The breeze was almost wicked as my husband, daughter and I rounded the top of the sandy trail in the Leelanau Peninsula. Leaning over the bluff I looked into the cold arms of Lake Michigan – grabbing my daughter's arm, said: "Let's go, it's not that far down."
We laughed on our descent – hop, skip, and sliding down the dune. My delight in the adventure turned quickly to concern as the top of the hill was receding with each sandy step. The bluff was at a 60-degree angle and presented a 400 foot drop. But we continued to the bottom with Lake Michigan lapping at our toes.
The top of the dune where my husband was waiting was hidden due to a large sandy protrusion – “Crap” I sighed loudly to my daughter. What had I gotten us into? Wandering worriedly as the waves lapped our feet, crap seemed like a good word to use, again, as I envisioned an embarrassing helicopter rescue.
I was a couple decades older than my last successful trip down the Log Slide in Grand Marais, Michigan, where I flew down the dune and easily climbed back up to my mother’s smiling face. But now, the 60s taunted me, yet thought I was in pretty decent shape. So with my pride on the line and desperately aching to prove this climb would not defeat my daughter and I, up we went.
Step by agonizing step.
My energy gave out after only about ten minutes into the climb forcing me to stop, a lot. The bluff was at such a steep angle that to sit or stand would surely cause a tumble onto the rocks below. I rested and breathed delicate pieces of sand into my flared nostrils, my pounding heart ripping at my chest.
Up a few steps, down some, up again and sliding backwards. The climb was the most extreme exercise of any I have ever engaged in and I was frankly scared and thinking about how my daughter was doing, my husband at the top, and that helicopter rescue.
My daughter was obviously concerned as she carefully followed my sunken steps and took charge of the sand-wheel, if you will. "Breathe from deep in your lungs mom, and let it out; walk in my footsteps."
She took the lead and leapfrogged me up the brown sugar sand dune as my energy resources continually were exhausted. We had no choice but to continue - she positioned herself next to me and pushed my butt to keep me going. Butt push, steps, descending some, upward momentum, butt push, progress.
The summit was visible. My worried husband was standing next to a man and woman shouted words of encouragement, which were difficult to hear due to the wind, the beating pulse in our ears, and our one focus to finish. As we reached the final agonizing leg of this intense upward climb, the stranger kindly lowered his backpack as a handhold as there was nothing in our paths to grasp. I ungracefully lunged over the lip of the dune … crawling on my stomach I grabbed his foot and held on with gratitude. This stranger did not pull away but stood patiently – all three of them appeared proud – my husband smiled, “I knew you could do it.”
As a group we descended to the parking lot. My legs wobbled and were spent but found myself beaming with pride of my daughter and the manner in which she took charge, fully giving of herself to get me to the top of this sand dune. I was touched by the support of these beautiful people.
The couple, who were in their 60s, had shared with my husband, as we were struggling up the dune, that I was an inspiration to them. The husband and wife told him that my taking on this dune challenge helped them realize that they, too, could also take on adventures. It was absolutely humbling to realize that my not so smart decision would affect this couple in a positive way – to get them to think beyond their age and see that some of their own limitations were in their minds.
Was the climb worth it? The jury is out on that one. (We found out later that if we had only walked around the bottom of the dune a short distance there was a firm path leading back to the top. What can I say?)