It was another hot day, and by the end of it, I’d be carrying two backpacks and will have lost my phone to the bottom of Lake Wisconsin.
Devils Lake State Park is as treacherous as it is beautiful, and beauty is the reason it ranks #1 in Wisconsin for visitors each year. In some parts, rocks are cemented into winding staircases that go up and up and up. In other parts, jagged rocks have been worn into footpaths where we, and the others before us, had to step/climb our way up. It was a challenging day, though far from the most challenging day we have had so far.
The Devil’s lake hike has three major climbs in about a 5 mile span. We got through the first climb without much trouble, stopped to enjoy the lake views and even made a funny video as we went. Somewhere during the second climb, Brianna noticed a familiar pain in her back that seemed to get worse as we went along. We did our best to stop more frequently so she could stretch, take some Advil, even moved some of her equipment to my bag to lighten her load, nothing seemed to help. Our bags have been as light as they have ever been, so I was even able to carry her entire bag strapped around the front of me for a couple miles to see if a walk without weight might help loosen the muscles. No luck.
In addition to Brianna’s worrisome pains, we were also trying to outrun another storm with tornado potential. The goal was to make it to a pub just before the Merrimac Ferry, and we did make it just before 3pm. We would wait out the storm at the pub and plan out what the rest of the day might look like, try to figure out how we might get Brianna to a bed and be more comfortable, how to get out of the sweltering heat. Our hotel for the night was still a solid 10 miles away and Uber options didn’t seem to exist.
Brianna & I were sitting at a picnic table waiting for our pub food to arrive when a woman and her daughter, Jess & Bella, sat next to us and struck up a conversation. Jess asked about our hiking and offered us her basement as a spot to crash for the night if we were interested. I’m not sure how these people keep finding us in our hours of need, but Jess is another solid new Wisconsin friend. We ate our pub meals and piled into her car for another chance night at a random kindly stranger’s house.
Of all the people we have met on this trip, Jess is probably the one we have gotten to know the best in the short time we had together. Her husband passed away about five years ago, shortly after they moved to Merrimac, and they have been there ever since. Instead of going back to her house to crash, she called her friend Dave and got us a boat ride on and a proper tour of Lake Wisconsin. Brianna’s back was feeling modestly better by this point, or at least not worse, so we went on a boat ride!
A moment of honesty here. Before today, I had no idea Lake Wisconsin existed. Turns out that it does exist and it’s more of a dammed river than it is a lake, with hidden stumps and sand bars, all sorts of danger to water-crafts with uninformed captains. We floated around for a bit, got some dam pictures, shot the shit about life.
Both Dave and Jess have history in Michigan and the surrounding area. At first I thought it was weird, such a coincidence that we have been to the same places and experienced some of the same things, but now I don’t think it’s a coincidence at all. Brianna & I have had a lot in common with many of the people we’ve met along the trail and it doesn’t even have anything to do with the trail itself. I’m only now, at the age of 39, coming to the realization that the more you do, the more things you experience, the more people you will be able to relate to. If all you do is play video games and work, ride 4-wheelers and farm, then your relatable world stays within those boundaries. If you continuously put yourself out there, travel and try new things like video games with a stranger one day and 4-wheeling on a farm the next day, your world expands dramatically in just a small window of time.
The boating trip was amazingly fun, right up til the end. To disembark the boat, we had to slide off the front end and into the water. I have a hiking habit of putting my phone into the right pocket of my shorts, where it sticks out halfway because my pocket isn’t deep enough to fit the entire thing. When I slid off the front of the boat, I slide right side first, popping the phone up out of my pocket and into the murky waist deep waters of Lake Wisconsin. We all searched the lake floor with our feet, no luck. Brianna tried calling it to see if the screen would light up and be visible, we saw nothing. It was gone, forever.
I want to say today was a good day. The best I can say is that it was a day that could have been worse than it was and I’m glad that it wasn’t. Jess and Bella are awesome new friends, we’ve got that much!