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Is That the Real Time?

Thursday, 1 July 2004
written by Teresa

As you may remember from the last entry, I am still lagging behind with the logs and so must once again ask you to travel back in time to catch up with us on our journey from the Smoky Mountains, north to the Land of Cheese and beyond.

Time is a confusing entity and nowhere more so than Indiana where the issue of daylight savings is of such importance that it's acceptance or otherwise is decided through referendum. The peculiarity in the situation arises from the fact that the vote is not on a statewide basis but rather celebrates the autonomy of individual counties. The results arise in an interesting split where counties in the central body of the state choose to throw caution to the wind, living dangerously, not even a minute saved for a rainy day. Meanwhile, a small number of counties on both the eastern and western borders of the state are in accord regarding their thriftiness but align themselves with different time zones. Consequently they are always separated by an hour, one in eastern time, one in central time, while the bulk of the state seems to yo-yo between them as summer changes to winter and vice versa.

Crossing into Indiana on our way north caught us unawares and we spent nearly a day wandering around in a time bubble before it occurred to us that the public clocks had not all forgotten to Spring Forward but were in fact showing the time as they perceived it. Sterling is usually a remarkably patient and tolerant person but later in the day as I pointed at a clock and asked him "Is that the real time?" his exasperation surfaced and he replied, "What do you mean by real?" I have to admit that my ideas on such matters are somewhat confused and all I can say is that if my body wakes up in one time zone then it's preprogrammed to get hungry and sleepy at certain points along that time line. Mt. Baldy If circumstances dictate that an hour suddenly vanishes or appears, then it throws me off and at some level I deal with it by pretending for the rest of the day that I'm still in the zone where I awoke. Sterling looked at me steadily throughout this garbled explanation and finally replied, "That is the current, correct, local time." Can't be much clearer than that.

Having accommodated the temporal change we headed for the shores of Lake Michigan where Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore is an unexpected find amongst the industrial and urban developments surrounding it. Mount Baldy on the eastern edge of the park is a sand dune rising to 126 feet, it's smooth grainy faces curving down to the waters edge on one side and melding into deciduous woodland on the other. It is quite impressive and from its crest the shapes of the Chicago skyline are just visible, fifty miles away in Illinois. The peculiar position of the Lakeshore is highlighted by the incongruous presence of a power station, immediately adjacent to the large dune and the whole place feels more like a popular state park than part of the National system. Having said that, it has the seventh highest level of biodiversity of all National Parks, attributed to the fact that it encompasses not only the beaches and dunes but also bogs, wetland and woodland. On the whole we were not wildly inspired and it's probably the first National Park we've been in that I would write that about. If I were a botanist on the other hand I might have been enthralled.

Heading towards Wisconsin, we managed to cross back into the central time zone without too much comment on my part, Sterling simply changing the clocks to reflect current, correct and local time. For the next three weeks we visited with family and friends in the home of black and white cows and their milky, cheesy by-products. Sad to say, the world's largest holstein is NOT in Wisconsin This is the first time I've been in the state during the summer months and was fully expecting it to be warm and sunny, instead of which, it so closely resembled English weather that I felt perfectly at home. The rain was determined, the temperatures cool with the occasional false hope of something resembling summer; convincing enough, a couple of times, to entice me into a short lived show of legs. What was even more comforting was the talk of weather. Wherever we went, it was the topic of the day; strangers in shops commented; waitresses offered a sympathetic word about the soaked clothing and dripping hair; the dentist embarked on a meteorological monologue and the hairdresser held forth at some length as hair got steadily shorter. I could have been in Manchester where the art of discussing the latest vagaries of precipitation and temperature are renowned and while some may scoff, seeing it as a sign of shallowness, I would argue that on this sort of scale there is something cohesive and bonding at work, a shared experience bringing the most unlikely people together through discussion of an easy and safe topic.

Conversations about ultra high molecular weight polyethylene are not perhaps as common and nor do the words trip easily from the tongue, but Sterling delights in their rapid pronunciation and has for some months been on the trail of two strips of said material. Referred to as UHMW by those in the know, it has a low friction surface while being tough as old boots, making it perfect to cover the centering guides in the utility bed, that are designed to assist in positioning the camper during reloading. The scent led to a company in Milwaukee and an order placed, the intention being to pick it up on our way north. Of course we forgot, and were merrily sailing out of the city before the relevant brain cell activated. We performed an about turn heading back to the factory where it transpired they had lost the order. To cut a long story short, we did leave with the ultra high molecular weight polyethylene (just had to slip that in again) but then lost one of the strips a few days later. The two pieces had been given to us curved round in a circle with the warning that we should undo them as soon as possible. At our next stop we stored them temporarily on top of the utility body storage boxes, nicely out of sight and of course, promptly forgot about them. We moved a few days later, stopping to shop on our way and caught sight of one of the strips; the other was nowhere to be found. Lake Michigamme, in the U.P. We had only come five miles and so decided to retrace our steps eventually spotting it in the middle of the road, patterned by a few tire marks but otherwise as good as new. Now all we have to do is get them fixed in place but in the meanwhile they are safely held where their low friction surfaces cannot cause any more trouble.

Meanwhile, the road took us north into the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, sandwiched between Lakes Huron, Michigan and Superior. It is a sparsely populated, densely wooded area prone to vast amounts of lake effect snow in the winter and the gentle but distinct whine of mosquitoes throughout the short summer. It is affectionately referred to as The U.P. and the people who live there are known as Yoopers. Some of the earliest white settlers were Cornish Tin miners who brought the tradition of their famous Pasties with them; it lives on today and adverts for them are as pervasive here as in Cornwall itself. The area is the butt of many stereotypes arising from the distinct dialect and accent of the region and while the telltale sound of the language is not as obvious as I had expected, local people have certainly embraced the visitor's expectation of it to their own advantage. Signs and postcards written in a mock parody of the unique sound humourously pander to the tourists with language like, "Hey dere from da U.P." and "Da Yoopers Tourist Trap".

Houghton Bridge On our way towards a state park in the Keweenaw Peninsula we passed through the town of Houghton only to find that it had its own small waterside campground in walking distance of two brewpubs. No discussion was needed; we stopped. It is too rare an occurrence that we are actually in a town in the evening and the fact that it was Sterling's birthday the next day gave us the excuse of celebrating early. The smaller of the two establishments, The Keweenaw Brewing Company, had been open less than a month. It is a drinking bar with snacks not somewhere to have dinner but the beer was very good. It emerged through conversation with the woman behind the bar that she was the brew-masters daughter and her father had brewed in Colorado at the Wynkoop. The other pub, The Library, served good food and while the beer wasn't quite as much to our liking, we didn't complain. Between the two it was a very satisfactory evening.

Teresa At Lake Superior We crossed back into the central time zone (yes again!) on our way to Presque Isle Campground in the Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park, where we spent an afternoon sitting on the shore of Superior. The wind was still, the water surface glinting in the sun, the rich blues of lake and sky edged by the evergreens and the stripped wood of beached tree trunks lying on the pebbles. Hours passed as we gazed out, chatted, skimmed stones, sat in silence and generally absorbed the peacefulness of the place. A true delight. We could have lingered longer than the few days we stayed but the camper was due for repairs in Beaver Bay, Minnesota.

The Superior coast north of Duluth is a pleasure and surprise. Cliffs and coves reach down to the water in a landscape reminiscent of the seashore. Time and finances prevented us exploring the area on this visit but we will definitely return to travel the shores of Superior and its islands.

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