Last week’s newspaper had an article about the pandemic halting the winter research on Isle Royale. Seeing the name of the Lake Superior island I’d hiked years ago brought back a flood of memories. I’d gone with a group through Eagle River’s Trees for Tomorrow. We began our journey at Copper Harbor, Michigan, where we boarded the ferry, otherwise known as the barf barge.
I’d heard stories about people getting motion sickness on the three-hour-ride across the rolling waters of the lake, and had worried about it. Although a few riders turned green and ran for the side of the boat, most of us didn’t have a problem.
I worried about being able to carry 30 pounds on my back for days of hiking. Fortunately, the day before, when we had prepared, I’d loaded my borrowed pack, and followed the steps to put it on properly. Seeing me, an instructor had frowned, worked at adjusting various straps, and finally said, “This will never work. You wouldn’t last five minutes.” She ended up lending me an old one of hers that got me through.
After hearing horrors from two friends, and knowing we were hiking in August, I also worried about being invaded by black flies. It turned out I needed to slap at pesky mosquitoes and had several itchy welts, but we missed the invasion of the vicious, biting flies.
I worried that I’d accidentally drink unfiltered water, get giardia or tapeworm, and become violently ill. Indeed, one day, when I was working with a partner to filter water, I forgetfully dipped my water bottle into the lake. My partner caught the mistake, and I had the chance to sterilize the bottle.
I worried about not being able to sleep on the hard ground or getting claustrophobic in the tent, but I was so exhausted after the days of hiking, most nights I fell right to sleep. The one night I had trouble, I left the woods and walked to the shoreline where the stars were so bright and numerous, it seemed possible to reach out and grab a handful. I’d never seen a night sky like that, and doubt I ever will again. It was a chance of a lifetime.
I worried about how little dehydrated food we’d brought and that we’d run out, or that one of the island’s pesky foxes would grab our food bag. One fox tried, but an alert hiker tussled it away from him. I did experience some hunger, but that only added to the great deliciousness of chowing down on my first meal once we were back in civilization. Bitting into a hot, juicy burger. Crunching on crisp lettuce. And drinking a whole glassful of water that I hadn’t needed to filter first.
My worst worries might not have materialized, but there were plenty of mishaps. One hiker sprained his ankle so badly a ranger had to transport him back to the ferry so he could seek medical help.
Enduring the physical hike was difficult, but emotions ran high as well. One hiker, a woman who hadn’t packed well, tried to unload a heavy sweatshirt and lighten her load. She hung it on a tree branch. One instructor saw it and delivered a crushing “Leave-No-Trace” lecture. The woman broke down, sniffling that she wanted to go home.
We hikers worried about what we’d do if we encountered a dangerous wild animal. A frightening early morning episode did materialize. I’d gotten up before my tent-mate and the others in the group. True to the practice of leaving the wilderness as pristine as possible, I was brushing my teeth at the edge of the woods. This involved spraying the toothpaste so it didn’t land as a gob on the forest floor. I was on the upswing when I spotted a huge brown form in the thick brush. Then a large muzzle. Then a full set of antlers. Then brown eyes locked on mine.
I worried the bull moose would kick forward with its front legs, a sign that it was about to charge.
I worried that my mangled body would be found by my camp mates.
I worried I wouldn’t get to live to tell about this amazing moment.
But the bull moose simply turned his antlered head and wove it back through the heavy brush. I watched, fascinated, until he disappeared from sight.
Most of what we worry about never materializes. I’m in favor of worrying less and spending more time remembering locking eyes with an impressive bull moose, and staring up at an Isle Royale star-filled night.