Way down below the ocean
where I wanna be — she may be
In March of 2011, National Geographic unveiled a video that documented the findings of a team of archeologists fronted by University of Hartford professor Richard Freund. Armed with ground-penetrating radars, an electrical resistivity tomograph, and advanced satellite imaging methods, the scientists were on the trail of a series of clues they believed could uncover one of humankind’s most controversial and elusive cities: Plato’s Atlantis. Convinced that Professor Freund and his colleagues were an adequate team for their task, I devoted my attention to a lesser known — but equally ellusive — lost Utopia: John Voelker’s Camp Alice.
I launched my first excursion to Camp Alice on the opening day of Michigan’s trout season. Though cables and snow thwarted my journey, I swore with the confidence and commitment of General MacArthur at Adelaide that “I came through and I shall return.” But I would not return alone.
In late winter I sent several requests to friends and acquaintances for information and advice that might help with my quest to rediscover the environs that John Voelker described so delightfully in his books Trout Madness, Trout Magic, and Anatomy of a Fisherman. The Fiberglass Manifesto’s Cameron Mortenson responded and said he had forwarded my message to John Voelker’s grandson, Adam Tsaloff. A day later I received a note from Adam: he didn’t think he could provide new information about the locations, but he did know the man who wrote the stories. And he knew him well.
I told Adam about my project and about my work to date. He was interested, and suggested we meet during one of his subsequent visits to the Upper Peninsula. Two and a half months later I joined Adam and his good friend James Deloria at the place Adam’s grandfather cunningly called Frenchman’s Pond. The real name of the pond is not much of a secret nowadays, but I won’t reveal it. I just can’t.
And so it was that Adam, James, and I began our expedition to Camp Alice. Our group’s apparatus included a Garmin GPS for my truck, my iPhone’s portable GPS, and an iPad loaded with electronic maps and plat books. We didn’t have radars and tomographs like Professor Freund’s squad, but we weren’t looking for ten thousand year-old artifacts from a society that — according to Plato — sank into the ocean in a single day. No, we were simply looking for a creek and pond that an ambiguous angler had deceptively described in a fifty year-old essay. This should be easy.
A cable and sign still blocked the road to Camp Alice, but the private road into the adjacent camp was open. What would it hurt to take a look? James is a big, strong man, and we had John Voelker’s grandson in the truck. We should be able to talk our way out of any predicament short of a gunfight. But this is the U.P., I thought, and a gunfight with trespassers is not out of the question. Still, we drove on.
I saw his head poke through the cabin doorway first, then his right hand, then his left hand. Neither held a gun. We waved, and he walked out of the cabin and toward our truck.
James spoke first. “Hi. We’re trying to get into Camp Alice on Moose Creek. Can we access it from here?”
“Ya, she da Moose Creek. Whad you lewkeen for?” The man was standing next to our truck now, and his eyes were stunning. Electric blue irises surrounded by white scleras that were crisscrossed with blood-red streaks. His long gray hair was uncombed and in disarray from the last time he removed his Stormy Kromer.
“We’d like to do a little fishing, and we’re looking for some of the places John Voelker used to fish. That’s his grandson in the back seat.” James declared.
The man responded, “Ya, he wrote one heez stories bout dis place. Dat one bout paddleen heez way up to headwaters. Dat was here. Feeshen better at da dam. Not so good here.”
“Is the dam up by Camp Alice?” I asked, pointing back toward the gated road.
“Do you know why they call it Camp Alice?”
“Do you think the owner would let us in there.”
“Even with John Voelker’s grandson?”
We thanked the man for his time and drove off for the public land on the other side of the pond. My previous attempt to get in had been derailed by late season snowpack, but all the snow was gone now. We followed the road to its end, then set out on foot to find the creek and pond.
Our walk to the pond should have taken about ten minutes. We took nearly an hour. A confusing topography, a lack of trust in the iPhone GPS, and two conductors trying to drive one train caused us to plod our way through an unnecessary maze of windfalls and slash. We thought about giving up, but, as John Voelker wrote in the story that inspired this adventure, “there is no lunatic quite like a trout lunatic.”
We found the pond near the middle of its length. The main dam was out of sight in one direction, and the narrow channel of Moose Creek was out of sight in the other. Adam and James began casting, and I began plotting my return with a boat. Once again I declared, “I came through and I shall return.”
© 2011 Timothy Schulz