The Final Adventure

Dear Friends and Family,

We’re packing up the car, for one more adventure, one last time :’)

It’s the night before Labor Day weekend in this photo. It is the time of precipice. Days are shortening, and the way in which they shorten is shortening. The sun is diving below the horizon these nights, it is pulling in cool night air like you pull duvets from the linen closet. You are plugging in your alarm clock for the first time in months and thinking contemplatively about when you’ll need that buzzer to go off. You are anxious again, and you are overplanning, and you do not need a 5:30 AM alarm for school that starts at 7:15, but you overthink that you do.

It’s that devilish pre-anxiety, the anxiety about the anxiety. It’s the mind’s attempt to convince you that worrying a bit more right now will somehow enable you to worry less down the road. And your mind is wrong here, because no amount of fuddling with alarm clocks or picking out outfits or putting your boots and books and backpacks right by that garage door will stop these inevitabilities. You cannot will the nights to stay warm, nor the leaves to stay green, nor the winds to leave them on their trees, and some coming day you will miss and misjudge whether you should have added your fall jacket to the cliff of anxieties.

But not today. Today you are palling around with these goons:

Andrew and Spence you have already met, and the D’Artagnan to our musketeers is Travis Nichols, who is the same age as me and Andrew. We were all best friends in high school, we are all best friends now, and we are heading up north one more time together for some camping in the Sleeping Bear Dunes.

The Sleeping Bear Dunes are diamonds on the hand of North America; they are the golden wedding band, the final symbol of my lifetime of love for my home state. Michigan is Great because it is the Great Lakes State, because it is blessed on six sides by these vast cerulean seas, endless and serene. Within this National Lakeshore, within these perfect golden dunes rising from these perfect blue seas, you are witnessing what Michigan is, its purest ethos, its loveliest treasure, its best-kept secret, all here for you.

Spencer and Andrew and Travis are honoring this beauty by running down and back up the great bluff, all 450′ of it plunging into Lake Michigan.

And I can tell from up here they are regretting it!

Sources confirm: they are definitely regretting it πŸ™‚

Also joining us on this camping trip is Travi’s best friend, Connor Gustafson! He’s the one with hair length to rival mine at the left of the photo. Not the tiny kid on the left, the big kid one to the right of that. In case you couldn’t guess πŸ˜‰

We did some real, genuine, Pure Michiganβ„’ camping this trip; by which I mean we sat around on folding chairs in the woods and engaging in various combinations of eating, drinking, talking, gazing, meandering, wondering aloud, looking tangentially, and kicking at the dirt.

There are at least four of these officially designated activities going on in just this photo.

And honestly? It was perfect! This is what camping is all about! Hanging out with your best buds somewhere divorced from time and place and precipice. It was a damn fine time, and I am grateful for the damn fine people I got to share it with.

With cookies that my Mom made for us (thank you again Mom!)

But we did actually get out and do stuff as well. Saturday we went to the automated instruments museum in Traverse City:

This is truly a hidden gem of northern Michigan: it’s a museum filled to the brim with automated instruments, think player pianos and circus organs and music boxes of extraordinary sizes. They even have a self-playing violin! And the best part is that they are all kept in working order! It’s amazing to hear these perfectly preserved instruments playing their songs, essentially live, as you would have heard them close to one hundred years ago. The earliest hand-organ they have was shipped to Ohio on the Erie Canal in 1840, while the piano in the last photo was playing Rhapsody in Blue for audiences over a century after that, and continues to play. Please see it if you are in the area! It’s called “The Music House Museum” and it’s just a few minutes north of Traverse City.

The next day, we went down to the town of Empire to enjoy some more of the beaches and the dunes. Empire is a tiny vacation town, but I know it extremely well; I used to come up here every single year with my Cross-Country team in high school. We would camp on the edge of town and spend days running all over the dunes, training our strength and endurance. Nothing builds character like pounding sand for several days!

They’re some of my favorite memories from my teenage years. We had fun between the runs too, we would spend most of the day beaching it, grilling and eating and playing watermelon football in the Lake. Often we would go exploring way up in the dunes, and my gang of friends this time took me up on those old joys once again:

My favorite trees, paper birch trees, grow in ones and twos from the dunes here:

You can see why they call these “paper” birches, when the wind-driven sand peels back their bark.

Honestly, it was perfect. It was just perfect.

We wandered back towards town after a while, and saw the old lighthouse by South Bar Lake:

The outlet of South Bar Lake. When the water was lower a decade or so ago, this drained straight out into the Lake, and made for a dramatic finish line for a sunset 5k back from Empire Bluff.

We wandered into town too, and saw some old logging wheels by the town museum:

God, what perfect days. We laughed, we explored, we photosynthesized. We shot the breeze over times gone by and people we hadn’t seen in a long time. We told and retold stories we’ve probably heard eighteen times in half as many years. Travis brought a set of walkie talkies and you can bet we acted exactly like eight year olds would with them. “Officer Travis, requesting confirmation that target Andrew is returning from the latrines, over.”

“Copy that, confirmation apparent, subject is returning from latrines, over.”

“How can you confirm? State your behaviors, officer.”

You forgot to say over, officer. Over.”

How can you identify the return of the target, officer? Over.”

“Because he’s sitting in the chair next to me, and you’re sitting on the other side of him, over.”

You guys are the best πŸ’™

At some point I was separated from the gang while walking through town. I spent a lot of time just reveling in how good it felt to be in this place again, with friends who have stuck by my side all these years, whether I deserved it or not (I didn’t). Some things never change, and I am glad that these friendships are one of them. It didn’t matter to me that this was the last day of the last adventure, the very last sight to see, the very last experience to have on this trip of 25,000 miles. These towns, these dunes, these seas, these friends, they are as timeless now as they are in my memories.

But, my dear friends and family,

It did end.

Do you see brightening of the leaves? Do you feel the cool coming in from the Lake? Do you hear the churning of the wind, building in potential and precipice? Do you know the turning of the Earth?

I knew it in Zion, in Glacier, in Teton. To all this lovely world around I bore witness, and was graced to be witnessed in return. Witnessed by wind, and water, and sunlight. Witnessed by wild animals and all of nature’s other tenets. Witnessed by friends and family scattered far but held near. And witnessed now by time, witnessed by the very spinning of the Earth, by its tidal push and pull of peace and precipice.

By a dainty little maple tree in Empire, Michigan, I was witness to the whole world. And the whole world witnessed me.

And it was perfect πŸ’™

That’s all for now,

Stay well Everyone,

Evan πŸ’™

P.S. Dear friends and family, tomorrow (Thursday, April 18th) is the one-year anniversary of the start of the road trip, and it is fitting that it will have the final post about the trip itself, about my final drive back home to Virginia. Be prepared for waxings philosophical, bleary-eyed sentimentalism, and ramblings a-plenty, as we conclude the best five months of my life.

P.P.S. Thank you, as always, to Andrew and Connor and Travis and Spencer (and Alex Chafetz! Wish you could have been there buddy!) for spending this time with me, and sharing in the experiences of this road trip, the best five months of my life. You guys are the best πŸ’™.