Milepost 1-1-16 In a vacation rental at Rockford, MI
I am spoiled for the ordinary.
As a summer camper and beachcomber, my dad was the one who did it to me and my siblings. I remember the day he took the whole family to Sears to buy our first cabin tent that would sleep all 7 of us. I have precious memories of mountains we climbed and trails we hiked while hauling that heavy tent on the luggage rack of the family stationwagon.
And I have done it to my kids likewise, dragging them around the country to national parks and seashores in an old van, and later, offshore to foreign countries for months at a time.
And as a mentor, I have done it to a whole lot of other people’s kids as well.
A youth volunteer at the local church for 35 years, I took kids camping, hiking, canoeing, and spelunking. My wife and I even took them on cross-cultural trips to underdeveloped countries to see how the rest of the world lives.
One of my mentees once complained to me, “Bob, you have ruined my life; I am no longer satisfied with normal American life.”
Okay, so he said it with a bit of tongue-in-cheek, but there is real truth to the matter. The American dream sits at the top of a ladder to success whose rungs are installed in a standard sequence that goes like this: Do well in school so you can get a good education so you can get a good job so you can marry the right person and provide for the perfect family and live in a nice house (with a mortgage) in a good neighborhood and have two cars and a boat in the garage so you can eventually retire and travel or play golf all day.
Feeding your inner travel beast too early can change the order and mess things up. I used to tell my mentees that “What you feed is what will grow.”
Well, if the thing that you feed is a wanderlust, you may become dissatisfied with the normal sequence of American life and want to get out early. You would have been better off to never leave home in the first place. You wouldn’t know what you were missing and would be content to stay put. You should never have opened the cover of that first National Geographic magazine.
So, I am all about blowing up the status quo. And ruining people for the ordinary. And I will never apologize, because the end result of an inconveniently interrupted American lifestyle is actually a much richer existence.
Nobody arrives at their deathbed saying, “I wish I had traveled less and seen less of the world.” or “I wish I had not met those foreigners and broadened my world view.”
So if I can feed your wanderlust I will do it. I would love to blow up your common life by helping you get out the door and on the road.
Because I know you will someday thank me for it like I thank my dad for blowing up his modest household budget one summer by purchasing that expensive canvas tent at Sears Roebuck & Company.
But you need to have your eyes wide open. What you feed is what will grow. Feeding your inner gypsy is dangerous. It could devastate the comfortable lifestyle you now enjoy. You could end up selling your house and hitting the road – like me.
And discovering an alternate universe, as it were, in the next state and around the world.
There is something innately alluring about lighthouses. Maybe it is the unique architecture and ingenious engineering of these old towers – or the attraction of the seashore lifestyle, but just about everybody loves them. Some folks love them so much that they “collect” lighthouses. That is, they make intentional trips just to connect the dots, as it were, traveling from one light to the next in a quest to see how many they can visit.
At various times in our lives, Kaye and I have been “collectors” as well. Living in Michigan, it’s not a difficult thing to do, since the Great Lakes are lined with scores of these beautiful old structures. Anyone who travels along the lakeshore will sooner or later spot the next one, and if their timing is right, they may get to climb the tower or tour a historic light keeper’s house.
Fortunately, lighthouse tours are becoming more common as the state and federal governments turn over more and more of the old properties to preservationist groups who take over the maintenance and open them up to the public for tours.
Lighthouses are designed to be visible, and it’s fun to notice the differences from one to the next. The original day mark – appearance by daylight – had be distinctive so that ship captains would not confuse them with neighboring installations. This makes for a plethora of beautiful designs from stripes to contrasting colors.
The night mark – or characteristic – of the lights at night had to be distinctive as well, so they were varied by colors: white, red, and green, and also by duration: flashing or solid.
Most of the still operating lights are owned by the Coast Guard, but only the actual lamps and lenses in the towers. The properties and structures are now leased and operated by maritime history lovers. There are several at which you may volunteer and help with the preservation.
Kaye and I spent two weeks at the Big Sable Point Lighthouse near Ludington, Michigan, staying in the keeper’s house and running the gift shop and museum every day with five other volunteers.
Lighthouses are fascinating structures, and there are loads of folks who are living under the spell, chasing along the seashores and lakeshores of America from one light to the next.
Are you following the wandering shoreline to see the next tower around the bend? It is a lot of fun. And those who live in the Great Lakes state are especially blessed to be in such close proximity to so many great landmarks.
Here are a few more photos of lighthouses we have “collected” over the years:
I have produced a calendar with 13 high-definition images of Michigan lighthouses, but the 2016 Michigan Lighthouses calendar is sold out. I will be collecting more great lighthouse photos during 2017 and will offer a new edition of the calendar later in the year. I will post a notice when it is ready.
Milepost 11-24-15 In a vacation rental at Rockford, Michigan
I breathed a sigh of relief at the moment when, in the movie Knight and Day, Ms. Day (played by Cameron Diaz) says that she plans to travel someday, and the undercover spy, Mr. Knight, (Tom Cruise) replies, “Someday is just code for Never”. This hit close to home for me, because my wife and I had struggled for several years to free ourselves from debt and a mortgage so that we could hit the road.
But we had done it. After closing our business and downsizing for several years, our house and property finally sold and we put the last of our keepsakes into a storage unit and took off to follow our dreams – and the American road – in search of adventure and a more untethered lifestyle.
Sometimes spontaneity doesn’t happen without a lot of planning. It seems like a contradiction in terms, but the American dream has stakes that are driven deep, and it may take a determined effort to pry them out of the ground when one finally gets the notion to be free.
Isn’t it odd that the freedom we enjoy in our country compels us to go after so much stuff that it becomes its own kind of bondage? Mow the lawns, weed and feed the grass – so it will grow faster and greener – and require more frequent mowing. Climb the corporate ladder so you can afford a bigger place with larger lawns, that need to be weeded and fed so they will grow faster and look nicer; but now require a much larger lawnmower – which we will buy with a credit card.
And our own personal empire doesn’t necessarily submit to our commands. We wake up one day and discover that we are not driving it anymore; it is driving us.
Someday we will get free. Someday we will travel. Someday we will spend an entire day in flip flops – or barefoot. Someday we will see the world. Someday we will live on the beach.
Someday we will forget what day it is.
Thankfully, it has finally happened for us. Kaye and I often wake up in the morning and have to think for a minute to remember where we are and what day it is. We are delightfully lost – and not looking for the way home. Wherever we are, we are home.
But it almost didn’t happen. It took a lot of determination and hard work to free ourselves and to finally get lost enough to find ourselves.
We no longer use the word “someday” without taking out our calendars and setting a date.
When will you starting setting dates for your travel dreams?
My road atlas shows the secondary roads in red. Those are the narrow two-lane county blacktops that pre-date the expressways and the superhighways. And it is where the historical sites and nostalgic gems are still found.
M-22 is a redliner’s treasure, as it winds through mature forests and over sand dunes, outlining the Leelenau Peninsula, Michigan’s virtual “pinkie” finger as it were, the lower peninsula being shaped like a mitten. It is punctuated by 150-year-old lighthouses and roadside farm markets offering sweet black cherries and other organic delicacies.
A side spur from this rural delight is another gem, M-109, which winds lazily through the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, an expansive park that is managed by the National Park Service. It is the home of a well-preserved ghost town. Glen Haven is an old fishing village with a historic inn, general store, blacksmith shop, fishing cannary and other buildings.
The National Lakeshore is a wonderland of perched sand dunes, thick forests, abandoned farms and old vacation homes. The shorelines are gorgeous. If there is magic where land and water meet, then this peninsula is entirely enchanted. Shifting sand dunes rise more than 450 above the turquoise waters of Lake Michigan.
Nature lovers and adventurers experience a rush of enthusiasm for a plethora of hiking trails, bike paths, scenic drives and beaches.
Here is a line-up of photos I captured while on a recent visit to the area:
Being over 50 miles from the nearest freeway, M-22 is not on the way to anywhere… except adventure and natural splendor.
My travel tip: If you can, avoid the crowds of the later summer and visit the area in September when the parks are nearly empty and you have your pick of campsites – or cabins. The lakes are still relatively warm and accommodating for water sports like kayaking, paddle boarding and swimming.
After that, the maple forests light up with the vivid yellows, reds, and oranges of autumn.
And after that, it gets nasty out here when the gales of November start whipping off of Lake Michigan and the early snows set in.
There is good and bad in everything, and it is no different with the traveling life. We have been at this modern gypsy thing for a while now, and sometimes it seems that the life style comes down to a balance of convenience and inconvenience. With every trade-off of one for the other, there is the question, “Is it worth it?” “Is there a reward?”
I don’t know that it varies from any other sort of life style in that way, the details are just a little different. Here are some inconveniences we have had to consider:
With adventure there comes a certain amount of risk. When we lived in the big house in rural Michigan for over 40 years we never locked the doors. Even when we were gone. Now we live in unfamiliar neighborhoods with dwellings only a few yards apart and we lock every time we leave for more than a trip to the mailbox. Maybe we don’t need to – campers tend to watch out for each other – but we don’t know the area well enough to know how safe or unsafe we are.
On the other hand, most of the parks we have stayed in are gated communities and have prepared for every scenario to ensure the safety of their clients.
One of the things that old people want to know about their community is where the nearest emergency room is. It can be inconvenient to drop in to the nearest urgent care facility and not have access to your medical history. Searching for a dentist when you chip a tooth a thousand miles from your hometown can be a challenge.
Stores and restaurants are usually not a problem any place in America. Even on our epic drive to Alaska last summer, we were able to pick up basic foods at a local convenience store… at twice the price, of course. The nearest supermarket was 125 miles north of us at Fairbanks.
Access to viable internet and television signals can be a bit less handy. Back home you subscribed to cable or satellite link-ups and then forgot about it for two years. Not so with the mobile life. Thankfully, in every campground there are veteran RV-ers who can help you find the nearest and strongest providers who will keep you connected. Month-to-month and without a contract. Cool.
Stuff requires maintenance. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a hobby farm, a condo, an estate, or a travel trailer, stuff has to be serviced from time to time. The convenience of the RV life is that there is much less stuff to maintain. The house is smaller and that means less vacuuming and mopping. The yard is non-existent, so there is no mowing (unless you are a work-camper) and no mower whose blades have to be sharpened. You have left the keepsakes in storage along with the cupboards and bookcases that housed them, so there is a minimum of dusting.
But the RV needs the wheel bearings greased every few thousand miles, the rubber roof needs to be re-treated every 2 years, and the siding, if it’s fiberglass, needs waxing every couple of years. The truck or motor home engine needs the usual oil changes and tire rotations. The propane tanks need filling every now and then (more often in the wintertime) so you will need to locate the nearest filling station.
One of our biggest inconveniences is that we are away from our kids and grandkids for long months at a time. We have never been homesick because our home is with us, but we do miss the grandkids every now and then. When they are young they grow from one phase to the next quickly, and we feel like we are missing out. The FOMO factor kicks in (Fear Of Missing Out).
Occasionally, we miss a family reunion. Last year, when my brother passed away in Michigan, we were on a 5-month work-camp assignment in California and had to excuse ourselves quickly and fly home for the funeral. (It’s important to keep funds on hand for such emergencies.)
For Kaye and me, the thought of having a pet with us is not worth the inconvenience, but we are surrounded by pet-owners who are making a go of it. One of their biggest challenges is making sure their pet doesn’t become an inconvenience to their neighbors. A yappy dog quickly becomes a very unpopular thing in the middle of the night in a campground. Most of the pet owners we have seen are really good about the essential inconvenience of picking up after a pooping dog.
I cannot speak to the challenge of the young family who pursues the traveling life; we see very few who are doing it. The few that we have encountered are home schooling their children, of course, and that presents its own challenges, but location doesn’t seem to be a problem. In fact, it’s the only way to educate your kids on the fly and it can be done anywhere. We met a family on the beach in Alabama that was sailing the high seas with the kids in a sailboat. Maybe they wouldn’t do it forever, but they were certainly building an unforgettable educational experience while the kids were young.
I think the bigger problem with kids would be what to do with them on rainy days when everyone is trapped indoors in a crowded space. You can’t send them to the basement rec room or to their bedrooms with a book or a toy. You can’t ever really get away from them. You will have to be creative. Every town has a library and a theater or bowling alley and we even found an indoor aquarium or two in a couple of places. Without imagination or an on-board library – whether books or videos, I see gypsy burnout on your not-so-distant horizon (but if you are lucky enough to do it, try it for a while anyway!)
If your pastimes include road tripping, sightseeing, hiking, farm marketing, campfire cooking, reading, photography, or “collecting” lighthouses or waterfalls or new friends, you are in luck. The mobile life will accommodate all of these and lots more.
If, however, you amuse yourself with carpentry, pottery, classic car collecting, or welding, you may be up against a bit more of a challenge. I have managed my interest in carpentry by doing it seasonally. When I am back in Michigan every summer I get my portable workshop-in-a-utility trailer out of storage and build the latest book shelf for my kids. If they need some project done in the house, they just know not to ask for it in the winter when I am wandering around the south or in the tropics. Come summer, I will back into their yard and open up my mobile workshop and fix whatever needs fixing.
I am also a musician and have my piano on board with me. Last winter in Alabama I found a campus band to play along with, and one guy even had an entire recording studio set up in a tent next to his RV. How about that.
The trade-off for the inconveniences of the wandering life is the rewards that it offers, and that’s really the reason why most of us are doing it. We want to see new places, meet new people, try living somewhere else in the world for a while and see what it’s like. We are tired of the old place, we are tired of the cold winters, we are tired of feeding and weeding and mowing the lawns and trimming the shrubs.
There are mountains to be climbed, there are beaches to be combed, there are forests to be hiked and ocean sunsets to be enjoyed. We are not waiting any longer to get there.
Inconveniences be damned, we are going for it!
Are you thinking about going for it? Trying to weigh the risks with the rewards? Will it be worth it?
You know what? You won’t think of everything. And that’s all right. Relax. Prepare for it the best you can, talk to people who’re doing it, read blogs like this one. But don’t let fear of the unknown be a roadblock to your new adventure.
The worst inconvenience of all would be getting to the end of your health – or your life – without the satisfaction of having pursued your irresponsible dream of the traveling life, the way of the vagabond, the beach bum.
If you don’t like it or it turns out to be more inconvenient than rewarding, you can always go back to the former life with its security and its predictability. Either way, have fun!
“Our culture has become so obsessed with the before and after that we’ve forgotten that all the living happens in the during.” –Stacy Sims Brown; see her blog, Fat Aunt Sassy Sees the World
In our wanderings over 43 of the 50 states and several foreign countries, Kaye and I have not found the perfect place to live. But we have happened upon some pretty wonderful settings. In fact, after returning from our winter sojourn in the south, we have set up habitation at a remarkable campground in Ortonville, Michigan, where the nearly perfect balance exists between rural rest and city convenience.
Only 12 miles from our grandkids, we live in a park with a beautiful lake with a trail around it fringed by protected wetlands and mature forests of oak, maple, beech and pines and frequented by wild geese and whitetail deer. McDonalds is right across the street and A&W – the old fashioned kind with the car hops – is a 15-minute walk up the street, and there are shopping malls a few miles away at the outer fringe of the Detroit metropolitan urban sprawl.
The perfect home doesn’t exist anywhere. But when we lived in the rural Michigan farm community where we raised our kids and owned a 30-acre Christmas tree farm, we often reveled in the changes of the seasons right outside the windows of our 10-room house in the woods. We felt that we were enjoying the almost perfect location for our family at the time.
Except that I couldn’t keep the car clean because the gravel roads turned to mud with every rain storm. I watched the rocker panels and the fenders rust out in slow motion right before my eyes. And it was a half-hour drive to Walmart and more than an hour to the nearest shopping mall.
It seemed there was a trade-off in everything. Being a school teacher, my kids would ride to and from school with me rather than riding the bus to our small town district of less than 800 students. The students seemed more laid-back than their suburban counterparts and didn’t seem to have anything to prove. Our kids thrived. But they eventually grew up, went to college and then were too educated to find professional jobs in the country. They left the area and pursued their own lives, leaving us alone on our mini-paradise.
And the mowing got tiring in the summer – and there was a lot of it. And the firewood processing and snow removal, though good for the physique, became wearisome in the winter. The elements were relentless. Winter became life-threatening as we got older. The place was no longer ideal for us in the mature stages of life.
We talked about where we would like to live as we started to downsize and list the property for sale. It might be outside the edge of a city where we could live in the relaxed atmosphere of the country, while being within a few minutes of the conveniences of the metropolis.
And here we are. At least for the summer. We like it well enough to already be talking about returning here every summer for the next few years. We love the beauty and comfortable climate of Michigan in the summer and fall, but not during the harsh winter.
I have concluded that the ideal home is a somewhat elusive concept that changes with the seasons of the year – and with the seasons of life. What is perfect at one phase of life may become less than ideal later on.
Having sold our labor-intensive property last year after a four-year downsizing, we are now in discovery mode, exploring every part of the United States (and outside the borders if we want to) in search of adventure and new experiences. An aside from our quest to see new places is the underlying search for the next perfect home. That greener grass on the other side (except that I don’t own a lawnmower anymore).
And apparently, It is rather like aiming at a moving target for us at this point in our lives. Michigan in the summer and fall, points farther south in the winter. On the move right after Christmas with the rabid cold nipping at our heels as we leave the state and scurry south for warmer comforts.
Right now we are in a nearly ideal spot (except it’s a campground and there’s no privacy) and there is a swimming beach here and a playground for the grandkids. And there are five pizza joints in this town – we have started sampling them. Because part of finding the elusive perfect place to live in the world is also the important quest of locating the best pizza.
I am thinking that the perfect spot in life may be less about greener grass and more about perfect pizza.
Anyway, Kaye says that though there is no perfect home in all the world, there is a place that is just right for us for here and now. And that is a truer quest, as the perfect place does not exist, we are in that place that is just right at this point in our lives. And loving it.