Although we have been traveling full time since the beginning of summer, we were quite sure that our long term travel dreams wouldn’t feel real until we truly began to head east. We now realize that is certain: Crossing into and through Canada and landing in New York has brought a sense of relief and wonder … and liberation. We can do anything we want to do. We are eastbound and free.
We have enjoyed our Great Lakes tour intensely and immensely. It is wonderful to experience the variety of landscapes created by heat and glaciers and what folks from Midwest States and Canada do with and around them. Despite all of the bustling activity of water sports and tourism, there are large amounts of preservation in all of the regions in the forms of wilderness areas, state and national forests and parks, hiking trails and more. Wildlife varies a little to a lot, as do local food interests. License plates vary, too. Wisconsiners mingle with Minnesotans, who meet up with Michiganders and Ontarians in the U.P. and in northern Michigan. Michiganders, Ontarians and Ohioans gather together in the eastern part of the Midwest, who cross over into Canada to hang out with a larger international community — Maryland, New York, India, Japan, Ontario, Quebec, Alberta, Maine, Florida, Nova Scotia, Texas, Ireland, everywhere. And New Yorkers — at least those around Lake Ontario — seem to congregate with their neighbors from Pennsylvania, Vermont, Ontario and Ohio. Everywhere someone is fishing. Everywhere someone is holidaying. Everywhere someone is a tourist. Everywhere someone is camping. Everywhere, all of the time, folks are engaged in life in their respective regions, living, being, doing what they can or must or desire. Fascinating.
What remained was what we believed to be the only place in Michigan that we wanted to experience before heading east, which was Petoskey in northern Michigan in the Lower Peninsula. Prior to our off-the-grid excursion in the Porcupines and no cell connectivity, we stopped on the side of a northern Wisconsin road and used what little 3G reception we could find to book St. Ignace and set up our Petoskey stays at their respective KOAs, for all practical and non-emotional purposes. During our stay in St. Ignace, we committed to a longer stay in Petoskey with the intention of working, writing, playing, exploring, running a few errands and catching up with our mothers, who came to visit us. We did all of those things. In fact, some cool work things happened for Scot, I was able to test my kitchen/cooking life in the camper further, and Luna started freestyle swimming, learned to ride a scooter and practice spelling, mostly by typing the names she’s given to all of the horses she has spawned in Minecraft (my favorite is “Sprinkles”). Even though we did not find a Petoskey stone, good things — great things — came from time spent there.
But we had anticipated Destination: East, and we were chomping at the bit to get there. Once we re-entered lower Michigan to wrap up our to-do list, we felt a strong urge to bee-line our way right out of the Midwest, through the portal that was Niagara Falls and just go. So we did.
Continuing to use the incredibly helpful online reservation system of the KOA, we kept booking our way into and out of the portal east — one night in Port Huron, where we didn’t even have to unhitch, and two nights in Niagara Falls Ontario. The convenience of booking online saved us time and money, and the drives in between were manageable. However, there were trade-offs that came with camping in the height of the summer holiday season at KOAs.
We like to call it Kaos Organized Actively. Or Kamping On Adrenaline.
It turns out that the Petoskey KOA, a beautiful and award-winning KOA, is a major vacation destination for Michiganders. In fact, we never really discovered what folks do in and around Petoskey, because they all stay at the pool in the campground. Tons of kids and adults in a tiny pool and jacuzzi, on bikes and scooters and skateboards, playing games and walking dogs. It wasn’t quite our style of camping, because it felt more like a resort and less like restful camping, but it worked for those vacationers.
Then in Port Huron, an enormous and busy campground and another hot vacation destination, unbeknownst to us, there were a couple of waterparks, a train, a “Western Town” theme with general store and more, jumping pillows, a batting cage, a bunch of playgrounds, wheeled vehicles for rent and people everywhere. This KOA was definitely not our style of camping, and I felt out of place, but families seemed to be enjoying their time spent, and we had a place to rest our heads and remain hitched.
Finally, in Niagara Falls, there was even more of all of it, but with more of an international-vibe-meets-carnival-midway feel. Dogs, kids, adults, French, English, two pools, splashing, crying, canonballing, bikes, arcades, jumping, screaming, sweating, huge rigs, little spaces, curious wardrobes. Total Kaos, but Organized! Actively! Kids On Adrenaline! We knew we were in for a wild ride when we noticed the sign on the cage that belonged to our neighbors’ dog, which read “Beware of Dog.” Beware of dog? In a campground? We thought they were joking. Then we noticed the thick, stronghold chain on the ground. Then we spoke with the very nice neighbors, who told us quite matter-of-fact-like that, indeed, the dog will bite anyone and to simply stay away from it. We just planned to see Niagara Falls and then get the hell outta there.
What we learned in this warp speed run was that KOAs don’t need us, but rather we need them, and we are grateful for the convenient ability to swiftly and without emotion book a discounted stay when necessary. We learned that camping at activity-loaded KOAs is an affordable, effective and convenient way for many, many families to holiday, where kids can roam mostly freely, parents can hang out, and everyone can let off some steam. We also learned that the art of camping varies, that some people like more and some people like less. We tend to lean — more like cantilever — toward the end of less, which offers more peace and quiet and focus in our camping. We learned that the Falls are humbling and gorge-ous (pun intended) and worth a short visit, but that its tourist-trap inclinations and circus-like surroundings are more than we want to handle.
No matter. The goal has been to head east. When Niagara Falls spit us out of the portal, we easily and peacefully found ourselves meandering the southern shores of Lake Ontario and inland waters, into wine country and by dairy farms and over rolling hills, passing through Irondequoit and Rochester, until we arrived at our campsite on a bluff overlooking Lake Ontario, the last on our Great Lakes Tour. It is here where we will roughly outline our New England plans and autumn ventures, working, writing and playing, and wondering, generally unencumbered and quite free to live life untethered. We are looking forward to anything that comes our way.