Chasing the Sun: Part 1

If you’re reading this, you probably already know that Michigan is a unique place. Described by some as “God’s High-five to the World” due to its shape, Michigan is surrounded on three sides by large bodies of water called the Great Lakes. I’ve been to most of the lakes in the twenty-three years I’ve spent in Michigan, but I woke up one day possessed with an idea: To see the sunrise on the water in the east, then journey across the palm to a location on the west coast of Michigan to catch the sunset. 

As I considered the possibility of pulling off such an endeavor, I realized that there was no better time to do it than the present. My work is closed for the foreseeable future due to COVID pandemic. Though the sun would rise just before 6:00am and set around 9:50pm, I’m a strapping young lad who has the energy and caffeine tolerance to get up early, stay up late, and not feel any worse for it. 

Still, if I wanted to catch the full sunset, it would mean arriving home around 1 or 2am, which didn’t sound appealing. The alternative was to rent a hotel room, which was even more unappealing. My problem was solved when I remembered one of my good friends who lived right on the west coast. She agreed to let me stay the night with her and her parents, and the date for this grand adventure was set for June 27-28.

My alarm was set, my backpack ready, and plans in place. The last thing to do on the night of June 26th was to check the weather for the next morning.

It was to be partially cloudy, just as it had been the last few days. 

Undeterred by the adverse weather and unwilling to move the date of the adventure, I resolved to press on through. I had chosen Nayanquing Point as the location for my speciation of the sun. It was a wildlife reserve about forty minutes north of where I lived, and there would be a short hike after I arrived to make my way to the beach. As such, I set my alarm for 4:30am and 4:36am, just in case I skipped the first one. With that, I fell asleep.

The first alarm woke me up, and I didn’t want to risk missing the second one, so I got up and prepared to leave immediately. I made coffee, of course, put it in a travel mug, and hit the road. Though it was dark, I could tell that while some parts of the sky were overcast as predicted, others were clear. This gave me hope. Still, I sent up a quick prayer asking for the skies to clear. I figured it couldn’t hurt.

I had never been to Neyanquing Point before, but my GPS led me true to the dirt road. The ditches on either side were almost full of water from the rains of the past week. It was only about thirty minutes to sunrise at this point, the sky was beginning to lighten. I had to get to the Point, and quickly. 

Then, disaster.

About a quarter mile from my destination, the road was flooded over. I didn’t trust my sedan to make it through the water and mud, and so I resolved to make my way on foot. Luckily, I had brought my Aldi-brand hiking boots. I parked my car on dry ground, shouldered my backpack, took a swig of coffee, and set off at a quick clip. As I went, I saw that it was good that I had left my car behind. The gravel road only got muddier the further I went. It turns out that the Neyanquing Wildlife Reserve is a giant swamp. I half-expected a portly green ogre to burst from the reeds and ask me what I was doing there. Thankfully, this did not happen. Instead, I arrived at the bird observation station. It was a large deck-like structure, raised so that bird-watchers could peer at and take pictures of all the various wildlife in the reserve. I had seen several herons and storks on my way in, but they were not my object. The sunrise was.

But where the road ended, there was no beach. I quickly retrieved my phone and examined a satellite map. It looked like the beach was another quarter-mile away. But to reach the trail that led to the beach, I would have to cross the road, which was now six-to-eight inches deep in places. If I sprinted I could avoid most of the water. But if I stayed, I could get a good look at the sun from the top of the observatory. 

No.

I was here to see the sunrise on Lake Huron, not swamp Neyanquing. If I was going to do this, I was going to do this right.

But I only had a few minutes to spare. I splashed across the road, startling some unseen animals which rustled away in the underbrush. I had no time to be cautious. The trail was overgrown with tall, dew-covered plants. As I ran through them, the entire front half of my body was soaked. But having crossed the river now, and I was committed. The overgrown trail became a plant-strewn beach. I could see where the sun would rise now, and began searching for a suitable place to set down my blanket and backpack and watch the sunrise. Unfortunately, it was partially cloudy. And the “partially” part of that was smackdab in the middle of where the sun would be rising from. With only a few minutes before the first slice of sun would peek over the horizon, I switched locations from a small slice of beach with a ton of mosquitos to a less bug-infested spot.

Then, as I settled in with my still-hot coffee and cracked open my Bible, the clouds began to part. Miraculously, I was able to see a tiny sliver of the sun as it appeared over the horizon and began to vanish behind the clouds. As I read the Gospel of Matthew, more of the clouds were swept away. The sun was risen now, and revealed in all its glory.

As I sat alternately appreciating God’s creation in the plants, lake, and sunrise and slapping at it in the form of bugs, I pondered what all of this meant. There was a magic in the pre-dawn air that the suburbs just couldn’t match. There was a purity to waking up when it was still dark to embark on a journey. If I had my way, this whole process would have been easier. No flooded roads, no wet foliage, and no bugs. Certainly, I would have made the skies clearer so I could see the sunrise completely. 

Yet in some way, all of these things demonstrated the Sovereignty of God. If he wanted, my quickly-laid plans would go awry. If the clouds had not parted, my whole plan would be upset. The point was, after all, to see the sunrise. If I didn’t it would feel a bit like cheating. 

In the end, I spent about an hour there after the sun rose, just thinking, praying, singing, and reading the Word. I’m glad there was no one else there, because they would have thought I was crazy. What I wanted and had worked for was a fairly selfish thing: to see a glorious sunrise over Lake Huron. But what I needed was to spend time with the Maker of the Sun.

As I packed up to leave, I considered how this story might develop as I journeyed across the state to see the sunrise. What lessons would I get to learn there? If the sunrise could teach me so much, how much more would the sunset have to say?

There was only one way to find out.

Stay tuned for Part 2!

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