By Todd Rizzo
Van Buren Township
When the kids were young, I read an article about a family that went on a road trip to swim in each of the Great Lakes within 24 hours. That family had talked about doing the trip for years.
The summer before their first one was off to college, they decided it was now or never and went on the trip. Logistics aside it seemed like a fun little thing to do. I tossed the idea around in my head over the years, thinking where to start, best route to do it in, and whether to do it as a stand-alone trip or the kickoff of a vacation.
Prior to booking the hotel rooms on both ends of the trip the week before we went, I don’t know how seriously we ever considered it or not. One thing that I knew for sure was that going the summer before the first one goes off to school seemed like the prefect time.
Our youngest, Aaron, would have his drivers permit then, so we could all take a turn at the wheel. It also marks a kind of family rite of passage when you’re ready to send a first child out into the world. Not that they’re gone or won’t be back, but things change, things will be different. So, what better to mark the transition then with plenty of family bonding windshield time together?
If you decide to make a similar pilgrimage, dear reader, it is suggested to book the hotels well in advance. We went on an Upper Michigan vacation five years ago. I’d started pitching the idea of five lakes in one day to the family by then. We had a nice hotel on Lake Huron right near the bridge.
I had in mind to start at Ontario and end at Huron by this time. That hotel would have been a perfect spot to swim and frolic at the end of a long trip. A month or so back my wife, Andera VanDenBergh, suggested we pick a weekend to do this trip, if we were going. I hadn’t considered that really doing it was a sure thing up until this point, but we settled in on a weekend in August.
Between planning our actual summer vacation, graduation party, and other activities we never spent time considering this trip. The week before my wife asks what we want to do about our dog, Miles. We decided the simplest thing would be to just bring him along. The next day we researched and booked pet-friendly hotels. There were not a lot of choices left and the kindest reviews we could give the rooms were at least they were clean. There also was nothing left available on the shoreline, unfortunately.
We had found easy entry spots in Michigan, Huron, and Erie on earlier adventures, that would all be along our route. We were thinking of doing the bridge walk last Labor Day as a tune up event. Then we could have picked out a good place with the shortest drive from Mackinaw to Superior. Covid-19 erased that possibility. It also added at least two hours to the actual lake day drive time.
While Canada is officially open the current travel requirements don’t make it practical for a family of four to go there right now. Satellite views and being able to click through to park websites is a wonderful thing, though. We picked a couple different spots on both ends just in case any issues prevented being able to get in at our first choices. It ended up going seamlessly.
We drove out to Niagara the night before and left the room at 5:45 a.m. the next morning. The first stop for Lake Ontario was about 20 minutes away. There was no one at the ticket booth yet, so I guess that is a bonus for regular early risers.
Alex, our son that’s off to college, decided to take the full plunge. The bath houses weren’t open yet, so he just changed behind them. Alex ended up doing the complete immersion in all the Great Lakes. The rest of us were more of the wading-in type. On our drive there were lots of sightings of Lake Erie along the way. Not knowing the off and back on times we stuck with our intended dip in spot for that of Luna Pier. It marked the approximate halfway point of the day and is a straight shot from highway off ramp to parking lot for the beach.
The Lake Michigan stop was at an overlook on the other side of the bridge and then we headed up to Brimley State Park for our Lake Superior location. Our dog who is a big chicken wouldn’t go in earlier because the waves splashing on the shore were too scary. One of the boys carried him in at Superior and he loved it. We got a nice video of him splashing around and lots of pictures of all of us at each of the lakes.
Lake Huron we saved for last so we would be close to the hotel when we finished. We stopped at Fort Michilimackinac for our final lake entry spot. The sun was still up and a nice family on the beach took some pictures of us with the bridge in the background. We even made it to Scalawags for whitefish and chips before they closed.
All total it was a perfect trip that went off without a hitch. It was just under 14 hours from the first lake of the day to the last. That doesn’t leave for much idle time or any hiccups if you don’t want to be still driving in the dark. Particularly when you’re trying to find a lake access point, you’re not familiar with or haven’t even been to before. My wife, who may have been the most hesitant about doing this, ended up having a good time. We all did, really. Like a lot of things in life that may not seem worth the effort you end up glad you did them.
Taking part in the trip were Alex Rizzo, Aaron Rizzo, Todd Rizzo, and Andrea VanDenBergh.