Dune Dilemma (or Will I Ever Reach Lake Michigan?)

IMG_3523I read the signs with a skeptical frown and, like I suspected most visitors did, considered ignoring them. After all, we’d hauled our camper all the way from the east side of the state to Sleeping Bear Warning sign 450 ft drop 1Dunes in order to cross off another item on my Michigan-must-do’s bucket list—climbing down and back up the steep 450-foot dune at Lake Michigan Overlook on Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive.

I stood at the top of the dune and shrugged off the wave of vertigo that had nothing to do with my inner ear disorder. “Man,” I said to my husband. “That’s way, way steeper than I thought it would be.”

sleeping bear dunes 450 dropHe nodded. “And it says it takes two hours to climb back up.” He peered at his phone. “It’s after eight; it’ll be too dark in an hour. We better wait till tomorrow.”

I didn’t want to wait till tomorrow. Three hours ago, we’d parked at another section of Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive, where I’d stabbed a finger toward Lake Michigan and announced that hiking across the dunes to the lake was also on my bucket list. I’d dragged my poor husband off the beaten trail and hauled him up and down narrow, poison-ivy-riddled  paths. When we ascended yet another dune and found a sea of the rash-inducing plant blocking our way to the lake, I had finally admitted defeat and reluctantly turned around.

I crossed my arms as Lake Michigan beckoned me from far, far below. I wanted to touch the cool water, feel it on my hands, walk through it with bare feet.

Today. Not tomorrow.

“Maybe it’s not as steep as it looks,” I said. “I’m going down a little ways to check it out.”

I slid and slithered for fifty feet and stopped. Here, the gradient got even steeper, and I had face the fact that I wasn’t going to make it to Lake Michigan today. Walking up sand dunes is a major leg workout. The 450-foot upslope was definitely a job for fresh legs, and I was already tired from our three hour hike.

Still I dithered, not wanting to admit defeat a second time—until my ankle began to itch and I thought about the poison ivy we’d traipsed through earlier. Suddenly, the need race back to our camper for a shower trumped the adventure looming before me.

I sighed and started back up the dune toward my husband. Tomorrow, I’d come back earlier in the day, fresh-legged and poison-ivy free.

At the top, my husband rubbed my arm and gave me a tender smile. “Sorry, honey. I know you’re disappointed. Let’s walk to the look out at least before we go. The view’s amazing.”

I took his hand and glanced again at the signs as we passed them on our way to the viewing area. Did people really get down to the bottom and then find themselves unable to climb sleeping bear dunes 450 drop lookoutback up?  We stood on the platform and gawked at the sharp descent, where a few people slid down on their backsides. On the beach below, a group huddled, preparing themselves, I assumed, for the rigorous trip before them. Again, I wondered if anyone actually became too exhausted to make it to the top.

As I was about to discover, the answer is “yes.”

Beside me, a man lowered his binoculars. “I think someone down there’s in trouble.”

I leaned over the railing and squinted at the group on the beach, where it looked like several people now surrounded a sitting person. “I think he’s just resting for the climb,” I said.

The man put the binoculars back up to his eyes. “He’s been there a while; I don’t think he can get back up.”

We stared at the immobile group. In case something was indeed wrong, I said a prayer for their safety. Then my husband tapped my shoulder. “We’d better hit the shower. Ready?”

I nodded, and we began our trek to the parking lot.

“What if someone really is stuck down there?” I asked him on the way. “Should we do something?”

“I don’t know what we can do besides call 9-1-1. And since we don’t know for sure they’re in trouble, we really shouldn’t.”

We were hurrying across the top of the dune when I noticed a young Asian-Indian man pacing a few feet down the steep hill and stabbing buttons on his phone. My husband, who hadn’t seen the man, continued walking. I stopped, opened my mouth to ask the man if he needed help…and closed it again.

To be honest, I didn’t feel like helping.

We all come to these crossroads in our lives—when we debate within ourselves whether we should go out of our way to lend a hand or simply walk on by and avoid involvement. My husband and I had gotten up early that morning, traveled across Michigan, and hiked three hours through clumps of poison ivy. We were sweaty and tired, and we hadn’t eaten dinner yet. Also, if we didn’t get into a shower asap, we’d wake up tomorrow scratching like mad at the tiny bumps that would no doubt erupt overnight. Then I’d spend the remainder of our trip itchy and grouchy and miserable. And I’d never reach Lake Michigan.

Besides, what was I supposed to do for those people at the bottom, anyway? I couldn’t very well give them piggy-back rides up the dune. Not to mention the fact that I myself had yearned to tackle that descent as much as they had, but I’d made the sensible decision. Now I was supposed to inconvenience myself when they’d seen the signs and had chosen to throw caution to the wind? 

I averted my eyes from the Indian man and took a step toward the parking lot. And that’s when I remembered.

I was a Christian.

I halted and began another silent debate, but this time with God.

Come on, Lord. You don’t really want me to help, do you? I mean, it’s their own faults they’re stuck. And I said a prayer, isn’t that enough?

God brought the Bible verse to my mind—”And let us not grow weary of doing good…”

Yeah, but that verse doesn’t apply here, does it? I’m starving! And pooped. Like really, really pooped.

Then God reminded me that Jesus was pretty tired himself on the way to Calvary…

End of debate. 

I called for my husband to come back, turned around, and tried not to think about the days of itching and scratching ahead of me. Together, we headed down to the man and asked if we could do anything.

The man stared at the beach. “Something’s wrong with one of my friends, but I’m not sure what, their reception’s in and out down there.” He ran his hand through his black hair until his dark, frantic eyes finally met ours. “I don’t know what to do.”

Next week, Part II of Dune Dilemma (or Will I Ever Reach Lake Michigan?)


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