Tuesday, July 6, 2010

The End of the Road

For the last 10 days I’ve been vacationing (and writing) on Drummond Island, located in Lake Huron, just east of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Ma’ikwe and I are staying at a cabin that’s located beyond the eastern terminus of State Highway 134. Tucked up into a northern corner of the island, there are roads that continue to the north and east of us, but just barely. The tarmac peters out only a mile from our cabin and it’s only rock beyond that.

As part of my daily routine, I go for a long walk whenever the weather permits. Invariably, I turn north when I exit the driveway, heading away from “civilization.” In just two miles, I come to the first patch of Avlar grasslands, a rare and protected area that I never tire of visiting.
But I’m spoiled. I mainly associate the North Woods with wilderness canoeing (I’ve spent close to a year of my life in a canoe, mainly in northern Minnesota and western Ontario), and it’s been a struggle to tolerate a steady stream of noxious motorized vehicles rattling past me as I attempt to lock into the smells and sounds of the North Woods.
Yesterday I reflected on the traffic patterns more deeply, and today I’m writing about my discomfort.
—I’ve probably walked about 50 miles so far. In that time I estimate that I’ve passed people around 200 times. Twice I saw people jogging; once I encountered a pair of cyclists pedaling the other way. Everyone else was enjoying the wilderness via motor assist. Perhaps 10% of the traffic has been ORVs (they used to be called ATVs: All-Terrain Vehicles; now they’re Off-Road Vehicles), which are much easier on the gas and much louder on the noise. The vast majority of the traffic has been SUVs or pickups with camper tops, driving outbound one minute, and then returning from their jaunt 15-30 minutes later when the road ends and they have to turn around.
—I have not seen a single other person simply walking. With the notable exception of the joggers and cyclists, land-based recreation here translates into getting into your vehicle and driving around. (Actually, most people up here are into water-based recreation—that is, fishing. They do that by getting in a boat with a motor and an electronic fish finder, looking for whitefish that they’ll catch and then buzz back to shore and freeze.) Taken all together, wilderness recreation here is highly energy consumptive.
—At first I was impressed with how little litter I found along the roads. However, upon reflection, how littered would you expect roads to be that lead nowhere? Slowly, I’ve been picking up the trash as I go along on my walks. If you’re keeping score at home, the tally yesterday was Budweiser 8, Red Bull 2, and Coca-cola 1. (I guess Anheuser Busch is still the king of boors beers.) While I have no idea how long it’s taken for these to accumulate (and thus cannot compute the idiot-per-passenger-mile ratio), I was nonetheless collecting non-biodegradable containers chucked out the window in a protected wilderness area. Think about that. It’s hard for me to write this paragraph and not experience hypertension.
—Yesterday was squally (the weather, not just my mood) and I experienced several periods of light drizzle during my walk, which helped keep the temperatures down (even up at the Canadian border, it reaches into the 90s in mid-summer). Thankfully, it also kept the dust down as the parade of vehicles rumbled by me. There is this one stretch in the Alvar grasslands where there’s a broad shelf of bare limestone that the road passes right through. It’s so wide that it forms a rough circle about 50 feet in diameter, and it’s a special place to visit—it’s a wonder that Nature has produced something so old, so flat, and so large. When I came upon this spot yesterday, it appeared the limestone had been magically transformed into a pond, as the surface puddles reflected the sky and I could see no rock from my low-angled approach. The moment was marred, however, when I walked onto the circle and saw how the wetness brought out the skid marks of recreational enthusiasts who use this spot as a favorite place to demonstrate their prowess at executing doughnuts on their ORVs. (Perhaps it stands for Overpowered Rotational Vermin.)

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Are there wolfs on the island