I am waist deep in water, looking in wonder at the forest covered hills that encircle. The teal water beneath me is so clear that I can see my purple toe nail polish and the white sand below. Only once had I even come close to an experience like this. While similar to a lake experience in the adirondacks of up state New York, Torch Lake has charm beyond what I had experienced before. The landscapes show some of my favorite moments in nature. With rich forest and caribbean clear waters, Torch Lake truly combines both wonders into one special oasis.
Part of what makes Torch lake so lovely is the protected landscape. I imagine there is a small council of elders passing laws that prohibit buildings above two stories. It’s the kind of place where locals probably pass down their properties through the generations. The shore line is surrounded by trees only disrupted by little country docks and charming homes. Peppered around Torch are a few storybook towns only noticed by the slow down visitor who enjoys and small gift shop or a local restaurant.
Public beach access is very limited which makes a day visit a bit tricky. Most people who come to Torch rent a home on the water or use the public boat launch. The sandbar is a popular spot to drop anchor and float with other boats. Since we weren’t staying on Torch and didn’t have a boat, my brother, sister in law, and husband found a small patch of public land where we could throw down our stuff and enjoy the sandbar. Crystal Beach Road is the southern point of Torch lake where visitors can find a few narrow spots for public beach access. We found it easiest to GPS the Torch Lake Marine because the largest public beach access is just a few yards away. While public parking is limited, many people pull off on the side of Crystal Beach Rd wherever they can find a spot.
As much as I go to the beach, I rarely get in the ocean. My 5 foot 2 inch frame gets smashed by the waves. I don’t like the sticky feeling of salt when I get out, and there is always that looming worry about the things you cannot see. Torch was so different for me. Even though the water was colder, I swam and waded for hours. Near the sandbar, the water is shallow and calm so I could easily stand without being beaten by waves. Other people might miss ocean waves, but for me this was perfection. My only regret was not bringing an inflatable raft to float.
Earlier that day we were eager for an adventure. North East of the public beach access is the little town of Alden. We ventured here for our love of water sports. At Alden Outfitters I met a girl who runs the shop for her grandma, something she does every summer. Walking into this shop is pretty special. They have all kinds of outdoor gear and clothing for less than you’d pay in a big city. Charming as can be, Alden Outfitters set us up with two paddle boards and a tandem kayak. While there are a few other rental places in the area, I struggled to find shops where you could launch straight from the property. Most rental places either deliver the equipment to the home you are renting, or require a car that’s able to transport the equipment. Neither were possible for us, which made Alden Outfitters perfect for our needs. They have a spot to launch right in their backyard complete with shallow shoreline, a dock, and an adorable little light house. On a day when they wind was strong and the water was choppy we should have rethought the paddle boards, but off we went. Putting the dock and it’s minilight house behind me, I was ready.
Jonathan and I love paddle boarding. Yoga is a regular part of our lives so the balancing has always come natural to us on the boards. However, our previous experience had been limited to Hoover Damn in Westerville, Ohio where you can float along in the no wake space amongst sail boats and blue herrings. Paddling west into the wind with choppy waters quickly made me realize we should have chosen two tandem kayaks. While my brother and his wife surged ahead taking on the waves as one unit in the kayak, Jonathan and I were using all our might to move mere inches at a time. Steering was difficult with waves constantly knocking us off course. After much struggle I looked back sure we’d gone so far, but there was the mini lighthouse still so close, taunting me.
Jonathan was the first to lose his balance, though his fall looked more like a playful dolphin dive. He easily popped back up with a smile. I could feel my moment would not be so smooth. My fall came next when my board twisted to the side causing me to be capsized by a wave. I dove into the water only to pop up with my head crashing underneath the board. Eventually I found my way back to the surface. I righted myself on the board, still smiling and paddling forward. After a little while, my baby brother offered to trade places. Once in the kayak with his wife I lost myself in laughter realizing how little progress we’d made but also enjoying how much easier it was than a paddle board. The mini lighthouse was getting smaller in the background, but still wouldn’t disappear.
Eventually our efforts settled into a slow but steady goal to make it a few miles. Our hopes to do the complete 8 mile trip to the sandbar were long gone and instead we took in the joy of just being on the water, stretching our muscles, and laughing each time a wave hit or someone fell off their board. With time running out in our rental, my champion sister in law traded with Jonathan determined to try the paddle board.
We turned to head back and shot like a slingshot with the wind at our backs. Jonathan took off on the kayak with his paddle speeding like two propellers. The vast difference between paddling with one paddle against the wind vs paddle with four paddles with the wind had me howling again with laughter. Eventually I just gave up and let Jonathan’s speed power and the wind cruise us back to shore. The distance that took us an hour and a half against the waves only took us 20 minutes on our return trip. We glided in, the mini lighthouse charting our course and welcoming us back in.
Though this was not the serene paddle boarding experience I imagined at Torch Lake, I still enjoyed every laborious minute. Next time, if the wind is rough, I’ll be sure to rent two kayaks and leave the paddle boards behind.
After such an adventure we had earned our time down the road on the peaceful sandbar. The wind had died down and we laughed in the sun as other visitors gilded by on their paddle boards amongst the calm water. Lessons learned but also great memories made, this was just the beginning of my new addiction to northern Michigan and it’s beautiful lakes.
In my next blog post, I’ll write about Traverse City, Sleeping Bear Dunes, and the secret beaches that will keep us coming back year after year.
The Gurneys can’t get enough of outdoor adventures. Want to see our journey? Follow us on Instagram @GreenGurneys or like our Green Gurneys Facebook page. Tag us on your own adventures. We love to celebrate with you and discover new special places in this world.