Copper Harbor Lullaby

RedTrail
Intersection of Dancing Bear and Red Trails

My bike’s brakes, sounding like an out-of-tune violin, announced my arrival long before I bounced into sight. With tires bumping along Copper Harbor’s Dancing Bear Trail, I clambered over rocks and roots, up and down hills in a relentless waltz, melding trees to sky and fallen leaves with mud in a muted autumn symphony.

A few seconds later, my husband Keith came into view, waiting where Dancing Bear merged into Red Trail. He nodded toward a sign, warning riders of a mother bear with cubs, just ahead on the trail. We smiled–no words necessary–and turned around to climb back up Dancing Bear.

PointTrail
Point Trail

Shifting into the granny gear, my bike and I crawled up a hill, no longer waltzing but performing a slow ballet without any grace. Keith vanished around a bend in the trail, riding with strength and balance. He hopped over roots and spun up rocky outcroppings, remaining calm despite the obstacles—his riding a reflection of his personality.

And even though sweat dripped in my eyes and I wished my bike had an even lower gear, I noticed the sun lingering in the cloudless sky, promising a few more hours of daylight. My favorite trail waited a short pedal away.

“Point Trail?” I asked Keith after I’d caught up with him “I think we have ti—.”

Keith was off again, no convincing needed. Because in a place like Copper Harbor, there’s always time for another trail. The village might not have cellular service or espresso but it has more of what matters—trails snaking into deep woods, along with an even deeper sense of tranquility.

FortWilkins
Lake Fanny Hooe, Fort Wilkins, and Lake Superior

We dashed along Point Trail’s rocky spine, rolling through woods and hesitating here and there to enjoy views of Lake Superior, Fort Wilkins State Park, and Lake Fanny Hooe. Toward the end of the trail, sunlight, filtering through trees, brushed golden fingertips across a long boardwalk.

Later, after dinner, as the afternoon sashayed into evening, leaving the forest bathed in shadows and the horizon washed in fuchsia, we walked from our campground a short distance to the Gas Lite, the only convenience store in town, for a soda. An early moon hung in the sky, while waves from Lake Superior murmured, whispering a contented tune, a Copper Harbor lullaby.

keewenaw bike
High Rock Point during our first mountain bike trip to Copper Harbor, almost 20 years ago

 

 

Mountain Biking with a Literary Ghost

While traveling through Michigan’s Upper Peninsula—as I am now—my mind often takes a literary bend. Not uncommon for me, but it’s Great Lakes freighters, foreboding Lake Superior, stretching to endless depths, and rugged inhabitants (Yoopers), enduring winter for six months out of the year*, that come to most people’s minds when thinking of the U.P.

MTBYet, while mountain biking this week through the rolling, dense forest and rocky cliffs of Western U.P.’s massive trail systems, I found myself thinking about author Jim Harrison, once a summer resident of Grand Marais. The Woman Lit By Fireflies, his novella, has to be one of my favorite titles of all time, and in another novella, Brown Dog, he perfectly captured an aspect of the Yooper spirit and culture.

Two mystery series by Steve Hamilton and Joseph Heywood also pry their way into my consciousness, a reminder of my to-read list. The remote, semi-wild feel of the U.P. provides the perfect setting for murder and intrigue.

But it’s an older, somewhat forgotten writer, Robert Traver, attorney and author of Anatomy of a Murder, on which the classic film, starring Jimmy Stewart and a very young, sassy Lee Remick, was based, who most often joins me in my mental wanderings.  Although best known for that novel, Mr. Traver was actually a prolific outdoor writer, specializing in fly fishing.

It’s easy in the U.P. to conjure up long-gone authors. Time seems inconsequential, a nuisance best ignored. Quintessential cabins hug remote shorelines, as if they were always part of the landscape, created like the hills by glacial carvings.

And one afternoon, during a ride on those hills, I pedaled along a skinny trail with Carp River’s rapids churning below me. Waterfalls spilled over rocks, merging with the river in a silvery pathway, cutting its way through the earth. I pictured a lone angler, flies decorating his vest, casting next to the river. He murmured a greeting and tipped his cap but otherwise remained silent as sun and shadows flitted across his features.

The trail took me around a corner, swooping across a hill before forcing me to gear down for the next climb, leaving the ghost of Mr. Traver behind until my next visit to the U.P.

 

*During a cross-country ski trip to the U.P. earlier this year, I marveled at two elderly women as they skied, scarf-less, in single digits as a frigid wind slapped against my face. “We grew up here,” they informed me. “We like the cold.”

McCall Memories: The White Dogs

While riding the Payette Rim/Bear Basin Trail this morning—blue sky, yellow leaves, white birches—my husband Keith and I passed a shepherd, a short, swarthy man, adjusting the saddlebags on one of his horses. We walked our bikes and exchanged solemn greetings. His border collie barked, stopping when the man muttered something only the dog could hear, and sheep wandered nearby in the forest. It reminded of another ride years ago on the same trail but a much different autumn day.

McCallMTB

Five Great Pyrenees, snarling, bounded across Bear Basin toward Keith, who madly pedaled his mountain bike. His legs spun but the dogs closed in, mud streaking their white fur. They sprinted against a canopy of clouds, a silver cloak covering the sky, like a gray background used in a photography studio.

Snow kissed the rounded summits of the mountains surrounding us. My eyes teared from the cold and Keith’s orange bicycle blurred. The frigid October morning bit into my gloved fingers. The largest dog, eyes never straying from Keith, broke away from his four companions. His loping strides took him farther and farther from the sheep the Pyrenees guarded.

The animals milled around, oblivious to danger. Occasionally one bleated as they rammed into each other, but they were mostly silent, following the lead of the four shepherds that stood nearby. Two border collies pranced behind them, and one of the men raised his hand to me in recognition.

We had met earlier in the day as the sheep were being herded down a mountain toward Bear Basin. The Pyrenees, one of the men said, fought wolves, bears, and cougars without hesitation. The shepherds, with their wagons and horses, seemed to have stepped from a Western novel. They watched the Pyrenees without concern, looking almost bored.

All of this unfolded in front of me within minutes, but it seemed much longer. The gray sky stretched endlessly, and the five dogs, still growling, gained on Keith. Fear filled me as I perched on my mountain bike, a few hundred feet behind him. I straddled my bicycle and watched, unable to help.

Quickly, though, wonder replaced fear. The dogs powered forward with raw beauty and strength. I thought about the random timing that had brought us to this moment and how life brims with these chance events.

Apprehension mingled with awe and I hopped on my bike. The dogs slowed and barked, no longer worried that Keith threatened their precious sheep. As quickly as the Pyrenees had approached, they retreated, returning to their duties, and we continued, as if nothing had happened, following the forest road back to town.