September 1, 2019
“A lake carries you into recesses of feeling otherwise impenetrable.” -William Wordsworth
Here I am. First day of the last third of this journey. As of today, I have four months to visit the remaining 147 parks. 121 days. That is 1.21 parks per day. That is a ratio that I have kept close to mind since the beginning. Today it is higher than it has been since the government shutdown. But I am not worried. Not concerned. It is merely a tool I use to keep the pace – to ration my park time. I will finish, if you are wondering. Barring any unforeseen cataclysm, I will finish. I am nothing, if not an undaunted completionist. I am convincing myself, and you.
“The legend lives on from the Chippewa on down of the big lake they call Gitche Gumee.” I have been singing the lyrics of Gordon Lightfoot’s lamentful ballad “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald,” for seven solid days as I tour around the Great Lakes region. I haven’t even heard the song recently. It is just a mental placeholder for virtually all I previously knew about the Great Lakes. As soon as I arrived in the area, the song started on repeat in my head. Now that I am here, and learning about this beautiful and special place in our country, the song won’t leave me. I no longer need that placeholder, but still I sing – my curse for learning all of the lyrics years ago.
This is a special place. You can see it in the faces of the locals. Like many other parts of our great country, they have that glint in their eye. The same sparkle I have seen in Key West, in New Orleans, In Santa Fe, and many other places where you can tell the denizens know they have something special. Hiking the lakeshores of Superior and Michigan in Voyageurs, Apostle Islands, Isle Royale, Grand Portage, and Indiana Dunes, it is easy to understand why. Clear water and sun. Sand and breeze. Fishing, boating, hiking, camping, and all manner of recreation – side by side with industry and cities and living spaces. The lakes are not a place they go to visit. The lakes are home and part of life. Part of a full and complete life. We should all be so lucky to have that kind of fulfillment.
I have been thinking about the end of this trip. What comes next? After running away for a year, what life do I reclaim and rebuild for myself? What will become of 418 Parks – all this experience and memory? All of these photos and writings? What will I do with my chance to wander for a while? Will the circle come back around at the journey’s end? In some ways I am already a changed man. In some ways I am rebuilt anew. I know for sure that nothing will be the same. There is no going back from an experience like this. It is inside me. Part of me. Layer upon layer of that subjective self that informs all direction. The future is on the horizon and remains to be discovered. I’m heading there, but I still have 147 stops along the way.
Parks visited since August 21st:
Knife River Indian Villages National Historic Site
Mississippi National River and Recreation Area
Saint Croix National Scenic Riverway
Voyageurs National Park
Grand Portage National Monument
Apostle Islands National Lakeshore
Pullman National Monument
Indiana Dunes National Park
Isle Royale National Park