Backroads Journal

Reliving Old Memories

Over the years, one of my favorite memories was a road trip taken as newly married college students. We had only been married one year, still had stars in our eyes and the world was ours. The year was 1970 and the Carpenters had a hit song, “We’ve Only Just Begun”. That song was our favorite and said everything we were feeling back then!
Earlier that summer, I had purchased a blue 1963 Ford Econoline van for $700 and converted it into our Midwest version of a hippy van, complete with red, orange and yellow Aztec design curtains, bright yellow terrycloth seat covers and a rear seat that would lay down into a bed.
In those days, our needs were pretty simple! We had a Coleman stove, a few pots and pans, a wooden crate to carry our food, a cooler and one old, red kerosene lantern. Those were the days before cell phones, Bluetooth speakers, satellite TV’s, LED party lights, navigation apps or digital anything. It was just us, a map and a transistor radio playing the hit songs, when you could find a station.
In August, before we had to be back for the start of classes, Nancy and I headed north in Huffy, our newly christened camper. Now, without air-conditioning, our relief from the summer heat was wide open windows and wind swirling around inside picking up dust and battery corrosion from the battery conveniently located under the driver’s seat. For us, a little metallic taste on the tongue was a small price to pay for the freedom of the open road! We took a picture of the odometer when it turned over to 100,000 miles and wandered the backroads to Wisconsin at 50 mph.
After meeting my sister from Minneapolis for a brief visit in Bayfield, Wisconsin, we headed east along the shore of Lake Superior and into the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. One of our stops was at a campground located on a bluff overlooking the lake. We spent the evening enjoying the magnificent view of the sunset fading to the light of our campfire and our little red lantern. That beautiful evening was seared into my mind and returning to that campground has been one of my life’s quests.
Fast forward nearly 50 years and we are now traveling in our new version of Huffy, now in the form of our little Airstream Basecamp, Wallie. We are tracing the route of that 1970 trip, again meeting my sister and her husband in Bayfield. After leaving our great harbor-view condo in Bayfield that we booked, we headed east to Michigan’s Keweenaw Peninsula and the campground I had reserved for the night.
America’s regions that at one time relied on mining for their lifeblood have taken a hit over the years and the Copper Country of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula is one of those. The town of Houghton was one of those copper boom towns. Evidence of the past prosperity exists in the beautiful red sandstone and brick buildings lining the business district. Houghton, boasting a population of just under 8,000, and the entire Keweenaw Peninsula now relies on year-round outdoor recreation for its livelihood.
The F. J. McLain State Park is one of the most popular parks in the area and is just a few miles from Houghton. We had reserved one of the last campsites two months earlier since it was mid-way between Bayfield and Munising, where the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore is located. We had never done the Pictured Rocks and they were on our list of stops.
As we drove into our campground, sitting on a high bank overlooking Lake Superior, we were amazed at the activity! There were people riding bikes, walking dogs, visiting with other campers and just out enjoying the sunny day. To the left was a grassy lawn that extended right up to the bank with scattered campsites. Our site, on the right of the road, backed up to the woods, but was also a nice grassy area with picnic table and fire ring. We backed Wallie into our spot with a glorious view of the lake just 100 feet from our door.
Settling in for a great evening of cocktails and snacks prior to trying out our old campfire skills of pigs-in-a-blanket on hotdog skewers, we noticed campers beginning to gather by the lake in anticipation of the sun setting. Not being ones to miss a sunset, we gathered our drinks and snacks and headed over and staked out a set of the great Adirondack chairs provided by the state park. As the crowd grew we realized that we had joined their nightly celebration of nature’s beauty. The sunset that evening happened to be dulled by the Canadian forest fire smoke, but many toasts were still made to life and enjoyment of life’s beautiful moments! During the minutes before the sun set into the haze, a seaplane just off-shore dipped its wings to the crowd in acknowledgement of the event. We have witnessed many sunsets over the years, but something made this evening more special that most!
We may never know if we happened upon our old campground or not. We have not located our journal of the trip, only a few unlabeled photos, plus the whole north loop of the campground, including a restroom building, fell into Lake Superior during an extreme storm a year or two ago. Our old camp site may have been one of those lost. Never the less, there was something warm and comfortable about the F. J. McLain State Park on the Keweenaw Peninsula of Upper Michigan and I like to believe that we finally found the campground that has lingered in my memories for all these years!
So, here’s a toast to young love, memories made and being able to relive our good times again as we grow older!
And as the Carpenters sang,  “We’ve only just begun to live, white lace and promises, a kiss for luck and we’re on our way… Before the risin’ sun, we’ll fly.  So many roads to choose, we’ll start out walking and learn to run…  Sharing horizons that are new to us.  Watching the signs along the way.  Talking it over just the two of us, workin’ together day to day…  And when the evening comes, we smile.  So much of life ahead, we’ll find a place where there’s room to grow… 
And yes, we’ve just begun!”