Wanderlust – The experience of a lifetime

My parent’s gift came slowly and took several years to truly unwrap.  It is something that has effected who I have become and how I see the world.   They gave me the experience of travel and a deeply rooted craving for adventure and discovery.  What I have come to know as wanderlust.

It started simply enough, when my parents bought a cruising boat, a 38 foot Chris Craft.  For much of my childhood, our family enjoyed weekends on the Great Lakes that evolved into month long boating excursions throughout the Great Lakes and Canada.  One of the most memorable destinations was Georgian Bay and The North Channel in the furthest upper reaches of Lake Huron.  Much of what we saw and where we went is inaccessable by car and float planes are quite expensive.  Honestly, after I grew up and my parents sold their boat, I never thought I would get back to this natures paradise.

Then, earlier this summer, my cousin Bernie invited my stepson, Osian, and me to join his 2 boys, to embark on a boat trip to The North Channel.  You can imagine my thrill to imagine reliving those childhood experiences!   To have the chance to explore this glorious place when it had been completely out of reach.  I was excited.

What I envisioned was an excited teenager.  A boy beside himself with joy at the prospect of this opportunity.  What happened was a simple question….

“Do I have to?”

I expounded to Osian about the grandure of the North Channel, with descriptions of the immense beauty of the natural world we would be immersed in.  Just think of all the experiences we would have, I could tell he was warming up to the idea….

His response, “will there be wi-fi?”

He was obviously curious about what it would be like.  I could see he accepted that he didn’t have a choice about my vacation idea.  I had some work to do.

I explained the uniqueness of this trip.  How this had shaped and impacted how I saw the world.  As I shared how the fishing would offer hours of quiet enjoyment and a communing with nature not available anywhere else in his world, I could tell I was really making an impression on him.  As he got that far away look in his eye.  He could see it!

Then Osian asked me “There won’t be any other people there will there?”

He was getting it!!  We would be an island in the great blue sea, or lake as the case may be:). The excitement was building, we bought fishing poles, lures and food to make sure we were to be comfortable in our seclusion for 2 whole weeks.

As the date grew closer the planning became more involved.  Bernie and I met with a seasoned veteran of this territory, my Father, to discuss details of this complex navigational excursion.  We talked about rocks, rapids and all the perilous obstacles we would need to be ready for.  It was exciting.  A couple weeks before our departure, we took the families out for an afternoon voyage on our vessel, The Seafari.  We needed to check the equipment, verify supplies and test the waters of the crew by getting the boys together.  Everything was looking good with one minor exception.  The depth sounder wasn’t working quite right, but that was to be repaired in the 2 weeks before we embarked on our adventure.  Life is good. (Sigh)

What I envisioned was glorious.  A journey into God’s country with my step-son, my cousin and his boys, reliving our childhood.  What happened was, a phone call 2 days before we were to head to the ship and push off.  Bernie was on the phone, “I don’t know how to tell you this but we can’t go…..the trip looks like it will be cancelled”

“What?  Why?” I asked in a panicky voice

He explained “The repairman says he can’t fix the depth sounder.  Given the treacherous waters of the North Channel we just can’t risk sinking up there.  We have already investigated nearly every resource to replace or repair the thing but nobody can do it for at least 2-3 weeks”

My dream of bonding with my boy and giving him the experience of a lifetime was shattered.

“We do have a backup plan. Cedar Pointe for a week!” Bernie tells me.

“Wow, this is a lot to absorb” I say, ignoring this option.  “What if we found another solution, I mean do we really need that?”

Bernie tried to cushion the blow by saying “We are still looking but I wanted to let you know as soon as I knew it couldn’t be fixed”.

“I appreciate that, I will think through the Cedar Point idea, thank you”. I forced out with my best upbeat attitude then hung up.  I felt like an petulant child that just had his toy taken away.  A thrill park is probably the last place I would want to go.  The defeat was very real.

I got home that night to discuss the cancellation with Melissa, I started coming up with options that I had been thinking earlier in the year.  Heading to the Upper Peninsula, Hiking in Maine or visiting with my friend Paul and his family on Drummond Island for a week.  None seemed to compare to the North Channel and I was thinking of just not going anywhere.  Then Melissa pipes in, “Well you can’t stay here.  I have studying to do and you guys would be in my way.  You have to go somewhere else!  Why don’t you go mountain biking down south?”

“What?”  I asked.

I have been into mountain biking since I could ride one, maybe longer.  In my years of wanderlust I have traveled across the country riding trails of every kind. My adventures have taken me from coast to coast, north to south riding the most notable of trails in 47 of the lower 48 states.  I am passionate about this sport that has fulfilled a desire, no, a deeply founded need to travel and seek new horizons.

Just this year, Osian had begun asking me to take him mountain biking for the first time.  We had gone as a family together but, I was cautiously optimistic that it would take hold of him.  At the same time, I didn’t want to force it on him for fear of making him resent the activity.  But this new idea was like sunshine in the midst of Hurricane Katrina.  Dooms day had struck and here my lovely bride to be was throwing me a life line! Sure, maybe she was just trying to save herself but, could I hope for this?

It was critical that the situation be presented the right way….. I began the presentation with questions.

“What if the trip changed?”  I asked Osian.

He immediately said “So, I don’t have to go?”

I said “Wait a minute before you say that.  Don’t you think it would be wise for you to ask a few questions about it?  I mean, what if we were going to Cedar Pointe?”

He responded sarcastically, “Naw, you would never go there, I would like it too much.  There’s no place I’d want to go more than that.”

“What if we were going to meet up with my buddy Ryan and go mountain biking?”  I asked.

He says, “That would be fun but your just trying to get me to agree”.

I followed that by throwing caution to the wind.  “What if we were going to Cedar Point, going riding with Ryan at one of the best trail systems in the country, going to Nashville to experience the street music scene and then exploring Mammoth Caves in Kentucky for 2 weeks?”

He looks at me sideways and says, “Is that what we are doing?”

I excitedly responded, “Yeah, I think so, unless you have a couple things you can think of”

I envisioned his gratitude and happiness pouring from him.  An excited response with  a smile, maybe some questions or suggestions.  What happened was “OK”.  Teenagers are so anticlimactic.

So the morning to leave arrived.  We were packed for city visits, camping and hot days in the sun.  Our bikes were loaded into the van and we waved good-bye to Melissa as we drove into the sunrise of a brand new adventure together, my boy and me.

I would love to tell you everything went perfectly, so I will.  Sure there were some diversions and changes.  Of course after Cedar Point I missed the same exit 2 times which kept us doubling back on the freeway an extra 20 miles to start.  The driving took longer than we thought and even longer than Google thought. But, isn’t that what adventures are all about?  Discovery and adapting to what happens to you, together.  It’s about going with the flow and making the best of everything.  We created new opportunities and got to know each other in a very real way.  That is what came of our new adventure, we created a part of Osian’s childhood, and my parenthood.  We did not relive my experiences of many years ago, we created something more.

I read a quote recently: “You can’t write a book if you keep re-reading the first chapter”.  The truth of this can be seen in adult forever reliving their glory moments instead of discovering the next great experience in their lives.  Costing themselves the experiences that keep them moving through life by living a moment that has long past.

The variety of our experience was great.  We had the thrill of Cedar Point and played at Kalahari water park with my cousins family.   Met the challenge of world class mountain biking in Tsali Trails of North Carolina.  Traveled across the land of Dixie to kick back in Nashville and experience the atmosphere of one of the worlds great street music scenes.   Bringing home our final adventure of the trip by being plunged into the dark, spelunking in Mammoth Caves.  Enough to make 5 complete vacations on their own.

Do you want to know what Osian’s favorite part was?

We had a full day of biking all morning in North Carolina and watching white water kayaking live for the afternoon.  We pulled off the road into the parking lot of a battered lean-to shack.   The words “Ruby Mine” had been quickly slopped in red paint on an old plywood sheet out in front by the road.  He wanted to search for gem stones.  So, for $40, we were handed a bucket of dirt and a couple screened bottom boxes.  The ancient proprietor instructed to sit down on white resin chairs across from each other on either side of slough trough with water rushing through it.  We scooped the dirt into our boxes and dunked them in the rushing water to search for treasure.  We dug for an hour to unearth a couple rubies for his Mom and Amethysts for his girl.

When it all comes down to it, it’s your heart that makes the experiences matter.  My boy was building his experience, his memories and I was able to be there to watch it happen.  This is what we created and discovered together, an experience of a lifetime, his very own.