Serendipity is the best part of the journey.
I made it back to MN early April after spending 5 weeks in Palm Desert sheltering in place due to the COVID-19 outbreak. I camped in my good friends driveway for a few weeks and then headed over to the Vet’s Camp for six weeks — to ride out the coronavirus.
Early June I decided it was time to get back on the road and learn how to travel through COVID-19, since it was clear it was going to be around for a very long time. I was also getting quite antsy and ready to go, albeit sad to leave my friends and family again. It’s easy to self-isolate and social-distance living this lifestyle, so why stay still?
I had plans to go to Door County WI, and then head south around Lake Michigan to a campground by Warren Dunes State Park. But plans changed when my friend tagged me in a post about Torch Lake in northern MI. It looked like the Caribbean of the north country and I decided I had to check it out. The next day I was walking through Walmart in Sturgeon Bay, when I came across an inflatable kayak sitting all alone on the shelf. I looked up it’s reviews on Amazon — 5 stars. For the price tag of $77, even if it sunk after the third paddle, it would be worth it. I took as a sign.
Caribbean waters here I come.
Since there are no Thousand Trails campgrounds (my camping membership) in the area I was heading to, I decided to hop via my Harvest Host membership and test out my dry-camping skills. (Dry camping is camping with no hook-ups; water, sewer and electricity.) I have a solar panel that trickles into my battery and will give me very limited power—if it’s sunny and I conserve, a 20 gallon fresh water tank, 30 gallon gray water tank and a 9 gallon black tank. I’m completely self contained. Over the last year I have only dry-camped at Pismo Beach, CA., and that didn’t end up very well. Dead battery, cold rain, no heat, and the surf underneath my trailer. I had no idea what I was doing. Thanks to my friends in the Little Guy Max community, I’ve learned a lot since then.
I knew that in a short time, COVID-19 was going to surge again as I watched states open back up with little restrictions. As it is, my style of traveling is somewhat unpredictable, but now with the possibility of states shutting back down I needed to prepare for the possibility of getting stranded. When the pandemic first began, many in my community were displaced because of campground closures. This could easily happen again.
And it could happen soon.
So I left beautiful Door County and drove around the top of the lake via North Shore Drive, dry-camping at The Gourd Barn in Moran, MI., in the UP on my first night. Since I changed my plan just a week prior to leaving, I had no idea what to expect of my destinations, and to be quite honest, where I was really going. To be forthright here, I really don’t research a destination too much beforehand because I really love the serendipitous. Having little or no expectations of a city, town, or region allows me the opportunity to explore with child-like wonder and anticipation of what could unfold, and to be completely present. I have never once been disappointed. I settle in, meet the locals, find the places to do, go and see while there. Many end up being gems off the beaten path. Take for example yesterday; I headed to South Bend for a hair appointment and found myself right at the foot of Notre Dame campus. Absolutely magnificent and completely unplanned.
After leaving the UP, I found myself crossing over Mackinac bridge (in complete awe), and then driving through some historically quaint beach towns until I arrived at the north end of Torch Lake. So much history in these towns, I promised myself I’d come back to explore each one. I stopped for breakfast at a tiny diner along my route and had a memorable conversation with the server and another patron—joining me 10 feet away—about politics, protests, the state of the world and, of course, COVID-19. One of the things I love about traveling solo is that it forces me to strike up a conversations with strangers. I’m not a shy person by all means, but if someone else were with me I would miss meeting some pretty amazing people. I savored my delicious eggs Benedict, not wanting the conversation, or the breakfast, to end.
These are some of my favorite unexpected moments.
I hopped between two Harvest Hosts—Friske Farmers Market and Cellar 1914 Winery— while I explored this gorgeous area and discovered that Torch Lake was just one lake in a chain of several that extended off Grand Traverse Bay. And let me tell you, Caribbean waters they were. All of them. I have never seen these tropical shades north of the Gulf of Mexico.. Ever in my life. I popped my kayak in every launch I could find and spent my days paddling, floating, and exploring. Everywhere I looked there were crystal-clear shades of green and turquoise-blue and there were moments when it seemed I couldn’t tell where the water ended and my kayak began. I found myself paddling out to the colors; my body floating and basking on my kayak like a ceylon-green crayon melting in the sun and blending in to it’s environment. I listened to the sounds of the waves lapping at the shore and sent up a message of gratitude for this amazing life I get to live.
An outdoor tiki-like bar calls me towards it with the familiar sounds of deck music. I have to explore this. I am escorted to the outdoor bar—wishing it wasn’t COVID-times and I wasn’t sitting on my COVID-appointed barstool strategically placed 6 feet away from the other human beings on their own COVID-appointed barstools. I’m feeling slightly guilty for taking up two spaces but then remember I probably won’t be able to do this for awhile so I stay for a bit and enjoy myself. If it weren’t for the pine trees off in the distance, I would easily forget it was summertime in northern Michigan. As I sip my beverage, The Kid Rock song “All Summer Long” plays inside my head and I sing it quietly to myself while the musicians belt out a cover tune to the sun-burned patrons.
Back at Cellar 1914 Winery, where my tiny home was parked, I got to know the owners and staff a bit; Rob, Greg, RJ and Kelsee—along with Rocco the old goat in the horse barn. Now run by the 4th generation it was a full-blown farm up until a few years ago when the boys decided to plant a few grape vines and see how it goes. Goes pretty well I’d say. The wines are pretty darn good for the north country. So if you find yourself in Torch Lake, and I suggest you do, stop by the Cellar 1914 winery tasting room and tell them hello from me.
And don’t forget to try the cherry wine. A pleasant surprise.
My stay was over and I was ready to get back on the road. This was a great test and I learned what my tiny home (and me!) could handle if I needed to dry camp more often. It’s not my first choice because this girl loves her hook-ups, but I can for sure live comfortably for six days without any problem. Again, only if the sun is out. Since I already have the Crazy Ghost on my side, I’m certain it will all work out down the road. And rather serendipitously I am sure.
That’s when he shows up the most; when I don’t plan. When I shoot from the hip, take that side road, stop at the cafe when the impulse strikes, follow my gut and take the road less traveled. The trip less planned. Many times I feel it’s him guiding me to a fun experience, some beautiful scenery, a caribbean-blue lake with a tiki bar, or a wonderful conversation at a road-side cafe. He knows how much I love these things and I’m fairly certain he rides shotgun most days. His spirit is always with me—seeing through my eyes, tasting through my mouth, touching with my hands, experiencing what I am experiencing. He would love Cal, my Ford F150, although I’m sure he would prefer to be driving.
And now that I think of it, maybe he actually is?
As for the kayak, after about a dozen trips, she’s still floating strong. I’d say that was a $77 bucks well spent! She’s even been out on Lake Michigan and up and down the St. Joe’s river. I have found her to be the perfect social-distancing tool on the very hottest of days when the beaches are packed.
Jump over to my Facebook page for pics and reels!