Monday was our last traveling day, and we had some great weather for it: sunny, but still cool. We drove to the shoreline town of Saugatuck, to take advantage of one of God’s gifts to the locals.
The prevailing winds around Lake Michigan usually blow from the northwest to the southeast, depositing large amounts of sand in the process. Over many years, this sand has formed huge dunes at many places along the eastern shore of the lake.
Decades ago, some entrepreneurial types in Saugatuck got an idea: let’s cut the tops off of some trucks, replace most of the body with three benches, and put ropes into the benches to use as seatbelts. Then we’ll get people to sign a liability waiver, load them onto those benches, and drive hell for leather all over the dunes like maniacs.
We were really looking forward to doing some dune running on the last day of our trip. Unfortunately for us, we arrived to find several school buses’ worth of kids and their parents. It turns out that a popular end-of-school-year field trip is to take kids for a day at the dunes, when they should clearly be in school, learning how to be transgendered unisex bathroom users, or something.
The first open appointment for us to ride in the dunes wasn’t until 3:30, so we sadly missed out on that bit of fun.
So we drove into town, parked, and took a long walk around. The place is charming and picturesque, the way many of the lakeshore towns are. Starting on Memorial Day, the place will be crawling with tourists, but now there were just enough people strolling the streets to keep it from seeming empty.
Several canals coming in off the lake were lined with boat slips and shops and restaurants, but when we walked one block inland, the neighborhoods became partly residential and partly small shops and bed and breakfasts. The architecture was eclectic and pleasing to the eye: no cookie cutter housing developments here, other than the waterfront condos. (But the once again, houses built in the 1960s and 70s never fail to disappoint!)
We had a good lunch at one of the little restaurants on a side-street. They were serving inside, but also had a shaded patio out front, and we ate out there. Being a couple of blocks off the lake knocked down all the wind, and with no clouds to speak of, it was a perfect temperature. (I know that a week from now, back in Florida’s early summer heat, I’ll be nostalgic for that street-side lunch!)
Next we drove down to Grand Haven, and took another leisurely drive and stroll around yet another cute beach town. More of the same: leafy streets, well-manicured lawns and landscaping, a varied assortment of building styles. Then south on some roads that were almost a tunnel through the trees, though that didn’t make up for missing the actual Tunnel of Trees farther north in Michigan.
We ended up back on 31, eventually connecting to I-94 into Indiana. We made it to the Indiana Dunes around 3:30, and climbed up Mount Baldy, which is a shoreside dune almost 300 feet high. From that vantage point on such a clear day, we could make out the Chicago skyline, which was probably 45ish miles distant.
We made it back home in time for supper, meeting Bob’s mom and dad for a nice meal, before unpacking the Caddy and putting it back into its garage for some well-earned rest.
As I look back on the trip, I realized that I enjoyed the whole ride, but there are always regrets on a 5-day trip that could have easily taken twice that long. There are lots of places in Wisconsin that I’d like to see (Fond au Lac, for one), plus I’d like to make a longer return visit to Milwaukee, along with a little more time to visit some museums in Kenosha and Sheboygan.
The same goes for Michigan. Several readers mentioned Petovsky, the Tunnel of Trees and Leggs bar in northern Michigan, among other places, and of course I’d like to actually ride the dune runners in Saugatuck. I’m hoping to make a return trip soon.
The people were really friendly on the whole trip, offering to take pics for us and providing good conversation and advice for where to site-see and eat all along the way. I’m sure that many, many people on both coasts aren’t as rude as their reputation, but you generally can’t go wrong with the politeness of Midwesterners.
As on our Route 66 trip last year, the old Cadillac performed like a champ. Because of the cool temps up north, we only got to drive with the top down for the first day. Darryll checked the oil each day, we used a Tomtom to give us our speeds, and as far as I’m concerned, having no gas gauge just keeps you on your toes.
A lot of people gave Darryll compliments on the car – Bob was counting, and says the total number was 28. A lot of people talked to us about it, saying that their dads, uncles or grandfathers had one when they were kids. Darryll noticed a numerical oddity about that: around 14,000 1976 El Dorados were made, and between last year’s Route 66 trip and this one, we must have met half of those owners or their kids!
Conversely, around 671,000 AMC Gremlins were made, and other than 2 Cautious Optimism readers – Tom Dixon Jr. and Dennis MacMenacevelt (?) – I’ve never met anyone who would admit to ever owning one!
Other than taking a beating on the gas prices (Thanks, Brandon!), the driving was a lot of fun.
Except for the heavy rain on Day 2, and the overcast skies that day and the next, the weather was great, and I appreciated the change from my usual north Florida heat and humidity. Even that shockingly cold boat ride on Lake Superior would have been fine, if I’d dressed appropriately.
And that experience taught me something. You’ve all probably heard the old Mark Twain quote to the effect of, “The coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco.” Well I can say that one of the coldest January days I ever spent was a May 21st in Munising, Michigan!
Thanks for reading, and I’ll be back on Friday with a new column trying to catch up on the political events of the last 10 days.