Monday, July 07, 2008

Diary: Lords of the Black Flies

I had a great weekend this weekend.

Thursday was really more low key than I meant for it to be. I got let out of work early but spent most of the evening wasting time. When Jess got home we went out for Mexican food and had a nice evening together, but I had to leave her behind then next day when the call of college and post-college friends drew me away on a Northern Adventure. Barb, Sky, Bill, and I rode in one vehicle, which Kender dubbed "the Humdrum V," while Kender, Emma, Sky, and Suzie rode in "the Fun V," (v = vehicle). I don't agree with his assessment; it always seemed like there was some insecurity nested at the heart of the Fun V's premise. Like they were so concerned to prove to us how much fun they were having. The Humdrum V, rum humming along, was mellow and chill. We were the cool cats, listening to Bill's country and techno, assembling mad libs, and wearing shades and sipping coffee as we rolled north across Wisconsin.

I won't tell this in chronological order, and I won't go into too much detail. I will say that the Marquette Fireworks were the best I'd seen anywhere, ever. They do tie with the Flint Fireworks of 1999, which were dramatic because I was standing under them as I fell, but this was the best show. Launched from the abandoned oredock below downtown, the show went on and on without the usual muffled and cheesy music to distract from the hollow pops and ringing. Here, many fireworks were launched from within the oredock, meaning that they richocheted and fizzled and threw out weird shadows. Also, because we were in the Eastern Time Zone to the West of Chicago, and well above the 45th parallel, it was still twilight as the fireworks flew well after nine o'clock. The expansive lawn was busy and bustling, but not packed tight; this is a town of 25,000 surrounded by hundreds of miles of pine.

The other dramatic course of the trip involved the black flies; I've always been to the U.P. off-season. I've never had to deal with the things. Quite simply, they swarm you literally dozens at a time, land on you, and salivated for a moment before biting. When they bite, they lock down and the thing feels like a sharp pinch from someone with really jagged nails. We didn't see any of the things until we came down to Lake Superior on the afternoon of the 6th. We saw a few and so we covered ourselves in bug spray, but it didn't do any good until our hands and feet were glistening with DEET. Sky and Emma and Barb and I all crossed out to Little Presque Isle hoping to do some cliff jumping there (it would've been my second time ever)... twenty feet high into thirty feet of water. But we didn't get the chance because the black flies caused a more dangerous situation. They would land on us in droves, and if they landed in DEET they'd just shake off their little fly feet and try for better traction. Of course, with that many flies settling all at once, the pressure of their landings feeling like little pings on the skin, it was just a matter of time before they found some weird patch of scalp or knuckle not toxic with drip. So we did keep being bit. And in fact, the flailing of arms and legs, the (unsuccessful) running to outpace the creatures not only didn't accomplish anything, but it distracted us from the very important task of not slipping from these giant stones above the water. That phase of the trip was harrowing and unpleasant. As we finally made it back to the car, a little girl from another family said:

"Mama, let's never go to this beach again. Ever ever."

We didn't escape the black flies completely that weekend. They ducked through the woods and followed Sky and Emma a whole mile back to our camp. By the next morning several dozen were buzzing over our breakfast. When we drove into downtown Marquette to lie on the beach they were waiting for us, and covering up with sand and towel and shirt and had didn't help. We had to give them the beach at the end of the day.

But this didn't ruin the success of the trip.

It was a bit of hunger to temper the sugar on everything else.

On the first night we sat around the fire telling ghost stories.
On the second day we sat down by the stream that our cabin overlooked drinking beer from the keg.
On the second evening we walked down along the shore of Marquette and hit the food fest before doubling back toward home.
On the third day we stopped for Pasties and at the Yoopers Tourist Trap, which is bigger (and marginally classier) than I'd remembered.
On the first evening we ate at a pub in town before going in for the fireworks.
On the first day we arrived and threw rocks out into the water.
Our cabin was large and clean and soon filled with snoring lumberjacks. We ate eggs and pancakes and brewed coffee in a percolator on a propane stove.
We drove up during the day and back during the evening and we finally pulled into Chicago at about 10:30. I had a dinner and went to bed. That was the third night.

On the second night, Sam and Barb and I climbed Sugarloaf mountains and I saw more stars than I have seen in one time since I think I was a Boy Scout. Anyway, we saw meteorites, too. That was around two in the morning, and I dozed off, and we didn't get back to the camp until three.


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