The Road Not Taken
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
Inside the echo chamber of all the Best Of, Best Places to Visit, Best Summer Travel Destinations, Best Attractions, Must See, and Must Do lists circulating on every social media platform, travel blog, and travel itinerary, I suggest instead that road trippers hit the pause button and embrace the wise words of Robert Frost. The blog post picture sums up this frenzy all too well — 147 comments telling people to do exactly the same things. In lieu of following in the footsteps of literally tens of thousands, be on the lookout for the path that is "grassy and wanted wear" when planning your "up north" travels. Yes, there is only one Kitch-Iti-Ippi spring, Oswald's Bear Ranch, Garlin Zoo, Fayette Ghost Town, Cut River Bridge overlook, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, or Tahquamenon Falls and they are all worthy stops, but rather than creating a trip that is an oft-repeated string of to-dos and check boxes — look for the roads not taken by everyone else and by extension restaurants, shops, businesses, activities, museums, and attractions that exist slightly off the well-beaten path (Woods & Waters and the Les Cheneaux Islands are all only 30 minutes from St. Igance, Mackinaw City, and the Mackinac Straits).
The rewards are often immeasurable in the grand scheme of things, but I can attest that the most laughable and memorable family stories we love to tell are often the results of wrong turns or following what appears to be a viable road in our dog-eared printed Michigan Gazetteer — such as some questionable two-tracking with my Grandmother's Chrysler Town & Country mini-van after a Pictured Rocks backpacking trip in the mid '90s. As my now-husband likes to always remind me, "and you're a geography major and should be able to read a map!" (I can read a map...I might just be a little optimistic about what constitutes a road.) Or, after hours of driving twisty mountain roads after visiting the Gila Cliff Dwellings in New Mexico, having the best grilled cheese sandwich in my life on homemade Texas toast with freshly-roasted green chilis at a random diner. The awesome Eric Carle Museum visit over spring break learning that Eric loved sushi. Or how we ended up with a family cottage in the Les Cheneaux Island town of Hessel instead of the ever-popular Frankfort or Traverse City areas (our then Whaler co-owner's then law partner told us we should spend a week here; we promptly ignored his advice for 6 years because we'd never heard of those unpronounceable islands before).
And as a small business owner that is just outside of the main tourist destinations and popular Upper Peninsula road trip travel loop, I implore you to embrace taking a chance and doing something different for at least a little bit of your summer road trip. Stop at the little town park and read the historical sign while eating ice cream from the small general store, or the funky store with only one car out front, or the random historical museum that happens to be open during your weekly cottage rental, or walk the beautiful nature preserve that promises zero known Instagram-able sights, or take a guided kayaking tour with a small kayak shop (or rent a kayak or paddleboard). You can do everything on that list here in Hessel and Cedarville.
At the end of the day, stop worrying about seeing it all or following exactly what others have done. When you get back home and meet up with friends, you'll be infinitely grateful that you'll have so much more to talk about not having done the same things as everyone else. Not having all the same exact experiences is what makes our own lives rich, full, and unique. Your kids, spouse, significant other, dog, or therapy llama won't care in four months if they only saw one of the six things on that travel blog's Top Attractions list. You'll have spent time together — laughing, bickering, eating, and playing — which really is the only thing required for a summer vacation. And you'll also maybe, just maybe, also support lesser known business, towns, and people with your patronage. And for that, from all of us, I'll say "thank you."
See you soon.