I turned 30 and didn’t want to make a big deal about it, and Derek already knew how I felt without even asking. What I cherish about our marriage is that we built it on a great friendship. Derek Jager is the love of my life and we make our own path together with adventures, instead of things, so that we’ll have stories to share instead of stuff to show. We still reminisce with fondness of our honeymoon days hiking in the Porcupine Mountains of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula and thought we would venture out again for our anniversary/Ashley’s birthday weekend.
Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park- June 2016
We enthusiastically packed the car with all of our the camping gear and Pickleball equipment for our mini road trip together. Before hitting the trails, we teamed up with our respective partners for the South Shore Open in St. Joseph, Michigan. Ashley competed with her new friend from Lansing, Amy Rebideaux, in the Women’s 3.5 and Derek won the Silver Medal with Jeff Cedera in Men’s 4.5 Doubles. We played our hearts out in Round Robin matches and then enjoyed the company of our Pickleball friends at Silver Beach Pizza following the tournament. We laughed from our bellies and ate gigantic pizzas with all the toppings between our tables. It had already been a day well spent when we set off on the open road together.
South Shore Pickleball Tournament- St. Joesph, Michigan
By early evening, we arrived at the Dunewood Campground, available to campers on a no reservations, first-come basis in the Indiana Dunes Lakeshore State Park. While we had called ahead to ask the estimated number of lots available, by the time we pulled in, those spots were taken and the campground was full for the night. As I took a minute to study the bulletin board’s map, a pleasant soul rolled in on his golf cart to ask how he could help. The friendly man was named Jeff, and he confirmed that while Dunewood was fully booked, there was but one lot left that had been reserved for park volunteers who said they were unable to come. He had already shut down the office for the night, so he gave us our lot number and said we could pay him with the honor system for the site in the morning. Blessed by his kindness, we set up our tent for the night and took advantage of the shower-house after a long day of Pickleball.
We shared a quiet evening by the campfire roasting marshmallows into gooey s’mores before bed. To our surprise, the heavens cracked open in the middle of the night and let loose for a few hours. While we tossed and turned in our sleep, the little orange tent held up through the thunderstorm keeping our toes dry. In the chilled morning air, we arose with the sun by surprise that 6:00 am was a natural wake-up time without an alarm clock. After packing up our gear and paying Jeff for the campsite, we enjoyed a hearty breakfast with eggs and hashbrowns at a local diner. Our itinerary for the day was to hike and fish but we still felt a little haggard from the night before. We hadn’t slept much during the storm and the gravel stones poking beneath our sleeping bags were just the slightest bit of annoyance to keep us up. Cabela’s Outfitters was only 30 minutes away and we he hadn’t been in ages so we took the time to invest in sleeping pads for our next camping trip.
With just one day to explore, we chose to hike the Cowles Bog Trail for its ecological diversity and trail route. There was no entry fee to park and we walked right from the lot into the woods. The trail began in a shaded area surrounded by ponds, swamps, and marshes on either side of the path. The shade kept us cool as we embarked on our journey from the wetlands into the forest. We passed a few families with curious dogs who were happy to be out on a hike and carried on. The trail transitioned from hard-packed dirt to a slippery sand dune that continued to increase with elevation as we gradually made our way up to the top.
Above: We begin to experience the “hills of sand” in the woods.
The view from Lake Michigan’s coastline was a well-earned reward at our halfway point. While we paused to rest and hydrate, we looked out to the horizon to make out the Chicago skyline directly across and just visible to the naked eye in the clear, blue sky. Knowing that we had roughly two miles of a hilly trail to the lot, we decided that the view from above was satisfying enough to skip the hike down and back from the water’s edge.
Circled: Chicago, IL in the distance
The day came to a close with our anniversary lunch at Pesto’s Italian Restaurant in Valparaiso, Indiana where we savored Chicken Parmesan and crusty bread with olive oil before heading home to unpack the gear and dry out the tent. We saved our evening hours for a little catch-and-release fishing and caught a few smallmouth bass. Our weekend was the perfect getaway from our typical routine to experience the simple adventures in nature that were only an hour radius from our apartment. Life is what you make of it and we are crafting our stories each day that shape who we are over time. Whether we’re playing Pickleball, running, fishing, or playing board games, I’ll always be happy if I’m spending time with my best friend.
Left: Indiana Dunes State Park Visitor Center, Right: Martin’s Landing