Back in the early 1980s, after we moved to Michigan, I made my wife Cheryl a promise that we would get to someplace warmer for the winter when we retired. I assumed we would just move to a different place, and we started researching our options. I remember making a big spreadsheet comparing places on average winter temperature, access to nearby cultural options, access to medical care, how walkable, etc. And we even made a long weekend trip to one place, Lexington, Kentucky to check it out. But we kept coming back to the fact that we loved where we were nine months of the year. So started to think maybe we would get an RV and just go south for the winter, and stay in our home the rest of the time. But RVs are not cheap, and we did not want to make a very expensive mistake. Spending thousands of dollars only to discover that we hated it would be bad.
So we decided that we needed to try it out first. Cheryl found that there were listings on AirBnB for RVs, and there was one in Northern Michigan that looked promising. It was in Suttons Bay, just north of Traverse City. The RV was stationary, but came with water, electric, sewer, and WiFi, which are all the things you look for in an RV campground. We rented the RV for a week, packed our bags and our bicycles, and headed north. Our friend Jo had family in the area that she wanted to visit, so she came with us before heading off to see her family.
This was just a travel day. Suttons Bay is only about 4.5 hours from where we live, but we also planned to stop along the way and do some grocery shopping. So packing, driving, and shopping meant it was late afternoon when we arrived. We used the code they gave us to get the key, unlocked the door, and checked out our home for the next week. It was a pretty basic travel trailer, made to be bumper-pulled by a truck, with a master bedroom with a queen bed, a kitchen/living room/dinette, a bathroom, and a back room with bunk beds. I’m guessing it was about 25 feet long. There was a wooden deck outside with a grill. So we got as comfy as we could and fired up the grill to make dinner. When we went to bed, it was a reasonable bed, but I think Jo suffered a little with the bunk.
We started off by going into the town and checking out the harbor. Coming from Massachusetts, both Cheryl and I found this very familiar, but we enjoyed walking around and getting to know it better. After lunch, we headed to Sleeping Bear Dunes, which is a National Seashore, but those are also included in our National Parks passes (as are National Monuments, and lots of other things. Getting those passes was fantastic.) When you enter the park you are top of the massive dunes, and there are signs warning against going down them, as getting back up will long and arduous. We deicded to take their advice and stayed on top. I wore sandals because getting sand in my shoes is not something I like. After the visiting the dunes, Jo left us and headed off to visit her family.
Today we got out our bikes and investigated the Rails to Trails path from Suttons Bay to Traverse City. These are a great idea where they take old abandoned rail lines and turn them into paths for people to bicycle. This one was very well maintained, and they even had a few stations along the way with port-o-potties, and one with water. The port-o-potties were gratefully received by us, but we fill our water bottles before heading out when we cycle so we didn’t need the water. We only went part of the way because Traverse City is about 17 miles away from Suttons Bay, and however far you go, you need to go back the same distance. So we went about half-way to Traverse City and then turned around. We enjoyed the ride, and scenery was nice too. We saw vineyards and what we think may have been hops farms on the way.
Later, I was talking to a co-worker at Ford about this trip and mentioned how much we loved this trail, and he told me that he and his family were involved in making it happen!
We learned that there is a shuttle bus between Traverse City and Suttons Bay that is specifically designed to take cyclists with their bikes. What a great idea! So we decided to go back to the Rails to Trails path, and this time go all the way into Traverse City. It was a very nice ride, and as we approached Traverse City we found a reminder of the trail’s past in the form of a caboose that had become an office. We checked out the harbor, then rode to the bus station, where we were able to put our bikes in a rack and lock them. Then we walked around the downtown a little, and found a restaurant to get some refreshment. Finally, we went back to the station and bought our tickets, and took the shuttle back to Suttons Bay. We again made dinner on the grill, as we had each night. Cheryl had purchased a box set of Rock’n’Roll Hall of Fame videos for entertainment, and we had watched one before the DVD player pretty much stopped working, so now we used the WiFi to find things on our phones or tablets to keep entertained.
We decided to check out the Leelanau State Park, which is on the northernr tip of the peninsula. Since we had purchased the State Parks pass when we renewed our car registrations, we got in for free. We started out at the Lighthouse, which is a museum to how the lighthouse keepers and their families lived back in the day. We climbed up top and had a nice view, then came back down to check out the beach. When we had finished with the lighthouse, we drove a little way down the park road to the Hiking Trailhead. The trail takes you through the woods until you eventually reach an observation platform overlooking Lake Michigan. This was a very pleasant hike and we enjoyed it. Then we went back to Suttons Bay. As a change of pace, we decided not to use the grill for dinner, but instead went into town where got dinner at a restaurant that had outdoor seating and also provided musical entertainment. The fare was the usual burgers and such, but it was very relaxing.
Today we loaded up the bikes and drove to a parking spot on the road along the lake shore, where we got the bikes off and road to Sleeping Bear Dunes. The road followed the lake shore, so we got to stop frequently at beaches on the way, until we got to the Sleeping Bear Dunes. The place we reached would have put us at the bottom of the dunes had we entered, but instead we turned around and rode back to our car. Then it was back to Suttons Bay and the RV.
Our last full day in Suttons Bay. We did one more ride along a different part of the lakeshore, which was very enjoyable. Then we went into Traverse City for what was planned to be an evening dinner cruise out of the harbor, but unfortunately the weather would not cooperate and the cruise was canceled. Still, it was not a bad day, we just missed out on something we would have enjoyed doing.
We cleaned up the RV, trying to leave it the way we found it. Later in the review by the owner, we found that they appreciated it, and that we did better than most people in that regard.
The trip was a lot of fun. Bike riding and hiking are two things we really enjoy, and we got to do a lot in one week. Aside from Friday night, the weather was great for us all week. And we decided that we could really live in an RV for weeks or months at a time, and also we refined our list of things we would like or not like to have in an RV. It was a great way to “try before you buy”, and we would recommend it to anyone who is thinking of purchasing an RV.