Fall Migration

June 2011 7241

 

Each summer of nearly all of my summers, I’ve spent time fishing and camping in Crystal Falls, Michigan.   As a child, my folks made the six hour ride from Chicago with my brother and I packed in the back on top of the luggage and squeezed between the camping gear.   We escaped the city sun and heat for two weeks of heaven each July.   Woody and I swam in a remote Yooper paradise, diving off the pontoon dock into orange stained water and “going under” to keep the horseflies from biting us.  When we weren’t swimming, we were spending our quarters in the tavern or gathering driftwood for the fire.  Each night we would wade out under the stars to shine for crawdads.  (I held the flashlight and made Woody catch them and pile them in a bucket where they would be our captives until the next morning when our mother made us let them all go.)

Our grandparents would camp out with us on The Island without electricity or running water for a week at a time.   We were professionals.  Our skin turned brown.  Our shins got scrapped up and our ankles were all bitten up by mosquitoes.  The pads of our feet toughened up on the colored rocks. There was no television, telephones, or going back; video games and microwave ovens were not invented yet.  Texting and cell phones would take decades to appear (and work up there).  Instead, we fished all day for perch and walleye and fried them up by a toasty fire at night.  Always too soon it would be time to pack up, load up, and make the 350 mile trek back home.

These days I feel a migratory pull on my heartstrings to spend time in this place I love the most; the place that helped raise me.   Now I see geese flying in the sky with beating chests and I understand them and know why.  This place holds my childhood memories and much  happiness.  As I went on to marry (a man from Michigan!!), we brought our own children up to Crystal Falls and continued camping and fishing, watching another generation discover our secret spots and figure out the hard way where the drop off is.  The kids and cousins got to go fishing with Grandpa and Grandma.  Now our trek is 460 miles up I-75, across the Mackinac Bridge, to beautiful U.S. 2, along the picture perfect Lake Michigan shoreline and I don’t mind the extra miles.  It is all eye candy.

This month is the first time I’ve ever gone back up in the fall.

My mom and my cousin, Sandy (like the beach), met me up there and we spent more time leaf peeping than reeling in fish.  The woods were on fire with colors so bright they made us squint.  The air was crisp and the bugs were gone.  The sun was out.  The night sky was littered with sprinkles and twinkles of stars.  Sandy and I (we sharpies) took a canoe trip in 35 mph winds down the river and almost drowned.  Almost.  Ok, not really, but it was tough sledding the whole way; another memory maker for sure.  My mom and I played dominoes and sat on The Point catching the last rays of hot sun for the season.    After the first bottle, Sandy and I gave up wine glasses and drank from our own bottles by the fire.  Real classy.  The big question every night was, “Is it big enough?”

The deer were loading up on winter wheat so we were able to see and photograph a lot of them.  Bow season opened up  and every gas station offered bulk carrots and cabbage.   $$Five Bucks$$    Wild turkeys were everywhere and the only good thing I can say about them is that they were all hens so we didn’t have to listen to those awful gobblers.

Our next trip is already planned for August, 2014.   Until then, I’ll pass the days looking at all the pictures we’ve taken through the years and try to stop myself from checking weatherbug.com to see what the highs and lows are for the day up there and watching the Crystal Falls radar.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Show Pony

Imagine two American icons converging at the tip of Michigan’s mitten

at the Straits of Mackinac, where Great Lakes Huron and Michigan are defined by the Mackinac Bridge, a massive suspension bridge.

This is precisely the spot where a group of Airstream owners rendezvoused with Captain Adam, master of all that is pirate, this past summer.  Salty sea dogs, rogue pirates, and even Captain Adam have mothers.  I affectionately call him my “Show Pony” and cashed in all my chips to get him to load his 30’ Boston Whaler on its triple axle trailer to haul it 300 miles up north for my Airstream rally.

Ok, so I promised to bake him his favorite chocolate cupcakes too.

Throw in a visit to the historic Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island

and you have a combination of epic proportion.

Big boys (and girls) with toys! 

We called our rally, “Exploring Under the Bridge” and advertised that there would be an opportunity to salmon fish and joy ride on a private boat.  What catapulted this rally over the top was the Whaler and the added adventure it could provide.   Airstreaming families rolled in from GA, OH, IL, MO, OK, MI, IN and Canada!   For many, this was their first experience on big water.

Our attendees were able to go back “Somewhere in Time” to Mackinac Island and sip lemonade on the porch of the Grand Hotel.  We took full advantage of the twin 225 Mercury Verado engines as we explored under the Mackinac Bridge.  We docked in time to catch happy hour at the island’s Pink Pony Saloon.

Here’s the not-so-secret secret:  Airstreaming and Boston Whaler boats are a state of mind and have become as common and well-loved in the culture of America as blue jeans and tees. 

Airstream’s silver-bullet travel trailers have been streaming down the nation’s ribbons of highways for more than 75 years Founder Wally Byam began the enterprise in the 1920s by selling plans for building trailers, which led to the design and launch of “The Clipper” in the early 1930s. The company makes travel trailers primarily, but also produces its Interstate touring coach with full amenities. Airstream has produced about 140,000 travel trailers and motor homes since it began, and roughly two-thirds of them are still making trails. Airstream is a subsidiary of Thor Industries. 

Salty sea captains and die hard Whaler owners like my son, Adam, are secretly pleased with themselves for thinking outside of the box.  Owners of both of these iconic American brands have an elevated understanding of style, durability, and value without being snobby about it.  Was that snobby?  We feel responsible for the life of our boat or trailer–knowing where she’s been before, if buying used (as many of us do) or if she’s been restored.  Those leaving a dealership keep meticulous records to pass down one day–if that day ever comes.

Airstreamers are an industrious lot; many had researched the Boston Whaler website and learned how unsinkable they are.  Those who could not swim or were afraid of water donned life vests and threw caution to the wind.  By the rally’s end, we heard so many nice things about the Whaler’s creature comforts and how she handled the 2-4’s in the Straits and how unafraid folks were.  That speaks volumes about qualities that are built into the Boston Whaler and how tasty my chocolate cupcakes really are!

 


Wrestling a “Johnson”

Always kiss a fish on the lips!

An 11 pound walleye is tough.  A 6 lb. smallmouth bass is tougher.  Wrestling an 18 lb. Great Lakes salmon is as easy as reeling in a wide open, 15 horse Johnson outboard engine…it isn’t coming in until it is out of gas. 

Learning that you are not the fisherman you THINK you are is hard to accept.  Knowing that a rod has been in my hand every summer since my second birthday made this realization painful.  Salmon fishing kicked the living snot out of my “living country strong” …er, motto.  Come to think of it, have you ever heard a Chuck Norris fact involving salmon?  I didn’t think so.

The day started out well before dawn when the only sound on the water was the mystical clinking and clanging of gently rocking buoys strategically anchored throughout Grand Traverse Bay to mark a channel or navigational hazard.  Cutting through the water at night, depending only on radar and your captain’s skill, is like riding a roller coaster with no hands and no lights on.  A thrilling free fall.

Big water air smells fishy-fresh and fills your head.  Twin tsunami waves originate, rise up, and roll away from the port and starboard sides of the vessel as the bow cuts the water in half.  If the moon is full, a hint of white boat wake sparks at the stern.  Getting up at 4 a.m. is easy when this is the reward. 

With 25 miles to the nearest fuel dock my son, my Captain, started to wince and the thought crossed my mind that he was puckered up and trying not to crap his pants.  He was consterpating real hard, focused, and having a catasterstroke, flipping switches on the console in a last ditch effort to milk the engines.  When he couldn’t hide it any longer, he confessed.  We were running on fumes.  A smirk slipped out as I was thinking that my adventure just got bigger when fire shot out of his eyes and burned a hole in me that said, “Knock it off Lieutenant Dan.”

Trimming tabs, finding the RPM sweet spot, and getting every ounce of juice out of his twin Merc 225 Verado engines was Captain Adam’s only focus at this point.  He’s my man in the foxhole and, somehow, he pulled it out when the gauges gave up.

After three days of good weather, steady fish, and hitting the hay by 7 p.m. in my Hen House, it was time to pack it all up and head home.  Adam is staying up north to tournament fish so we said our goodbyes and I rolled out of Traverse City.  Merging on U.S. 10 in mid-Michigan, I saw another Airstream to my left, just behind.  I settled into the right lane and slowed down to wave and let them pass.  Imagine my DELIGHT when ANOTHER  16′ DWR (Design Within Reach) Bambi EXACTLY LIKE MINE pulled up, port side (we are land yachts, after all).  Airstream only made 66 of these units and here we were:   two of them rolling 70 mph, side by side.  The only difference was that mine was loaded with a ginormous cooler of iced salmon and lake trout!

Sandy Beaches, Grand Hotels, and Pole Dancing

Man Towing 1947 Airstream with Bicycle

Airstreamers don’t rally, they collude–
just without the evil intent

 

dictionary.reference.com/browse/collude

verb (used without object), col·lud·ed, col·lud·ing.

1. to act together through a secret understanding, especially with evil or harmful intent.

 

Here’s the not-so-secret secret:  understanding what it means to possess one of these iconic trailers starts the day you hook one up and bring it home.  Think shiny, pretty.  Think round, happy thoughts.   The shape sets us apart; Airstreamers are secretly pleased with themselves for thinking outside of the box.  We (think we) have an elevated understanding of style, durability, and value without being snobby about it.  Was that snobby?  We feel responsible for the life of our trailer–knowing where she’s been before, if buying used (as most of us do) or if she’s been restored.  Those leaving a dealership keep meticulous records to pass down one day–if that day ever comes.

Facts from Airstream, Inc.  

Airstreams are made in the U.S.A.

Airstream is a state of mind … the company’s silver-bullet travel trailers have been streaming down the nation’s ribbons of highways for more than 75 years and have become as common and well-loved in the culture of America as blue jeans and tees.

Founder Wally Byam began the enterprise in the 1920s by selling plans for building trailers, which led to the design and launch of “The Clipper” in the early 1930s. The company makes travel trailers primarily, but also produces its Interstate touring coach with full amenities. Airstream has produced about 140,000 travel trailers and motor homes since it began, and roughly two-thirds of them are still making trails. Airstream is a subsidiary of Thor Industries.

Alumapalooza 2012, at the factory grounds
in Jackson Center, OH

 

Through the use of a website called Air Forums, we exchange maintenance tips, road trip stories, organize rallies, dream, fly flags, and explore.  

 We caravan!  

 We connect, cook, cribbage play, convey, critter watch, cajole, create, and sometimes a rally morphs into EPIC proportions.    Such was the result when 25 Airstream trailers rolled in from GA, OH, IL, MO, OK, MI, IN and Canada to Mackinaw Mill Creek Campground at the tip of Michigan’s Mitten near Mackinac Island and its Grand Hotel.   Many do not realize that Michigan is a state of two peninsulas, the upper and lower, which are surrounded by Great Lakes Michigan, Huron and Superior.   That being a fact, we hauled up a tournament salmon fishing boat for personal tours of Mackinac Island and blasted under the Mighty Mac a.k.a. the Mackinac Bridge, one of the longest suspension bridges in the United States.

Captain Adam pilots us under the bridge.
Photo Credit:  Ed Rottinger

Our Caravan
Pole Dancer, Tin Loaf, Hen House

This rally had everything including eye-candy photography and fudge.  Lots of fudge.  The shops on the Island cook up a nasal assault as they pipe the smell of fudge being

Photo Credit
Steven Mentz

made into the streets.  Horse power is the only power on Mackinac Island.  Visitors are clip-clopped back in time as hooves meet the street.  Couple this destination with some folks very experienced in photography, and EPIC starts to evolve.  For starters, the August moon was full and one of our Airstreaming couples set up a large, professional  telescope on the sandy beach one evening.  The “Troll Pot Luck Dinner” was filled with raffle prizes, wine, and a buffet that rivaled the Grand Hotel’s buffet lunch.    Some of us landed king salmon,  toured a lighthouse or two, or slathered ourselves in suntan lotion on the dunes beaches.  We trolls, living under the bridge, showed those Yoopers a thing or two when we kayaked Drumond Island, drove the Historic Tunnel of Trees Route 119, and hit the Casino in St. Ignace.

The Grand Hotel’s
Buffet Lunch Table Setting

The photography in the YouTube video alone is worth the time to watch it.  It began with a pre-rally on our farm near Flint, MI and features the Grand Hotel and Mackinac Island horses and homes.  It ends with a “We make ‘em, You take ‘em” pancake breakfast on the last day.  Enjoy!

The WalkyDog

Cock a Doodle Doo

Daybreak and those damn chattering squirrels and tweety birds wake Remi up. She then stands over me, her morning breath inches from my face, until my inner self becomes aware that there’s a stalker staring at me in bed. I reach over and close the curtains in the Hen House with the hope that my camping partner will take a hint and GO LAY DOWN. 30 seconds later: Round two.

Remi starts pawing the blankets and nosing my forearms to pet her. I give her a few reluctant, half-hearted pats. I look around and find her rawhide bone and flip it at her. She’s not having it. Miss Relentless starts bringing me toys and shoving her cold, wet nose into my ear as I try and roll over. When all else fails, she literally starts sitting on top of my head. Fine. I get up, put on my pants, socks, shoes and let her out on her line. That gives me time for a spritz and a little make up. I brush my hair and teeth (with different brushes) and we are ready for another day in paradise, camping up north, exploring the timber trails.

Squirrel Heaven

Only next time I’m set on Revenge. The WalkyDog® dog bike leash lets you safely take your dog with you on bike rides. Their ad sounds promising: “Now you can bring your best buddy along for a bike ride and maintain control. It puts you in control – not your dog.” watch?v=qNW4AtiFgTE&feature=relmfu%22%20title=%22WalkyDog%20Bike%20Leash

My plan was only half baked. Next I needed a bike. After snearching around on mysimon.com and settling on a FOLDING (!!) pedal assist electric bike for two tracking and exploring, my mind’s eye flashed back to my great-Grandma Place who retired to Florida and rode around in the 1970′s on a three wheeled bike with a big metal basket. She would have given her false teeth for peddle assist!

Remi has no idea what is in store for her on our next trip. We are headed to Tahquamenon Falls State Park with the WalkyDog and the Bike. (insert evil grin) I can’t wait to hear the chitter of those buck toothed rascals in the morning. Sure squirrels are cute–after 10 a.m. Once the dog starts the morning shenanigans, she is getting a WalkyDog whip-tail. The bike goes 40 miles on every charge.

Afterwards, I’ll set the kickstand and grab me a nice cold one out of the fridge and sit in peace on my favorite chair, reading a book while the sun continues to crest above and the air warms in its rays! I might even set out a few peanuts.

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