Lake Express Ferry

The Lake Express Ferry carries passengers across Lake Michigan between Milwaukee and Muskegon in two-and-a-half hours. 

When news breaks somewhere far from home, it may not strike people as relevant or worth paying attention to, unless they feel connected to that place.

As NPR's coverage of two recent rock falls at Yosemite's El Capitan reached me during my Friday morning commute, I couldn't help but think of my 2014 visit to the National Park in California. I remember watching climbers at night light up the granite face of the rock with their headlamps, the same rock that crumbled this week, killing one person and injuring two others.

The week my buddies and I camped there, flags in Yosemite Village flew at half-staff after a pilot battling a wildfire at the park died in a plane crash. 

We also filled our trip out West with good memories — waterfalls, a moonrise hike and gourmet meals over the campfire. They hit me first when I reminisce about our time in the valley of the Sierra Nevada.

I had just turned 24, and the vacation marked the second year in a row I explored a National Park for the first time on or around my birthday.

The previous year, I ferried across Puget Sound off the coast of Seattle to trek through Hoh Rain Forest at Olympic National Park. In 2015, my dad, sister and I ventured to the Grand Canyon, an unforgettable bonding experience.

And, at the end of last summer, my friends and I drove to Colorado, where we spent the night at Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, among other beautiful sites along the way.

Although I didn't make it to a National Park this month to celebrate my 27th birthday, I toured new territory. My girlfriend and I traveled to Michigan with our bikes and panniers by way of the high-speed Lake Express Ferry, which carried us from Milwaukee to Muskegon in two-and-a-half hours.

We pedaled about 40 miles south along the coast of Lake Michigan, mostly on a separated trail, to the small Dutch town of Holland, where we spent the night. The next day, we pedaled back, just in time to board our boat to Wisconsin.

After I shared our route on social media, a friend I had not heard from since college reached out to me this week, inquiring about the ride. 

"Thinking of doing the exact same thing as you," he wrote. Although he opted to explore Wisconsin's Elroy-Sparta Trail instead, it felt nice to reconnect, especially since our previous messages pertained to a kegger in the summer of 2012.

In the spirit of National Public Lands Day and Bike Your Park Day, both of which will be celebrated Saturday across the country, take time to organize your next adventure and enjoy the outdoors.

Just remember to keep those in mind who lost their lives attempting to do the same.


Jack Cullen is a reporter uncovering different sides of life in the Quad-City area.