This year, we made progress on my goal to perfect our annual backpacking trip.

Since our drive to the backcountry in the Porcupine Mountains is over nine hours, we like to car camp on the way up and back, and the closer we get to the North Woods, the sooner we can get on the trail.

In June, I reserved a site in the modern campground right in the Porkies — the last lonely site available — so we could get an early start.

We arrived just before the sun set, and Michael set up the tent while I watered and walked the dogs. My husband and I have a nice division of labor.

The dogs were good all night, Cullen barking only twice — one of his deep-throated woofs — and Ursula keeping quiet.

We had some food left in our cooler, so we had cold ratatouille for breakfast, and then we drove to the trailhead.

For the next six days, we would carry our home on our backs like turtles. On to the visitors center to register and to buy some postcards to send to my folks and our three boys.

We were trying a new trail for the first time — coming in from Lake of the Clouds.

The site for our first night was 2.5 miles downhill over mostly rocky terrain. Downhill is a little harder for me, but I have my walking stick, my knee brace and Ursula pulling at the leash for a counterbalance.

We drank up our 3 liters of water by the time we made camp. We took many breaks (slow and steady wins the trail), sometimes at scenic overlooks.

High on a ridge, we looked out over what at first seemed like a distant mountain range, blue with pines and hazy with morning mist. But I soon realized it was Lake Superior itself.

That’s when I discovered that the higher vantage point made the horizon higher — at our eye level high on a mountain ridge. When we are standing on the beach, the horizon is much lower, the lake much flatter.

Since there was no water source near our site, Michael hiked half a mile to the next site with lake access and brought back water. But we were surrounded by pines, which scented our sleep, and small thornless roses of some kind with bright hips like cherries.

In the morning, we hiked on to our main site — another 3.5 miles. And there we found paradise, a very private spot in a fern glade.

A rocky path led to Lake Superior, where we had a view of the sunset every night, and oh, the stars! The Milky Way spilled across the night.

A little bit to the west was a large rock formation that formed a hollow where water collected. We called it “the bathtub” and sat there letting the surf splash us, laughing with the big waves.

It was a different lake every day. First, almost like a sea with surf and whitecaps, but the next day calm and smooth, the water so clear we could see tiny snails no bigger than a peppercorn crawling on the rocks below.

The beach was not sandy but made of round stones — pebbles to basketball size, often algae-covered, so we were glad of our water shoes.

One boy scratched his address into a flat stone the size of a washboard, requesting postcards. We swam in the cold water until it felt warm, and then came out until we got hot, and then swam again.

We had this site for three days, but the dates on our pass were confusing, so we left a day early and hiked back to our original site, only to figure out that we had one more night in paradise and had to hike back.

It would have been a lovely 7-mile day hike, if only we weren’t carrying all our gear. The dogs were confused, but then human activities are so often pointless.

On the way out the next day we decided to check out the campsites at Lake of the Clouds, already planning for next year.

I got some ideas for doing laundry — bring a net bag and fill it with clothes and a few rocks. Tie it to a tree near the lake and let the surf agitate it for a few hours.

I collected more ideas for the guidebook I’m writing: “Finessing the Trip — Two Elder Hikers and Two Geriatric Dogs explore the Porkies.”

At six days, this was our longest trek yet, and we ate every bite of the food we packed.

On the last day, we fixed end-of-the-trail soup: Heat water and pour whatever food you have left in the pot. (Salmon jerky, a packet of tuna and dried apples — delicious!)

Walking out, we began dreaming of the little pub we saw on the way in: a cold beer, flush toilets, a sandwich, a salad, barstools, metal forks. Luxury!

Michael with a six-day beard and me with my messy braids. Have two people ever enjoyed a pub meal more?

But, oh, I forgot to write my postcards. I’ll have to send them from home.

Trek in Beauty; Camp in Peace; Blessed Be

Mary Lucille Hays lives in Birdland near White Heath. If you’re missing your weekly dose of Birdland letters in The News-Gazette, you can still read them every week in the Piatt County Journal-Republican. Consider subscribing to support your small-town newspaper. You can see pictures about this week’s post on Instagram @BirdlandLetters. Mary can be reached at or via snail mail care of the Journal-Republican, 118 E. Washington St., Monticello, IL 61856. She wants to thank her friends for writing and will answer you all soon.

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