When I was a little girl, my mom and aunt took me, my brother, and my cousins to the Dunes as an occasional summer treat. I remember the long walk from the car which seemed to be parked miles away from the lake. I remember juice boxes, cheese and crackers, and grapes filling the cooler. I remember the sand burning my feet. I remember the deep blue of the lake that was as vast as the ocean.
25 years later I arrive at the Dunes this time sans cooler or crew. It’s just me. I stop at the visitor’s center for a map, and a sign proclaiming the Three Dune Challenge captures my eye. Yes, that sounds like something I might like to do.
I drive to the trail head, slap some sunscreen on my face, sling my backpack on, and take my first steps towards the mile and a half loop that boasts runners and hikers alike will take two steps forward and one step back through the sand.
The trail starts off even and shaded, but quickly turns to the first incline. From this point on, the trail is covered in soft, loose sand. I head up the first dune to it’s peak, and I’m rewarded with my first view of Lake Michigan from the top of Mt. Jackson’s 176 foot elevation. It’s a blue sapphire glittering in the morning sun. The smokestacks of the steel mills are hidden by the trees. A breeze ruffles the hair on my neck that has pulled loose from my pony tail. It is so quiet, and peaceful so I sit for a moment on a fallen branch and enjoy the all encompassing silence.
Then I point my shoes towards dune number two. The trail quickly descends reminding me of hiking down Mt. Rainier’s snow covered mountain last summer. My sandals sliding down the soft sand the same way my boots slid through the crunchy snow. Before long the trail evened out again before quickly angling back up. This dune is steeper, the sand slips under my sandals as I try to find purchase in the footsteps of those who have traveled before me. I feel every heartbeat as I ascend. And then I’m there at the top of Mt. Holden, now 184 above Lake Michigan.
Once more I continue on the trail knowing that Mt. Tom is the highest dune in this area. I anticipate more sandy inclines, but this time I am greeted with 105 stairs that will help me to the top of Mt. Tom. Reaching the top, I am now 192 feet above Lake Michigan, and I can see much more of the Indiana shoreline including the smokestacks disturbing the otherwise pristine view.
Then it’s down another 105 stairs before being deposited onto the path that dumps me in the campground. After Sunday’s half marathon this “challenge” didn’t seems so daunting, and the walk back to the car was much shorter than the one’s I remember during my youth.
Leaving the park I return to the visitor’s center to claim my sticker proving I completed the Three Dune Challenge, and file away new memories next to the ones of my childhood.