Saturday, October 12, 2013

How Not to See Stuff

      As we fully entered into the second month of the Caravan and as we crossed over into Canada, we realized we were learning some things about ourselves.   The major thing: we can’t stay on vacation all the time.  Full-time RVers will tell you about this problem.  Soon or later, you have to just start living.  On a vacation, you stress about all the things you should be seeing and doing, because, oh, my god, you have to return home and get back to normal life and you must have things to remember, or talk about, or make yourself feel comfortable about, given all the money you are spending.  It wears you out.  It’s a lot like work:  “Come on kids, day light’s burning, There are so many things to see today.”

The Captain at Lake Huron

      Somehow and perhaps a bit cruelly, Knightsmama and I had realized this early in relation to things we scheduled for the boys.  We went to City Museum in St Louis, but, by God, we were not going to indulge them with every water park, amusement park, putt putt course, and hang gliding-bungie jumping-parachuting operation along the way.  What we didn’t understand, until we experienced it, was that we couldn’t keep up with all the museums and historical and literary sites.  It makes me wonder if vacation stress is the reason I started googling more craft breweries along the way. 
            So as we rumbled down the highway toward Niagara Falls, with plans for Toronto, then Montreal, something clicked in Knightsmama when she saw Pinery Provincial Park on the map.  I saw her determination—one sure sign, she stopped talking—and we changed course.  Actually, I sighed in my “I understand I am not in control, but can’t we at least pretend” manner, and said, “Are you sure you really want to do this?”  In our own haphazard ways, we both calculated the future.  We had one major goal—get to Bar Harbor and Acadia National Park by the 15th of the month, 12 days away.   The only essential stop in the middle was Niagara Falls.  Everything else was gravy, more on gravy in a minute.
            Pinery Provincial Park turned out to be one of highlights on a trip with so many highlights.  When we pulled into the park office, we had no reservations, of course, but it was mid-week and spaces were available—turns out it is a huge park with hundreds of sites in three different sections.  The pretty twenty-something girl (sorry, I notice) asked me if we wanted “River” or “Dunes.”  Not knowing which and being totally surprised that in Canada someone would offer “Dunes,” I chose “Dunes.”  One of the problems with our schedule for the year is that we plan to be north in warm weather and south in cold; therefore, we are seldom near an ocean when weather and water combine for perfect day at the beach.  We paid for our one night, then followed the map the pretty girl had given us and we ended up in an area where sand edged over the blacktop and a great number of trees rooted themselves in close to the road for me to maneuver the beast between.  This was a new landscape—forests with little undergrowth and sand?  Luckily we were assigned a spot with an good angle off the road, and I was able to back in the caravan with relative ease.  Canada was looking good. 
            With a quick, basic set up—only water and electricity—we unloaded the bikes and hit the sandy road.  We didn’t have far to go, it turned out.  In five minutes, we were on the beach—with dunes and everything, it looked just like Mustang Island in Texas—but the water was a beautiful, translucent water-color water blue.  Nothing at all like a Texas Beach.   In memory, I am still startled by how beautiful Lake Huron is.   Because of a wind from the north, little waves rolled onto the beach’s white sands.  And it was a bit chilly—but for Texans in September, where the temperatures are over 100, chilly was welcome.
            Although a few people occasionally walked where we stationed ourselves, we were essentially alone on the beach.  At first, Captain Crunch was careful and obedient.  He removed    his shoes, pulled up the legs of his sweatpants.  He stepped carefully and politely into the water.  But fairly quickly he was running, then splashing, then half submerging in the water.  I persuaded him to strip to his boxer underwear and just dive in.  Which he did.  Pretty soon, Dr. J. had joined him.  The boys had their beach, and almost their ocean.  As Dr. J. observed:  “It’s like the ocean, except the water’s not salty.”
            The next day, even before breakfast, before we had awakened the boys, Knightsmama and I had decided to stay another night, but darn when we reported to the Rangers’Office with our credit card all warm and eager for another transaction, a different pretty young woman informed us that our space was already reserve.  However, the space across from us was available.  So we returned to our campsite, packed up everything in the right order and waited for the lovely couple across from us to hit the road.  Well, they were in no hurry.  She sat in a lawn chair blowing on some kind of flute.  He took a hike.  She made a bowl of something and sat at the picnic table and read.  He returned from his hike and made a bowl of something and sat at the picnic table eating and reading.  Geez, when were they going to leave?
Finally, they got suspicious by all of our staring and pacing around, and engaged us in a little conversation.  They were really nice folks, about our age I am guessing.  Both, teachers who had worked overseas schooling soldier’s kids.  It turns out she wasn’t playing a flute, but on practice instrument for bag pipes.  She was a clarinetist for an ensemble in London, Ontario, about an hour or so away, and had recently joined a drum and fife corps.  Before the conversation was over, she was writing out things for us to do in London, including a parade in a couple of days she was marching in, and he was asking us what in hell was wrong with Americans that they didn’t like the Affordable Care Act.  “I was always puzzled by the Americans I met on bases who loved their liberty so much that they refused to support their fellow citizens.  I would much rather pay more in taxes and provide a safety net for those who need it.”  Knightsmama and I just nodded.  What could we say?  We think the same thing.    Finally, our new friends left.  We hooked up the rig, pulled it out of our spot, drove it up the road twenty or so yards and tried to back into the site they just left.  You know, just a little switch-a-roo.  But the Caravan devils were having none of it.  I just could not seem to get the right angle and hit the sweet spot.  After four or five attempts, almost hitting a tree that way or bumping another tree the other way, I gave up, returned to the Ranger’s Station, talked with a middle-aged woman, and took a spot in the River section. 
But we have no complaints about Pinery Provincial Park and the little town of Grand Bend about seven miles up the road, well, except that internet was a little spotty, and we had our phones off because we had heard about outrageous roaming charges in Canada.  Knightsmama and I had a lovely meal in an upscale pub in town and talked with our waitress who was a special ed teacher by day and worked at the pub at night for a little extra cash to support her and her young son.  The place was packed with what appeared to be locals—after all, we were a little past season and in the middle of the week.  We found some diesel for something per liter and who knows what it cost per gallon, pumped for us by the nicest woman.  Then she filled one of our propane tanks.  Everyone ate lunch at a road side stand that served a concoction called “poutine.”  Knightsmama is always full of surprises: the vegetarian health nut that I met seventeen years ago was now pushing me aside as she devoured poutine—French fries covered with cheese curds and gravy, and in our case also pulled pork.  We visited the beach a couple more times, the boys rode a contraption called a ‘bicycle boat,” a kind of paddle boat with two bicycles sitting up top, and Knightsmama and I road our bikes around the park.
And before we left, I was able to get in a fifteen mile bike ride, going to town and back.  As I said, we were a bit past the summer season.  The ice cream shop was closed, one pizza shop also, but if I so desired I could have purchased a bathing suit or t-shirt with something almost obscene printed on it.   A few late-season patrons strolled hand in hand up and down the three blocks on the one main street heading to Lake Huron.  I made my way to the beach, drank from my water bottle, and watched the few old couples and two or three young women in bikinis sun bathing in the 65 degree (I have no idea what Celsius is) bright day.  They all thought it was warm, I guess. 
Then I heard a father trying to gather his young kids into a van.  The children were resisting.  “Why do we have to go?  We like it here.  I want to stay.  Why do we have to go?”
“Come on,” the father said.  “We have to go.  We have to see more stuff.” 
And I thought, there he said it, the pure definition of “vacation”: seeing stuff.  It doesn’t matter what one sees.  It is all stuff, a big white marsh mellow of sights and sounds, half seen and already half forgotten.
Slowly, I think, Waller Grant is finding how to live on the road, rather than be merely on vacation. 

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