This time of year, I remember back to those days of working as a middle school nurse. The long weekend for the Martin Luther King Holiday was followed by the dreaded stretch through gray winter to spring break. I often found myself daydreaming about summer when I’d go on my solo journey. I started taking them every summer during our school break following that first one to Jekyll Island, Georgia–my birthday gift to myself when I turned fifty.
Most of the time, my plans for where to go were formulated while walking down the corridors to check on students; I’d take into consideration my latest fascination, what natural setting I had an urge to explore, and how much money I needed. Sometimes I’d stop at the big wall map in the 8th grade hallway to look at the destination. The scale was such that even towns that were mere map dots looked much larger.
In the winter of 2014, I heard our principal talking to one of our teachers about a place they loved to visit in their home state of Michigan. After that, I talked with our principal about Lake Michigan and whether it was really as tropical blue as some of the pictures appeared. I was skeptical of any lake being as impressive as our coast— having a coastal-state snobbery, thinking life that bordered the Atlantic was superior to life that was merely bordered by a lake–even if it was a Great Lake. I thought that I needed to see that lake for myself. My Rail-Trails magazine had featured a bike path in Petoskey, Michigan– Little Traverse Wheelway. Further north, I could also ride my bike around Mackinac Island.
Looking at my atlas, I decided I would visit my cousin in Toledo on my way to Michigan. Since my journey the preceding year had been to Colorado and was filled with the hassle of airports, I’d make Michigan a road trip. I’d never driven that far by myself and part of that would be my challenge, my quest. Going by car, I could see for myself all those connecting towns in between, all those map dots being drawn together by my car heading north. Plus, I could take my own bike.
The morning I headed out it was raining hard. I could barely make my way west on the interstate because of tractor trailers spraying water and the unsettling sound of thunder booming. After spending the night in Charleston, West VA, I was glad for a sunny morning drive, making my way through the countryside toward Toledo.
Some folks assume that since these trips are solo, I’ve got a well-thought-out plan because I only have myself to rely on. But sometimes I’m better at planning the fanciful, fun part of the trips than the pragmatic. Rather than using a GPS system for my Michigan trip, I’d lapsed into a memory of the longest road trip our family took: Denver, Colorado to visit my aunt. I remembered Daddy ordering maps from Triple A and Mama sitting beside him in the front seat and helping to navigate. Likewise, I ordered maps and Trip Tiks from Triple A and studied the map before each section of the journey– like Daddy did. I’d always been fascinated by maps–even though I couldn’t fold one!
The Triple A map worked fine back in 1975, back when there weren’t road construction projects everywhere. The map also worked because Mama could read the map while Daddy paid attention to his driving; I’d forgotten to consider that advantage when I was planning my road trip. When I came upon all the orange cones, barrels, work crews in Columbus, Ohio, I lost site of my turn and ended up getting way off course on those city streets. Days later when I was on my return from northern Michigan, I missed the bypass of Detroit and found myself going through downtown when it was almost dark– an unsettling feeling for a woman, alone. No one was in the car to help navigate me; no one was in the car to criticize me, either. I decided to just accept it as my way of traveling and I would use the GPS in the future. Besides–getting lost was part of the adventure!
Another part of the adventure I discovered after my day of riding my bike around Mackinac Island. I’d just eaten dinner at a restaurant and walked over to Mackinaw Crossings, a shopping center with a grassy lawn area and stage. I heard familiar music and realized it was Elvis– or at least a would be Elvis, an impersonator. He was singing, “Suspicious Minds” and I felt the excitement of ninth grade, dancing with my current crush. I could smell the English Leather and feel my heart pounding like it had that night at my first high school party. I listened to the rest of those songs by that Hunk of Burnin’ Love and decided I wanted my picture made with him. As soon as he finished, I found my way through the crowd to Elvis.
I realized if I’d been with my husband and sons, I wouldn’t have gone up for that picture. I would have let their looks of “don’t embarrass me” or “you’re not really going to do that, are you?” stop me from what I wanted to do. It was freeing to just go with it and have fun. No one knew me there; I would never see those people again.
I think about how easy it is to not do the things we have a yearning to do because of what someone else will think, what look they’ll give us, what they may tell others. Sometimes we have to break away, maybe to where we’re an unknown to have the freedom to try something.
Eventually, I made it to the shores of Lake Michigan. At first my view was blocked by a white out–fog that was so dense I couldn’t see beyond 6 feet. But the next day, after I’d accepted the change in plans, the weather I couldn’t control, I returned to Sleeping Bear Dunes to prove/disprove that the water could be as tropical blue as that picture I’d seen.
It was stunning! The picture was real and so was the massive Lake Michigan that stretched before me. They had a point; it was beautiful.
I chose to write about that trip for this week’s post, to provide us with the beauty of turquoise waters on these gray January days. We may all benefit from being reminded that we’ll come out the other side of this pandemic and make future trips to the places we desire. And hopefully, we’ll find ways to abandon our fear and try things like no one’s watching, no one’s waiting to make any judgement. And maybe, we’ll let go of those judgements of ourselves at the same time.
Blessings to you in the week ahead as you look toward brighter times.