Dr. Blake on Thanksgiving in the Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park
With 990 miles of foot trails, towering virgin forests, pristine lakes, and wild rivers and streams, the Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park sits in the upper peninsula of Michigan.
With stunning vistas with views of Lake Superior, it’s the destination of my “annual pilgrimage” – a three-day hiking trip I have taken for the past 20 consecutive years.
Each Thanksgiving a group of us makes the trek to the “Porkies,” traveling about 30 miles over the course of three 8-11-mile days. This year my daughter and summer sailing friends joined us.
Snow, ice, and challenging river crossings?
Believe you me … it’s rustic! Dorm-style bunks, a table and chairs, and an axe for chopping wood for the potbelly stove – the cabin’s only source of heat.
Par for the course as we hiked the first miles-long leg of the adventure to arrive at the first of the wilderness cabins.
First things first. Chop wood and start the fire.
Then, break a hole in the ice and scoop water to heat on the stove. Once it’s fired up, the cabin is temperature reaches 40-50°F depending on how we pump up the flames and how cold it is outside. Our sleeping bags keep us warm enough at night.
The “Senior-Man Rule” is one of the wisest things I’ve ever put into action!
I started this run 20-some years ago. It’s simple: the oldest hiker gets a bunk. If there are more hikers than beds, the rest of the group draw straws for the remaining bunks.
Surprisingly, these people agreed to that rule, so I’ve had a bunk every single year (yup I’m the oldest!) while other people have taken turns sleeping on the floor. (Of course, I don’t laugh in front of them about this – let’s just keep that our little secret.) The straw-lottery participants range in age from 20 to 64.
Another important part of this trip is Pie Boy.
Pie Boy is the hiker who has the least seniority – determined by the number of years participating in the trip. So a 1-, 2-, or 3-year hiker, or the newbie – whoever was the last to join our group – has to carry in a 7lb Elegant Farmer Caramel Apple Pie which we put in a cast iron skillet and set on the potbelly stove to bake. Everybody gets a piece of this wonderful pie!
Yes, I said … a 7lb pie.
That’s quite a burden for a new hiker to have to haul, but it’s the dues they must pay to be allowed on this trip.
It’s like an initiation and it encourages the newbie to find somebody new for next year to take their place. No one wants to carry the pie again!
There is nothing quite like the smell of an apple caramel pie baking on a wood-fired stove in an old musty 1940s cabin to really get your juices going.
The food just keeps getting better and better…
We bring much better food than we used to. In the early years, we brought freeze-dried food that we added boiling water to.
Now we pre-cook steaks and vegetables in foil packs with butter and throw those on the grill. We bring fresh eggs, we cook bacon, we eat beef jerky … and we normally gain weight.
It’s kind of a meat-o-rama event and it’s a tradition I am incredibly thankful for.
I hope to do this for the rest of my life.