My First Thru-Hike Part 1/Day 1

I have really appreciated seeing that people are interested in hearing about my experience at Picture Rocks National Lakeshore and after reading Rachel’s story, I have been inspired to share my own. This will be in two parts since I have plenty to talk about and it helps me since we are still moving from our old house. Just like Rachel’s story, I learned a lot through error, saw the most amazing cliffs and beaches, and bonded with my fiancé and sister. From learning about the opportunity to thru-hike Picture Rocks to ending with pizza and a long drive home, my first thru-hike awaked a new awakened exciting interest for me (hence this lifestyle blog!?).

It was summer 2020 (the same summer we first hiked Picture Rocks) that I found out you could backcountry camp at Picture Rocks National Lakeshore. With trails connecting each campsite you can complete the entire 42 mile trail in less than a week! After taking this idea to Charlie and then to Rachel, we agreed to enjoy our summer vacation with our first backpacking trip. We spent the next two months acquiring our gear from the big three (backpack, sleep system, and shelter) to planning little things like which vegetarian jerky tastes the best. After confirming our vacation dates with our jobs we finally went to recreation.gov to make our backcountry campsite reservations, which if you read “Top 5 Things to Know before Hiking Picture Rocks” you know we made a big mistake in waiting until late summer to make reservations. We were only able to reserve two consecutive nights for nearby campsites.

This caused the first issue in my planning. The campsites we were able to select were Mosquito River and Cliffs. Now these sites are 6.9 miles from each other, not so bad. For our first day we decided to start out at Chapel parking so that we could see Chapel Falls, Chapel Rock, and Chapel Beach – all worth it.  However, this made our trip to Mosquito River campsite 8-9 miles on day one! This was a lot for us novice backpackers.

With the small itinerary set, we knew we needed to get to Chapel parking early because it is a highly trafficked trail with a big payoff at the end. We did NOT wake up as early as we had wanted to and even treated ourselves to Biggby coffee on the way to Munising. After getting a little lost to drop Rachel’s car off at Miner’s Castle parking (a blessing and the only sight accessible by car), she threw her backpack in Charlie’s car and we headed to Chapel parking where we gawked at Ride and Seek’s van as it parked and unloaded our packs. Once we trekked to the trailhead from a street parking spot I had realized I left our camping permits in the car and went back to get them while Rachel took pictures of the trail maps.

The first mile all I could think about was getting to the beach and eating lunch…my first clue at how much of a food-motivated hiker I am. Our first stop was Chapel Falls which was beautiful at every angle. Our first pictures were here and the only evidence that I hiked the first two miles in shorts. After passing the falls we got a little lost after passing a sign for “North Country Trail.” Fun fact, the Picture Rocks National Shoreline trails are part of the longest scenic trail; the North Country Trail. However, here we got the chance to chat with a family that really cheered us on and joked that carrying their baby was probably lighter than our packs!

Resting at Chapel Falls with Rachel

Once back on track I was grossly aware of hikers behind us, dreading the moment they caught up and we would preemptively mask-up and move to the side for the lighter day hikers. This was an unnecessary stressor that really should not have bothered me and I even started to remember the family that was cheering us on and enjoy the canopy and look for the horizon beyond the trees. Once I started to let go of the small anxieties, I immediately started to enjoy my hike better.

Then we reached Chapel Beach and Rock. Wow. Chapel Rock is awesome, you have to see its lone tree yourself. But the beach. Y’all, Chapel Beach is the most beautiful beach I have ever been to – my Laguna Thousand Step Beach friends’ group is shook reading this. The beach had socially-distanced groups scattered across its entirety (I mean who wants to be near each other on the beach anyway?) and a few rented pontoons anchored near the shore. The water was beautiful turquoise and a river that fed into Lake Superior created a safe space for small children to frolic in.

We ate lunch and I changed into my leggings behind a log to save my thighs from the undeniable chaffing I was experiencing. The climb back up to the trail was worse than getting onto the sandy beach, but of course gravity was never a friend to backpackers. From this point on it felt like we stopped every 10 minutes at a lookout to see every angle of the cliffs and the waves of Lake Superior’s blue-green water. Mine and Rachel’s packs became exhausting but seeing each mushroom and muddy step kept us occupied in between lookout points.  

Posing at a lookout!

After a little bit under dense tree cover I cannot explain to you the joy and relief I found in myself after seeing a sign for Mosquito River Campground. Then while we thought we had one mile to go, we realized the campsite was 20 feet behind the sign! We chose the nearest site to Lake Superior and immediately began to set up our hammocks sans rain tarps and trek to the shore to collect and filter water.

We made dinner at camp – wrong, you are supposed to keep food stuff at the center of the campground to avoid critters and bears at individual campsites. Ever since resting at Chapel Beach I had began cold-soaking some dried mushrooms for our dinner and began to boil water for risotto. Which I made too much of. I felt sick trying to eat it all to avoid waist/bear bait. After dinner we took all food items and trash to the campsite’s bear box and I took my sore body to bed. I recall Charlie waking up in the middle of the night to rain and alerting us, but I was under good tree cover and too sore and tired to be bothered with putting up my rain tarp. Fortunately Charlie but my pack under his tarp and I never got wet! I slept like a big baby that first night.

Wow, this is the longest post I have personally created for Sustaining Sara! Please make sure to see how my backpacking adventure concludes on Monday’s post; Part 2/Day 2! Thank you to everyone that has expressed interest in hearing about my hiking team’s experience (aka Rachel and Charlie) at Picture Rocks. Please make sure to join our community and discussion by following the Sustaining Sara Facebook group and Instagram linked below, thank you!

Love,

Sara

Top 5 things you need to know before hiking Picture Rocks

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I have had great opportunity to travel, especially in the US, but I can without a doubt say that the Picture Rocks National Lakeshore is the most beautiful place I have been. That being said, there are multiple ways to experience this beauty; boat tour, kayak tour, or by foot. While each of these ways are great in their own right, without a doubt the most immersive is by hiking the shores and cliffs. Here are 5 tips for planning your Picture Rocks hiking trip.

1. Reserve camping spaces far in advance.

The Picture Rocks National Lakeshore and surrounding Upper Peninsula nature areas are very popular vacation spots for the surrounding Great Lakes’ states. Last year we started planning our trip a month ahead and by the time we were ready to reserve backcountry campsites…most were not available. Even the drive-in, “front country” campsites were booked up. We severely had to cutback on the days we could backpack the lakeshore based on finding backcountry campsite reservation within reasonable distance for us novice backpackers. 

Now for 2021 we are determined to hike from Au Sable Visitor Center to Miner’s Castle and reserving our campsites mid-January shows this determination. Keep in mind that reserving campsites for state parks starts January 1st of the reservation year and you will see the taunting “Reservations Full Through October” in June. I recommend planning your summer trip in January (I am serious) and any fall or winter camping in the summer and making your recreation.gov ASAP. 

2. Do not plan on having cell service.

As soon as we left downtown Munising we did not have cell service. Ariana Grande herself was cutoff on Spotify. From what I understand Verizon users tend to have better luck finding spots of service, but otherwise cellphones are unreliable for outside communication. 

That being said, there are ways to try to prepare for this on trail. While satellite phones still do not work 100% of the time, I have been meaning to invest in a Garmin inReach or inReach Mini to send checkin texts to my family.

3. Do your research and have it physically on hand.

On our first trip I forgot to download or print maps, write down daily mileage, or even research landmarks or notable viewpoints in between. While the latter was more of a pleasant surprise, the two former aspects were just annoying. Fortunately my twin sister took some glare-y and fuzzy pictures of maps at the trailhead.

Whether you are doing a short day hike or backpacking multiple nights, make sure to research the trails you are taking and the sights in between. Download this Backcountry Camping Planner with specific Picture Rocks information.

4. Document your emergency contact and itinerary. 

Heaven forbid even the littlest thing goes wrong on your trip, but still plan ahead. The National Parks Service recommends that you store a copy of your itinerary under your driver’s seat including your contact information and your emergency contact. On top of this we also made itineraries for our parents so that they were in the loop and even knew when our phones would be out of service.

5. Have a treat for yourself at the end of the trail.

It was my twin sister, Rachel, that made sure this one went on the list. When I am hiking I am always thinking about the food I will eat after a long hike and this really keeps me going! If you are doing a day hike make sure to have something nice waiting for you back at your camp like s’mores or your favorite beer. Make sure it is something relaxing and not a lot of work to obtain after your long day. As for backpacking the shore, we suggest that after you get off your long hike you take yourself to Picture Rocks Pizza in Munising and have a whole pizza all to yourself! We were recommended this restaurant by another thru-hiker and now we gotta pass along this information to you! No matter what you do, just make sure to reward yourself for the hard work your put your body through! 

Overall planning ahead can make your trip easygoing and fun, and that is definitely what a Picture Rocks National Lakeshore trip should be about.

2020 Faves…and 2019!?

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I think we would all be surprised how much weight our recommendations have to those closest to us. Sometimes our interests overlap with the people we know more than we realize and that is what I found out in 2019 when I decided I needed to tell people about items that I truly loved and made my life easier. With those posts buried in the Facebook archives, here is a list of things that I loved in 2020 AND 2019!

2020

Marmot Trestles Elite 20 Sleeping Bag

With 2020 not meeting anyone’s expectations, I started to finally feed my desire to start backpacking. That being said, one of the first things I bought was my sleeping bag. For this I researched bags used for backpacking and a handful of qualities that were important to me; warmth and comfort, compact-ability, and affordability. The Women’s Marmot Trestles Elite 20 Sleeping bag caught my eye for its price compared to other backpacking sleeping bags and the partner compatibility – meaning I convinced my fiancé to also get this bag so we could zip the bags together!

This bag is so warm that it is chihuahua approved!

IPad Pro

I have not had a personal laptop since college and on top of that I tend to over-flood my IPhone 7, so I remedied this by buying and IPad Pro. I have been able to separate work and fun (a big struggle for me) by moving game and social apps to my IPad, leaving my phone to its bare necessities. With the addition of the Magic Keyboard and Apple Pencil my IPad has become my laptop and has even enabled me to start this blog! While it is definitely a luxury item, it has really made my life easier.

Hammock Accessories

Once you decide to start backpacking you realize there are many choices in gear, but I dare say picking a shelter provokes the most research. There are so many varieties of tents or even just a simple tarp for the brave, but I chose to evolve my hammock kit as my backpacking shelter. I have had an Eno Eagle DoubleNest Hammock for 2 years and coveted my sister’s Eno Hammock for years before that. Since I already had the hammock and the straps it was easy to start building this shelter. All I needed was the bug net and rain tarp. This is by far the most comfortable sleeping setup outdoors, has room for cutting costs to fit a tighter budget, and all the components can even be purchased at once with the Eno OneLink system.

Later on I even bought and under quilt for Midwest fall camping!

2019

Yeti Can Koozie

My fiancé had gotten me one of these can koozies and I can hardly drink a beer without using it. This koozie keeps your drink cold for hours (if it lasts that long). It is a little heavy, but you get used to it. They even have a slim can koozies that I think I may need to invest in!

Carhart Leggings

First clothing item! When I got these leggings I was working in warehouse management and my high-visibility vest would burst from holding so many pens, radios, and notebooks. But when I wore these leggings I felt like I had myself put together. There are no shortage of pockets, fit true-to-size, and are reinforced in the knees. A lot of my girlfriends that work outdoors, on farms, and other labor positions swear by these leggings!

National Geographic Road Atlas

In 2019 I had the pleasure of being on two road trips. One was from Michigan to California and the other was California to Michigan. On the first road trip my sister had me help navigate some of the no-service areas with the National Geographic Road Atlas. Then when my fiancé and I drove back to Michigan I just had to have my own Road Atlas! We even used this on a Northern Michigan trip. The maps are easy to follow and the states are even in alphabetical order. I just cannot recommend this enough for your car or recreation vehicle.

Bonus points that my uncle said he was so proud of me for acquiring map reading as a skill!

These were the things that were most useful for me, but what were your favorite items in 2020? Comment below or in the Sustaining Sara Facebook Group!

Love,

Sara

Who, What, and Why – A First Blog Post

I like to hope at this point you have taken a look at my Home and About Me pages and have a little sense of what to expect from me (if not, check me out here). My name is Sara and I am a Pure Michigan woman, lazy hiker, and plant mom. I have created this blog to document and share my adventures and as a space to create conversation and learn from other peoples’ experiences.

On this blog I will be sharing my hiking escapades; complete with Michigan trail recommendations and the gear I use, my many house plants including my personal favorites and accidental disasters, and what I am doing to have a more sustainable home. And OF COURSE pictures of my dogs; Jupiter and Bingo.

I am happy to be building this blog during these “unpresidential times” and hope that until things reach a new normal and beyond that this is also a place for you to find an escape. Thank you for supporting this blog and please do not hesitate to leave a comment or follow the blog. I appreciate your support!

Love,

Sara

First time seeing Lake Superior (definitely to superior Great Lake!)