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Kales/Gibson Family RV Vacation

 

We decided to go “Up North” this summer. For non-Michiganders, “Up North” is often used by downstaters to refer to anything north of where you live, and usually connotes going to a cottage by a beautiful lake (after fighting traffic on US 23 for several hours). But the more proper meaning of “Up North” is the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, affectionately known as the UP (pronounced “YOU PEE”, not “up”). Somehow in 20+ years of living in Michigan, Patrick and I had never been to the UP and we decided this was the summer. And an RV would be the mode of travel.

We rented from a national outfit as they had a 24 hour 1-800 number and I reasoned that this would protect us in the event of my greatest fear: a toilet breakdown. When we picked up our “unit”, we noted that the dusty and kind of deserted rental place had definitely seen better days. The dusty theme was continued in our RV which despite being a fairly nice unit, had been cleaned to the standards of an 11 year old boy (aka Theo who thought it was “awesome!!”). Needless to say, I stayed up till 1 AM the night before our trip vacuuming and Chlorox wiping the entire thing down.

Day 1.  The first thing we notice is how LOUD the RV is as we travel–like travelling in a large squeaky box. The second thing we notice (after Theo announces he has to pee 20 minutes down the road) is how nice it is to have a traveling toilet. Patrick: “Well, use the bathroom!”. Theo’s eyes light up like it is Christmas, and he runs to the potty. We drive all the way to the Mackinac Bridge and cross over into the UP (making the crossing even more meaningful by scaring the kids with the tale handed down through generations of Michigan families of “the Yugo that was blown off the bridge in the 80’s”). We drive into the RV park about 7 PM and note: 1) everyone is already “set up” (and by set up, I mean that they literally have front porches, chairs, hummingbird feeders, and name placards out proclaiming “George and Yvette’s Slice of Heaven”) and 2) everyone is staring at us. Then we remember that we are literally driving a 30 foot billboard for RV travel, and just own it, waving “yes, we are first timers, hi there”. We get to our spot only to find that there is a somewhat sketchy guy already in it. One of our “neighbors” ambles over to tell us that in his opinion, the sketchy guy is “squatting” in our space and that he will be happy to “back us up in getting him out of there”. We are not sure what our neighbor means by “back up”, but don’t want to find out, and tell him thanks, but we will handle it. After showing the sketchy guy our reservation, he leaves without too much fuss. We wish him well and he drives off. We sink into our first RV sleep.

Day 1. To the UP or bust.

Day 1. To the UP or bust.

 

Day 2. We get up early to go see the Sault Ste Marie Locks. Amazingly, our two teenage girls are completely uninterested. We discover another wonderful thing about RV travel. You can simply put any naysayer sleepyheads in the back of the RV and start driving. While at the Locks, Theo, Patrick and I meet an older man who had made a pilgrimage there because his father had died in the building of the locks in the 1940’s. He is tearful as he shows us pictures of his father, but says he felt like he had closed a loop for himself. Leaving the locks, we realize that we left all of Theo’s clothes back in Ann Arbor. Theo takes this news completely in stride and revels in his new wardrobe from the local Walmart. Next stop: Tahquemenon Falls. During the 45 minute traffic jam to get into the park, I make sandwiches for everyone while we wait (another plus of RV travel). The falls are lovely and the dog loves the chance to get out and walk and sniff at the multiple other dogs in the park. As we begin the long drive to our next campsite, Theo announces “the toilet is not flushing”. Let me say that again for emphasis. THE TOILET IS NOT FLUSHING. We pull over and Patrick discovers that the piece of the toilet that opens some valve is not working (Look. I am a psychiatrist, not an engineer, and that is how I understand it). In about ½ an hour, the RV is “starting to smell like an outhouse!” in Tasia’s words. Me: “No problem. I will call the 1-800 number!” Remember, this is why we rented from the national chain. After a half hour on hold, I connect with a nice but completely unhelpful lady who takes our info and says she’ll get back to us. An hour later, no call. I call back the 1-800 number, this time a little more shrill. I get a snarky guy who has been expertly schooled in the deadly art of passive aggressiveness; he tells me we’ll have to wait 2 days to “possibly” get a fix because “tomorrow is July 4th and nothing is open”. I go ballistic and ask for his manager, to which he coolly replies “I don’t have one”. To which I un-coolly reply, “you must work for someone!”. To which he snappily anwers, “Yes. I work for (large national company)”. Patrick and the kids talk me down after I hang up with steam coming out of my ears and bad words coming out of my mouth. In particular, Sophia makes a poignant speech about “not letting this setback ruin the trip”. I feel slightly moved by her speech and decide to try to go with the sentiment. We stop at a beautiful local beach. While the kids swim, Patrick figures out a stopgap fix for the toilet that at least stops the sewer smell (more later). I call nearby campgrounds, and find us a spot at a lovely place about an hour down the road. We pull in, fix dinner and call it a night.

Day 2. Us vs. the toilet

Day 2. Us vs. the toilet

Day 3. We wake up and Patrick schools us on the “new toilet deal”. For the squeamish, just skip the next few lines. For the rest of you, it involves gloving up your hand, reaching INTO the toilet bowl, pulling open the broken valve (through whatever you have “deposited”) and closing it manually. Good times. Tasia announces that she will not be going to the bathroom in the RV for the rest of the trip. We pack up and drive to the Keewenaw Peninsula (stopping for ginormous sweet rolls in L’Anse). Most everything is closed because it is the 4th of July. We have lunch by a beautiful beach near Baraga with a little lighthouse. We set off for the next campsite, whose name (Summer Breeze) has Patrick and I repeatedly and annoyingly singing the Seals and Crofts song for most of the rest of the day. By the time we make dinner (10 PM), most of the other RV’ers at Summer Breeze are sawing logs. Tasia decides she has “had it” with her parents’ poor organization skills and announces that she is planning Day #4. We say “go for it”. Patrick and the kids take the RV into Iron Mountain to see fireworks since it is July 4th. I am “there”, but sleeping in the back of the RV, completely wiped out. Patrick tells me later that while I was asleep and they were watching fireworks, Theo puts his arms around everyone and says dreamily “I love you guys”.

Day 3. Everything is closed, so go to the beach!

Day 3. Everything is closed, so go to the beach!

Day 4. AKA the day Tasia made. We head to a local waterfall (the small but cute Fumee Falls) and then to a local vintage store the “Wishing Well” in Iron Mountain. There, we meet the adorable owner Mr. Khouri (who continuously whistles, but somehow it doesn’t bother me as whistling usually does). He seems to specialize in turning found objects into art, and I buy one of his toolbox flowerboxes. Next on tap is some go-carting (Super fun. I enjoy trying to run Sophia off the road more than she enjoys me doing it) and mini golf (Sophia who doesn’t want to keep score, somehow starts keeping score once she begins to do well). Then, a cool dip in the Summer Breeze pool. We finish with a lovely dinner at a local Italian restaurant. Well played Tasia. Well played.

Day 4. The day Tasia took over.

Day 4. The day Tasia took over.

Day 5. We set off for Pictured Rocks. On the way, we stop at what we have now dubbed perhaps the greatest roadside attraction ever (and we have seen MANY on various road trips), the Iron Mine. A trip deep into the mine that is educational, kitschy (a MUST for roadside attractions in our family) and fun. Delicious pasties (a UP delicacy that typically contain meat, potatoes, and root vegetables) for lunch in Escanaba. We make it to Pictured Rocks. Sadly, Patrick has a dream that will not come true–to kayak in Pictured Rocks. As usual, we have arrived too late. [An aside: when you travel in an RV, there is a gap in the space-time continuum. Any distance that should take an hour will end up taking somewhere between 2 to 15 hours more. Not even kidding.] Back to Pat’s dream. We find out that to do that kayaking thing you would have to spend something like 8 hours doing it. Which (thank God) we don’t have. Patrick pouts while the rest of the family heaves a GIANT sigh of relief. We set out on one of the more touristy boat tours of Pictured Rocks as I pop 2 Dramamine to make the boat ride tolerable. The site is truly beautiful (and made even sweeter by the fact that I win a picture book of Pictured Rocks at the end of the boat ride! I LOVE winning!) The family decides to order pizza for dinner and take it back to the RV park.

Day 5. Pictured Rocks and more.

Day 5. Pictured Rocks and more.

Day 6. We begin the long ride back to Ann Arbor. Likely reflecting his mood at the time, Patrick puts on the Gordon Lightfoot classic “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” as we drive and demands silence for the duration of the song. We spend some time contemplating the trip. I ask the group, “would we do this again?”:

Patrick: Maybe. But it will be awhile.

Sophia: Not likely.

Tasia: I doubt it. But I do love this family.

Theo: YEAH! As long as the toilet works!

Not able to ask Sasha, but my guess is for her part, yes. She pretty much owned this couch during the journey:

Sasha in her favorite trip spot.

As for me, I would do it again. Probably differently, and with more knowledge. And a fully operational toilet. But I would do it again.

kales@umich.eduKales/Gibson Family RV Vacation

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  • Ruth Campbell - August 6, 2016 reply

    I really enjoyed reading this! Very funny and I understood why we never did this. My kids and grandkids rented a camper van recently to go through the California Sierras and loved it. The kids were so excited about the beds, the refrigerator and the toilet which worked. I just finished reading Dave Eggers’ novel, Heroes of the Frontier about a single mother and her two children riding in a camper through Alaska. You may find some familiar themes in it.

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