Our big adventure of the summer had been planned to the nth degree. We had been collecting supplies for months, planning routes, reserving spots on boats, trying to prepare our bodies physically, and weighing out not only every option based on what the weather would hold, but literally weighing every single item that we purchased as we would each carry them on our very backs.
Yes, this family was going backpacking.
I retire this spring. For 14 years, I have been homeschool mom, and today, actually, is my last first day of school with my baby — a SENIOR!!! With grandbaby number two getting ready to meet us in a couple months and a serious shift in this girl’s role underway, I have a pretty dogged determination to live even louder than I have until this point. I refuse to let physical struggles impede my forward progress so I will keep challenging myself. Hence, jumping off cliffs into rivers, and planning backpacking trips in some of the most remote wilderness we can find. It feels like some sort of intentional, healthy rebellion against settling for status quo.
So, off we headed by boat many hours to a location closer to Canada than the U.S. This island is situated in the middle of Lake Superior which is daunting in and of itself. There are no residences there — only a small number of park rangers scattered here and there and a lodge at the starting point. The only long-term residents are over a thousand moose, wolves, snowshoe hares, foxes, and crazy squirrels. The last three are the type that steal and eat hikers’ food and SHOES while they sleep! There is no phone service and it is hours from anywhere.
We arrived packed to the max — all of us carrying packs that felt too heavy.
We hiked our first leg and just about at exhaustion point number one, we realized we had a major mountain in front of us. The unusual heat (pushing 80 degrees) had us already well past glistening and the mountain kicked our hineys. I’m not ashamed to say, I overheated and just about passed out near the top. As we cooled off, had a snack and a drink and recovered, we met many other hikers at the crossroad on top of the mountain. All were impressed with the climb we had just made and no one was jealous of our route. They called it a killer, if I remember correctly (and I do). To condense the next few moments, after talking to the many hikers headed the same way as we were and realizing how crowded our upcoming campsite would be on the other side of the mountain, we made a unanimous, but sudden decision to change course and press on to a different campground. It would be more miles, but we were told it was downhill and definitely do-able.
Let’s just say that when folks heard later what we ended up hiking in one day, they were beyond incredulous and impressed. After many more hours of mountainous terrain, running out of water, dampened spirits, and aching bodies, and breathtaking views,
we finally made it to a camp just before dark. We then had to bathe in the frigid lake, boil lots of water with small, personal stoves fueled only by kindling, make dinner (we ate around 10:15 pm) set up our sleeping hammocks and crawl into *bed*.
We had hiked 11.5 miles in 80 degree weather with heavy packs up and down mountains on our first day out.
We awoke within a couple hours to rain. Set up tarps and went back to sleep. I awoke the next morning to the expected leg pain from our previous day, but also a new pain. Girls, you’ll know what it is. Boys, just know I had an infection that girls get. I hadn’t had one of these in almost ten years, but I have had enough to know that it needed treatment immediately. We were 8 miles from help. We had just begun our adventure. My heart was broken. It was pouring rain. We were just getting water boiling for the day when I broke the news to my family that I had to leave. Not a shining moment. I packed my gear and cried — a lot. My husband and I began the trek that would take us across the obstacle course of a trail in the rain to get help. I already had a fever and a lot of pain, but we set off at as quick of a pace as I could muster, leaving our kids behind and very unsure if there would even be help available. We tried desperately to flag down boats in the lake as we hiked and stumbled through the mud — anyone that could even call a ranger for us. No one could see us in the dense foliage. We had made it about 4 miles when I told my sweet man that I couldn’t make it much farther. He said, “Sweetheart, you don’t have a choice. I can’t carry you.” We continued.
All of a sudden, out of the blue he exclaimed, “Your phone is ringing!!!” As it had been 4 days since we had any kind of cell service I just stared at him like he was a crazy man. He was whipping his backpack off and realizing HIS phone was indeed ringing. In the middle of some of the most remote land there is, he was getting a business call!! He didn’t answer, (good move, sweet man), but he did use that cell service to call our daughter who was able to get us the park service number who quickly dispatched a water taxi to a nearby dock whose driver was an EMT!!!!
Within a half hour, I was stinking up a paramedic’s cabin, apologizing for the stench of me, and tearfully grateful. They gave me the first few doses that they happened to have of the antibiotic I’m not allergic to, we got some food, spent the night in a lodge with this view,
and the next morning we begged the purser of the only boat leaving the island that week for a ride. He kindly acquiesced and I found myself on a six hour boat ride headed back to my daughter and granddaughter who waved from shore and happily picked me up at the port. My sweet man water taxied his way back to our kids and surprised them the next morning (they had no idea he could get back without hiking the 8 miles back and that we had found water taxis!) and they finished the trip with moose stories lots of hiking and missing momma.
I came home saddened, not gonna lie. I was BEYOND happy to be with my daughter, son-in-law, and granddaughter who waited on me hand and foot, but I was missing our trip and it kinda broke my heart. Why did I get grounded? Why, of all times in my life, did this happen then? Of course, as I reflected, I realized that because of our round-a-bout journey, I got to see epicness I wouldn’t have seen had we stuck to the original plan. Also, due to our decision to skip the first campground, I ended up avoiding a mountain climb nowhere near a water taxi when I needed it so desperately.
I learned a lot about myself and my strength when push came to shove. Having had a really rough year physically this last year, I felt very much like the weakest link going into this trip. Now, hearing my family surprised and impressed by both my strength and my attitude, and seeing what I am capable of even in the worst possible conditions, I realize that we are more than we give ourselves credit for! When we need to put one foot in front of the other and make it happen, we DO! We CAN!!
There are definitely moments in life where we feel like the path in front of us is impossible — unthinkable. But it is our path, like it or not. Set before us are rocks and roots and mud pits and rain and fevers and too many miles and pain. Sometimes, all we have is one step and then the next even when our entire self is protesting, our muscles agonizing from what we’ve already been through. There are moments we are just positive that we can’t. And then we do. Sometimes, God just throws a couple little miracles we didn’t even see coming in there just because He can. Sometimes, we have to just press on even when those aren’t obvious to us, and maybe we’re too jaded to believe they are even possible.
Friends, nothing our family has done has been easy. We make big moves and big choices and take risky adventures and often we have big pain in amongst it all. I know we also have a gajillion blessings that not everyone has — I don’t take those lightly, I promise. I know from Whose hand they come. But, often, it takes the crazy jumping off to get to the deliriously amazing, refreshing swim at the bottom. Life can’t be about playing it safe. Well, I guess it sure can, but there are moments to be brave. There are moments to press on when you are sure you’re done in. Wherever this finds you, weary, scared, or having parked your butt on a rock, quitting the whole thing, stand up and put one foot in front of the other. Jump, if you need to! There may be a boat around that next corner or a moment of miracle in the middle of impossible nowhere!
Even in the most remote wilderness in the world (metaphorical or not) you are never alone.
Suzanne Barham says
Oh Kirksey Family! I am in awe and in tears! My heart breaks for you Alison, I know how much you were looking forward to this and the “nerve” it took to get there! I am so proud of you and your family! God is sooooo Good to you and all of us! I prayed each day for you knowing God had each of you in HIs hand and He was your protector and provider! Only God would have a cell phone ring without service!! Only God!! Love you and so thankful for God’s blessings!! Kudo’s to Justin and Kyrsten to sticking it out and staying put!! Christian, you make this mother so proud! You are truly a man of God! What an adventure!! Love , MOM
Thank you, Mom. Thank you for praying and for your love. <3