Labor Day Weekend Outdoors With the Family

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I just have to start this with, what an absolutely amazing Labor Day weekend this has been!  I am such a lucky man.  How did I become so fortunate to have such an amazing family?  I wouldn’t trade this for anything.  I have the most beautiful wife in the galaxy, the most gorgeous daughters anyone has ever seen, and the most incredible beagle a man could ask for.  Just a heads up, lots and lots of photos in this entry.  I couldn’t help it.

This Labor Day weekend, 2017, has been a blessing from the moment I got home from work on Saturday (yeah, had to work Saturday).  I’m going to start with Sunday’s plans, were to spend the day at the lake house with my wife’s side of the family, but we decided to take a little detour, just the 5 of us, on the way there.  We decided to stop at Independence Oaks County Park in Clarkston, Michigan for about an hour and a half on our way to the cottage.  What a great idea, as the clouds cleared up and the sun started to peak out just about as soon as we pulled in the park.

I was so happy to share my outdoor passion with the ones I hold dearest, my family. What more could I ask for than starting the day at someplace new, someplace we’ve never been, someplace beautiful and peaceful to sit back, relax, enjoy the cool breeze on one of the last few days of the summer season?  By the way, my 6 year old daughter starts first grade on Tuesday, so back to the grind for her.  My amazing, talented, beautiful wife has also been planning our other daughter’s first birthday, coming up in less than 2 months.  So, a weekend to unwind was necessary.

We began our little journey on the eastern shore of Crooked Lake, located smack dab in the middle of Oakland County’s largest county park.  They have done such a superb job at keeping this park clean and beautiful.  The lake was pristine, and there were multiple newly constructed docks and canoe/kayak launches.  The few picnic areas that we passed by and drove through were kept tidy and welcoming, with beautifully placed flora and picnic shelters with gazebos and benches to relax and enjoy the view.  My only personal grievance is it seemed a little too staged for me.  Besides the lake itself, everything appeared to be perfectly placed, landscaped, constructed, and unnatural on this side of the park.

See, I am a more natural kind of guy.  I enjoy the outdoors, but want to be out in the open and enjoy nature the way it was intended to be, grown not built.  That’s okay though, as I am sure many others prefer things to be placed perfectly, and there is nothing wrong with that.  Props to the people who spent the time and energy to plan it out and execute. I wasn’t complaining about the time I was able to spend with the loves of my life.

After a short walk along the eastern lake shore, we packed ourselves back in the truck and decided to drive around the northern side of the lake to where the nature center and trails were.  We knew we didn’t have a lot of time, so my 6 year old and I hopped out, made a quick hop and a skip across the foot bridge and over to check out the sensory garden by the nature center.  It was beautifully constructed, and we were able to catch a glimpse of a few frogs in the pond.

Back across the foot bridge, and before we were noticed by Mom, we snuck across the parking lot to the trailhead.  The majority of the trails were paved, but we were able to come across an unpaved one, and decided to explore a bit.  The trail was very well kept, wide enough for 5 or 6 people to walk hand in hand.  I was about to turn back, when I noticed over the hill was another foot bridge which appeared to be going over a small wetland area, headed toward a large hill and up into the woods.  We agreed to continue across the bridge and just see what the trail looked like at the beginning of the ascent up the wooded hillside.  It appeared to get more natural the further we walked, and Abby and I agreed to put this one on our list of ones to further explore in the future, as we didn’t want to leave Mom and Allie and Kacy in the truck for much longer.

It was worth the visit, and definitely someplace we would return another day.  On to the lake house we go to see the rest of the family.  It’s always a good time when the family gets together, especially on the lake.  Good eats, great company, great conversation. Grandma was even kind enough to keep an eye on the kids while my wife and I enjoyed a leisurely paddle on the lake with the kayaks.  I love being able to spend some quality alone time with my wonderful wife, Jackie.  Especially since we don’t get to do it very often, and also when we get to spend our time together outdoors.  We laughed together, talked about planning our daughter’s first birthday, and being amazed at how quickly our children are growing up.

After the kayak trip, we headed back to the cottage, enjoyed a boat ride while pulling the kids on the tube behind, and just enjoyed the remainder of the evening before heading home ourselves for the night, as we had plans the next evening with my side of the family for a barbecue at my parents’ house.

As I awoke Monday morning, I knew that we didn’t have to be at my parents’ house until 4 pm, so I was hoping to get in a hike that morning.  Being quiet and not awaking my wife and little one, I snuck into Abby’s room, and nudged her, asking if she wanted to go for a hike with me.  She was startled slightly from her slumber and just asked me to let her sleep in longer.  I agreed, and began to prepare myself for my own little hike.  As I was gathering my things, not even 5 minutes later, she came up to me, gave me a gigantic hug and said, “Daddy, I want to hiking with you.”  My eyes lit up, and was ecstatic to tell her to quietly get dressed, grab her shoes and hoodie, and we would be out the door in no time.

My original plan was to check out a trail in a small park in Royal Oak called Tenhave Woods, so this is where we headed.  I had driven by on my bike many times and never noticed it was even there, but the internet comes to the rescue once again to introduce me to this little gem in the suburbs of Detroit.  Not very large, at just 22 acres, Tenhave is a fenced in nature park with turnstiles to enter.  No bikes or dogs are allowed, keeping it strictly for hikers.  We were lucky enough to be the only people here at this time.

It was very nice, pleasant even, and a great start to the morning.  We took plenty of photos, saw a butterfly and caught a glimpse of a chipmunk as we hiked down the many paths created using downed trees throughout the little gated oasis of nature in the middle of the suburbs.  It made us feel as though we were deep in woods.  We came to a small pond for a quick rest and drink of water, as we discussed heading to Burger King for breakfast Croissan’wiches.

As we were ordering our breakfast, Abby tugs on my sleeve and asks, “Daddy, can we do another hike after we eat?”  I knew that we hadn’t spent that much of the day on the first hike, and still had plenty of time before we needed to be back home to grab the rest of our crew and head to my parents’ house, so a large smile grew on my face and agreed to a second hike.  We ate our breakfast while searching online, and I came across a thread that ranted and raved about the trails at Proud Lake Recreation Area in Commerce Township.

After seeing some photos online, she jumped up and down in her seat at Burger King and stated she wanted to go hiking there.  I warned her that it was a bit of a drive to get there, and it would be a much longer hike.  She didn’t care one single bit and excitedly said let’s do it.  So we quickly finished up our breakfast and took the drive out there.

As soon as we pulled off of Wixom Road and onto the State Park drive, tall pines lined the dirt road to the parking lot at the trailhead.  I could see Abby’s eyes light up in the rear view mirror, and could tell she was ready for an adventure with her daddy.  We parked the truck, filled up our water bottles, tightened up our shoelaces (or Velcro straps in her case) and walked over to the sign and took a quick photo of the trail map.  I could see that it would be quite a hike to get over to the end of the trails at Bass Lake, and she assured me that she would be good enough to hike the whole way, and on we trekked.

The trails were just what I loved, sandy, rocky, skinny, deep in the woods, and not professionally landscaped.  I could see that she was excited as I, as she grabbed a walking stick and began pointing out different flowers, finding acorns, and exclaiming how beautiful it was.  And oh how beautiful it was.  We had amazing conversations as we had quite a long ways to go on our little adventure together.  We came across the wetlands and small lake, and I couldn’t help but take photos of her and I in such a gorgeous piece of land in southern Michigan.

After looping around the outer trails, we came to a bridge crossing over the Huron River where kayakers were portaging over to continue their river trip.  Abby wanted to touch the water and rest, as I continued shooting the camera.  We continued on our journey after our break, and on we continued through the woods and enjoying the peaceful sounds of nature.

Now, understand that she is still only 6 years old, and began to slow down a bit, which I happily agreed to slow down myself as I was in heaven being able to share my passion for the outdoors with my daughter.  There were even some times that I had agreed to carry her on my shoulders, as I’m not quite sure how much longer I will be able to do, since she is growing so quickly.  After arriving at Bass Lake, and taking a much needed 2 minute relax break, we had to turn around and go back, but we agreed to take different trail routes on the way back.

We had been hiking for hours, and I knew that we had hiked quite a ways, as my feet were even beginning to tire.  I was so proud of how she handled the trek.  The best part of the whole thing was the conversations we had, and how she kept on saying how much she enjoyed hiking with me and was looking forward to many more hikes.  This made me such a proud dad, and made me so happy that my daughter is experiencing and enjoying the outdoors as much as myself.

When we arrived back at the truck, thirsty and tired, I looked up the trail map online, and found that we had just hiked 5.75 miles, and she took it like a champ.  I began to do a little dance in the front seat, and realized that she would be ready for longer trails.  I agreed to soon take her to the store to get her her own pair of hiking boots, and we would soon sit down and discuss where our next hiking adventure would be.

Just a little fun ending to our adventure, as we were getting back to the truck from the trail, she told me she wasn’t even tired.  I rolled my eyes at her and said, “okay, whatever.”  Not long down the road, I looked in the rear view mirror and caught her with her head tilted and eyes closed and had to catch a quick memoir to show her later. What an amazing day!

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