When a friend mentioned Copper Harbor, Michigan the other day, my mind immediately rewound to the summer I met a group there for a week-long camping adventure on Isle Royale. The trip was worrisome since I’d never wilderness camped and because I’d be sharing the island with dangerous animals. These included roaming predators with jaws strong enough to crush my bones and 1500-pound animals that use their deadly antlers to establish dominance. My worries ranged from life-threatening to less frightening worries such as getting motion sick on the ferry ride to the island.
My adventure began with the three-hour ferry ride on what was known as the barf barge. Preparing for the trip, people had told me I’d probably get sick on the Lake Superior crossing. A few passengers turned green and ran for the side as the ferry pitched in the turbulent waves, but I didn’t have a problem.
Friends had also told me about the vicious biting black flies that would plague me until I was willing to leap into the ice-cold lake water for escape. Bugs did pester, but our timing was such that black flies weren’t a problem.
Friends also warned me about becoming violently ill with giardia or tapeworms from drinking unfiltered or unboiled water. This worry nearly materialized. I was working with a partner to pump lake water through a filter when I cluelessly rinsed out my water bottle in the lake. My partner caught the blunder, and I had the chance to sterilize the bottle before using it.
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 food we’d brought, 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 with it and got it back. I did experience some hunger, but that only added to the great deliciousness of that first meal once we were back in civilization. Biting into a hot, juicy burger, crunching on crisp lettuce, and drinking a whole glassful of water that I hadn’t needed to filter filled me with gratitude.
Many of my worries didn’t materialize, but there were plenty of mishaps and surprises. One hiker severely sprained his ankle, and a ranger had to transport him back to the ferry for medical help. Another 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. Our leader saw it and delivered a crushing “Leave-No-Trace” lecture. The woman broke down, sniffling that she wanted to go home. I learned that dealing with various personalities and a myriad of emotions was as challenging as the physical demands.
The threat of attacking predators was constantly on my mind, and although I never spotted a wolf, I did have a frightening early morning episode with a bull moose. 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 locked eyes with a huge brown form in the thick brush. Then a full set of antlers. Then a large muzzle. 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 my campmates would find my mangled body.
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. This had been a once-in-a-lifetime moment.
Hiking Isle Royale reminded me that most of my fears never materialize. In fact, NBC news reports “About 85% of what we worry about never happens.” (https://bit.ly/43QBer1) So I, for one, am in favor of agonizing less and spending more time feeling grateful. After all, I’ve gotten to enjoy the privileges of enough food and clean water, lock eyes with an impressive island moose, and gaze up at a brilliant star-filled night.