After all, I’d have a few hours to kill before I could check into the campground, and I figured I could probably use a good leg-stretch after driving for three hours.
I wasn’t really planning on hiking the dunes. Especially after my experience last year of hiking the dunes at Indiana Dunes State Park, where I learned that “dunes” is just a fancy word for “hills.” Specifically “really steep hills made out of sand which means they are pretty much impossible to climb up and you will just hate yourself for even trying.”
My plan was just to, you know, check them out a bit until I could head to my campsite and start drinking carton-wine.
But the next thing I knew I was hiking ALL THE DUNES.
You know that definition of insanity? The one says that you keep doing the same thing over and over again, expecting different results?
Well, that also just so happens to be the definition of my life.
While I may not be really big on learning from previous life experiences, maybe you are?
That’s why I’ve decided to write up this handy-dandy list of all the stages I went through while hiking Sleeping Bear Dunes. Maybe you can learn from my mistake and skip some of my stages? (Like, say, the stage where I decide to go hiking instead of going directly to my campsite and drinking carton-wine?)
The 7 Stages of Hiking Sleeping Bear Dunes
Stage 1: The One Where You Probably Should Have Read the Informational Pamphlet.When you drive into the parking lot of Sleeping Bear Dunes, the park ranger will hand you an informational pamphlet along with your parking pass.
You will throw the informational pamphlet on the passenger seat of your car. You will slap on some sunblock, grab a small bottle of water and head out to hike the dunes. You will glance at your watch and tell yourself you’ll be back in an hour.
If you had read the informational pamphlet, you would have seen the description of the Dunes Climb. The one where it warns that the hike could take three to four hours and that you should be prepared and bring plenty of water and a snack and possibly an emergency helicopter.
But you didn’t read that part, did you?
You also didn’t do a very good job of putting on sunblock as you will learn later when you discover that both your ears and the back of your calves are a strawberry-shade of red.
Stage 2: The One Where You’re Just Going to Hike Up This Dune Right Here And Take Some Pictures of Lake Michigan And Then Get Back In Your Car.
It’s so full of hope.
Bright, shiny, fun, delusional hope.
It’s also full of people.
There are so many people. They are everywhere.
There are families and children and hungover-looking college kids and old people wielding hiking poles and couples taking selfies of themselves and Bible camp groups playing Frisbee and Indian ladies in saris. And everybody’s screaming and yelling and laughing and you kind of wish they’d all be quiet because you just want your moment of peace as you get to the top of this dune and you finally gaze out at the beautiful blue expanse of Lake Michig…Ummm.
That’s not Lake Michigan.
That’s just another sand dune.
Stage 3: DenialOr “The One Where You Think Lake Michigan Might Be On the Other Side of That Hill Over There.”
Spoiler alert: It’s not.
Second spoiler alert: This stage lasts approximately five billion hills.
Stage 4: AcceptanceDuring this stage you have realized that Lake Michigan is not on the other side of the next hill.
Or the hill after that.
In fact, you start to wonder if there even is a Lake Michigan.
Is Lake Michigan just some fairy tale told to young children and optimistic hikers? Is Lake Michigan the Great Lakes equivalent of Santa Claus?
Speaking of Santa Claus, is that him over there peeking out from behind that scraggly bit of grass? I think it is. IT’S SANTA CLAUS. OMIGOSH, YOU GUYS. OLD SAINT NICK IS HERE! I HOPE HE BROUGHT ME A PONY!
Actually, come to think of it, a better name for this stage is: Hallucinations Caused by Pending Heat Stroke.
Stage 5: The One Where You Finally Reach Lake Michigan
Probably because everybody else remembered that they could just drive to Lake Michigan instead of hiking over sand dunes for two hours.
The few people that do make it to this stage are very happy and proud of themselves. Some of them even run into the freezing cold water to celebrate.
And then they all remember that they have to hike back for another two hours because they forgot to bring their emergency helicopters with them.
But they try to forget about the hike back for a minute while they take foot selfies of themselves.
Or at least that’s what I did.
Stage 6: The One Where You’re Walking BackThe walk back will seem to have just as many hills going up as the walk there. Which is funny because you could have sworn that the walk to Lake Michigan was uphill the whole way.
But one perk of walking back is that you will suddenly be very popular. Everyone you pass will ask you how far it is until they get to Lake Michigan.
You should tell them that it’s just over that hill up there.
The one right by Santa Claus.
Step 7: The One Where You Didn’t Die So You Get to Eat Ice Cream Out of the Vending MachineI take it back.
This is the funnest stage ever. BECAUSE ICE CREAM.
In fact, you’ll probably just want to skip all the other stages, and just do this stage. Like, twice. Or three times.
Or, at least, until all your change runs out and it’s time to go drink carton-wine at your campsite.Have you ever done a dunes hike before?