Our 2002 Road Trip, Part 2 of 5: Our First Great Lake

Red Lighthouse!

Behold the fun of unretouched 35mm film: that scratch, groove, or hair at right was not errant detritus on the scanner bed, but is somehow part of the original photo and won’t come off.

Previously on Midlife Crisis Crossover: a flashback to our fourth annual road trip, a meetup in Grand Rapids with fellow Star Wars fans for opening day of Star Wars: Episode II — Attack of the Clones. Before and after the movie, we spent our first time in Michigan hitting a few key tourist attractions in the vicinity.

Katrina acted as our trusty tour guide and started us with the basics: scenic Lake Michigan. Much like the Wolverine State surrounding us, we’d also never seen a Great Lake before.

Parking Lot Lighthouse!

A decorative lighthouse welcomes you at the parking lot, ready to fend off any passing ships trying to beach themselves far, far ashore on foggy nights.

Grand Rapids is an inconvenient forty minutes east of the shore, so we had to drive out to Grand Haven State Park. We know next to nothing about their fair town except (a) on the way was a florist with pretty, fenced-in gardens that was already closed by the time we arrived; and (b) search engines really want you to know they have a big red lighthouse.

Parking Lot Lighthouse!

No, not this one. This is the opening act whose job is to get you all jazzed by asking you if you’re really ready for some lighthouse!

Between us and our objective: sand. It’s everywhere. I don’t think I’d ever stepped foot on a real beach before, either. As I’ve written before, my family couldn’t afford capital-T Travel when I was a kid. I do recall a few visits to Indiana’s own Patoka Lake, but we never approached it except on one of its non-sandy, untamed-wilderness sides with no admission fees.


This was before Attack of the Clones opened on Thursday, so the birds weren’t sick of anyone’s “coarse and rough and irritating” jokes yet.

Beyond all that showy elitist dirt, there’s your Great Lake.

Lake Michigan!

To my landlubber self it might as well have been an ocean. I didn’t get to encounter one of those till 2007.

Lake Michigan Shore!

Over to one side, a shore full of dwellers taking Lake Michigan for granted, unlike us landlocked bumpkins.


Kitesurfer mocking us with his moves like, “You guys need to get out here and really experience the lake like a pro!” Um, pass.

We took off our shoes and socks and spent a good while roaming, feeling sand beneath our toes, and learning how much effort it takes to push off the sand with each laborious step, how many jagged edges one square foot of ground can possibly contain, and how uncomfortably chilly the weather was that day.

Me on beach.

Not the Baywatch model you’re looking for.

Me on beach some more.

Fun with 35mm flaws, part 2: back in those days, cameras didn’t have screens for previewing your shots. You had no idea if there was garbage on your lens till after you got home and had your rolls of photos developed. By then, no one’s interested in going back for reshoots.

Once we had our fill of wading and grew tired of sandwalking, we braved the long pier leading to that big red lighthouse. Without socks or shoes protecting our feet from its stone surfaces and prickly textures, the walk felt about 73 miles long, give or take a march.


Snide marker hitting us with a relative privation argument. “So your poor footsies hurt, huh? People have DIED on these shores, you WHINER.”

But at last we reached that big red lighthouse and hung around it for a minute, taking in its locked door and all the outer qualities that “big red lighthouse” already covered in full.

So. Big red lighthouse, then.

Big Red Lighthouse!

Anne’s sister loves lighthouses, so we had the envy factor going for us, at least.

Katrina did us the honor and privilege of taking our photo, the only shot of the two of us together from this trip. I’m pretty sure my arm was around Anne because by this time we were both freezing and not looking forward to the 362-mile trudge back to the car.


Courtesy of Anne’s scrapbook.

Eventually we reached the car and moved on to our next to-do item: bathrooms. One major difference we learned between a normal vacation and our geek conventions: at least those crowded convention centers have guaranteed plumbing. Sure, sometimes they’re gross and potentially hazardous because some of our fellow fans are untrained pigs, but at least they’re there. Shores, parks, forests, hiking trails, and other areas of untold natural wonders don’t always have stalls right there waiting for you. Thankfully a convenience store down the road saved the day, so there’s a third thing Grand Haven has going for it.

To be continued! In our next chapter: someplace with pretty flowers that wasn’t closed when we got there.

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