So, planning my stop in Lake Superior for the QueenPrincess’ Great Lakes Mermaid Tour this summer, I wasn’t really sure where to go. But after a bit of research and map-reading (and an embarrassing moment of confusing Minnesota for Michigan because I googled “paved biking trails on Lake Superior” forgetting that Lake Superior actually spans several states and does not belong to Michigan alone), I chose two possible places to launch my Lake Superior my-tri: Grand Marais or Paradise. Grand Marais is up on the North Shore of the lake and contains a small sheltered harbor. Paradise is on a biggish-bay, on a little eastern edge of the U.P.. Both seemed like places I could potentially swim close to shore (in a full wetsuit), with little-to-no danger. I swam in a full wetsuit in Superior last year over Labor Day weekend, so I imagined the water would have to be warmer in the middle of July. In fact, a gentleman working the phones at the hotel in Paradise lead me to believe the swimming would be easy and warm (!?!) from there. Um… he was… dead wrong.
But, thankfully, we started in the small, quiet, beautiful town of Grand Marais, which my husband and I promptly fell in love with.
We rolled into town late, maybe about 30 minutes before sunset. We quickly got our hotel room squared away and, before even unpacking the car, got back in to map out tomorrow morning’s route. With a quick glance at the still waters of the very sheltered harbor, I had no worries about getting a decent swim in. Then, we drove the back (but still pretty close to town) roads that I would be biking – and I decided I would need an escort on them because, you know, I was starting to feel that Nature vibe and all, but… bear… and god knows what else, people…. Then, we found a couple of beautiful little roads (well, to be honest they were the only two roads in town) for the run. I was ready. We got back to the hotel, unpacked all of our gear and the kids, and got to sleep. I wasn’t worried about getting an early start. I thought I’d let the lake “warm up” a little (Ha!) and just get a leisurely start whenever we all happened to wake up.
Lucy and I were the first ones up, of course. We did our best to make it look like we weren’t still wearing our pajamas, threw our flip flops on and headed down to the beach, which was just across the street from our hotel. Oh, what excitement and anticipation I felt walking so cavalierly down to that water, expecting I could just waltz right in and start flipping my fins! Upon getting just our toes in, Lucy and I recoiled and stared at each other. She said (mind you, she’s 7), “Mom! You’re going to SWIM in THAT!?!” And I immediately realized, no, no I was not going to swim in THAT – THAT couldn’t have been over 40 degrees. Even in a wetsuit, I’m just not that tough.
It was at this moment that I took a very hard look at the water below me. It wasn’t especially deep – I didn’t get all that far from shore – and it was crystal clear. Though the waves were knocking me around just a bit, they weren’t remotely “dangerous.” Sure, it was cold, but if I happened to fall in, I had my life jacket and I’d have to be stranded in it for a while to get hypothermia – I could’ve gotten myself back on shore long before that. Still… there was this… I don’t know… energy in it. There was this energy running through it, under my little boat, over the rocks and the driftwood. I thought for a minute about what it must’ve been like to be a person, in a wooden kayak, a hundred or two hundred or three hundred years ago on THESE waters. Of course, the lake was animate. Of course, it had it’s own name. Of course, it felt like a powerful god or a powerful hand of god. And, to me, it felt feminine, a goddess. In the very scary (albeit probably not exactly “dangerous”) moment of turning my boat against the waves, I actually found myself saying out loud to the water, “Okay, I get it. I respect you. I understand. You’re so much bigger than me. You’re right. I’m puny. I’m arrogant. You’re so powerful. I’m at your mercy.” And I thought about those big ships – especially all of those big, powerhouse ships that have just crumbled in shipwrecks just beyond Grand Marais around the Whitefish Point area. I imagined how terrifying the spirit of this water must be when you are really out there on the big lake – the deepest part of the lake – surrounded by nothing but it, by her, and you are utterly at her mercy. And with that thought, I paddled my ass as quickly as possible back onto the beach. And once I was standing on it again, I thanked that Lady quietly for letting me kiss at this small edge of her with my rented kayak.
The transition from the kayak to the bike in my Lake Superior dri was, by far, my longest transition period in my history of transition periods. We had another hour on the kayak rental so my husband got in and took her for a spin while I took the kids to the playground. In fact, while we were playing, I wondered if playing on the playground should maybe count as a fourth event in this particular experience. So, I didn’t have so much of a transition break as a playground interlude where I was expected to balance, climb, crawl, swing and slide for about 45 minutes. It was actually a pretty interesting and fun part of my “race.”
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Then, I rode my son’s bike, – I do not own anything but a road bike – out of Grand Marais and onto the back roads around Grand Marais with my family trailing behind me (and sometimes going along in front of me) in a car. Only once I had to turn around on my route because the hard-packed clayish dirt had turned to a deep, loose gravely sand that was un-ride-able. And not once did I see any wildlife – not even squirrels. So, the bike was relatively uneventful.
If you look very closely you can still see some of the "Superior" marking down my arm.
After the Superior stop on my Great Lakes Tour was complete, my family and I had time to just soak in the beauty and energy of the area. Even my kids marveled at the beauty of Superior as we stopped at the roadside scenic outlooks off of County Road 58 which runs, partly, between Grand Marais and Munising, right through the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore.
So... here's the thing: As my friend, Danielle, recently said, "it is easy to be in love with Michigan in the summer." And being in love with the Upper Peninsula in the summer is easiest of all, especially if you are willing to get your ass outside.
As I completed this "my-dri," it really hit me how far I've come in being willing to get my ass outside. Oh, I've always hiked and camped -- but this was almost always out of financial necessity rather than for love of the outdoors. I think my brother Mitch's connection to the natural world and his willingness to share -- even push, at times -- his connection, his love with others profoundly influenced my ability to get outside and really begin to see the world around me. At the same time, completing triathlons recreationally has also given me a sense of belonging outside, a sense of comfort in the outdoors that I never knew before. I am at home in the open water, at home on my bike, at home running under the vaulted ceilings of the big sky. I'm at home doing just about anything outdoors these days. This is NOT how I used to be. This is not WHO I used to be.
Part of my motive in doing this "tour" is to fall in love with my home, to fall in love with Michigan. This Superior stop might've done the trick entirely on its own. And I don't know whether Michigan has shaped me into this new person or whether I have become a new person that is just well-suited to living in Michigan. Either way. Whatever. For someone who loves being outdoors... ya... wow... Michigan is pretty ridiculously phenomenal. With every stop on this tour and every other adventure I seek outdoors, I am discovering new trails, new beaches, new towns, new reasons to be in love with where I live. And I would have discovered none of it without Mitch and without Triathlon, without allowing myself to change.
This, Dear Reader, is another post I have written and re-written a bazillion times. I am not doing this trip, this Superior leg of the tour any justice – and, as usual, I am taking far too many words to do even that! I learned A LOT on this short trip. I realized much about myself -- and how my world works – that I wouldn’t have if I hadn’t made this crazy plan for my summer. I've only really begun to scratch the surface on all of those realizations. But, I wanted to let you know how this part of the tour went – and apparently it is going to take me some time to process all of the other stuff completely.
Tomorrow, I am supposed to complete my Lake Erie leg of the Tour but I have stayed up very late -- too too late -- trying to get this post done. It seems silly to move on to the next lake when I haven't even fully covered the last one yet so I absolutely had to get this done tonight.
Get Outside, Teamies!
Get Outside and move your asses with love!
There are beautiful places all around you that you have yet to discover! Be in love with where you live!
And so will I.
let's vaya con dios!