With sorrow in our hearts, we said goodbye to Chicago and continued eastward into more unfamiliar territory. Stop number one:
Grand Haven, Michigan
As we have continued to clock miles and months and states on our trip, we can’t help but note how much we miss our Nevada friends. Fortunately for us, three whole Nevada friends happened to be in Michigan during the time that we had arrived. On the southwestern border of the state, we met up with AJ and Elsie, our gun-slinging, motorcycle riding, bad ass buddies, who were staying with AJ’s parents in the town that he had grown up in. We parked our van in the front yard of their house and commenced shenanigans.
As far as small towns go, Grand Haven was one of my favorites. Our first night there was spent whining as we forced ourselves into the depths of Lake Michigan. Also, when I say depths, I mean we went up to our ribs before calling it quits. It was cold and we are desert babies so we can’t deal with temperatures below 70 degrees.
We were fortunate in our arrival time to the town because we got to experience one of the town’s biggest tourist attractions, the world’s second largest musical fountain. You know how people can sync up their Christmas lights to music? Same idea here. On a small island, there is a giant fountain that shoots water high into the air, illuminated by colorful lights and set to shoot in all different directions to the tunes of Katy Perry, Star Wars, and Paramore to name a few. It was actually really cool to see, but very hard to photograph, unfortunately.
Grand Haven also has a great little downtown area with cute shops and great restaurants. Some of our other festivities included testing games at the local game store for hours, climbing all over the massive boulders that lined the pier, walking along the shores of Lake Michigan, and eating some killer sandwiches and Greek food. It was a really enjoyable time, being with some good friends in amazing weather on soft sanded beaches.
After a few days of work and shenanigans, we checked the brakes on the van and then made our departure, next stop, the northern part of the mitten.
P.S. Michiganders refer to their state as a mitten, based on it’s shape. Now you know.
P.P.S. People who are from or live in Michigan are called Michiganders.
We did make a stop in a cute little boating town called Leland for what we had been told were the best sandwiches in the world. We struggled to find a place to park since the area was filled with tourists but we got to see a little bit more of the area that way, which was filled with cutesy little surf shops and fishing themed restaurants. We eventually found our way to our destination, The Village Cheese Shanty. It would have been hard to notice had we not been looking for it since it was a little wooden shack off the side of the main road. We went in a bit skeptical based on the appearance but the massive crowd of people inside reassured us that we were in a good place. We ordered two sandwiches off of their pretzel bread menu and were instant fans. We were given massive sandwiches with expertly crafted flavor combinations and artisan cheeses. It was well worth the hour detour that we had to take to get to this perfect sandwich haven.
Mackinac Island, Michigan
What a sad and unfortunate day for us, the touristy couple in the little red van-house. I was very excited as we boarded the ferry, having been told by many friends and family that Mackinac Island was definitely worth the two hour trip. We marveled at the choppy waters and the views from the ferry window but as we pulled up to the dock, tragedy struck as the gods unleashed a torrential downpour, probably to punish our sinful lifestyle.
So, as soon as we exited, our first priority was to purchase some brutally fashionable rain ponchos. From there, we made an attempt to explore the island of no vehicles in the rain, trying hard to ignore the fact that the ponchos couldn’t protect our legs from the slanted rainfall. We walked half a mile to see a stone archway and by the time we returned from our walk, the entirety of our pants and sneakers were soaked. We did our best to make the best of a bad situation but walking around with water sloshing in your shoes is a fate worse than death. So, wet and miserable, we decided to cut our losses and make our way back to the ferry after snagging some of the island’s famous fudge. I was a little disappointed by the whole ordeal and from what I can tell, Mackinac is a really beautiful place to visit, just make sure you check the weather before going.
We made it back to the van and quickly changed into pajamas and fluffy socks to combat the deeply uncomfortable sensation of wet denim that had scared our memories. It had stopped raining, of course, so we went off on one more recommended errand from another friend, acquire some Lehto’s Pasties. For those of you who don’t know, pasties are the love child of pot pies and hot pockets. They are hand held pie crusts filled with meats and veggies and cheese designed for coal miners who were able to hold the pasties by the crust edge to avoid getting their dirty coal hands all over their food. We drove into the Upper Peninnsula to purchase $90 worth of frozen pasties for said friend as well as one unfrozen one for Eli. I was unable to try the pasties due to my dietary restrictions but apparently they’re damn near perfection. So now we have 15 frozen pasties in our cooler.
From there, we made our way to the next stop, a cousin of mine who was located in the more Amishly inclined part of Michigan.
It had been a few years since I had last seen Daureen and Joe so when we showed up in our pajamas, I felt a tad under dressed. They didn’t seem to mind though as we were promptly ushered into their lake castle mansion dream house. We caught up and they took us to the best ice cream shop I have ever been to, which had upwards of 30 flavors. They also took us to some of the local Amish farms to purchase some eggs and the fluffiest, most delicious bread I have ever had. We enjoyed our time with them as much as we could before they had to leave for Detroit the following day for some medical treatments but they were kind enough to give us free range of their amazing home for the few days that they would be gone.
The next three days were spent in private luxury, an experience we had not gotten to enjoy since Fresno. Living in a van definitely has its ups and downs. While we do get this amazing opportunity to see incredible places, meet new people, and experience life in a way that many are envious of, we sacrifice a lot. Privacy is very difficult to come by as we bounce from Walmart parking lot to guest rooms of friends and family. Our bedroom is often times in view of the public, our shower time is limited to fifteen minutes so that other gym-goers can make use of it, and we work in noisy, crowded Starbucks cafes more often than not. Yes, we are truly living the dream, but we definitely enjoy the opportunity to live life like “normal” people every once in a while. And live like “normal” people we did! Well, more like wealthy normal people.
We woke up every day with a view of the lake outside of our window and got to work in a comfortable and quiet space. Our evenings were spent swimming or kayaking in the lake, pushing each other into the water or racing to the shore. The nights were spent watching movies and cartoons while enjoying root beer floats. I swear it was paradise. I even got the opportunity to finally cook in an actual kitchen, which was such a welcome change from our one camp stove burner or the countless restaurants and fast food places that we had been frequenting. And, not to brag or anything, I made the best eggs and pasta sauce that I have ever made. After the third day, we began to wonder how we would ever transition back to van life.
Daureen and Joe finally returned so we did get more of an opportunity to enjoy their company before taking off that evening. We said goodbye to our few days in paradise and went back to our sweet little van house as we made the drive towards our next destination. We are so grateful for the opportunity to have been able to take a vacation from our vacation and couldn’t possibly say thank you enough to Daureen and Joe for being so welcoming and generous. We have since adjusted back to life on the road so we are still doing well and everything here is fine.