To most people the Manitou Islands are objects of legend, the part of Sleeping Bear Dunes that are just bumps on the horizon. But to my sister Pam they are more than that. Pam and the islands are like old friends, with a lot of memories and feelings between them. The Islands have the ability to draw Pam back to them, again and again. She learns more about them, and herself, every time they are reunited.
It started nine years ago, this trip to the Islands. The annual "girl’s only" weekend, a time for the ladies to fend for themselves, from packing (and re-packing) backpacks to setting up tents and building fires. No men to say, "You are not doing it right," no children to reprimand. Manitou means peace and tranquility for some and hiking, exercise and challenges to meet for others. We are the Manitou Island’s "Hiking Honeyz," the real Survivors, especially Pam. Her ingenuity amazes us. Like the Professor on Gilligan’s Island, she is inventive and full of imagination. She can improvise with sticks when tent poles are forgotten, and wrap up water bottles so there is STILL ice in them after our four-day trip.
Pam is the most adventurous of our group. She loves everything about the islands. To her they have always meant freedom … freedom from worry, freedom from the responsibilities of home. Nature is Pam’s real home; it wakes her senses and excites her soul. The Islands always offer her another path to go down or another cliff to climb. Being here gives her the opportunity to fulfill her need to explore, from every trail to every dune. Pam finds it all here. On Manitou with each day, when the sun rises, a new adventure awaits her, and just like reading a good book, she is anxious to see what happens next. At night, when the moon comes up on the far horizon of Lake Michigan, like a balloon popping to the surface, she is surprised at the ending.
The ghost stories of Manitou are what intrigue Pam the most … especially stories about Ronnie Riker. Ronnie was a resident of South Manitou; his family was one of the very last to farm the islands. Years ago, two days after his eighteenth birthday, he drowned while playing around a half-sunken ship, the Francisco Morazan. Since then, stories have been told of him being "seen" all over the Island. Each time she visited South Manitou, Pam would hear of another place that Ronnie had been "seen." On her last visit to the island, Pam wanted to walk the shore at night near the shipwreck where Ronnie died. Pam thought that maybe she would "see" him there.
Pam never made that nighttime ghost walk because she started getting sick on the boat ride on the way to the island. When she grabbed her head we all thought migraine. When we docked, the rangers met us at the boat, took her vitals, and called the Coast Guard. Pam was to be airlifted off the island to the nearest hospital. Not being able to stay there with us made her feel like she was letting the Honeyz down. Before the helicopter arrived, Pam begged us not to ruin our girl time by worrying about her. Of course! Her thoughts were about us and ruining our good time, when SHE was so sick. That’s the way she is.