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An MSU alumnus watched every sunrise for nearly five years — then his alarm didn't go off

September 22, 2023
The sun rises over the Red Cedar River on MSU campus Sep 27, 2021. Photo courtesy of Bugsy Sailor
The sun rises over the Red Cedar River on MSU campus Sep 27, 2021. Photo courtesy of Bugsy Sailor

When asked what his first thought was when he looked at his alarm clock that morning, Bugsy Sailor laughed

“I don’t want to talk about it,” he joked

It was Sept. 15, 8:03 a.m. When Sailor woke up to sunlight streaming through his window blinds, he didn’t immediately realize that something was wrong

Then he checked the time. 

“I was shocked,” Sailor said. “First, it was disbelief. But then I hardly had a minute to think about it, because I was panicked and already had things to do in my day, like a radio interview, which I missed.” 

Hours later, when he finally got the chance to sit down and process what had happened, Sailor said it all felt surreal

For the first time since 2018, he had missed the sunrise

“I think it's actually similar to … the stages of grief, where first I was shocked and then I was kind of mad, and then I was kind of sad,” Sailor said.

Sailor graduated from Michigan State University in 2006 with degrees in advertising and sociology. He’s taken part in a long list of creative endeavors ever since

In 2008, he started an online business selling Upper Peninsula-related merchandise, which has since turned into the Upper Peninsula Supply Co. in downtown Marquette. He’s also a cofounder of an annual documentary film festival showcasing the “resilient spirit of the Great Lakes and Upper Midwest.”

There have been stranger projects over the years as well. Sailor launched a campaign in 2010 for the sole purpose of having a beer with British business guru Richard Branson. In 2014, they managed to meet at a Grand Rapids brewery. In 2010, he had the idea for Plaidurday, a “world-wide celebration of plaid” that now occurs annually on the first Friday of October. He’s also trying to raise the three million-or-so dollars needed to buy an island in Lake Superior

But ever since Jan. 1, 2019, one project in particular has dominated his time and energy. That was the date Sailor resolved to watch and photograph every sunrise of the new year

During the next 365 days, Sailor braved Michigan’s temperamental climate to accomplish his goal. The project took him all over Michigan, occasionally ending up on MSU's campus. When he wasn’t facing subfreezing temperatures in winter, he was getting up for sunrises as early as 5:55 a.m. in the summer

He liked it enough to continue it for a second year. Then a third, then a fourth. He watched the sunrise for 1,718 consecutive days. Almost five years

Sailor was surprised it took that long for something to go wrong.

“I was definitely sad to miss it,” he said. "Especially the way that I did.”

Sailor had been waking up at 3 a.m. the few nights prior, unable to fall back asleep. So on the night of Sept. 14, he was careful to plug in his phone and set his alarm to give him ample time to get ready for the morning’s 7:37 a.m. sunrise. Like always, he turned on Spotify and went to bed

It was the perfect storm

Now, Sailor is fairly certain he didn’t turn on the sleep timer feature on Spotify, which automatically turns music off after an hour of play. His phone played music throughout the whole night, slowly draining the battery until it died. It didn’t matter that he had it plugged in to a phone charger; Sailor had been dealing with a faulty cable for the past few weeks

His exhaustion let him sleep through any instinct he might’ve had to get up on his own, and without a phone alarm to break him out of his slumber, he woke up 36 minutes past sunrise

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“It's interesting that in my experience of the world I've created, missing a sunrise is shocking to me when billions of people slept through the sunrise this morning,” Sailor said. “But I created that life, where (watching the sunrise) is such a ritual for me that it is shocking when you commit to something, and you don't make any excuses for four-and-a-half years, and then this one thing happens.” 

Nevertheless, Sailor is proud of his streak, and said watching the sunrise is a healthy practice, for both body and soul

“It gets me outside,” he said. “It gets me moving first thing in the morning, and to appreciate the beauty of Marquette and Lake Superior every single day and to not take this place for granted. I see it as a meditation. My spirit, my heart. Just slowing down in life, being present in my life and in my every day.”

Most days Sailor ends up at a beach that’s within walking distance of his house in Marquette. From there, he’s able to slowly watch the seasons change; Lake Superior freeze and then thaw, ice turn into snow. 

Sometimes he sees the sun, sometimes he doesn’t

“There's been sideways rain, and blizzards, and whiteout conditions, but it's no matter what,” he said. “The sun still rises even if we can't see it.” 

Sailor hasn’t let that morning stop him from continuing his project. On Sept. 16, he was at it again, awake for a 7:30 a.m. sunrise.  

He said that fall colors were starting to come in. In the week since that fateful morning, he notices shades of red and orange seep a little more into the leaves. He said it looked beautiful

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