I travel for a purpose. Generally, that purpose is to get to a destination. Sometimes, however, for my son’s sake, I travel for distance. For pleasure. To lose myself in the rolling roads dividing the countryside into rows of waving cornstalks and fields of bucolic cows chewing endless mouthfuls of grass. Usually there is an Aaron Copland sound track playing in my imagination.*
Recently, however, I had this experience backfire…and go hilariously bad. The tale ends up with a life-saving intervention from the Michigan DNR and a ‘Hail Mary’ airport pick-up. Join us for the missed-flight entertainment, if you dare, on the adventure I am calling:
F*ck the Road Less Traveled
It all begins with meeting a friend from afar.
Like most heroic quests, ‘Jay’ comes a long way to meet me. (Okay…technically she is visiting family, but still, meeting me is the added cherry on the trip-from-Japan Sundae.) Unlike most of my ‘internet friends’ who are likely market-research algorithms with questionable profile pics, Jay is a real live person.
Jay is so terribly cool, she met up with me at the nearby Panera for an hour of lovely conversation–despite juggling jet lag, a toddler, and the joys of accommodating myriad family obligations to meet up with someone she only knows in the digital sense from Nanowrimo.**
I was geeked. Her dad joined the venture–mostly because he was her chauffeur–but he was an engaging story teller who kept the conversation rolling. When our time together ran out, he invited me to come up to the family reunion scheduled for Saturday next.
“Sure.” I say. “But I’ll have to leave in time to get my mother-in-law from the airport.”
“I live in the woods, so, when you get up there, just call me and I’ll meet you so you can follow me back to the house.” He assures me.
“Oh, I have GPS. I’ve been up in that area before. I’m sure I’ll be fine.”
Saturday rolls around and I cram my kid in the car and we’re off winding the back roads of beyond because I haven’t yet figured out that my car’s GPS has been avoiding highways on purpose. We arrive with only a few rural/off-map detours. (Okay…we got lost three times finding the house. But for me, that’s ONLY three times.) This makes me unbelievably cocky. If you don’t know me well, know this…if anyone can get lost going someplace, it’s me. But, I’ve come to rely on my son’s innate desire to travel to get us where we want to go.
Jay is warm, her daughter is adorable, and her father is welcoming. A yard full of strangers don’t question me or my giant son’s right to be there. The picnic is a nice, if brief, interlude at someone else’s family reunion. Before long, it’s time for us to leave to meet a plane. I tender our regrets clutching the scrawled map Jay’s father painstakingly wrote out for me to follow back to civilization. Upon leaving, I immediately take a wrong turn and don’t figure it out until it is far, far too late. Much to my son’s delight.
If you have never been to Fremont, Michigan, I highly recommend you visit. Especially if you want to become part of the witness protection program. Because, I promise you, once you move there, no one will find you again. Ever.
We are in the car, driving in the wrong direction, down a dirt path and I’m alternately swerving to avoid trees that are apparently just growing in the middle of the track we are following and I’m questioning whether the map is wrong or I am.***
It’s when we finally hit tarmac that I make my worst mistake of the day. There is an option to turn left or right. A quick glance at my dashboard GPS is of no help. So, with my son as the designated navigator we turn left. The most mistaken 50-50 shot of all.
This is where the paved road ends…
When asked whether we should turn around or keep going, my son’s intrepid response?
“Straight!” He barks from the back seat.
I eyeball my GPS doubtfully, tap the screen and gauge how far it is through the unmarked green area to the road it depicts on the other side.
“Well, it doesn’t look like it’s too far…about half an inch.” I think to myself. “How far could that be?”
Those of you who have ever taken a snowmobile trail are probably laughing your heads off at this point. I, however, haven’t a clue.
And into the woods we go…
Need I mention it is a one-lane track?
And that we need to hit Highway 31 pretty darned quick if we are going to have a chance to make the forty-some odd miles back to the airport in G.R.?
Pretty soon, things get a bit desperate. We’ve been in the woods for at least half an hour. We are definitely going to miss the flight we were scheduled to meet!
Who do you call when, at fifty-one years of age, you are lost and need assistance?
*Gets cell phone*
BEEP.. BEEP.. BOOP.. BEEP.. BOOP…
After a frantic conversation in which I fear signal loss almost as much as I fear the drones of mosquitoes following our car like we are to-go container they are trying to figure how to open, Mom comes to the rescue…
Insert appropriate theme song here
…of my mother-in-law anyway.
“I’ll go.” Mom promises. “But you owe me! I was already in my pajamas for the night!”
We keep driving. The huddling clouds overhead limit what visibility we do have beneath the canopy of the old growth forest we are traversing.
I’m not exactly panicking…yet.
But I’m thinking about it.
When along comes the cavalry…
I have to unroll my window in order to ask for directions.
The mosquitoes, at least, were deliriously happy.
The nice young men from the DNR—wait…doesn’t that mean Do Not Resuscitate?—correction, the Forest Service Department of Agriculture (it says it right on the door, Kiri) give me some directions on how to get out of the woods.
“You’re gonna come up on a fork in a bit, take it to the left…then you follow the road until you see the exit to Highway 31. It’s not that much farther.”
I thank them, and slap at mosquitoes trying for a second pint of blood, before I hastily close the window to depart.
Our vehicles squeeze past each other like fat ladies wearing hoop skirts moving through a narrow hall.
And then we are back on the trail, slightly more confident that we will make it home.
There’s the fork…
And more trees than you can shake a stick at.
And then we come to what looks like another choice…
This turns out to be a random opening in the forest.
“What the actual hell?” I am cursing young men who think they gave detailed directions but obviously skipped a few steps.
If I knew how to use Google Earth, I’d check to see if our little blue Prius was captured in the center somewhere.
While it is possible to go left, that way seems certain doom based on the quantity of wild flowers and stumps in the way.
We veer right and hold on to a waning hope.
The GPS is now openly mocking me.
It dances in circles around and around but never moves toward Highway 31 and freedom.
We pass the dusty roundabout, heading right.
Pretty soon, we see a verdant meadow, puffy clouds, and dream of escaping this wildness nightmare.
But those fantasies are dashed by what looks like the burial site for other lost travelers cleverly disguised as a “Coastal Plain Marsh.”
Leaving the erstwhile, granite grave markers in our rearview mirror, I can’t help but feel like the forest is trying to tell us something.
But what could it be saying?
Apparently, it’s telling us it is time to go home.
There, in the distance, it beckons us.
The way out!
Ahhhh….civilization…or as close as it comes in rural Michigan.
As we drove home…we admired the sights we thought we’d never see again…
Even traffic cones were a welcome sight!
We passed the bakery with the oddest name ever for a location smack in the middle of an alluvial plain.
And then, like the plains of Africa in the song by Toto, the rains came.
Bedraggled and drained, we make it home in time for dinner.
And it’s going to take a lot to drag me back to Fremont unless I’m giving a guided tour, perhaps by a team of strapping forest preserve on-call rescuers? For emergency purposes only, of course.
Until then, I grow restless, longing for some solitary company…and a song to sing me home.
Asterisk Bedazzled Footnote:
*I mistakenly Googled Erin Copeland and got a completely unsuitable track the first time. #NOT MY MUSIC.
**If you do not know what NANOWRIMO is, we are apparently not as close as my imaginary internet friends.
***Hint, it’s not the map.