August 21, 2011–We drove to Traverse City, MI, with the plan of walking around Old Town. As soon as we got to Grand Traverse Bay, we decided to stop and walk around on the beach. It was supposed to be stormy but it turned out to be a beautiful, fall-like day with brilliantly blue, white cloud filled skies. As we walked, my husband said “Let’s go on to Sleeping Bear.” We weren’t really dressed or prepared for it but who wants to shop when the beautiful sands and waters of Lake Michigan are calling? We started over right away.
As we paid the $10 parking fee at the ranger station, Jenna noticed a sign that said to be sure to take water on the climb up the dunes. She asked me about it and I said, “Pshawwww! You don’t need water. This isn’t the Grand Canyon.” My husband has climbed the dunes a few times and has never had a problem nor has seen anyone have a problem. Plus, the temperature was only in the 70s. Big mistake!
The park brochure states this about the Dune Hiking Trail: 3.5 miles. Strenuous—Hilly, all sand, and no shade. Travels over nine hills through the high dunes plateau to Lake Michigan. Blue-tipped posts mark the trail. It can be a hot, exhausting, three to four hour trip. Plan ahead. Take water, sunscreen, hat, shoes, and a snack.
We started our climb. The first dune is by far the worst. When we were a little more than half-way to the lake, Barry and I came to the realization that if our youngest daughter didn’t stop soon or get some water, she would be in serious trouble. We decided that I would stay with her Barry, Jenna and Mikayla continued on to find some. We had seen so few people with water bottles that I knew this could mean they would have to find some way to bring lake water back.
I have been to the Dunes once before but had only hiked up the first dune because I had a baby and two little ones. I was more than just a little disappointed that I couldn’t go all the way to Lake Michigan. Eva and I found a rare shady spot and began our wait. She was so thirsty that I worked hard to distract her. We soon made a game out of trying to write her name in the sand. It seemed impossible at first because the sand is so unstable, but she soon found a way. It ended up that we had a really great time together, just the two of us.
As I saw life start to come back into her face, I decided that we should start to slowly make our way back. I reached for my cell phone to let my husband know what we were doing. No phone! Oh well, “I’ll just get it when we get back to the parking lot,” I thought. I let her set the pace. We took our time, enjoyed the various plant life and beautiful views. I did find a lady who was hiking all the way to the Lake, gave her a description of my husband and asked her to tell him that we were heading back. (She did find him.)
In the meantime, I noticed that quite a few of the people coming back from the lake were in bad shape. No one had water. I started to worry about Barry and the other two girls; especially our middle girl, Mikayla, who is just under 5’4” but weighs only 85 lbs. I voiced this to Eva. We asked God to be with them.
While we were making our way back, Barry and the girls had made it to the lake. Jenna found a youth group (from a Lutheran church in Clarkston) who had three empty water bottles. She asked if she could have them and filled them with lake water. She felt really strong and started back alone with the one of the bottles. Barry wanted Mikayla to rest a bit longer. By this time Eva and I were doing really well and were walking almost non-stop back to the truck.
As Jenna searched for us, a young woman in her 20s who was in rough shape approached her. She asked for some water. Jenna showed her how to filter the lake water with her shirt and helped her find her boyfriend from whom she had become separated. We were very happy to see them at the bottom of the dunes before we left. They made it and the young woman expressed her thanks to Jenna once again.
Eva and I finally made it back. By now, I had realized that I didn’t have keys to the truck. She had money in her pocket but was 15 cents short of the $1.25 she needed to get water. Ugh!!! Fortunately, she remembered the bathroom has drinking fountains. I think she drank them dry! As we walked out of the bathroom, I looked up and saw Jenna coming down the dune!
We hurried to meet her. She told us that she was worried about Mikayla. That’s all I needed to hear to start up the dunes again. We quickly cleaned out the water bottle and filled it with fresh water.
As I started the difficult climb again, my ankle (previous injury) started to bother me. I had ignored the fact that it was already swollen. I knew this wasn’t good but I was worried about one of my cubs. As I climbed, I kept saying, “I can do all things through Him who gives me strength.” When I thought I would have to sit down and give my ankle a rest, I heard a voice behind me. “Hard climb isn’t it?” I turned around to see a very kind looking woman. “Yes! And this is my second climb up this dune today.” She asked me why on earth I would do it twice. When I explained she said, “It’s amazing the strength that is a result of love.” Yes it is!! We kept talking and before I knew it, we were at the top of that first dune and over the other side came Barry and Mikayla. They were tired and thirsty but they were alright.
As we drove back to our campground, we discussed the many mistakes that were made. We left the trail map in the car. I left my phone and keys. No one had money on the climb except for the $1.15 that Eva had in her pocket. The obvious mistake of course, was no water. In our defense, we’ve never seen anyone have trouble at the Dunes (Sleeping Bear, Warren, or Indian Dunes National Lake Shore). We now have a list of supplies to always have with us.
Even though the trip didn’t go quite as we thought, it was a beautiful day. The Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive is beautiful and worth the time. There is a lot more to do in the area. We would like to go back and do it all. This time, we’ll bring water!