Mike has been asking us lately “How’s your life?” instead of “How are you?”. It throws you off just enough to not give a habitual response of “Good, you?”. When I responded “Really good” he seemed surprised, but then remembered that it was my turn this weekend to borrow a van.
I took Cub, a 2015 preowned unit we had available, built on a 170’ Extended Sprinter chassis, with 72,928 miles, and twin beds. I invited a friend of mine from college to come along and pick the destination, which wound up being the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. She’s the kind of friend who always says yes to my strange idea of adventures, even when that means car camping in something like a rental Honda Fit. I thought it’s time we balance that out with something a little more classy. Cub was perfect.
Along the drive, there was a moment when I felt even more appreciative for our friendship. I realized we forgot to bring a sponge for dishes. Luckily, she was in the middle of a crocheting project (making a chalk bag for rock climbing) and whipped up a scrubber before I barely finished the thought.
It was our first time using the app iOverlander and we had luck everywhere we went. The first night was spent at a trail head near Traverse City. We were the only ones there from the moment we parked to the very moment we drove away the next morning. We made coffee in the french press, oatmeal in the microwave, hiked right after waking up, and felt complete bliss. Any time we'd walk past the van and peek inside at the full-length mirror attached to the wardrobe we'd be recentered, in awe, and reminded of the beautiful piney landscape where we parked. The shoe storage that is accessible both inside and outside the van gave us the luxury of being the guilt-free kind of dirty when we took off our sandy hiking boots, while keeping the home clean.
We then made our way to Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, having stopped for lunch on the way. Our view outside the van looked out at Mackinac Bridge (the hotdog restaurant, Wienerlicious, also within view). Cub’s two adjustable tables had two mounting options on both sides which let us park however was easiest. Then we were able to aim the tables at whichever window had the best view. We hiked all around Miner’s castle, visited its waterfalls, beaches, and basked in the surrounding pine trees. We wanted this to be a classy trip all around. As for groceries, we bought things like pumpkin bisque, herby salads, lemon/lavender/goat cheese pasta, and even everything for fondue. After a bit of wine one night, our attempt at fondue took a sharp turn for butter noodles.
The wild camping spot we had been eyeing for that night was only around 10 minutes south of Pictured Rocks. On top of any skepticism a newby glamper would have parking somewhere unfamiliar for the night, I couldn't get over how we didn't need a reservation or permit to camp. The Hiawatha National Forest dispersed camping simply limits your stay to 16 days and asks you to leave no trace. The next day we drove up to Sable Falls, saw the sand dunes, and ordered a snack from the Fired U.P. food truck. We then made a straight shot to the Whitefish Bay campgrounds which I was told was the place to be.
At ARV, I contribute to the Quick Start Guide we provide as a resource when training on any new ARV, so everyone at work, myself included, expected that I would have no problem operating the van. I was surprised to find that there are more layers to how things work when actually operating the most advanced RV on the market. For example, draining the water tanks happens instantaneously and you don't want to leave those switched on for very long. On the other hand, heating the water or the interior space takes around 5 minutes. Working from memory of the quick start instructions, and not having actually operated the heater before, it felt like it was not working. Add to that my feeling that hot water and heat were too good to be true (I mean, who gets to take a hot shower in the middle of the woods), I braved a cold shower while the water was still heating.
Luckily the third night we camped at the same campground as Fred & Michelle Ahlgren (owners of Gustav) who not only knew the ins and outs of ARV’s, but took part in designing some of the systems. They taught us things like how to use the burner, levelers, settings that help conserve power, and a deeper meaning of high idle. As you could guess, our batteries died from running too many settings too high overnight and not enabling the autogen. Dead batteries then prevented us from retracting our levelers so we were stuck. Fred, thankfully, helped us recharge the batteries. I view it as a successful learning experience. I have a newfound appreciation for these Quick Start Guides and all the other documented training videos ARV has produced.
Even with these hiccups, we were able to hit the road early the next morning for our long journey home. I had work in the morning, and my friend had grad school classes, but I couldn’t leave without stopping in Sault Ste Marie first. It is where a recent favorite book of mine, Firekeeper’s Daughter, took place. We ate at a little coffee shop that doubled as an outdoor gear store, walked along the Soo Locks, and admired the murals that were painted on the buildings and even crosswalks. It was a dreamy small town, just as I’d imagined.
We used our time on the road wisely by listening to meditation podcasts, discussing goals for the rest of the year, and laughing about things that happened on the trip. Once home, we moved our belongings out the same way we moved in, straight from a closet in the van to a closet in the house. While laughing about our ability to plug in a normal home vacuum, we cleaned away, emptied tanks, and scrubbed all our dishes. Dropping off Cub back at ARV made us feel really sentimental and appreciative for an opportunity like this. Thanks for a trip of a lifetime!