Hey buddy do you know what time it is? Jim DuFresne didn’t. The main Trail Talk blogger for MichiganTrailMaps.com didn’t know the time for five days while backpacking in Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park. And it was so unusual he almost didn’t want to emerge from those rugged ridges we call the Porkies to our hour-on-the-hour world.
By Jim DuFresne
I don’t own a smart phone. I do have a cell phone; a flip up that unfolds into a phone twice its original size. How cool is that?
Not very by the reaction of my nieces and nephews when I showed it to them last winter. The look on their face was the same as if I was showing them a typewriter. One of them asked me where my Apps were and at first I thought she was talking about my long since diminished six pack.
When it comes to phone technology, I’m a Neanderthal. I’ve never sent a text message – I’ve never even tried to learn how to send a text message – because you can only imagine how tiny the keyboard is on my flip phone and how big my thumbs are.
The one thing I have done, along with millions of other cell phone users, is ditch the watch. When I want to know what time it is, I flip open my phone and there it is, the biggest numbers on that small screen of mine. My antiquated phone even automatically adjusts the hour when I switch time zones or when we enter daylight saving time.
But this fall I learned in the Porcupine Mountains all this convenience is dependent on one thing; staying connected. And in a wilderness as rugged as this state park is, that proved to be a daunting task.
Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park is a 60,000-acre tract in the western Upper Peninsula, a place full of high ridges and steep canyons, towering 300-year-old pines and entire rivers. I arrived this fall to spend a couple of weeks researching a new edition of my guidebook to Michigan’s only state-designated wilderness.
On my third day there I strapped on my backpack and left my vehicle behind at a trailhead along South Boundary Road for a five-day loop into the heart of the park. That evening I realized I wasn’t getting cell service when I saw that the clock on my phone had disappeared.
I fanatically began pushing buttons with little icons on them and discovered how to change my ringtone but couldn’t find a clock anywhere on that phone. When I went to bed that night I didn’t have a clue what the hour was.
And I was hiking solo so there was nobody to ask if it was time to hit the sack. To make matters worse, I didn’t even know what time zone I was in. I was spending the first few days along the Little Carp River Trail, a beautiful path that is spilt between the Central and Eastern Time Zones.
I always knew where I was in the park. I just didn’t know when I was there.
I was a little discombobulated my first full day without hours and minutes. When I woke up in the morning I didn’t know whether to get up and get going or roll over and go back to sleep. I rolled over and didn’t disembark my small tent until it was bright and sunny outside.
Did I feel guilty? How could I? I didn’t know if it was 7 a.m. or 10 a.m.
I ate lunch when I arrived at a scenic little waterfall along the Little Carp River that was perfect for an extended break. Was it noon? Who knew? I didn’t. I started fixing dinner because I was hungry, I went to bed because the sun had set. I realized without a watch the only real deadline I had was to pitch my tent before dark.
And by the second day I was okay with that. By the third day I found it surprisingly relaxing.
Without a watch your timepiece becomes your instincts and the rhythms of nature. You eat because your stomach is growling, you take a nap because you’re tired, you start gathering firewood because it’s already dusk and you know it’s going to be a lot harder to find when it’s dark.
Without a watch, I discovered, you’re never rushed. You’re never behind schedule because schedules are irrelevant when there is no way to check the time. I simply floated through each day at an unhurried and very pleasant pace.
Just had to pitch my tent before dark. That was it.
On the fourth day I had arrived at the mouth of the Big Carp River, one of the most scenic and popular spots in the park for backpackers to spend a night. I set up camp and then in the evening went to the Lake Superior shoreline to witness what was promising to be a dramatic sunset. Already gathered around the mouth of the Big Carp River were a handful of other backpackers and I could see several were on their cell phones.
Then it occurred to me. I could get reception at this spot. I could make a phone call, send a text message if I knew how, connect myself to the rest of the world.
I could even see if it was time to start dinner.
The question I debated at that moment was; did I want to?
How extraordinary in today’s world to be able to totally disconnect yourself in a place as beautiful as the Porkies. No phone calls, no emails, no Facebook, no Trump-versus-Clinton rants on the television. No news other then another backpacker telling you the bridge over the Big Carp River that washed out during the summer still hasn’t been replaced.
Some of us didn’t even know what time it was.
I found this timeless state of mind refreshing and rare. I realized in another day I would emerge from the forest at a trailhead and there would be my car with its clock and its radio, the first step to getting reacquainted with the world.
But until then I decided that flip phone of mine would stay unflipped.