So, after a month of recuperating from my shoulder replacement surgery, I reached the official four weeks mark on the day before New Year's Eve and thus was cleared to drive.
I wasted no time, loading the Roadtrek up with some warm winter clothes, some electronics gear for my ham radio hobby and heading 250 miles from our home to Northwestern Michigan and the village of Empire, headquarters for the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Seashore, voted not long ago by ABC-TV's Good Morning America as the most beautiful place in America.
Alas, there are no campgrounds open up here and the boondocking spots we planned on using are snowed in, with access roads unplowed and over half a foot of snow and ice making it impractical to venture down. So we found a nice little Inn in the village of Empire, where we'll spend a couple nights.
During the day, we'll be in the Roadtrek, Alde heater a-crankin' as we participate in an amateur radio event that commemorates the centennial of the National Parks Service. I'll have coverage of that later this weekend.
Why are we staying in Empire? Because it is a delight of a place, a small village of about 400 people, located on the Lake Michigan side of the Leelanau Peninsula in northwest lower Michigan. It is a laid back town that very adamantly resists corporate development and touristy excesses. There are two restaurants, a grocery store, an awesome antique store, a kayak and surf shop and a handful of other Mom and Pop businesses.
We like it all four seasons and especially the winter, when snow and ice and wind transform the lakeshore into arctic landscapes so beautiful you'll gasp. The village is literally surrounded by the 35-mile long Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore and of all the places Jennifer and I have visited, it's one we can actually see ourselves living in some day.
The big debate on New Year's Eve was whether we wanted to drive 35 miles northeast to Traverse City and join the thousands downtown who will be watching the Cherry Drop at midnight. Traverse City is a very popular resort town that also happens to be the cherry capital of North America. Some 70 to 75 percent of the tart cherries grown in the United States come from this region – hence, just as Atlanta, GA celebrates the New Year with a Peach Drop, Traverse City drops the cherry.
We almost went.
But then, bundled in parkas and warm gloves and hats, we made our down the quiet snow covered dark streets of the village of Empire. We heard the waves crashing on Lake Michigan. There was no traffic. We saw no one else.
Empire was quiet. Peaceful.
Did we want crowds, razz-a-ma-tazz and the congested streets and jostling crowds of TC, complete with the stress of finding a parking spot and then having to drive back to Empire after midnight? Or was Empire what we needed?
Empire won out. We can hit the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore bright and early New Year's Day. The Roadtrek is calling for us to start 2016 with another adventure.
Maybe we're getting old. Or maybe wiser.
I'm not going to overthink it. The Roadtreking lifestyle we have embraced is definitely tilted towards peace and quiet.
Some might say that's boring.
I say it's wonderful.
Happy New Year!