Three Mile to Moskey Basin

Trip Start Sep 02, 2011
Trip End Sep 11, 2011

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Where I stayed
Moskey Basin campground, shelter 2

Flag of United States  , Michigan
Sunday, September 4, 2011

Day 2: approximately 8.3 miles

I'm not throwing up, nor do I have diarrhea, so the filter must have worked.

The morning is chilly, and I wear my long underwear under my hiking clothes. I figure I’ll take it off when I warm up. That takes a lot less time than I expect: after about ten minutes of hiking, I feel like I’m in a sauna. Still, I wait a sweat-soaked half hour before calling a halt. We stop at a convenient large rock, since Wilderness means no picnic tables or benches at conveniently spaced locations. To get the long underwear bottoms off, I have to remove my boots, and as a result, my socks become covered in krish. I have to spend an extra ten minutes picking sticks and dead moss out of them before we can move on. Another lesson learned: No matter how cold it is, don’t wear extra layers when you start your morning hike.

A couple of miles out of Three Mile, we encounter two male hikers coming the other direction. "Killer squirrels ahead," one warns us.

“You’re going to need your goat hooves if you take the Rock Harbor Trail,” I warn back. “You did pack goat hooves, didn’t you?”

After ascertaining that none of us are delirious from dehydration, we part ways. A few minutes later there’s a tree across the trail. This must be the killer squirrels’ ambush site. We approach carefully, but there’s no sign of activity. It seems safe, and we scoot across the obstacle without incident. But a mile on, we see four backpacks abandoned on a large rock outcropping. That explains why the ambush was unmanned, or rather un-squirreled. They’d found their prey. I feel sorry for those hikers.

Halfway through the hike we reach the Daisy Farm campground. Daisy Farm is one of the largest campgrounds on the island, nearly twice the size of Three Mile. There’s a Ranger residence, and a pavilion for talks and presentations. But there are no human voices, no activity. It is eerily deserted, and I wonder if the killer squirrels got here ahead of us.

We stop at an abandoned shelter for lunch, setting our gear on the picnic table and sitting down. An adorable red squirrel starts circling the table, coming closer and closer with each iteration. Suddenly, it leaps onto the bench and starts digging into Julie’s pack, its empty, black rodent eyes gleaming. I shoo it off, but it doesn’t go far. As soon as I take my seat again, it’s back and I chase it into the bushes.

We finish our lunch quickly, before the squirrel can bring its friends, and continue on to Moskey Basin.

The trails are not so rocky today, instead they run through muddy swamps. There are single 2 x 12 boards laid end to end across the muddy patches. My balance while carrying a heavy pack is not as good as usual. “Bubbling wells, bubbling wells” I repeat to myself as I hike across the narrow boards, a reminder from Tai Chi of where to put my weight. Before Tai Chi, I used to walk with my weight on the outside of my feet. Once I noticed that, I started centering the weight better, and this is a very important skill for me right now as I can’t use my poles for balance on this narrow surface and I don’t want to pitch sideways into the mud. That would be undignified, messy, and I might even hurt myself.

We see lots of purple scat that I assume is fox—they must be eating some kind of blue berry. Julie stops to show me a chartreuse caterpillar crossing the trail. Unlike many caterpillars, this one isn’t fuzzy. On its butt is an iridescent blue horn. (As best I can tell from Googling the description, it is some kind of Sphinx moth caterpillar). I see some large scat that I assume is wolf and figure that is the closest I’m going to get to seeing one in the wild. As we walk, red squirrels give the alarm, either warning others of our presence, or simply scolding us for being in their territories.

The sky has clouded up and a single drop of rain lands on my hand. The hard work is making me extremely hungry, but I’m aware that we might have a food shortage, so I’m judicious with how much gorp I shovel in. Julie’s shoulder hurts, maybe because her pack is lopsided. Instead of being straight up and down, it’s riding to the left. The asymmetry is driving me nuts. At our rest breaks, I try to straighten it for her, but it remains stubbornly askew.

For the last couple of miles, all I can think about is how much my back hurts. I’m constantly stopping to stretch it while Julie just keeps on hiking until she is far out of sight. Periodically she stops to wait for me, and as soon as she sees that I’m still ambulatory, she turns around and keeps moving. I don’t mind, it gives me the illusion of being alone in the woods.

The woods are comforting, friendly, suffused with a vibrant silence, occasionally broken by the call of a pileated woodpecker, chickadee, nuthatch, or red squirrel. The palette of the trail is primarily greens and browns; the bright colors which crowd my “normal” life are reduced to accents. The red of the bunchberry, the deep blue of the Wood Lily berry, the green, orange and black lichen, Julie’s sky blue backpack: all are more startling and beautiful for their proportional infrequency.

The turnoff to Moskey takes us over the largest, tallest boardwalk I’ve seen yet. I take a picture of it for my friend, Valinda, who would rather wade through knee deep mud and treacherous rapids rather than cross something like this. Perversely, the fact that there are only .2 miles left on my hike makes me feel even more exhausted. I tell myself, “I can do this, I can do this, I can do this” as I trudge along. I identify with The Little Engine that Could, a book that made no impression on me as a child, but that I’m finding useful here in my fifth decade of life as I drag my aching body down into the campground.

Julie has nabbed us a wonderful site. The shelter looks out over a short stretch of rock to the lake, which is lapping eagerly against the shore. A gull perches on a pile of rocks about thirty feet out, placidly observing us.

The beauty of the site is marred by the chill, which is only worsened after I soak my feet (sockless) while getting our water. As night falls, I do Tai Chi on the rock, my concentration disrupted by this strange need I feel not to slip accidentally into the frigid waters of Lake Superior. With the loss of the sun, the air grows ever colder, and I can’t sleep, even though I’m wearing long underwear, a hat, wool socks and liners, and my polar fleece jacket. My sleeping bag is a three-season. Technically rated to 30 degrees, all the reviews said it really only works down to 40. Since all the weather reports we’d seen for the island predicted lows in the fifties, we felt these bags were sufficient. Clearly tonight is much colder than 50 degrees. I’m shivering in my bag, wondering if there is any other piece of clothing I could put on. My sweat-soaked shirt, currently hanging out to dry? My hiking pants, even though they are as thin as onion paper? Julie, probably woken by my chattering teeth, has a suggestion: Why not try my space blanket?

As a first-time backpacker with a tendency toward anxiety, naturally I brought along every conceivable spare and emergency item I could think of, including a Mylar emergency blanket. I didn’t know what I might need it for, but it seemed like a good thing to have. It ends up being the only item I use from that kit on the trip.

I pull the blanket out of it’s tiny plastic square bag and unfold it, and unfold it, and unfold it. The racket it makes, like crackling cellophane, echoes out over the water. I worry I’m waking sleepers in nearby shelters. When I put the blanket over my bag and almost immediately feel the warmth as the Mylar reflects back my body heat, I’m grateful for whatever impulse prompted me to add the extra ounces of weight to my pack. According to Julie, I start snoring within minutes of putting the blanket on.

I am woken from a vivid dream of Charlie Sheen dying in a car accident. The shelter screen is vibrating. There’s a scraping noise on the hardware cloth protecting the screen of the shelter. I listen and it happens again. It is over by the door, where I’d rather carelessly left some aromatic dried vegetables near the mess kit. When the sound comes a third time, my impression is of teeth chewing metal and I sit up, blanket crackling loudly. The chomping stops instantly. I peer into the darkness, but can’t see a thing. Probably a fox, as the squirrels are diurnal and there aren’t really that many other mammals on the island. Even so, I feel keyed up, as if a burglar is trying to get into my house. (Thankfully, I have not been reading Stephen King recently). I lie back down, and after the snap, crackle, and pop of the space blanket subsides, I am able to hear something running behind the shelter. A few minutes later, the screen starts rattling again. This time, I shine my flashlight at the intruder, hoping to get a glimpse, but the metal screens only reflect the light back at me. I get up and move the food. I do not hear any more attacks on the shelter that night.

Early, just at dawn, I wake to the call of loons, and notice the waves are no longer crashing on the rocks. But something is splashing around out there. I wonder if there are otter nearby. I hear a sound of water squirting onto the ground next to the shelter. I drift back to sleep. When I wake again, the sun is up enough for me to venture to the latrine, which requires a long trek over a boardwalk (something that I was not about to attempt at night). I smell urine as I rounded the corner of the shelter, and there is a dark, wet patch on the grass. Someone has peed on our path!

Suggestion for improving the park: Tempur-Pedic mattresses in the shelters.

Favorite graffiti: “Oatmeal never tasted so good!”
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Paul Brown on

Your wierd caterpillar is a Sphinx kalmiae, known commonly as the laurel sphinx moth or the fawn sphinx moth.

Not very common in the park. Cool find.
Paul Brown, Chief of Natural Resources, Isle Royale NP

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