This was it – the last big adventure of the summer, saved until the end.
The trick was lining up our northern Michigan vacation with the grandparents’ schedules. One pair in Mackinaw City for a few days, and the other in Petoskey for the second half. Help with adventures, babysitting, and overnights. With three kids, taking one to spend time with the grandparents relieves a bit of the strain.
Not that this was stressful. No, northern Michigan moves at a vacation pace. Water, and sky, and enough green and blue to make both of our major state university fans happy.
This close to Lake Michigan, and this close to all those forests – it’s a proper goodbye to nice weather, and water, and wilderness for a while. We even said goodbye to the trout sunning themselves at an honest-to-goodness fish hatchery, complete with a bald eagle waiting, and watching, in the canopy above.
It’s what’s so great about living in our state. A few hours in every direction and you’re next to a giant freshwater lake and enough nature to forget that it’ll all be buried in snow and ice in a few months.
It was supposed to be an easy-going four day vacation – a quick trip down to Toledo, Ohio (the Midwest’s premier getaway destination, naturally) and visit the zoo on Friday. Our first trip with the three kids.
What we got instead was a near-drowning in the hotel pool, a scary trip to the emergency room, and a rainy zoo day.
Despite all that, we made the best of it. We took an impromptu trip back to the Toledo Zoo on Saturday, when it was warm and sunny, and did it right. We also met some friends at Tony Packo’s and enjoyed some good Hungarian hot dogs, coney style.
Easy-going? Not so much. But we got out of the house and started the vacation season in earnest.
So here’s the plan: fly into Vegas on Friday, Sept. 10 around 9:30 at night, grab my compact rental car, and start driving. Leave the Sin City behind and hit the road.
Next, make it to Springdale, Utah, just south of Zion National Park, check into a room at some low-rate motel, and hit the park. Hiking and picture taking. A day, maybe two, then hit the road again, southeast this time, toward the Grand Canyon’s North Rim. Find a spot to sleep, maybe with the rental car as my tent, build a fire in the desert, and wake up to do some more hiking – to the bottom of the Earth.
Last time I was in the neighborhood, I passed up on the Grand Canyon only because of time constraints. By the time Route 66 wound through Arizona, there was too much left to see along the actual route – and when I got to California, I had to turn around and drive all the way back home.
But I always knew I’d be back, and it only took four years. So it’s time to do the largest gorge on Earth justice and explore it righteously.
My only concern is gear: since I’ll be flying and not driving West, it’s not like I can fill the car with tents and pots and backpacks. In fact, I want to travel as lightly as possible. One option is to pick up everything I’ll need there, use it, and ship it home. I’m still working this one out.
After all the parks, it’s on to New Mexico, and to Albuquerque to see Cowboy and Sarah and Kita, their nice, skittish dog. The last time I was in town I had a burger and malt at a ‘50s-style diner, and became a member of the Albuquerque Public Library System to use the Internet. That was only an hour or two, but this time I’ll have days to explore: visit the Route again, maybe do some hiking, definitely go swimming in the Myers’s apartment complex pool.
That’s until Friday night. Saturday morning has me hauling ass across the desert to make it back to Vegas and take a red eye flight back home.
It’s an adventure like the old days, when time and money were no object. My last big trip was New England, and that seems so long ago that I get experiences from that trip mixed with the others. Which trip had my knee hurting? (New England) Which trip had fears of car trouble? (Route 66 and Pennsylvania/Columbus) Which trip was I hit on by a gay guy? (All of them)
This is how I get my head straightened out. Me, sitting in a car, blaring the radio, windows down (yes, even – and especially – in the desert), seeing things I’ve never seen before. It’s cathartic and therapeutic and fun all at once. It’s the “me” that I’ve gotten to know so well, and it’s time to revisit that feeling.
There was a story in Ken Burns’s “The National Parks” documentary about the head of the national parks, Stephen Mather, going bat-shit insane if he didn’t get out and explore the country on a periodic basis. He spent so much time in Washington that he would up in a mental ward for 18 months until his family took him out West and – lo and behold – his soul and sanity were restored. I can relate.
After a certain amount of time, I get The Itch – the feeling that there’s adventure out there somewhere. Really, it’s because there’s not much room to sit and think around these parts. Sitting and doing nothing but thinking, with some hiking and picture-taking mixed in, allows for time and space totally dedicated to reflection. What have I done? Where am I going next? Why didn’t I stop at that last rest area? These are questions that need to be answered.
So I’ll answer them at the bottom of the Earth, and in between tunnels of rock and dirt, and in the middle of nowhere – amongst my best friends.
Next week, I face the first week-long vacation of my adult life where I have no plans.
I’ve never taken time off from work and done nothing.
By “nothing” I mean no cross-country trip, of course. My first dose of vacation time took to me my first solo trip, a long weekend in Chicago, and from then on it’s been 1,000 miles or more. It’s the only way I know how to operate.
But it’s not like I have “nothing” to do. I’ve got an entire list of projects, errands, and favors I can attend to. In fact, I plan to use some of my time off to plan my next giant interstate (or inter-province) trip.
Through May, I’m using the last of my remaining vacation time. There’s an entire week off next week, and then there’s a five-day weekend for Memorial Day later this month. For that, I’ve had a few ideas. I’ve wanted to hike the Appalachian Trail, so I thought about heading down to the Tennessee/North Carolina border and roughing it. Yosemite National Park is also on my to-see list. Part of my big end-of-July trip involves me actually having money, however, and each of those trips seemed costly. What’s a budget-minded person to do?
Here’s the beauty of Facebook: I planned a long weekend in Los Angeles with Andrew thanks to a few wall postings. How’s that for planning? All it will cost me is the plane ticket and money for food. And perhaps a Dodgers game.
All that’s in the future. Next week, though, I plan on tying up any loose ends in my life. That includes thinking seriously and deeply about what I want to do with the next five years. Where do I want to work? Where do I want to live? What else do I want to do?
My mom’s death left me introspective. It’s not that I didn’t see it coming, but I realized that I’ve been stuck in a rut. Mom dying woke me out of it. So from here on out, I’m not going to be so nervous about trying on new things, tasting new experiences, and quit living life day to day as I have been.
We get comfortable. You’ve probably felt it yourself.
Then we wake up 20 years down the road and have a lot of unchecked items off our big To-Do List. I don’t want that to happen.
So that’s what I’ll do next week: work on the next big project. I’ll have plenty of free time to think, do, and plan.