- Please be advised the following
article has been written using the actual names of the participants,
and any resemblance to the actual participants is completely
intentional, how ever embarrassing for that participant.
- We do not recommend you try any
of these stunts at home, but rather plan to come on a trip
with us and experience for yourself how people should not
be allowed to have this much fun.
- Warning: falling off your computer
chair while laughing as you read this is purely the responsibility
of the reader.
- Michael Neiger, Sue Schenk Drobny,
and the Sierra Club shall be held harmless in these situations.
So, proceed at your own risk.
What can I tell you about a Michael Neiger
trip to Drummond Island?....there are a lot of tales to tell!
Go on a trip with Michael as tour guide, and figure on some
action packed workouts, along with fabulous rest stops with
Sue Schenk Drobny
of Drummond Island.
(Photo by Mary Powell)
Throw in some native wildlife, and a handful
of wackiness from the participants, and it was a great fourth
of July weekend all in all. Cue up the National Lampoon "Family
Vacation" music "Holiday Road," hold onto your
seat, here goes...
Michael and I carpooled to Drummond Island
from Marquette, and met Mary Powell from Flint at the Township
Park, where she had lucked out on a great spot amidst campers
and crying babies.
But it was OK, it was late, we were tired,
and I was really sick of seeing Michael's "check engine"
light on the dash (he is due for a new car any day now).
Plus, Mary regaled us with tales from another
Sierra Club trip she was just returning from that was in Canada.
Mary is THE tripping Sierra Club member this summer, if anyone
out there can beat the number of trips she has taken on the
past several months, I'll be amazed.
Anyway, this was my first night trying
out the M. Neiger endorsed "Tarp People" style of
camping....I had spent the week before sewing bug netting
to a North Face bivy sack that I had purchased for about 50
cents at a garage sale some years before, not quite knowing
what the heck it was until I met Mike and the gang.
Michael proceeded to pitch the open tarp
in the dark next to a picnic table for me to figure out how
to suspend the bug net material to it, as I had followed his
inventive design whilst sewing the thing.
And the sew job! I told him my 8th grade
home-ec teacher was rolling in her grave....no matter, she
wouldn't have been out camping and hiking on a 4th of July
weekend anyway, "feeding the bugs," as my husband
At any rate, the mosquitoes and the fire
flies were out in good numbers that night, it was really quite
beautiful, other than the babies crying and a few dogs yapping.
We knew in the morning we'd be heading out away from the madding
crowd, so it was quite tolerable.
So, I lived! The tarp seemed to work, and
other than screwing up the bowline knots all over it, that
I had tied, quite expertly at the time, it seemed, at home
whilst sipping on a bottle of Hard Lemonade, my eyes awoke
without puffing up from bug bite-induced allergies! I was
On to the Bear Track Restaurant to find
the fourth hiker, Rick Szumski of Ann Arbor, and have a hearty
breakfast to start us off.
We arrived around 8 a.m., and Rick was
waiting for us. We went inside to order breakfast and Michael
came up with a plan.
Well, several plans, actually, in case
the first plan didn't pan out. He always has a backup plan,
whether it's obvious to him, or anyone else, at the time,
And he always has a map....which is why
we spent the next hour after breakfast combing the area for
potential gift and marina shops, looking for various, elusive
ORV maps, snowmobile maps, jeep trail maps,
old maps, new maps, city street maps, whatever they had, he
We were ominously told by one gift store
owner to "stay off the dirt roads," she always got
turned around on those! That was exactly where we were heading.
Was this a sign?
At any rate, I sat rather amused to see
a male take on a "shopping trip" so seriously, in
quest of map mania.
Our last stop was to a "gourmet"
gift shop, that also sold bait (what a combo! This place had
live bait, which was out of view for obvious reasons, for
sale right along with cheesecakes, espresso, rare brewskis,
lambics, ice cream, garlic spray, Cuban cigars, and Mackinac
All Michael wanted was a snowmobile map....sure,
it was the beginning of July, no luck, probably under a case
of lambics in the back.
I just wanted to see the bait tanks with
swimming fish, that's always fun, but alas, they only had
worms and leeches and were well hidden from the clientele.
We made quite an impression in there, let
me tell you, then we disappeared in a cloud of dust and were
finally on our way.
We left two cars in one field and all piled
into Michael's jalopy [ed.--a fine running one though] to
drive on further.
And the fields! Vibrant with red clover,
buttercups, daisies, orange and yellow hawkweed, and daisy
fleabane amongst the Timothy grass. Just beautiful!
Got out into the searing 90 degree plus
heat, and took off down an ORV trail heading into the woods.
Soon we were into the bush, heading for the first lake and
cool down of the day: Dickenson Lake. It was very shallow,
with reeds sticking up everywhere, and about knee deep, but
what a wonderful bathtub flop it was!
All refreshed now, Michael brought out
the topos and compass, and Mary hauled out her GPS, and they
gave Rick and I a short lesson on UTM's, magnetic north, lines
of latitude and longitude, and finding your way through the
Rick took to it like you'd expect an engineer
would, he LOVED it, and he shot and ran a 1200-meter azimuth
through thick brush expertly, with Michael patiently pacing
off nearby, and Mary and I following along, swatting mosquitoes.
We were off in search of Pine Lake, soon
to be infamous, though we had no clue as to how infamous until
Pine Lake, a beautiful, calm lake with
floating bog, glorious, red flowering pitcher plants dotting
its north shore, old cedars all around.
Dipped the tip of my walking stick into
the lake, surmising all the while what was on the bottom....yup,
loon shit. What exactly IS loon shit, you ask?
In my formative years, I had done some
fisheries work for both the MDNR and USFWS.
Loon shit was something you did not venture
into on a whim.
Loon shit is detritus from cedar trees
and other plants decomposing on the bottom of the lake. The
top layer consists of "floaters," and the more decomposed
loon shit, below the top stuff, becomes slimy; hence, the
In most lakes, there is no known bottom
to the loon shit, and one can become quite stuck in a suction-like
hold, until either the mosquitoes take all the flesh off your
bones, or a bear gets you, or you just keep falling through
to never-never land.
Well, did this even phase our fearless
leader? Heck no, reckoning there was a limestone gravel base
under there, he decided it would be a great training exercise
to tie up and float our packs across in case we should need
to do this in some future rock-and-hard place scenario.
At first I was extremely hesitant, all
my early years in the woods screamed "is he flipping
So Michael waded into the water with Mary,
to show us they were not in fact being sucked in, but able
to stand above the water, though Mary did mention something
about the muck was touching vital organs at that level.
Well, I wasn't afraid my pack would sink,
I had seen it float down a river once when a friend offered
to take my single person canoe in intense wind, and proceeded
to flip the canoe and lose all the contents within the first
five minutes of paddling.
My 40-something pound pack floated gracefully
out to sea in that case, so I knew another bag over the top
would help it stay totally dry.
I convinced Rick of this, who was by now
looking a little concerned, between the gourmet store incident
and now this....but the kicker came when Michael looked me
in the eye and said "think of the STORY you could tell
about this lake...." And that did it for me, I never
I skipped madly behind a bush to put on
swim shorts, then Michael helped us lash up our packs in plastic
bags or tarps to keep 'em dry.
Rick decided it was just too great of
an event to not have his camera out to record the festivities,
so the pictures you see here are not re-enactments, but actually
photos of the events as they took place. Believe me, you might
not get anyone to re-enact this for notoriety OR a million
So off we went, me nearly losing one of
my Teva sandals in the muck.
of Ann Arbor
Sue Schenk Drobny
on Drummond Island.
(Photo by Rick Szumski)
The top surface of the loon shit was deceptively
warm, but below it got quite cold. Then, the muck. As I was
schlepping along at the back, all the stuff was stirred up
by the group ahead and I was a human magnet for the stuff.
We all were. All I could think and say
at the time was: "THIS IS ICKY!" But by then we
were laughing and trying not to go weak from laughing and
trying to keep balance.
Not happy to just cross this one area,
we decided to go all the way down the east side of Pine Lake
with our little flotilla....good practice for real life emergencies,
you know. And maybe easier than walking on the floating shore,
as long as we could stand the disgusting crap.
As we got farther south, it got deeper.
Soon, poor Mary was hanging onto her floating pack, swimming
with it. Michael had fashioned a PFD from his foam pad with
some cordage, he had that under one arm.
As we progressed, it started to get deeper,
with downed tree limbs left by a thoughtful beaver scratching
our legs. Then, no longer neck deep, we were clinging to our
floating packs for dear life. I felt like I could do sea otter
rolls, but the results would not have been pretty.
Thunder was echoing in the distance to
the north of us, it was time to MOVE. One more rumble of thunder
and I was out and up on the floating bog, with pack next to
To my delight, beautiful orchids were dotting
the bog! I saw there were at least two types, and looked them
up later: swamp pink and rose pogonia orchids! Very rare,
very beautiful, but no time for that, just tried to not step
on any as I made my way along the mat.Cotton grass was also
scattered along the banks.
Rick and the others had also come ashore,
but were using either cords or my walking stick to prod their
packs along in the water.
We got to the south shore, after a few
hair-raising crossings over bottomless beaver trails cut into
the bog mat, and got the packs all out of the water without
getting them wet!
Then, the "cleanup" began: big
gooey globs of glop were flopping out in gob balls from out
of our shirts, pants, and pockets. We were coated with gunk!
Smelly gunk! And any crevice that was underwater also was
packed with the stuff!
We quickly covered the 250 meters or so
to Lake Huron, where we proceeded to cleanup and set up camp
for the night!
Michael took mercy on us and we had a shorter
hike today along the rocky coast of Lake Huron. We checked
out bones, rocks, flowers, and flotsam and jetsam from passing
First, the incredible flowers: wood lilies,
blue-eyed grass, a flower Mary identified as "herb Robert,"
blue flag irises, and a pink colored shinleaf.
Next, the rocks: fascinating fossils,
"bird foot" looking plant thingees embedded in the
rock, and wormy looking things, and holes in the limestone
Then, the snakes: the snakes were out in
full force, we saw numerous garter snakes sunning themselves
on the rocks, and at least one green snake, and one what I
think was a northern pine snake, but only about 3 feet long.
We crossed over to an island in an attempt
to colonize it for the night, one person just HAD to float
his pack ahead of him, three guesses who that was.
The island was not good for camping, so
back over we came to the mainland, found a fine spot and set
up camp early this day.
Maybe too early, as the evening chatter
got wackier, with weird wagering being set as to whether there
would be fireworks from the "camps" (more like mansions)
across the bay from our little patch of state land.
As it darkened, fire flies, caddis flies,
dragon flies and mosquitoes were out in full force. As far
as the fireworks display: a total of three fizzled bottle
rockets were set off across from us that night.
We walked a two-track road past the camps
we were across from the night before. We made it to some hunting
club property, did another map/GPS reading to get around the
last bit of private property on the shore, bushwhacked a bit,
and came out to the rocky beach again.
No complaints about the rocks after the
Found more bones, skulls of fish, deer,
and the jaw of something I have yet to have identified. Columbines,
potentilla, more herb Robert and blue-eyed grass in the rocks.
Saw an odd rainbow-like oval in the sky
at one point, I believe it's called a sun-bow? Quite unusual.
Took a break. I was a little worse for
wear, in need of sugar, and bummed a small candy bar off of
our fearless leader.
Deer skulls and bones were littered in
the woods in the break area, we found as we ducked into the
woods for break relief. Soon, a pile of bones formed at the
beach, and some of the members decided which pieces should
grace their mantels at home.
Talk turned to the Indiana Jones movie
where the party is served monkey heads with jello brains,
and suddenly, Michael has a big idea to create SKULLWARE!
Yes, he takes out his machete and proceeds
to create a bowl out of a buck skull. The man is not happy
unless he is creating some objet d'art!
on Drummond Island.
(Photo by Mary Powell)
A clam shell attached to a deer rib bone,
and, voila!, a spoon! We took turns taking pictures of each
other eating from the skullware.....as if this wasn't demented
enough, Mr. Inventor creates "billy bob" teeth from
the lower jaw of a deer!
Is he brave enough to put the pictures
in with this write-up? Especially my favorite, "Billy
Bob, mayor of Drummond Island?". We will see...
The Mayor of
(Photo by Sue Schenk Drobny)
Took awhile to find a mutually agreeable
campsite, but in the end, found a dandy one and set up camp.
Two loons swam right up to check us out,
and then the mosquitoes checked us out. I noticed a small
rodent checking me out as I peered through the bug netting
in the dark, backlit by the stars. Loons were calling out
now and then. Off to sleep...
We awoke to a coyote serenade!
Just out of the blue came the yowling and
yapping of a group, it was spectacular. Then, later as we
ate breakfast, they broke out in song again in broad daylight!
We saw their tracks in a muddy area as
we left the camp site.
It was somewhat cooler today, thankfully.
More beach and woods walking, took a few breaks in the shade.
Rick patiently taught me the bowline knot. It only took about
30 minutes of his time.
Climbed up "Marblehead," a high
rocky lookout area on the southeast side of the island. Rick
lashed his camera to a stick (with a bowline knot, I'm sure)
and took a group shot.
Climbed down Marblehead into the midst
of what I swear was poison ivy. Mary was in shorts and "hiking
sandals," and washed off when we hit the Lake in case
Got up to "Pilot's Cove," floated
our packs across the mouth of a small inlet again "for
practice," this was a short distance compared to the
Pine Lake Incident.
We camped near an ORV trail, Rick nearly
had a motorcyclist drive through his tent in broad daylight.
Mary and I watched the colors of the sunset, with loons and
terns (Caspian? perhaps?) floating and flying across our field
We went to bed serenaded by some manic
"whippoorwills" whip-poor-willing it up like crazy.
The hollow-rush-of-air sound that nighthawks make when catching
mosquitoes could be heard in the background.
In the night, I heard a far-off motor,
told Rick to turn on his flashlight if he heard anyone coming,
to be able to see his tent!
Rick got up, came back a while later to
report there were a lot of stars out. I wasn't sleeping, so
went out for the show. Took a walk down by a cove.....the
milky way, shooting stars, fire flies, it was incredible,
and the best part: NO BUGS! Where the heck were they? I had
the fire flies and shooting stars confused at times...a great
night to be out, gazing.
Woke to a scurrying and bounding sound
near my head.
Gazed up through the bug netting, only
to see a woodland jumping mouse stop in its tracks, make a
quick exit, stage left.
Mary was already up, and had spotted a
spotted sandpiper family the night before on the beach we
were camped near. After breakfast, she and I set off to see
The mother would herky-jerk her butt, and
the babies were little "mini mes," behaving similarly.
We laughed at them, but did not get any pictures, they were
just too fast.
Out we hiked on ORV trails and two tracks,
back to the cars.
On a final note, we said adieu to Rick,
and found a sand beach to swim in before heading back on the
ferry to De Tour.
On the way driving from the beach, a large
black bear comes out of the woods and sits at the side of
What a spectacular ending to another great
trip with good friends. A good time was had by all.