© 2017 by Lauren Wiatrek - Austin, TX
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Reclaiming The Summer Cancer Stole From Me Part 4

14.08.2018

9th Stop: Wheeler Road

 

As we winded back through the tunnel of trees toward Traverse City, we decided to explore some uncharted territory up Mission Peninsula. It was time for a stop and we quickly spotted a brewery tucked amongst the tall trees beside the gorgeous lake. We walked in and got a few local brews, the girls danced on the softest grass and we smiled with God’s glory all around us. It was a happy moment.

 

We got hints of the Cherry Festival, the gargantuan festival this region has every year around the 4th of July. We spotted the crystal blue lake and feelings of excitement bubbled in our bellies as we turned on to M22 heading toward Maple City. This place held so many childhood memories for me…the place I truly grew up as a kid.

 

 

I dreamed of the days I would be able to bring my own family up here to enjoy the magic held in the cherry trees, the turquoise waters and Petoskey stones. My dreams started unfolding into reality as we made our way closer and closer to Wheeler Road.

 

We pulled into my aunt and uncle’s serene home tucked between maple and pine trees. Suddenly their simple cottage appeared and my heart swelled… this place was my happy place. We greeted our goofy Uncle Joe, gorgeously humble, Aunt Jenn and unloaded our car. After getting settled into our room for the next 12 days we decided to make our way to the beach.

 

Port Oneida was settled beyond 50 sandy steps and opened to the vast Lake Michigan…it takes your breath away, waters that were comparative to the Caribbean, with the Manitou Islands off in the distance. I dipped my toes into the chilly, yet rejuvenating waters and once again thanked God for my life to be able to enjoy this spectacular, hidden gem. I watched my daughters submerge themselves carelessly, blissfully into the cold water and emerge with smiles from ear to ear.

 

My heart felt like it could hardly contain the happiness booming in my chest.

 

The next day my beautiful momma arrived, after weeks away from her it was wonderful to see her smiling face. This too is her happy place. For the woman who never sits down, here in this slice of Heaven, she sits… she embraces the serenity all around and lets it refresh her soul.

 

 

We enjoyed the wineries sprinkled all along the Leelanau Peninsula, from pinot noir grape Rośe, Pinot Gris, cherry wine and of course, Chardonnay. We toasted to our vacation in such a special place feeling so blessed the masses haven’t yet discovered this spectacular hideaway. We sipped and smiled, letting go of our worries, our strife, our battles, our frustrations, and embracing the shining sun, our company and our libations.

 

The next day was our 7th anniversary, Evan and I requested a day to be together sans kids. We left after a cup of coffee and headed up the peninsula. Our first stop for breakfast was in Suttens Bay, I enjoyed an iced coffee on an increasingly warm day along with locally made cherry bread topped with pesto, sautéed mushrooms, leeks and over easy eggs and freshly grated parmesan with home fries. It was delicious. We wandered around Suttens Bay, then drove up the peninsula on our mini wine tour. We stopped at French Oak Winery tucked next to the breathtakingly beautiful blue lake, we sipped some chardonnay and decided we needed a bottle. We then drove up and enjoyed a few more wineries among the cherry trees.

 

We basked in the sunny day just the two of us, thinking how far we had come as a couple.

 

We made our way up to Northport and stopped for lunch chowing on smoked whitefish dip and the Lake Michigan salad. Then enjoying The Mitten Brewery… Evan always exploring the IPAs and me always leaning toward the seasonal beers. We met a lovely couple who moved up north and started a lavender farm, she ran out to her car to bring me some of the lovely lavender she grows, it smelled fantastic.

 

 

After that we wanted to find a beach, we were pointed to one with a mile walk in the forest. We walked hand in hand, remembering each one of our anniversaries and talking about our gorgeous girls.

 

The forest finally opened up to sandy dunes and the sound of waves.

 

We walked over a dune hill and the sight of the beach took our breath away. I think we could look at Lake Michigan coast a million times and never get tired of the view. We decided to enjoy our time and walk into the waters, letting our skin soak up the cold, revitalizing water… holding hands and letting the waves wash over us. We looked into each other’s eyes feeling so grateful to be where we were… releasing the memories… the terrifying moments from the past year, allowing the waters to drift our unbearable fears far away. We embraced each other, holding tight making a promise to never let go. Then we headed to Leland for dinner, we ordered whitefish and enjoyed the view of the historic Fishing town then wandering down the road for quintessential ice cream on the beach, watching the sunset as the waves crashed down on the golden sand. We drove back to the cottage in the dark, feeling like our cups had been filled.

 

We drove up to greet more family members arriving for our family reunion. Giving big hugs and the watching the kids run around the yard chasing after fireflies, our hearts filled even more.

 

In the following days, we were transported to Northern Michigan time, where we all stayed up into the wee hours of twilight, then slept into the late hours of the morning, things moved slowly.

 

 

It took a few days to accept the pace, but eventually it became an instant relaxant, knowing that no one was in a hurry…that we were all there to enjoy our surroundings and each other. We drank hot coffee on the porch, breakfast was served around 9 or 10 and then we packed up lunches and got ready for the beach. Each day we explored a new beach, the kids running along the beach with sandy bums and smiles in their eyes… living their best life alongside their cousins, best friends for life.

 

 

After the days at the beach, turned into porch side chats, fireside chats roasting marshmallows, talks that lasted deep into the night, trying to get caught up on all the moments of life in between our family gatherings.

 

The 4th of July more family arrived in the evening and we dined on lasagna and salad with wildflowers adorning each table, picked by the blonde haired, blue eyed girls who had grown inseparable on this trip. We ended the night with our own personal firework show, s’mores and cocktails.

 

Our family reunion commenced on the 5th of July with 27 people in tow, my mom’s entire side of her immediate family was together. We started the afternoon with the dune climb… which is a feat I try to conquer each time we are back in Glen Arbor. This year however was different…

 

 

The dune climb meant so much more than getting sandy, breathing hard, and sore legs. I had demons to conquer. 

 

The carefree run down the steep dune and the strenuous climb up represented me pushing myself farther than I could ever imagine. It meant meeting God on that climb and thanking him for my strength, for my body, for my willpower to push through all I faced over the past year.

It was more than pride, it was a challenge, a mountain I had to climb for myself by myself.

 

 

The view was breathtaking… just witnessing God’s creation was enough reason to keep going. I made it down and back to the top in 25 minutes. It can take people 2 hours. I was sandy, tired, and breathless…but I did it. I conquered the demon within that tries to tell me I can’t.

 

When we arrived back at the cottage more family members arrived. After our bear hugs, we packed up for our much-awaited beach dinner night. Our amazing moms thought of it all, we caravanned down to the perfect beach spot. We unloaded and spread out… all 27 of us… ti was quite a sight to behold and my heart warmed...grandmas, uncles, aunts, cousins, grandkids…from ages 63 to 2, altogether on the most incredible beach. We swam, played, built sandcastles, talked, hugged, cried, laughed, rode paddleboards, drifted in innertubes… we soaked up every moment of the afternoon.

 

At one point when we were all gathered on the beachside, a magical moment unfolded. I had expressed my interest in being baptized (again) by my uncle in the rejuvenating waters of Lake Michigan with all my mom’s family as witnesses.

 

My younger cousin, Jake heard of my interest and decided to also be baptized. My Uncle Jeff called him into the water and baptized Jacob. We all were so proud of him for choosing this beautiful day to reaffirm his faith in Jesus Christ. Then Uncle Jeff called me into the invigorating waters, in my bright, yellow dress, I had a moment to share my journey of my faith and how crucial and uplifting it has been for me to strengthen my faith in Jesus Christ over the last 13 months.

 

 

My Uncle dipped me into the cold water and I immediately felt peace and joy rush over my body. I emerged from the great lake and had a huge smile on my face. My incredible family started singing “Amazing Grace” as we all stood in the renewing waters. Family pictures followed as we were all gathered together on this joyous day surrounded by God’s masterpiece. I couldn't of pictured a better moment. 

 

 

We had our infamous meal of brats and bagels by the fire with waves crashing upon the shore.

 

We cuddled in our sweatshirts and blankets, all dried off from our gallivanting in the chilly water. After watching the gorgeous sunset behind Manitou Island, we decided to pack up before the night fell completely.

 

A group of cousins decided to continue the tradition of midnight capture the flag on the sand dunes, we drove out in total blackness hearing the beats laid down by the youngest Chudy brother, and then stepped out of the car to the most magnificent sky of stars. I could clearly see the milky way, it was amazing. We played the competitive game of capture the flag, laughing and running on the sand with only the guidance of sparkling stars in the sky… the moon nowhere to be found. We played five games and headed back home, after staying up into the wee hours of the morning we called it a night and all climbed into our beds to rest.

 

It was a fun morning, catching up with everyone before our quick family reunion would come to an end. We soaked up each moment together. After breakfast, the first Chudy van headed south after big hugs and talks of the next reunion. The next Chudy van left later that afternoon.

 

One night we decided to have a movie night on the lawn, we hooked up a giant TV outside starring Mary Poppins … it was a perfect sight… all the littles gathered on cozy blankets, in jammies with “Just a Spoon Full of Sugar” serenading them into the night. It seemed like the perfect summer night.

 

 

Our stay finally came to an end… tears pricked at my eyes… this cottage on the five acres, tucked between maple and pine trees held so many childhood memories, now unfolded into adult dreams watching my children and their childhood unfold before my eyes.

 

This place held my happy place. Each time I came up here, my heart filled with joy. Being with my family and drinking coffee on the porch, feeling the Northern breeze blow my now growing hair about, sitting in the kitchen watching my mom and her sister laugh and cook, standing in the soft grass and watching my family in different sections of the yard talking about life.

 

All of it, every detail… every decoration of the cottage fills my cup. It is the one place my mom, who never sits, sits. It is the one place that I can exhale and unplug. It is the one place, I feel at home in my heart of hearts. Saying “see you later” made my heart drop. This simple cottage holds so much, for so many people. Our escape from the cruel, fearful world. It gives us peace, hope, joy and happiness.

 

We pulled out of the driveway after hugging the last cousins staying a bit longer. We set our GPS for Minnesota, and started on our way.

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