Monday, September 6th would have been Cole’s 13th birthday. I knew months ago that this was going to be a difficult day as it would be the first birthday since Cole’s passing in March. I decided to schedule a camping trip with a good friend at one of my favorite parks, Kohler-Andrae State Park just outside of Sheboygan, to try to help have something to look forward to that week. It had been 8-years since I last visited the park and I was eager to explore and photograph the area again.
My friend and I arrived at our campsite around 3pm on Tuesday and quickly set up camp. We were greeted by a squirrel mid-moving her babies out of the nest in the tree near our picnic table. This was indeed a surprise sight as I had never seen a squirrel do that in person before. That would be the first of many wildlife encounters during our trip. We were also pleasantly surprised with a unique encounter with a hummingbird who hovered above our picnic table one day for quite some time, appearing to curiously check us out a bit before moving on. Each night, raccoons came through camp, hell bent on finding any little piece of food they could including trying to get into our locked cooler and opening one of our non-food totes. On the morning of packing up, a chipmunk had much to say to me while perched upon our fire pit grate. Apparently the squirrels weren’t the only ones bothered by our presence.
This camping trip provided the first opportunity to try out my new car sleeping setup in lieu of a tent, just in time to help prepare me for a long road trip next month. I had purchased a single RV mattress that was the perfect size for me to lay on in the back of my Honda Fit after pushing the front passenger seat all the way forward and down as much as possible as well as putting both back seats down. I got two screen covers to put over the back windows to keep bugs out while the windows were down at night as well as a USB rechargeable fan to help keep the air flowing. All in all, it’s a good setup for a quick night’s sleep while also avoiding the expensive hotel bills that can pile up while on road trips. The only problem I found with the setup is that the front seat does not fold as flat as I would like so I’m considering removing the front seat before my trip next month and building a platform to keep a long, level surface for the mattress.
After setting up camp, we headed to the south beach section of the park to enjoy some sunshine, waves, and fresh air. There were not a lot of people around, which was great, but there were plenty of seagulls and sandpipers to watch and enjoy. I couldn’t help but to be reminded of my favorite west coast beach walks as I looked out over the water with no end in sight, something hard to come by in the middle of the country, surrounded by land. I walked around for a bit taking photos before stopping to lounge around in the sand for a while. About an hour or so before sunset, we headed back to camp to make dinner and get settled in before the sun set for the night. The next morning, we got up around 5am to make our way back to the beach to watch the sunrise over Lake Michigan. As a night owl, sunrises are rare for me these days without Cole to walk in the morning. It was quite the sight to watch the blue sky with an orange horizon slowly grow brighter and brighter as the first rays of light slowly made their emergence just beyond where the water met the sky. It was hard not to miss Cole though at that moment. He would have loved to run around on the beach with me and would have always been close by my side as I made my way up and down the shore taking pictures.
After the sun fully rose and we got our fill of beach time, we decided to go for a 4-mile hike on the Dunes Cordwalk. This is my favorite part of the park as I just love how the wooden path meanders up and down the sand dunes over and over again while the water of Lake Michigan pops up here and there in the distance. I find the winding path and curvaceous landscape to be mesmerizing, evidenced by the hundreds of photos I took throughout the day. The weather was perfect in the low 70s and puffy little clouds dotted the sky, giving us much appreciated shade occasionally from the otherwise mostly sunny hike. Along the way we were joined by hundreds and hundreds of dragonflies, zipping around doing their best to eat all of the other bugs they could find.
After the hike, we headed back to camp to enjoy some food and then made our way back to the beach where we hung out and lounged until the sun set, enjoying watching the sun reflect a variety of colors back on the clouds as they made their way out over the lake. It’s easy to forget sometimes that these beautiful little spots do indeed exist here in Wisconsin, just a couple hours away from home. Sitting on that beach that week definitely made me miss my visits to the Oregon coast and I am eager to return back there this fall.
After packing up camp but before heading out on the final day, we did a quick walk through the Black River Marsh Boardwalk. The path was surrounded on both sides by tall grasses, reeds and cattails in every direction. At some points the vegetation was so tall it seemed to create a tunnel-like maze, reminiscent of a corn maze. Lucky for us, the path was well defined so there was no risk of getting turned around or lost. When the wind blew, the tall grassy reeds swayed all around us, making a wonderfully soothing sound. A bit surprising, but greatly appreciated, was the fact that there were little to no mosquitoes in that area. The next time I visit I would like to do the longer hike through the marsh just south of where this short path was located. There are a couple other hikes further out in the park that we did not do that I would like to check out next time as well.
All in all, it was a good trip, despite missing Cole so much. That will probably always be the case though so I’m doing my best to learn to live with the sadness while also continuing to venture out and explore the world, even if that means having to do it alone sometimes. Stay tuned for my next big adventure!