1000+ miles, 4 cities, 3 hotels, 2 Great Lakes, several hikes, 2 border crossings, 2 Jolly Pumpkins, 1 music festival, 1 freak thunderstorm, innumerable hours of talking and quiet. Let’s do it again soon.
Winter, 1931-1932, from The Diaries of Anaïs Nin
I had a sense of preparation for a love to come. Like the extension of canopies, the unrolling of ceremonial carpets, as if I must first create a marvelous world in which to house it, in which to receive adequately this guest of honor.
Photo by mollshot
I have four weeks’ vacation plus seven discretionary days plus a serious case of wanderlust. Who wants to take a trip?
That said, it’s a Sunday morning and my curtains are blowing gently in the breeze and a train just went by and I’m drinking iced coffee, and while it does get better than this, this is pretty damned good.
Many posts forthcoming, but for now, an image from my recent vacation:
On the last morning in Grafton, I dragged my ass off the couch early to get in a quick run before driving back to Chicago. As I started down the Great River Road, I noticed a number of butterflies on the road. After spotting five or six, I stopped to investigate. The butterfly angrily – and somewhat futilely – batted its wings about on the ground, and I left it alone, continuing on my way.
My best theory is that the dozens of butterflies were drying their wings on the road that morning – it had rained heavily on and off throughout the weekend – but whatever the reason, it added a bit of magic to the hazy morning.
Things I will remember from our first full day of the trip:
Breakfast at Java Joe’s. We sat on the patio and perused the exceptionally large newspaper/menu. Shane had a candy pancake – literally a pancake with candy. Reese’s Pieces, to be specific. One pancake plus one slice of coconut French toast. I coveted his sweets, but stuck with an omelette. While we waited for our food, we struck up a conversation with two couples who rolled up with impressive KTM touring bikes. Maybe that’ll be us someday.
A short walk by the water after breakfast after trying to pick up smoked fish and pasties. It was too warm a day to consider having smoked fish in the car, and we’d find ample pasty options later.
Mimicking Babe the Blue Ox and then climbing allllll the way up to the top of Castle Rock. I was terrified by the little walkway, but the views were worth it.
And then a trip back to the lakefront. We’d considered spending part of the day in Mackinaw City, but decided to press on after ogling the bridge and a very shiny motorcycle.
The Java Joe’s newspaper recommended several daytrips, including the Mystery Spot, which we bypassed, and the Big Spring, which was worth the brief detour. Impossibly clear water, clear enough to see rocks and fish all the way to the bottom.
A lunch stop in Escanaba – pasties at Dobber’s. I’m glad we tried them, though I see no need to eat them again. Shane had beef with beef gravy, I had chicken with chicken gravy. The pastry was the best part.
Photo by NCReedplayer
I almost don’t want to tell you about our attempts at hiking. I wanted to do more than just drive, so we looked on the map and found a fairly remote trail not far out of our way. We drove down gravel roads, then dirt roads. After 10 minutes without seeing any other signs of life, we turned off into a park. We located the trail. We looked at each other anxiously. We wrote a note and left it on the dashboard just in case we disappeared in the wilderness. We got out of the car and were IMMEDIATELY ASSAULTED BY A SWARM OF MOSQUITOS REMINISCENT OF THE BIRDS. We frantically applied bug spray, then retreated to the car, laughing at the futility of our attempts.
An hour reading by the lake in Marinette (or maybe Menominee).
Photo by Frank McPherson
A detour to find a giant mouse. We found one, but not the one we were after.
And a stop by a historical marker before setting up camp in Oconto.
Maybe we’re getting the hang of this road trip thing after all.
I might have mentioned before that we’re not good at road tripping. Which is to say: we don’t enjoy driving. Long drives almost always mean traffic, construction, excessive junk food, and, if we’re visiting my family, terrible weather. Seriously, it storms almost every time we drive west. So when I suggested that instead of going to Portland – our proposed vacation destination – that we take a road trip somewhere, you need to realize that we were going out on a serious limb.
After some discussion, we settled on a plan: camping in Wisconsin, followed by a few days in Madison or Chicago or both. And instead of taking awful 94 through awful Chicago traffic, we’d go the long way ’round Lake Michigan – north to the tip of the Mitten, over into the UP, and then south along the Wisconsin side of the lake. We resolved to avoid the interstate whenever possible, and to stop wherever suited our fancy: historical markers, dive-y restaurants, intriguing attractions. I was in charge of researching accommodations, while Shane looked into places to eat, helpfully plotting them out by number of hours along that day’s drive.
And so we set off, heading due north on 75 on a beautiful day. First stop? The Cheesehouse – or, more properly, Pinconning Cheese Co.
We both love cheese, as you well know, but weren’t expecting much from this roadside attraction. Which is to say that we found lots of uninspiring cheese, a few tasty cheese spreads, and an impressive array of meat sticks that Shane snacked on for the next few days. Our total came in below the $5 credit card limit, so we also got a giant pickle that literally had to be held with two hands and made the car smell like dill and garlic.
Our first true road meal came at Spike’s Keg O Nails in Grayling, MI:
Spike’s has been operating in this location since the day after Prohibition was repealed. The menu explained the history of the bar, which has had five owners in its 78 year history. It’s exactly the sort of place you’d expect to find in a smallish town, and exactly the sort of ambiance you’d hope for on a Friday night: lots of townies eating fried fish and drinking cheap beer around small tables.
Who were we to question a good thing? The fried fish was fantastic: crisp batter and flaky tender white fish accompanied by the typical Midwest sides: cole slaw, choice of potato (fries), and a dinner roll. We skipped the roll and split a salad, and were totally pleased with our $15 dinner.
Not wanting to jump right back into the car, we took a walk around downtown Grayling, where we tamed a ferocious beast, sat by the river, and generally started to ease into vacation mode.
We still had a few hours left in our drive, however, so it was back in the car and due north for us, stopping only for a Whippy Dip detour:
and a scenic overlook:
A Pleasant Peninsula indeed.
Beyond the obvious getting away from it all, there were a couple of reasons we were eager to leave on vacation.
First, it’s been effing hot here. Has it been hot where you are? Do you have air conditioning? If yes to the latter, I don’t want to hear about it. We don’t have AC. Rather: we have a portable AC unit that is only effective in cooling things situated directly in front of it. While it does that, it heats the areas directly surrounding it, making it basically worse than useless, especially as its placement in the large front window means we can’t get a cross breeze in the one part of the house where that is possible. We finally gave up on it on a day when Shane’s very scientific brewing thermometer registered indoor temperatures in excess of 85 in the evening while the AC was running. So we have no AC. Our windows are too narrow for even the AC units expressly built for narrow windows. We have no ceiling fans, and our light fixtures don’t have the right wiring for contemporary ceiling fans. We’re sweaty messes.
The day before we left for vacation, the temperatures topped 100. My library was closed due to a cooling shutdown elsewhere on campus. It was 95 in the apartment when we got home – too hot to cook, pack, or think. We tried to go out to dinner. Every place had a 30-60 minute wait. We ended up at Whole Foods, followed by beers at Wolverine State Brewing. By the time we left, we could breathe outside. It’s remarkable how good 85 feels after a heat index of 115.
The other reason? Art Fair. Neither art nor a fair, as the saying goes, Art Fair is a giant monster that takes over all of Ann Arbor in late July. 500,000 people. Lots of street closures. Impossible to drive anywhere downtown. Basically a total ridiculous mess. We had really hoped we’d miss it by leaving town, but no dice.
So suffice to say that we were delighted to be heading north, west, and south on the most epic road trip either of us have attempted. 10 days on the road. Two librarians who aren’t particularly good at relaxing. These Are Their Stories.