My Life With Clark Griswold, Margaritas and a Chainsaw: A Travelogue (Sort of)

I’m locally renown for saying “I love not camping.”  But as much as I love not camping, my husband loves not camping less.  Or more.  I’m not sure which applies.  We’d been looking forward to a few August days at my brother’s lake house near Kansas City, but my brother’s employer had other ideas.  This is how at the last minute, we found ourselves seeking a vacation destination.  My husband remembered that his brother and sister-in-law owned a cabin in northern Michigan, so he dialed up big bro who very graciously offered us his digs for a week.  We instantly became excited about a trip, booked a passage on one of the Lake Michigan ferries within an hour, and my concierge/area tourism specialist/super awesome friend Nikki, hooked us up with regional tourist info including a “special edition” Traverse magazine styled in a fashion truly her own.

Traverse City just got waaaaaay more intriguing for this girl!

Last Saturday morning was little kid’s final ball game of the season.  He was the first-named Athletic to the all-star team from the (not exactly entirely) Mighty A’s, which was a rockin’ cool way to cap his season.  My parents came into town to watch our young Cy Young in the making, which added to another wonderful baseball experience for this child whose season had its share of ups and downs in the W-L column.  But he’s nine years old, and I suspect he’s got a few successes to come as he heads into the twilight of his baseball career.

Saturday evening was my high school reunion.  Inexplicably, thirty years have passed since I crossed the stage with diploma in hand at good ol’ Waterford High.  All of us 30-year club members, we looked darn good, so there has to be some warp in the time-space dealio.  No way thirty years have expired–it’s gotta be a trick.  No one ever recognizes me at these things.  At the tenth, people were all “who the hell is she?” and then like, “aaaah, yeah, Wendy’s lost weight!”  At the twentieth, people were all “who the hell is the pregnant one?” while not very secretly snickering and/or sighing (in relief that it’s not them) about someone being pregnant twenty years past high school.  At the thirtieth, people were all “who the hell is she? AGAIN and then, ‘aaaah, that’s right.  Wendy’s the one we never recognize.'”  I’m unmemorable, but I am taking it in a positive direction.  I could lament being old, or I could be thankful for the opportunity to be older, wiser, and unrecognizable in a good way.  I choose good.  The reunion was a lovely time, and seeing friends from an age ago provided smiles and warmth.

Sunday morning we packed and hopped the Lake Express ferry.  It was a cloudless, bright sky–almost my favorite color kind of sky–and it was windy.  Windy on the open water means rough sailing, and rough sailing means fighting to maintain a neutral face while sending up wishes to the skies that I don’t barf in the cabin.  I didn’t barf, so yeah, success.  It was a neat traverse, and I did enjoy waving good-bye to my hometown from this new angle.  Winds on the west side of the lake were one thing, but on the east shore of the lake winds were of the tornadic variety.  We sat out one of the craziest thunderstorms I’ve experienced under the super-safe, comforting arms of a gas station canopy.  It’s one thing to feel vulnerable in unfamiliar territory, and another entirely not to reveal that vulnerability to your children.  My big kid is psychically tuned into me, so if I appear nervous, he takes that and acts accordingly multiplied by a factor of 75.3.  Perception becomes reality, so I worked like hell to project calm.  It wasn’t until we got to the final leg of our trip, the last fifteen miles, when shit got real.  Real real.  Trees and downed power lines blocked the only road leading up the peninsula.  The area looked like a war zone backlit by ethereal pink-orange skies at 9:30 PM.  This sky had potential to rank favorite color-worthy were it not for the otherworldliness and panic it nearly triggered. Eventually through a series of turns at odd angles, the  navigation system (thank you, Ford Motor Company!) steered us to the single path clear of foliage and arcing electricity, and we arrived at our destination.  In the dark.  With no power.  If you ever want to test the mettle of your marriage and parenting strength, folks, I suggest just this:  Travel nine hours (for a six-hour trip) to a place you’ve never been, work it so you arrive in the dark and disconnect the power (including the toilet, friends, because when there’s no power, there’s no pump to refill the toilet.  Yeah.  Super.).  Ship in a host of winged critters and a dead raccoon, aaaaand GO!

Daylight however proved the Traverse City area to be beautiful, less the dead raccoon.  Hiking through woods and over sand dunes was magical.  It was a challenging trek, especially for my big kid, and there were times when it would’ve been easier to quit than to reach the shore.  As we were meandering, I reminded my big kid to look around, to enjoy the roll of the dunes, the crack of the waves hitting the shores.  We challenged ourselves to come up with ten words to describe how beautiful it was, but in the end conceded that there’s no way we could adequately do it justice with mere words.  I suggested he might as well just breathe in, breathe out and savor it.  He agreed with me.  He did!  As I write, I am unable to capture the happiness I felt there as a witness to such natural beauty, and my appreciation for the shades of blue alternating with the sandy landscape.  I think my son did that, just be, just take it in, enjoy being there, if only for a moment. He’s a child who misses many moments because he always wants to know what’s next on the to-do list. I know I shouldn’t place my adult worldview on his 11-year-old soul, but I wish he’d be present, more in the moment sometimes.  The boys scrawled “I love mom” in the sand only to have the sweet sentiment wash away time and time again.  My heart swelled every time. 

Tubing down the Platte River, eating cherry everything–cherry hamburger patties even!–with a side of fudge, mini-golfing, swimming in the great lake, zip lining, a ropes course, and a not quite minor league caliber baseball game filled our days and nights. Side note: big kid fell off one of the high elements of the three-story ropes course, glanced to me with a terrified expression, and as I sang Get Back Up in my head, he did right himself and get back up; I cried.  Of course I did.  There was no television and only intermittent cell coverage on the peninsula, so we were forced to entertain ourselves sans electronics. I liked that.  Turned out to be not exactly the vacay we’d planned, but I was giving it the old college try as were the kids.  We three enjoyed it.  My husband?  Not so much.  Reluctant even to dip a toe into a lake, he watched from the sidelines while the kids and I swam.  Well, I floated mostly.  I mean, it’s not like I’m gonna get my hair wet without a hair dryer to fix my bangs.  Come on.  Plus, water past my belly button is just too damn cold.  I think the top piece of my swimsuit has gotten wet only twice.

We got back to the cabin one evening, and my husband, Clark Griswold, who’d had more than his typical daily fill of margaritas (one is more than usual), stated that he wished he’d had a chainsaw.  Huh?  He had the great idea to clear some brush obstructing our view of the lake, and he was ready to commit.  Yeah.  No.  “I can’t think of anything worse than combining your margaritas and a chainsaw,” I said.  It’s possible there was a tone to my voice, sure.  The search for garden implements and power tools proved unsuccessful for the saw, but did yield some interesting artifacts left behind by the Traverse City Chapter of the Welcome Wagon.   A curiosity of modern painting on native stone, left there near a wizard to guard over them until their rightful owner (me) claimed them.

These and some spectacular bruises from the tubing  adventure are the only souvenirs I brought back.  They’re all I need to remember this chapter of family history.

Cliché as it may be, there is no place like home.  We had plans for a few odds and ends activities to cap my husband’s remaining vacation days off.  I have lots more time off from work across the calendar, so I don’t have to have that singular focus of GREAT vacation that my Clark wants.  His desire for the perfect FAMILY VACATION is endearing, but I fear leads to disappointment at times.  Our sailing trip Sunday was cancelled due to fog (which lifted about 15 minutes after our scheduled departure, naturally) and was capped by a trip to Six Flags where we paid $231 for not one ride.  Waited for “the big ride” for two hours only to have it shut down minutes before our turn to board.  It rained, no, it poured for the next two hours, when we finally gave up the ghost and headed home. I so wanted to title this post, “Sorry folks, Walley World’s closed.  Moose out front should’ve told you.” Instead, I bid you adieu with it.


2 thoughts on “My Life With Clark Griswold, Margaritas and a Chainsaw: A Travelogue (Sort of)

  1. At least Traverse City wasn’t “closed for 3 weeks to clean and repair Americas favorite family fun park.” Just a couple days 😉 Love the chainsaw story. I am sorry it wasn’t the best vacation but the dunes and that blue sky are my happy place. I am happy you got to experience them as well!

    If I ever make it to Wisconson (which I will) I know you will be the most amazing travel agent ever. XOXO


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