I started a draft of notes and ah-has from my July Northern Michigan trip, but that stayed a draft and will do so for awhile longer. I made no space for it. It sat at the top of my to-do list, but I knew, and my to-do list knew, that I wasn’t going to make the time. That’s not a bad thing, it’s all easily reframable due to what has transpired since July 1, but it’s still worth noting that this “making time/space” will be a common thread for the words to follow. A strong thread for my LIFE to follow.
I didn’t really have a chance to prepare or look back on the things I had wanted to pack differently for this year’s Shred Camp (last year’s experiencehere). I suppose that was perfect, to show up like a beginner. I did a lot more burpees, I ran a lot more miles, I had all the technical gear, and I’d built up weeks on weeks of masculine energy, tension, and exhaustion. So I suppose that made conditions perfect for the weekend and the water to serve me up some humble Northern Michigan cherry pie.
From the moment I landed in Empire, MI, home to the Sleeping Bear Dunes, and home to a feeling I can’t quite put into words, things were perfect. I had an hour before I was to report to Camp and I immediately found a beach that called me. I slipped into my suit under my towel standing at the beachside, not even caring that people were around, and confidently headed in, assuming the water temps would be the same as a month ago. I WAS WRONG. It was so cold that my breath escaped my lungs, but it was also the perfect wake up after the hours on the road. SO much better. I got to camp. My heart, my body, my SOUL let out the longest, slowest, deepest exhale and the magic began.
Tight hugs from new and familiar faces. Views so good they broke my heart. Almost no cell service, but just enough that I could catch a moment here and there to respond to what was happening in the shop and keep momentum going with all the projects I’d started back home. Common thread, “how did a year go by? Weren’t we just here? How do we slow it down? It’s so good to see you. It’s so good to be back.”
That first night, after a lakeside slow flow and delicious locally-sourced, made-with-love, mostly plant-based dinner, we packed up for our first paddle. A full moon paddle. We started at a nearby inland lake where some of the gals got their very first taste of SUP and enjoyed the last bits of sunlight, heading for the big lake. Timeout to honor the fact that the first time some of these gals ever stood on a paddleboard was in the dark, with lots of bugs, and then ON LAKE MICHIGAN. We crossed a stretch of sand and waded out enough to protect our fins. As we turned around, there it was, a glorious full moon rising over the land, a clear sky, NO waves on the water and just total stillness allowing us to enjoy the energy and calmly paddle home along the dunes. We howled. A lot. Some of us took the opportunity to let the moon’s call to wildness mean a skinny dip. And obviously that meant I was in, and I have NEVER felt a chill at that level. I have never felt a sense of aliveness at that level. After changing into cozy clothes, we gathered fireside for introductions, s’mores, giggles, moon and starlight, waves gently lapping. We shared who we were, why we were there, our spirit animal (I’m a manatee), and what made us a badass. I loved everyone for what they shared. All was so well.
The next morning brought coffee by the water’s edge, a stunning moonset over the water, and an eerie sense of quiet that I have not allowed for myself. Each morning of camp, I somehow found myself on the deck alone, coffee in hand, catching the moon setting over the horizon. Teary each time, alternating between journaling, staring in awe, watching mergansers fish, loving the butterflies flit, finding awe in perfectly-cued eagle swoops, and again, just listening to the lake. As if those moments weren’t perfect enough, the gals would slowly begin to stir and the conversations would flow right into breakfast. We’d fuel up, take on the day. Paddle, yoga, paddle yoga, surf, dune climb, obsess over sunset, gaze up and down the shore or out at the water. I could not stop saying magical. I mean it. It’s magical. THERE’S MAGIC IN THE WATER.
After Saturday’s surf session and downtime, I had fallen into a light nap when I heard the gals talk about packing up to do SUP skills & yoga. I wanted to be there, I wanted to work on my skills, but I also deeply wanted to get back to that nap. I also deeply wanted to start putting to paper some of the thoughts from the July NoMi trip or start writing this post or simply write anything. My ego wanted me to go get out on the water with the gals, my heart asked for stillness. Honoring that led to the next few hours playing out nothing like I’d imagined, but being completely what I needed. When I went inside to grab my laptop, I instead ended up chatting with Ella’s dad Frank - who was cooking us dinner - for about an hour. We talked about Milwaukee, his work, my work, the magical space we were staying, conservation, and the LAKE. He’s a wonderful human and in just knowing half of her parental unit, it’s no surprise that Ella is the exceptional person she is. After those vibes, I headed down to the deck where another camper was reading and resting. After a few moments with my journal, I asked if she wanted to go for a dip. She did. We dipped.
The lake was warm. Yesterday we were in wetsuits with numb fingers and toes. Today we were wetsuit free and comfortably in the water for what felt like a perfect lifetime. The waves had flattened and the water was crystal clear. We dove around and walked on our tiptoes up and down the sandbars. We stared north and south on the coastline. We took in the trees and one of us cried when noticing they were turning colors in more places than I’d noticed the day prior. We looked at the dunes that seemed to fall straight into the lake. We enjoyed the jet trails and the clouds. We let the current drift us further down the shoreline than we intended and thought how crazy powerful and subtle the lake is...as a whole, in all ways, in general. We talked about time boundaries and how this was the first time for me this summer that I actually felt like I was taking a break. We both agreed that we shove our agendas so full that we don’t leave enough space for moments like these and holy shit we’re so glad that we had this.
After a while, we both naturally started to head to shore and rock hunt. Last summer we both had found a ton of beauties, and this summer we were intrigued to see what that would be like with the lack of beach, crumbling dunes/shorelines happening due to rising water levels. The shoreline is drastically different from last year, but it’s still magical, and as Frank said just earlier - in contrast to my sadness about the changes - “Who complains about more water? Someday we might have a lot less”. We still found a number of petoskey and charlevoix stones - fossilized coral - that are like Great Lakes gold. Rock collecting used to be one of my favorite hobbies as a little girl, and the sense of connection to little Katherine, with the late afternoon sun warming my skin, long wet hair in my eyes, sandy toes, feeling like I was carrying a secret and living in a world only meant for me just contributed to the fullest heart. After another dip to rinse off the sand, we headed back to the house. On the way back, I felt a sort of high for trusting myself and experiencing the simplest, yet most beautiful few hours. Overcome with gratitude. When we got back to the top of the dune, we stood staring at the water again. Like, what is this magic? How lucky are we? We made a joke about how we’re going to spam the Internet with #blessed posts after the trip. We probably weren’t joking. I am not joking. I feel so blessed to know this place and these people. Mel turned to me as the others had started to join us after their equally magical afternoon paddling:
While I haven’t been to other surf camps, I am certain that this is not an ordinary Surf Camp. First of all for the very obvious reason that it’s not on the ocean and there’s a lot of open-mindedness and flexibility required with what the conditions will provide. But also because of the breadth and depth of the teachers and the students. Heck, maybe that’s normal for surf camp, but it feels so intensely wonderful that you don’t know what’s happening, but you know it’s good. So while the thought of 3 days of SUP, SUP yoga, yoga, and surfing sounds pretty intense to some, there’s so much more to this picture. Whether the girls who host realize it or not, they create the most perfect container to remind you both how strong you are, that’s it’s safe to push yourself emotionally and physically, how it’s important and safe to honor what your body is telling you and give yourself permission to rest, and it’s safe to play and be wild, childlike. There’s this overwhelming theme of "nourish yourself" at Shred Camp. In whatever way that resonates - food, conversation, movement. Pause to note that the food is worthy of an entire blog post, but that’s slightly off topic to this space, but it’s such a metaphor for the way I want to approach life: colorfully, adventurous, nourishing, communal, intentional, supportive and supported, cleansing, open-minded. It’s easy to see why people become retreat junkies - there are so many elements to the experience that truly is a life we’re all worthy of living, and yet the demands keep us from it.
When I left on Sunday afternoon, and in the hours and days that have followed, it’s been so clear that there are things I need to focus on. They catch me off guard. I’ve cried more in the past few days than I have in what feels like years. They are both happy and less happy tears. Perhaps I’m finally honoring the full spectrum of my emotions because I’m making time for them. The shifts below are not massive, but they are radically important to me:
I knew I wanted to take the Northern route home through the UP despite it taking hours longer. I was rewarded with a stunning sunset over rough seas (which we had just learned about in forecasting “class”) for the entire stretch of UP time, and when that light was no longer visible, the moon rose over now calm waters. The show from the sun, the moon, and the lake were proof that it’s truly safe to trust myself, make space, celebrate, play, be clear, and soften, like the water.
You owe yourself an experience like this. Truly dream it, find it, create it. Do whatever it is that you need while the season is here. If you want to hop into this magic, Leda is hosting a SoCal edition of Shred Camp at the end of September in San Diego. Ella will be there too! And I would be if I could. If it’s right for you, I wholeheartedly suggest it. Truly, MY WHOLE HEART thinks that if you feel the call, you better book that ticket.
Ella: Daughter of the owners of Sleeping Bear Surf & Kayak, Ella has grown up along the shores of Lake Michigan, surfing, paddling and indulging in the abundance that is the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. Surfing is her passion: the way she expresses herself, challenges herself, and where she feels most at home. She is also an avid paddler, and water-woman on multiple fronts. When she is not seeking waves south of the border, she is at home in Northern Michigan teaching all walks of Earth how to surf as she has for the last five years. She also runs SBX Waterman Camp for kids too. Her greatest joy comes from sharing her passion with others.
Leda: Ever since catching her first wave on the Great Lakes in 2003, Leda has dedicated her life to being on the water. Her mission is to empower women through yoga and board sports. As one of Michigan’s most experience SUP yoga teachers, she finds SUP yoga is the perfect blend of her love of yoga and the water. She currently splits her time between paddling downwind and surfing on the Great Lakes, paddling down whitewater and surfing river waves in Colorado, and leading yoga and surf retreats around the globe.
Beth Price Photography: Beth Price is based in Northern Michigan. It is here that she finds much inspiration in the color palette and light that falls throughout the changing seasons, in the open landscapes, and in the fresh water that is so abundant. Beth’s career goal is simple: To forge lasting relationships with clients who share her passion for the outdoors and natural environment, and to create dynamic imagery that transports the viewer.
Lindsay Simmons: Badass. Big heart.