The Perfect Ending
By Jim Favors
Weather is one of the most critical components boaters worry about when cruising; it can make or break a well-planned trip. Dedicating a window of time (like our two-week North Channel cruise) for a boat trip can be somewhat of a crapshoot when it comes to weather. We always hope for the best and try to be optimistic when things go awry, however, we never quite know what will transpire until the dice stop rolling. Because we were towing our tug more than a few miles, from Spanish back to Charlevoix, we had to prepare the boat for a somewhat long-distance trek. The disassembly of the cockpit bimini, stowing of the dinghy and outboard, lowering of the mast/antenna, along with putting every non-fastened, and potential interior projectile item away takes about two hours; this includes putting the boat on the trailer. When our dice roll came to a standstill, after two weeks of exploratory cruising, we had just pulled the boat out of the water in Spanish, Ontario. No sooner were we settled in the cab of the truck with the boat securely fastened to the trailer, and our towing pre-check walk-around just completed, than the first drops of a pretty steady rain began in earnest. We chuckled and agreed that the timing of the day-long shower signified the perfect ending to our trouble-free cruise of two weeks with clear blue skies and mostly calm waters. We couldn’t have timed it better!
Having a soft bottom inflatable dinghy makes it easier to stow when the time comes for trailering Kismet to a new boating destination.
The long ride home never seems to go as fast as when we’re excited because we’re heading into a much-anticipated event. Even though the rain was welcome, and desperately needed after an unusually dry summer, it meant we had to consciously drive at a slower, safer speed. We took the rain in stride as we worked our way back towards Sault Ste Marie, Canada, enjoying the scenery along the way, more relaxed than when we arrived. We really didn’t mind the rain at all, but then, we weren’t on the boat anymore.
Notice that we took our bimini canvas down and secured the rails together tightly so it will stand up to the wind and weather when trailering the boat.
In order to return to the United States, we had to go over the Sault Ste Marie International Bridge and therefore the Soo Locks. As we approached the 2.8-mile, 2-lane bridge (it’s been standing since 1962 and is the northern most ending point for I-75), we could immediately see we would be in for bit of a wait. The southbound traffic was backed up for at least 2 miles as everyone crossing the bridge had to check in with U.S. Customs. Having to wait in line, in bumper-to-bumper traffic, would typically grind my nerves, but not this time. We were so relaxed from being on the water for two weeks; we simply poked along watching the activities of the Soo Locks beneath us as we slowly moved crossed the bridge. While we inched our way closer to the U.S. border, we were able to get a birds-eye view of the lock operations, reported to be the busiest in the world. My research found that an average of 10,000 ships transit the MacArthur and the Poe, the two active locks, per year. Because they are closed in the winter each year, from January through March, this puts the number of daily transits at roughly 37; the day we were crossing the bridge was no exception. From our vantage point on the bridge we could see several south bound freighters jockeying for position to enter the locks after retrieving iron ore from somewhere in Lake Superior. (To learn more about the Soo Locks you can simply click this link: http://www.saultstemarie.com/soo-locks-46/
Kismet, on its trailer leaving Spanish, ready for the open road; even if it was wet, we were snug in the cab of the pickup.
An hour after we entered the southbound lane of the bridge from the Canadian side, we finally cleared U.S. Customs on the Michigan side. The wet and slick conditions forced us to drive slower and more cautiously and coupled with the bridge delay, we noticed we were starting to run a little behind in our schedule. Our original plan was to make it all the way to Charlevoix, Michigan, so we could relaunch and spend a long weekend at the City of Charlevoix Marina to partake in their annual Venetian Festival. We soon decided it would be less stressful to pull up short of our final destination and find a place to “boater home” for the night. Boater homing is the act of using a boat on its trailer as an RV while traveling between bodies of water; we’ve done this many times before. When using our boat as an RV, Lisa and I have typically stayed at RV Parks, once at a California Welcome Center, but up until this trip we’ve never had the pleasure of staying in the parking lot of a Wal-Mart; so in light of our trip taking longer than expected, we decided to give Wal-Mart a try. You might be saying to yourself, “Wal-Mart, boater homing, what’s with these people?” Before we bought our trailerable boat, we had no idea a large number of Wal-Mart stores welcome RV'ers to overnight in their large parking lots. The protocol is to simply check in with store management before you claim your overnight “pull-through.” Some stores have local restrictions that prevent overnighting, so it may pay to call ahead of time to check and ask for permission.
As you can see we had a lot of company on the International Bridge while waiting to cross the boarder back into the states.
We had lots of time to watch this loaded freighter inching its way towards the Soo Locks.
By the time we rolled into Petoskey, only 17 miles north of Charlevoix, where we knew of a Wal-Mart on the outskirts of town, we were tired. I maneuvered our truck and trailered boat into the far reaches of the massive 24-hour Wal-Mart’s parking lot, next to a sign that said NO OVERNIGHT PARKING. While I rearranged the boat’s interior for our inaugural overnight Wal-Mart experience, by putting back items we typically store when in motion, Lisa went into the store to obtain management’s approval. Lisa returned with a quasi “OK” and stated that the store’s manager didn’t have a problem with it; he said that folks overnight in their lot all the time in campers and over-the-road trucks. The quasi part had to do with two things, his comment about some locals taking it upon themselves to call in to law enforcement to complain about people staying overnight and our uneasiness over the posted warning signs to not do what we were about to do. Apparently the not too much enforced, local ordinance is in place to give law enforcement leeway when they need to get undesirables to move on. A few hours later we watched a police car cruise by several times and as he parked nearby for a period of time, we immediately thought the worst, being the known undesirables that we are. Interesting enough, the policeman never even paid attention to us; we could rest in peace, especially knowing that we had police protection through the night.
After the International Bridge came the Mackinac Bridge, it connects Michigan’s upper and lower peninsulas, shown here with the overcast sky we had that day.
Finally we were able to relax a little about our Wal-Mart overnight stay; we settled into observing the comings and goings of the 24-hour store. The Wal-Mart parking lot had a unique crescendo to its day. It was very busy when we arrived, much like the steady activity we all experience in a typical day. A few hours after our arrival and into the cover of darkness the pace slowed down, but there was always some traffic. When I got up in the middle of the night, I was surprised to see a few shoppers still shuffling in and out of the big box store. Much like New York City, the city that never sleeps, a 24-hour Wal-Mart store has a life of its own, but I’m not complaining, the space was free, well lit, and conveniently located for provisioning. Dinner and breakfast were easily taken care of, thanks to the varied selections we found available at Wal-Mart.
Slipping back into bed, after my 3 a.m. bathroom run, I heard noise off in the distance; the sounds seemed misplaced, but then again I’d never spent the night at a Wal-Mart parking lot before. By this time Lisa mentioned she hadn’t been able to sleep due to the constant, droning noise. Upon further investigation, I decided the noise was coming from the Lowes store, adjacent to Wal-Mart, apparently they too run round the clock shifts to provide cut lumber for the resident’s of Petoskey and surrounding areas. In addition to that constant, high pitched, sawing noise, there were flashing lights from a tow truck in the corner of the parking lot behind us and a policeman helping a women who had apparently locked her keys in her car. Ah, the joys of camping overnight at Wal-Mart, the parking lot that never sleeps!
Years ago, we never would have thought we’d be spending the night in Wal-Mart’s parking lot and thinking it was a cool thing.
Even with a few overnight interruptions I managed a reasonable night’s sleep, Lisa, however, being a lighter sleeper, was a little cranky from not getting her normal 8 hours of beauty sleep. After making a pot of coffee, I left Lisa to the comfort of our asphalt campsite and walked up to Wal-Mart; already bustling with morning early birds the store was busy and I was on a mission in search of fresh pastries. Upon walking back to the boat, I was intrigued by all the cars slowly driving by our truck and trailered boat, some stopping to take a photo. I ended up stopping to talk with a few who were interested in our little red Tug; they had lots of questions and were surprised to learn we had camped overnight at their Wal-Mart store.
We made it to Charlevoix, our last stop of this trip, early in the morning. We were pretty motivated to get to our slip and join the fun of the Venetian Festival, so it didn’t take us long to get the boat re-rigged and ready to launch.
After coffee and doughnuts we finally hit the road to make our way south, along the Lake Michigan coast at a leisurely pace with only 17 miles remaining before we would relaunch in Charlevoix. Little Traverse Bay and Lake Michigan were glassy calm and glistening from the early morning sun, making it a great morning for driving. I couldn’t help but think of all the times we’d cruised these waters, between Petoskey and Charlevoix; great boating memories created over a 20-year span. The only significant difference this time was that we were trailering our Kismet over this stretch while enjoying a view of the water from shore instead of being on the water. Another Kismet boating chapter coming to a close was also the perfect beginning to another kind of boating activity, enjoying one of our favorite Michigan festivals, this time while docked at our old homeport in Charlevoix, Michigan.