Last month, while I was back in the States, I had the chance to participate in Queer Adventure Storytelling. It’s a monthly event were queer people can come together to tell and hear stories about a variety of adventures. It’s hosted by Jenny Bruso, who started the Unlikely Hikers Instagram account and Travis Clough of the Venture Out Project. I told the story of how I came to consider myself a hiker, and I thought I’d share that here.
Carnival. That party that happens before Lent every year, with places like Rio de Janeiro or maybe Venice coming to mind. Images of lithe, bronzed women in sparkly costumes and huge feathered headdresses or intricate masks and elaborate gowns and suits.
But the truth is that Carnival is celebrated across the Caribbean, and in a number of places around the world. While New Orleans’s Mardi Gras is perhaps the most widely known version in the United States, Ponce, Puerto Rico’s second largest city, is also known for its Carnaval, known as Carnaval Ponceño.
Most people head to Puerto Rico as their very own island getaway; sun, surf, sand, what more could you ask for. Turns out there’s another island that you could stop off at for a few days to have an island getaway from you island getaway: Vieques.
But why would you want to go out of your way to get there? Sun, surf and sand are already covered, remember? How about some of the best diving and snorkel spots, the best bioluminescent waters and beaches all to yourself.
Puerto Rico is known as La Isla del Encanto, or the “Enchanted Island.” No doubt, the beaches with crystal clear waters, gorgeous keys and small islands, and a mountainous rainforest, including El Yunque National Forest, are big parts of what makes Puerto Rico feel like an enchanted place. But I’d add the Bosque Estatal Guánica, or Guánica State Forest, to that list.
As the fading light slipped through the spectrum of golden-yellow to cool-blue, the coquís began their daily symphony, starting with just a few chips and croaks that grew to a roar as darkness filled the corners in the rainforest. This is the heart of El Yunque National Forest, the only tropical rainforest that is a part of the U.S. Forest Service and one if the oldest forest reserves in the Western hemisphere.
Island Lake is the third busiest park operated by Michigan’s Department of Natural Resources. It offers several miles of hiking and biking trails, canoeing on the Huron River that runs through the park, camping, cabins and even a hot air balloon launch area. The natural landscape features various hardwood trees, open brush land and some meadows. It is in Southeastern Michigan, southeast of the I-96 and US-23 interchange.
One of my top books that I read last year was Grandma Gatewood’s Walk: The Inspiring Story of the Woman Who Saved the Appalachian Trail by Ben Montgomery, a biography of the first woman to thru-hike the Appalachian Trail (at age 67), as well as the first woman to do so multiple times and the first person to hike it three times.
She also hiked the Oregon Trail, from Missouri to Oregon. However, despite the thousands of miles she accumulated on her Keds, her favorite stretch of trail was in her Ohio backyard: a six-mile stretch from Old Man’s Cave to Ash Cave in the Hocking Hills State.
In 1965, an annual winter hike of this stretch of trail led by Grandma Gatewood, herself, began and this year was the 51st annual hike. After reading about this celebration of this woman, relatively close to where I’m currently living, I knew I had to go.
Pinckney State Recreation Area is probably the best place in Southeastern Michigan to find long trails and a semblance of wilderness solitude. Historically, the area was home to George Reeves who operated a sawmill, gristmill, distillery and tavern in the town of Hell, which is located in the park. Today, many people enjoy the miles of trails for hiking, biking and cross-country skiing; the various lakes for canoeing, kayaking and fishing; and the campsites, cabin and yurt. Moraines, kettle lakes and swamp areas dotted with deciduous forests are characteristic of the area and provides habitat for a variety of birds and mammals. You can get to the park by taking the North Territorial exit from US-23 (which is between M-14 and I-96) and heading west about 10 miles, following the signs.
Three years ago, before I left for Thailand, I spent quite a bit of time researching and contemplating buying snowshoes. And then I reminded myself that I was moving to a nearly tropical and certainly snow-less country for just over two years and that would be a ridiculous purchase to make and that I should just wait. Well, now that I’m back in Michigan, and winter is supposedly approaching (though this El Niño affected weather system has me fooled), I thought this is the time to get those snowshoes.
Then I learned that there is a snowshoe making class at Ludington State Park offered several times in the late fall and early winter, that provides all of the materials and an instructor to make your very own traditional snowshoes and I jumped on that opportunity and decided to make a bit of a trip out of it.
“You’re in charge of the last of the Truffula Seeds.
And Truffula Trees are what everyone needs.
Plant a new Truffula. Treat it with care.
Give it clean water. And feed it fresh air.
Grow a forest. Protect it from axes that hack.
Then the Lorax
and all of his friends
may come back.”
— “The Lorax” by Dr. Seuss
Nearly all of Michigan’s Lower Peninsula was logged in the 1880s and 1890s. When the “Panic of 1893” pausing the clear cutting for a brief window, a stand of trees, now protected by the Hartwick Pines State Park, to escaped unscathed. Hartwick Pines is one of about a dozen remaining locations that the state recognizes as “Remnants of Michigan’s Early Forests.”