Reality TV

Shannon and I both despise rubberneckers. We hate the people who slow traffic to a crawl hoping to catch a glimpse of a fender bender or, fingers crossed, the jackpot of bodies strewn along the roadway. We similarly detest the beady little eyes that for some reason often drill into us when we arrive someplace new.

Maybe it reflects twenty years of city living, but we just don’t give a rat’s ass about what anyone else is doing. We don’t look. We don’t stare, because we don’t care. So it is with great shame that I confess how we were drawn in to watching reality TV of sorts.

It started with a long drive clear across Michigan to a place quite unlike any we imagined. We’ve long known that the proper noun ‘New York’ means New York City to most people not from the state. The diversity of 54,000 square miles is, in the popular imagination, reduced to the small spit of land that is Manhattan. I hadn’t thought about it myself, but Michigan, to me, had similarly become synonymous with Detroit. Instead of a gritty and industrial landscape, we found in Michigan rolling pastoral hills, quaint towns, aquamarine waters and the soaring sands of Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore.

We spent a typical day hiking through the burnt sienna dunes of Sleeping Bear, which extend along a 35-mile stretch of Lake Michigan’s northwestern coast. At day’s end we happened upon an extraordinary sight: 450 vertical feet of sand plunging into blue seascape. Piled high by years of coastal winds, the dune’s rise from the lake appeared impossibly steep.

Far below, on a narrow stretch of beach, we saw small dots barely recognizable as people. These folks had climbed down the dune. I wondered if they had given any thought to the climb back up. This should be interesting.

With the unwarranted overconfidence typical of his age, we heard a teen say to his family that he was heading down to the beach and would be back in twenty minutes. Moments later he bounded down the slope with long strides, courting obvious disaster. We watched as he slowly gained speed, becoming more out of control with each step. Nearly two-thirds of the way down, his arms started pin-wheeling wildly as he fought desperately to stay upright. It ended with a stiff leg driving straight in to the sand, catapulting him ass over ears. A perfect face plant wasn’t enough to stop his forward momentum. Tumbling three more times he finally came to rest in a heap near the bottom of the dune.

I doubt at that moment he realized that his journey was less than half complete. I guess being a dumbass has its consequences. He’s young. He’ll learn.

For us, we were hooked on the drama.

Several people who had preceded him down had already started to make their way back up. We could tell it was tougher going than they ever imagined. Walking on sand is tiring. Climbing sand is damn near impossible. Nobody did it quickly or easily. The best of the group made steady, slow progress. Our brash young teen, who thought he’d tackle the challenge in minutes, took frequent breaks, doubled over as if praying.

His family had different ideas: “I think he’s puking.”

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11 Comments on “Reality TV”

  1. Grant September 14, 2011 at 2:15 pm #

    Best blog post yet – so funny. I climbed a massive dune in Vina Del Mar, Chile – my thighs were burning like a Texas wildfire after a couple minutes. Definitely not for the faint of heart…


    • Brian September 14, 2011 at 3:20 pm #

      Thanks Grant.


      • Rex November 20, 2014 at 11:55 pm #

        Okay Brian I have to admit, I was one of those idiots that decided to run down the dune. Big mistake, at 34 years old and not a teen, it was even worse. The run down was actually quite fun. The climb up, not so. I think it took me probably two hours to get back to the top, and I thought I was going to die. Needless to say when I got back to the top, I told the people I was with if I ever try to do something that stupid again, just knock me out and carry me back to the care


  2. Suzy September 16, 2011 at 7:27 pm #

    I think I would have to look away if someone was running down a sand dune at full speed. As far as Michigan, I had no idea about the diversity of landscape. I remember seeing a Michigan Tourism commercial the other day and they don’t tell you all these scenes are Michigan until the end. Looks like a great place.


    • Brian September 17, 2011 at 9:10 am #

      We weren’t originally going to hit Michigan, but changed our route for other reasons and decided to take a look. Glad we did the Great Lakes have some stunning water and scenery. Glad we made the change.


  3. amandanickerson September 18, 2012 at 1:22 am #

    I’m from Northern Michigan and love the Sleeping Bear Dunes! Your blog post had me laughing because I’ve seen people like the teenage many times. I also love your pinned map, I’ve been looking at it for ideas of where to visit.


  4. John Braun December 6, 2013 at 10:10 am #

    Ah, “fulltime wanderers” get a friggin’ life, the judgmental musings of rich people…what a farce. See ya at Starbucks.


    • Brian December 6, 2013 at 11:12 am #

      Poor, bitter little troll. 😦


  5. PJ August 9, 2014 at 1:28 pm #

    My family and I just visited Sleeping Bear Dunes this week, and similarly, we watched as Darwin Award winners struggled to make it back to the top. It was like a train wreck – we couldn’t look away! Great blog. Have you heard of Yonderlist? You seem like excellent people to make some contributions! Happy trails.


  6. ackermari July 28, 2015 at 2:49 pm #

    Was part of the story missing? It ended abruptly with “His family had different ideas: “I think he’s puking.” And I can’t find any continuation.



  1. Great Sand Dunes National Park | Everywhere Once - December 27, 2011

    […] set out to climb the 650 foot dune just because it was there. We got a preview of dune climbing at Sleeping Bear and had some idea what we were in for. But views of miles of rippling sand stretched out before the […]


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