Day 11: Hugginin Cove to Washington Creek

Trip Start Aug 24, 2012
Trip End Sep 07, 2012

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Where I stayed
Washington Creek Campground, shelter 14

Flag of United States  , Michigan
Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Thankfully, the puddle inside the tent from last night’s storm limited itself to the size of a handprint. After artfully dodging it while slithering out of the sleeping bag and into my unwashed-for-four-days clothing, I sop the little pool up with my super-absorbent microfiber cloth. Outside, the rain has stopped, but everything is a stinking mess. The edges of the fly are coated in dirt thrown up by the impact of the rain, and the bottom layer of gear in the vestibule suffered a similar fate. Using my soggy cloth, I wipe down the fly, in the process getting gritty mud all over my hands. I only have the one cloth, so to clean my hands, I wipe them on my pants.

Having successfully transferred the dirt from the fly onto my person, I’m now damp and chilly. Julie is still inside the tent, warm and dry in her sleeping bag. “You know that saying, ‘a bad day in the woods is better than a good day at work?’” I say to her. “Well, that’s bull. A good day is better than a bad day, wherever you are.”

Why is today a bad day? Because things aren’t going my way, of course. This is not the comfortable day on the beach I’d envisioned for our last full day on the island. The sun is on holiday, and the air feels heavy with moisture and it’s cold. I make the best of the situation by donning all my layers and plopping down in my chair to read. Because the logs that serve as benches are all sopping wet, and Julie doesn’t have a camp chair, she stays in the tent. The guy in site one is gone, either on to his next campground, or washed away in the storm. Around eleven, a couple we’d seen at Siskiwit Bay arrives and takes over that site. A half-hour later, I notice an older couple sitting together on the beach in an anemic patch of sun. I keep hoping the weather will improve, but it doesn’t.

Anna Pigeon is trapped in a cave with a murderer. Her situation is definitely worse than mine. I get out a Clif bar to eat for lunch and offer one to Julie. She makes gagging sounds. “What would you think of leaving today?” she ventures. Aside from an aversion to changing my plans, I can’t find a lot of good reasons not to. If we stay, we’re cold and damp and uncomfortable and have to get up super-early in the morning to make sure we get back to Windigo in time for our ferry. If we leave today, we can get a shower, something akin to real food, hang out in a dry shelter, and sleep in tomorrow. Seems like a no-brainer, but we discuss it for fifteen minutes as if it really matters one way or the other before admitting it’s what both of us really want to do. 

By the time we reach Washington Creek a few hours later, the sun is out and the temperature has climbed significantly. We colonize shelter 14. Fifteen, where I stayed last time, is also available, but I think 14 has a better view of the creek, which is important in case a moose decides to wade past. Plus, it was thoroughly swept out less than a week ago. The first thing we do is lay the tent, fly, and footprint out to dry. Then Julie sets up her bed, and we set out for our .3 mile trip to Windigo. I’ll be picking up the gear I stashed at the store, and Julie wants her shower. I want one, too, but I have no clean clothes to change into so I’m not sure what I’ll do.

The store is even more cleaned out than last time we were here. They are out of hard boiled eggs, and none of the sandwiches look appetizing, though any of them would probably taste the same as the turkey sandwich I had the first time I swung through. Still no soda, but there is tonic water for Julie. I settle on a bag of pretzels, and Julie gets an ice cream bar. I check out their clothing options because a souvenir of the island might be nice. The only kind of souvenirs I buy are shirts, jackets, and hats. Whatever I get then becomes my favorite piece of clothing until I replace it with one from my next adventure. My Jay Cooke State Park thermal shirt still reigns in the close-fitting, long-sleeved shirt category, while a Wildcat Sanctuary sweatshirt is number one in baggy long-sleeved attire. The Wildcat Sanctuary also rules in the T-shirt category. My Churchill, Manitoba polar fleece jacket has fallen out of favor, but it has been six years since that trip. 

I don’t know who is designing the clothing for Isle Royale, but I’d fire them. The only shirt I even remotely like is black with glow-in-the-dark images of the various animals on the island. It only comes in children’s sizes, and while I’m small, I’m not that small.

We both buy shower tokens. The showers are in a building down the hill by the harbor that also houses restrooms and laundry facilities. Rex is sitting on the bench in front of the stalls, reading. I’m thrilled to see him. He tells us about his adventures since we parted back at Hatchet Lake. He hiked from there to Todd Harbor and then took the Minong back to Windigo. “I saw a wolf!” he tells us. “Two, actually.” He pulls out his camera, a Nikon DSLR, to prove his claims. “I was at the intersection of the Hugginin Cove trail and the Minong and sat down to rest,” he says. I can clearly picture the spot because that’s where Julie and I ran into Billy Goat and sons just yesterday. “I was leaning back on the signpost when I heard something rustling and I turned my head and there was a wolf not twenty feet away on the trail, looking at me.” He had grabbed his camera, and then a second wolf ran out of the woods. He managed to get a few shots before the pair fled away up the trail. The photos were impressive.

“When was this?” we ask, awed and jealous.

“Yesterday afternoon.” Just hours after Julie and I had passed that same spot. 

There are currently only nine wolves left on the island, which makes the odds of spotting one pretty slim. The wolves are divided into two groups. The Chippewa Harbor pack has just seven members and mostly hangs out on the eastern half of the island. Then there is the “West-end Duo,” a male and female living on the western part of the island, where we are now. That’s who Rex must have seen. Julie and I had seen their fresh prints twice on the Feldtmann trail. It is astounding to realize they could have been close to us on our entire hike. Too bad I didn’t stink of blood and tuna like I did on the first leg of my journey--maybe we would have seen them then. 

There are four shower stalls, each a little room with its own door. I’m arranging my stuff on the chair in my stall with the door still open when Rex knocks on the frame. Julie is apparently having some difficulties. “It ate my token,” she pouts when I peek around her door. She’s topless, so I hike back up the hill to the store and bring the manager down to set things right. He gives her another token and the shower starts right up.

I don’t have any trouble with my token. My problem is that I don’t have any clean clothes to change into after showering. The ones I’m wearing have been on my body for four days and I’m not keen on putting them back on a clean body. The armpits of the shirt stink, and I’m not even going to find out what my underwear is like. I decide that I’ll wash my clothes in the shower. Afterwards, I wring them out and put them back on. I figure that it’s warm out and the clothes are ultra lightweight so they should dry quickly.

When I step outside the shower, it’s close to 4 pm and the sun’s power to dry my clothing is rapidly approaching zero. Rex is still on the bench; he’s waiting for his laundry to finish drying. I ponder using the dryers, but they require either tokens or more quarters than I’m carrying, so it would mean another hike up the hill to the store. I’d rather be cold.

Back at the campground, we see Jane is in shelter 13. We greet her warmly and are excited to learn she’ll be on the ferry with us tomorrow. As soon as we get back to camp, I go into the shelter and take off my wet clothes. I don’t have anything else to wear for pants except my silk long johns which are little more than tights without feet. I’d feel pretty naked in those, so I pull my wet pants on sans underwear. I wear my camp shoes without socks, and put on my thermal top and polar fleece jacket. The picnic table is still covered by the tent, so I drill our hiking poles into the dirt and hang my clothes off of them to dry. From one pole, my purple bra flies, from another my red underwear. Socks decorate the third, and my shirt the fourth. 

I’m sitting and reading when an old guy shuffles over from shelter 15. I’m suddenly embarrassed about my underwear hanging around. He introduces himself in a soft southern drawl and says he and his friends just hiked the Minong. I take another look. No, my first impression was right: this guy is a geezer. And he hiked the Minong. Yow. He tells us he’s 72, but his friends, who he is still waiting for, are 78 year-old man and an 80 year-old woman. He invites us to come over and say hi later. 

Both Julie and I are very interested to meet this 80-year old woman who could hike the Minong. Heck, it practically killed me and I was only 49. It’s funny that until our visitor mentioned one of the hikers was a woman, I wasn’t that interested. Though overall, men tend to have more physical strength than women, women tend to have better endurance and are longer-lived, so a 78-year old man hiking the trail is potentially more impressive than an 80-year old woman doing it. Just living to 78 is an accomplishment for a man. But it’s the woman who impressed me because I identify with her. Like I said above, I could barely do the trail at 49. How did she do it at 80? It’s a false identification, of course. Just because we’re both female doesn’t make us alike. 

A couple of hours later, I’ve finished my book and am getting bored, so we meander over to meet this amazing woman (and the guys). The three of them are in the shelter, the floor of which is knee deep in gear. They are in the midst of repacking, or at least two of them are. The 78-year old man is laying down on his pad, looking wiped out. They invite us in and we stand by the door while they continue their work. They are all three from Tennessee, members of a hiking club there. I was expecting the 80-year old woman to be small and hunched over with a deeply wrinkled face and white permed hair. She isn’t like that at all. She’s got a thick pile of gray hair on her head and her body is wiry and strong. If I’d seen her on the street I would have guessed she was in her sixties. In contrast, her 78-year-old friend looks every minute of his age. His bald pate is spattered with liver spots, his ears and nose are overgrown, as is the hair protruding out of them, and his eyes are cloudy. Though it really is more amazing that he did this hike, I’m still focused on the woman, who seems to have plenty of energy.

She’s been hiking about twenty years, she tells us, which means she started when she was 60. She has section-hiked most of the Appalachian Trail, all of it but Maine and some of New Hampshire. As much as she would love to finish the whole trail before she dies, she seems okay with the fact that might not happen. I mention the 100-mile Wilderness in Maine and she’s not concerned about that. It’s the mountains that worry her. As they should. From what I’ve read, the weather is treacherous and fickle, turning a hot sunny day to an icy fog within minutes. The highest windspeed ever recorded was on Mount Washington in New Hampshire, and the AT goes right over it. 

They show us some of their gear, like a stove made from the bottom of a pop can that weighs almost nothing. The older guy says he uses a stove his daughter gave him even though it’s much heavier than he’d like, because if he didn’t use it, it would hurt her feelings.

Just then two backpackers, a man and a woman, march into the shelter’s yard. My asshole alert goes off, even before the man stops in front of the shelter, puts his hands on hips, and demands to know if there are six people in the shelter. “The ranger said six people to a shelter. Are there six people in there?” He’s squinting and leaning, trying to see through the dark screen to count how many of us there are. Those of us in the shelter are rather stunned by the appalling rudeness of the man, and don’t say anything. “Looks like there are five of you,” he announces after a moment, voice dripping with suspicion. None of us say anything to contradict him.

Only a few seconds have passed, but my brain has already completed a threat assessment. These people feel they are entitled to a shelter. Number 15 is the very first shelter you reach when you hike in from the Greenstone, Minong, or Hugginin trails, and that is the direction from which they have come. Therefore, they have not looked at all of the shelters to see if any are empty. Their intention is to go from shelter to shelter and park themselves in the first one that doesn’t already have more than four people in it. 

Normal people check all the shelters and if there are none empty, camp. Only if it is raining or there is some other reason to be in a shelter do you ask (not demand) to share. I see no evidence that these people need a shelter and cannot use their tent. As far as I’m concerned, they are impolite and spoiled and can go to hell.

The next shelter over is ours, and unless I do something quick, we’ll be sharing our shelter with these assholes. WIthout conscious thought, I say, “I think there is only one person in shelter 13.” By doing this, I’ve redirected their attention away from 14 so that Julie and I will be spared. I’ve also just pointed them straight at Jane, which sucks because I really like Jane. I don’t know why I didn’t just lie and say shelter 12, because then they might skip 13, too. 

Jane strikes me like someone who can take care of herself though, and I assume she’ll find a way to keep them moving, just as I have. 

After the intruders march away, the old man on his pad asks, “Aren’t you in 14?” I assume he’s thinking about the fact that I deliberately manipulated them away from our shelter rather than admitting that we had room for two more.

I look right at him. “Yup.” 

“It would have been crowded with them in here,” the youngest man (the 72 year-old) muses. “I don’t know how they’d have fit.” Still, I could tell that this group would have made room for the backpackers, and would probably have been very welcoming about it, too. But they didn’t have to, because none of us told them that Julie and I were just visiting and there were only three people staying in the shelter.

We bid our goodbyes shortly after. 

As dusk fell, I went to the latrine and ran into Jane. “You won’t believe what happened!” she cried. I’m thinking she’ll have a story about getting rid of those assholes. But that isn’t what happened. 

“I was sitting in my shelter, and this woman walked right in, without even knocking, and demanded that I move my gear because she and her husband were going to stay in the shelter.” I’m totally astounded. That is so extremely rude that I’m going to need to think up a term worse than asshole to describe these people. I also need to decide if I’m going to come clean with Jane about my role in their appearance at her door. 

I decide not to.

“You’re kidding! That’s terrible! Did you tell them to shove it?”

“No! I just let them in! I didn’t want to be impolite. This makes me realize that I’ve really got to work on being more assertive.”

Now that it appears I saved myself at Jane’s expense, I feel kind of bad. At least she sees it as some kind of learning experience. Maybe it’s an experience she needs and will be important in her future growth. I hope so. Then I don’t have to feel guilty.

“Do you want to stay at our shelter?”  I ask. This isn’t about guilt. I’d genuinely enjoy a sleepover with Jane. 

“No, I’m already settled in, but thanks for offering.” I invite her over to say hi to Julie, but she doesn’t come.

I have trouble getting to sleep because I’m imagining all the things I would say or do if I were in Jane’s position when that woman barged in. Meanwhile, the temperature is dropping. Shelters, as I’ve mentioned before, are not as warm as tents. I put on all my layers and I’m still cold. Finally, I give in and unpack the space blanket, but unlike last year, it does not take immediate effect. I shiver and fume in equal measure. Perhaps it isn’t the outside temperature that’s a problem, but my cold-heartedness?

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