The day after my four-mile-which-felt-like-four-billion-mile hike in Tahquamenon State Park, I decided to take things easy.
I should probably mention here that almost every time I decide to “take things easy” my plans backfire on me and I end up doing something ridiculous and grueling and really stressful. Like climbing every single sand dune at Sleeping Bear Dunes.
My “take it easy” plan for the day was to sleep in and then go to the Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum at Whitefish Point, about twenty miles away from where I was camping in Tahquamenon Falls Rivermouth campsite.
Now if you’ve ever attempted to sleep in while camping you probably thought one thing while reading about my plan: HAHAHAHAHA NEVER GONNA HAPPEN. And it totally didn’t happen because even though I was planning to sleep in, some stupid water birds on the river beside my campsite must have decided to designate themselves my very own, personal, nature-alarm-clock. They started squawking somewhere around six o’clock in the morning and didn’t shut up.
So with a few hours to kill before the museum opened, I decided to drive out to Crisp Point Lighthouse, also another twenty miles from my campsite. Even though the Shipwreck Museum has its very own lighthouse, I had figured you really can never visit too many lighthouses in a day while in Michigan. I think that might be a state law or something.
The brochure I had picked up about Crisp Point Lighthouse described the lighthouse as “one of Michigan’s best kept secrets” and an “adventure.” Maybe, MAYBE, this should have been a tip-off that a trip to this lighthouse wouldn’t be the leisurely excursion I had been hoping for.
Or maybe, MAYBE, the tip-off should have been the part of the brochure where it explained that you should follow the map on the brochure to get to the lighthouse and not your GPS as your GPS would take you down “narrow two-track roads that can be impassible.”
What it didn’t explain was that instead of taking you down narrow, two-track impassible roads, the map route would take you down narrow, two-track roads that were just barely passable. Like hardly at all.
As my car bumped over the rutted, dirt backroads on its way to the lighthouse, I couldn’t help remembering a news story I had read earlier in the year about two women who had gotten stranded in the Upper Peninsula, and had survived by eating Girl Scout Cookies. I seriously started to wish I had packed more cookies. Sure, I had an entire car full of food and water for my camping trip, but why hadn’t I thought to pack some Thin Mints or Tagalongs??? And now I was going to DIE out here because I hadn’t packed enough cookies! OH, THE IRONY! Live by the cookie, die by the cookie, as they say.
The last seven miles of the trip were particularly treacherous — winding and pitted with huge holes and just big enough for my car to get through. Not that this was much of a problem as I didn’t see a single other car on the road the entire time I was on it. I guess everybody else had read the part of the brochure that called the lighthouse “Michigan’s best kept secret,” and decided they would really rather keep it that way.
When I finally arrived at the lighthouse, a good hour after I had set out, I felt the same relief that lighthouse keepers in the days of yore must have felt when they arrived at their remote posts. Of course, back in the olden days the only way to get to a lighthouse was by boat and you had to risk treacherous waters and the possibility of shipwreck to get there. But, seeing as my car is roughly the same size and shape of a boat, I figured there was a very real possibility I could have gotten shipwrecked myself. And, again, without enough cookies for sustenance, who knows what could have happened to me out there?
The lighthouse stood on a pretty, if rocky, beach. The few other visitors who had managed to make it out there were taking selfies on the beach or milling around the small museum or hyperventilating in the bathroom wondering how the heck they were going to get out of there alive. Actually that last one might have just been me.
The lighthouse itself was white with just enough chipped paint to remind you that it was really, really old.
Inside was a narrow, spiral staircase that you could climb up to the light at the top.
You could even walk around on the balcony outside of the light and take some terrified, wind-blown selfies. Just like, I’m sure, old-timey lighthouse keepers used to do.
I spent my time taking terrified selfies and bumming around the beach looking for agates, which are supposedly quite prevalent on the beach and also really hard to find if you don’t know what they look like. After about an hour, I felt like I was finally ready for the harrowing trip back.
Later that day when I visited the Shipwreck Museum and Lighthouse at Whitefish Point, I would marvel at how easy it was to get there. The twenty-mile drive from my campsite barely took twenty minutes. The road was paved — PAVED! — and big enough for not one, but two whole vehicles. It almost seemed too easy if you asked me. I mean, how was this teaching our younger generation what lighthouse life was really like?
As I was buying a ticket for the museum in the crowded lobby, I saw a sign saying you could climb the tower of the Whitefish Point Lighthouse. The fine print informed me that you had to sign a waiver, ensure you were physically fit and wear appropriate footwear. There were even restrictions on the sturdiness of your camera neck-strap. Waiver? Physically fit? Appropriate footwear? Sturdy camera neck-straps? WHAT? This was not the rough and tumble, devil-may-care-about-your-footwear attitude I had come to expect from lighthouse living.
At the Crisp Point Lighthouse there had been no talk of waivers and footwear and neck-straps. The only restriction I had seen was that people under sixteen needed to climb the tower with an adult.
Back in the olden times, I’m sure lighthouse keepers didn’t go around signing waivers and worrying about their shoes. They were too busy keeping the lighthouse lit and scanning the horizon for shipwreck. And, as I would later learn in the museum, trying to prevent espionage. Yes, ESPIONAGE!
In the end, I declined the chance to climb the Whitefish Point Lighthouse. Partly on principle. And partly because I had no intention of changing out of my flip-flops.
Besides, I had already taken enough terrified, wind-blown lighthouse selfies for the day.
Instead I had to settle for not-terrified-but-still-ridiculously-wind-blown selfies of me in front of the lighthouse.
Have you ever climbed a lighthouse tower? Where and when and how completely terrified were you?
P.S. You guys, while I was writing this story, I researched the story about the two ladies who got stuck in their car in the Upper Peninsula and had to survive off of cookies. They were exactly where I was! Omigod, I totally could have died. Next time I go to the Upper Peninsula, I’m packing a LOT more cookies.