A 4-Day Backpacking Trip at Isle Royale National Park

Thank you, Isle Royale, for gifting this wanderer a gorgeous, rugged, secluded little trip she didn’t even know she needed.

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It’s the biggest island in the world’s largest freshwater lake.

It’s home to the longest continuous study of any predator-prey system in the world.

It’s also considered to be one of the most beautiful yet isolated parks in the country.

And yet, Isle Royale National Park is one of the least visited national parks in the nation.

I’ll venture a guess here and say it’s likely the island’s remote, hard-to-get-to location that deters visitors from making the trip: Isle Royale is accessible only by boat or seaplane. But it’s one of the closest national parks to my home in Wisconsin and it also ranks as the #1 national park in the U.S. for backcountry use – and I was due for my inaugural backpacking trip! So off to Isle Royale National Park we were. Along for the journey were my boyfriend, Jackson, his cousin, Dusty, and Dusty’s girlfriend, Shelley (AKA “Fern.”)

Arriving at Isle Royale National Park!
The Adventures of Jackson, Mariah, Dusty & Fern!

Our mode of transportation into the island would be the Isle Royale Queen IV ferry. It’d depart from Copper Harbor, MI on Friday and return on Monday, which meant we had four days, three nights to explore as much of this 206 mi² park as possible!

Isle Royale Queen IV
The legendary Isle Royale Queen IV. Don’t forget the Dramamine!

Day 1: Arrival by Ferry // 8-Mile Hike to Daisy Farm 

I’m not one to get seasick but I had more than a few people warn me about the perils of the Queen IV. But we must’ve really lucked out because things were pretty calm! (Or, it seemed that way. Thank you, Dramamine.) Our group made our way across the big lake to Isle Royale’s HQ in 3.5 hours. We joked that arriving at the park did feel a little Jurassic Park-esque – the rangers there divided us in two groups right away for “orientation.” But within 20 minutes or so, we were on our way to our first destination – packs and all. We chose Daisy Farm Campground as our home base, which was 8 miles south of where we stepped off the ferry.

The hike was tough – for me, anyway. My eyes were mostly locked on the rocky, muddy, tree root-y trails but to my left throughout most of the 8-mile hike were beautiful views of Lake Superior. This was also my first time hiking for a significant amount of time with my 25-pound pack. I wouldn’t learn how to properly strap on the hip belt for another 48 hours so suffice it today, this hike was pretty brutal for me.

Beware the Sprained Ankle
Isle Royale is a breeding ground for moose, yes, but also sprained ankles. Lots and lots of sprained ankles.

But alas! Despite an uptick in visitors to the island (it was Memorial Day weekend), Jackson, Dusty, Fern and I were able to claim Shelter #4 at Daisy Farm Campground as our temporary home. It was located on a bubbling little stream that fed right into Lake Superior, which was visible from our “window.”

Shelter #4 at Daisy Farm
I spy Fern’s little head peekin’ out of Shelter #4 at Daisy Farm!

Day 2: Moose…Everywhere! // 12-Mile Hike along Greenstone Ridge to Mt. Ojibwe & Mt. Franklin Lookouts

I had one soul mission while at Isle Royale National Park: to spot a moose. This shouldn’t be difficult, I thought, as there are currently 2,015 moose on the island – and just 15 wolves. We decided to embark on the Greenstone Ridge Trail to check out a few lookout points, which ended up being a solid choice on our part. We spotted – and in some cases practically bumped into – 7 moose along the way! The sun was also shining on Saturday giving us our best weather day of the trip.

 

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Moose sighting #3: This bull posed for us for a solid minute or so. PC: @jburgau

Speaking of, weather is a tricky little thing here at Isle Royale – as with most islands. At times, I’d be bundled up in four layers of clothing and still not feel warm. And there were times when I was down to leggings and a tank top. The ‘feelin’ all four seasons in one day’ thing was a very real reminder that while we may be on a remote island, we still hadn’t left the Midwest.

Day 3: Everything hurts. // 13-Mile Hike to Three Mile Campground and Lane Cove

Legs are sore. Back is hurting. I think my toes are blistered. Are my shoulders bruised or am I imagining that? Muussst. Keeeep. Hiking.

Are we there yet?
Half way to Lane Cove!

Everything hurts but by this point, our plan to do 13 miles – nine of which would be without my pack – suddenly seemed pretty manageable to me! So, we changed up our plans on Day 3 and decided to say goodbye to Shelter #4 at Daisy Farm and instead staked a claim at a shelter on Three-Mile Campground. This provided an opportunity to explore a different trail to the north side of the island, where human life was pretty scarce! We spotted plenty of wildlife though, including a snake, some super tiny squirrels that I was weirdly enthralled by and also lots of chatty birds (with soprano vocal chords, I might add). This trail was verryyyy hilly. So I kept my mind busy by ruminating over which of my freeze-dried backpacker’s meals I’d delight in next. (Don’t knock ’em til ya try ’em!)

Bon Appétit!
“The best part about hiking are the snack breaks. Oh, and the views!” -Fern
Rest Stop
Jackson, Dusty and Fern take a little rest break.

Day 4: The Departure… // 5-Mile Hike along Tobin Harbor & Stoll Trails Plus Return to Copper Harbor

Last day on the island. I have mixed feelings: On one hand, I feel the inevitable bathos heading my way. Vacation today/Emails tomorrow. But on the other hand, man am I ready for a long, hot shower…despite my best purchase of the trip doin’ me proud (Travel Size IGK First Class Charcoal Detox Dry Shampoo, $14 FTW!!! <– not an ad and yes, it’s worth the money.)

There’s even more to be optimistic about on Day 4 though. For example, today is the day I figured out how to properly use my hip strap on my backpack and it was as if the angels sang in unison from the heaven of backcountry gods. 🙌 How it took me 38 miles of hiking to figure this out, I’ll never know, but I’m gonna chalk this one up as my official rite of passage into the backpacker’s club.

Home Stretch
This was taken around the time I figured out how to properly tighten the hip belt…with about a mile left to go.

What’s more, while we were packin’ things up and debating as a group over what athlete had the most social/cultural relevancy of all time, a cow moose strolled right on by through our camp. She paused directly in front of the outhouse (or privy, as they say on the island), stared at us and then walked right on by. She’d be the last moose sighting of the trip 🙂 (And for the record, Michael Jordan is the athlete who clearly had the most social/cultural relevancy…)

With just 2 hours before the ferry was set to arrive, the island was not done showing off her beauty to us. When we made it back from Three Mile Campground to Tobin Harbor, Jackson and I decided to venture a bit north and we were so glad we did. The thing about Isle Royale is that the views tend to change quite drastically about every quarter-mile. Things just looked different up here – I swear the water was bluer and the trails seemed easier (although really, the trip in general may have just gotten easier for me at this point!). We stared at the waves, summed up our trip to one another (We agree: top 5 vacation for both of us) and took a few celebratory selfies before making our way back to the harbor to await the Queen IV.

Shameless Selfie
Our trip comes to an end!
The Clear Waters
The views here reminded me of Cave Point County Park in Door County, Wisconsin.

Here’s the thing about backpacking: It’s like a vacation you have to work extra hard for. You’re probably asking: Y THO. What you get in return is nearly impossible for me to put in writing. I found a sticker in the gift shop though that kinda sums it up better than I ever could: “My feet hurt but my soul is alive.” Thank you, Isle Royale, for gifting this wanderer a gorgeous, rugged, secluded little trip she didn’t even know she needed.  😌

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Actually, Money CAN Buy You Happiness.

Money can buy you happiness. Let me explain. First, a little background:

I mean, look. Obviously, I agree with the concept that you can have all the money in the world but if your life is out of balance, chances are: you’re not happy.

But here’s the thing: Money can buy you happiness. Let me explain. First, a little background:

I grew up with the understanding that money was a thing my family didn’t exactly have in spades. I was told, vaguely, that “credit cards are bad” but I didn’t quite understand why. I knew checks might bounce, cards could get declined and that shirt probably wasn’t worth buying unless it came from the clearance rack.

That was about the extent of my knowledge of money.

Fast forward to age 22, when I am graduating from college with $37,000 in school loans and an accepted job offer for $10/hour. I remember sitting at the kitchen table complaining to my dad, “How am I ever going to get ahead?” He shook his head, “Ah Kiddo, someday you’re going to look back and laugh.” And added: “The more ya make, the more you spend.”

Dad was right (on both accounts). Things have changed. And while I do look back at my financial struggles with a part-endearing-part-risible perspective, I can’t help but say to myself: Was all that strife really necessary?! I could’ve and should’ve done things so differently. I was grossly uneducated about what it meant to take on that amount of debt….I just did it because I thought it was what I had to do and from what I could tell, it seemed like there were a lot of other 18-year-olds doing the same so it couldn’t be all that bad? No one told me any different nor did I take the initiative to school myself.

Last year, I drafted a headline of a blog post that I called: “How to Make $100,000 by Age 30.” I knew I probably wouldn’t have the balls to actually publish it. I mostly wrote the headline as a way to motivate myself to actually earn $100,000. I knew that if I didn’t write it exactly right it could come across as bombastic and self-aggrandizing. So I thought I’d instead explain why I wanted to make $100,000+ in the first place:

There are a lot of things I want to do in life. I want to travel the world. I want to learn new languages, take more art classes and maybe learn photography. I want my kitchen to be stocked with food I love. I want to be able to give back more so that other people can achieve their dreams, too! Two things that are true here: these things make me happy (and not just temporarily). And these things are going to cost me.

 

I think the world needs to turn the way we think about money on its head. If we view money as the resource it’s meant to be instead of this evil, ugly thing, we’d collectively be in a better place. Here are 3 things I think could help:

1. We should be learning about money much earlier in life. I know there is a lot of controversy over what’s getting cut from schools right now vs. what should be taught but in my opinion, financial literacy should be at the top of the list and I hardly hear any conversation about the topic at all. Money is a universal language – it’s a thing we’re all going to deal with whether we have a little or a lot of it. It can be an uncomfortable conversation for a lot of people though. In many families, it’s a completely taboo topic to even bring up and I think that’s dangerous.

 

2. No matter how ugly, you’ve gotta take your finances head on! When I was broke (mehhh first 25 years of my life give or take) I believe it was my mentality that was holding me back the most. Money is a bad thing when you don’t have it. Like you view it as this nasty thing that causes all sorts of problems in the world. But when you do have it, money is this beautiful, glorious thing that solves all sorts of problems. Oh, the irony! No matter where you are at financially, face the music. Every single month. Keep a monthly spreadsheet. Download an app. Take a class.

 

3. We need to be wary of our culture of #YOLO. There is a very real challenge in toeing the line between finding debt-free/financial freedom and buying that thing because you are living in a constant #YOLO state of mind. I often ask myself, is it really about living life to its fullest? Or do I want this because someone else has it? Social media makes it easier than ever to compare ourselves to the Jones’. But that is weak and undisciplined – two things that you are not! 🙂 A hard-learned lesson on my end was the idea that no matter how hard I work, if I don’t have the money budgeted, I do not deserve the new shoes or the fancy car or the sweet vacation or even the $5 coffee.

I am not perfect. I’ve made – and continue to make – so many money mistakes….and I am still very much a student of finance. This is a journey and one I am finally enjoying learning about (and now sharing!). I just wish I had forced myself to learn about it back when I only had 89 cents in my checking account…because that’s when I’d argue it matters most.

So, can money buy you complete happiness? No. But it can buy you a lifeline to the things that make you happy. Now all you gotta do is spend it wisely.

14 of my Most Important Goals (Currently)

#GOALS

I’ve never been big on “resolutions” per se, but I am big on goals. I dream up, write down, re-set and re-adjust them throughout the year, not just on Dec. 31. But since New Year’s is a time of inspiration – and because I have loved reading others’ goals on social media – I decided to share a few of the goals I’ve set sometime within the last 6-18 months. Each goal has a different ‘due date’ – some I’d like to accomplish in 2018 but most are a bit longer-term.

If you have any tips or ideas on how to achieve them, comment below. And if you’ve set goals of your own, I’d love to hear about yours too!

  1. Be more grateful. Probably the hardest goal to measure on this list, but arguably, the most important.
  2. Learn a new language. Master Spanish (I was a Spanish minor in college but am a bit rusty these days) and/or learn a brand new language (perhaps French).
  3. Read two new books per month. I definitely read more in the winter. And I tend to read a lot of non-fiction. Time to keep my reading up every month – and take on more fiction! (Always accepting suggestions…)
  4. Create a stricter plan for student debt. I will not have all my student debt paid off in 2018. But my plan is to re-budget so I can pay it off by age 35.
  5. Master a gymnastics tumbling pass. My main goal at gymnastics class is to work on completing one pass on the floor: a roundoff back handspring back tuck.
  6. Learn an instrument. The two instruments I’ve always been drawn to are the piano and the harmonica. I may start with the harmonica… I hear that’s easier 😉
  7. Volunteer more. Volunteerism has always been important to me. But my job – particularly in the summer – has made it tricky to commit to a volunteer program on a weekly basis. My goal is to find something project-based and flexible with my schedule – and ideally involves working with kids!
  8. Try a new fitness class. I set this goal about a year ago and back then, I decided to take on aerial silks at a local “circus school.” I had so much taking these classes that I decided to “re-up” this goal regularly. Next on my list? Either boxing. Or rock climbing. Or maybe trapeze.
  9. Learn knitting. Although I’m not the most artistic person you’ll ever meet, I always enjoy working toward goals that force me to use my hands to create something.
  10. Experience more live performances. I’ll be seeing RENT this week(!) and hopefully Les Misérables in the spring.
  11. Take a trip. So as not to impede on goal #4, I embarked on a very budget-friendly solo road trip in 2017. Without a doubt, it was one of the best trips of my life so far. And it confirmed for me that I can uphold my travel-related values without busting the bank.
  12. Write more.  I very much enjoy working on my hosting/improv/in-person communication, but writing is where I have always felt most at home.
  13. Eat cleaner. Join my Whole Life Challenge team!
  14. Make more time for people I love. Whether it’s in-person visits or Facetime calls, something I’m trying to get better at is making more time for my own friends and family.

Bonus Goal: Be okay with the fact I may only accomplish a portion of this list. Because it’s all about progress…:)

Happy New Year! #GOALS

M.