Timber Wolf, Lake Superior, Ontario

A lone timber wolf greets
paddlers along the north shore
of Lake Superior, Canada
(Photo by Michael Neiger)

The Rucksack Masthead
By Michael A. Neiger, Marquette, Michigan
Wilderness tripper: backpacking, winter camping, swift-water canoeing
Web site URL: http://therucksack.tripod.com • E-mail: mneiger@hotmail.com
Contents copyright © 1984-2007 by Michael A. Neiger • All rights reserved.


Michael, Rick, Sue, & Mary atop Marble Head

Michael, Rick, Sue,
and Mary enjoy the view
of Canada's
Cockburn Island
from high atop
Marble Head hill on
Drummond Island
(Photo by Rick Szumski))


Trip journals and photos


of the


Chippewa County
July 2-7, 2002

By Sue Schenk Drobny
   Marquette, Michigan
   Copyright 2002

E-mail author at



  • 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...

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 incredible views. Sue Schenk takes a break

Sue Schenk Drobny
of Marquette
takes a
along the
remote shoreline
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...



The start of the Fourth of July Holiday

(Tuesday evening, July 2)

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.


The Tarp People

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 put it.

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.


Breakfast at The Bear Track

(Wednesday morning, July 3)

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 thrilled!

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.


The plan, with shopping included!

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, or not!

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 maps.

ORV maps, snowmobile maps, jeep trail maps, old maps, new maps, city street maps, whatever they had, he unearthed.

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?


A snowmobile map on the 4th of July?

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 Island Fudge!).

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.


Piling into the jalopy

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!


Rick cuts 1200-meter azimuth

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 brush.

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 we arrived...


Loon shit, a primer

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 name.

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.


Reaching consensus on a swim

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 nuts?!?".

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 looked back.


Rigging the packs to float

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 dollars.....


Up to our necks, and more, in loon shit

So off we went, me nearly losing one of my Teva sandals in the muck. Rick and Sue crossing Pine Lake

Rick Szumski
of Ann Arbor
Sue Schenk Drobny
of Marquette
swim across
Pine Lake
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

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.


Rare rose pogonia orchids

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 me.

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!


Gooey globs of glop

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!


Flotsam and jetsam, a primer

(Thursday, July 4)

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 boats.

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 rocks.

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.


Crossing to an island

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.


Day of the living sun-bow

(Friday, July 5)

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 bushwhack.

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.


Improv with bones & teeth

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! Mary using 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!

Mary Powell
of Flint
dines with
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
Drummond Island.
(Photo by Sue Schenk Drobny)

Loons & rodents

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...


Call of the coyote

(Saturday, July 6)

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 it was.


Pilot's Cove

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 of vision.

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.


Visit of the woodland jumping mouse

(Sunday, July 9)

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 babies.

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.


A big black bear

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 the road!

What a spectacular ending to another great trip with good friends. A good time was had by all.


Read another journal...

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In God's wilderness lies the hope of the world,
the great, fresh, unblighted, unredeemed wilderness.
— John Muir 1838-1914, Alaska Wilderness, 1890

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