I laid in bed feeling both sweaty and cold. I could feel the breeze from the ceiling fan above. I had one leg outside of the blanket and the other inside in a feeble attempt to regulate my opposing temperature perceptions. Julie was asleep, but her foot brushed up against my bare thigh. I turned on my side and pulled her close to me in an effort to gain some comfort. My mind was racing, but why? I tried to calm myself and fall asleep. I had a feeling that something bad was going to happen. “That is ridiculous,” I said to myself, “Stop catastrophizing; you have taken this trip many times before.”
I woke up in a haze and sat up in bed in an attempt to get moving. I had taken a shower the night before, but I still needed to brush my teeth and wash my face. I looked out of the window and realized that I would have to shuffle the cars so that Kathryn could get to work. My head was full of cobwebs; I felt hungover.
Now downstairs, I grabbed the keys to Julie’s Ford Flex and faced a coolish breeze as I made a dash to the car in my slippers. On autopilot, I backed the Ford out of the driveway and onto the street.
William was still sleeping. He had a morning ZOOM meeting with his university research group, and that would delay our departure. I resisted the urge to make sure that he was up for the meeting. He is now a senior in college, and I accepted the fact that he knew how to manage his time.
I dropped a capsule of low acid coffee into the Keurig and waited for my mug to fill. I found some Costco drumsticks in the fridge from last night’s dinner. They were delicious then, but this morning my tastebuds were not in the mood for garlic. I took two bites and tossed the leg into the garbage. Now in my study, I sipped coffee and mindlessly scanned Facebook, then YouTube, then my emails. The coffee was starting to kick in, and I could feel the fog lift and my focus return.
Will appeared and informed me that the meeting was shorter than expected, and he was ready to leave. I sent him into the basement storage room to retrieve a sleeping bag for himself, and I also instructed him to bring one of his pillows. He ambled off. Now in the fridge and pantry, I gathered items. Mustard, catsup, some hotdogs, syrup for pancakes, the list went on. I couldn’t find my pocket knife, A strange and slightly ominous sign.
We were going to Devil’s Lake, Wisconsin, to hike trails that I had been on many times, but would be a first for William. I continued to try to shake off my foreboding feelings as ridiculous as we pulled out of our driveway. Our adventure had begun.
I booked 2 nights at the Skillet Creek campground, which was only minutes from the state park entrance. Our narrow and deep site abutted a creek. I decided to back in and park close to the road. The spot was fairly level, but I had one of my intuitive feelings and didn’t want to pull way back into the site. This meant that we couldn’t connect to AC power; no bother, as I have solar panels and a house battery powerful enough for any of our needs. I’m always solving scenarios. I like to plan ahead for contingencies.
We started off with the Tumbled Rock trail, as it is fairly level and features gorgeous views of Devil’s Lake. The hike is less than 3 miles and runs through open areas as well as some that are forested. We finished the hike and returned to the main portion of the park. Devil’s Lake State Park has quite a few amenities, so we ambled to the general store to buy some souvenir tee shirts for the rest of the family. Feeling mildly triumphant, we piled into Violet the campervan and headed out of the park and back to Skillet Creek. A fortunate occurrence presented itself on our right; a local was selling firewood for $5 a bundle. We stopped and picked up two parcels.
The rear cargo door on Violet seemed a bit strange as I opened it. It was almost as if something was stuck in it. I tossed the wood into Violet’s garage and closed the door. However, that felt strange to the point that I reopened the door and shut it again. I shook my head, pulled myself into Violet’s driver’s seat, and drove back to camp.
Once at the campsite, I went to get the wood, but I couldn’t open the rear cargo doors, which was the only way that I could access Violet’s garage. I always bring tools to fix things, but they were also in that space. I grabbed a multi-tool that I kept in her glove box and pried off an access panel on the door. It was clear that the lock’s latch cable had detached. I could diagnose the problem, but despite trying, I couldn’t fix it. I calmed myself and paused for a few minutes to think. Violet’s garage contained a lot of items that we would use on the trip, firewood, lawn chairs, and our extra water, to name a few. However, we could get by without them. “I guess we are having tonight’s hot dogs boiled on the ol’ induction burner instead of roasting them on an open fire,” I chuckled to Will. Our dinner was camper good. Hot dogs, store-bought macaroni salad, and chips. We agreed to reconvene at 8 PM for a movie. I had downloaded Full Metal Jacket from Netflix, which is what Will had requested. The evening ended with the Kubrick classic, and then it was time for bed. Perhaps the door malfunction was the reason that I was intuitively feeling worried. Still, we had worked past this problem, and I continued to feel unsettled.
My sleep was hampered by a light rain that quickly escalated into a major thunderstorm. Violet shell is sheet metal, and every raindrop that hit her roof was amplified tenfold. I started to worry more. I have climbed the ridges around Devil’s Lake many times, and I knew that the quartzite boulders on the path get extremely slick when wet. Eight years ago, I took a tumble on top of the North Ridge during a rainy climb and fell squarely on my right humerus. It took physical therapy, a trip to an orthopedic surgeon, and over a year for the pain to subside. Now older, I rely on my trekking poles to give me more stability when navigating uneven terrain. I remembered that my trekking poles were also in Violet’s locked garage; bad luck. I was starting to feel uncomfortable with our morning’s plans. However, I didn’t want to disappoint Will. I wanted our trip to be a happy memory for him. I wanted him to think that his old man was cool. Would this be the second strike to our father/son adventure?
The rain kept coming down, and my intuitive voice said, “You may get stuck here.” I completely discounted the thought, noting that I had deliberately backed into my spot and was only yards from the camp road. “Violet has front-wheel drive. Stop worrying about silly things,” I said to myself.
Morning broke, and Will started to rouse. After a few minutes, I told him that I needed to talk to him about something. “I don’t think that it is wise for us to climb the ridge today. I hurt myself on that climb in the past because the rocks were wet. How about we make a change in plans? I can take you to my favorite diner in Baraboo, and then we can go to a movie. Do you want to see the new Top Gun, Maverick?” Will responded with a flat “OK.” Logically, I knew that he was waking up and still half-asleep. However, I felt like I was disappointing him. I had planned an exciting guy adventure, and now I was offering Will a movie.
After Will woke up a bit, he helped me break down camp. I continued to yammer about the diner as I slid the key into Violet’s ignition and turned it. I checked the site one last time and pulled the van’s gear selector down and into drive. I slowly eased on the gas. Violet moved forward an inch and then got stuck. I tried to roll back and forth in a slow and deliberate way, but she wasn’t going to budge. I have recovery traction tracks in Violet’s garage, but they were locked behind her malfunctioning rear door. I had planned for a mud emergency, but I couldn’t get the tracks that I needed. It felt like Violet was sabotaging me. I quietly swore to myself as I consciously plastered a confident smile on my face. “It looks like we need some help,” I announced. Three major problems in short order, three strikes…were we out?
We walked back to the campground office, it was closed. I looked for the emergency phone numbers sheet that I saw when we checked in, but it was gone. Compulsive me had snapped a photo of the sheet the night before. I found the image and read off the numbers to Will. “Remember these numbers and repeat them back to me when I’m dialing,” I requested. Will nodded. I punched the digits into my iPhone and hit your green dial icon. The other end of the line picked up, and someone said, “Skillet Creek Campground.” I told the listener my dilemma, and he told me that he had a tow strap and that he would come out and help. Soon he was at our campsite, out of his pickup truck, and stretching out a tow strap from his hitch to Violet’s front bumper. Even with his friendly help, it took some effort to free Violet from the mud. Then we were back on the road heading out. Three misadventures in less than 24 hours. Violet’s back door broke, we had torrential rains that ended our hiking plans, and we had gotten stuck in the mud. Our father/son bonding trip was turning into a sh*t show.
The diner was less than 10 minutes away, and we were fortunate to find a parking spot directly in front of the establishment. Life was looking up. I have eaten at the Broadway Diner many times, but it was a first for William. After a short wait, we were seated in a back room booth. The first order of business was coffee. Our cheerful waitress was happy to comply, and the hot beverage elevated our mood. I really like the Broadway as it serves a traditional diner-type menu cooked with perfection. William ordered a breakfast combo, and I got chicken fried steak with eggs. Both portions were enormous and could potentially evoke a heart attack for anyone with a cholesterol count above 100. However, being campers, we savored every bite. Our conversations continued as we ate.
Adult children are a wonderful thing. At times you hear yourself in their thoughts, and at other times their opinions are completely contrary to yours. Will is intelligent and thoughtful, and having a conversation with him is both enjoyable and informative.
Will asked, “Dad, how would you feel if we saw a different movie?” I said, “What did you have in mind?” “Everything, Everywhere All At Once,” he offered. “I never heard of that movie,” I said. “One of my Twitter followers suggested it,” he said. “Do you have Twitter followers?” “Yes, I have quite a following,” he said. “Oh, I want to follow you,” I said enthusiastically. “Dad, we have to keep our boundaries,” Will retorted. ….Skunked again.
We found a theater in Madison that had an early afternoon viewing time for the movie. Madison was about 45 minutes away, but it was on the way home. As we piled into Violet, Will offered to get me a Coke Zero from Violet’s fridge. “Thanks,” I said as I took a sip of the cold syrupy beverage. I started her engine, plugged the theater’s address into my phone’s GPS, and pulled out. Our adventure continued.
On the way, William shared with me several Spotify playlists of Blues music. He had separated them into different categories like Mississippi Blues and Electric Blues. Will has an encyclopedic knowledge of music, and he was even able to describe the original album art to me. A Muddy Waters song started to play, and Will asked me, “Have you ever heard of Muddy Waters?” I said, “Not only have I heard of him, I saw him in concert.” Score one coolness point for dad!
We both enjoyed the movie, which was a comedy with a message. Its slapstick elements had me laughing out loud, but it was its message that impacted me the most. The movie centers on an Asian immigrant family that owns a laundromat. The mother gave up her family in China to marry her husband and move to America. She is a tiger mom, overly critical of her only daughter, and very dissatisfied with both her easy-going husband and her life.
Improbably, it is determined that she is the chosen one to save the multiverse (based on the real theory that there are an infinite number of parallel universes). She is given the ability to travel to her alternative lives. In some, she is rich and famous; in others, she is highly accomplished. All seem better than her current dull life with her financial woes, passive husband, and unsuccessful daughter. If she wished, she could switch to any of these lives, but she would have to give up what she currently has. Eventually, she realizes that she wants to stay in her own universe. It is far from perfect, but she accepts that life isn’t supposed to be perfect. She knows that there are things that she can do to make her life better, and she starts to understand that she has many good things in her life that she had previously taken for granted. We left the movie feeling lighter from all of our laughter. We felt just a tiny bit wiser. Our conversations continued as we drove into Illinois, past Rockford, and finally into Naperville.
A father and a son, two adults with similar yet different viewpoints and interests. Mike and Will driving down the highway while having both deep and silly conversations. Onward we traveled, wholly satisfied with our modified adventure, arriving home a bit early but happy. I turned to Will and flashed him a genuine smile. This is our universe, and I’m happy that we are in it. He nodded.