We are Michiganders. Michiganders live for their summers. Sunsets over Lake Michigan. Tubing behind boats on inland lakes. Biking on a rails to trails park.
I prefer the Fall. Sipping a hot cup of coffee while driving my old Jeep topless through radiant trees blazing in fall colors? Better than any summer beach day.
How About We Go To…
I’d mention Pictured Rocks to neighbors and it was like everyone else had already been there. And loved it. Their response was always a reverent “Oh yes, it’s beautiful up there.”
We had kayaks. We could have that experience for ourselves. We’d see a new part of our home state. And get some gorgeous photos. It would be awesome.
But Then Again…
We’d pencil a visit in on the calendar.
But each year something came up. The schedule wouldn’t work. The weather had turned sour. Something.
We’d flip the pencil and erase the plan.
I Still Want To Though
My expectations though? Not so easily erased. The desire to visit the Upper Peninsula and The Pictured Rocks persisted in the back of my head.
And grew with each new billboard.
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After too many times erasing the fall plans we got the chance to visit the UP of Michigan. And Pictured Rocks.
We no longer had the kayaks (a casualty of downsizing RVs). Instead, we took a guided boat tour.
The day was gorgeous - sunny and warm. There was fall color in the trees. Not the full-on peak color yet but hints of yellows, reds and oranges if you looked for them.
We lined up early. We got the seats we wanted on the boat - upper deck, right side. We chatted with the people around us as we motored out of the bay. We smiled obligingly at the captain’s well-rehearsed jokes over the PA system.
Once at the Rocks themselves we took photos. We listened to the history of the formations. Looked at the colors in them. Watched as other boaters and kayakers floated along the shoreline. Spotted bald eagles soaring high over the trees that crowd close to the rocky edge.
The boat trip ended. We showered, found a spot for the night, got some food, and had the chance to reflect on our day.
Was It All That?
I had this nagging feeling I couldn’t shake. Then MsBoyink asked “So, were the Pictured Rocks all that for you?”
And I had to say “No”. She agreed.
I don’t know what it was. Maybe I expected more fall color. Maybe I expected our tour to have the grand, majestic, sentimental feeling of the TV ads. Maybe I expected more arches. Or more color in the rocks.
Whatever it was, the experience didn’t live up to the expectations I had built up over the last seven years. The Pictured Rocks hadn’t impressed me like the Grand Canyon, Niagara Falls, or the Painted Desert.
Worry set in.
Have we become jaded travelers?
Have we seen too many National Parks? Too many mountains? Too many deserts? Are we impossible to impress?
The expected highlight of our trip had disappointed. What now?
We didn’t have to be anywhere for a week. We pressed on.
One of the brochures we picked up along the way mentioned “Canyon Falls”. They were on our route. I’d never heard of them. They weren’t a National Monument or State Park. They didn’t have a dedicated trailhead. You had to find an unremarkable roadside park and hike from there.
OK, might as well.
It was a chilly day. We’d see the sun for a few minutes, then it would cloud over and rain. We found the roadside park, grabbed sweatshirts and found the trail.
And had one of the most enjoyable hikes in our seven years on the road.
We skirted muddy spots, picked our steps through tree roots, and hopped from rock to rock - all through colorful trees.
I’m not sure there is a prettier spot in all of Michigan.
There isn’t one main waterfall but rather a mile of river slipping over rockbeds, crashing against flat 30’ high rock walls, curling around corners, and splitting around rock islands. Moss, lichen, ferns, and trees line banks of the river.
I can’t believe I have been a Michigander all my life and haven’t heard of this place. We spent blissful hours walking, photographing, and taking in each new view. If we saw nothing else the entire trip into the UP this hike made it worthwhile.
Bust and Boom
Two stops on a road trip.
One a letdown. The other left us gushing on social media.
What’s the difference?
I had high expectations for Pictured Rocks. Between the years waiting to get there, the TV ads, the print ads, the industry around them, and comments from others, I expected to be blown away by their beauty. The actual experience never had a chance of measuring up to that.
And Canyon Falls?
I’d never heard of them. There is no visitor center or gift shop. The few photos I saw beforehand made them look small. I expected to walk 5 minutes to a viewing platform, snap a photo, and head back to the van.
With no expectations going in it was easy for the reality of the experience to impress us.
You Need Some, But…
Expectations are a funny thing.
Without some expectations you would never ditch. For all of the effort it takes to uproot a suburban life, a ditched life better have some benefits otherwise why bother?
All of our efforts on DitchingSuburbia.com feed your expectations. For better or worse. The way I described Canyon Falls just now affected your expectations of the place.
Our brains adjust the value we see in something based on how much we expect others value it.ScientificAmerican.com
But let those expectations get too detailed, too specific and they become a prelude to failure:
Because there’s only the moment you’re in, and when you just enjoy it for what it is, not what you expect it to be, it can never disappoint you.
After seven years, we are still learning. Learning to find out enough about a place or experience to know it would interest us enough to stop, but not so much that our expectations are too high. Learning to appreciate each moment for what it is.
How About You?
I’m curious - what places didn’t live up to your expectations? And what places surprised you? Hit “reply” and let me know.
And for a good chuckle - check out this post from the Matador network that clearly shows the differences between travel expectations and reality.