Monthly Archives: July 2012

The Great Northern Adventure 2012, Days 11 and 12.

PENINSULA STATE PARK, DOOR COUNTY Wisc. – Day 11 was a fresh new day and one Michelle had long anticipated, for Michelle intended to go to the place with the goats on the roof.

“Al Johnson’s!” She exclaimed. “I’ve waited on this for months!”

Al Johnson’s is a Swedish restaurant with goats on the roof. Sure enough, folks.

“Don’t forget the Swedish food!” Michelle chimed in. “Lingonberries and Swedish pancakes and MEATBALLS FOR BREAKFAST, wheeeeeee!”

So up they got and away they went for a late breakfast and when they got there they looked for the goats and they saw this:

01-Al-Johnsons-NO-GOATS

“Goddammit!” Michelle exclaimed. But she wasn’t the only one.

“That just pisses me off,” Greg repeatedly grumbled. “It’s like, you know, their THING, the goats on the roof, but there aren’t any goats on the roof. Pisses me off.”

But what about the food?

“Oh, the food was good and fun,” Michelle said. “I had pancakes with lingonberries and meatballs, and Ethan began a fascination with fresh fruit. He didn’t order it for that meal, but he knew I intended to return for a lunch or dinner meal at some point later in our stay, and every time we mentioned it Ethan was all, ‘FRESH FRUIT! I WANT SOME FRESH FRUIT!”

And who can complain about that, honestly?

On the way back to camp, our group decided it would be a Very Smart Thing to work off some of those pancakes (“or eggs benedict, in Greg’s case, because you know – at a Swedish restaurant with all kinds of interesting Swedish foods, you should order EGGS FRIGGIN’ BENEDICT for breakfast” Michelle taunted).

“Leave me alone,” Greg rejoined.

As they wound their way through the park they stopped at Eagle Tower, and this reporter is quite sure it would be Greg’s turn to laugh, because several years prior as they built this little shed right here, Greg had to rescue Michelle off the roof. She had suddenly discovered a fear of heights and ever since that time she’d been a little wonky when climbing.

“This is true,” Michelle noted. “It is about all I can do to climb the fire tower down in Hillsboro, but for whatever reason – Swedish meatballs and pancakes as fortification, perhaps – this didn’t bother me so much.”

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Climb they did. 101 steps later they looked out on this:

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And this:

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Look at that little bitty truck!

Soon after returning to the campsite (and establishing new boundaries for Ethan’s bicycling), it was time for a program up at the Nature Center.

Now, our family’s children dearly love camping, and one of the best reasons for this is the nature programs. Some are great, some are not so great, but they love them all. This one was on making wampum bracelets, and Michelle figured they would be super cheap materials, but no. They were not.

“It was actually pretty cool,” Greg said, “They used real leather and, sure, synthetic sinew but I guess you have to accept some limits somewhere, right?”

But here is the weirdest thing of all.

Are you ready, dear readers?

As the family was there in the Nature Center, a full 575 miles from their little home in Missouri, Laurel comes rushing to Michelle and exclaims, “Mom! That girl over there is from my school!”

“What?” Michelle asked, stunned. “Are you really very sure about that? She doesn’t just look familiar?”

“Yes, I’m sure!” Laurel cried. “She even waved at me!”

“Wow…that…that is really amazing,” Michelle responded.

And sure enough, folks, what are the chances that Laurel would run into someone who not only is from St. Louis – because our family has found that is really not so odd – but from her very school, who participates in her very Fiddlers group?

So the families had a nice little chat while the kids finished their wampum bracelets and soon after, returned to their campsite, awed once again by just how small this little world is.

Day 12 started with a Michelle-sponsored event: A 10-11 mile bike ride.

“YAY!” She exclaimed. “PHYSICAL ACTIVITY!” And the family needed it, for lo, they had been subsisting on high-calorie, high-fat foods for much of the trip.

“I just call those foods tasty,” remarked Greg.

So away they went. Peninsula State Park has a lovely bike trail. It was a cloudy day, but the family met the challenge with verve. Just look at the verve on the faces of these kids:

01-sunset-bike-trail02-Sunset-bike-trail

It was, admittedly, a long trek for our crew, but it ended at the very same lighthouse where Ethan sheltered just a couple of days before during his big solo adventure. The family took a tour and then rode the remaining half-mile or so back to camp…

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…whereupon Greg left to go make another conference call and do some laundry.

“It was super!” he exclaimed. “I got up to the laundromat and found they had canceled my call. Sweet!”

Meanwhile, Michelle took the kids to the bay for a swim.

“Yeah, good times getting back on that bike seat after a couple of hours off it,” she said. “Also, Ethan wanted to take his boogie board and although Laurel assured me she could ride one-handed and carry the boogie board in the other, I knew better, so guess who got to carry it? Whee!”

The bay was choppy and the kids had fun jumping the waves, but Michelle kept her eye on the sky. She has exhibited an uncanny knack in the past for knowing just when a storm will hit and she was nervous.

“I waded back through the bay to check radar on my phone, and there it was, all lit up in red,” Michelle said, “so I estimated the kids had 5-10 more minutes before we really HAD to get out and get back to camp unless we wanted to get caught in the rain.”

Naturally, the kids moaned and groaned about the Injustice of it All, but were convinced by the angry red of the radar app. So back upon their bikes they climbed and they raced back to camp. They were within the borders of the campground when the storm started, and were within their own site before it got bad.

“Score one for the former country girl,” Michelle gloated.

The storm passed quickly and Ethan went back out on his bike for another ride with the radio. Greg returned and, not long after, our family decided to visit a nearby cherry orchard and then just have pizza and call it a day.

“So we get to the pizza place and they tell us it will be a 45-minute wait,” said Greg. “No matter, though, they had a full menu of craft beers and the kids had their DS systems with them. It’s easy to pass the time that way.”

It’s so easy to pass the time that way, in fact, that our family didn’t even hear their name when called. Oops. But not long after, they realized they’d been skipped and were promptly seated, served, and fueled.

A good end to a good day. Except for the conference call thing. And the storm.

Oh, well.

The Great Northern Adventure, Day 10.

PENINSULA STATE PARK, DOOR COUNTY Wisc. – Seven hours.

“No. Seven-point-five,” Michelle corrected.

That’s how long it takes to get from Michigan’s Upper Peninsula to the family’s destination in Door County, Wisconsin. So how was the drive?

“Not bad, I LOVE TO DRIVE!!!!!” cheered Greg. “DRIVE! DRIVE! D-R-I-V-E DRIVE! I would drive for two days straight if I could!”

“Not a chance,” Michelle said. “My back would never handle it.”

But drive they did, the longest drive of the trip, in fact, other than the first day. See, Michelle (a/k/a the TripPlanner) usually plans these vacations in such a way that the longest day of driving takes place on Day One, when everyone is still excited. As you can see by the title of this post, this was Day 10. Typically by this time the family is so exhausted of moving around they can’t rustle up enough excitement for anything more than 6 hours. But rustle they did, and away they went, and the trip was completely uneventful.

“I think the scenery helped,” Michelle said. “That and the 3G/4G signal along the route.”

Yes, folks, it’s true. Greg may DRIVEDRIVEDRIVE but Michelle passes the time surfing the internet, reading, gazing out the window, and obsessively checking the GPS app on the phone to see how many MORE hours she will have to sit in the damned truck.

welcome-to-WI

About that sign. Michelle is usually pretty decent in framing a photo, even while on the move. And she tried with that, she really did. Unfortunately, the family was driving along a bridge and a bicyclist was also riding along the bridge. Well, Greg slowed down as much as he could in order to preserve a clear view for photography, but the biker slowed, too, likely to let the family pass. Then Greg slowed even more, and the biker slowed more. So then Greg sped up but by that time, well, friends…they were at the sign so that’s what you get.

So what is there to do in Wisconsin? Eat cheese, of course, and our family was not going to let much highway pass beneath their wheels before stopping. But where to stop? Ah, that was the question. Yelp said they were closed on Sunday. Facebook said they were open. So they took a chance and stopped at Renard’s, a Door County institution.

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“CHEESE CURDS SQUEAK! THEY REALLY DO! NO REALLY, THEY DO!” exclaimed Ethan. The family loaded up on various cheeses and hopped right back in the truck to continue along their way, arriving at Peninsula State Park in a state of panic.

Why, you ask?

Because they had illegally transported wood across the state lines and that is a very bad thing, and our family does  not like to do that. Oops.

So they pulled into the park and unlike most parks, Pensinsula has one central area for campers to park and walk INTO the office.

“Most places, you pull up to a check station and check in or just go on to the site and the camp host comes around,” Greg said.

“Oh but not here,” Michelle noted. “Here, you have to park and go in and the park is HUGE so there is a line. We were tired from driving all day and there were little four-wheelers parked in the RV spots which Greg just LOVES, and the spots were tight anyway. So I walk in and confess that yes, yes we do have wood we shouldn’t have so they get ready to confiscate it. But the gal who is to confiscate it can’t get through her thick damned skull that she should go to THAT JAYCO JAYFLIGHT CAMPER OUT THERE, IT IS THE ONLY ONE YOU CAN SEE FROM HERE, CAN YOU NOT SEE A BIG HONKIN’ 28-FOOD MOTHER? so I had to repeat myself – I shit you  not – FOUR times before she finally knew where to go and get the wood…which they probably all burned around a bonfire that night anyway. haha!”

Our family got checked in but then they were ready to pull out and some of those little cars who were parked in the wrong spot had Greg all backed in.

Did I mention Peninsula is a huge and very busy park?

So Michelle got back behind the camper to help guide Greg in backing out but they had to stop several times as more traffic came in and they were SO exhausted that by the time they finally got going again they were really and truly ready to relax at their site.

But alas, that was not to be, for there are very cruel campground designers in this world. And no matter how many photos and satellite images there are (and trust this reporter, Michelle checks them all), sometimes one just cannot get a good picture of the campground and campsite. Our family rolled into the campground proper and immediately realized they were in trouble.

“First of all, the park has allowed brush to grow up everywhere, so it’s hard to see where you need to be,” Michelle said. “Also, the roads are very narrow and wouldn’t you know, the sadistic folks made our site angled in the wrong direction so Greg had to perform all kinds of fancy trick moves to get the camper in there.”

But get it in he did, and when they were finally set up, both breathed a huge sigh of relief.

Then Ethan started in, just as he did every single day and night of the entire camping trip: “CAN I BIKE? I AM READY TO BIKE, I WANT TO BIKE, CAN I BIKE NOW?”

Well yes, of course he could, but he had to take a radio with him and check in frequently. Meanwhile, the adults settled in to relax under the awning for a couple of hours until it was time for the fish boil at a local eatery.

Soon enough, relaxation time was over and it was time for Ethan to come back to the camper to get ready for the boil. Greg couldn’t rouse Ethan on the radio so he went to find him, naturally assuming Ethan had abandoned his bike for a swing at the playground and just couldn’t hear the call.

As Michelle changed, though, Greg popped his head in the camper door. “He doesn’t know where he is,” Greg said, “I have to go find him and I can barely hear him, but he says he is at a lighthouse. I guess I need to see a map. Do you think he found some sign or something?”

“THE LIGHTHOUSE????” Michelle gasped in alarm. “That’s, like, at least a mile from here! NOT in the campground. On MAIN ROADS!!!”

“Well, that’s what he said,” Greg said.

“ShitshitSHIT,” Michelle cried, grabbing a clean shirt for Ethan and heading out. “We have to go NOW, so just…we’ll all get in the truck and go find him.”

They raced as quickly as the 15 MPH speed limit would allow, out of the campground and up the hill, Michelle working the radio over and over trying to get Ethan to respond. “Granted,” she noted, “the natural state of the park is pretty, but it is SO easy to get turned around and it blocked the radio signals, and the further we went, as we trailed along behind some minivan moping and gawking, the more freaked out I got. I just kept thinking to myself that Ethan has a lot of sense and surely he’s handling it.”

They pulled into the parking lot at the lighthouse, and sure enough there Ethan’s bike sat, propped into the bike rack just so, with his hel
met on the seat.

All were very relieved.

Ethan was there, sure enough, sitting on the rock wall looking out over Green Bay. He came to the truck and after much discussion admitted that yes, in fact, he had been a little scared, that he didn’t know where he was so he just kept trying to get back until he found the big lighthouse and called in.

“That was the right thing to do,” Michelle assured him. Even so, it was hard for her to settle down.

All was well.

The family went into town to the fish boil dinner they had planned. It was good to be sure, and watching the boil itself offered some distraction, but the evening still had that What If cloud hanging over it all night. And Michelle for one couldn’t imagine why people passing Ethan on the main park roads where a little boy clearly shouldn’t be never stopped to help.

Sure enough, not long before bed, Ethan came and told his parents he was still just a little scared.

“So am I, son,” Michelle acknowledged. “So am I.”

“But we’re also glad you’re smart,” Greg told him.

And so, our family gratefully returned to camp, intact, tired, full of good food, and ready to put a rough day behind them.

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The Great Northern Adventure 2012, Days 7, 8, AND 9.

MUSKALLONGE LAKE STATE PARK, Mich. –  Yes, readers. It has been many days since I have updated this page. Leave it to this family to find the most remote regions of the United States (and Canada!) to pick for their vacation. There are few regions without 4G Verizon coverage these days, and even fewer regions without 3G coverage, but where these regions exist, by god, our family’s matriarch will find them.

“The better to avoid useless conference calls with, my dear,” responded Michelle.

Not that this avoidance was effective, but no matter.

Day 7, if you’ll remember, readers, dawned with Michelle’s super-duper-awesome (her terms) 5 mile hike!!!! (her exclamation points). The family was still based at Tahquamenon Falls State Park at the time, and the weather was beautiful. But the company wasn’t.

“Laurel was reticent. Ethan was downright reluctant; however, once we began Ethan wanted to hike all the staircases. Laurel turned into the mopey-groaney one, like she’s trying to win some prize for Best Whiny Teenager,” Michelle said.

The hike first led them past the Tahquamenon (rhymes with phenomenon, y’all) Upper Falls:

03---Tahquamenon-falls-3Tahquamenon-upper-falls-1Tahquamenon-upper-falls-2 

It seems these falls lay claim to being the 2nd largest falls east of the Mississippi (next to Niagara) or depending on the source, the third largest falls in terms of volume for vertical falls east of the Mississippi (after Niagara Falls and Cohoes Falls, both in New York state). So there you are. Whew.

Laurel rejoiced at the sign for the falls trail they were about to hike. “Yay!” she said, “I can’t wait to hike 4 more miles one-way! It will be so awesome!!!!!” You can just see it on her face, she is SUPER STOKED:

04---happy-teenager-super-stoked-to-hike-the-trail

As she would say: “NOT.”

Ethan, as this reporter mentioned, forgot all his previous reservations and was thrilled to hike as many stairs as possible, counting the entire time.

“GEEZ, I wish he wouldn’t count,” said Michelle, though she was the only other family member game to go along when it wasn’t absolutely necessary. “Counting only makes it worse because then you’re THINKING about ALL THE STAIRS.”

But anyway, they hiked a few more stairs than Greg and Laurel, which probably owed to their lagging at the end.

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The whole family marveled at what appeared to be very ambitious beavers along the way.

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Also in their journey, the entire family bitched about marveled at the wonky bridges, some of which had completely fallen out of alignment with the opposite side, leading to a great number of high/long jumps and ensuing hilarity. Or aggravation. Choose your own adventure. Ethan was particularly perturbed by the omnipresent encroachment of ferns, primarily because they were as tall as he.

07-Wonky-bridges-abound

“GOD,” he complained, “WHY DO THEY ALLOW ALL THIS STUFF TO GROW AROUND THE WHOLE TRAIL?!!!”

“Because,” Michelle explained, “they can’t keep up. The land is fertile here next to the river, and the ferns grow very rapidly where there is no hemlock to render the ground too acidic. Notice how when we pass beneath the hemlocks there is plenty of room but when we come out into the sun there are…”

“I DO NOT CARE, THERE ARE TOO MANY FERNS!!!” Ethan exclaimed. “THOSE BASTARDS!”

“Don’t say ‘bastards,’” Greg warned.

After trudging along for four miles of single-lane-through-the-ferns track, our family heaved an in-unison sign of relief upon encountering the Tahquamenon Lower Falls, which came accompanied by a side of easily-traversed boardwalk.

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“Don’t forget the ice cream cones!” exclaimed Laurel.

Yes, our family, as they are wont to do, stopped at the Lower Falls store for some ice cream cones because, after all, they will look for absolutely any excuse, however minor, to indulge in ice cream.

“You wanna make something of it?” challenged Michelle.

Upon returning to camp, the entire family decided that was certainly an evening for the much-anticipated brewery at Tahquamenon Falls.

So how was it?

“Terrible,” said Michelle. “How do you righteously fuck up a bison burger?”

“Very bad,” remarked Greg. “How do you righteously fuck up both a hamburger and a beer?”

Well, you win some and you lose some. Right?

***

Day Eight dawned with the family beating a hard path toward Muskallonge Lake State Park in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. This was a pretty cool park because it lies on a narrow strip of land between Muskallonge Lake and, hi, LAKE SUPERIOR.

The first order of business was checking into the state park, naturally.

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Unfortunately, not long after checking in, Greg had to go attend to one of those aforementioned conference calls.

“Super awesome,” Michelle said. “Normally I absolutely abhor it when Greg has to deal with work crap and now that he’s at a good company it is truly rare so it’s all good, but this time he even had to go out to a place where there also exists a laundromat, so hi, he got to do our laundry and I took the kids to Lake Superior for some super cold swimming. Awesome, right? How many Great Lakes have YOU swam?”12-Kids-swimming-in-Lake-Superior

Greg, however, had a slightly less effusive opinion of the situation.

“Yeah, I spent at least a half-hour in this, yelling into the receiver because it was so crappy nobody on the other end could hear me.”

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“Of course, being the superawesome wife I am,” Michelle opined, “I just knew what time Greg would end up back at camp and the kids and I got there just in time for him to regale us with how Super Awesome and Productive that phone call was and how Super Happy he was he got to be on it.”

But that was soon at least partially remedied by Greg’s Much Anticipated Activity – renting 4-wheelers.

And rent them our family did, from a little hole in the wall place on County Highway 407. Josh and “DaLane” helped them get those ATVs rented after much consultation of how-tos in a binder. They were very nice, though, and Josh let Greg borrow his 2” ball hitch because our family realized very quickly that a 13-mile ride to get the ATVs back to the campground was very much NOT FOR THEM.

“We needed about another 6” drop,” Greg observed, “so the trailer was hanging pretty off-kilter, but Josh and I got those Arctic Cats loaded, and Josh admitted he had never ever, evereverever ridden the Two Hearted Trail, didn’t know shit-all about it and couldn’t help us at all, thankyouverymuch, to which of course I wanted to respond, ‘you’re renting these ATVs for use on those trails, you oughta ride them so you can give people advice’ but I’m too goddamned polite to say something like that to people in the public.”

Greg’s highlight was that Josh said “beauty,” when they unloaded the trailer after the rental, in true northern US / Canadian fashion, but this reporter digresses.

While Greg and Josh loaded the 4-wheelers, DaLane grilled Michelle about how they found out about the place to begin with.

“The internet,” is how Michelle wanted to respond, but instead she regaled DaLane with the ins and outs of Google and wanting
to go north for the summer because they hadn’t been, and yada yada yada, and DaLane talked about the Pure Michigan campaign and Michelle noticed DaLane had eggs for $2.50/dozen which is way cheaper than you can get them in St. Louis and they talked about that and DaLane’s tomatoes and Michelle’s tomatoes and, well, you get the picture. It’s vacation so there is really no big rush. Most days.

The rental was followed in short order by running a short stint on the Pine Ridge Trail.

Heh.

“MY GOD IT WAS AWFUL,” whined Michelle. “First of all, these machines are big machines, and Ethan was on behind me so we didn’t have as much weight and I was on a brand new machine which sounds great in theory but has a super stiff suspension. Then the trail we went on was chock full of pine stumps and tree roots which are all well and fine if you hit them Just Right but if you happen to glance a tire off them or something it jerks the handlebars (or whatever they’re called, maybe they’re called something way cooler than ‘handlebars,’ hell, I dunno) right out of your hands and I ended up feeling like I had one elbow hyperextended and when THAT happened my thumb hit the throttle and Ethan and I went pretty much nose-first into some scrub brush and Ethan couldn’t plant his feet because he’s too small and it was just BAD BAD BAD.”

Meanwhile, from Greg: “It was awesome. I had a great time.”

So our family, being thinkers, swapped kids to ride on the back.

“Adding another 50-some-odd pounds helped tremendously,” Michelle sighed. “But even then Laurel said it was a rougher ride than being with her dad. We never did switch machines but I still believe the broken-in suspension might have had something to do wish the ease of Greg’s travel. Guess we’ll have to ask our family experts James and Anita,” she added.

So what better to finish off a rather dubious experience than a trip to Pine Stump Junction, which just freaking rocks, in this reporter’s opinion.

“True,” said Michelle.

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The family ordered pizza and beer (root beer in a frosty mug for the kids, no less) and enjoyed it so much they….

Well…just hang on.

After a pizza dinner that couldn’t be beat, our travelers returned wearily to the campground with a trailerful of 4-wheelers a-tow.

All went well until they pulled into the park and Head Honcho Park Guy halted them.

“You got tags for those ATVs?” he asked, chock full of self-importance and Michigan accent.

“Uh,” Michelle responded, “No, but we figured if we trailered them in…”

“Boy, I sure wish you woulda called me and let me know,” park guy said. “I woulda given you some tags, you know, for registered campers only.”

Greg said, “Grumblegrumblegrumble.”

Michelle stepped in.

“Pfft! He called, like, last week, or two weeks ago” she protested. “They told him we could drive them into the campground but we decided when we got here to trailer them in. The gal TOLD HIM that if our site allowed we could park a trailer full of ATVs there NO PROBLEM. We’re in site 63 and we know there is more than enough room so what do we need to do here?”

“Aw, go on and park over there and come in,” park guy said, backing off quickly, as expected, from Michelle.

Meanwhile,  Greg continued to grumble, “This pisses me off, really pisses me off because I CALLED.”

“Alright, go park,” Michelle directed. As they pulled away from the station she continued, “Look, I know this guy ‘cause I’ve worked at parks. He’s working nights on the weekend, he’s throwing his weight around, he wants to be Big Important Park Honcho. I can totally handle him. Don’t worry.”

And handle him she did, with aplomb, showing him she and Greg were at least as smart as he when it came to reading maps, determining trails, and being Real Fuckin’ Assertive. He backed off and became Real Fuckin’ Friendly and offered every single map they had of the Two Hearted Trail along with some bad news: “Much of the Two Hearted is closed on account of a forest fire,” he said.

Of course. What else is new? If our family wants to run a trail there’s either too much snow or too much fire.

But the real coup? Park Honcho asked, “Listen, when you guys are done running that trail there, will ya’ let me know what is open? ‘Cause the guys who are s’posed to know aren’t tellin’ me, see?”

So they agreed.

And the next day, Day Nine, they woke early and headed right out to those trails. Specifically, the went to the Two Hearted Trail.

“We have long dreamt of enjoying a Two Hearted IPA next to the mouth of the Two Hearted River,” Greg said.

So off they went, sore arms and asses be damned, with Laurel riding behind Michelle for more ballast.

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They found wild blueberries along the way.

”I’m so surprised by how tiny the bushes are,” said Laurel. All agreed, and all had a few, and all agreed they were indeed very good berries from very small plants. Funny thing – the wild blueberry festival in these parts is held in August.

“I guess like everywhere else, they’re having a very early harvest this year,” Michelle noted.

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After a seemingly endless (in Michelle’s opinion) amount of ATV trails, our family was indeed forced by forest fire to move to the county roads.

“I told Greg we should just go around the ‘trail closed’ signs but he wanted to be all LAW-ABIDING and follow the signs,” whined Michelle. “Never mind that when we were in Colorado he Jeeped right past THOSE ‘trail closed’ signs. Like, what are they gonna do, tell us we’re all naughty and shit and we have to get off? We even got park honcho to tell us that while he wouldn’t officially tell us we should go on the closed trail we should totes go on the closed trail!”

She was feeling pretty feisty, apparently, after enduring mile upon everlasting mile of rough trail. It seems the woman of the family was hell-bent on doing this whether she liked it or not, just so her man would be happy.

Regardless, they moved to the county roads and soon found themsel
ves at the mouth of the Two Hearted River, where they stopped for lunch, for play on a suspension bridge over the river,

16-Mouth-of-the-Two-Hearted-River17-We-learned-about-this-at-Whitefish-Point,-remember-the-Coast-Guard-boat18-Ethan-checking-out-the-4wheelers-from-the-drivers-seat19-Pumping-water-but-it-never-came-out20-Suspension-bridge-over-the-Two-Hearted-River21-A-Two-Hearted-at-the-Two-Hearted

After a full 50 miles on ATV trails and back roads, our very dusty family found themselves returning the ATVs and then returning themselves right back to Pine Stump Junction for another round of pizza and beer.

“Yes. We were indeed here last night,” Michelle noted. “We were also here this afternoon fueling up the 4-wheelers before returning them while surreptitiously surveilling a meth-addled couple stumble their way in for a late lunch or, possibly, some booze to bring themselves down. Whatever. That was one of those fascinating interludes we often encounter on our vacations, kind of like encountering a sign on the gas pumps that read, ‘Sorry about the price. Inquire inside,’ whatever THAT means. But we’re here now and we do NOT have the same waitress as last night so the only people who know we are in the same place two nights in a row are us, our blog readers, and our bank.”

Speaking of banks, Pine Stump Junction accepts only cash or checks. The night before our family paid by cash but now they were pretty much fresh out.

Greg asked the waitress, “Will you take an out-of-state check?”

After consulting with her boss, she had the answer: “As long as it’s a good one.”

And friends, that is how our family paid their bill, for the first time in a very, very long time.

“Hell,” Greg noted, “I wouldn’t even have thought to bring a checkbook.”

“Or cash,” Michelle added. “Greg doesn’t carry checks or cash. I, on the other hand, almost always have cash and because you never know, the checks go with us on vacation.”

But would-be thieves beware. “I will absolutely, without question, kick you in the nuts if you try to steal from me,” Michelle assured. “So don’t.”

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And that, dear readers, is how Day Nine ended.

The Great Northern Adventure 2012, Days 5 and 6.

TAHQUAMENON FALLS STATE PARK, Mich. – On day 5, our family was still well ensconced in Canada, at a KOA that even Greg himself had to admit was “nice” for a KOA.

That is high praise.

The day dawned with big plans for our group, as usual. The whole lot of them piled into their truck and headed for downtown Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, in pursuit of culture. And that culture, dear readers, took the form of the Canadian Bushplane Heritage Centre. Housed in the former hanger of the Ontario Provincial Air Service on the St. Mary’s River, it was where the bush planes came for necessary maintenance and repairs. The exhibits were dynamic. Many of them held the interest of the kids for an extended time. There was even an interactive movie in which our family got to “fly” on a bushplane flight, complete with wind blowing, fire, rough weather, and lake landings.

“It was pretty nice,” said Greg.

Again, high praise. In fact, that is about the height of exuberance this reporter has ever found Greg to emote.

Michelle, on the other hand, was more effusive.

“They had wreckage in there, and the stories behind the wreckage were just fascinating,” she opined. “I marveled, just MARVELED at what these pilots had to do, at the risks they took, at how tiny most of the planes were and the conditions in which they had to fly – it was simply amazing.”

Here are the photos:

02---Bushplane-103-Bushplane-converted-to-passenger-puddle-jumper04-At-the-controls-of-the-Voyageur05-called-the-Bumblebee06-Ethan-and-Greg-in-the-fire-tower07-Could-not-resist

After the bushplane museum, our family decided to eschew the Canadian lock visit (“Eh, you’ve seen one lock you’ve seen ‘em all,” they agreed), and went to some chain restaurant for lunch.

“Yeah. Not a big fan of chains,” said Michelle, “but this particular one had a build your own salad thing, and after several days of rich food and restaurant eating, I was in desperate need of some plain old veggies, so I was a big proponent.”

Ethan ate chicken wings. BBQ-style. And he ate them. And he ate them.

“It wasn’t the quantity that was the issue,” Greg noted, “it was that he has replaced his sister as the absolute bar-none slowest eater on the planet. The rest of us were finished with his lunch and if I remember correctly, he was on hot wing #2. So yeah, he got the rest of them to go, and away we went.”

The family returned to camp and spent a lazy afternoon with Ethan bikingbikingbiking, Laurel readingreadingreading, and Michelle and Greg alternately trying to raise Ethan on the walkie-talkie and sending Laurel to go find him (which, of course, resulted in a big screaming fight in the middle of the campground).

There was nothing to do for it but to spend the $8 Canadian Greg had in his pocket (change from another evening) on candy they either cannot find in the United States or haven’t seen in many years.

08-Canada-confections 

And so a Canadian candy feast was held, which dramatically lifted spirits. Laurel had clamored for months for Canadian Smarties, having heard about them from some dubious source among her classmates. When asked who gave her the idea, she claimed not to remember.

“And she probably didn’t,” Michelle said. “ Just ask her. She told us today she has a very short memory.”

“True,” acknowledged Laurel.

So how were the Smarties? Well, the kids certainly downed them with no issues at all. However, Michelle felt differently. “Those are nasty,” she said. “Yes, sure, they are candy-coated chocolate, just like M&Ms. But they sure as hell don’t taste as good as M&M’s.” So what were her favorites? “Well, the KitKat Chunky is just like all the KitKat bars put together in one big bar; the CrispyCrunch is quite a bit like Butterfinger, so yeah, that was good. The Oh Henry! is like a Baby Ruth but it’s been a long time since I’ve seen Oh Henry! back home. On the other
hand, I haven’t paid attention so it may be in every store in St. Louis. And the Coffee Crisp was like that old Brach’s coffee hard candy, but it was built like a KitKat. So there you go.”

Well, if that isn’t a well-rounded review, this reporter doesn’t know what is.

Day 6 found the family spending a good hour or so waiting anxiously at the Canada / U.S. border.

“I don’t know why we were so worried,” Michelle said, “It’s like, to where will they deport us, you know? Hi, we’re U.S. citizens trying to return.”

Even so, this border crossing was far more anxiety-ridden than the crossing into Canada. The border agent asked Greg all manner of questions, including whether they had produce (yes, and Michelle described it), what they do for a living, why they were in Canada, where they were in Canada, how long they were in Canada, if they bought anything in Canada, etc., etc., etc. At one point, Michelle swears she saw Greg’s hands shaking like a leaf. He denies it.

“Whatever,” Michelle said. “Clearly I handle interrogations by suspicious cop types better than he does. ha! hahaha!”

And for those of you who know the couple, that is probably not far from the truth.

No matter, however, our travelers managed to make it through, even bypassing inspection (though they did see others accompanied to inspections by the agents). After a stop in Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan to stock the trailer, they hightailed it west to Tahquamenon Falls State Park, stopping briefly along the way for lunch at Brown Fisheries Fish House.

09-Brown's-Fish-House10-Best-damn-fried-fish-ever

“AMAZING,” Michelle gushed.

“This might be the best fish I’ve ever had,” said Greg.

Wait. What is this? Greg was almost enthusiastic about something? And this reporter scooped it? SWEET!

At any rate, folks, it is true. Brown Fisheries goes out on Lake Superior each and every day in pursuit of whitefish. Once those fish are caught, they bring them back and fry those puppies up and sell them until they either a) run out of fish (at which point they close) or b) run out of people to eat it (at which point they smoke up all the extra and sell it, or make it into chowder and dip the next day).

Ethan, being the subversive little man he is, ordered chicken.

And then he took forever to eat the chicken.

“Making me nutso,” Michelle grumbled.

Naturally, our group purchased a full pound of smoked fish to carry along with them. After all, they are back in the U.S., and don’t have to worry about what food they can and cannot take across the border with them.

27-Smoked-whitefish

But not ones to remain stationary for long, they rushed off to Tahquamenon Falls and set up camp, and turned right back around to head for Whitefish Point and its Shipwreck Museum.

How was it?

“It was SWEET,” relayed Michelle. “We watched a movie about the Edmund Fitzgerald, the most recent freighter to go down in Superior. We saw various lighthouse lenses from around the island. The kids and Greg walked down the beach but I’m weird about sand in my shoes so I didn’t, but HEY THAT IS OKEYDOKEY because I got a good picture, right? Then I got a little bummed because I kinda wanted to see this cranberry farm before they closed for the day so we rushed down there and I got some salsa and jam.”

Whew. Here are those photos:

11-shipwreck-museum

 

12-Light-Station-Sign13-Bell-from-the-Edmund-Fitzgerald13-Whitefish-Point-Sign14-Lighthouse-Fresnell-lens-2nd-order14---Lighthouse-reflector-2nd-order15-Lighthouse-Fresnell-lens-4th-order16-Electronic-display-map-of-shipwrecks17-Tragedy-of-the-Edmund-Fitzgerald18-Fitzgerald-display19-Rose-atop-the-Fitzgerald-display20-Museum-benches-made-of-recovered-timbers21-Recovered-rudder22-Beach-at-Whitefish-Point

And then what?

Michelle: “Well, then Ethan saw in the brochure that we’d forgotten one of the places in the museum – the Coast Guard’s U.S. Life Saving Service boathouse, so we rushed back up there to check that out. I mean hey, why the hell not, it’s vacation, right? Right!”

So our family did just that. And it paid off. While in the boathouse, the director of the museum came in (“He was in the MOVIE about raising the Fitzgerald’s bell,” Michelle whispered). He was so engaging in explaining what life was like for those late 1800s rescuers. He demonstrated some of the equipment, such as the breeches buoy – a sort of lifesaving device reminiscent of a zip line – and he answered several of Laurel’s questions.

“Anybody who can engage an almost-13-year-old is a winner in my book,” Greg noted. “Oh, and apparently there is a big market for her hat up here in Michigan, or at the very least on Whitefish Point. Everyone was fascinated by it.”

23-Lighthouse24-Boathouse25-Cork-life-vest26-Sea-anchor

And how did Greg feel about the museum?

“I thought it was cool.”

Ethan?

“It wasn’t as boring as I thought it would be.”

Laurel?

“It was all right.”

Michelle sighed. “These people,” she said. “I swear. Do you know how hard they are to please?”

It was nearly closing time when our family left Whitefish Point and returned to camp, a little bit smarter and a whole lot poorer. “Yeah, we stopped at the gift shop there the second time we were there,” Greg said. “Oops.”

The day ended gloriously with a taco dinner and a fire.

“Can it get better than this? Tacos and fires? Hard to beat!” Michelle asked. “I don’t know, let’s see. We’ve got a 5-mile hike scheduled for tomorrow. AWESOME!!!”

Laurel and Ethan sighed in unison.

As for Greg, he knows better than to moan and groan about a hike. In fact, he might even enjoy it. But if he does, and you ask him about it, don’t expect him to be all gushy or anything.

And there you have it. I didn’t check the exact odometer mileage, but it’s sitting around 900 miles.

Will post more soon, gentle readers, creativity willing and the internet don’t stall.

28-T-Falls-Campsite

The Great Northern Adventure 2012, Day Four.

SAULT STE. MARIE, Ont., Can. – Well, folks, our family is firmly entrenched in the vacation spirit at this point. Usually by about day four they have fully adjusted to camper living and cooking. Michelle even got up and went running this morning.

“Yeah, I did,” she nodded. “It wasn’t a long run, owing partly to the extensive biking (and ensuing soreness) from yesterday’s jaunt to Mackinac Island, but it put me back in the swing of things.”

It was a beautiful morning, and after one last view of the Mackinac Bridge, she returned to camp, where Greg hauled himself out of bed to cook breakfast.

“We had exhaustively researched the rules for crossing the U.S. / Canada border with food,” Michelle said. “And, frankly, we just weren’t sure about some of our things but we were pretty sure the Canadians, friendly though they are, would frown on our unlabeled smoked pork and home-laid, also-unlabeled eggs. So we decided they should be eaten in the form of breakfast tacos.”

And friends, that is just what they did.

01-contraband-breakfast

Now folks, how does that look for a contraband breakfast? Not bad, eh?

It didn’t take long to devour that whole pan and, after thoroughly cleaning the camper (which was in desperate need after an abundance of sand was carried in on Ethan’s shoes), took off to the north. After only an hour or so on the road, they pulled into Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan, where they promptly docked the trailer in the lot for the Soo Lock tours. No problems whatsoever.

“Well, that’s mostly true,” said Greg. “The truth is that the kids bickered the entire way, then got into it enough at the docks that Ethan took off running and fell, thereby skinning his palm and knee and creating a Big Fuss right there on the crowded dock.”

So that was fun.

After he was cleaned up, however, they all boarded the boat heaving sighs of relief and away they went to see the locks.

“Mom, how come we’re going this way? Where are the locks? What is that? How come they are doing it this way? I’m hungry, can I have a snack? Why not?”

Sigh.

Anyway, here’s the first glimpse of Canada our travelers received.

02-Canada-as-seen-from-across-the-St.-Mary's-River

Michelle is always interested in architecture, and was pretty impressed by the brickwork that went into this old hydroelectric powerhouse (which is still in use, by the way). Check out the pylons, shaped like lighthouses!03-Pylons-shaped-like-lighthouses-on-a-hydroelectric-plant

The view approaching the U.S. locks:

04-Approaching-the-U.S.-locks

This rigging is used in case a lock gate needs lifting if it fails for some reason or needs repairs:

05-These-mothers-can-hoist-a-lock-gate

Approaching the lock:

06-Waiting-for-our-gate-to-open

Opening the gates:

07-Opening

Inside the lock. The upper St. Mary’s River (as well as Lake Superior) is a full 21 feet above the lower St. Mary’s, so the boat had to stand at idle for approximately 15 minutes to lock through, while the reservoir filled. Ethan thought this was pretty damned cool. Laurel napped.

08-Waiting-for-the-lock-to-fill

Here the boat is, nearly level with the upper St. Mary’s, just as expected. The locking through
went off without a hitch.

09-Almos-there!

While aboard the boat, our family got a decent view of the International Bridge. If you look closely, you will see the traffic lined up waiting to cross into the United States.

“Yeah, that’ll be a blast,” observed Greg.

10-International-Bridge

This lift bridge, built for the railroad to cross the locks, is not particularly unusual, but it is singularly interesting because its concrete counterweight is so effective only a 40 horsepower motor is required to lift the entire span.

11---This-lift-bridge-was-interesting

Shortly after locking through and passing the International Bridge, the boat took a detour into a steel plant. No, really, it went into the plant. Ethan, once again, was more interested than Laurel. “Why are they doing that? Is that coal? What are they lifting? How come they have all those things? What’s this thing over here?”

“Would you just HUSH and listen to the guide?!” Michelle begged, “They’re answering ALL YOUR QUESTIONS AS YOU ARE ASKING THEM.”

12-Steel-plant-operations

Yep. Fully into the swing of vacation, all right.

As a treat, the boat took the family back through the Canadian side of the locks. Or, well, the one lock.

“They made a special effort to point out how much smaller, how much more inferior Canada’s lock was to the U.S. locks,” Michelle said. “Frankly, I was thrilled because by this time the kids’ clamoring for food had become unbearable and all I wanted was to hurrythehellup and get back to the dock.”

13-cute-little-Canadian-lock14-Dropping-21-feet

And sure enough, dropping down 21 feet on the Canadian side is far, far faster than lifting 21 feet on the U.S. side. After a couple more minutes of narration, our family was tied up at the dock and scurrying off the boat with great haste in order to fill all bellies involved.

15-view-of-powerhouse-with-lighthouse-pylons-from-Canada-side

So. Where does one go when one has four bellies to fill in Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan? Why, that’s easy. You go to The Antlers.

16-The-Antlers17-More-of-The-Antlers

What a fascinating place. Where else can you get venison stew, a buffalo reuben, a smoked whitefish dip / gouda grilled cheese sandwich, an olive burger, and a stew canoe? Our family was so hungry they couldn’t hardly decide. Eventually, though, they settled on the reuben and the olive burgers for the grownups, and a hamburger and chicken strips for the kids. Laurel, however, was pretty appalled at the lack of honey mustard for her chicken. The server said she would make some but they didn’t have any honey.

So that was that.

Bellies full, our travelers anxiously prepared for the border crossing. “After researching the websites and visiting forums and all of that rot for hours on end, we came to the conclusion that
it’s all a crapshoot anyway, and we’d probably get searched and they’d probably throw out half our food, but we were game to give it a go anyway,” Michelle noted.

And that’s what they did.

18-Welcome-to-Canada,-y'all

19-St.-Mary's-rapids-viewed-from-the-International-Bridge

They pulled right up to the border agent’s booth. He tersely asked for their license plate number (Greg blanked, but Michelle remembered), what state they were from, if they had firearms, where they were going, for how long, and DID THEY HAVE ANY BEER?

“Yes,” answered Greg.

“How much?!” asked the agent.

Greg looked at Michelle.

“No more than 30 cans between the two of us,” she offered.

“Okay!” the agent replied.

And away they went.

And here they are, in beautiful Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, Canada, parked right in the middle of a KOA, doing their laundry.

So how does Canada compare to the U.S.?

“It’s just like the U.S.,” opined Greg. “Only in metric.”

20-Safely-in-Canada

The Great Northern Adventure 2012, Day Three.

ST. IGNACE, Mich. and MACKINAC ISLAND, Mich. – First of all, eager readers, we all know you’re dying to find out whether Laurel won last night’s sidewalk drawing contest. She received third place. She was very excited about it. Of course, it was supposed to be a children’s contest but cheaters are everywhere and apparently several adults took it upon themselves to compete.

“I was just thrilled to see her come out of the award notifications happy,” said Michelle. “I had sternly warned her to have a pokerface if she didn’t place.”

Promptly at 7:30 a.m., Michelle woke the entire family so they could catch the ferry to Mackinac Island at 9:05. “Trust me,” she said. “Waking them 1.5 hours early is not merely a good idea, it is a necessity. I have given birth to the slowest eaters and dressers on the planet. This is no lie. Laurel sat for fully 10 minutes working on getting her shoes Just Right, and I thought for sure Ethan had never seen a cherry before.”

By the way, this reporter failed you yesterday, readers, in neglecting to report that our family stopped at one of the ubiquitous stands advertising “WASHED SWEET CHERRIES.” After consulting The Wife regarding a fair price for the fruit, Greg bounded up to the stand and bought a heavenly $10 worth of local sweet cherries.

“Bounded? Really? Is that what you call that?” Greg asked.

Mea culpa. This reporter is simply trying to add some interest to this piece.

So back to this morning. The family arose after a few harsh words directed at the lazybutt kids, and managed to catch that long dreamt-of 9:05 ferry to Mackinac Island.

“IT WAS SO COOL BECAUSE IT HAD A ROOSTER TAIL AND WHOOOOOOAAAAAA A DOUBLE RAINBOW!!!! AND I GOT BUGS ALL OVER MY HANDS BECAUSE THEY WERE ON THE BENCHES UPSTAIRS WHERE WE RODE SO I DIDN’T RIDE UPSTAIRS ON THE WAY BACK BECAUSE I DIDN’T WANT ANY BUGS ON MY HANDS!!!!!”

For those of you who may be curious, that was a guest report from the youngest member of our family, Ethan, who in recent days has lost all ability to moderate both the level and the constant presence of his voice.

“For reals,” Michelle said, “I love that kid like crazy but he Never. Stops. Talking.”

01 - bikes patiently awaiting the ferry02 - kids not so patient03 - hydrojet spray

Our adventurers had a Grand Plan which included ferrying their bikes to Mackinac Island and riding the entire perimeter, followed in short order by a visit to Fort Mackinac. And lo, the day turned out just as they had planned. First, the rode the perimeter of the island, 8 miles of almost entirely flat road all the way around. They do not allow cars on Mackinac (with a very few exceptions made for emergency vehicles and the like), so it is as safe as it can be for bikers.

“I for one, felt like a kickass mom,” boasted Michelle, “because other moms my age were complaining by mile 6.5 or so about having left their legs a few miles back, and I was just plugging along no problem in spite of my Feasting Winter. ha!”

The family stopped a few times to read interpretive signs, see the sites, view rock cairns, and skip rocks.

“So it turns out I’ve lost all ability to skip rocks,” Michelle sighed.

“Yeah. Not me, though,” Greg responded.

It’s true. Greg was without a doubt the Grade A Number One U.S. Choice Rock-Skipper that day.

“And we all knowthat of all the life skills in this world, rock-skipping is perhaps the most important,” quipped Michelle.

04 - arch rock05 - building cairns06 - posing with another creation07 - rock skippers

After giving the island a thorough inspection of the perimeter, our friends parked their bikes (“NOOOOO! GOD! WHY CAN’T WE RIDE OUR BIKES UP THERE I DON’T WANT TO PARK MY BIKE!” – guess who?) and walked up the long, long, very long ramp to historic Ft. Mackinac. Immediately upon their arrival they happened upon an entertaining ceremonial cannon firing.

Et
han sat atop Greg’s shoulders, mostly with his fingers in his ears, but our photographer did manage to convince him the cannon wouldn’t be fired until the interpreter finished his speech.

 

08 - waiting for cannon firing09 - cannon view.

Next, 3/4 of the family went on a War of 1812 Tour. Laurel decided she was more interested in the family/children tour, so she went to play with toys instead. The War Tour was mildly interesting, though the interpreter seemed a little, shall we say, uncertain of his timeline and those involved. Even so, it was interesting enough to keep Michelle and Greg off Facebook for a short time.

10 - harbor view from Fort Mackinac

Fort Mackinac is much like Fort Laramie in Wyoming with the living history interpreters and the like, but Mackinac does have a “Kids Quarters” with displays more in keeping with a child’s interest. Naturally, our friends made heavy use of this.

11---funny-photo-thingy12---you-wouldn't-want-this-guy-after-you13---funnier-photo-thingy

Then it was back out to the parade ground, and a viewing of the musket firing…

14-musket-firing

…followed shortly thereafter by the parade drills, wherein members of the public were invited to join the soldiers. If you look closely, you’ll see Michelle and Laurel eagerly attending at the right.

“First of all,” observed Michelle, “we are the only members of our family willing to put ourselves out there and have fun. Second, this little event certainly separated the High School Marching Band Haves from the High School Marching Band Have-Nots.”

And it was true. Michelle already knew how to do all the faces, the marching, the halting, and whatevers. Laurel picked it up immediately because she’s just like that. The others, however, well…let’s be charitable and say that with some practice they too might have some hope.

15-at-attention-waiting-for-parade-drill-commands

After the parade drills, it was on to the bath house. Back in the early days of Fort Mackinac, the soldiers believed hot baths were terribly unhealthy. It wasn’t until the post surgeon convinced them to build and maintain a bathhouse and bathe every week that the illnesses in the barracks were greatly reduced. Honestly, our family was somewhat surprised at the innovations set into place at Mackinac that we still use today. Just take a look:

16-soldiers-bath17-coal-fired-stove-and-water-tank-for-hot-water-baths18-precursor-to-bathroom-exhaust-fan

Another fascinating piece of history was the binder full of soldier records from the fort’s operation. Michelle and Laurel could have spent all afternoon reading these.

“I made sure to point out to Laurel how today’s stupidity can be recorded for all time,” assured Michelle. “This guy, for example. Drunk. Drunk. Drunk and disorderly. Neglect of Duty. Recorded right here for all time.”

Did it sink in?

“Doubtful,” said Michelle.

19-this-will-go-down-on-your-permanent-record

Ethan, for his part, was perplexed by the old school desks. “I CANNOT BELIEVE SOMEONE WOULD CARVE IN THIS HOW DARE THEY?!” he exclaimed.

“As if he wouldn’t be the first person to do that,” Greg responded.

20-angry-about-engravings

The officers quarters were, naturally, much nicer than those belonging to the enlisted men, and the view was pretty sweet, too. You can just imagine them up there on the hill reveling in their status.

21-view-of-parade-ground-from-officers-quarters

Not long after this, our family decided to visit a blacksmith’s shop and then go ahead and ride back to the other end of the island, cutting through a main road that divides the island in half.

“By this time we were all a little worn out and the beer Michelle and I had at lunch had worn off, and…well…let’s just say that Mackinac Island is short all around the sides and very, very tall in the middle. We spent a significant amount of time walking our bikes up a steep hill toward the top, and listening to the kids whine and moan about their plight.”

Nevertheless, our Very Determined Group made it to the top of Mackinac, then coasted down the other side, swiftly passing the airport, horses, pedestrians, and everyone else in a long steady descent to British Landing, whereupon they refreshed themselves with ten dollars worth of sodas.

“Island living,” Michelle laughed.

Then it was back to the main drag, the fudge shops, the ferry, and back to camp, where all decided there would be no cooking today, thankyouverymuch, and they went out to dinner at a local eatery.

“Amazing,” Greg said, “Even the little hole-in-the-wall places up here have Bell’s on tap. I’m in awe.”

Our family returned to camp with tentative plans to stay up Super Duper Late and check out the stars.

“There is an International Dark Sky Park just across the Mackinac Bridge,” Michelle said. “If I can manage it, we might take a short jaunt over tonight. On the other hand, it was a very full day of biking, the kids are completely unable to stop acting like crazy folk, and we have to go through Canadian customs tomorrow. So who knows?”

Guess you’ll all just have to wait and see.

The Great Northern Adventure 2012, Days One & Two.

ST. IGNACE, Mich. – The Boneblog family has set off yet again on a two-week jaunt.

“That’s two weeks and one day,” corrected Greg.

The Boneblog family has set off yet again on a two-week and one day jaunt. This time, they went north. When asked why, Michelle responded, “Did you see the St. Louis temperatures last summer? Have you been in St. Louis this summer? THAT is why.” It seems our family has gone in search of cooler climes. But did they find them?

On that first day, that most anticipated day of the season to date, our family hopped aboard their truck (the trailer had, of course, already been hitched to it the evening before) and pulled out at precisely 5:17 a.m.

It was rough.

“Egads, we were so exhausted,” Michelle reports. Nobody ever sleeps the night before a big departure like this.

That exhaustion became evident a few hours later, when a lovely gentleman (“asshole,” corrected Greg) cut our family off on the interstate, coming within about two feet of the front of the truck. Frustrated beyond reason, Greg laid on the horn and Michelle gave the fellow the old one-finger salute, which he happily returned.

After that, the family decided it was time to stop for coffee. And so they did. It made the drive through Indiana and Michigan far more pleasant for all, including this reporter.

01 - Indiana Welcome as viewed through a windshield02 - Michigan Welcome as viewed through a windshield

The remainder of the first day’s trip was uneventful, and our travelers pulled into Kalamazoo, Michigan, around 3 in the afternoon – just in time for check-in at Markin Glen County Park. Another interesting tidbit – the girl who checked the family in walked right past the front bumper to the back of the truck to record the license plate, but the rear plate on the truck is a vanity plate. She didn’t bat an eye.

Greg’s response? “Okay, whatever.”

03 - Kalamazoo Kampsite

So did our family find relief from the St. Louis weather? It would appear they had, as evidenced by Laurel’s choice of black knit headwear.

“Uh, no. That’s all I’m going to say about that,” Greg said, then turned his back on this reporter.

Hm.

Well, no matter, the park was pretty, with resident lake swans and wildflowers in full bloom.

04 - kids and swans and cattails05 - wildflower season

 

Michelle and Greg, however, were eager to visit Bell’s Brewery’s Eccentric Café. They had, in fact, been looking forward to this for a very long time. And so off they went in search of downtown Kalamazoo.

“This place is far thuggier than I thought it would be,” Greg observed.

06 - Bell's Sign

They found Bell’s and ventured indoors and were immediately sorry.

Michelle reports: “It had to have been 85 or 90 degrees in there. The outside temperature was 102, and it became clear that Kalamazoo is completely unprepared for these kinds of temperatures. We suffered through the entire meal. It was good food but a terrible, terrible experience. Very noisy and terribly warm, a sure recipe for disaster. Then we rounded the corner to their general store in search of some unusual beers we hadn’t tried. They had all of one that hasn’t made it to Missouri yet. What a disappointment. On the other hand, we did have the privilege of overpaying (as expected because that is how it is everywhere) for some shirts and hats and bottle cozies. So all was not lost.”

Dejected, our travelers returned to camp, happily snapping photos of one of the greatest anomalies of Kalamazoo – the sheer abundance of greenhouses.

“They are everywhere!” Michelle exclaimed. “Really, you know how back home there’s a church on every corner? Up here there are greenhouses all up and down the road. Now that’s a religion I can get behind!”

07 - Greenhouses08 - More Greenhouses09 - Still more greenhouses

Our friends returned to their campsite and sat outdoors, sweltering in the heat, for what felt like a VERY long time – until the sun went down. At 8 p.m. the temperature on their weather apps showed Kalamazoo stubbornly sitting at 100.

“Hell,” said Michelle, “Even friggin’ St. Louis is cooler than this right now.”

And she’s right. ‘Cause she checked.

* * * * *

Day Two dawned with weather as beautiful as Day One. The family dragged themselves out of bed and headed further north, once again in pursuit of cooler temperatures.

“Today’s drive was only five hours – which passed much more quickly than yesterday’s 7.5,” Michelle observed. “It helped significantly that we watched the outside temperature gauge in the truck drop from 84 at 6 a.m. in Kalamazoo down to 74 by lunchtime. We even got to SIT OUTSIDE and eat our lunches at a rest stop! I was so friggin’ excited I couldn’t stop talking about it. Pulled pork sandwiches cooked in the trailer without sweating buckets fixing them? SWEET!”

Ethan chimed in, “This sandwich is GREAT.”

“Yeah, I guess it was so great he felt he had to savor it,” Greg observed, “Because it took him about a friggin’ hour to eat it when we wanted to get back on the road.”

The ride up to the Upper Peninsula toward St. Ignace became prettier and prettier as the family drove.

“Trees everywhere!” Michelle exclaimed. Then she started doing some sort of crazy dance in the truck, changing, “I’m excited, I’m so excited, this trip is awesome, we’re gonna love it!”

On approach to the bridge, our friends tuned the truck radio to the AM dial to pick up information about the bridge. It turns out, the bridge is 28 feet shy of being 5 miles long. “It sure doesn’t look it, though,” said Michelle. “It’s pretty amazing the way you’re fooled by distance. Or maybe it’s just me.”

No comment.

Here are the photos. I would tell you to mouse over them for captions, but you already know to do that because you’re an avid reader of this blog, aren’t you?

Aren’t you?

10 - Crossing the Mackinac Bridge11 - St. Ignace Campsite - Straits State Park12 - Mackinac Bridge View from Campground13 - Family in St. Ignace14 - Playtime15 - Also Playtime

So what did our adventurers think of this campsite?

“It’s a weird site,” said Greg, “because it’s just grass, as you can see above, and it is nearly impossible to level the camper. On the other hand, did you see that view? Can’t beat it. Also, the breeze from the lake combined with temperatures in the mid-seventies is simply divine.”

But as we all know, being on or near the water soon causes one to develop a ravenous appetite. There was nothing for it but to head for the local drive-in, Clyde’s.

“Awwww, Clyde,” Michelle sighed. “If only he hadn’t been such a bad rooster. But I digress.”

015 - Clyde's Drive-In

So. What is so notable about Clyde’s? That’s easy. It’s the Big C.

17 - Clyde's Colossal Sign

Says Michelle: “3/4 lb of ground beef, stuffed and covered with about a half-inch of cheese? That’s Greg’s kind of meal, and I highly recommended he get one.”

Greg, not being an argumentative type, went along with Michelle’s suggestion.

16 - Greg's Big C Burger

So! How was it?

“The burger was really good,” claimed Greg, which is high praise indeed from him. “The mushrooms, however, flat-out sucked. They were awful. Just terrible.”

Hmm, sounds like we need a second, more temperate opinion.

“Temperate?! Have you met me?” asked Michelle. “He’s right, though, they were disgusting. I don’t know how you screw up mushrooms, but it was a good thing Greg got the Big C. He was full after that.”

Aside from the disastrous mushrooms, how did the fare fare?

“Oh look, another comedic genius,” Michelle observed. “Actually, it was very, very good. My cheeseburger was delicious and the kids stopped bickering long enough to eat, so it worked out!”

The family returned to camp with full bellies. Laurel set back to work finishing her chalk drawings she had begun just before dinner. The campground host is sponsoring a contest wherein the children make chalk drawings outside their campsite, with judging to take place at 8 p.m. Here are photos of Laurel’s creations:

18 - the big picture19 - panel 120 - panel 221 - panel 322 - panel 4

So. Did she win?

Stay tuned and find out tomorrow.

“Nice attempt at suspense,” observed Michelle. “Just tell the readers that the real reason is that the judging hasn’t happened yet and I’m tired of this interview.”

And there you have it. Good night!

San Diego, 2012.

Several months ago Greg came home and regaled us with the news that he was attending a conference in San Diego in June. Laurel would be at JBA, but Ethan and I could tag along, and did we want to do that?

Well.

YES.

So that’s just what we did.

We left on Saturday and flew through Houston to San Diego (yeah, I know, the efficiency of air travel is just overwhelming, yes). Interestingly, both legs of our flight involved passengers in need of medical assistance. You know, you always see it on the movies, a flight attendant manning the intercom, calmly asking, “Is there a doctor or nurse on board?”

And it happened. Twice. The first time for a poor young lady who had apparently forgotten her medication and passed out after vomiting, and the second time for an older gentleman who also passed out, needing oxygen.

Both times, nurses saved the day. Thank you, nurses. I hope if I ever need that sort of help one of you is on board that aircraft.

Outside of that, it was more or less uneventful, though I did get felt up by the TSA because I wore a long, flowing skirt and could have hidden all manner of incendiary devices beneath it. So that was fun.

Just about the very first thing we saw after renting the car was this right here:

Laurel St

So that was cool. Maybe out there people would actually be able to spell and pronounce Laurel’s name. Who knew how difficult that would be for the general populace? I sure didn’t realize it when I named her.

Then, while we were at it, we drove up the road a bit to Pacific Beach to eat fish tacos at Taco Surf. We were HUNGRY after flying all day, and now we were dealing with the time change, yada yada yada, and hey, we’ll look for about any excuse to eat.

taco surf decortaco surf

Shortly thereafter, we headed to Coronado Island, where we spent our first night. The hotels there are approximately half the price of the one downtown where the conference was to be held, and we were there a day early anyway. I should point out, however, that a 7500 sq. ft. lot in Coronado costs a whopping $2 mil. It was gorgeous, but no place is THAT gorgeous:

Beautiful landscaping outside Coronado Brewing CoCBCOn Coronado IslandSan Diego from Coronado IslandThe water was not as cold as I thought it would be

We had dinner at the local brewery and retired to our room for the evening. The next morning we rose early. I did, anyway. I wanted to get in a short run down to the beach at the Hotel del Coronado, and folks, that is just what I did. We intended to go whale watching, and we were very excited, which I’m sure fueled my energy – I had not gone running in some time thanks to my stupid knee, and was trying to ease back in. Back to the whales – the blue whales are migrating now and we had tried to get reservations on a boat out of San Diego without luck. Undeterred, we found a boat in Newport Beach about 1.5 hours north, up near Los Angeles. Away we went up the Pacific Coast Highway in pursuit of breakfast and whales.

Breakfast was successful. After struggling along at 35 m.p.h. we found this charming little spot right on the coast, with a gorgeous view.

view fron ki's

Chock full of breakfast, we started back up the PCH until we ran into Camp Pendleton and had to hop back on the interstate. It’s a good thing we did that, though, because traffic as we neared LA became progressively worse until I started to panic about making the boat on time. Oh, then we got there and the parking lot in which we were supposed to park? Also chock full, just like our bellies. But thank you, Google Maps, for saving the day once again, and allowing me to find valet parking. $20? Sure why the hell not, as long as we’re spending money, right? Sheesh.

We made the boat in plenty of time. Ethan started making friends and we all enjoyed the unbelievable boats in the harbor there.

another friendhe makes friends everwhere we gocrazy wedding boatheading out to look for whalesmichellegreg

That’s about all the wildlife we saw, with the exception of these sea lions.

sea lions - the only animals we saw that day

Not a whale in sight. Not even a dolphin, despite the counts online of hundreds, nay, THOUSANDS of dolphins in the few days before.

Sigh.

So…we got vouchers for free whale watching in the future. Thanks, man. I appreciate the gesture, but what are the chances, really, that we’ll get back out there? I guess maybe we’ll just have to try really, really hard, yes?

We drove back to San Diego, and stopped at Pizza Port because Greg wanted some Pliny the Elder. They had it right there on their chalkboard, but did they have it? NO. LIARS. Bent out of shape, Greg grumbled through his pizza (which was actually very good) and we went on down the line to the fancy-schmancy Hilton.

If you ask Ethan, I think he’ll probably tell you the best thing about the Hilton is the Dole container ship that is docked right outside the door. He sat in the window and must have watched this operation for hours:

dole container ship

I dreaded the next two days. I’m not a big amusement park type, and I had decided to take Ethan to Legoland and SeaWorld. Back to back. Yeah, I know, right?

Legoland was, um, okay I guess. Really, it’s for the younger set. Ethan’s been on some pretty good-sized roller coasters so he was on the verge of boredom, but he wanted to drive the cars for weeks and was thrilled to have a shot at that, anyway. He also got a kick out of everything that was made of Legos, including the little dudes outside the bathroom and gift shop, the coyote, and the Volvo XC90.

 

legoland signcrazy car thingyethan loved this guy outside the toiletshe looked forward to this for weeksall legoshe wanted his photo with this guyVolvo XC90 made entirely of Legos

Legoland did have one roller coaster Ethan thought would be fun, and it was okay, but he was fairly unimpressed:

technic roller coaster

We returned to the hotel that night tired and worn, and drove to another restaurant listed as having Pliny the Elder.

Guess what? NO PLINY.

POOR GREG.

That was a disappointing evening, I’m afraid.

But the next day was a new one, and Ethan and I navigated public transit in an effort to make it to SeaWorld. And guess what, we did it. I don’t usually have any troubles with it, but I spend hours researching the transit times, paths, etc., any time we’re headed to an unfamiliar city.

I’m afraid I didn’t take many photos of SeaWorld, likely owing to the fact that I enjoyed it much more than Legoland. Ethan and I rode the  Manta roller coaster twice, along with just about every other ride we don’t already have back here at home (turns out, every amusement park has a log flume / tidal wave ride and a Thunder River / Lost River ride).

SeaWorldJourney to Atlantis towers

There were several shows I thought would be interesting to watch but I could only talk Ethan into one of them – the one involving Shamu. Now, the Shamu stadium has a lot of seats in it, and most of those seats are in what is called the “Splash Zone,” where you are in danger of getting wet. That was JUST what Ethan wanted. I hate being splashed with water but considering this was a one-time thing and we would maybe never get the opportunity to do it again, I acquiesced. Boy, was that a mistake.

shamu or someone

Ethan sat on the end of the row of seats, with me next to him. All went well in the show until the very end, when the trainer asked if we were ready to get splashed. Ethan was all, “YEAH! YEAH! BRING IT! YAYAYAYAYAYAYYYYY!!!”

Then the killer whale started splashing.

And Ethan got hit.

And Ethan started running.

Up the steps he raced, with me launching from my seat behind him, salt water stinging my eyes and soaking my clothes and hair. He turned around and he was…

…CRYING.

I gathered him up and we left Shamu stadium pronto. We got out of there, did some more walking around long enough to dry ourselves as much as possible. We rode the Manta again, lifting Ethan’s spirits, and then we skedaddled. We spent our last night in San Diego eating more fish, walking along the riverfront, and overpaying some guy who biked us in a pedicab back to our hotel.

Whew.

The next day we flew home, very tired but very happy, with plenty of experience under our belts.

Here’s to you, San Diego. Thanks for the memories.