Up North Michigan Travel Diary

photos + videography by © Suzanne Spiegoski 

My Up North Michigan Travel Vlog is now live! Come read my personal story about this travel adventure down below! Don't forget to subscribe to our MaQ + Suz channel! xoxo.

Hi everyone! Apologies for my absence around my blog. I have been working tirelessly on this travel post on top of other upcoming projects and getting what seemed to be a nasty head cold at first, only to backfire (no matter how hard I tried to fight it) and is now a full-blown respiratory infection. Alas, for my serious case of MIA at events this week. I've coughed up a lung and have been expelling excessive amounts of that icky sticky mucus. GROSS. Regardless of how I've been feeling, I just couldn't wait to share this story with you guys! 

This isn't only a travel diary, but more than anything else, a deep and personal journey. One I've been meaning to take for over four years, but never conjured the strength to face my demons. To release the ghosts. When my father passed away in 2012, it had severed family ties for reasons I won't mention. (Not for my sake but for theirs.) #StayGracious. I hadn't spoken with my brother, BJ (Benjamin James), since our Dad's death. I tried everything to reach him. Phone calls, Facebook messages, texts, gifts, even written letters - but nothing seemed to affect him. I was heartbroken. Throughout these years, I never stopped thinking about him. I never gave up on him, even when our own family had. And time really does heal all wounds. Not completely. There'll always remain a scar. But with that time, I began to, more and more, miss home. Michigan is not a safe haven for me. Never was. But its pure beauty is what I missed most. Its clear blue skies, dirt country roads, the sweet smell from the fruit orchards in the summer; friends. I finally was compelled to do something about this, even though it scared the living daylights out of me. Why? Fear of the unknown. All the coulda, shoulda, woulda's raced through my mind. 'Will BJ be happy to see me?' 'What if I don't feel like I am home?' 'Would my friends even care if I was in town?' The perks of being an anxious one. 

And so, like a total crazy person, I took a leap of faith and booked a flight out. Boy, was I nervous. I didn't know what to expect, but what I did know was the very few people and places I had to visit. I flew into Detroit, where I spent most of my childhood, and right from there after picking up the car rental, I drove straight to my parents' gravesite. I HAD TO SEE THEM. Far, far, far overdue. I refused to cry because I wanted to stay strong for the following days to come, as I was taking a 4-hr drive the next day to 'maybe' see my brother, BJ. What do I mean by maybe? I'll get to that soon. After spending time with my mother and father, I ventured to my next stop: My childhood home. I hadn't visited that area in nearly ten years, and really wanted to go back and see my roots, where I came from and how far I've come. I knocked on the door and a kind Arabic man agreed to let me see the inside of the house, including the backyard. If felt the same, this haunting, lingering aura lurked in the air. You can see in the beginning of the pictures (from above), a large pink rose bush that's dead center in front of the house. I bought that rose bush when I was just a little girl, maybe 9 or 10 years of age, and the rose bush was the size of my fist! I couldn't believe that it kept coming back up every season, after so many years. And how big it's gotten! My mother's green thumb didn't just stop there either. Her flowers still bud up every year in the backyard, so much so, that some of the bulbs even shifted under the earth to her next door neighbor's, her best friend! Afterward I had to stop by and surprise her as well, where we sat and talked for hours about family and life. I am thankful for her love and support through the years. 

I was also able to see two of my closest girlfriends. A lifelong childhood friend which whom I stayed with during my first night in D-Town and my college best friend, who I met halfway up in St. Clair Shores for an early dinner right off the marina at Mike's On the Water Grill. Opening in 2011, its 1960s/70s burger joint, Key West decor will have you immediately feeling cool, cozy and comfortable. With an outside deck overlooking the water, you can sit down and enjoy lobster rolls and fish tacos with a mighty fine frozen cocktail. You can ever ride your boat in for dinner, as they have their own deck staff to assist you with tying up your boat. It was so great to catch up. I hadn't seen my college best friend since she's gotten married! I just love it when you can pick up right where you left off and it's like nothing has changed, even though it has. Loyalty is hard to come by these days, and I'm lucky my longtime friends are just that. Love you girls!

The following morning I got an early start on the road to embark my continuing journey of trying to reconnect with my brother. All I had was his last known address and phone number, and a couple of his buddies contact info. I could have asked my estranged family for his most recent info, but what for? Not once have they called either of us since both of our parents have gone. My only focus was on my brother. Because he's all the family I got left. My heart started to race when I walked up to his last known address. I knocked on the door twice only to take a quick peek around back. Nothing. Then I see the next door neighbors leaving their house. I run up to a Hispanic man and start asking questions about my brother. First he tells me he's moved to another apartment. Then he tells me he has no idea where. I become discouraged only to once again become excited when I overhear his wife say she knows where he's located. They start talking in Spanish, too fast for me to translate. Then the woman says her husband will take me to my brother! We get in the car, only then I start to think, 'Wow, nutso. You're letting this strange man into your car and you're out here in the middle of nowhere all by yourself.' NO. I tell my 'bully-voice (as I call it), to piss off. I had faith in this man for some peculiar reason. It felt right. 

We drive a couple of minutes only to be misled to the wrong house. Refusing to give up, I approach two homeboys chilling around the house I just knocked on. 'You know BJ? Asian? Really hard to miss? Ha ha?' They respond, 'Oh, yeah! You JUSSSSSST missed him. By like one minute.' I ask if they knew where he had gone. They point and tell me right down the road. So me and the Hispanic man (I unfortunately never got his name amidst the chaos) hop back into the car and race down the street to try and catch my brother. We spot him and I pull over and start honking like a madwoman. He nonchalantly takes a halfway glimpse only to keep walking further. I honk once more, only this time shouting, 'HEYYYYY!' Now he does a 180. His squinty eyes are trying to compute what's happening, then immediately he drops his jaw to the floor. I rushed out of the car and hugged him with all I had. It was by far the most perfect reunion ever. Like it was meant to be. He never hugged me so tight either. 

We spent the next two days talking, swimming, hiking and exploring Up North, Muskegon/Ludington area right off of Lake Michigan. We even got to watch the sunset over Lake Michigan our first night together. I was fortunate to have a such a wonderful stay at the Dunes Express Inn & Suites, where their newly renovated hotel had all the right amenities. The Hart-Montage Trail State Park is adjacent to the hotel (so much fun biking in Michigan during summertime) and is only seven miles from the wondrous Silver Lake Sand Dunes. My favorite amenity? The indoor pool/hot tub. Ultimate relaxation. And to see my bro cannonball into the pool had both of us feeling like little kids again. Wish I had more time to spend in Michigan. We would've biked the trail along with going four-wheeling in the sand dunes. It's a must-see in Michigan, absolutely breathtaking!  

Despite having the reconnection with my brother going so amazingly, the traveling on the way back to New York was a nightmare. After dropping off my car rental in Detroit, I decided to check into the airport earlier so I could get some work done. I came in around noon, when my flight was departing almost around 5pm. I didn't mind. I didn't even mind when it got delayed twice. That always happens. So, about an hour and a half late, they finally start boarding the plane. I'm thinking I'm home-free! Nope. The pilot gets on the intercom and notifies that everyone must deplane due to air traffic control issues. WTH?! You should have heard the melodious-like exasperated sighs from everyone when we got the news! So after we get off the plane, we waited for nearly another hour only to have the workers at the kiosk station inform us our flight had been canceled. They immediately tell us to go down to rebooking. When I got down there, nearly 250 people were already waiting in line, disgruntled, tired, and just annoyed. When I finally get to customer service (which had only 1 representative!), they didn't even vouch for me to stay at the airport hotel or anything. All they offered me was a refund to my connected flight or to wait until the next flight out by their airline, which was in two days! Normally I never even bother speaking badly of people, brands, or companies, but after the experience I had, I felt like I had no other choice than to tell you! DO NOT FLY WITH SPIRIT AIRLINES. Their customer service was the worst, both in person and on the phone. They are rude, unhelpful and completely ridiculous. I will never fly with them again. If I were you, I wouldn't either. Just don't. They even charge you to print out your boarding pass at the airport ($10 bucks) and for your carry-on!! RIP OFF. 

Thank goodness for my childhood friend who came to the rescue and let me stay with her again. She's so dope, the minute we got back to her place she helped me look at flights to get back home the following morning (THANK YOU DELTA!). I owe her big time! Now I jokingly am telling everyone that of course the trip had to end horribly for the rest of it to be the way that it was, which was good for the soul. I feel transformed and renewed, stronger than ever before. I got my brother back and that's all that's ever really mattered to me. I think too, that because of my new career in blogging, I never would have been as brave as I was if it weren't for all the stepping out of my comfort zone-feels this year. And shit, it's been crazy real, but crazy unbelievable. I'm truly blessed and eternally grateful for this trip. I can't wait to visit again soon. Until then, my lesson of the year: FACE YOUR FEARS. Just run with it and keep pushing forward. You might surprise yourself. :)