Archive for September, 2009

The “other” First Family arrives

Tuesday, September 22nd, 2009

……..the weekend following Labor Day. 

The planned visit by Rock, Shelly, two precocious daughters, and Bo Obama, their skunky Portugese Water Dog, failed to materialize. Again. The usual excuse, no different than the old Hillary Rx, ‘health care reform’ issues, was ruefully accepted.  Oh, well, Lynn can’t tolerate the overhead helicopters and her disgust is not limited to the noise pollution.  She thinks a color scheme, preferably those muted pastel waves adorning a Prevost motorcoach, would be much more attractive than the drab olive green of the military. I find the ubiquitous presence of secret service agents, unsmiling, clean-shaven, dark suits, white shirts, to be irritating although Lynn seems to admire their cute butts. 

Instead we were honored to spend the weekend entertaining genuine royalty.  Imagine our elation.  Yes, the first family of Airstream.  This is not an exaggeration. Aside from the trio of Wally Byam, his niece, Helen Schwamborn, and grand nephew, PeeWee, in the early 1960s, no three people (Emma, Eleanor, and the man in the Maze) have a had a more positive, profound, and lasting influence on the aura of Airstream, its dominance in the RV realm, and the multitude of adoring disciples. 

Not to demean the effort of the thousands, either in the management ranks, or the factory floor workers, or loyal caravan club members, or non-member owners, the Luhr trifecta in the past five years raised the bar to a height no one could have imagined; even if you are subject to wild dreams.  A deft balance between glamorizing the lifestyle with an equal dose of useful critique and nuts-and-bolts reality.

They make excellent guests too, provided the following:

a) courtesy parking is a big +

b) decent wireless internet

c) cell phone service, two bar minimum

The balance was a pleasure; catching up, kicking back, gourmet dining, simple entertainment, and recognizing that the future is overrated, although a certainty to arrive anytime.

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Seasoned 9 y/o traveler contemplating fresh hot carrot soup with a toast point crouton of baked chanterelles

Eleanor and Lynn are a potent combination in the kitchen as we feasted on a pork loin roast marinated in heavenly sauce, garnished with weeds, and an accompaniment of couscous/orzo and seven wild grains. Though I doubt any one of us actually counted them.

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A fantasy dessert of blackberries, wild blueberries soaked in Grand Marnier, served over Sara Lee pound cake, lathered with whipped cream was welcomed (no one turned it down).

Saturday a small country fair was as it should be, a puree of nature; the aromatic blend of oven baked turkey, fresh popcorn, horse manure, and wind whipped cedar trees filled the air, little change from the nearly forgotten 19th century.

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The five “G”s (three girls, a goose, and a guinea)

Alas, the future has arrived, a weekend of civility digested, and the Tour of America pulls out the driveway, headed west toward Minnesota and beyond.  Long may the royal family odyssey persevere.

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If only we, as a country, as Americans, could be as civil to one another…each day, every weekend.

East of the Rockies, west of the Porkies III

Wednesday, September 16th, 2009

The Porcupine Mountain Wilderness State Park (The Porkies), Michigan’s largest and best, extends into two time zones, the CST and EST, but while you are here, glancing at your watch is a wasted metaphor. 

Our first hike into the interior, shortly before dusk, found us on a 300 foot precipice overlooking the legendary Lake of the Clouds.  Formed by a glacial crater, 1 1/2 miles long, it is serene, breathtaking, remarkably still, and protected from the harsh winds off neighboring Lake Superior, within the enclosed bosom of the Porkies.

The vista, an unspoiled cleavage, encompassed by old growth forest, is free of human presence.  Never victimized by a corporate mastectomy, the panorama is the same sight seen by an Ojibwa Indian in 1809, or legendary naturalist, P.J. Hoffmaster, in 1909, or by us this very evening, 2009.  May it survive until 2109.  The awe is mesmerizing; an internal pause for reflection is self-induced, gratifying beyond simple words.

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A tinge of autumn at sunset on the distant horizon

Two restful, open air, crisp nights in this peaceful park huddled within the ‘new’ Avion has prepared us for the return eastward on an early Sunday morning.  We stop in a small burg, Palmer, MI, and pause to attend a long since abandoned Methodist Church, I hum a favorite hymn, Sweet Beulah Land, then slip two bucks into the crack of the locked front door….. planning to return in a year to see if anyone took up a collection.

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Lynn and Jack, after “services” at the church of the painful truth

In an area considered to be devoid of humor, the Yooper Tourist Trap in Ishpeming, MI, shatters the myth.

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One manpower lawnboy dscn1513.JPG

Deer portajohn, prior to hunting season

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Big Ernie

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Heading toward St. Ignace for an overnight, prior to our traditional Labor Day walk across the Mackinac Bridge, we pass through another small town on Highway 2, Rapid River, MI, home of noted sculptor Ritch Branstrom, and The AdHoc Work Shop. Featured in magazines and travel brochures, the recycling genius is also a funny guy.

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Below his design of a popular transportation mode, assembled without the use of a single motorcycle part (look closely).dscn3979.JPGLook, Ma, it’s a Hardly.  Let’s go get a hooter tattoo

Although you would rarely consider re-bar and a newly discovered giant avian species in the same breath, feast on this:

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Name this bird (inspiration: note the VW Beetle hood breastplate) and win a grand prize

* see details below

Our virgin trip in the Avion is coming to a close.  It performed flawlessly and even prompted several inquiries from bystanders.

‘Wow, those are big tires’

‘What are all those little doors along the bottom ?’

‘Isn’t avion the French word for air ?’

The answers simple.

(a) Goodyear Marathons, 7.25/75R15

(b)entry foyers for visiting ant colonies

(c) Oui

Our schedule requires us to return to the DeTour cabin soon anticipating the arrival of important internationally renowned guests.  Privacy prevents me from revealing their real first names, Barack and Michelle, so I won’t.  As best friends we only know them as Rocky and Shell anyhow.

For those of you who have advanced this far, I can cut the tension, palpable as it may be, by revealing the grand prize to the bird naming contest: *an all-expense trip on Labor Day, September 2010 to accompany Lynn and myself as we walk the Mackinac Bridge.

Multiple entries are allowed, there may indeed be multiple winners, and the judging will be arbitrary, capricious, with a bias toward poor taste.  Good luck.

East of the Rockies, west of the Porkies, II

Friday, September 11th, 2009

Houghton is home to Michigan Tech, an engineering school of the highest repute, and thus also attracting the very finest and brightest students…..most of whom are from China, Indonesia, India, and Japan. Properly persuaded, a rare option, a PhD program in English rhetoric is also offered….literacy, logic, and grammar trumping arithmetic.

Houghton and its sister city, Hancock, were once at the vortex of copper mining, an enterprise that long ago moved to South America and cheap labor.

Nearby, Calumet was proposed to be the capital of Michigan in the late 1800s, barons of industry built mansions and an opulent Opera House, but warmer heads prevailed and Lansing was chosen instead.

No surprise when you view the pride of the locals, 390 inches of snow in the winter of 1978.dscn3939.JPG

They have constructed a giant measuring stick along legendary highway US 41 toward scenic Copper Harbor to illustrate the height of the snow. Sadly, it is so high, at more than 30 feet, that you can’t get it into a photograph unless you’re standing in Illinois.

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Isn’t it comforting to know, that even though last season was 23+ feet, the annual average is only slightly over 20 feet ? Really, do they have an iceman that measures ? On the county payroll ? What does he do in the summer ?

Our trip also took us to Laurium, MI, home of the late George Gipp.

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Date of birth: February 18, 1895

Place of birth: Laurium, Michigan

Date of death: December 14, 1920 (aged 25)

Place of death: South Bend, Indiana

Famed as the “Gipper” he propelled Ronald Reagan to his finest role.  Ronnie, Nancy’s husband, played his second best role as 40th president of the U.S.

Place names in Michigan have always been a delight. Were you aware that you can go from Paradise to Hell in just one day ? If you are a fan of internal organs, there is Colon, MI. Or for the sexually active, Climax and Clinton. But my very favorite is a small, obscure community on the deserted east shore of the Keweenaw peninsula, Gay, MI. (not that there is anything wrong with that: Jerry Seinfeld, Cosimo Kramer 1997). As you would surmise, Gay, like every small town, would have a saloon.

Never one to miss a photo op.

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Me and Jack, same sex partners, stopped for a cold one.

Copper Harbor is a scenic village at the end of the peninsula and the preferred launch point to reach the least visited national park treasure: Isle Royale. Unlike its contemporaries, Yellowstone or the Smokies, it is isolated by 40 miles of icy, treacherous waters of Lake Superior and is about the size of Cuba, only without the 54 Chevys and cigars. Substitute wolves and moose for salsa bands. They don’t have a Campers World or a KOA with Kamping Kabins, so you just know it’s primitive.

We opted not to go this year, again. The island has no roads, few facilities, and is primarily reserved for trail hikers, backpackers, naturalists; the young, the vigorous, armed with mosquito netting, dressed in the latest, most expensive outdoor sport clothing, logoed equipment, and coated in a thin layer of 100% DEET. Instead we plan next to stay on dry land, head 100 miles southwest to the Porcupine Mountains State Wilderness Park. The largest park in Michigan, if you ignore the freeway system surrounding Detroit, it is affectionately referred to by the term of endearment, The Porkies.

Defy logic, put down that remote, don’t change the channel yet, part III will follow.

East of the Rockies, west of the Porkies

Wednesday, September 9th, 2009

Significantly north of the 46th parallel, it is late August, 79° F., and the local ‘C’ station sign provides an early warning, pre-empting nature itself, by announcing the arrival of “winterized” diesel.  Sidestepping the chips, candy bars, six dollar cigarettes, an array of jerked meats, and dozens of lottery choices on rolls larger than Charmin, I announce to the local high school beauty, “pump eleven, winterized diesel”.

”Huh ?” She stares back blankly.

”We still have four weeks before the onset of fall, what’s the rush to extinguish summer?”, I ask politely.

Her petite finger points out the window to the gentle rain falling and blithely states……”summer snow”.

Even though spring was on fast forward, summer a myth in much of the country, the first maple leaf has taken on the hue ofred raspberry pudding and it is time to head north toward the 47th, the south shore of Lake Superior.

Taking a maiden voyage in the new-to-us 1985 Avion, anxious to discover its unique personality, the aluminum womb is certain to exhibit peculiarities.  First night out is in the Munising, MI city park, a pleasant and roomy site, and because the electric hook-up is in the next zip code, the boondock option made the stunning sunset over still water even more enchanting.

 dscn3930.JPG A quiet Lake Superior at dusk The day had been spent cruising the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, a jewel of nature that extends from Grand Marais to Munising.dscn3901.JPGLynn, a.k.a. Mrs. Superior, prepares to embark on her maiden namesake, Miss Superiordscn3915.JPGKayakers dwarfed beneath 150 foot walldscn3903.JPGSculpted rocks in an eerie gazedscn3927.JPG“Schoolhouse” Lighthouse, 1907, on Grand Island, perhaps the oldest on the Great Lakes

The first day has ended quietly. The next three days are planned in Houghton, MI, on the shore of Portage Lake, looking directly north to the Keweenaw Peninsula. The Avion, affectionately referred to by a friend as the “Towed Abode” has performed well aside from taking on a few ants. Perhaps we’ll nickname it the “Lantslide”. On to Copper Harbor.