03/18/2015 04:00 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

When Instagram Friends Meet up in the Real World

Can't lie, within 5 minutes of being out on frozen Great Lake Huron and finding myself thigh-deep in a snow drift for the second time already, I seriously began contemplating whether I was sane. I mean, it was 3 a.m. with temperatures hovering around zero, after all. The inner dialogue went something like "Who does this sort of thing? I'm not even a professional photographer, yet, just an Instagrammer who likes tagging #huffpostgram on his pics. Maybe I should just go back to the truck... No, Tony, you've been waiting to see this geological marvel, you can't turn down when you're supposed to be going to TurnUp Rock"

2015-03-13-1426287572-5629557-2015021909.35.381.jpg photo by Ken Bernock

Maybe planning to hike 2.7 miles, one way, from a harbor in Port Austin, MI on the ice along the coast, to the renowned rock named after a vegetable in these conditions is a bit crazy; but at least I wasn't the only one who took part in the madness! So, I clawed my way out and hustled to rejoined the other four adventurers in braving the elements as we resumed our trip. It was our first time together as a group. I met Ken B on Instagram, who knew Dan, who's friends with a different Ken, who brought along Gary.

Normally, you'd think 5 guys getting together for the first time would result in a lot of conversation. But the only thing I heard in first half hour was the occasional "You doin' OK, Tony?" from one of the guys up ahead. Well, that, and my heavy breathing and heart pounding. It made me realize the importance of teamwork... I'm not sure if I'd have kept going. Luckily, we found snowmobile tracks with a bit firmer ground and before I knew it, Ken B announced we we're almost halfway there... probably. The once illuminated landscape was starting to dim as the moon continued its path of descent on the horizon. Our caravan continued, now on land, for another mile. We made better time with the improved footing in the previously traveled terrain and soon saw our first sign we were nearing our destination, a rock cliff jutting out from the land into the lakeshore.

After high stepping through more snow drifts back on the lake, it wasn't long before we rounded the bend and a light was shined on "the rock". We made it, just as the moon set. I had such a feeling of satisfaction that I lit up a smoke while everyone else was hustling to get their gear out and set up their spots. It was kind of funny watching the four of them have light wars, illuminating the rock, while trying to stay out of each other's way. It was then, when I finally looked up and soaked it all in. The stars were mesmerizing. It was like I was looking into another universe. Well, I guess I technically was, but take a look for yourself and see how enchanting it was that night.

photo by Daniel Frei

By 5:30 a.m., our adrenaline and movement induced warmth we had created from the hike had worn off. The picture taking started to slow down, as did our blood flow. Thank our lucky stars there wasn't much of a breeze to speak of, but 3 degrees began to feel a lot like 3 degrees after being out there for a few hours. We talked, we walked (in circles), we kept saying how cold our toes were. Then we saw first light and got back into sky paparazzi mode, capturing the magnificent structure during golden hour. It was a sight to behold.

Photo By Tony Bennett

I realized it was my first time seeing what the guys actually looked like in the light as we headed back. As you'll see in the photo below, a frozen beard is always good for laughs; not to mention a badge of honor in dedication to photography. I also realized how rewarding doing things in a group can be. The support and camaraderie I experienced was refreshing, and I'll definitely be taking part in more adventures with groups instead of shooting solo like I have usually done in the past. We started as strangers, but now have an experience and memories we will share for a lifetime.

Gary, near the end of the trek