Buckle in, it’s going to be a wild ride. The four of us clip into our seat belt harnesses with growing anticipation for an off-road journey in the Can-Am Side by Side. Craig takes the wheel as we leisurely roll past the neighboring campsites, cross the road, and enter the main passage for ATVs and snowmobiles in the Keweenaw Peninsula. We rev up on the open trail bouncing over uneven ground and splashing through puddles. The Bill Nicholls Trail runs parallel to the main roads on a rolling dirt trail into a tunnel of green all the way from the Wisconsin border to Copper Harbor, Michigan. I love the thrill of being in the front seat as we whiz through the forest. Derek grins in the back next to Aunt Jackie as we pick up speed. Craig tells us that Kelli is really the dare-devil behind the wheel and that they’ve driven for hours on this trail before with Kobe nodding off in the backseat. What a treat to spend a summer weekend camping with family in the U.P.
I lose track of time watching trees go by and dust puff up in the rear-view mirror until we make it to our halfway point at the Firesteel Trestles. Craig parks the Side by Side and we walk out onto the trestles, built over 100 years ago for the railroad to bridge the gaps over the Firesteel River. Walking the old roadbed is like stepping back in time without people, traffic, or road-side advertisements. We gaze out to a horizon of treetops and the river far below from our vantage point only accompanied by the sounds of nature around us. While the view is stunning, Craig tells us that it is even better with the array of colors in the fall. As we make our way back to the campground at Twin Lakes State Park, Craig promises us a night ride later that evening after dinner.
The Jager-Sterley camping trip is a short weekend of conversations by the fire and relaxation on the fishing boat. We take mental notes from the seasoned pros who have been camping whenever they can for several years. Craig and Kelli’s mantra is that “no one needs to be in a hurry while on vacation,” and they take joy in the process of preparing a fire, chopping vegetables, cooking the meal, and watching the sun go down while poking the coals with Uncle Elmer’s fireplace iron. We savor every bite of our egg surprise, hot dogs, s’mores, and hobo pies cooked with cast-iron tongs. Kobe flies in and out of the campsite on his yellow bike with his fishing rod in hand and a few campground friends in tow. As the fire smolders to flickers of light, we head out on the Side by Side for a night ride one last time before calling it a night in the tent. (This time Derek takes the front seat!)
On our last day, we spend a double-date with Craig and Kelli fishing on the lake to see what’s out there and end up catching 24 fish as a group that we toss back in. Craig says that the fish like our music. I reel in the biggest bass that I’ve ever caught and a pretty hefty bluegill to contribute to the collective total. Derek and Kelli have hot hands and reel in more fish individually than they remember to count. Craig shows us the tricks of de-hooking a fish and Kelli gives each catch a quick kiss before sending it back to the water. It has been a very productive fishing day for us.
We pack up our tent after a few days of their warm hospitality and say goodbye to Jackie, Craig, Kelli, and Kobe. We make plans to scout out the same campsites and spend a little longer than two days with them next year. It has been a full weekend with family time but also a few birding adventures of our own along the drive through Wisconsin to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. The Keweenaw area brings back memories from our honeymoon in the Porcupine Mountains just a few years ago. Camping allows us to slow down and spend time with each other in the great, big, beautiful outdoors.