It began on the weekends immediately following the start of the COVID-19 global pandemic back in April, when the world shut down for several weeks.
Our family, tightly confined by the restrictions of stay-at-home conditions, with two children working on computers at home all day, and parents rattled by the stressful new working and living situation, needed a place to get away.
Naturally, it needed to be close by. But it also needed to be a world away - a place to truly lose yourself. A place where we could properly social distance, but get outside. Get some exercise. Get some fresh air. Get some peace in a rapidly unraveling world.
Without sporting events or other large social gatherings to engage in, with our son’s baseball season cancelled, and most everything else put on temporary hold, we made our way one bright, crisp Saturday morning to Lake Michael. We’re so glad we did.
Although Lake Michael and accompanying Lake Michael Park doesn’t currently offer its full compliment of water and recreational activities, it has throughout this COVID-19 pandemic offered its walking trails, providing a picturesque setting to get outside and move around.
The trails begin near the main parking area, adjacent to the lakeside dwelling that during normal times offers rentals for kayaks and jonboats, along with fishing licenses for those who are inclined to test Lake Michael’s well-stocked assortment of fish. Unfortunately, COVID-19 has put a temporary halt to kayak and jonboat rentals, but those with their own non-motorized watercrafts are able to take advantage of the loading ramp into the lake for easy access.
On our various walks through the trails in recent months, we’ve noticed multiple kayakers along the peaceful water’s edge, trying to catch a few fish. Other fishers have been seen along the docks and shorelines, waiting for something to bite. Although in normal conditions folks have to have a fishing license to fish at Lake Michael, those restrictions are currently not enforced.
The walking trails of Lake Michael Park provide a range of challenges. They’re hilly, and they’re occasionally tricky. But at the same time, we’ve been able to effectively traverse the entirety of the longest trails with our six-year-old daughter and nine-year-old son with no issues. Along the path, my son Colt and I found some walking sticks that worked for our heights and sizes, and certainly they’ve provided some assistance.
I asked my children what were their impressions of the time we’ve spent this spring and summer at Lake Michael.
“I like looking at the lake. I like balancing on the logs,” said our daughter Jenna. “My favorite part? Going over the bridges. And making it to the end. The blue trail you have to turn around, but the yellow trail makes a circle.”
“We’ve never gone kayaking and fishing. We’ve only done trails. I’d like to go kayaking there,” added Colt.
My son got a taste for kayaking this summer, when he attended Chestnut Ridge’s summer camp in Efland, and when we were at my parent’s home in Sneads Ferry along the New River. He kayaked for the very first time at Chestnut Ridge in June and really liked it, and then we went out multiple mornings in July, so now he’s looking forward to getting into the water at Lake Michael whenever they are able to reopen.
There are some centipedes along the trails that have given our daughter some cause for concern, but we’ve managed to explain that we can all co-exist and live together without the bug hurting us, and without us hurting the bug.
“I think they’re cool to look at, but it wouldn’t be good if they bite you,” Jenna said.
Another neat thing we recently saw was a colorful mushroom that reminded of something you might see in a game of Super Mario Brothers. Although this mushroom wasn’t of the green-and-white variety, which gave you an extra life in the original Super Mario Brothers game, this red and white mushroom fascinated us, though we were careful not to get too close.
Jenna has also been a little jittery from time to time crossing over the handful of wooden bridges along the trails, intended to keep walkers from moving through the various streams on the path, but she’s getting bolder with each passing visit.
“I like to cross those little wood blocks a little bit. It depends on how much mud there is,” she replied.
Speaking of mud, one of the biggest kicks my family has gotten out of our recent trips was a recent cavalier step I took through a drying mud puddle, resulting in a slide that covered one side of my right leg, most of my right shoe, and left a two-foot long skid mark in the middle of the former mud puddle. I thought it was dry enough. It wasn’t.
Earlier my daughter had taken a similar but much less messy slip, and she was more than pleased to see me join her in the club.
“It was funny. You took a big mud bath. You took a bath,” she said in recollection of the event.
Daddy’s biggest series of laughs along the trails - aside of the occasional run ahead and jump out scare tactic - is the trips Jenna likes to take to the dock near the start of the trails. Jenna likes to walk out on the dock, check out the occasional duck floating by, and see the water.
Over the past several months, as we’ve been quarantined, we’ve been spending time on Youtube watching nature videos, including several on one of daddy’s all-time favorite creatures - the terrifying saltwater crocodile.
Jenna and I are particularly fond of a few videos detailing this unique place in Australia, Cahill’s Crossing, where saltwater crocodiles bunch up during Australia’s dry season in August and September near a road and walkway crossing in a national park. These conditions create an amazing spectacle where literally hundreds of one of the world’s oldest and most dangerous predators come together to snag barrimundi heading downstream into the dried-up billabong, river, and creek beds.
Of course, daddy can’t help himself as we approach the dock, and he immediately begins filling Jenna’s head about the eyes or the shape of the massive saltwater crocodile he just noticed in the Lake Michael waters.
It’s really remarkably how much our pristine, un-predator filled waters here in Mebane look like those calm river beds and streams where massive man eaters are lurking inches below. And for a six year-old, it’s impossible to know the difference.
More than once, Jenna has ran off the bridge or into the arms of her mother on the verge of tears, terrified at the latest tale of a crocodile sighting. Daddy knows it won’t be long now until his baby girl wearies and grows out of such tales, so he’s just getting in his licks while he can. In the end, there’s always a hug at the edge of the bridge’s connection with dry land, along with daddy’s assurance that no, Lake Michael does not possess any saltwater crocodiles, thank God.
As we wind our way back to our car at the conclusion of yet another fun adventure along Lake Michael’s trails, I’m always a little sad that it’s over. Sad that we have to leave. Sad that we’ve ended that day’s adventure. But there’s one good thing about it. We’re Mebanites to stay. And our last family trip to Lake Michael is many years and many fun adventures from now.