The Audacity of Compensation

I’m a sewist (not a seamstress – that’s generally considered a step above what I can do). I make the majority of my new clothes and I attempt to mend/alter anything I already have so I can continue wearing it.

There are A LOT of sewists and seamstresses out there and even more casual sewers who could more than likely muster up the wherewithal needed to do the things I do. I’m not special or unique in this hobby that I’ve developed and it seems like we all share a pretty common ailment: people asking us to do their mending/make them something/make a knockoff of a RTW (ready to wear) or boutique style they saw on Pinterest and aren’t willing to pay full price for.

Now, hear me out. I REALLY don’t mind making/mending something for someone if it’s a one-off, they’re in an emergency and I KNOW they would never try to exploit their friends, or if they’re willing to pay me for both materials and my time. That’s totally fine by me (and it sounds like most sewists/seamstresses don’t mind either). My issue comes from people randomly finding some fabric online and decided they want XXXXXX made from it in their precise size and they will pay me $20 for it. -_-

Most of the time handmade clothes are going to cost more than similar items you’d find at Saks or Nordstrom depending on the brand/designer. Why? A simple look into the world of textiles will show you.

  1. I have a full time job which I really like. This job is also totally ok with me doing overtime so long as there’s work to be done. Any overtime hours I get will absolutely pay me more than what I could possibly charge for my time sewing something for someone.
  2. Decent fabric is EXPENSIVE. Sure you can find some decent stuff at Joann’s or Fabric.com but most of the fabrics found at big stores like that are made from underpaid labor overseas. One of the big reasons I started sewing was because I truly felt guilty that there are women and children working their asses off for pennies an hour so that I can have a nice shirt. It just isn’t fair. Those same women and children are working their same asses off making fabric to sell to stores, clothing designers, and fast fashion carriers (which is a whole separate blight).
  3. Patterns aren’t cheap and big pattern companies (McCall’s, Vogue, etc.) do not allow you to make a garment from their pattern to sell. Most indie pattern makers do the same. Go ahead and factor in an extra $15 – $20 if you’re going to ask someone to make something for you so that they can “buy you” a copy of the pattern – ESPECIALLY if it’s an indie designer. They literally make their money off of their very hard work creating unique patterns and grading them to different sizes. It takes month of effort and testing to get these out to consumers and they need to be compensated too. It’s a pretty big issue in the indie sewing pattern world where big and small clothing companies will purchase an indie pattern and just make it and sell it. These designers don’t have the resources to go after those companies so they just lose out on A TON of money. It sucks.
  4. I don’t believe in fast fashion. I just don’t. Most of my clothes have either been made by me or I purchased them years ago and I still wear them (with the exception of a pair of Madewell jeans I bought RIGHT before the pandemic started). A lot of the people (friends of friends usually who don’t know this about me) who ask me about making them something want it for a one-off event or family pictures and have no intention of wearing it past that one time. Regardless of whether it’s handmade or RTW that’s really bad for the planet. Don’t do that. I get that you want your family to match in pictures but choose something that you know your kids will wear past that one time. You can even find a “grow with me” pattern that extends or expands with your kids!

In short – if you ask someone to make something for you, even if it isn’t from a seamstress or sewist, please make sure you aren’t stiffing them. Being good at a craft is hard. It takes time, effort, and money for supplies to try things out on. A lot of the time these people have other jobs and/or families as well and you need to compensate them for the time they’re forfeiting to make you the item you want.

Riding the Struggle Bus to the Light at the End of the Tunnel

We’re a year into the pandemic and it’s still hard to wrap my head around. I read the NY Times when I have downtime during the week, especially their morning email that wraps up big things that are going on. Last week while perusing one of these daily updates, I was caught off-guard by one of their callouts to readers: when did the pandemic become real for you?

I’m not one of those people who tears up when they hit a butterfly while driving but I’ve gotta say, just reading that one sentence prompt made me tear up. Honestly, thinking about everything that we as a collective have lost over the past 12 weary months makes me feel such an existential dread that I’ve tried to put the whole thing out of my mind. I’m incredibly privileged in that I’m not an essential worker, I still work remotely from home (I actually changed jobs to ensure that would happen long-term because I found I’m much more productive this way), I have health insurance and savings so if my husband or myself were to contract Covid it wouldn’t cripple us financially, and we don’t have any kids yet which takes out a world of obstacles that are even more difficult to navigate now than during normal times.

The pandemic became a real beast to me on March 11th, 2020. I was at a leadership conference for DoD Civilians outside of Boston. The Friday before I left the office I remember I left in a hurry because Matt and I had plans with some friends for his birthday (which I would be gone for the following week). I said a hurried goodbye to my coworkers, didn’t empty out my water bottle, and dodged some chatty people on the way out of the building. It was just another Friday and I was pretty pumped about getting to go on a work retreat to meet new people and learn some new skills (not to mention I love to travel and trips were my favorite part of my otherwise boring job).

By then Covid was real. I was following it in the news and paying attention to the memos that were coming out to us about what actions were being taken in very small and isolated areas. Just a few weeks before my leadership conference I had travelled with my boss to train some folks in San Antonio and Austin. Our new friends were freaking out down there because Covid had already reared its ugly head within the base we’d been at.

By the time I boarded the plane on Sunday afternoon I was concerned and playing out some scenarios in my head, making some “the shit has hit the fan” shopping lists on my phone for when I got back, and reminding my husband to wash his hands if a coworker seemed ill. I wasn’t too concerned to stop at the Vineyard Vines in the airport to try on some new jeans. Don’t worry, I didn’t buy them. Holy hell those were expensive pants and I don’t think I’ll ever wear denim again at this rate anyways.

The leadership seminar was great. Monday morning rolled around and the people around me were a great mix of different types of leaders. I loved talking to them and getting to know them both personally and on a professional level (government workers are generally government workers for their whole careers so between the hundred or so people there I was exposed to a lot of different types of workers and environments out there). The first night there, I took the shuttle with a few new friends and we bought super cheap bathing suits at a hardware store (!!!) so we could hang out in the hot tub. It was so much fun. Maybe I’m remembering it being more fun that it actually was since I haven’t really done anything since then.

By Wednesday morning, one of my coworkers (who, granted, worried more than was healthy for her) had message me that one of her friends in a different organization had just been told that all travel was ending for government workers for now – including those who were already TDY (already out and about). I found out later that this wasn’t entirely true but wow. At that moment my heart just stopped. At breakfast that morning our training facilitator encouraged all of us to keep our phones off of us and not to look at the news while we were there because it was a distraction. Lunch came around and a few other people were echoing the “grounded until further notice” rumor as well. Still, the facilitator refused to engage with us on any of it. It was very frustrating but I get it now. Everything was so up in the air at that time and I’m sure she was hearing the same rumors and was just as worried as the rest of us that there really wasn’t another option for her to take.

Thursday rolled around and the people who had flown in through Boston were being told that they might have to figure out a different way home (through Hartford). Thankfully I’d already booked a flight home out of Hartford because I’d initially planned to stay an extra night or two to explore the area a bit more. None of us were very productive at that point. I was texting Matt (his birthday was Thursday) and keeping him up to date on the rumors swirling around and what might happen. I told him to go buy some toilet paper because another attendee’s spouse told him that everywhere around them was entirely sold out (and, honestly, there are 2 of us so we usually buy 6 rolls at a time and only restock when we’re on the last roll and that was a bad place to be last year). I was nervous but so was everyone else and we all found solace knowing that we weren’t alone.

I decided to take a walk after our last session of the day. I went about 6 miles round trip and happened to get back when a few of the other people I’d been hanging out with were on their way out to a bar. They asked me to go with them so I said yes because there still wasn’t a ton of risk at that point.

We went to a little townie bar that they’d gone to for the past few nights. The guy who owned it and also poured the drinks happened to have a microphone and a massive speaker that they sometimes used for musicians who came through. The guys asked him to hook it up so we could do karaoke. He happily obliged and sat back to listen to some of the worst singing I’m sure he’d ever heard. The regulars at the bar seemed to think it was hilarious instead of annoying and I think I ended up paying for one drink out of the five or six I had thanks to a few of my solo and duet performances. It was, truly, fun.

By 2am or so we were all exhausted and dreading waking up in 4 hours so we headed back to the conference center. We talked about our families, our work families, how worried we all were, and what precautions we were planning to undertake when we made it back. It was the kind of open and honest vulnerability that you can only have with people who you kind of know (we’d been together almost constantly for 4 days at that point) and you’re also pretty sure you’ll never see again.

One of the guys was getting married in a couple of months.

Another’s wife worked for an airline and was already being told to prepare for layoffs.

One lived in Detroit which would soon become an epicenter for Covid. His kids’ schools were already talking about what would happen in the coming months (not realizing it would happen faster than that).

It was a somber walk home but we were together. We were all anxious to get back to our loved ones but, even for an introvert like me, there’s such a solidarity that comes from physically seeing another person in a similar situation and knowing that you really aren’t alone.

The next day we all got up, had breakfast together (lots of waffles and pancakes for me to soak up the whiskey from the night before -_-) and said our goodbyes. We had one more session that quickly devolved into what would happen going forward (essentially, they had no idea). We all loaded up onto shuttles at 11AM sharp and left.

My flight to Atlanta didn’t leave for a while so I hung out with a few of the ladies I’d met for a couple of hours. We chatted and tried to avoid the televisions hanging around us, all blasting the same apocalyptic coverage that we couldn’t do anything about at that point. My flight finally started boarding and I said my goodbyes. Unfortunately at that point I didn’t realize I’d never see, or honestly even talk to, most of these people again. I was so concerned with make sure I caught my flight and also trying to stay away from anyone who looked ill that it just didn’t dawn on me.

That’s when the fun started. After boarding my flight (and being stuck in the middle seat between two larger stature people because isn’t that always what happens) we became delayed. The Atlanta airport had something going on with too many flights coming in so we were told we’d be taking off 20 minutes after our scheduled departure. My layover in Atlanta was only 2 hours so I was a little concerned but not overly so.

90 minutes later we finally took off. I had finally finished Legion and was now freaking out about how I would get home. I didn’t have my government-issued charge card with me which is how everything was supposed to be paid for and they’re actually very strict about that. I was really really hoping I wouldn’t have to stay the night in Atlanta because I was so anxious to get home. The flight was about an hour and I don’t think I stopped fidgeting the entire time. I’m sure my seatmates were thrilled about that.

By the time I landed, I’d texted my boss. We texted frequently anyways as she is just a cool person but I’d told her as our plane was going down the runway what had happened and that I was freaking out.

While I was in the air, she’d managed to call the government travel agency that books all of the federal government’s flights, hotels, cars, and similar items. She’d managed to convince them that I needed to get home that night and that the slightly higher price on a 10:30pm flight to Indianapolis would be much cheaper overall than adding on a Saturday flight, extra day of per diem, and a hotel to stay in. In short, she worked a miracle. It might not sound like a lot but trust me – the government travel agency is not easy to work with especially on short notice like that. I was greeted with a flight attendant calling my name over the PA in Atlanta and giving me my updated flight number.

I ended up having about 4 hours to kill at that point (or it felt like it). If you’ve never flown through Atlanta you might not understand this but it was actually more frenzied than normal. There were people everywhere. All of the attendant stations at all of the open gates were packed with people yelling, kids screaming, and angry adolescents trying to eat their frozen yogurt in peace. I managed to find some coffee and a vacant gate near my new departure gate and tried to take my mind off of things by reading.

A gaggle of young flight attendants ended up parking near me to await their next flight. While they were talking and laughing they all got an email from someone who was a higher up letting them all know that their airline anticipated laying off half of its force in the coming weeks. The gears were already grinding to a moaning halt. They just looked at each other and realized that, being as young as they were and clearly still new to their positions, they’d probably be some of the first to be laid off.

I was their age when I graduated college. I remember that feeling of dread with the financial crisis still hanging around about what I would do for work. How would I pay my loans? For my food? My rent? What else could I do other than the shit job I was offered after graduation that barely paid my meager bills? Nothing. I’m sure they were starting to feel the hopelessness that we’d all eventually feel at some point in the coming months – it just hit them early.

I finally got on my flight back to Indianapolis. My boss had even found a window seat for me.

I watched The Office on the flight home. I listened to some music for a while. Mostly I tried to keep my thoughts from spinning out of control as they’re apt to do when I can’t make a list and measure the different factors that I need to consider to make a decision. I think we were the last flight to land that night. On my way to the exit I noticed that the employees who were still walking around were all wearing masks.

Matt picked me up. It had snowed several inches of heavy, wet snow while I was in the air. It was cold and blustery but felt so much more comforting than the stale air of the terminals I’d been breathing all day. Indiana has a way of doing that. It certainly doesn’t have the best views what with all of the fields dotted with a few large cities and it doesn’t really boast the best arts or food scene. Not a lot of history has happened here like on the east coast or even the west coast. Indiana is just nice. There’s really no other way to put it.

I think I realized what was going on earlier than a lot of people because I follow the news (mostly NPR which I like to listen to in the background and I inevitably hear about a ton of different things all day) and I didn’t have any preconceived notions about how the American public would take to doing something as simple as wearing a mask and washing their hands. I’d read books about different pandemics and plagues. I’d also been playing Plague Inc during that winter and, as ridiculous as it sounds, the basis of the game actually has real science behind it (I know that’s absolutely crazy to think real life might mimic a game but hey it worked in this instance). When I left for that conference, I “knew” what was coming but I didn’t get it. I couldn’t fathom what it would actually look like. It was all still a very childish understanding that X, Y, and Z would happen, people would die, but life would continue on and that life probably wouldn’t look very different for me.

To be fair, my family has fared better than many and I feel bad being down about it, especially right now with relief being so very near to us. I’ve noticed that I’m not really a morning person anymore. I’m not a night person either. I’m always tired but I can’t remember the last time I slept through a full night. I can’t focus on anything for very long. I bought a desk bike to try to keep moving while I’m working and that’s helped but it can only do so much.

I don’t really feel like doing anything but then I randomly get this deep sense of dread in the bottom of my gut (thanks #quarantine15, really it’s probably like 10 but it feels like more since I’ve lost a lot of muscle). I want to do something. Anything. I want to see someone who isn’t my husband or brother in law. On those rare occasions when I’ve been able to physically see a friend or family member I become manic with ecstasy at seeing a friendly face only to feel worse after we’ve parted ways again.

I know the dark tunnel that’s been the pandemic is coming to an end but is it just me or is it really dark in here?

Hiking in the UP – or trying to at least…

WAAAAAAY WAAAAAAAAAAY back when the Earth was young and the election was still a month away, Matt and I decided we still wanted to do some kind of trip this year despite the pandemic. We originally wanted to go back to Pukaskwa National Park in Canada to do a 2 week out and back hike of the Lake Superior Coastal Trail but obviously with borders closed that wasn’t going to happen. (A little backstory to that – we went in 2019 for a 7 day trip and it was amazing. Matt, whose pictures I’m using for this post, took a TON of absolutely stunning photos but then disaster struck a few months later when the server we use for all of our files decided to die during an upgrade. We lost all of our personal documents, Matt’s tens of thousands of photos including our vacation photos with family, to Ireland, to Key West, and to Maine, and all of my pdf sewing patterns. It was pretty awful.) Pukaskwa is still on our list of places to go back to but it will probably be a while before that happens with the way things are right now. Anyways, the Upper Peninsula of Michigan (lovingly referred to as the UP by locals we discovered) is very similar to Pukaskwa so we decided to trek up there for a couple of weeks instead.

While I enjoy backpacking more than day hiking and camping at this point, there weren’t a ton of places that were remote enough to really warrant that kind of expenditure of effort in my opinion. If you’ve never been backpacking before but you’d like to try it, make sure you don’t bite off more than you can chew. When we went last year we were both training for endurance for months prior to our outing. We also weighed less and were just generally more active since there wasn’t a pandemic going on. If you decide to go on a backpacking trip, don’t go alone. You NEED a partner your first time and preferably someone who has a bit of experience. Also, make sure your trail isn’t incredibly remote and is used fairly regularly. When we were in Canada we encountered exactly 3 people when we were out in the backcountry. If something had happened to one of us then the other could go for help (we had an emergency beacon as well) but if you’re alone and you get lost or run out of water or just twist your ankle and you AREN’T prepared, then you could be in a world of hurt. Remember, nature is wonderful and should be enjoyed but it can still kill you.

Ok, off of my soapbox now.

So we went to the UP. I spent about 6 weeks prior to our trip researching different parks, trails, and regions in the UP and also putting in reservations. Normally I would have spent longer than this on my research but with Covid I wasn’t sure we’d even be able to go. The UP was in the middle of a surge when we went but we weren’t very concerned since we didn’t plan on going to any hotels, restaurants, or places like that. Also, a “surge” in the UP was still much less severe than what was going on around us in the Indy area. The UP has a much smaller population compared to our suburb and the surrounding area. We’ve both been really anal about not going out to restaurants or in public and when we do have to venture out we’re always masked up and use hand sanitizer like it’s going out of style so I wasn’t concerned that we would be bringing Covid to the UP with us. All of my research led me to a couple of places to hit:

  1. Hiawatha National Forest
  2. Porcupine Mountains Wilderness
  3. Twin Lakes State Park
  4. Tahquamenon Falls State Park
  5. Wilderness State Park
  6. Ludington State Park
  7. Warren Dunes State Park

This definitely looks a little intimidating to look at now but most of the parks weren’t huge and we were looking for long trails to do day hikes on rather than multiple small hikes. This was also a loop going up from Indiana to Munising then through all of the other parks on the way back home.

After deciding we wanted to see as much foliage as possible, we determined to head out on the morning of October 9th. We drove north through Wisconsin and stopped at a small brewery in Milwaukee to grab some food. The grilled cheese with a side of cheese curds was probably not the healthiest decision I’ve ever made but #yolo. The drive from Indianapolis to the Bay Furnace campground was about 9 hours and we ended up pulling into our campsite at around 5pm. By the time we’d setup our new popup tent (don’t judge, we were just camping so I wanted to get something quick and easy to setup and I didn’t care about the weight) it was getting dark so we didn’t have time to explore that day.

The next morning we talked to some people from the campsite next to us (who were clearly outdoor enthusiasts and sounded like they were from an area nearby) to see what trails we should go to in Hiawatha. They told us that for the single day we had devoted to the area that it would probably have better luck going to Grand Island and exploring that instead. We caught the first ferry out had an invigorating ride out to the island.

I want to pause here for just a paragraph. If you aren’t aware, Lake Superior is, well, massive. It’s huge. It’s deep. It’s also FRIGID. According to NPS, Lake Superior surface water rarely goes above 60 degrees even in the summer. That may not sound very cold but remember that water is much denser than air and it only takes about 10 minutes for a human to go into hypothermia. AND THAT’S IN THE SUMMER. I knew all of this when we got onto the “ferry”. I think that “ferry” was a bit of a stretch for this vessel. It was a flat piece of metal with a small edge on it so that you wouldn’t go overboard. The day we took it, it was pretty breezy so the waves were a little bigger than I was comfortable with. Moral of the story – if you’re not a huge fan of being cold/damp on a breezy day then maybe find a different area to explore.

Grand Island itself was pretty grand. 🙂

The island is a great place to go if you’re in the area but I recommend planning to either stay all day or even spend the night at one of the campsites if you’re able. Unfortunately we didn’t realize that the island would be best suited for mountain bikes so we hadn’t rented any. We didn’t get to see the northern part of the island due to this (we might have been able to push ourselves and make it out and back to the cliffs but we really didn’t want to risk missing the ferry back). We went north on the west side of the island and took some pictures. We went up to about mile 5 then turned around and went back to mile(ish) 4 and went northeast to Echo Lake and had our lunch.

According to some of the plaques we read, Echo Lake is possibly the largest lake ever created by beavers. The whole island used to be a recreation resort (for the whole 4 months when it wasn’t too cold) and I guess people used to swim in Echo Lake. Who knows? Still too cold for me! There are some private residences on the island but the overwhelming majority of it is managed by the state.

By this point the temperature was starting to fall and the wind was picking up. It was also getting close to noon so we decided to start back. We went south on the Echo Lake Circle trail then continued south. We realized we were making excellent time so we decided to go by Duck Lake which was a little more out of the way. We were still making really good time so we meandered through some of the historic areas (including a private family cemetery that’s still active) on our way back. We still ended up getting back too early and had to wait for the ferry to come for about an hour (most of the other people were also waiting so I think we were all ready to get back to the mainland). We finally got cell service at the drop off/pick up site and saw that the temperature was now in the 40s so I didn’t feel very bad about how cold I was at that point. In case you’re wondering, the ride back was as terrifying as the ride over.

When we got back, we picked up some more firewood (you can’t have enough on camping trips!) and grabbed Matt a Coke at a gas station. We were both tired from our excursion so Matt went to bed right after dinner and I hung out by the fire for a few hours and read Stamped from the Beginning while drinking some whiskey to warm up a bit (because that’s how that works). When we woke up in the morning we decided to pack up and head to Porcupine Mountains as soon as we could.

Just a note on the Bay Furnace campground – this was one of the only campgrounds I could find that still had spots open when I looked in August (we weren’t the only ones who wanted to see the foliage apparently). It appeared to be operated by the USDA when I looked at it online but it turned out to be contracted to a random guy. He was not very nice and I don’t think I’d stay at this campground ever again. I heard the “owner” and his female companion (not sure if it was a partner or wife or friend) get snippy with multiple campers, ourselves included. Matt was yelled at for walking through an empty campsite (as in no equipment and no reservation tag on it, he just wanted to use it for a better picture of Lake Superior) and I heard them yell at some kids in the afternoon for being too loud as well. It was pretty but all of Michigan was pretty at that point. The bathrooms were also grosser than vault toilets normally are. The small road back to the sites was also full of potholes the size of our car. If you have a different option I’d suggest you take it.

From Munising it was about a 3 hour drive to Porcupine Mountains. It was a beautiful day with lots of sunshine and beautiful foliage to look at. As I said before, the UP is sparsely populated. There are a few “big” cities but otherwise there are scattered teensy towns/villages with mom and pop shops and maybe a McDonald’s. It was truly gorgeous to have Lake Superior on one side and peak fall foliage on our other side. We arrived in the Porkies around noon.

If you’ve never heard of the Porcupine Mountains don’t worry, we hadn’t either. It’s probably one of Michigan’s best kept secrets (or maybe I’m just a moron and hadn’t heard about the area before. That could be it.). It’s a large state park that takes about half an hour to drive through. There are lots of trails of different lengths and difficulties including a portion of the Lake Superior Trail which you can do some backcountry camping on. Since we were there during the last weekend of peak foliage, though, all of the backcountry sites on that trail were reserved so I’d reserved us a couple of nights in the Preque Isle Campground followed by a couple of nights in the Union Bay Campground. We decided to do a short hike out to Mirror Lake and back to our car before setting up camp.

This was probably the most beautiful hike of my life. All of the leaves were at full peak, there weren’t a lot of people out (despite it being the busiest weekend of the season, people still were wary of going on a “moderate” trail), and the temperature was absolutely perfect. It was about an 8 mile hike that took about 3 hours. We probably could’ve made better time but there were a lot of photo ops that we couldn’t help but stop for. It’s also really hard to make yourself hurry when it’s a perfect day outside. 🙂

We decided to check out some of the waterfalls just up from the campground that night as well. This area was fairly crowded due to the parking lot next to the “trail”. The trail is a series of wooden boardwalks to different waterfalls. There were lots of people taking them in, posing for selfies, and probably not social distancing enough but we were good. If it had been a little earlier in the day we probably would have taken some of the other trails that come off of the waterfall trails but Matt’s knee was seriously starting to hurt (he sprained it this past summer and didn’t really do any kind of training prior to our trip) so we called it a day and headed to camp.

When we got to Presque Isle we were really happy with it. This one specifically is tailored more towards tent camping rather than RVs. I don’t have anything against RVs but a lot of the people who use them also tend to go “camping” to have an excuse to drink too much, stay up really late, be really loud, and leave their trash around. Tent camping is always so quiet and laid back. It’s much more relaxing for me. We each had a beer, made some food, and Matt went through his photos while I read some more. Like I said before, it was a great day.

The only thing I’d caution campers about is really not a big deal in my opinion. There aren’t showers at this campground (not a big deal – you could absolutely go to the Union Bay campground instead and use their showers I’m guessing) and the water is also only in a couple of spots. There are two different water pumps – one at either end of the campground. You have to actually walk out to it, pump the water up, and then walk back with the water. This might be an issue if you need a lot of water or if you want coffee as soon as you wake up and you haven’t prepped for it. Again, though, this situation is really common in campgrounds that are a little older and shouldn’t turn you off to it.

Unfortunately, when we woke up the next morning it was starting to rain. We didn’t have any cell reception so we jumped in the car and tried to find a radio station to get a weather report (also unfortunately, we hadn’t packed our weather radio since we only planned to hike and camp rather than backpack). The only station we found was an AM station where 2 elderly ladies (or maybe they weren’t, who am I to judge?) were talking about mundane things like what they made their husbands for dinner that weekend, what was going on at their local rotary club, and things of that nature. To be honest it was really entertaining but not at all what we needed. Around 9AM we headed south towards a little town I’d gone into the night before (more firewood) since I knew I’d eventually had reception on my drive. About 30 minutes south of our campsite we finally had it! Woohoo! At least we had a legit expectation of when the rain would clear up. The radar showed a large storm with lots of red in it heading our way so we decided to go back to camp. By the time we got back, the wind had picked up (we later learned it was getting up to 60mph where we’d been) and it was thundering/lightning/raining like a tropical storm. It was also getting really cold, really fast.

So our first mistake was assuming the UP forecast was about as reliable as that in Indiana. Hoosiers love to tell everyone who will listen that if it’s too sunny/hot/cold/whatever in the morning just wait until evening when the weather will be different. Friends. This is not the case. We are not as extreme as Michigan. Ooof.

Second mistake – not having a backup plan. Any other year and this wouldn’t have been an issue. There used to be quite a few hotels and inns in the area as well as restaurants but the pandemic shut most of them down, at least for the season. There was one hotel that had ONE room left by the time we showed up at their door (because, again, no cell reception). I was wet, cold, pretty tired since I didn’t sleep well the night before, and willing to pay whatever price was asked for a damn room. That hotel was AmericInn. I will forever be grateful to the angels who let us check in early (10AM!) and just hang out in our room for that entire day. There’s also a little bar/grill in the hotel so we didn’t have to eat our dehydrated food although I think the burger and onion rings I had was probably worse for me. We didn’t leave our room until about 6pm when there was a break in the rain. We ventured out to watch the sunset and Matt took some photos before we hunkered in again and I made him watch both of the Adams Family movies FOR THE FIRST TIME. HOW DID I MARRY SOMEONE WHO HADN’T WATCHED THOSE MOVIES BEFORE?

The next morning it was still raining but the forecast showed that the system coming off of Lake Superior (oh yeah, didn’t I mention that Lake Superior is so MASSIVE that it makes its own unpredictable weather?) was ending and it would probably turn out to be a decent day. We checked out at 11AM to a slight drizzle but the clouds were breaking so we went to the Lake of the Clouds parking area to get started on our dayhike.

We did a loop from the Lake of the Clouds parking area along the Big Park River Trail to the Correction Line Trail and back along the North Mirror Lake Trail. The loop was one that had been suggested by the Porcupine Mountains map for being a strenuous loop trail that wouldn’t take more than 8 hours (it took us about 6.5). Overall the trail wasn’t difficult. It was very muddy but we expected that since it had been raining for the last 24 hours. There was one creek crossing that I stupidly thought would have a bridge or at least a piece of wood to cross (as others had) buuuuut it didn’t. The water was cold but not unbearable and it gave us a pretty great reason to trudge on and not turn back! The loop itself wouldn’t be difficult at all if the weather wasn’t wet but the mud definitely upped the ante. By the time we made it to the 7/8 mark Matt was about ready to throw in the towel (his knee hurt and we were also out of water since he decided not to bring any) but, I mean, that wasn’t really an option. It was a great hike despite the mud and I’d recommend it to anyone who wanted a good day hike.

After we finished up that hike we setup our camp at the Union Bay campground. As stated before, this one was tailored more towards RVs and pop ups but many people had already left undoubtedly due to the weather. Our neighbors had an RV and apparently cell or satellite signal and informed us that guess what? It’s going to start raining again in the morning around 8. Ugh.

We repacked most of our gear except for what was necessary and prepped to make a quick getaway in the morning.

The next morning we quickly packed everything else back up and then asked our neighbors if anything had changed since the night before’s forecast. It had! Not for the better, though. More wind and rain was heading our way but it looked like it was going to miss most of the Houghton area (the only place we could find a hotel that wasn’t hours out of the way) so we headed north and ended up at the Holiday Inn. As soon as we got there it started pouring (we’d hoped to explore some of the parks and trails in the area but hiking in the sleet is not high on my list of things to do on vacation) so I ran into Walmart, found a $2 bathing suit (!!!!!) and hung out in the hot tub at the hotel with my mask on and my antiracism book out. I think I stayed in there for at least an hour which probably wasn’t great for me but I didn’t really care at that point.

The rest of the evening was spent reading and watching more Halloween movies. Matt also had Little Caesar’s for the first (and last) time since college. When we woke up in the morning the temperature had dropped and the rain was starting to turn into a sleet/freezing rain instead. Super fun.

The next destination on our itinerary was also looking a little mucky when we arrived the next day so I moved our reservations around and we drove over to Tahquamenon Falls instead. When we arrived it was beautiful so we went ahead and (dumbly) setup camp before going on one of the smaller trail loops (about 1.5 hours) to see some of the waterfalls. Unfortunately, by the time we got back the weather had SURPRISE taken a turn for the worst. It was sleeting again and was super cold. The park has a brewery so we decided to go try to find some WiFi there.

We didn’t find any internet but the bar tender did tell us that 1) we were idiots to think the weather would follow any kind of forecast as the past week of weather wasn’t out of character for the UP and 2) we were suckers for thinking we could tent camp during October in the UP without a backup location/plan. Oh, and the sleet was going to turn to snow and there would absolutely be accumulation so we might be able to try our hand at snowshoeing.

As much as I want to go back to Michigan to do some winter sports, we hadn’t prepared at all for it on this trip. After a couple of beers I finally turned to him and told him I was miserable and this vacation was pretty awful. He laughed and agreed. It was only 3 so after a little soul searching (the cold walk back to the campsite), we decided to pack it in and cut our losses. We stayed in Mackinaw City that night, had some awful Italian food (Matt wanted “real food” although we’d barely touched our dehydrated stuff the whole time), and hit the hay. In the morning there was about an inch of snow waiting for us on the car (and about a foot at Tahquamenon Falls and even more back in the Porkies). We headed home without regrets.

Lessons learned:

  1. Don’t camp in the UP during a pandemic. You’ll still encounter people which is an unnecessary risk to an already overburdened healthcare system.
  2. The UP has no rules.
  3. ALWAYS TAKE A WEATHER RADIO.
  4. If you’re going tent camping, be sure you’re aware of normal weather fluctuations for that time of year.

Get out in nature but be smarter than me about it. 🙂