Thursday, September 27, 2018

Life as a VIP at Pictured Rocks

I occasionally tell the S.O. that it's a shame no one goes looking for volunteers to serve as hermits, or maybe to do living history as someone who's Old Order Amish and has never heard of the Internet. I am an absolutely classic introvert, a person who falls into the deepest corner of the psychotic loner quadrant on the Meyer Briggs Type Inventory. People drain me. Even virtual people on Facebook or via email drain me. So when I saw that Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore was looking for campground hosts for the month of September, my first thought was "Perfect! No one in their right mind goes camping next to Lake Superior in September, especially not at a rustic campground." I figured it would be a nice mellow people-free break after dealing with museum issues all summer.

Our cheap solar panels from Harbor Freight. They actually work pretty well despite the site not getting much direct sunlight.
Holy wah, was I wrong. The number of people at the Hurricane River Campground did not change much after Labor Day as compared to before Labor Day. Occupancy dropped Labor Day weekend -- the campground had been full on Sunday morning, and dropped to next to nothing on Monday. Oh good, thought I, we get to coast for the next 4 weeks.
Trail to the lighthouse. It's also part of the North Country Trail so in addition to the lighthouse foamers we see backpackers staggering along realizing too late they packed way more heavy stuff than they should have. 
Pshaw. On Tuesday, September 4, both loops of the campground were full well before noon. People were apparently hovering like vultures waiting for a cow to take its last breath hoping to see campers currently on sites deciding to leave. And it was like that for two solid weeks. Things finally slacked off last weekend when we got hit with gale force winds and weather so nasty they actually cancelled the lighthouse tours. When we left yesterday to come home for what amounts to our 24-hour weekend, the campground was "only" about half full.

On the positive side, we had only one incident where some guys paid for a site but failed to put anything substantial on it so someone else assumed it was empty. That led to some unpleasantness but no actual fist fights -- we were told that toward the end of August there had been a similar incident but in that case punches were thrown and law enforcement became involved. The campground rules clearly state that if you pay for a site, you must put something on it: a tent, a trailer, a screen tent over the picnic table, a tarp over a clothesline, something substantial enough to indicate the site is taken. If you don't, you're likely to discover that no one pays any attention to that little tag on the post other than the camp host who gets to go around copying the information (camper's name, vehicle license number, and planned departure date) on to a spreadsheet. And if you complain about someone taking your site, you'll get treated to "Did you read the rules? Did you leave something on the site that clearly indicated the site was occupied? Do you see where it says 'No Refunds' in multiple places on the form?" Then, if you're foolish enough to push the issue, you'll get to see the host key the radio and utter the ominous phrase "Any Ranger. . . Hurricane. We have a situation." Which is a strong clue that you should just suck it up and walk away before your disappointment about losing your camp site turns into dismay over the fine you incur if you decide to argue with the LEO.

Tower at the Au Sable Light Station. It was built in 1874. It is known as a Poe tower because Orlando Poe was the engineering secretary for the Lighthouse Service at the time of its design. 
But I digress a bit. The campground was busy. In addition to the people camping, the day use parking lots tended to be full regardless of weather. The Hurricane River Campground is also the trail head for the trail to the Au Sable Light Station. I personally am not that enamored of light stations -- you see one Poe tower you've basically seen them all (the government loves cookie cutter designs) -- but I must be the exception.  I look at that tower and don't go into ecstatic spasms about how beautiful it is. I look at it and think "The lantern needs painting."

The one amusing aspect about the lighthouse foamers is their obsession with parking as close to the lighthouse as they can get. It is at a minimum a 1.5 (as in one-and-a-half) mile walk one way. That's from the gate close to the host's site. If you park in the day use lot like you're supposed to, you've added maybe another tenth of a mile to the hike, two tenths if you think about the round trip total.
Hurricane River. Supposedly there are fish in it. I've sent the S.O. out a couple times with instructions to catch a steelhead or a brook trout. So far no luck on his part. 
Still, I've managed to survive it being so people-y. Pushing the S.O. to being the person who actually answers questions and deals with the most with the public helped. The fact most people are more fascinated by the light station than they are by the beach at this time of year also helps. A person can go down, watch the waves, and pretend a world exists that is free of politics and weirdness.
The S.O. checking out remnants of a 19th century shipwreck. This past of the Lake Superior shoreline was notorious for shipwrecks even after the Au Sable Light was built.

In any case, hosting here has been an interesting experience. It's the longest we've ever tried dry camping. We got to test out the solar panels, figure out how long the water in the fresh water tank will last before the pump started sucking air, test drove our outdoor bathroom privacy shelter (we used it for bathing; some people use them to provide a screen around a latrine bucket), know now more or less how long it takes to fill the black water tank (less time than we thought it would, unfortunately), and we may have killed our not-quite-30-years-old-original-equipment refrigerator. It doesn't want to work right on propane; after we get the Guppy home we'll figure out if it still functions on alternating current. If it doesn't, we may have just acquired a well-insulated pantry. 
There are some differences between the people who are regular campers in national parks and the folks who are used to camping elsewhere. Not surprisingly, because this it is a basic campground, most of the campers are doing it old-school: tents. I have met some people who were tent camping that I wouldn't have pegged for tent campers: single ladies in their 70s driving typical old lady cars who put up a small backpacking tent and aren't fazed at all by nighttime lows in the 30s or cooking on a tiny backpacking stove. They're rather inspirational. I've also seen the opposite end of the tent camping spectrum: the humongous multi-room cabin tent with an elaborate outdoor kitchen and multiple coolers (which we always have to remind them need to get stashed in a hard-sided vehicle for the night).

There are some folks with small motorhomes (lots of Class Bs) and travel trailers, too, but so far only two actual Class A motorhomes have tried squeezing onto a site at Hurricane. Whatever they're using, though, the campers are universally clean. Very little litter, almost no trash left in fire rings, almost nothing forgotten on the camp sites, although we have acquired several lengths of parachute cord and a tiki torch in the past 3 weeks. And none of the cutesy stuff that we'd see at the state parks where we volunteered. Some of it is no doubt due to the no electricity (hard to do inflatable Halloween decorations when there is no power), but I think more of it is a different mind set, at least in September. People come to relax, unwind, get away from stuff, not to party. I'm told things do get rowdier in the summer -- more younger campers, more beer flowing, and a generally more chaotic atmosphere. 
Time to head back to the Park and more adventures in people watching. I'll do a post with more photos when we're home for good next week.