Staring at the pasties we caressed in our hands, we weren't sure what to do next.
Do we envelop them in our mouths, wrapping our lips as far around as possible? Is it better to nibble at the edge while maintaining a firm handhold?
Celebrating 50th birthdays together with two men who have been my best friends since high school, we came for a weekend to Iron Mountain on Michigan's upper peninsula to celebrate in style. We wanted to try something new. Pasties were only an added reward.
The new we came to pursue was Piers Gorge on the Menominee River. We signed up for the Wild Ride, three guided trips through a tumultuous gorge on a river that primarily otherwise offered serenity.
While my friend Dave Steel had rafted the Colorado River and I've enjoyed many a whitewater excursion in West Virginia, sometimes unintentionally from outside the raft, it was our friend Mike Collins who came to this trip as a whitewater virgin. His trepidation was palpable, but so was his determination to take on this challenge and add to our long list of shared experiences.
Good whitewater isn't easy to find in the Midwest, particularly for those of us located in the Chicago suburbs. So we made the long drive up along the western edge of Lake Michigan, catching up on our lives, sharing our continuing dreams and laughing at stupidity that is primarily, but not entirely in our past.
The morning of our whitewater trip, we hiked a trail running alongside Piers Gorge, staring from the cliffs at the sharp drops, twisting waters and boulder-leaping sprays we would soon battle. It's not a long section of whitewater, particularly compared to stretches I had run long ago on the Gauley River during fall dam release and the Cheat River after a week of strong rains. Still, it was clear we couldn't just glide our way through.
As we neared Piers Gorge for the first of three runs, our naturalist, environmentally educated guide Forrest Smith directed us to the shore to tie up our spare rafts for runs two and three. As we left shore, I felt my adrenaline kick in as we paddled straight across the river to catch the fast flow and start our first run. That first drop provides a hard, cooling splash that let us know it was time to focus. We did. We went hard forward as directed, pulled back with all the force we could muster when Forrest demanded, executed turns on command and treated the run as if we had our lives in each other's hands, just as we had done so many times over the past 35 years.
Forrest liked what he saw. Our second pass, he ran us right to the edge of massive Volkswagen Rock. We hit the boulder hard and came close to dumping sideways, but all managed to lean to the center just in time to save the ride. Seeing that he could trust us to follow directions, Forrest decided that our third run would send us airborne over the top of Volkwagen Rock. We dug in, paddling with all the energy we could muster and hit it perfectly. Dave and I sat at the front of the boat and came down from our flight with enough force (a nicer way of saying weight) that we sent Forrest at the back into straight vertical launch, held into the boat only by his well-wedged feet. We finished the run, having stayed in the raft the entire time, soaked and exhilarated. Another great experience enjoyed and survived together.
It was time to celebrate. Time for pasties.
Iron Mountain offers plenty of options. The pasties we sampled, at Jean Kay's, were huge -- almost unwieldy.
Substantial in size, with a great crust, Jean Kay's pasties were packed with promised meat and potatoes. I went basic, though adding the offered rutabagas would have been wise in hindsight. It's the dream sandwich for hard-core meat and potato lovers; particularly those who aren't interested in adding spice to their meals. Densely packed calories haven't been among my survival needs since at least sixth grade so this meal of the miners likely won't be added to my regular food options. Still, it's not a choice I regret either. On this guy's weekend, these new-to-us pasties were the only ones we sought. No others even paraded past our eyes.
The beauty that captured our focus and embedded in our souls on this weekend was Piers Gorge. More importantly, we gained a new friend in Forrest and invigorated our long-standing friendship with new experiences we can laugh about and share for hopefully decades to come, pasties and all.