Growing up, my family took long car camping trips. My father was a principal and my mother was a teacher, so they took full advantage of summer vacation. All seven of us piled into a Ford Galaxy for trips we measured in weeks and thousands of miles.
Our trunk was stuffed to capacity and an enormous car top carrier weighted the roof like a turtle.?Dad drove and Mom navigated. The youngest sibling sat in the front seat between them and the other four of us were in the backseat, three on the bench and one in the foot space, a cramped spot that we rotated. The arrangement might sound odd today, but in the 1960s and 70s there were no seatbelt laws.
This past week was a sort of family-car-trip reprise, some fifty years later, only this time we changed seats. I was in the driver’s seat, chauffeuring my parents on a 3-day, 700 mile car trip “up north” to the upper peninsula of Michigan.
My parents are in their eighties, so yes, I’ll gladly take them where they want to go if I’m able. Mom wanted to see Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, and Dad wanted to visit some old friends who live on Beaver Island, which you access from Charlevoix.?My grown daughter Clara opted to come along so we made some last-minute plans and flew to Grand Rapids together. The next morning Clara and I loaded the luggage and my Dad’s walker in the trunk of their black Mercury Milan and off we went.
The trip was exactly like old times except it was completely different.?Dad was content to sit in the back seat, playing Scrabble on his Kindle Fire. Mom navigated with a paper map spread on her lap, but we mainly used the GPS on my iPhone. There was no tent in the trunk, and no gas stove for cooking. Instead we stayed in places I booked through my Expedia app, and ate at local restaurants.
On Day One we drove three hours north to Charlevoix. From there my parents took a single-engine plane to Beaver Island to visit their friends (“that’s once,” my Mom said of the plane ride). A few hours later, a high speed ferry returned them to the mainland. The day ended with ice cream and a few games of Shanghai. (Card playing is the key to their companionable marriage.)
On Day Two we drove four hours north to Munising through rain. We drove over the Mackinac Bridge, and stopped for a pasty lunch. This menu may, in fact, be mandatory in the UP. We also stopped at Seney National Wildlife Refuge, where the drizzle did not prevent us from seeing wildlife: mainly turtles and waterfowl, including trumpeter swans and sandhill cranes.
That evening our “sunset cruise” through Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore was cancelled due to the rainy, foggy weather, but we were able to reschedule for the next morning. The sky cleared and the scenery was beautiful.
On Day Three we drove the 7 hours back to Grand Rapids, stopping for a couple of hours at Colonial Michilimackinac, which is a historical site that delivers six syllables of fun. We borrowed a wheelchair for my Dad, to save his energy, but he was soon up and out of it and cruising through the fort.
What a treat to take a trip like this! It was a privilege to be in the chauffeur seat, rather than the children’s seat.