Monday, 15 August 2005

Breakfast at the B&B was served at 9, but I didn't feel like showering that morning, so Denise woke me up at 8:45 am or so. Man, it was hard waking up. I was tired. However, food called, so I got up, washed my face, brushed my teeth, ran my fingers through my hair, dressed, & walked out. Potatoes, juice, bread, coffee. Especially coffee. Wonderful coffee.

During breakfast, we met Denise's friend Kim, who had been at the Music Festival with Denise all week. She was great, & I could see why Denise would have such a fun time with her. She lives in a cabin in the woods outside of Seattle, & she works as a graphic designer, which means she uses a Mac! And good for her for that.

Post-breakfast, we lounged around & read & relaxed. After our break, we walked down the street just a few blocks, where Denise popped into a health food store to buy vitamins. Then we went across the street to check out a clothing store that was having an out-of-business sale, with everything 50% off. I saw a hat with flaps that would be perfect for a really cold winter, but it was $10. Nah. $10 I won't spend. But then I found pajamas! Woohoo! I love pajamas in the winter, & even though I already have several pairs, this one would make a fine addition to my collection. The red sticker on the PJ's said they were $25, so I walked over to the register to buy them. When he rang them up, I was going to be charged $12.50. "Wait," I said, "you mean that it's 50% off the prices on the red stickers?" "Yep," the soon-to-have-no-store owner replied in his Michigan accent. "I'll be right back!" said the newly transformed bargain shopper. Hey, $10 I won't spend for a hat, but $5? Hell yes!

They were even selling the manequins, & David & I hatched this scheme whereby we would buy a couple, strap them onto the top of the van, transport them to New York City, & sell them there for huge profits. But Denise said no way. Killjoy! It made perfect sense!

Outside the store, we took a look down at one end of the town, which ends in a bridge, which you can't see, & a really nice river (lake?), which you can.


Yep. That's one end of town. Here's the other, lookin' the other way, towards our B&B, which is a few blocks walk away from where this picture was taken.


I'm not putting Hart down or anything. I grew up in a small town—not this small (we had 13,000, so take that, Hart! Ha!)—but small nonetheless, & I enjoyed it. But there's just not an awful lot going on in Hart.

Our B&B looked really inviting as we approached it.


Doesn't that look charming? Interestingly, at one time it was a mortuary. That didn't bother me, but it might give some folks the willies.

Back at the B&B, it was time for our big excursion of the day: the dunes! The dunes around Lake Michigan are huge & are evidently quite the tourist destination. Basically, you can either rent buggies & zip around on a very small part of the dunes, or instead pay this company to drive a small group around in a huge open air car. We decided on the latter, so after a short drive we wound up at Mac Wood's. The original Mac Wood started driving people around the dunes in the 1920s or 30s. People liked it so much that they started paying him to do it, & his family continues the business today. The whole family. It seems like everyone who works for Mac Wood's is related, by blood or marriage.

Our tickets were about $15 each, & we had to wait about 15 minutes. While we shuffled about the gift store, looking at the crap on sale, one of my finer moments occurred. The 3 of us were looking at an object in the store.

Me: What's that?

Denise: It's a ring.

David: It's made out of beads.

Me (after a short pause, as though proudly realizing a great truth): Ohhhh. It's a bead ring!

Brilliant. Finally, after a short wait, they called our names & the 3 of us boarded the … well, "buggy" isn't big enough. "Huge open air truck" might be better, but let's call it a buggy for now. This is what it looks like. Now, granted, this was taken on the beach halfway through the tour, but it gives you an idea about the thing we were riding in … us & about 12 other people!


So we board this thing, & our guide introduces himself as CJ. He was about as rural Michigan as you could be. The accent, the calm manner, everything. He was a really nice old guy, & I'll bet he's been doing this job forever. Here's a not-so-good picture of CJ.


My favorite CJ moment: after the tour began, he said the following: "If you go down the road a bit further, you'll find one of oldest lighthouses in this region. Them that have seen it, know that it's a fine one. Them that have not, it's quite a sight and worth the short drive." Man, I love that: "Them that have not"! I'm going to have start using that myself.

The first part of the dunes at least had sparse grass on them. CJ explained that Boy Scouts in the 1950s had planted the grass, & the roots were now maybe 20 feet underground. But even with the grass … well, you can see below.


Soon enough, there was no grass at all. Just sand. It was really like being in a desert, except that every once in a while, you'd pop over some hill of sand—keep in mind that there were no roads; instead, the buggy was just travelling over a previously driven path—& bam! there would be a beautiful lake before you. And then baaaaack down a hill, & nothing but sand all around you.


David helpfully took a movie of our journey through the sand. You can see we were going pretty fast.

2005-0815-dune-ride.mp4 (2 MB MP4)

About this time, a sudden realization hit me. When David & I were packing in St. Louis, I couldn't find the digital camera Denise & I own. "Surely Denise took it," I thought. Wrong. She didn't, & back in St. Louis remained our camera (David made sure to bring his). Dammit! That meant no pictures! Then it hit me, as we raced around these dunes: I have a digital camera built into my cell phone! It's not the greatest, & it lacks a zoom, but it works, & I can upload pix to my Flickr account on the Web. That'll work! So out came my phone, & pictures were snapped. Even wilder, I had perfect cell reception out on the dunes (!), so I could immediately upload the images to the Web. Here's one:


Friends, that is wicked cool. Able to take pictures using my phone, & them upload them to another web site, while on a remote sand dune in Michigan. Ah, modern technology! It's efficient! It's easy to use! It's everywhere!

CJ told us that the land we were on used to be a forest until the late 1880s. Then folks began to clear cut the trees, a process that only worsened after the Great Chicago Fire of 1904 (1906?). The city was burned, & it needed lumber to rebuild. Down went the trees, in massive numbers. No one even thought about forest replenishment back then, so the result was … devastation. A few years later, a forest fire swept through & took care of anything else that had been left, leaving emptiness that was filled by the ever-encroaching sand. As we drove through the dunes, we could see the ghostly remnants of the forest that had once been there.


Pretty spooky, eh?


CJ drove like a madman as we continued on our way through the dunes. Here's another movie from David that captures the frenetic movement. Be sure to stay through the end for a glimpse of a happy & excited Denise!

2005-0815-dune-ride-denise.mp4 (3.2 MB MP4)

We stopped several times to look at something that CJ wanted to point out, but we weren't allowed out of the Big Buggy until we reached the midpoint of our tour: the Beach. There we were allowed a 10 minute break to stretch our legs & get our feet wet in Lake Michigan, which was then about 70 degrees (brrrr). David was a happy boy, although I don't know how he was able to stand that water.


Then David & Denise posed together. What good friends!


Finally, Denise & I stood together on the beach. I was trying to look manly & bold, but instead I just looked confused & dispeptic.


Back into the Buggy, & on towards the end of our adventure on the Dunes. Near the end, CJ stopped the Buggy at the crest of a steep hill & warned us that we were about to drive nearly straight down, a slight exaggeration, but not by much. He gave us time to gather our wits & our guts, & then we were off! David took a movie of this exciting moment. I especially enjoy the screams of our companions. Oh, the terror!

2005-0815-dunes-down-hill.mp4 (3 MB MP4)

We reached Mac Wood's again, & climbed out of the Buggy. Now that we had finished our tour of the dunes, we had to goof off, so of course we did. Right next to Mac Wood's were those silly cutouts where you stick your head through a hole, so we did. Here's Denise & I, in a bit of role reversal.


That was good, but then I grabbed Libby, crouched down, & stuck here head up in one of the holes. She's a bit hard to see, but take a look. She was patient, like she always is when I'm involving her in some crazy scheme.


OK, time to leave Mac Wood's & move on to the next stop. We drove to the lighthouse, but it cost money to park & walk toward it, & we didn't feel like doing that. Instead, we turned around & drove around a few curves in the road until we hit this HUGE FREAKIN' DUNE. I mean, this thing was COMPLETELY GINORMOUS! The road was a cul-de-sac, ending at this dune. If you walked to the left—and it would be a short, albeit pretty vertical, climb—you can go around this dune to a beach area. If you were a total idiot desirous of proving how stupidly manly you were, you could climb this huge dune to the top. Guess what I did?

Yes, I climbed it. David said, "I'll bet you won't climb that dune", so of course I immediately resolved to climb that damn dune. "Sure I will," said Scott the Hubristic, & off I went. This is what the dune looked like from the bottom.


Those of you reading this at home, don't you even start in with, "Oh, that doesn't look that tall or steep!" You have no idea what-the-hell you are talking about. None. That sucker was tall, & it was steep. It was way over a 45 degree angle. Yes it was. Yes it was! I thought I'd feel like Lawrence of Arabia climbing that thing; instead, I was more like Myron of Accounting.

Oh, I took off good. Like a shot, in fact. The first 10 steps or so, I thought, "Dang! This isn't so bad! I mean, sure, I'm running up a pile of sand, & it's kinda hot, & my feet really can't get a good grip, but it's not so bad." Then came step 11. And 12. And 13. And 14 and 15 and 16, all. the. way. through. 20. And then I'm thinking, "Holy crap! This is really hard! I'm really hot, & why the hell am I trying to climb this huge stupid pile of stupid sand?!" And … then … step … 21. And … puff … puff … 22. And … ohjesusi'mgonnadie … huff … puff … 23. And … where can I barf? … 24. And … hoo … hoo … whew! … 25. And … 2 … 2 … 2 … 2 … 6. Twennnnnn … ttttttyyyyyy … sevvvvvvv … ennnnnnn. Twen … whoops, almost fell! … twen … twen … t … e … y … ei … gh … t. 28. 28. 28. 28. OK, time to rest. Wait. Hands on knees. Bend over. Rest. Rest. Breathe. In. Out. In. In. Out. Huff huff huff huff. Look up. How far do I have? 15 more feet? That's all? Can I take a step up? Nope? OK, time to crawl. Screw it, I'm using my hands. Grab, pull, grab, pull. Grab, pull, grab, pull. Just … a … few … more … steps … up. Stop. Breathe in … breathe out. Look up. Awwwww! That was only a few more feet! Grab, pull, grab, pull. F … f … f … few more feet. Ffffffffffffeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeewwwwwwwwwwwww mmmmmmmmmooooooorrrrrreeeeeeee ffffffffeeeeeeeeeetttttt. I'm like one foot from the top now. So tired. So hot. About to barf up lungs. About to die. And. one. more. step. Step.

And I'm there! Yes! I am a GOD! I am Rocky + Hercules + Achilles + Schwarzenegger + every mighty human who ever lived! I am the GOD of this mountain! Bow down & worship me, world! But excuse me one second while I breathe so loudly that loons far out in the middle of the lake could hear me, & were frightened. We mighty men do breathe heavily, ya see.

So this is me at the top of this crazy dune. Notice how chewed up the sand is in the last 12 feet or so. Hands.


OK, this is perhaps the most embarrassing thing I've ever put in a journal, but here is video David took of me climbing that dune. He didn't start filming until I was already well up that thing, 'cause I just took off running like a maniac the second he dared me to climb the dune (after all, my buddy Jans taught me a valuable lesson, what he calls "Jans' first rule of dealing with humans in groups", which is "When faced with peer pressure, give in immediately", which really ought to be taught in an ABC After School Special). So here's me, about to die & climbing that last bit of that Michigan Mt. Everest.

2005-0815-dune-up.mp4 (6 MB MP4) ← Warning! This is a big, 6.6 MB file!

What was really funny was that I had GREAT cell phone reception at the top of that dune. Of course, I was about a half mile above the ground at that point, where the oxygen was thinner. In fact, when I turned around & looked, I could swear I saw a Sherpa coming up the other side. But anyway, the cell worked great, so I snapped a few pix & uploaded them. Pix like this one, which shows what it looked like from my celestial throne.


See how tiny everything is? Like ants!

OK, so if going up was one of my most pathetic, out of shape, you-only-walk-ten-feet-a-day moments, going down was awesome! It is the closest I've ever been to being weightless—seriously!—& it was wonderfully, ridiculously, plaster a grin on your face fun. So fun that I'd almost climb back up to go down again … in another year or so. But doing down was a blast. Why? Because it was so steep that I ran down, but each jump was a several foot out & down leap, & the sand was so soft that it was an easy landing while giving me a good foothold. It really was like being weightless, & David filmed the whole thing. WATCH THIS MOVIE! (if for no other reason than it redeems me)

2005-0815-dunes-down-hill.mp4 (1.5 MB MP4)

OK, it looks kinda cool, & kinda dorky. But that's me!

I was worn out after this effort. A rest sounded just about right. We drove on from The Big Dune for a couple of miles until we reached a little set of motels that were lakeside. There was a nice grassy picnic & play area between the motels & the lake, a spot Denise & Kim had found a week ago when they first arrived in Michigan. We parked the car, grabbed some food, & walked with Libby over to a picnic table. After a nice little lunch, we spread out a blanket and stretched out, talking. The slightest breeze blew, the temperature was in the 80s, the waves lapped quietly a few feet away, & all was right with the world.

David & Denise decided to get up & walk around. I elected to stay behind & read my new book, Isaac Newton. I got through a chapter, but then I couldn't help myself any longer. It was time for a nap. Besides, Libby was right next to me, & I was the victim of Granneman's Second Law of Sleeping Dogs (the First being, of course, "Let them lie"): "A sleeping dog in physical proximity to a human will suck the energy out of the human; the amount of suckage is oppositely proportional to the size of the dog". In other words, if you have a lil' shih-tzu sleeping right next to you, you're gonna be passed out within minutes. And that's exactly what happened to me.


And what did I miss while I lay in the arms of Morpheus? Denise got contemplative! We need a soundtrack to this picture. Hmmmm … what should it be?


Eventually they discovered my slumbering bulk. Unfortunately, there is no saying like "Let sleeping Scotts lie", so I was awoken. After greeting my companions, I returned to the 17th century, as Denise & Libby snuggled up next to me. Awwwwww!


After a bit longer, it was time to leave. We still had to get close to the Canadian border that night, so we drove back to the B&B. On our way back, we stopped at a roadside fruit stand, & for a few minutes I became the Mighty Asparagus Man!


Back in Hart, we ordered our food from Schooner's (fish for me, burgers for Denise & David) & ate at a picnic table across the street at an ice cream place. It was a beautiful dusk, & the river looked lovely winding its way below the bluff we were on. After dinner, we walked back to the B&B, packed our stuff into the car, & took off. After about 3 hours, we reached Flint, Michigan, our stopping point for the night.

Never been to Flint? Want to know what it's like? OK, go outside at noon in the hot sun. Stick some anchovies & honey mustard in your armpits. Now run about 3 miles at top speed. Now take a look at your armpit. Smell it. That's Flint. It's kind of a dirty, run-down, unpleasant place, frankly.

We pulled into the parking lot of a Super 8 (or, as I would later rename it for David, "Ye Olde Sailor's Crotch", since that was the worst name for a motel I could think of) & I went in to reserve a room. Not too difficult, you'd think. I mean, it is a motel, right? Their business is renting rooms to people, so you'd think that the people who worked there would know how to do that. But no. Not the Super 8 in Flint. The woman behind the counter didn't know how to apply a AAA discount for a woman who was talking to her on the phone, so the minutes dragged. There was a guy in front of me, & he told me he'd been there a while already. Tick tock tick tock tick tock. I got a few more gray hairs, some more wrinkles. Time. dragged. slowly. on.

Finally—finally!—she got my room for me. I clearly told her "Non-smoking" when she asked me my preference, because I HATE HATE HATE smoking. Hate it. So, of course, when we walked into our non-smoking room, it reeked like a damn ashtray. A stale, butt-encrusted ashtray. Delightful. In fact, when we walked over to turn on the room's A/C, we found a cigarette, half-smoked, in the vents! Now that is classy!


Repulsive. Denise noticed that there was a copy of YOUR Magazine: Flint and Its Neighbors, on the TV. Here were the featured headlines on the cover, accompanied by Denise's interpretations.

Celebrating 50 Years
Denise: We've been here forever, so we're old & rundown.
A Diamond in the Rough
Denise: We're gross.
Ordinary Individuals, Extraordinary Acts
Denise: No one famous lives here.

Yup. That's Flint. We were not impressed. Grumbling, we watched some TV (the Home & Garden Channel, David's favorite), drank some wine, & finally fell asleep.

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