You can’t always get what you want,
But if you try sometime you find,
You get what you need.
– The Rolling Stones
We were disgruntled, frustrated, and anxious. This was the third time we changed plans to support an extended stay with our parents. Don’t get me wrong, we weren’t angry about it, we were just feeling a little defeated by the responsibility of having aging parents and the benefit of a flexible lifestyle. We had a rough sketch of our plans through the middle of October and made the decision to scrap them in favor of returning to Michigan. We had no idea what we were getting into as we drove eastward across the country, trying to find the silver lining was proving difficult. We didn’t know how long we were going to stay in Michigan and couldn’t even think about what we would do when we left. One thing we did know was that we would need to escape periodically. We finally decided to use my Dad’s yard as a home base. We would spend a week or so visiting him and then make short trips to explore areas we missed last summer. Additionally, these mini-trips had the side-benefit of the opportunity to dump our holding tanks.
Our arrival in Michigan coincided with an unseasonably hot September. With temperatures hovering into the 90s, after nine days in my Dad’s yard we decided to escape the cornfields and relocate to the Lake Michigan beach.
I grew up about 25-miles from Lake Michigan and spent many summer days at the beach at Holland State Park. I hadn’t been there in well over 20-years, so the opportunity to share some of my youth with Anna and Owen sounded pretty good. The night before we left the paterfamilias homestead, Anna received a text from the Alumalarkies; they decided to ditch their Chicago plans and crash our beach party! So on a hot and sticky late-September afternoon, we headed to the beach and another sandy rendezvous with our some of our favorite full-timers.
Over the next three days, we had a great time pretending to be weekend warriors with Brea, Shannon, and their boys—the dogs had a great time too. We frolicked on the beach, sat around the campfire, solved world peace, and practiced our skills at breaking into an Airstream. On Wednesday morning we said goodbye as our friends headed to points east. We were staying for one more day before returning to family homestead.Our second respite from patriarchal moochdocking occurred about a week later. This time, we wanted to extend our legs slightly beyond 25-miles. Heading up north for an autumn colors trip sounded about right.
We visited Traverse City during last summer’s northern Michigan tour. We both like the area and wanted to take another look around. Also, I’ve wanted to fly fish northern Michigan’s Au Sable River for years. This moochdocking hiatus looked like the perfect opportunity to kill two birds with one stone.
We arrived at Traverse City State Park on Wednesday, October 4th. Last year we stayed for only two days. This time around, we planned to spend four days exploring the downtown area and the Old Mission Peninsula.Youthful and vibrant, Traverse City’s downtown area is a mix of charming and eclectic shops, breweries, and eateries. The State Park is located about 4-miles from the downtown district, but is connected to it by the very nice Traverse Area Recreation and Transportation (TART) Trails. We spent one afternoon riding our bikes downtown and grabbing a late lunch and beers at The Filling Station, a wonderful microbrewery and pizza place located in an old railroad station. On another day we spent a few hours exploring the downtown area neighborhoods, trying to imagine ourselves settling down there. While we love the area, the summers can be incredibly crowded and the winters can be, to quote a local, “Brutal!” Suffice it to say, the jury’s still out on this one, but the Traverse City area is on our short list… After Traverse City we moved 52-miles east to Grayling, Michigan. The main reason we relocated was so that I could fish the “Holy Waters” of the Au Sable River. We managed to snag a rare full hook-up campsite at Hartwick Pines State Park. I spent three days fishing, but took Tuesday off so Owen and I could visit Hartwick Pine’s main attractions: a very nice visitor center, a 49-acre tract of Old Growth Pines, and a CCC-constructed Logging Museum.
By the 1860s the country’s eastern forests were depleted. By 1869, Michigan’s large tracts of virgin White Pine earned it the distinction of being the largest lumber producer in the country. Michigan’s seemingly unlimited quantities of white pine rebuilt Chicago after the great fire and helped build hundreds of small towns on the Great Plains as the railways worked westward. In the late-1800s, the Hartwick tract was spared when a recession slowed the building boom. The loggers never really returned to this tract and 85-acres of Old Growth Pine were preserved. A November 1940 blizzard destroyed 36-acres and Hartwick Pines’ remaining 49-acres of 300+ year-old-trees is one of the last continuous stands of old growth white pines in the nation.
While not as impressive size-wise as other old growth trees we’ve visited, Hartwick Pines is awe-inspiring simply because it exists. In an era of exuberant growth and unchecked greed, it’s strange to fathom that these trees were left behind. Walking among the majestic monarchs was a like taking a stroll back in time. It’s hard and humbling to imagine that 160-years ago the majority of Michigan was covered with these immense giants. More than just a campground close to legendary trout waters, Hartwick Pines State Park provided a valuable lesson in not only our nation’s logging history, but also in the cost of our avarice and the benefits of our desire to conserve and preserve the environment.
On the days that I fished, Anna and Owen kept busy with school work, exploring the State Park, and poking around the downtown Grayling area. Anna also spent a fair amount of time working on paperwork for her upcoming temporary job—I’ll provide more information on this development in a few weeks.
In 1959, a group of frustrated anglers met on the Au Sable River near Grayling, Michigan and formed a conservation organization dedicated to ensuring that wild and native trout populations were allowed to thrive as nature intended. As a Lifetime Member of Trout Unlimited, as well a Michigan native, fishing the Holy Waters of the Au Sable River has been something I’ve wanted to do for a very long time. While I would miss the epic summer evening hatches, I would be able to chase the legendary—and hopefully angry—pre-spawn Browns for which the Au Sable is famous.
With limited time to explore and not sure where begin my hunt, I learned a long time ago that enlisting the talents of a fly fishing guide dramatically shortens the learning curve and pays ample long-term dividends. Also, sans a drift boat, a guide would be my only option to float this storied waterway. Being sort of a traditionalist, my only real choice was turn to Gates Au Sable Lodge for help with a guide and deciphering the Au Sable.
I spent two days floating the river with two of Gates’ great fly-fishing guides and one day exploring the “Holy Waters” on my own. I’m not the best score keeper, but I think I managed to entice close to two dozen trout to chase my streamer. I actually caught six or seven nice Browns and hooked but lost (long-distance released—LDR’d—if you’re keeping score at home) about another half dozen. All-in-all, it was a great three days of fishing on the Au Sable River.
After ten days of autumn exploring in northern Michigan, we hitched up and headed back to the Grand Rapids area on Friday, October 13th. After a few weeks of discussion, we finally had a rough game plan for after Michigan. We would stay in Michigan through the end of the month and head out on November 1st. This would give us a few more weeks with my Dad and also let Owen spend Halloween with his cousins. After that, we will begin a slow’ish journey westward.
We really weren’t sure what we were getting into when we made the quick decision to ditch our autumn in Washington and return to Michigan. We had no idea what we were going to do once we got here, no clue how long we were going to stay, and no inkling of what we would do next. The benefits of this lifestyle have been the freedom and flexibility to do what we want, when we want. Towing our home with us has allowed us to comfortably change tacks and easily relocate. I left home when I was 18-years-old. Throughout our married life, we’ve never lived closer than 300-miles from our families. With aging parents, the freedom of this lifestyle has given us the opportunity to spend more time with them and to give Owen more opportunity to know his extended family. In fact, it’s a little shocking when I look back at our travels and realize that we’ve spent over a quarter of our time moochdocking at our parents’ homes. It isn’t how we envisioned this great adventure when we started, but it’s funny how things seem to evolve into exactly what you need even if you don’t know it at the time…