"I was, in fact, homesick for wildness, and when I found it I knew how intimately - how resonantly - I belonged there. We are charged with this - all of us. For the human spirit has a primal allegiance to wildness, to really live, to snatch the fruit and suck it, to spill the juice." - Jay Griffiths, Wild: an Elemental Journey

Monday, September 24, 2012

On the Road in Northern Michigan

Yesterday, I finally left my Toledo family, despite their insistent pleas for me to stay.  I am not worried. I know I'll be back, somehow, at some point.

I decided to take a different route to Montana than I took last year.  I went straight north through the entire state of Michigan, over the bridge between Lakes Michigan and Huron, and into the entirely wooded northern peninsula.

Sunset near Lake Huron
After the sun set, I drove two solid hours in complete, wooded darkness before I came upon any life at all.  At 9:30pm, I pulled in to Roxette's diner with a half hour to spare before they closed.  I ordered macaroni & cheese and wings (don't judge me, there was nothing that resembled vegetables or anything healthy on the menu and I'd been wanting dinner since 7:00), and asked my waitress where I might be able to sleep safely in my car for the night.

She pointed to the two burly men at the counter and said, "Ask them.  They're my dad and uncle, and they're both truck drivers.  They'll know the roads around here."  So I did.

I found out that the only remotely populated towns were 30 minutes and three hours away, respectively.  I wasn't sure if I had any more driving in me for the night, so I asked if I could just sleep behind the diner.  They all said that was fine.  The man said he and his wife, who runs the diner, live just out back, so I'd be safe between the diner and their house.  Plus, the waitress (their daughter) assured me, there are border patrol all over this place.

After my meal, I pulled my car around back and began setting it up for sleep.  The other man at the counter (the uncle), approached my car and knocked on the window.  I opened the door.  He had a kind, simple smile.

"Listen.  You wanna sleep in the truck?" he asked.  "It's gonna get cold."

"Thank you so much for asking," I replied, "but I have a good sleeping bag and plenty of layers.  I'll be fine."

"Alright," he nodded.  "Well I'll be in my truck all night if you need anything."  He nodded in a fatherly, completely un-creepy way and retired to his mobile tractor trailer home.

I fell asleep easily and toasty warm in my bed, soothed by the hum of his motor just a few dozen yards away.

My station wagon bed

My sleeping spot for the night

Eating breakfast at the little Chippewa-owned diner a few miles down the road the next morning, I scanned my surroundings with a curiosity that must have been apparent.  I’m sure taking a photo of the furs for sale along the wall didn’t help me look like a local.

Furs for sale at the diner.  Of course.  Why not?

When I shivered and put my hat on, the man at the next table, who I could tell had been eyeing me with amusement, said, “What are you going to do when it gets cold?”  It was already in the 30’s outside, so his comment was obviously sarcastic.

“Oh I have more layers, don’t worry. ” I smiled and took a bite of my biscuits and gravy.  (This time there were healthier things on the menu, but I rarely pass up biscuits & gravy.)

“Where you headed?” he asked.  Now his wife and the other couple at his table were also turned around to look at me.

“Montana for now.  So I’ll be sure to get some real cold there.”

“What the heck are you doing in Montana?” he asked, chuckling, even more amused.  People of his generation seem perpetually amused/confused when I speak my plans.

“Well, maybe moving there.  Maybe moving somewhere else.  I’m not sure where I’m going to stop yet.”  I gave my standard non-answer.  He cocked one eye at me.  “I have pretty much all I own in that wagon out there.  I slept in it last night.  Was toasty warm.”

“You mean you’re going to go find a job somewhere and then that’s where you’ll stay?”

“Nah.  I left a job back home.  Not in a hurry to get another one.  I’m going to find somewhere that inspires me.  A beautiful place with good people.  And that’s where I’ll stay.  I suppose I’ll find some kind of work eventually as well.” 

He had stopped eating his breakfast now and was giving his full attention to me.  He was about my dad’s age, and reminded me of him a bit in his friendly, gentle manner.  “So you’re not married then, I take it?  No kids?”  This is always the question I get, as if no one ever travels, moves, or has adventures while married or with kids.  Hogwash.

“Recently divorced. (Separated, really, but the divorce is coming, and I like the way that sounds better.  It’s more final.  That's for another blog entry - maybe.  I don't feel like saying any more at this point.)  And no kids.  So I’m free as a bird!”

He laughed and shook his head.  He pointed to the woman next to him and said, “Yeah I’ve thought about doing that too, but I guess I like her too much.”  The woman jokingly punched his shoulder and gave a sympathetic smile to me.

I laughed as well, and that pretty much closed the conversation.  We went back to eating our respective breakfasts.

When I finished eating, I went to my car to gather the morning’s bare minimum of hygiene supplies.  I went back into the restaurant and straight to the bathroom to brush my teeth, wash my face, and at least change my underwear and socks.

The rest of the morning has been a thoroughly enjoyable drive through more national forests in northern Michigan.

The open, wooded road

Lake Superior
I still haven't received any responses from my couch surfing requests for tonight, so I'll probably sleep in my car again.  I don't mind at all, but I wouldn't mind a shower. . .


  1. Beautiful photos. Love you. I have no idea where you're headed this evening, but maybe if you have a chance to send me a msg I can ask my FB friends if they have a spot for you.

  2. Thank you! I found a place to stay with a fantastic couch surfer woman in Duluth, Minnesota. Look for the entry about that tomorrow. . .