The view of Lake Michigan from the patio of our wooden cabin was quite a spectacle! It was Christmas of 2013 and was my last in the US before moving to India. Unlike most of my friends who went on long vacation (most of them to India), I had decided to keep it low and spend time in Chicago. But a meetup post about snow-shoeing trip to Rawley-Point Lighthouse located in Point Beach State Forest and overnight wooden cabin stay caught my attention. And I made decision on the fly to celebrate my first White Christmas in the woods!
Being a meetup event, it was a diverse group of 8 people and we pretty much covered 4 continents of the world. It was a three-hour drive from Chicago to reach to the cabin. The snow-covered road slowed me and Scott (with whom I had car-pooled) but still managed to reach in 4 hours with a quick pit-stop at Milwaukee Public Market.
It was freezing cold (average temperature -8 deg C) when we reached on 24th Dec evening and remained so during our stay there. The wooden cabin was at ambient temperature and hence freezing cold. In the cold, we set up our beds on the wooden bunkers; gathered wood for heating the central furnace which kept us warm during night. Next, we checked out the awesome view of Lake Michigan that the cabin backyard offered. It was harakiri to keep body ends exposed due to the windy Lake Michigan. Hence we were all in our gloves and mittens as we walked along the lake.
Our first night at the cabin was quiet; we were all tired due to rough drive from Chicago. It again snowed over the night and we woke up to completely White Christmas! After getting to know each other bit better over coffee and breakfast, we started with our snow-shoeing adventure. It was around 8 miles hike to the Rawley Point Lighthouse but snow-covered terrain made it extremely difficult to find our path. The best part about US parks is they are well-maintained with path arrow-marks and that helped us distinguish road from snow-covered vegetation. In addition, after every few steps, our own exhaled air would freeze our exposed faces and we would halt for few minutes to catch our breath. I can now probably empathize with Mt.Everest hikers and the hardships they go through at high altitude in thin but cold air.We were fortunate that air was cold but not thin.
Rawley Point Lighthouse is an old monument (built in 1874) and is placed in the National Register of Historic Places. It is located on the west coast of Lake Michigan and is still functional! After a strenuous hike, we reached the light-house and the view was amazing. It compensated for all the snow which by now had sipped into our shoes.
We reached back to the cabin late afternoon and started making preparations for the Christmas dinner. Laura had got Christmas lights and she decorated central area with the lights powered by batteries. Else, the cabin had a single solar-powered lamp and we were all using head-torch. The restrooms were about 50 steps outside the cabin and it was literally a nightmare heading out to rest-room after dark. The dinner was quite elaborate – we cooked pork with bread which Scott had baked himself. There were sandwiches, plum cakes, biscotti, salads, wine and vodka.
Being a diverse group, our conversations spanned from Christmas celebrations across the world to growing up in India and China vs the US to hiking in the Himalayas to Russian mafia in Vladivostok! An interesting story which one of the camper Erika described was about the Santa Claus. Erika was second generation American and her father had migrated to Milwaukee from eastern Europe. And during her father’s first Christmas in the US, he was terrified to observe how Santa Claus was so popular among the Americans especially kids. About 50-60 years ago, in Eastern Europe, Santa Claus equivalent was believed to be a devil (Krampus) who carried chains and punished kids who misbehaved. His counterpart St. Nicholas rewarded kids for good behavior whereas in the US, Santa Claus treats all kids alike.
The next morning we packed our stuff and cleaned the cabin. We exchanged our Christmas gifts with each other and headed back to Chicago. Thus ended my first White Christmas! I will always cherish my first experience in the cabin, snow-shoeing to the light-house, cabin banter with the wonderful fellow-campers I met and helped make these memories together!