due to bridge upgrades.)

We decided to start at the visitor center and then make our way to Old Faithful. Along the way people were stopping and causing traffic back-ups whenever they saw an animal. Bison are the main attraction and people act like typical tourists when they see one on the side of the road. They stop, get excited, then hold their iPad out the window and get their photos. It got annoying really fast.

Then we walked along a boardwalk that took us through some geothermal stuff. Hot springs, geysers, and stuff you would expect to see in the Yellowstone lowlands. The boardwalk was covered with tourists, fighting for position in front of the geysers in an effort to get their cheesy photos. There are also a LOT of Asian tourists in Yellowstone and the stereotype about Asians and cameras is alive and well. If you think I am being racially insensitive, let me remind you that I am half Korean so deal with it.
Number of Pizza joints in West Yellowstone = 1. Number of Chinese restaurants = 4. I didn't research camera shops but I bet there was one or two. 

We got to Old Faithful and waited for the eruption while eating our bag lunches. It was pretty cool but, again, tourists. This time, sitting on benches and holding their iPads in the air. I was quickly starting to feel unimpressed with Yellowstone. This place is so well marketed that they killed themselves by attracting tons of annoying car tourists who all want to get the best seat, best picture and best campsite. It’s a rat race. (fun fact: Old Faithful is NOT the tallest geyser in Yellowstone NOR is it the only on that can be predicted on a reliable schedule)
Old Faithful

We went inside of the Old Faithful Visitors Center and inquired about some day hikes. They were all carefully drawn out hikes with pamphlets and boardwalks. Pedestrian hikes. I started thinking about all of the iPads and I decided we weren’t going hiking. I was convinced that this place was a tourist trap and the only way to get a decent look at the nature here was to take it to the backcountry for a night. This would prove to be a SERIOUS underestimation...

We went to the backcountry office and registered. We picked out site #OD4. A large site on the prairie lands in the shadow of the Twin Buttes. A short 4 mile hike in and a 3 mile hike out. After we registered we were required to watch an 18 minute, backcountry safety video. I imagined all of the old ladies in straw hats who stumbled into this office with their iPads in hand saying, “Oooooh, backpacking, won’t this be FUN?!” This video was clearly made to deter them.

The first 15 minutes of the video talked about how to handle an encounter with a bear, the last 3 minutes talked about the basics. The video kept repeating the phrase, “Your safety is NOT guaranteed.”

Ha, they really try hard to scare the tourists out of backpacking. Good, hopefully we can find some seclusion and enjoy ourselves.

The next morning we loaded up the truck with our backpacking gear and headed to the trail head. When we arrived, we ate some sandwiches, lifted our packs onto our shoulders and headed off to see if Yellowstone could redeem itself.

The trail was interesting. First we walked past some cool geothermal features. These ones didn’t have a boardwalk or warning signs. These ones were undisturbed in their natural setting and we didn’t have to share them with anyone.

Our trail turned to the west and we hiked through bison rich prairie lands. These were OUR bison. We didn’t have to share them with people in rented RVs. They pretty much just eat grass and shit all day but hey, it’s not every day that you get to walk amongst massive herds of buffalo.
Prairie Hiking
We arrived at our campsite just before dinner time. There were two buffalo grazing in the area designated as our site so we waited for them to move. They weren’t in a hurry to get out of our way so we just setup camp in some trees nearby. This is the backcountry. You gotta improvise.

We had supper and then sat around the fire enjoying the beautiful scenery. This was more like it. A Jack London-esque backdrop in a totally secluded prairie. Just us, our two buffalo and some tents. Yellowstone was really starting to impress me.

Sometime in the middle of the night, Noah started crying. The boys sleep in a different tent just outside the front zipper of our tent. The whole camp is covered with a tarp and we keep our gear between the two tents. The boys LOVE sleeping together and it gives us a break from them. Anyhow, Noah is crying that he is cold. Jessica heads ‘across the hall’ to their tent and helps him get bundled into his sleeping bag. She slides back into our tent and lays her head down and this is the PRECISE MOMENT when shit got crazy. All of the fears we keep in the back of our minds about camping came RUSHING to the forefront and sleep was suddenly out of the question.
We heard a noise, immediately outside of our tents that sounded like growling and heavy breathing. I grabbed my bear spray, removed the safety and clutched it as I quivered with fear. Jessica heard it too and assumed the same thing, grizzly bear. She kept whispering, “Mikey? What are we gonna do? What are we gonna do?”

I thought the best course of action would be to blame it on the Bison. I acted cool and said, “Don’t worry. It’s a Bison. Go to bed.” She eventually calmed down, the noise stopped and after explaining why I thought it was a Bison (I said I heard hooves) she was comfortable enough to fall asleep. I was still clutching the bear spray but I was calming down. I started to nod off.

Suddenly, out from the east, I heard a LARGE pack of wolves. I could tell it was large because wolves always howl in different pitches to make themselves sound like a bigger pack. If you listen close, you can pick out the different pitches and count them. I stopped counting at 7. I wish I could say these howls were off in the distance but I could hear them howling, playing and, at one point, I heard them fighting over something…probably another cocky backpacker.

The howls got closer and closer and I was getting worked up again. I kept telling myself, “calm down. Wolves avoid people. Wolves are afraid of you. They know you’re here and they don’t want anything to do with you.”

As they made their way into the hills I started to feel calm again. Then I heard simultaneous grizzly and coyote activity. I was having an anxiety attack. I just wanted it to be morning so I could hike to my car, grab my iPad and go see stuff from the safety of a boardwalk. Then, on the opposite side of my tent, I heard a lone wolf. Howling, then walking, then stopping and growling, then walking. HE WAS CLOSE. My stomach was in my throat. Let me be clear, I DO NOT scare easily in the wild. But this, this was different, Yellowstone comes to life at night and the animals are in charge.

I sat, wide eyed, as the sun came up. I wanted to go outside, start a huge fire and stand guard with my pocket knife and bear spray but early morning is a common time for bears to go looking for food. Everyone else was asleep so I sat and waited. The boys managed to sleep through the whole thing. Ah, to be a kid.

At 7:30 I decided to go outside. I grabbed my knife and bear spray, put on my shoes and walked over to a rock and relieved myself. Then, I put my foot on a log and proceeded to tie my shoes. Just as I finished lacing up my last shoe an animal walked out of the trees 30 feet from me and stopped in his tracks. A gray wolf. The lone wolf. This is his territory. I caught him off guard. Catching a wild animal off guard is the beginning of every animal attack story out there. So there we were. I was crapping my pants and the wolf was staring directly at me. Sizing me up? Checking to see if I was a threat? Scared of me? I don’t know. All I know is that my initial reaction was to go back inside of my tent and disappear.

I crouched under the tarp, between the tents and whispered to Jessica, “Hunny, there is a wolf out here and I need to come back insi….”

Suddenly a wolf’s face appeared. This time is was 15-20 feet from me. He was positioned in such a way that all I could see in the space between the top of the tent and the bottom of the tarp was WOLF. He had his front-right leg slightly off the ground with his paw curled back. The way a domestic dog does when he is fully engaged in stalking something. That something was ME!

So, with a weak and shaky voice I said, “Never mind hunny. I have to draw him away from these tents.”

Every ounce of my physical being was telling me to stay there between the tents and curl into a ball. Meanwhile, my paternal instincts kicked in and I felt the safety coming off the bear spray and the blade was being flipped out on my pocket knife. Then, with a wolf just feet from me, I stepped into the open prairie. Just him and me with nowhere to go. Him with his jaws that are 100x stronger than mine and me, dual wielding pepper spray and a 2” blade.

My first priority was to draw him away from the tents. So, I slowly and deliberately started moving toward the fire pit. I thought I might be able to find some sticks and coals that I could use in my fight. I kept hearing in my head: YOUR SAFETY IS NOT GUARANTEED…YOUR SAFETY IS NOT GUARANTEED. Stupid video. 15 minutes on how to handle a bear encounter, ZERO advice on how to handle a wolf encounter. You know why? Because people don’t encounter wolves. It is SO RARE that Yellowstone doesn’t even cover it in their backcountry safety video.

Ah, but I DO KNOW what to do. Thanks to Ranger Britney at Porcupine Mountains State Park in Michigan, I know a lot about wolves. She never covered what to do in an encounter but she explained how their minds work. This wolf DOES NOT want to fight me. I caught it off guard and it is determining IF it needs to defend itself. So, look non-threatening. Avoid eye contact, don’t turn your back to him. Show him that you made a mistake and now you are moving on.

He continued his stare and was still just FEET from the place where my family was sleeping. As I walked toward the fire pit I kicked up some dirt and gravel and he took a good 15 steps away from me. It surprised him but he was not attacking. I started making more noises. Throwing sticks in the fire pit, kicking dirt. Each time he took a few more steps and then stopped to stare at me. He got to the edge of the field and stood staring at me for a while. I walked back to the tents and woke everyone up. I said, “Hey guys, if you slowly come outside, you can see a wolf off in the distance.”

It’s almost as if he heard me say this because right after he finally turned and ran off into the hills. My heart was pumping. I decided we would skip coffee and hot breakfast and eat some cereal bars and break camp. Every 30 seconds I found myself scanning the horizon for animals. I was scarred.

I feel like the ‘lone wolf encounter’ was natures test to me. I was being neurotic and paranoid all night and I was truly scared. Then, as I left my tent in the morning, mother nature said, “Here, face your fear.”

Something inside of me switched on. It was like one of those situations where nature takes over and you do what you are programmed to do. I don’t know what I was planning to do with that tiny knife and that pepper spray but I was prepared to do it until one of us was dead. So, as much as I want to say I HATED my experience camping in the Yellowstone backcountry, I was able to sharpen my skills as a fatherly protector and when you live in an RV and you’re traveling the country, that’s a valuable experience.
Fairy Falls
We hiked back and the whole time I kept thinking about what I did right and wrong. I managed to get the GoPro to turn on for 20 seconds while I stole some photos in front of an amazing waterfall. We made it back to the car and there were other cars all around us. Asians, iPads, old ladies in straw hats, it was good to see them again. On the road out there was a big traffic jam, people stopping to photograph an animal. You can tell by the size of the traffic jam how rare of an animal it is. This was a big one. I saw the park ranger walking back to his car with his bear spray out and we saw a black bear running into the woods. The car tourists were all having a moment. They got to see a black bear in Yellowstone. 

Ha! Black bears. How tame.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

The Great American West

Wow! The landscape sure changes fast when you get across the Mississippi river. We have been heading west along I-90 for the last week and we got to experience South Dakota for the first time. It's like a barren land full of billboards for the first 3/4 of the state. Then, with less than 100 miles to go, you are inundated with sights and attractions. If I ever land a job with the South Dakota department of tourism I am going to coin the slogan, "Your adventure west begins in South Dakota."
Minnesota's largest candy store. They specialize in candy, jigsaw puzzles, smoked meats, soda pop, farm fresh produce and bacon. 
Our adventure west began with a trip to Badlands National Park. We made it to the Badlands around lunch and had a picnic followed by a hike. We do a lot of hiking but we have never seen trails like this before. They have numbered posts hammered into the rocks and you just make your way from one post to the next. Eventually, the posts stop and you are on your own. I wouldn't suggest wandering off after that point without a compass and topographical map. Even before the trail markers ended I found myself getting disoriented. Despite the warnings, intimidating landscape and the name of the park, lots of hikers get lost and need rescuing here.
Sammy + Bench
This is a trail?!?!

We left the park in the mid afternoon and treated ourselves to some fun and snacks at the iconic roadside attraction known as Wall Drug. This place started as a Drug store in the early 1900s and was on the brink of failure. The town of Wall was referred to as a god forsaken place with no hope. One day, the owners of the store had the brilliant idea to offer FREE ICE WATER to all of the passing motorists. They put billboards along the road and BAM! business exploded. Today they still offer free ice water and they have coffee for 5 cents a cup. They also have an arcade, splash pad, old west town, two restaurants, ice cream shop and you can get just about anything you need from their 20+ retail departments. The town of Wall is no longer a god forsaken place. In fact, Wall Drug put this place on the map. Oh, and they DOMINATE the billboard advertising game along I-90. You can't NOT stop after reading their ads all day.
After Jessica took this picture, we had a conversation in the car that ended in her googling 'jackalopes' to see if they were real. 
The minute you cross the state line you will see these billboards. I really started to appreciate the artist's work after looking at these all day. 

On the drive into our campground we stopped and saw Mt. Rushmore. My wife and I have mixed feelings about this place. On the one hand, this place isn't just presidential faces. It is the face of the american road trip. On the other hand, it also represents the audacity of our culture. The american government stole that land from the Sioux and then turned the hills into a trophy. I know I sound like buzz kill right now but I just can't pretend that supporting this place is an innocent act of the curious traveler. Still, we are guilty. We paid the $11 and checked it off our bucket lists. You can see the monuments from two different spots along the road if you want to save money and avoid supporting this place.
It was getting late and we still had to set-up camp so we had to rush-more. 

We got camp set-up just as the sun was setting. We took up residence at the Sylvan Lake campground in Custer State Park for 4 nights and we made the most of our short stay. In the mornings I headed to town for work and to get some maintenance done on the car and Jessica did school time with the boys. In the afternoons we did hiking, swimming and exploring. The Black Hills are right up our alley and I hope to make it back there someday.
These are the fellas who worked on my car. The other guy was just a local, hanging out. I like chatting with locals. 
Despite the FREEZING cold water, the boys really enjoyed themselves. 
Jessica swam out to this rock and had some alone time. 
A video of us climbing to the summit of Harney Peak. 

We said goodbye to South Dakota and drove 300 miles to Sheridan, WY to resupply. We spent two nights at a KOA right off the expressway. Jessica gets depressed when we stay at such places but it brings me comfort to plug into the grid. Sheridan has a really cool downtown area that I visited twice. Once to sit at a coffee shop and work and another time to take the family out for Mexican food. Both places kicked ass.
They got a new five and dime downtown Sheridan. 

We have the GPS set for Bozeman, MT. This will put us just north of Yellowstone's north entrance. It is also a fork in the road for us. We can head south to Yellowstone, north to Glacier, west to Olympic or any combination of the three. Which route we choose will depend on when the parks start shutting down and the weather. I am also going to be paying close attention to the difficulty of the routes. Steep grades and sharp curves can be difficult while towing. They also cause our gas mileage to plummet. Whatever we decide to do, one thing is certain, we are a long way from home.

Monday, September 15, 2014

10,000 Lakes and One Huge Mall

Greetings from the Twin Cities!

Ok, so we aren't IN the twin cities. We are in a suburb, Northwest of Minneapolis, called Maple Grove. Our immediate surroundings are helpful. We have things like Walmart, Cub Foods and REI. I think it is fair to say we earned these modern conveniences after spending a month in the U.P. We also have a place called 'LEANN CHIN'. We drove past it several times and made chin jokes. We felt it was poor branding to associate yourself with a body part that nobody wants MORE of. It's like that Chinese place in the mall that hands out free samples but classier looking. Anyhow, our curiosity grabbed us and we went in. The food was fantastic. So, I have concluded that eating LEANN CHIN will, in fact, give you more chins but the food is SO good, you won't care. 

In addition to acquiring more chins, we have done some sightseeing. We went into Minneapolis and bummed around downtown for a day. We ditched the car at a parking structure and rode on the light rail. It's a very simple, yet very effective system. You got one train that connects Minneapolis to Mall of America and another train that connects St Paul to Minneapolis. I am fascinated by public transit. Every time I visit a new city I am determined to conquer their transportation grid and act like a local. When in Rome...
Taking a trip on the Blue Line
Giant Slices at Pizza La Vista
Twins vs Tigers at Target Field. Tigers won 8-6 but Phil Coke almost ruined everything...again. 

Speaking of Mall of America, we did that whole thing. It's ridiculous. I mean, I've always heard about it and thought it sounded decent. I pictured a giant mall with a roller-coaster inside of it. It felt like something that was maybe past its prime. (Didn't gimmick malls peak in the early 90s?) Anyhow, I was pleasantly surprised at this place. It is a monstrosity with an amusement park in the middle of it. They are planning to double in size soon and add a Great Wolf Lodge and connect to an existing IKEA. This, in addition to the tons of shops, restaurants, night clubs and department stores. Imagine a mall with a Best Buy inside of it. Let that roll around in your head for a minute. Only at the Mall of America.
This is just a portion of the amusement park inside the mall. We had a BLAST here.

The food court was awesome. We went with Chipotle because it is a staple of our marriage. It is the one constant in dining that supersedes all other options. Don't ask me why, it's just our mutual go-to when eating out. We ate our burritos, scored some sale items and had a fun day of acting like typical tourists. Fun Facts: 1) There is NO SALES TAX on clothes in Minnesota 2) Despite being in the Midwest, the Mall of America is not heated.
This girl has a shopping addiction. 

Minneapolis has a lot of great parks right outside of the downtown area. We spent an afternoon at one of them and enjoyed some recreation and family bonding. Minnehaha Park is right in town but it doesn't feel like it. The Minnehaha Creek drops 40 feet over the Minnehaha Falls and pours out into the Mississippi River. Along the way there are 5 bridges for you to walk across while you explore historic markers with a tour you can take using your mobile phone. The park also features restaurants, bike rentals, picnic areas, playgrounds, disc golf and photographers flock to this place. Good for watching people and nature.
These pedal cars are really popular at Minnehaha Park. They look fun and relaxing but you can definitely feel the burn. 
Noah at Minnehaha Falls
Kickin' it on the bridge. 

As much as we want to go out and see the sights in this great town, there is a certain degree of 'settling down' that has been taking place. We have been at this for over a month now and summer is coming to an end. Yes, we get to live on the road but the boys need to have their time for learning and I have a business to run. So, Jessica has incorporated school time just about every morning and she has done a beautiful job with it. She just takes off her mommy hat and puts on her teacher hat and the boys respond wonderfully. I occasionally stick my head in there and try to help when one of the boys is struggling with concentration. Mostly I just step back and keep quiet. We are truly fortunate to have a mom like Jessica. She takes education seriously and inspires wonder in our children.
Morning Circle. It is how they begin the school day. 
Noah doing color bead stair. 
Our stove during school time. The couch, camper stairs, picnic table and cabinet all have works in them too. 

Oh, If you read my last blog you might be expecting me to tell you about the Apostle Islands. Before we came to Minnesota, we spent 2 nights in Northern Wisconsin. The area is apparently the place to be in the summer but when we got there it was mostly shut-down. I got a yuppie vibe from the place. Sailboats and boutique shops lining the shore of a town that is pretending to be forgotten by time. The park we stayed at was really nice though and I met a nice couple from St. Cloud that I chatted with on a few occasions. There was also a really nice coffee shop in town with lightning fast WiFi (if you haven't learned by now, I am a connection junkie. Keep me connected and make it fast).

The islands themselves are hard to get to (hence the sailboats, hence the yuppies). We looked at a lot of pictures and it looked awe inspiring. We loved the idea of taking our backpacks and staying on a remote island in Lake Superior for a couple days but, alas, we are RVers and the Apostle Islands are an attraction built for a different kind of explorer. For that reason, we checked out of town early and devoted our full attention to Minnesota.

Noah getting pampered at the haircut place. 
With Minnesota in our rear view mirrors, we are heading out on a two week trip that will span from the Mississippi River to the Pacific Ocean. We plan to stop at FOUR national parks along the way (Badlands, Yellowstone, Glacier and Olympic) and we have all of our backpacking gear ready to go at a moments notice. This, of course, is all contingent on the weather behaving. South Dakota and Wyoming apparently got freakish amounts of snowfall last week. In the event of an approaching snowstorm, our plan is to change course and head to New Mexico and then continue west on a more southern latitude. Whatever the route, we are all geared up and ready for more travel thanks to this gem of a Midwest town. 

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Happy Trails and Not-So-Happy Weather

Our final days in Michigan were among the most exciting we have had. The Trails Festival came to Copper Harbor for Labor Day weekend and the town really came to life. The festival is a series of mountain bike races and competitions. One of the competitions is a memorial dock jumping contest for a guy named Dan Wissman (they also named one of the trails, Danimal, after him). Watching mountain bikers jump a huge ramp into the icy waters of Lake Superior is good clean fun and I recommend it to anyone of any age. As the event was going on, the Isle Royale Queen IV pulled into port and honked her horn while the waitresses at the Harbor Haus did the Can-Can on the back deck. It was like a backwoods variety show of epic proportions.
Notice the judges sitting in the row boat. 
On the final night of the festival (sponsored by Bells Beer) they had a party in the park complete with a fine selection of rare beers and bluegrass music performed by the Henhouse Prowlers. I am a big fan of bluegrass. As soon as these dudes took the stage you could tell they were pros. They are a well oiled machine that is designed to entertain a crowd. So we stayed out late with the kids, had a few ales and did some dancing. The boys were REALLY into the music, especially Noah.

After the excitement of the holiday weekend subsided, we took a trip back to the Porcupine Mountains to meet up with some family. We ended up at a Township park in Ontonagon that was awesome. We set up camp right on the beach and started cracking beers with Uncle Don and Young Andrew. They are a father/son duo that, along with being our family, are part of the core group of bicyclists that we roll with (fellow ragers). They came to the area to do a 4-day bike tour of Gogebic and Ontonagon counties. I was jealous of their plans but we had some interesting plans of our own.

The next day we woke up, loaded up our backpacks and headed to the Porkies for an overnight hike with the boys. The original plan was to hike in 5 miles to Mirror Lake, camp, then hike out the next day. The weather reports basically guaranteed overnight storms, so we brought a tarp to hang over our camp and hiked into the backcountry.

About halfway into our hike we came to a river crossing that stopped us dead in our tracks. The week before we showed up, the area had gotten about 6" of rain so the streams were unusually high. I waded across the river and scouted it out and determined that we wouldn't be able to bring the whole family and all of our gear across safely. We decided the best course of action would be to go to a different campground that was about 3 miles from us but only about a mile from the car. This would prove to be a key move later on.

The trail we were on was really muddy. At times, it looked like a creek. We got to a technical section that was slippery and Jessica had to pick up Sam and carry him. Carrying our son and our biggest pack took its toll and she fell into a large puddle of muck and dropped Sammy in the process. The mosquitos were biting me like crazy and Noah was whining a lot. Morale was definitely getting low but we arrived at our campground around dinner, setup camp and made ourselves at home. After some relaxation time by the fire, we crawled into our tents for the night.

At about 1am the storms arrived. Heavy downpours, lightning and loud thunder. The boys slept through the whole thing and all of our gear stayed dry!

The next morning we woke up to the sounds of chirping birds and the rushing waters of the creek. The conditions looked promising and everyone was relaxed. We knew we only had a 1 mile hike to the car so we could just take our time and head out when we were ready. I started breakfast and coffee and suddenly things got really dark. It wasn't just overcast either. It looked like midnight. I grabbed the weather radio, turned it on, and these were the first words I heard, "Wind gusts of 80 miles per hour. Baseball sized hail. Expect significant damage to roofs and mobile homes. Find a sturdy structure to take shelter in. Possible life threatening situation."

I am not exaggerating here at all. One minute I was fantasizing about coffee in the woods, the next minute I was frantically trying to cram all of our shit into backpacks. I was trying to convey the sense of urgency to Jessica while staying calm for the sake of Noah and Sam but everyone could tell I was anxious. Jessica stopped for a moment and presented the idea of trying to wait-out the storm. That's when I explained to her exactly what I heard on the weather radio and, without hesitation, she kicked it into high gear with me.

Within 15 minutes we had our packs on our backs and Jessica told the boys that we were playing a hiking game where the object is to hike really fast and try to beat the storm. Keep in mind, these trails were muddy when we hiked in and they got poured on all night. So, with 1 mile of fast, messy hiking in front of us, we high-tailed it back to the safety of our car.

We made it back in record time (20 minutes) and beat the storm. The family was safe. We had our main priority covered. We breathed a short sigh of relief and then sped off to our home-on-wheels, which was also in the path of the storm. If we could make it there in time, we planned to hook-up, pull it off the lake, and try to find a car wash/garage to park in until the storm passed. We kept our eyes on the weather radar as we were driving and it looked like the worst of the storm was turning south. I thought we might get some heavy winds so I tied down the camper real quick and we went into town to ride the storm out at a restaurant/bar where we could get some much needed FOOD!

The town we were in got hit by the edge of the storm but the worst of it hit south of us. The area where we had been camping got hit pretty good. I won't ever know the extent of it but the radar told us that we made the right decision getting out of there like we did. We headed back to the camper and the sun came out, right on cue. We spent the remainder of the day swimming and hanging on the beach, something that was easy to appreciate after the crazy morning we had.

For the rest of the weekend we chilled with family. Uncle Don, Young Andrew and his younger brothers, Ray and Robert, joined us for a couple days. Aunt Luann was in the house too. She made us some AMAZING steaks on the grill that we coupled with some of my fresh caught perch for our last meal together. After finishing our amazing surf-n-turf dinner, we were treated to an unforgettable sunset and a huge camp fire. The mood was good, we were all feeling grateful, so we did what all sensible people do in that situation. We got drunk.
A day hike at Lake of the Clouds complete with a lunch/beer stop. 
Copper Peak. One of the largest ski jumps in the world...right in the middle of nowhereland, MI. It's really bizarre to stumble across this thing. 
Our last sunset in Michigan. 
Our final campfire in Michigan. 

With the Michigan chapter of our trip closed, we headed to the Apostle Islands in Wisconsin with no particular plan in mind. We just rolled up, found a campground, and started gathering information. This area looks really nice and I am sure it's a blast in July but, it looks like things are starting to shut down for the season. We are making the best of it but last week was so great and we are feeling slightly homesick.
Noah enjoyed the ferry boat ride to the Apostle Islands. 

In a few days we are heading to Minneapolis for a bit. We are going to resupply, enjoy some modern conveniences and maybe even do some shopping at a certain mall in that area. We are gonna head west pretty quick after that in an attempt to beat the snow to the mountains. Until then, there's gonna be a whole lot of ferry rides and cheese curds in our life.

After an action packed, send-off  from our home state, we are off to see the rest of the country. Michigan, you are gonna be a tough act to follow. Until next summer, old friend.

- We love blogging about our adventure and we will update our blog as often as possible. For an up-to-the-minute view of our trip, follow us on Instagram @yumfam.