Monday, July 15, 2013

On the Road: Great Lakes Swing

We just got back from an 11-day tour, a vacation in three acts.  Two stops were family visits, the third an intentionally restful holiday.  As we settle back into daily summer routine and await the cats' forgiveness, I'll offer some reflections.


The Tree Farm has been an important part of my life since I was seven years old.  I first posted about the place three years ago - our last visit, somewhat surprisingly.  The highlight of this year's trip was getting reacquainted with an old friend and his young family.  I've known him since my family's first visit 33 years ago.  At the time, he was a teenager.  My parents remember him and his older brother as being unusually kind to the new kid on the hill.  The eight-year age difference was a big deal then but of course, isn't at all now.  He has children just a little bit younger than Our Girl and they all had a marvelous time together.


Our next stop was northwest Indiana, My Wife's home turf.  It had been four years since my last trip to Indiana and the first since my grandmother-in-law's passing.  She was a very dear lady to all of us and the town just isn't the same without her.  Indiana was where we enjoyed the best meal of our journey: Stop 50 Wood Fired Pizzeria in Michiana Shores.  I highly recommend the margherita pizza and the raspberry gelato.  The service was friendly and the beer list excellent.


The relaxing getaway portion of our tour was set in Michigan's Upper Peninsula, new territory for all of us.  We rented a little cabin in Manistique right on Indian Lake - beautiful and reasonably comfortable arrangements once we acquired towels.  (Douglas Adams was right - no surprise.)  On Day 2 of our UP adventure, we drove north to Lake Superior.  Want to feel as if you've reached the edge of the world?  Nothing quite compares with staring out across 150 miles of earth's largest freshwater lake.

Figuring this was a once in a lifetime visit, we forked over the dough for a boat tour of Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore.  We have now visited all five Great Lakes - check one off the life list.

Unfortunately, our Michigan highlight resulted from car trouble.  The drive back from Superior revealed a rattle in the right-rear wheel area - not good.  A quick look by the local mechanic (Bill of Bill's Automotive: an honorable man if you should visit the area) revealed brake problems.  Naturally, he didn't have the parts.  Ugh!  After much consternation, we decided to get up at the crack of dawn next day and throw ourselves upon the mercy of the dealership in Marquette (Riverside Honda).  Laying off the brakes as much as humanly possible, we and the car survived the drive.  Michelle, the wonderful lady who checked us in, didn't offer us too much hope but said she'd do what she could.  We got a ride to the local Perkins for breakfast and settled in for a long wait.

About a half-hour later, Michelle called.  They found the parts and would have us back on the road in an hour-and-a-half at a fraction of the gouging we'd expected.  As I passed word on to My Wife, we were both on the verge of tears.  Vacation had been rescued.  Faith in humanity had been restored.

I can't say enough about the customer service at the dealership.  Apart from the positive outcome, we were very well attended.  If not for our newly imposed frugality, we might have brought Michelle flowers or chocolates.  She deserved both!  The staff at Perkins were also very understanding of our situation and didn't give us any grief over our extended stay.

Epilogue: Ontario and Home

The quickest route home from northern Michigan goes through Ontario via highway 17.  Our previous experience driving through the mammoth province was on the Lake Ontario stretch through Toronto - a seemingly endless void.  As such, we were pleasantly surprised by the stunning scenery - easily our most spectacular drive of the trip.  The trek did include one very humbling moment for me, also involving the car.  Let's just say I now know that our car will still go an extra four miles once the gas tank reads empty.  We did make it to the gas station in time, delaying for now my death at My Wife's hands.  Next time she tells me it's time to get gas because it's pretty far to the next town, I'll do it.  She need only remind me of Ontario.

Now we are home.  Returning to beautiful Vermont, especially in summertime, makes me wonder why we ever left.  It's always good to see family and it's always fun to explore new places.  Still, nothing compares with home.

Appendix: Audiobooks

I actually enjoy long drives and Our Girl has always handled them well. However, they are certainly better endured by all if we can listen to good stories.  Our literary companions on the Great Lakes Swing:

The Subtle Knife and The Amber Spyglass by Philip Pullman - Both books, volumes 2 and 3 of His Dark Materials, are narrated by the author with a full voice cast.  My Wife and I first listened to the series as books on tape - remember those? - during our pre-parenthood life.  My Wife had been reading the books to Our Girl so the timing was good.

The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain, narrated by Pat Bottino - This was Our Girl's introduction to Twain and also, evidently, My Wife's first go 'round with Tom.


  1. I wish we could afford to take a trip to take the kids to where I grew up. Not that most of it is there anymore, but, still...

    1. I have yet to take my daughter to see the house or the neighborhood where I grew up in Maryland. My parents haven't lived there for quite a while. In some ways, it would be nice for her to see it. On the other hand, I moved away for good reasons. I like where she's growing up better.

      I hope you get to take yours someday!

  2. Car trouble is scary. The slightest rattle and I picture a figure of several hundred dollars. Brake trouble on a road trip? Yikes!

    Glad to read all turned out well. The pictures are gorgeous.

    1. Thank you. It was a fun trip - our longest in quite a while. It was good to go but also great to be home.

  3. I'll be on a road trip in September. Maybe I'll write about it when it's over!