A person can be okay. One person. But people? I don’t like “people.” Especially when I’m outdoors. Normally, I pride myself on visiting either a) popular places when nobody is there or b) unpopular places because nobody is there. I knew, based on the interwebz, that there would be thousands of people at the Sea Caves over by Cornucopia. We had been there, virtually alone, in the summer via the hiking trails, but this would be different. Why was I possessed by this urge to visit right in the middle of the bell curve?
A new viewpoint. And it would be a double-whammy. I like to see the same spot from different angles. I like to see the same spot during different seasons. But, to see a spot from an angle that only occurs once in a while AND during a different season. Now, you’ve got the kind of thing that has me looking over maps and building itineraries for my croo. Crowds be damned.
The big lake hadn’t frozen over to allow this view since 2009. This rare occurrence made it into the news, so thousands of conformists were swarming to the shoreline of the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore. I could already see the masses oohing and aahing.
To add to the fun, it was about 0F outside and a 20 knot wind was scouring the frozen surface of Lake Superior. As we drove through Cheesehead-land, and I saw flags stretched tight in the arctic wind, I could sense I wanted this too much. I started to worry. The Buddha says that all suffering arises from desire. I wanted the new view. Needed it. Wait for a better day? A weekday with less people and better weather? No. Right now. A Saturday with really bad wind chill and lots of tourists. But windchill is BS anyway, unless you’re naked, right? Onward.
A half mile away was the closest we could park. Full Disneyworld effect. Cars as far as the eye can see. Walked to the trailhead at Meyers Beach into the wind. Son bummed that eyes are freezing shut. Put on these goggles, I said. Didn’t I tell you kids to wear more clothes than you ever had before? Doublechecked that everyone had balaclavas? Daughter, cringing out of the wind behind the kiosk, still doesn’t have one on as I fill the little Park Service envelope with my three bucks. Run the half mile back to the car to put the stub on the dashboard and back. I’ve already gone three times as far as the croo and now I’m sweating like crazy.
As we approached the steps down to the beach, a Park Service employee asked me if I had a plastic poop bag for my dog. Luckily, he couldn’t see my expression behind my face mask as I grabbed the bag from the dispenser. Two hundred yards later, the dog pops a squat. I think he was looking right at me on purpose. I could walk with my new hand warmer for the next hour or two, or run back to the parking lot to “dispose of properly.” I ran back and got even more overheated. Glasses fogging up. Good times. Thanks, pooch.
I caught up with the croo on the beach and the wind is the kind that makes you whoop a little bit and fight for air. I had hoped that the wind chill would keep people away. No luck. And lots of dogs. All on leashes. That meant our Leo would be stuck on a leash. Thus, less able to run around and warm up.
Ten minutes later, he’s going three-legged and stopping to lick his feet. We (I) struggle to save the expedition. The Chef will take the dog back. Grace do you want continue with me and Sam or go back to the car?
Inside, I was rooting for her to come along. She was fired up in the house the night before as I shared the plan with her.
“I don’t care,” she said. Worse than a no. She then caves and heads back to the car with The Chef and the dog. No amputations for the dog today.
Sam and I trudge on into the left quartering headwind. Tap, tap, tap on the shoulder. I turn around to see my son’s masked and goggled face. “I really have to go to the bathroom.”
“Number 1?” I asked, hoping beyond hope.
He shook his head and held up two fingers. YGBSM.
There we stood on the frozen beach with the wind whipping by and a river of people walking around us like rocks on a river.
“You gotta go like right now in the woods?”
“No, I can make it back to the restroom at the parking lot.”
I stood there looking at my feet and said, “Well, I guess we’re done.” I was genuinely pissed. See what happens when you want it too bad?
We both headed back to the parking lot. Then, as I followed my son, who’s now taller than his mom, I realized he was no toddler anymore. He could beat up most people around here. And he’d never be more than 50 feet from another person. I sent him on to deal with Alarm Brown by himself. I took the daypack from him that had basic survival gear in it and his camera. I wished him good luck. Rally at the car, afterward.
I thought about saying, “I am just going outside and may be some time” like Oates did on the Scott expedition to the South Pole. Oates voluntary left the tent to his death because he was slowing down his team. But, this was Wisconsin, not the South Pole. And I could always cut open a fat tourist like a Tauntaun and climb inside for warmth.
I got to see several spots that we’d seen before, but from a different angle and a different season. And I saw a couple new things. Icicles that look like you’re going to light speed. (What’s with all the Star Wars references?) And the view from deep inside the biggest cave I found that day. Momentarily unmolested by my fellow citizens.
I made it back to the car alive. Everybody was in good spirits. Mission Accomplished, but via Plan B. I reckon the kids’ll still remember the day.
Like most trips, they spur ideas for new trips. So, now, to see the inside of those caves from a kayak. With the kids. I’ll try to remember to not want it so much.