There comes a point and time when we could all use a break from the responsibilities of everyday life and the need to interject a little fun becomes a necessity. I usually know when I need such a break, and I was sure feeling the need to have one soon.
It was already the middle of August, and our neglected RV continued to sit on the side of the house untouched all summer. Would our new RV turn out to be rarely used just like our former truck camper? I certainly hoped that wouldn’t be the case, but thus far, it wasn’t looking promising.
August 2011 – Well, we wouldn’t be taking the RV on any excursion this month. We had more pressing matters to attend to. Our daughter’s summer internship in Illinois was coming to an end, and just like I kept her company three months earlier during the 1,100-mile drive from Colorado to Rockford, IL, I planned to do the same and keep her company upon her return journey to Colorado. However, instead of purchasing a one-way flight, Al and I (and the dog) would be driving to Illinois to make those family connections.
Time for a Getaway
Not only was it our goal to connect me with Ashton, but the second purpose behind this trip was also for Al to visit with his mother. She hadn’t been doing well the last several years and appeared to be declining a little more each day. It was important we both return to Illinois. We loaded up the truck and left well before sunrise. Eighteen long driving hours later, we arrived at Al’s sister’s house exhausted. After a good night’s sleep, we were ready to socialize.
With Ashton’s internship over and a few more days to enjoy before hitting the road, we took a day to visit with my dad who lived about an hour’s drive southeast of Rockford in the Chicago suburbs. He seemed to be doing well, yet still adjusting to life alone. It was only four months earlier when mom passed away. Fortunately, Ashton was able to visit with her Opa on a somewhat regular basis throughout the summer. Time she will always treasure.
When the day came for Ashton and me to say our goodbye’s, there were hugs and watery eyes all around! As Ashton and I approached her packed car, Ashton hands me the keys and breaks down into tears. “Mom, I know this is the last time I’ll see grandma alive”. We drove in silence and a few hours later we had skirted around Chicago and the bottom of Lake Michigan and were heading further north into the state of Michigan.
Wait! Colorado is in the opposite direction. Shouldn’t we be heading west? What are we doing in Michigan? Remember that break I needed?
The heck with adulting. Let’s have some fun!
Once in the state of Michigan, I exit the Interstate and opt for a more scenic route along the shores of Lake Michigan. The two-lane road has us traveling through quaint little towns and picturesque scenery. Our thoughts move on to more pleasant topics, and eventually, Ashton asks, “I can’t remember. Where are we going”. “Sleeping Bear Sand Dunes”, I respond, knowing that she has absolutely no clue what I’m talking about. “Okay! Where are we staying?” she continues. “At a campground”, I casually mention.
“MOTHER! YOU CANNOT POSSIBLY BE SERIOUS!” she exclaims. “Of course I am, honey. I packed everything we need. Don’t worry, it’ll be fun”, at least I hope, I quietly say to myself. “Well, do we at least have a reservation”, she questions? “Nope! Worst case scenario, we’ll just sleep in the car somewhere.” She is not amused by my free-spirited lackadaisical response. I was not sounding like the mature responsible parent that she was accustomed to and relied on.
When we arrived at the D H Day Campground late that afternoon, we snagged the last available campsite and set about pitching the tent. You have no idea how grateful I was to have practiced setting up and breaking down that tent numerous times in our living room just a week earlier. Thank you Al for helping me practice, or Ashton and I may have ended up sleeping in the car after all.
Ashton and I looked like a couple of camping pros. Within thirty minutes, we had the tent up and beds made on inflatable air mattresses. With our campsite complete, it was time to explore and check out our surroundings including the lakeshore.
After our shoreline explorations, we went into the town of Glen Arbor to stroll the shops and find a place for dinner.
Ashton was drawn into a small spice and tea shop. For the first time in days, I saw her face light up. The previous year, she had spent a semester studying abroad in Sydney, Australia, and acquired a taste for tea (as well as wine, but that’s another story). As she excitedly flitted about the store, she engaged in conversation with the store clerk. I could see the stress from her, somewhat less than fun, summer begin to fade away. A few purchases later, she and I were strolling up the street heading toward the nearest restaurant.
The skies were dark by the time we returned to camp. Therefore, we retreated to the comfort of our tent where we engaged in a series of card games. I had brought along cute little battery-operated lanterns, emphasis on cute, that provided just the right ambiance for an evening of laughter.
The next morning, after a so-so night of sleep, I was nudging Ashton to get out of bed. I had brought a bin for us to wash up and some homemade muffins to get us through the morning. I had an agenda … let’s check out those dunes. We quickly broke camp and were on our way long before most people were even awake.
Photographs fail to capture the sheer size and magnitude of these stunning sand dunes. There are miles upon miles of sandy beaches with bluffs towering as high as 450 feet above Lake Michigan. As much as we were tempted to run down that dune, logic stepped in. It might take us less than 30 minutes to get to the bottom but would take literally hours to climb back up. Yeah, not going to happen!
Instead, we head on over to the popular “Dune Climb” where it’s a more manageable size dune to climb. Since it was still early in the morning, we practically had the place to ourselves. Ashton decides to take a closer look to see if this dune is something she’d like to tackle.
It doesn’t take long before she and I agree that we really don’t have the time to play around in the sand. Besides, we have a few more scenic spots to explore before we continue on our journey.
The two-lane roads take us through lush dense forests that Ashton becomes smitten with. I’d forgotten, while this type of northern Midwestern landscape was quite normal to me considering I grew up in the Midwest, Ashton was three years old when we moved west to a much more arid climate. She had never seen such a green dense forest before and found it fascinating.
We found Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore to be an extremely peaceful and serene place and noticed ourselves frequently taking in deep breathes and gazing out at our surroundings. It’s a magical place as well as perplexing. The landscape had a calming effect on both of us and turned out to be the perfect first stop on our mother/daughter getaway.
And I needed that sense of calm before crossing a certain bridge later that day …