Encore Performance

The last day of traveling is always the hardest entry to write. It is a bittersweet day and the exhaustion of the vacation catches up with me.

I must say that I slept well last night. Luckily, the RV behaved, so I was able to let go of my anxiety about something major having to go wrong with Old Unreliable. It still remains to be seen if whatever is going on with the water is major, but at least it is not a problem that could have left us stranded miles from home. All it really did was relieve the girls from dish-washing duty since that would have to wait for home.

The girls asked me to wake them up when I went to shower so that they would be ready to leave ASAP. You see, their favorite part of the trip was not the pristine beaches or the hiking, it was hanging out with Andy. Abigail was the spokeswoman and she had been pressing me to make sure we took him up on his invitation to come back on our way back home. She was able to tell me his work schedule for the day that I never heard him divulge. She even kept pressing for us to spend the night there again even though Aunt Laura and her boys were coming that day, too. The logic was they would be getting to Loralie’s house late anyway, so what was the difference to wait to see them in the morning instead?

We were able to pull out of the Traverse City State Park Campground at 9am. Pretty impressive for them since noon was the earliest I seemed to be able to get the ready to do anything else.  I will admit that I was reticent about the campground when we arrived and I saw how crowded it was and sandwiched by a major highway and railroad tracks, but I really enjoyed our stay (except for the lack of firewood.) The highway noise really did not bother me. We had maybe 30-40 yards of tree buffer. Also, there was not a lot of extraneous light like I was expecting being in the city. We could actually see stars. The trees were dense and old growth. The shower house was clean and showers were in self-contained room with a real lock and always plenty of hot water. It is luxury to have a real door instead of a moldy shower curtain that does not stretch all the way across the doorway like many Indiana state park campgrounds. I totally judge campers I see watching large TV’s while camping, but I am very willing to enjoy my hot showers and feel like a real outdoorswoman.

We filled up with gas and that is when Loralie declared we had not gone to any souvenir shops! Ugh. That meant backtracking through some road construction and then trying to park. I was *soo disappointed that we were leaving before the shops opened, so we could not stop to look for cheaply made crap at premium prices.

36BD4899-555D-43DA-BAEB-F607DF2D5002We drove for a few hours and stopped at a McDonald’s because of the ease of parking in the semi truck lot. The girls gave me a hard time about it since when we ere in Traverse City, I had given them a lecture about eating at local places when on vacation, but we were in travel mode on a highway. There is no such thing as “local” off the exits made for truckers.

For our route home, I had decided to go through Kalamazoo. This Fall, I am starting my online courses for a 2nd Masters degree in Orientation and Mobility (O&M) at Western Michigan University O&M is basically teaching people who are blind or visually impaired how to travel safely and independently with a cane. Fall and Spring will be online and then Summer will be on-campus. Old Unreliable will be my dorm. The campus was a ghost town and looked really new.  I was glad to not have to watch out for college students who walk out in the street with total disregard for any traffic. I was a little worried about ending up in a dead end would be a challenge to get turned around in, so I only did a cursory drive around.

After that little detour, we headed to Elkhart. The girls continued their lobby to stay overnight, but I stuck to my guns.

It was a beautiful day. Sunny, with a nice breeze. We all put on our swimsuits and headed the opposite direction as before. This section of the St. Joseph River is not as built up and we saw more wildlife like water fowl and turtles. Our destination was a sandbar. This is a gathering place for the river folk. The water was high enough that the sandbar was submerged, so Andy had a good time scaring the girls by running the pontoon up on a sandbar they could not see to beach it. It is basically how we park.

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We did some wading and walking around in the middle of the river. Loralie got it in her head a turtle, fish, snake, or leech would bite her if she really got in the water instead of wading.

When we were done wading and sunning, it was time for dinner. Loralie poo-poo-ed every suggestion. I like to tell her that she does not like flavor. She is going through a picky stage and can be a bit prissy at times. It is the preteen coming out. I suggested Lucky’sDonuts for Thai. You see, when I lived with Andy twelve years ago, there was a donut shop that sold donuts in the morning and Thai food for lunch and dinner. Lucky was a Cambodian refugee who fled to Vietnam where he met his wife in a refugee camp. They won the lottery to come to the US where they came to Elkhart and worked to by a defunct Dunkin Donuts shop and opened their own. Since I had left, they had given up on the donut end of the business and now just concentrated on the Thai end of things, so now it is just called Lucky’s. Loralie ordered chicken strips and fries.

We had a great time while Andy and the girls told each other stories, while Loralie ate half of Abigail’s Lo Mien even though she, “doesn’t like Thai food.”  We were stuffed, but Andy was done showing   off Elkhart, so then he took us out for ice cream at Flavor Freeze. I got a delicious Reese’s sundae that I made a valiant effort to eat, but I was too full of Pad Thai. Luckily, I was traveling with a freezer. (It made a great lunch today. )

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We said out goodbyes and headed for home around 7:45pm.

We had about a 3 hour drive to get home. There was some dun construction to be driving a wide vehicle through on the way, but it was largely uneventful.

We got to Mary’s (Loralie’s house) at around 10:45pm. Hugs and kisses abounded with Laura and her boys, Hudson (5yo) and Logan (18mo.) I left to go back to my house and dogs around midnight. I told the girls I would just bring the RV back tomorrow for them to unload their things.

Freckles, Lester, and I had a  good snuggle session and I finally got to sleep soundly in my own bed.

We had a great time and I have already put in a reservation with Andy to just park in his driveway for when it is Miriam’s turn for  her trip in a couple of years.

Fun with Fossils

To be honest, there was a little more to my annoyance with the girls’ constant questions and demands the first night at camp. My resilience is getting better, but it is not 100% and sometimes it still dips. When I got to our site after filling up the water tank, I noticed the brakes took a little more of a push to do the job.  Now last Fall when I had the RV repaired (windshield, quickly drained engine battery, and winterizing), the brakes were hard to depress.  When I got it ready to take to brake place this summer, they worked just fine. With Old Unreliable’s propensity to breakdown as far from home as possible, I could not help but start to spiral on if the brakes were going bad at our furthest point.

I was able to enjoy yesterday since we were staying parked, but today we were driving about an hour around the bay to Peterson Park. I did not sleep worth a darn last night wondering if the brakes would be fine or if I was going to discover a big problem. There was lots of deep breathing and trying to be logical about it by thinking through the obvious reason it took a little more to stop like I suddenly had a full tank of water sloshing around the back to push the RV forward.

IMG_6784I got up a 8am and after getting ready, waited for the girls to get up and going. It was too wet from a night of storms to sit outside, so I had to try to clear a spot at the dinette. I swear their suitcases explode every morning. Making a place to sit while traveling with preteens means moving aside bras and Paw Patrol fruit snacks.

We were not ready to pull out until almost 11am.

I pulled out of our spot and the brake pedal was stiff just like in the Fall My resiliency was probably at10% at most. I could stop, but it just felt like I needed to triple my stopping distance. We were going to dump the water tanks for gas mileage because the sloshing of partially filled water tanks makes handling harder than a full tank. This gave me oh so much time to freak out. I kept trying to throw in positive thoughts with the worst case imaginings like “it is very humid this morning from the rain and that makes brakes weird for a little bit.” This must have been the magic words, because once we pulled out of the dump station, the brakes were acting normally again.

The girls snacked as I white-knuckled even though the scenery was gorgeous as we hugged the coast around the bay. Things were working out, but anxiety does not just dissipate that easily. Now I was worried about looking for a place for lunch that could also accommodate us in the parking lot. Old Unreliable is that size that is just big enough to be unwieldy. Add that once we got going, I now worried about holding other drivers behind me up as a slowed for every curve. Things just came up on me too fast to pull over and before we knew it, we were at our destination.

The one landmark I remembered from last time was a cute goat farm and it is what I used to figure out which of the multiple Peterson Park, Beach, Recreation Area was the one I wanted. I don’t know who Peterson was, but there are too many things named for him.

IMG_6786I was a bit worried when we parked that I had picked the wrong Peterson because we did not pass a goat farm and the park did not look familiar. I was relieved when we found the trailhead down to the beach and that looked exactly as I remembered. Whew.

The water was gorgeous. It was a blue green shade that progressed to a deep blue as you moved from the shore. It looked like the Caribbean Sea instead of Midwestern lake.

Each of us had a bag, since last time I ended up withIMG_6787 pounds of fossils in my pockets that made it hard to keep my pants from falling down.

The girls took to fossil hunting right away. I described to them what a Petoskey stone looks like (it is a type of fossilized coral that formed millions of years ago when the Midwest was covered by a shallow sea.) I also told them aboutcrinoids since I had found a lot of those too last time.

Abigail took to it pretty quickly and found some beautiful small stones. Loralie took a little longer to find some. She was also filling her bag with just pretty rocks she found, too. For the first hour, the both made me verify every find. We walked the shore with our head to the ground. It was 2pm when Abigail commented that our bags could not take much more. About half an hour later, Loralie’s bag ripped completely in half.  It was then that I realized that I should have used my reusable bags instead of the thin plastic ones to collect rocks.

We made our way back slowly enjoying the view and water along the way and always finding “just one more” fossil to collect.

IMG_6803There was some regrets expressed as we headed back up the trail with our treasures, but none were left behind.

At the top, we spread things out on a table and caught our breath, retrieved some stronger bags, and the girls went to a playground for a few minutes. It as around 4pm before we had a snack. At this point, none of us had had a proper meal that day. I am an aunt, not a parent so regular feedings are not in my skill set.

I had used Google Maps to get to the park and there were several turns on back country roads lined with orchards.  We now had no signal to get back to the campground. That is the problem with traveling via the cell phone. The Venn diagram of places with no cell signal and places you ant to take an RV are almost completely overlapping.

We retraced the first turn and then I had no clue. I had Abigail watch my bars so she could hit search as soon as we had some. Somehow our simpler route took us straight into one of the little towns I could not park in for lunch. It was better than our guided route and I saw a sign for the highway we had come in on, so we were back on track. My mom has the most amazing built in compass, so I guess I got a little of it, too.

We were back on the coast and I told the girls I would try harder to find a place to stop on the way so we could eat. Then we hit a traffic jam and any hope of stopping was lost as I got stuck in the wrong lane. We just ended back at the campground and I looked up a drive-in Betzie had recommended and found it was a 15 minute walk, so the girls agreed and we started walking the 3/4 mile to Don’s Drive-In.

We did not drive, so we got a picnic table. They had a side called Fabulous Fries (by the carload.) We all wanted fries, so we decided to share that. OMG. I kid you not, it was a takeout bag filled 6+ inches with steak fries. With our sandwiches and real fruit raspberry shakes, we were only able to get the bag down to 3 inches of fries even with this being our first meal of the day at 6:30. So if you ever go, bring twenty of you closest friends before you order fries by the carload because they mean it.

Good thing we had a long walk back to work off those fries.

The girls wanted to visit the beach again before heading into the campground for the night. The firewood delivery never happened, so we had not campfire to look forward to. The water was beautiful and becalming sound of the waves finally brought my anxiety all the way back to zero.

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Tomorrow we head for home and I feel fine about the drive.

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BeachDay

Even though I was up until 2am writing last night, I woke up at 7am feeling pretty good. The traffic sound did not really bother me. The fact that we did not get a lot of extra light coming in the windows helped a lot.

I got ready and pulled out the mini grill to make breakfast. The piece that connects the propane canister to the grill had something coming out of it like soft wax. It was obviously plugging up the thing so the propane could not get to the grill. I ended up putting the lighter to it and it melted whatever it was and I got it to drip out. Problem solved.

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I mixed up some pancake batter and threw some sausages on the griddle. I could say the secret ingredient is love, but really it is vanilla and cinnamon. I even got them to do the dishes without complaint. Do you believe in miracles?

I am trying not to freak out, but while Abigail was doing the dishes I checked the panel of sensors and it said that the water tank was low!?! How could that have happened already? Then Loralie says there is something leaking under the RV. I looked and it was a cascade of possibly soapy water. So now I do not know if the fresh water tank is leaking since that was too low too fast, if it is a leak related to the water pump since a fresh water tank leak IMG_6765that bad would have emptied by morning, or if it is the gray water tank since it looked like there was soap in the water and water from the sink goes to that tank.  I am going to need to start a Patreon page or something to raise money for the constant repairs Old Unreliable needsn since she just got new tires, an oil change, brake inspection, and new screen door this month.

It was a very productive morning and things were really zipping along until the zombies got up. I think I finally pinpointed where all our extra time that I anticipated yesterday went. These two are in their own time zone that runs slower than all of the rest of ours.  My early morning start was gone before the girls were finally ready to go see the beach and explore the park.

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I used my time to find this example of “bad” braille which says “Conessible.”

It was close to noon before we started walking. First we checked the front gate to see if they had firewood, yet. For those of you who do not camp or have not in a few years, in an attempt to stop the spread of the emerald ash borer beetle most parks require you to purchase local wood. Well, our campground was sold out last night, so we had an anemic fire with wood I had had leftover from another camping trip. I only used three of our six pieces since I did not know how long we would need to ration. Apparently, for at least two days since there was not any delivered today.

Now I know a lot of work could not be done during the shutdown, but cutting firewood seems like one of those tasks one could use the time to catch up and even get ahead of in that time, but hat’s just me.

We then found the pedestrian walkway over the highway that we saw when we entered the park  yesterday to get to the beach. By the way, because I am a know-it-all who must always be right, I looked up the campground map again to see how I missed that there was a major highway right behind our campsite. The map shows a light gray line no bigger than a trail marking and you had to zoom out so the park only took up half the map before the familiar highway shield appears on the map.

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It could have been worse. The other side of the campground has railroad track behind it that was also not on the map.

We checked out the beach and walked down the road to see if we could find kayak outfitters. We found a jet ski rental and parasailing, but I was a stick-in-the-mud and would not let the girls do either one.

IMG_6770We turned around and went back to the campsite to get dressed to go swim. The water was chilly, but fine once you got in. It was beautiful. We are used to muddy lakes and rivers with no visibility due to soil runoff. We could still see the bottom of the lake even when we got in up to our necks. Not to mention, the sand was soft. It’s not like Indiana beaches where you have a strip of rocks and large pebbles to painfully limp across to get into deeper water. There is a reason Indiana tourism is not based on beaches.

Around 2pm, the girls decided they were ready for lunch, so we headed back to the site. The grill piece was clogged again! I just could not get it to work this time, so problem not so solved. I cooked our hamburgers in the RV on the stove which was just wrong. I also found a pamphlet for kayak rental and went to the website. Turns out, the rental was on the other end of the beach. We had just chosen the wrong direction to walk that morning.  Oh well, I got my 10,000 steps in for the day.

We headed there and got an hour rental at 4:30. The water was choppier then it was in the morning. They only had two kayaks, so Loralie and I took those and Abigail got a stand up paddle board since logically it seemed like the decorated gymnast would be the one out of all of us to have the balance for it. The choppy water was a bit much, even for her. We all had fun and the girls traded off for part of it. Our only real frustration were some people who would intentionally come into the area where we were already. The girls did not have enough skills to watch out for them and steer or stay on the board at the same time.  One kid even kept diving under Loralie’s kayak. I am like a seal in water on a kayak. I am in control, fast, and maneuverable. Getting in and out of a kayak once I am back on the beach, I am still like a  seal: awkward, floppy, and I roll around.

Loralie wanted a second round of swimming. Abigail and I were chilly, so we washed from shore and Abigail did some gymnastics on the soft sand. Sometimes successfully, sometimes not.

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We headed back to the campground around 6pm. Checked again for firewood unsuccessfully, so we had to make do with roasting our hot dogs with our last three logs.

We sat around our sad little fire until the end, which was fine since we ere all tuckered out from the active day.

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Tomorrow we fossil hunt!

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As promised, here is my mask fromFacemasks By Jaime on Etsy!

 

Dawdling Along

I was shooting for today to be a leisurely drive with plenty of stops up to our campsite at Traverse City State Park.

The girls and I slept in the RV and Andy left his door unlocked for any nighttime bathroom needs. That was especially nice since even though my dogs were not here to wake me up for their breakfast, they have trained my bladder well for 6am. I went ahead and stayed up, got ready, and wrote yesterday’s entry. Those two hours proved to be my only quiet time for the day.

I know my nieces are cool and all, but I was surprised that Andy also wanted to join us for our breakfast of a donut and Starbucks run. Abigail and Loralie were obsessed with going to Starbucks. Abigail loves her Dragon drink and Loralie must have been just excited to sound grown-up because when we started to order she told us she had actually never had anything except a cake pop from there. Abigail told her to get a Pink drink and I said to no to the cake pop since we had donuts.

Those of you who know Loralie will not be surprised that Loralie (who does not like pop or juice) did not like the Pink drink. She is no longer talking about Starbucks. We had our donuts and drinks back at Andy’s. He got the grand tour of the RV and witnessed how the girls in mere hours had turned the place into a messy sorority house. I am pretty sure the girls would leave me for Andy in a heartbeat. He suggested we stop in on our way back for another boat ride. This time to a sand bar for some wading and swimming if the weather is better. It was not long after we left before Abigail was pointing out that Laura and the boys would probably be getting to tHartford City from the airport so late that we might as well spend the night at Andy’s again instead of rushing home. They all three even had a road trip planned to Arizona next Spring Training while I took my shower. I am not entirely sure if I am invited or if they just want to use the RV.

IMG_6743I know I have talked about it a million times, but I like what I like and this is the perfect time for some familiar comforts, so we headed to Sawyer, MI. I got my growler of cold brew coffee from Infusco Coffee Roasters, we went to a fruit stand and got some white nectarines, donut peaches, and raspberries. I then got online to call in an order for the best bacon in the world. Turns out they are only doing online ordering and it had to be done a few days in advance. I was hoping to come home a different route, so I will make do with the second best bacon in the world that is more accessible from home.  I was even planning on expanding my horizons to their hot dogs…

My final familiar comfort was Greenbush Brewery. I do not like any of their beers, but they do make an amazing mac & cheese with bacon ends mixed in.  Plus, it was a nicer place not available at home that has food even picky 12 year olds will like. I also discovered that the Korean Beef BBQ Sandwich that I had last time and thought was just a special that day is actually on the regular menu, so I got the sandwich and the girls got the mac & cheese that I was able to take an aunt tax out of . Win-win for everyone, except for when Abigail knocked over a glass of ice water into my lap. It was cold, but not cool.

Our next stop was Round Barn Estate which is a winery. More importantly, they have a special program for teachers called the Teachers Hall Pass which means free admission to their concerts, use of their trails, and a 20% discount on their products! (I was especially excited about hat last part. ) We sat outside and I ordered a refreshing blueberry lime mojito that was the picture of a perfect summer day and the girls had blueberry slushies. Now these were not your dyed syrup on ice slashes from a gas station, this was real blueberry puree and whipped cream mixed and frozen into a very fine consistency.

So of course Loralie did not like it. I helped her finish it, though.

I got my email confirming my registration to the Teacher Hall Pass program ready so I could order some wine and finally noticed the second half of the FIRST SENTENCE that said I also needed to show my school ID. It’s summer, people. I cannot be expected to fully read  and follow directions. I asked the waiter if I could get away with not having the ID and he stammered that he’d only been there a month and did not know what the Hall Pass was, so he needed to ask someone else.

I think the gentleman he sent over was a manager and he was a delight! He just asked for my info to get me into their system, got me the card so I would be all set for next time, brought out the bottles of wine that I had ordered in a bag that would entitle the holder to another discount, and then did not charge for the girls’ slushies. One of my requested bottles was a special creme liquor they make in the Salted Caramel flavor. He forgot they were out, so I said I would  take the Mint Chocolate flavor instead (the original is Black Walnut, which is excellent and available in stores at home.) He asked if I had ever had it before, and when I said no, he insisted on bringing me out a free sample before committing. It was a Thin Mint in a glass, with a delightful kick. I think this was the best customer service experience I have ever had in my life. Highly recommend and you can borrow my bag.

We lugged my purchase back to the RV and prepared to go on the trail. I had chosen this because I thought it was something they would enjoy since they could not imbibe in the main attraction. We went less than 50 yards in before they both asked if we could just go on to our campsite. It was hot and I could see there were hills, so I agreed.

Our route took us through picturesque country with many a vineyard and orchard. While I enjoyed the view, the girls watched a download of Hamilton  on my iPad.

I do not know where all our dawdling time went, but as I drove and drove the arrival time predicted by Google Maps kept getting later and later. I had hoped to be settled in the campsite before dark. It’s just easier and dawn/dusk light is the worst visibility for me. On one particular curve, the sun was at the exact right height to come through the tops of the trees to hit the dust on the windshield to completely blind me on a tight curve. Not fun and I did not need the jolt of adrenaline, thank you very much.

We pulled into to Traverse City just in time for the girls to still get a good look at Lake Michigan. I was surprised to discover that the park is right in the city. I was doubly surprised that the main road was between the park and the beach. The campsite reservation map I looked at really did not make it clear that there was a four lane highway between us and the lake.

IMG_6757We squeaked in with just enough daylight left to get the RV backed in. I was also surprised by how crowded the campground is for a Monday. The shower house is nice, though and that is number one on my campground amenities list. I will tolerate a lot for a good shower.

I’m not going to lie, but as soon as we parked the girls started driving me a little crazy. I had just driven four+ hours, and as soon as we were parked it was, “can you start a fire,” “where are our chairs,” “can I eat this,” “can you show me how to use the microwave,” “why is that plate sparking in the microwave,” and on and on. They would not let me sit down or stop asking me a million questions. It was honestly more exhausting than the drive. #IntrovertProblems

I had to chase them both off from reading this over my shoulder while I read.

I may or may not have to crack open one of those bottles from the winery.

Hope and Healing

I planned on trying to leave for our trip around 12:30. Our itinerary was pretty loose, but I do like to be on time when I have any hint of a schedule. We ended up leaving at 1:15, so being 45 minutes behind made me a little antsy right off the bat, but I am trying to relax. One of the very unfortunate side-effects from the California disaster is my sense of resilience took a real hit. When I first started this blog, I marveled at how many people (women especially) told me I was being brave by traveling. I did not really get that until California took away my self-assurance that things would work out instead of getting worse. I was afraid my resilience was gone for good until Thursday when I picked up the RV from getting some repairs and when I parked to go in a store for some supplies, an alarm started going off. Instead of freaking out, I isolated where it was coming from (it was the “low battery alarm for the shore batteries which happens to be the first thing that when wrong when I took the girls to Maine), and thought to myself, “oh, no big deal. I know how to fix this.”

It was an incredibly calming thought, and gave me hope that traveling would not be an anxiety-ridden experience for the rest of my life where I am only on the lookout for the next disaster. I am feeling like myself, again.

So, our first stop was a meetup with Jaime (from every girls weekend I have written about). She has an Etsy shop where she makes masks, and she had found a book fabric that I really liked so we were going to do a trade of one of her masks for one of my pass the time in quarantine knitted hats. She does great work, so if you need a mask (and you do) her shop on Etsy is FaceMasksByJaime. I will have to model it in another post.

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Visibility was awesome.

Well, thank God for dawdling preteens, because we had been driving through mainly light drizzles, but when we arrived at the place we were meeting for the exchange the sky turned ominous. There were some clouds that looked pretty sketchy and the wind started to kick up hard. The RV was being pushed from side to side and we could even feel it hitting the back like a group of people were trying to lift it without the tires quite  leaving the ground. Jaime pulled in just as the sky opened up and the rain started to pour. I got soaked opening the door and she got soaked from the 6ft. sprint from her car. I was so glad we were parked for all this.

We caught up as the rain poured down, comparing quarantine stories. We said our goodbyes after about half an hour and the girls and I headed to our next stop of Elkhart, Indiana.

IMG_6720Last year, I wrote about going to Chicago with my friend Andy (44_for_tony_wood). Andy and I met through wrestling way back in 2001 and we were roommates when I was the Media Specialist at Lakeland High School. His house is on the St. Joseph River and is perfect for boating. I had decided for this trip to break up the traveling instead of doing the whole drive in one go, so I asked him if we could visit and park the RV in his cul-de-sac for the night.

The day of rain took taking the pontoon out off the table (definitely glad we were not out on the water for that storm) and the girls were bummed, but Andy is the consummate host. He took us out to a local I Italian place called Rulli’s where he also used to bartend. He may have forgotten that he was paying instead of working since he kept up-selling the girls on getting more food and dessert. We had a good time and  they all charmed each other throughly. When we went back to the house, Andy got out his BB gun to keep them entertained since the weather was disappointing and the girls had a good time shooting cans. Loralie was quite the sharpshooter.

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By this time, it was close to sundown and the sky had been clear for a while. Abigail kept giving oh so subtle hints that she sure wished we could take the boat out… Andy fell for it hard, so he uncovered the boat and we headed downriver for the perfect spot to watch the sunset. The weather by this point was perfect. There was a nice breeze and the mugginess that had been plaguing us for weeks was tamped down. Loralie was going absolutely bonkers over the the houses that lined the river. The girls turned  it into a game of which house Aunt Laura should buy (I assume they would also expect you to get a boat, Laura, so be ready for that.)

We got to the dam at the perfect time for the sunset. It was an especially beautiful one with the colors and light clouds that make the remaining blue sky really pop, along with the silhouettes of the trees and reflection in the water. The whole trip was worth that sunset.

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Now that the girls had a new BFF and they had gotten their boat ride, they turned their sights to his hot tub. Andy showed them how to work the lights and the jets, so while he made the better decision and did other things I went into the soup with the girls and instead of relaxing with the massaging jets like I pictured, the girls got their second wind and it was like a warm bath with overactive toddlers.  In other words, it was great. They are at that age where they can either go condescending teen or goofy kid. I have to hoard those goofy kids moments while they last.

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Andy was worried about us parking in the cup-de-sac so he (thank goodness), backed Old Unreliable into his driveway and the girls and I hit the hay. Our agenda for Monday is a leisurely drive up to Traverse City State Park.We will see what we want to see as we make our way up north to our campground on Lake Michigan.

It’s nice to see the possibilities again, instead of imminent disasters.

The Best Laid Plans…

WTH, 2020.

This was supposed to be the rebirth of Travels with Freckles, but instead we got all this *gestures wildly. I had been at my current teaching job for the full year, we got a great raise, and my ducks were starting to line up. Alas, the universe had other plans. So here is what could have been…

The first cancelled trip was in March. It was another Girls’ Weekend with Betzie and Jaime in Michigan. It was going to be a nice way to ease back into having a life and full wine rack. Instead, this was the beginning of the lockdowns and Michigan was hit particularly hard.

The second cancelled trip was going to be in May.  It was a conference for vision professionals in Toronto, Canada. That’s right, this blog was going international! The conference was scheduled for just about the time the .US and Canadian border closed. It is just as well since my passport did not arrive until July.

The third cancelled trip was going to be the cherry on top of a wonderful Spring to would usher in a spectacular Summer of no second job and some disposable income.  This cancellation hit me right in the giblets. It was going to be amazing. Shelby (who got me my current job) and I were going for a long weekend in New York City. We had tickets to Dear Evan Hansen and Plaza Suite starring Sarah Jessica Parker and Matthew Broderick. Ugh. It was going to be soooo amazing and a chance to experience a whole other different type of travel than I have gotten to do since I started this blog. Of course, we all know that NYC was one of the hardest hit areas. We had the added bonus of getting to stress if we would get refunds since we had already purchased our tickets for the shows and flight. At one point, Broadway was planning on reopening in between the time scheduled for the two shows. Once it was clear that was still too early, we were able to get our money back.

Finally, the fourth cancelled trip never really quite got off the ground. It was the end of June and the family thought with all the kids’ normal activities cancelled or all virtual that we could head to Texas in early July to visit my sister Laura and her family. Of course that was about the time Texas’ COVID cases started to blow up.

Maybe it is the cabin fever talking, but I fear I may be the first Apocalyptic Horseman, which is the White Riderof the Plague. Everywhere I plan to go, the pandemic hits hard, so I have some bad news for Michigan: I am coming next week.  I am almost afraid to write that and jinx it…

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My white steed

Two summers ago, I took my then ten year old nieces, Abigail and Loralie on Old Unfaithful’s inaugural trip. We went to New England and spent time in Acadia National Park and Boston. It was this trip where the RV earned her nickname. Since I had to cut their trip short for repairs, I told the girls I would take them on a second short trip to make up for it.  We will be spending four days meandering up to Traverse City and back.

Wish us luck.

While you’re at it, wish Traverse City luck. The White Horseman is on her way… with middle schoolers.

Spook-tickular Day

The night was perfect! It was cold enough that I was snug under my down comforter. The RV has a furnace and heating a space that small does not take long, so we got up around 8am to a bright and sunny, crisp fall day. Nothing could be better for a day out in the woods. I took my time getting ready and enjoying my coffee, because Hey, I am on vacation.

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At around 10, I decided to hit Trail 4 because I saw it had a trailhead in the campground. It looked interesting and met up with a lot of other trails. Freckles and Lester were ecstatic! They love to go on walks. So many new things to smell and pee on!

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The leaves had not done much changing, but it was still a beautiful trail that was wide and mostly covered in pine needles. For my money,  pine needles are the best walking surface. They are soft with just a little give. They are like walking on a cloud. We had the trail to ourselves. The birds that were left were singing and the air had a chill that made it comfortable to wear my hoodie the whole time. I am far and away a summer girl, but I do love wearing jeans and a hoodie. We eventually met up with Trail 5 and I decided to try it.

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Now something I have decided in my years of visiting Indiana state parks is that the trail rating system is not consistent throughout the parks, but a rating of the trails in each park compared to the others. What I am saying is a trail that is rated Easy in a hilly park is easy compared to the other trails in that park while the same trail in a flatter park would get a Moderate or Rugged rating because the other trails in that park are flat. Trail 4 and 5 were rated Moderate, but they were a breeze. My guess is the rating had to do with their length only because there were only two minor hills and no rough terrain. Not even tree roots to trip over.

We reached a boat launch that was about a third of the way on Trail 5. The hike had been easy, the dogs were having a blast, and I was not feeling hungry at all for lunch, so I decided why not try to hike all the trails on this trip?  If I was going to do that, then it made sense to take Trail 5 all the way to the other side of the park and hit Trail 8 now. No way I was not going to unhook the RV to drive to the other side of the park to get 8 in another day.

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So we set off. It followed the Tippecanoe River and a nice, pleasant walk. Freckles and Lester ran out of the desire to pee and smell everything. Freckles stayed in front keeping a pace that if I had it in me, could have became a run, while Lester started walking behind. He is the younger of the two, but she is definitely in better shape.

I felt sorry for the guy, but I was not going to carry him. When I would try to take breaks for him, he would lay down immediately while Freckles would practically dance wanting to keep going. When we reached the end of Trail 5 there was a modern bathroom. I got the dogs some water and as I was holding the bag I had made into makeshift bowl, I noticed some burrs on poor Lester’s head.  I picket the first bur off discovered it was actually a tick! Ewww, eww, ewwwwww!

I got the three off of his head and found a few more on him and Freckles, then I noticed them on my sweatshirt and jeans. These were the infamous deer ticks that I had always heard about, but never seen. They were a little bigger than the head of a pin. Their small size and my dogs’ mostly black fur made them so hard to find. The fact that I had successfully found so many just made me cringe at how many I knew I was not seeing.

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I went ahead and did Trail 8 since it was short and we had come all that way before turning around to backtrack to the campground. I spent miles trying to put together a game plan: do I leave or stay, do I have anything I can use to get them off, should I give them a shower outside or is it too cold? As we walked, I kept spotting more on the dogs and me. I was completely squigged out.

After what felt like an eternity, we finally reached the boat launch were I had made the decision to keep going. Poor Lester was really dragging. I thought he was on the brink of deciding to lay down and refuse to go anymore while Freckles was still fresh as a daisy. This is why I gave Lester an old man name.  I consulted the map and decided to walk on the road to get to the campground. It was shorter and maybe if we were on pavement instead of the trail we would not pick up so many new ticks.  I started to calm down and think more rationally about the days I had left. I decided that I would put them on the picnic table and give them a really good go over to pick off ticks and then we would just stay at the campsite and do our walks around the campground. There were more people and trailers full of decorations arriving. I could really make a day of cooking on the fire.

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When we reached the camper, we had walked over 11 miles. I decided to de-tick Lester first since he handles being in the camper by himself better than Freckles does. I put him up and there were so many! I would finish an area and then come back and still find more. At about this time I started to wonder if the ticks were also in the campsite and on the table, I felt something hit my bangs and a larger tick fell on the table right in front of me.

NOpe.

That’s it.

We are gone!

I did my best to try to get ahead of the ticks on Lester and when I thought I might have it, I put him inside and started on Freckles. I did not find as many on her but the ones I found had already attached, so I had to pull them out with my nails. Poor baby. She is mainly black, but her white fur is extra thick. I knew there was no way I was coming even close to getting many of the little buggers.

When I was done with Freckles, I carefully put a change of clothes and towel into a trash bag so that none could transfer from me onto my clean clothes while I walked to the shower house. I did a silkwood shower. I scrubbed, I loofahed, and I pulled one off my neck. Agin, I made sure there was no contact between my clean clothes and the hiking ones.

I packed up and unhooked the RV to head home two days early.

I got home at 8pm and just plugged it in to keep the fridge going since I would not be unpacking that night. I was telling Dad why I was back so soon and when I took off my jacket, there was a tick! Gah!

I then changed into the shortest shorts I own and  tank top with everything I was wearing going immediately in the washer. I asked my Mom to give the once over. Is there anything more awkward than having your mom check out your under boob? I hope not and I apologize for putting that image in your head.

She found one on my back and leg. They are tiny, but they will still take a chunk of skin with them. I then gave the dogs their bath. It was a real bummer for Freckles. Her best day had ended with her least favorite thing.

All those precautions and Mom still found two on her pajamas.

It is the next day and I have washed everything possible from the RV and I still cannot shake the creepy crawly feeling.

I propose that Tippecanoe River State Park needs to change their name to Tickacanoe River.

Where is Brad Paisley when you need him?

Tippecanoe River State Park

I am on Fall Break. I compared calendars with my nieces when I got hired at my current job last year, and I was thrilled that they matched up! I planned on making it up to the girls that their trip to Maine got cut short when Old Unreliable made her true nature known and tried to strand us with battery troubles. They are both in sports and 4-H, so I was happy to not need to coordinate their calendars around my summer job.

Well, I was excited too soon. Their school moved when they do Fall Break and now I had no plans. I wanted to take Old Unreliable out if she could behave. An unfortunate lasting effect of my California debacle has been I am not nearly as comfortable traveling on my own. Finally on Tuesday, I decided to suck it up and go camping alone. I got the battery charged and this morning did a haphazard packing job (which I expect to really bite me in the butt come meal time…) and took off for Tippecanoe River State Park.

Tippy may be the only state park in Indiana that I have never visited. It had been on my list for years. I had seen it on several lists as a “hidden gem” that was beautiful, but did not get as many visitors as other parks. Perfect!

I had not gone yet because the big selling point was kayaking the river. They even have campsites only accessible by kayak or canoe. I love kayaking, but I hate transporting it. Transportation was simple when I had a truck and could just throw it in the back, add some bungee cords, and go. Transporting it by car required a system of wenches and straps, plus lifting it over my head to get it on the roof without banging my car up. That is hard enough, but try doing it at the end of the trip when your arms are tired from paddling for a few hours.  I had no way of transporting my kayak with Old Unreliable, so I decided to just bite the bullet and go to Tippy even if I could not kayak.

I was hoping that being one of the northern parks that the leaves had changed for picturesque views while hiking and since it is cool out and not a popular park, that I would have the place to myself. As I have said before, I do not go camping to be in a crowd.

I loaded up the dogs and set out for the two hour drive. When I got close, I noticed I was in Royal Center. Fun fact: this was the site of my first interview to be an elementary teacher. I was their next choice, so I had not seen this place in *cough decades.

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I am happy to report that was the most exciting thing that happened on my drive.

When I made it to the park I let the attendant know that I planned on staying through Saturday. I was quite shocked when she told me there were only two sites available. Not so hidden gem anymore.

My family never camped in the Fall. Sports and no Fall Break really made that implausible. I knew Brown County was popular this time of year, but with the chilly weather and gray skies this was an unexpected development. I asked her if there was something special going on or was this normal for here?

Well, it just so happens that every year on the last Saturday before Halloween they have a special trick-or-treating event and people deck out their campsites with decorations. It is such a big deal, that many people max out Indiana’s two week limit for renting a site for this event.

I pulled into the campground and she was not exaggerating about the decorations. The big event was still a week and a half away and some sites were more decorated than pretty much any house I had ever seen. At one site alone I counted three extra cargo trailers just for their decorations. I have never needed that much room when I have moved!

It was one of the more interesting walks the dogs and I have ever had. There was a life-size werewolf (if you can call something mythical life-sized) that Freckles was a bit weary of. She did not like having it behind her both times we passed, so she kept looking back to make sure it was not following us.

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It was a gusty afternoon that acted like it may rain at any moment, so I did not want to hit a trail or start a fire. We got cozy in the camper instead. I read a book and tried to decide what to make for dinner. I had some things that I wanted to save for grilling and others that I was feeling too lazy to thaw out first, so I made a really odd meal: jalapeno poppers.

Now in my defense, I make them from scratch, but I will concede that it’s not “camping food”, an appetizer, and random. I was prepared for the first time ever with gloves. No burning my eyeball when I take out my contacts for the rest of the week! I start with fresh jalapenos, cut them in half lengthwise, clean out the seeds and ribs, fill with cream cheese, and top with bacon. Bake and serve. Yum! No regrets.

By the time I ate, it was time for one last walk for the dogs. Orange and purple lights everywhere. Ironically, the displays were scarier looking in the daylight. Maybe they are saving the extra spooky lighting for next weekend.

All I know is tomorrow has hiking on the agenda and wearing some dogs out.

Terror in the Treetops

Do you ever think to yourself, “Gee, I sure learned my lesson!” and then immediately make the same mistake again?

Well, I did just that this weekend. I was certain after the Washington, D.C. debacle that I had learned to do some planning and research first, bu then came last weekend’s bike ride where I proceeded based on some weak assumptions, and now there is the zip-lining incident.

I am a Teacher of students with Blindness/Low Vision by trade and part of that is something called the Expanded Core Curriculum or ECC. The ECC is basically areas that most people learn through exposure (aka observing through sight) that my kiddos need explicit instructions to learn. Well, between the ECC and blindness/low vision being rare disabilities, a few of us TBLV’s from districts in my area will get our students tougher for voluntary ECC activities where they can meet other kids who understand what they are dealing with and we can have fun with the ECC.

One of the areas of the ECC is Recreation and Leisure, so sometimes our activities are just plain ol’ fun. This would be my first time experiencing our group ECC day, so I was brought into the discussion pretty late in the process. The activity would be zip-lining on a Saturday at the Koteewi Aerial Park  in Strawtown, Indiana.

I was game because I thought zip-lining looked fun. Here is where my assuming began. Instead of looking up what was involved or even something as basic as dress requirements, I assumed it would be a climb up to a platform, get hooked up to the zip-line, take a 5 to 15 minute ride over a meadow or forest, and then it would be done. Seemed like a lot of hoopla for something so short, but that did not stop me from going in blind, so to speak.

Since I was driving all that way, I made planes to meet my friend Stacey afterwards to hang out and I dressed for hanging out. I wore jeans and luckily Converse shoes.

I got there and that’s when I found out that this was not a 15 minus sip line experience,  it was a 2 hour ropes course with the occasional zip-line. Excuse me. A what? For how long?

Crap. I just assumed myself right into being an ass again.

Fun fact about me: even though I thought zip-lining sounded fun and I have even gone skydiving, I am scared of open heights. It is admittedly one of those irrational fears because for one, it is not consistent (*See skydiving). I climbed trees as a kid, no problem. A ladder up to a roof, problem. The fire tower at Oubache State Park, problem. The Eiffel Tower at Kings Island, no problem. See, irrational.

So here I was in jeans for a 2 hour long physical activity that required a lot of reaching and stretching on a day that was promising to reach the 90’s and I have a fear of open heights.  Great.

First we took a trail to a shed. Here is where we got leather gloves, a harness, and helmet.  The harness had a C hook that would go on the steel cables on all the obstacles to catch you if you fall. There was also a pulley for the zip-lines. I do no have pictures because I did not want to risk dropping my phone from the TOP OF A TREE.

Our next stop was a practice area to learn how to use the C hook, carabiner for the ropes when you climb ladders, and the pulley for the zip-line. The C hook (probably not its official name) looks like a C with a small opening. What you do is there are flat pieces of steel that your can fit the C hook onto and then you maneuver it around bolts onto the steel cable that goes across all the obstacles called elements.  The first time, it was kind of like one of those old timey spacial puzzles where you have to get two looped nails apart, but once you get it, it is not hard.  So we practiced getting our C-hook on the cable, going across an element, which in this case was a log, and then we zip- lined to a platform , but everything was close enough to the ground that most adults could touch the ground. I learned the hard way that you do not grab the steel cable while you are zip-lining. If it was not for the leather gloves, then I would have a really nasty rope burn on my palm right now.

After the practice, it was time for the real deal. we climbed a platform that was at least 20 feet up in the trees. From there, there were three different courses you cold take of increasing difficulty. Luckily, I was directed to the easiest. I say luckily, because I was too  scared to notice that feature.

Yep, the ropes course was for sure falling under the category of open heights that freak me our. I will probable get some parts wrong, but this is what I remember. The first element were three beams about three inches wide by 6 feet long. Each were attached on the ends by steel cables, so they can swing a bit while you are on them. You attached yourself to a cable in the middle with your C hook and then there were cables on each side to hold on to as you walked across the beams. Rationally, I knew if I fell, the C hook would catch me, but I wanted more leeway in the weight limit that they allowed like many 3 or 4 hundred more pounds. Plus, if I fell, I think it was rational to expect that if I fell, i could get banged up by the element I fell off of before the hook caught me.

So here I was, scared silly, stepping on to a 3 inch beam that can move., stretching over an open abyss in stiff jeans and a not all that flexible body. Oh, and did I mention, I do not have depth perception.

Depth perception is what allows you to judge where you are in relation to other objects. In this case, I could not tell if I had one foot or one inch before I reached some things with my foot. Add that as I tried to determine this, I was looking down at a 20ft or so fall.

That was the worst part of every element. You wild have to step off the platform down, while stretching to reach something that moved and wobbled. . Then you have to go to the next beam, you had to stretch while standing on a wobbly element to get on another and as you reach, the element you were standing on would be pushed away from the one you were reaching for. I do not have long legs and my jeans were restricting my movements, so this was all extra challenging, but then you reach the end of the third beam and have to get on the platform. The new platform is up higher, so now I had to reach and step up to to get on it while the beam moved back away from the platform. Bonus, this final beam was not level like the others. It was at a 30 degree angle. All that and I was only on the first obstacle.

The next obstacle was blessedly easier. There were three again, but his time it was three beams on two foot wide cross beams, so there was not the balancing element.  The challenge of moving from one to the next and getting up on an even higher platform happened again.

The next element I remember were 2 foot wide logs  Each were attached to the guide wires on the ends, so it was like walking across on several little swings. One log did not look in good shape. It had a chunk out of it like dry rot, so I did my best to not put all my weight on it. The easiest was a wavy bridge.  I think that was the last element before I had to take a ladder up to another platform where there was finally a zip-line.

At this point, by heart was beating out of my chest. Some of it was physical excursion from being a tight ball of stress the whole time. Go ahead. Clinch every muscle in your body and hold it. See how tired you get.

By this time, the other adult and two kids in my group were way ahead of me. I could not even see where they were in the trees. Shelby, my coworker would occasionally yell to see where I was and how I was doing. I would crack jokes that were kinda true about wanting a bucket truck to retrieve me.

I would put the pulley on and take it back off. I was fighting panic that I had only experienced one other time in California when things were really  desperate. I was trying to control my breathing and think logically through the safety of the zip-line and remind myself that this was the part I actually wanted to do, but I was having a rough go of it since I was not at least 30 ft or more up and wigged out from the obstacles I had just done. I knew my only options were the zip-line or retracing my steps, but I already knew how awful the part I had done was and I did NOT want to tot that again.

About this time, another couple made it to the platform I was on. I told them I had reached the limits my courage and was working on it, so they could go around me. It really helped to watch someone else go.  I took a few more minutes, working on my breathing when one of the park staff asked if she needed to come up to help me. I told her no, I was almost ready. Then I hooked and unhooked myself from the zip-line a few more times when I finally just did the oldest trick in the book and counted to three then pushed off.

It was awesome ad fun and I could zip-line all day, but the ropes course was still BS. I had to do a few more elements like a net in shape of a V that basically closed on you when your are in it. I am not claustrophobic and there was no falling off that one, so I was fine. There was also a tightrope with the occasional 2×4 attaching it to the hand cables. I did not care for that one. My C hook would get caught on the boards because I think it needed to be higher up. Then there was a wall with holes cut for your feet and hands. I had to move my left foot  and hand to the next hole, then bring my right foot to where it had been and so on until I got across.

The final element was a zip-line down to the ground where I had to do a running stop at the bottom or end up with mulch in unspeakable places. I was able to successfully do that and stay upright.

That brought me back to the platform where I had started. We had paid for 2 hours and the easiest course had taken me almost the full time. We had about 10 minutes left and I was given the option to do another, but knowing that the obstacles were harder, it was a hard pass for me, but I would have loved to do more zip-lining.

I have a FitBit that measures heart rate, so that night I looked at it and looking at my heart rate, guess what time I was about to have a panic attack.

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After some water and a rest so my heart could return to normal, I walked back to my car to go visit Stacey. She had much different plans for us, so I finished up my night by making an upcycled Christmas tree out of a hymnal at a table with some retired old ladies. Much more blue on the heart rate monitor during that tree-based activity.

So all in all, I will go zip-lining again, but if there is a ropes course involved then I will just hide in the harness shed instead.  It’s the heart healthy thing to do.

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I have been to three MLB games in my life. Two were White Sox vs. Yankees when I was a kid and what I remember is taking home a kitten we found at a rest stop. His name was Yankee, and he was a good kitty. I know there was a third as part of a school trip in middle or high school, but it made not impression. I do not even remember who I saw. I did know it was not a Cubs game. I was a Wrigley Field virgin and Andy had chosen me to go to the last game of the season against the St. Louis Cardinals.

I knew from all his texts, tweets, and Instagram pics during games (@44_for_tony_wood) that Cubs gear was a must. I brought a red bandana for my hair and my red Converse, then I asked to borrow a shirt. Andy brought down what he described as the first stack in one drawer. I had at least six to choose from and I had the suspicoun that he had enough still in his room to cloth a small village.

Since it was the last home game of the season  and rain was in the forecast (plus, why not?), Andy decided we should get a hotel room close to Wrigley. IF there were rain delays, we would not have to worry about catching the train back late. Plus, whether we ended up celebrating or drowning our sorrows we could not have to worry about driving back to Indiana.

The reason this was on the list was that Andy and Tony had attended this game last year. Baseball was a huge bond for them and much of their family. It also marked the end of a season that had started with the Best and Worst Day of Andy’s life. (Seriously, those need capitalization. Fight me, grammar Nazis.) During Spring Training in Mesa, Arizona Andy and Tony rented a place to watch their beloved Cubs kick off the year. Tony lived in California, so these times together were special and both of them are the type of men to suck the marrow out of every moment. The first day, they had a blast and went out on the town. They did not leave anywhere a stranger.  Tony declared it the Best Day.

The next morning, Andy found him collapsed on the floor. He had died in the night of a heart attack. Andy then had to take care of arrangements, let his sister-in-law know she is a widow, and tell his mother that she had lost her oldest son only about a year after their father had died. Tony was only 54 years old.

I still do not know how Andy is still standing.

Andy decided to dedicate this year to remembering Tony and sharing his legacy. Tony had a thing for the numbest 44. It’s the number his two sons wore when they each won a State Championship in Football. He liked Tony Rizzo, number 44, on the Cubs. Since Andy was also turning 44 this year, he made a list of 44 places and memories he had of Tony and asked others to experience them with him and listen to Tony’s story and impact.

Andy asked me to complete number 8, the final home game of the Cubs season. The final page of a season that had started with so much joy that in a night turned into a tragedy.

Andy has a solid game day routine. He drives to Chinatown and parks in the fenced e+DFYSTNTRSm06EiqKoA7glot below the Redline train. He takes it to Wrigley and times his arrival for when they start serving beer at noon. He watches fora bit around left field and then goes an d finds his seats. Maybe he sits there and maybe he goes somewhere better. At eh 7th inning stretch, he dons his beard and records singing with whomever has attended the game with him.  At the end of the game, he goes to his favorite haunts in Wrigleyville either to celebrate or complain with the rest of Chicago.

Now the routine was going to be a bit different since we got a hotel It was a boutique hotel called The Wheelhouse Hotel.  It was really fun and they embraced the baseball theme in a fun and classy way. More hipster than sports bar. Our room’s mini bar included beef jerky, peanuts, cracker jack, and my favorite, Big League Chew bubble gum. Instead of mints, they left packs of Wrigley Doublemint gum on the pillows.

Now some of my more conservative readers may be thinking, wait a second, an unmarried man and woman in a room together? What exactly are the sleeping arrangements?

No need to clutch your pearls, our room had bunkbeds.  No seriously, bunkbeds.

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See. I told you.

We had a wonderful lunch on the patio. I had a classic bacon cheeseburger and Andy had a fried bologna sandwich that somehow still managed to look pretentious.  Gotta love hipsters.

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We headed to the stadium and Andy had a million stories for every nook and cranny of the place. We did laps and he would have a different story each time. When it finally got close to game time, we headed up to stand behind left field. I started to get a bit worried at this point. Normally, when people stand instead of going to their seats it is because where they are standing is better. Well, with my eyesight I could not see the ball at all. It was like watching a weird Youtube video where the object everyone is playing with is photoshopped out. A few times, I thought I heard the ball getting hit, but it turned out the pitch was so hard that I was hearing it hit the catcher’s mitt. Ouch.

IegrM0nLTfqnKjN9LpaA7AAfter an inning or two, Andy decided to go to our seats. Technically, I guises I should say we went to where we were going to sit. It was a day where it kept spitting rain, the Cubs had put themselves in the position to have to win every game left to go to the Playoffs, and they were plagued with injuries, so we had some choices in where we sat. We ended up under the roof on the first deck on the first base line and hey, I could see the ball! The game is much more interesting when you can see where the ball is. The Cubs led the Cards 2 to 1 as I experienced my first 7th inning stretch at Wrigley. 

It was all going fine and dandy until the top of the 9th when the Cubs fell apart. TheCards pulled ahead 2 to 3 and the Cubs only managed a single to end the game. My first Cubs game was the full experience in the Cubs fan tradition of dashed hopes and crushing disappointment. Andy modified his W flag to a WTF flag and flew it for anyone who would look.  We learned the sad fact that Wrigley has an “L” flag they fly after a loss.  It was a sad day in Wrigleyville.

The rest of our evening were more stories about Tony and other happier Cubs memories. Andy displayed his WTF flag and became a popular model as numerous people asked to take his picture. We went to some of his favorite bars where he managed to have conversations with more than one stranger in each place. This was the most uncomfortable part of the trip for me. More uncomfortable than the bike ride. Andy thrives on attention, and I prefer invisibility. He is the life of the party, while I am the ninja who hides in the shadows and occasionally throws in a devastating one liner. Loud bars are not my ideal environment.

However, we kept changing locations and not staying long because even Andy had trouble finding his niche because so many of the Cubs fans had just gone home to cry in their beers.

Finally, we hit upon a spot where we both could shine. Old Crow Smokehouse is a large place and we ordered appetizers. Andy struck up a conversation via his flag with a couple sitting next to us. We were all about the same age and they quickly learned that Andy can be full of crap. He likes to make up tall tales to see how far he can go before they wise up. That then made me their de facto BS meter. If they were not sure whether to believe him, they would look to me for confirmation. Andy told them Tony’s story and after that, we all sat together and had a great conversation. Johanna and Chris are engaged and living in Phoenix. Andy even got what sounds like a sincere invitation to a Spring Training Game. We were kicked out around 9 or 10 for last call because the Sunday hours were based on how many were in the bar and the four of us were about it.

We did one last round of Wrigleyville to hit the memories we missed durning one of the small rainfalls. This time we made it to Murphy’s Bleachers which was one of the places that was around before the business boom after the World Series win.

Five minutes in, we walked by an almost fight. This was decidedly not my scene.  We finally headed back to the Wheelhouse. I was surprised how much of Wrigleyville had rolled up the sidewalks and it was only 10:30, but that’s OK. It had been a packed day full of every emotion.

It had been a full day…and of course I had to take the top bunk. Why end the nostalgia tour now?

Monday will not be getting its own post. We asked the concierge if there was anything open for breakfast. He directed us to a place a half mile away.

We had a quiet walk… to a closed restaurant. We settled on bagels then headed back to the hotel, then Indiana and the real world.

Now go tell someone you love them.