We billed it as a “learning journey,” so the kids would be exposed to backcountry camping, the kind where you hike in your gear and poop in the woods. We chose Nordhouse Dunes Wilderness with beach access to Lake Michigan just north of Ludington. Perhaps the excessive heat warning on Friday and the borrowed Expedition’s AC malfunction should have been a sign of things to come.
Josh and I had volunteered to take our nieces and nephews backcountry camping: Delaney and Olivia -13, Luke – 11, Jude and Sylvie – 9. Sweaty from our non-AC ride, our gang piled out of the truck and lined up backpacks. We inspected the kids’ packs and dolled out snack bags and food supplies. Delaney emerged with a full-size pillow attached to the outside of her pack while Sylvie had a decorative couch pillow stuffed in her top compartment. Both items were promptly stowed in the truck to make room for more appropriate space-saving gear. Then we performed shoulder strap checks for each kid before we strode off for a group photo. From the Nurnberg trailhead, it was 1.5 miles to hike in and find a spot. The kids walked at a brisk pace even loaded down with a pack. In the heat, the chatter was all about a Lake Michigan swim.
Once we hit the dune and saw the big lake stretch out, Josh scouted for a spot on the tree line, the required 300 feet from the water. We had three tents to set up, so everyone chipped in and swatted flies before changing into bathing suits. We spent the afternoon in the lake and explored the diminishing shoreline due to water levels at a 30-year high. We swam, played, splashed, threw Frisbees, practiced underwater handstands, and collected water in our ears. It was gorgeous and sunny.
The afternoon turned to an evening that meant feeding five hungry kids with one JetBoil. As fast as I could add hot water to MRE packets, the kids spooned in chicken and cheese pasta or chicken gumbo. Their favorite snacks were mini turkey sausages and fun-size chocolate bars. Jude won the best camper award for hauling in a s’more packet and all the fixings. This treat got all the kids motivated to find twigs and wood for a fire. No one cared that the chocolate bars had liquefied in the heat. We just squeezed the chocolate out of the foil and on to the graham cracker. Same great taste, just slightly messier than usual.
During our fireside s’more time, Delaney asked with her head cocked to the beach, “Is that thunder Aunt Laura?”
“It can’t be, there was nothing on the radar when I checked this afternoon.”
But the rumbles continued so Josh, and I made a mental note to recheck the weather before tent tuck in. The radar did indeed show storms approaching with blotches of orange and yellow mixed in with the solid green. Plus, my dad had left me a voicemail informing severe weather was approaching our area. We rechecked the tents, added the rain flies, and told the kids.
The storm let us know it was coming and there’s no blocking it out in a tent. The rain began, the wind increased, and thunder rumbled closer. At about 1:30 a.m. Josh’s phone beeped an alert: Take shelter, damaging winds approaching with possible hail! Crap. We had no choice but to lie there, watch the strobe lightning, listen to the train of wind rushing by and be startled by the cracks of thunder. The weight of our bodies kept the tents in place. Several tent stakes were unearthed sending the flaps billowing. I knew if I was scared that my nieces and nephews probably were too. No one slept, but we did survive the storm.
I was hopeful the sun would come out Saturday morning and we could dry out. 6 a.m. dawned along with another burst of rain and thunder. It didn’t stop and just continued in various styles from light drizzle to heavy buckets! I fed the kids granola in their tents and Josh filtered water. With no rain reprieve and an ominous forecast, Josh and I devised a plan B. Abort night two. We told the kids to put on ponchos and pack up their gear. We were wet and sandy and got even wetter on the hike out as our packs increased in weight due to water poundage!
From the trailhead lot, we piled in the car, then I called my parents in TC, “How do you feel about hosting seven drenched campers at the farm?” The extreme weather continued all day. We drove north thru Manistee and splashed through a flash flood flowing over US 31. It was still raining when we stopped at McDonald’s for snacks. Delaney, Olivia, and I collected the food bags and made the dash back to the car. During our short sprint, one of the happy meal boxes exploded, sending the burger and bun flopping to the drenched pavement. I had to send Luke back inside for a replacement. As we drove away, the kids were all giggling over the buns looking pathetic and waterlogged on the pavement. The torrential rain would turn them to mush in a matter of minutes. I started laughing too and exclaimed to the kids, “Let’s call this trip, 7 soggy buns!” Mouths full of fries, nuggets, and cheeseburgers they all yelled a giggly affirmation from the back seat.