by Kathy Morrison
Reading Ken’s Near North Now piece, “Wait, I’m Not Ready”, got me thinking about the lost world of travel that Covid has brought to my life. John and I love to travel, both domestically and overseas. We’d hoped for a return trip to the U.K. this summer and several flights to Texas this year to see that little grandson of ours. Not to be. Ken’s article reminded me of the fact that, for this year at least, trips and travels will be halted, curtailed, or at the very least, a bit different than in the past. Long trips far from home, especially involving air travel are not on our radar in the near future. Some of the travel will, no doubt, be closer to home. Thoughts travels brought my mind back to my wedding anniversary a few years ago, when John and I decided to skip the anniversary weekend escape to some luxurious and expensive hotel with lavish dinners and breakfasts, and instead stay closer to home - as in, Newaygo County, close to home. It dawned on me that living in this county on and off (mostly on) since 1976, I still had not been to every township within our bounteous county - thus, our first ever, “Anniversary Tour de Newaygo County”.
On June 5th, that year, instead of donning an elegant dress and heels, I wore comfy jeans and my Birkenstock sandals. We headed out early on a lovely Michigan morning, I recall a bit of dew glimmering off the early summer flowers and getting my toes damp in the wet grass on the way to the car. With no game plan at all, except to have fun and see each township, we left the boundaries of Sheridan Township where we live, and headed North to begin the day. Taking back roads and side roads I’d never been on, we wound our way through Dayton, and Denver, and Beaver, and Troy, headed south down through Lilley to Merrill and eventually to a quaint little place called Abner’s Restaurant near Brohman to fuel up on a delicious breakfast before we headed on. We wove in and out of the Northeast townships of the county, through Home township – what a lovely name, in and out of the Manistee National Forest, and on to Monroe Township and a stop at Oxford Lake. A rather strange stop for an anniversary outing, given the gruesome past there, but John and I tend to go to some rather unusual and out of the way places on our travels. I almost felt a bit ashamed that we had driven down that road to see the lake -what seemed in some ways like some rubberneck detour, but after we parked the car and got out, it made me think more deeply than ever, on young Rachel’s murder and the injustices and horrors that one person can inflict on another. There in the warming sunshine of the morning, it was almost surreal to be in such a serene setting, but know the terrifying history of the place. I felt like an intruder somehow and that it was time to go. As we turned to leave, I whispered a prayer for the poor woman callously tossed into that lake and for her little girl who has still not been located, and was heartbroken at the loss and sadness that her loved ones must still feel.
We got back in the car and headed off, once again taking twists and turns on main roads and back roads, paved, dirt, gravel and sand, and sometimes on what felt more like someone’s driveway – no GPS, no cellphone mapping systems – just our fold out Newaygo County map. Over our years of travel, somehow it has come to be that I’m the usual navigator, despite the fact that I have no sense of direction nor can I read a map without turning it in the direction that we’re headed. Heck, I’ve even been known to point left and shout, “Turn right!” So John once again had to put up with my sudden outbursts of - “turn here”, “turn there”, “go left – no! I meant right!”, “go straight”, “back up and turn there”, as we continued on our adventure. At one point, we ended up on some dirt road, rutted by heavy rains, and made impassable by half a tree downed over it. Backing up and turning around from there, we suddenly found ourselves out of Norwich Township and somewhere near a big box store parking lot. We fell out laughing over the fact that we had somehow ended up out of Newaygo County and in Big Rapids. How had we gotten so twisted around? Oh, yeah, that woman with the map upside down on her lap in the passenger seat!
We parked along roads to gaze at beautiful landscapes, marveled at the Hardy Dam, took a few walks, strolled to collect wildflowers, eventually making our way to Carol’s Driftwood on Croton Pond where the scenery from the deck was, as usual, stunning. A bite to eat, a beer and a relaxing view of the water. Heavenly! It was quiet out on the deck that day and though we could have sat there for hours enjoying the view and the warmth of the sun, the road beckoned, so on we went, eventually hitting every township on the North and East parts of the county and a few of the ones on the southern edges. Should we keep going until nightfall and be home by dark? Nope – we’re having too much fun. So we opted to stop in the afternoon only 12 miles from our home for an evening in Newaygo. We were pleased to see our “no reservations tactic” worked once again when we stopped at the massive B and B on Main Street - La Belle de la Riviere. Ah, yes! A room to spare! We checked in and chatted with the owners, then explored the yard, gardens, porches and patios, before heading to Northern Trails for a scrumptious dinner. Thoughtfully, the owner of the B and B had a lovely anniversary card and a split of sparkling apple juice and champagne flutes awaiting us when we returned, so back to the garden patio under the fairy lights for another round of toasts to ourselves and our 30 something years of happy marriage. At breakfast the next morning, we heard tales from the owners about the ghost that lives in the house and the patrons who have seen it. I’d wished he had told the tales the night before, so that we could have stayed up late into the night to see if it would visit us, but maybe it was all for the best, as we still had many roads to travel and townships to see before returning home. We left Newaygo in the morning and continued on yet another gorgeous day, through the southern and western townships of the county. In just about 36 hours, we hit every one of Newaygo County’s twenty-four townships and saw scads of lakes unknown to me, roads I didn’t know existed, and dozens of little communities, churches, and bars tucked here and there, that I didn’t even know existed. All this loveliness, right here within a short drive from my home!
There is a lot to be said for travel. It educates, expands horizons, and refreshes one’s Spirit and Soul. We sometimes don’t think of it as “travel” unless it involves being far from home and involves spending a lot of money, but that’s just not true. Our Tour de Newaygo County anniversary trip reinforced that and a few other tidbits of wisdom. You don’t have to go very far from your own backyard in our county and our state to find a treasure trove of natural beauty and exciting adventures. Dorothy Gale was, after all, still right in Kansas all the while, wasn’t she? Travel doesn’t have to involve complex plans and schedules – the old Morrison’s “fly by the seat of your pants/don’t make reservations because you never know where you’ll end up” sort of travel works great almost 100% of the time. And most importantly, it isn’t the where you travel, it is who you travel with and, I for one, couldn’t ask for a better partner to have been traveling with these past 38 years.
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