I’ve put off writing my final blog post for over a month. I was far too emotional when we got home to be able to put it all into words. And then I just wanted to hang onto some little part of our trip for as long as I could.
We left St. Joseph, MI to complete the final leg of our Great Loop and cross our wake on a beautiful sunny October Monday morning. After so many days of wind and crazy water the lake was gorgeous. It also happened to be my birthday, October 9th. I had been in tears on and off for days. Ben shows emotion differently but was also quite sad about finishing our loop. So many people ask if we are excited to be home, excited to see Chicago, excited to get back to our house. Not really. And that isn’t a knock on Chicago. We love the city, but we loved this trip so much. It’s been an amazing 13 1/2 months for our family and it was really hard to see it come to an end. Many of our boating friends felt the same when they arrived home. We knew it would be a big transition. But back to that Monday morning…. We pulled out of St. Joseph, MI and passed one of Lake Michigan’s beautiful lighthouses. Our white AGLCA flag flying for the last time!
Our trip across the lake was a lovely 5 hours. The girls and I did school work just like any Monday morning. And eventually Ben spotted the skyline. It’s always fun to pull into Chicago. The skyline is like no other and on a sunny calm day the water sparkles and the city is beautiful.
Molly and I managed to take a deep breath and stop crying as we approached Burnham Harbor. Ben made the turn into our harbor and we moved slowly down the fairway towards E dock.
As we approached we could see my mom and Uncle Bill standing at the end of our dock waving. The girls were sitting out front excited and waving back.
We pulled into a slip next to our friends Chris and Ozzie and were greeted with Welcome Home and Happy Birthday balloons flying all around from our friend Ron. We got tied up and were greeted by Chris, Ron, my mom, Jim and my Uncle Bill. It was so special to us that they were all there to welcome us home. It was sunny and warm and we hung on the dock visiting and chatting about our trip.
Before too long my friend Debbie and her kids Laurel and Nate arrived. Debbie showed up with a birthday cake! She’s too thoughtful….birthday was definitely second in importance to completing our loop, but it was fun to have candles and a cake and be sung to! I appreciated it lots. The kids had so much fun seeing their friends and having playmates for a couple of hours. Thanks Debbie!
Before my uncle, mom and Jim had to leave, we had to get our gold flag out! The girls were super excited to hold it up proudly.
After we said our goodbyes to them, the next round of friends arrived. Our very first Loop friends Tim and Carol drove in from the Nashville area for our crossing our wake. We met Tim and Carol on Day 2 of our trip in Joliet, IL. Turns out they had been staying in Burnham Harbor the day we left. We left on Monday morning and got to Joliet that afternoon. Tuesday the water levels and debris in the river were bad enough that boaters had been asked to stay put before heading south of Joliet so we hung out for the day. Tim and Carol arrived that afternoon, docked right behind us and introduced themselves immediately. They were so warm and genuine and friendly and we loved them right away. They held our hands and showed us the ropes as we traveled together for the next two weeks all the way to Green Turtle Bay in Grand Rivers, KY, where they crossed their wake. We then traveled home with them to Nashville and then onto their house in Hendersonville, TN for a big welcome home party. We made so many life long friends on this trip. Tim and Carol hold a special place in our hearts since they were our first friends! It was incredibly special of them to drive in to be there with us to celebrate.
An hour or so later our next round of friends arrived! We are so lucky. Gabi and John drove all the way from NJ straight through that day to be there with us in Chicago. We are so blessed to have met such amazing people on this trip. We met Gabi and John at Green Turtle Bay. They knew Tim and Carol already and caught up to our group a few days after we arrived. They also came to Nashville and Hendersonville and then after we all said goodbye to Tim and Carol we traveled back to Green Turtle Bay with them. Another set of fast friends! We were both delayed with repairs at Green Turtle so we spent quite a bit of time hanging out together. Gabi and John were on board with us when we had our prop strike in a swimming bay right there. John offered up their rental car and to drive with Ben all the way down to Mobile, AL to pick up our spare props and drop off the damaged ones. They spent an awesome 18 hours or so in the car that day. True friends! Gabi and John live in NJ, north of Atlantic City, but keep their boat in Madeira Beach in FL. So, we’ve had quite a few chances to catch up with them. We saw them a number of times when we were in FL and they invited us to come on their boat for one of the light parades last December. All of the friends we have met welcome our girls with open arms and treat them like their own. Gabi and John were no exception. The light parade was so much fun. Gabi took the girls for walks on the beach and to collect shells. And when we got to NJ this summer they brought us to their house, Gabi took the girls body surfing and they cooked us an amazing meal. It was equally special to have them come celebrate with us.
As daylight was waning we hopped out on the bow of the boat to hang our gold flag. We had planned to do it in the sunshine the next day but with a quick check of the forecast we saw it was going to rain the entire next day so we wanted to make sure to hang our flag when our friends were there with us. I’m sad to say that I didn’t get any pictures with them. They took pictures of us and I never turned the camera around.
We spent all of Tuesday visiting and catching up with our friends. We weren’t ready to face being home yet. But alas Wednesday came and we had to start tackling all of the things that needed attending at home. Wednesday and Thursday were spent dealing with cars, and starting to pack up the boat. Friday the good weather returned and we decided to take the day and soak it up. We got the bikes out and rode the lakefront path and let the kids play at one of the parks and just enjoyed the sunshine. Between moving off the boat, moving back into our house, trying to figure out if we are buying a different boat or keeping this one and putting it into winter storage, managing school, and preparing for a three week road trip we had ahead of us right around the corner our minds were somewhat scrambled and we were exhausted. It felt good to enjoy the sunshine and relax for a couple of hours. While sitting on a park bench while the girls played we decided to run the boat down to Dolton, IL that night. It was already around 4 pm but it’s a run through the Calumet River that Ben knows well and didn’t mind doing in the dark. We keep the boat in Dolton, IL for the winter and whether we were going to store or sell it, it was going there. It was our maiden (and so far only) voyage with our gold flag flying. It was a beautiful evening on the lake and rivers and an easy trip. Even though we started and finished our loop in Chicago, this felt like the final leg of our trip. This is where we could no longer put off moving home and cleaning out the fridges and freezer and cabinets and drawers and every nook and cranny we have filled this past year+.
Here began a very long week of unpacking and moving. And then sorting and cleaning at home. And then repacking. We didn’t quite have to face reality yet. We jumped in the car less than two weeks after we arrived home and drove to FL. We were headed down to celebrate my grandfather’s 100th birthday! We had a great week with my entire family. We decided to extend our trip and go to the Ft. Lauderdale boat show, look at a few other boats and see Ben’s aunt, uncle and cousin on the way home. We were lucky enough to visit and stay with Tim and Carol both on our drive down and our drive home. And we got to see Gabi and John for a couple of days in FL. Between family and friends, everyone knows how important the water is to us. Tim and Carol took us out on their boat on Old Hickory Lake. Our friends Mike and Leann let us use their boat in St. Pete Beach when we visited Gabi and John. And Ben’s aunt and uncle took us on their boat when we stopped to see them. The water and sunshine and sand and DOLPHINS were good for the soul.
Now we are home and working on what our next adventure will be. It’s hard to believe we’ve been back from the loop for a month. Ben, Molly and I miss the water terribly. Madelyn doesn’t like to admit it but she misses it too. We miss the beauty. We miss the simplicity of life. We miss the good weather. We miss the opportunities it offers us. And it made me smile when Madelyn leaned over to me in FL on Mike and Leann’s boat and said “isn’t it nice to be back on the water?” Yes, yes it was. And hopefully we will be back on the water soon!
Before I wrap up, I wanted to show two of our projects during the trip. The girls collected magnets almost everywhere we went. Both of them completely filled their magnet boards and we had to buy an additional one for the overflow. It makes my heart smile to look at those boards and see how many adventures they have been able to experience. It’s amazing to look back and see how many places we’ve been. The other project was our Great Loop map. I’ve posted pictures of it a few times along the way. We put our final flag on and completed the loop. It was a fun project for the girls and is such a fantastic graphical visual of everywhere we went. Not to mention a great geography lesson! Thank you Tim and Carol for the idea. Way back in September of 2016, Carol let Molly and Madelyn pin their FINAL flag on their map the night they crossed their wake. That night we decided we were doing the same thing. And now ours is also complete and will remain a special keepsake from this trip.
I don’t have a good or poetic way to end this final blog post. This year was the trip of a lifetime for all of us. Ben and I thank each and every one of you that supported us, missed us, visited us, became our new friends, stayed our old and dear friends, stuck with us while we were gone, helped out at home, read all my and his crazy long blog posts, befriended Molly and Madelyn, and the list goes on. Each and every one of you helped make our Great Loop an incredible and life changing experience. Hopefully we’ll see you on the water soon.