Listen to this article

NPR reports that camping is one of the least risky summer activities in the time of COVID-19, and luckily, backpacking in the Porkies has become our summer vacation for the past several years.

It’s a long drive to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, where the Porcupine Mountains are, but the dogs are good in the car, and it’s well worth the trip.

Each year, I take notes on how to improve, and this year I decided I’m going to write a microguide to select campsites on the Lake Superior trail, called “Finessing the Trip: Backpacking in Comfort.”

First, make reservations early, like May, or you may wind up having to walk further than you like. (I actually had this on my list last year, but we were so distracted by 2020 that we didn’t get our reservations until June — too late to get the best sites.)

We bookended our trip with car camping. The idea was to drive north as close as we could get and camp in the bigger tent in a park where we could have access to our cooler, showers and other luxuries that we would do without on the trail.

It was too late to make reservations at the Porkies’ campground, so we stopped about an hour south at Schaumberg County Park, a sweet little campground.

It was crowded, but sites were far enough apart for social distancing. The showers cost money — a dollar for about five minutes, and if yours is the first shower of the day, it takes about a minute to warm up.

A last-minute addition to our car camping equipment at the camping store made our nights in the big tent more comfortable — a full-size inflatable mattress we could blow up from the car. Our tent was big enough for the dogs to sleep at our feet. (No such luck on the trail.)

My backpacking guide will describe our hike and the campsites we like. We arrived at the trail at about 11 after checking in at the visitors’ center. It’s about a 3½-mile walk and we took a lot of rest stops.

The packs were heavy because we planned an extra day, which means a couple pounds of extra food, even though it was dehydrated. (For the trip, I made jerky of salmon, chicken and beef. I also dried split-pea soup and homemade tomato sauce — delicious enough to eat like fruit leather! I also made nutty granola bars to avoid last year’s controversy about who ate extra rations of nuts. I made fruit rollups as well and some dried Brussels sprouts. My guide will be part recipe book.)

We have a water filter, and our campsites are all on the edge of Lake Superior. We get our drinking water from the lake, but we should have taken the time to filter water from one of the several brooks we crossed on the way in. We carried two liters, but it ran out before we got to the site.

At the lake, we had a little trouble figuring which site was ours. They are marked, but the LC sites (for Little Carp River) look clustered right next to the LS sites (Lake Superior) on the map. Michael was ready to set up camp, and one site appeared to be unmarked, but I was not convinced and went ahead to scout. I found our site about another quarter mile down the trail. It was the one we camped at before with the nice kitchen tree (a stump about counter height, where we set up our little stove).

Michael carried one pack to the site and went back for the other. By then, I was so thirsty that I dug through the pack to find the water filter, right under the kibble. The dogs were exhausted and lay down. I put the food back in the pack but didn’t worry about tying it closed because the dogs were dead to the world.

I was so proud that I’d be able to greet Michael with a cool drink of water when he returned with the second pack. I had just filled the first liter bottle when I heard him arrive. I started to climb up the rocks from the shore when I heard his shout: “Mary! The dogs got into the food.” And sure enough, he was pulling a bag out of Ursula’s mouth. They had eaten more than half of the kibble and some of the plastic. Luckily, I had packed the kibble in two bags, and they only got one.

“Well,” said Michael. “If we run out of kibble, I guess they’ll learn their lesson.”

“Yep. If they run out of kibble, they’ll have to eat steak and chicken, but I’m not giving them any of my dried salmon.”

Hike in Beauty; Trek in Peace; Blessed Be

Mary Lucille Hays lives in Birdland near White Heath. If you’d like to read my backpacking guide when I finish it, let me know. Hearing from future readers will encourage me to finish this project. You can see pictures about this week’s post on Instagram @BirdlandLetters. Mary can be reached at letterfrombirdland@gmail.com or via snail mail care of the Journal Republican, 118 E. Washington St., Monticello, IL 81856. She wants to thank her friends for writing and will answer you all soon.