Monday, August 24, 2015

He Lost His Shoes . . . His Shoes

So the ever-faithful Kris asked about Sleeping Bear Dunes, another must-see site in Northern Michigan.

Yes, we visited Sleeping Bear Dunes.

Now, Sleeping Bear Dunes are sand dunes in the sense that Lake Superior is a lake. Sleeping Bear is more like a sand mountain or, more accurately still, a mountain range. I had visited the Dunes about thirty years ago with my Girl Scout troop. My memory goes something like this: We canoed the Platte River, dashed into Lake Michigan, sprinted out of Lake Michigan nearly leaving frozen toes behind, and then ran up and down Sleeping Bear Dunes.  We rolled around, threw some sand, snapped some pics. Awesome and amazing and fairly uneventful.

Fast forward thirty years.

We arrived at the Dunes and noticed the warning signs: Bring Water! Wear Sunscreen! Don't lose Your Children.

And I'm all water, yeah, sun screen, yeah . . . don't lose your children? Don't lose your children?
How, exactly, does one manage to lose one's offspring in a sand dune?

I suppose I can dispense with the over-used spoiler alert because we already know where this is going, don't we?


And how ridiculous is it that I, of all people, should wonder how family members get separated as it seems to happen to us all the blinking time?

Scenario #1: We're biking to the bakery on Pelee Island. Inevitably, invariably, we spread out and then completely separate. An hour later we're perusing the wheat fields of Pelee in search of a missing child. We're on an island, for the love of Pete. How do you get lost on an Island? How do you get lost on a route as flat as Kansas, on a trip that requires two turns and a gentle glide left at the North Dock, a trip we've taken hundreds of times?  I ponder these questions and then quickly cut to a recent travel commercial wherein a wearied father exits a plane, stares into a camera, and says, "He lost his shoes . . . his shoes."

Scenario #2: We're tubing a river so shallow the only risk is a bruised tailbone. Ainsley and John are in life jackets and tethered to me and Tim respectively. For reasons wholly unclear to me, Tim untethers John.

Cue ominous music.

We paddle over to the edge of the river to play on a water slide. John keeps floating. I run after him. He turns a corner. I yell to Dave to go after him. Forty-five minutes later -- forty-five minutes later, a.k.a. e-t-e-r-n-i-t-y -- we are reunited. Meanwhile I have envisioned a) John cascading over a class five rapids  b) John being abducted  c) Add your own gruesome scenario.

In the middle of the forty-five minute wait, Ainsley had the ickiest bloody nose ever, and the water slide attendants couldn't understand why I wasn't the least bit upset, but, hello!, John in a class five rapids! John kidnapped by a roving band of circus performers! And that trumps Ainsley with a bloody nose any day of the week.

Scenario #3 - We're on a family hike, but no two people in our family move at the same pace so it's never a family anything. Two nameless someones race ahead of the stragglers, and I begin to wonder if the trail ends at the bottom of the waterfall (that would be okay) or the top (that could spell disaster). With colorful visions of twisted bones and daring helicopter rescues and John in a coma, I go flying up the path wondering yet again why we didn't make an agreement to stick together and why does this happen every time we exit the front door and maybe we need to give up this illusion of being outdoorsy and take up bowling or Sudoku or Bridge, and by the time I reach the pathfinders, I am in quite a state.

He lost his shoes . . . his shoes.

So, yeah, we have some history as to lost children and yet still I read the sign and thought How does one lose one's children in a sand dune?

Up the sand dunes we trudged. I keep meaning to write to the fine folks at Sleeping Bear Dunes to say they should add one suggestion to their list of warnings: Wear close-toed shoes. I had on sturdy hiking sandals. Great for traction; no protection against the sand that was blistering hot.

It was all bigger and steeper and more strenuous than I remembered, but then not much seemed strenuous when I was twelve. We plodded along over the first ridge and were surprised that Lake Michigan didn't stretch out before us. We moved on to the second ridge. At that point we chatted with some other hikers who informed us we were about a tenth of the way to the lake. It truly is more of a range than a mountain. Ainsley was done in, and I, being a generous, self-sacrificing mother, offered to take her back down while Dave caught up with Kolbe who was still within eyesight and then went after Lewis and Clark who, I believe, were headed for the Pacific Ocean.

Down I went with Ainsley. And by that time the burning hot sand was scorching. I'd hike about ten feet and then flop on my rear end to get the sand off my feet.

Dignified, truly dignified.

Ainsley and I found shade and water and waited with the camera to capture the crew as they crested the dunes. And we waited. And waited. And waited.

Kolbe in a red shirt somewhere on this hill that looks much larger in real life.

An hour later an exhausted Kolbe appeared.

Dad, he told me, hadn't quite located Lewis and Clark, and it was really hot, and maybe we should get help, and he was worried, and we really should get help, and I am fairly certain my tendency to Worst Case Scenario every predicament has successfully been passed down to the next generation.


I put on closed toe shoes, loaded up a backpack full of water, and trudged up the hill yet again.

Before I left, I peppered Kolbe with instructions: Take the cell phone. Here are the car keys. Keep a close eye on Ainsley. Don't go near the van if you don't have to. Don't let anyone see that you have car keys and no mother or father with you. Stay in the shade. Don't text and drive. Wear clean underwear. Don't talk to strangers.

Already chiding myself for not preventing this debacle, I decided to cover my bases.

If the mountain seemed steep the first go around, it was all the more challenging this time. I made the first summit and rested and re-hydrated. I started a rosary and plodded to the next ridge where a tiny copse of trees sheltered a sweating mass of humanity including, I was so happy to see, Dave and John. They were overjoyed to see me or, more to the point, my backpack full of water. Tim eventually found us. All was well. A little sunburn offset by a welcome swim in Lake Michigan.

"Well," Ainsley said to me, "at least we're not dead."

A good point, that.

I highly recommend Sleeping Bear Dunes. Bring water. Wear sunscreen and closed toe shoes. Don't lose your kids.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

2,350 Miles

You see those mileage stickers everywhere -- 5K, 13.1, and the coveted 26.2. I want a sticker that reads 2,350. That's the number of miles we clocked on the ever faithful Grand Caravan between July 2nd and August 1st.

I want a sticker. And a tranquilizer. Maybe throw in a medal? Or maybe the kids should get a medal. At least some of them earned one, I'm pretty sure.

Now we're home at last, home at last, thank God, we're home at last, but those lazy, languid days of August when we sit around and read and lounge at the pool? They have yet to turn up. While we've had pockets of rest and relaxation, we've also had lots of doctor's appointments, household projects, and various and sundry other commitments that have kept me on my feet literally and figuratively.

We had a good trip.

Over the years I've learned to look at the term"good trip" in a different light than I did before I traveled with four kids and seventy-something bags. We made lots of good memories. Like the pockets of rest and relaxation, we had pockets of fun.

Tim, my boy, is about to begin his senior year. I don't know about other mothers, but I've found myself compiling a Bucket List for Tim, a list of things I hope we do before he leaves the nest. One of those Bucket List items was to tour around Northern Michigan and visit some of the spots I visited as a young child. Tim attended a music camp near Lake Michigan. While this is on the western side of the state, picking him up and heading on a tour seemed like a great start to a family adventure.

And an adventure it turned out to be.

We'll start with the high points.

Mackinac Island.

Visiting Mackinac Island was at the top of my Bucket List. Have you seen Somewhere in Time? Christopher Reeves and time travel, romantic and whimsical, if a bit cheesy. It was filmed at the Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island. Note that Christopher Reeves zooms into the hotel driveway in a snazzy sports car. This is a sight you'll never see on Mackinac where transportation is limited to walking, biking, and horse-drawn carriages.

I visited Mackinac Island when I was about Ainsley's age. It was memorable, it was magical, and it didn't disappoint this go around either.

Now it was crowded, and it was pricey. But beautiful. So beautiful.

Arch Rock, Mackinac Island

The kids loved the carriage tour. Well, John complained about the smell. When the tour ended, I handed the guide ten dollars and thanked him for a memorable ride. As I walked away, I spotted Kolbe handing him another dollar. "Your mom already took care of me, dude," the driver said. And then John handed him twenty-seven cents and got a "thanks, dude" for his widow's mite.

Twenty-seven cents. Cutest gesture ever.

I have more shots, but Blogger's acting up and won't handle my pictures or switch from centered to left-justified.

I have no fight in me this morning.

If you're ever in the vicinity, don't overlook Mackinac Island. Truly it looks more like Bermuda or Hawaii than the Midwest, and it's probably cooler than either of those spots.