Fans of the television game show, Let’s Make a Deal, sometimes get to see what happens when you try to go too far. They should have settled for what was in the box, or the sure thing, we say. But then again, there’s what happens when you just keep going in your travels. Eventually you do come to the end of the road. For me, the end of the road was Copper Harbor.
Some of my family lives in Miami, a vibrant place — colourful — I’m told. The people are from everywhere and are as welcoming as the warm sun shining down on glittering beaches and azure waters. A good chunk of my family has been making their way south, in fact. But on that same highway, US 41, that runs up from Miami and through my childhood Chicago home, I went the other way.
It was 2001, and my wife and I just kept driving: north through Milwaukee, through Green Bay, making it all the way to the shores of Lake Superior in Marquette, Michigan. I remember the sky being impossibly blue and the air as cool and crisp as any summer air I’d ever floated through. We drove west the next day, crossing through a line when the landscape seemed to change, from the hills and valleys of the Iron Range to a flatter, forested landscape out toward the Keweenaw Peninsula. A hundred and fifty miles later, we pulled into town, population 65, and what felt like the end of the world. Somehow the sky was bluer, the air was cleaner.
That night, we went kayaking on Lake Superior, the real purpose of our trip.
The trip was amazing, with some of the most epic mountain biking I’d done (and the trails have improved a thousand-fold since then… look up videos of Copper Harbor Trails some time). By the time we returned two years later, we weren’t tourists coming back; we were friends. By our third trip, we probably had more friends up here than down there. In fact, on that third trip, we hadn’t even unloaded the car yet before we were invited out to someone’s house for swimming and a bonfire.
More than a decade after that first trip, we live up here now. Not all the way up in Copper Harbor, but in town, Houghton-Hancock, about 45 minutes away. I work part-time in Copper Harbor in the summer, mostly as a way to make a weekend of it and not have to pay anything. When not up here just for play, I work in the local outfitter’s shop, the same shop that took me on that first kayaking adventure.
As much as Houghton-Hancock is a basecamp for adventures in the area, Copper Harbor is a mini-basecamp, a place where the wanderers out on the trails or on the water come in, share their stories, plan, dream, meet, mingle. Even a couple of small towns (Houghton-Hancock totals about 13,000 residents) feel crowded compared to this wide-open space.
It’s the end of the road up here. The people are friendly and welcoming in a resort town kind of way, but come up here to do, not to just see. Be ready to not just see the adventures of others, but to really get out there and make your own. This small town, this repository of possibility, reminds you just how big this world of ours really is.