Jack needed to drive from his home in western Wisconsin to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan to pick up the barrel-shaped, wood-fired sauna he’d ordered. Clint had the heavy-duty trailer to haul it on.  I was the one with access to a cabin where we could stay during a round trip that would take two full days. Three guys riding in a pickup truck the tail end of winter to retrieve a sauna in the UP (pronounced You Pee) is the epitome of an old-men-from-Wisconsin road trip.

When I travel alone, I am without a cellphone or a smart vehicle. Therefore I still rely on old-fashioned paper maps. I should have brought a map along. The farther north we traveled, the more unreliable the cell service became. More than once Siri (or whoever was talking to us) failed to tell us to make a turn, and three or four times we overshot the recommended route. Because u-turns on rural highways with a long heavy trailer were difficult, we tended to change the route rather than reverse course. Several times we added an eight or nine-mile detour to our drive. On Highway 70 near the Wisconsin-Michigan border, we missed an important left turn onto Highway 55. When Siri did kick in, she told us to turn left onto a road wide enough for only one vehicle. We drove for three miles until we reached a spot where the snowplow had arbitrarily stopped. The snow was two feet deep, so continuing on was not an option. There hadn’t been a building or a side road the entire distance, so I don’t why the road had been plowed at all. I definitely did not know why anyone would plow through three miles of undisturbed coniferous forest and then quit. If the plow truck driver hadn’t had to cut a big Y into the forest to get his or her own vehicle turned around, we would have been as stuck as a turtle in a dead end pipe. I seldom ride in vehicles with built-in navigation systems, but twice now I’ve been directed to really lousy places. Operator error?

Jack and Clint dropped me off at my sister Diane’s cabin not far from Iron River, Michigan, then continued north to the little town of Pelkie to pick up the sauna. The plan was for me to have dinner ready when they returned. It was a good thing I didn’t start the pasta until their actual return, as they went the wrong way twice more and added 45 minutes to their estimated travel time. While they were gone, I had time to sit down with a glass of whiskey and write. It was my first alcohol since prostate surgery. I am supposed to lay off spicy food, alcohol, and coffee for up to three months, but sitting at a rustic table overlooking a frozen lake with pen and paper in hand, I couldn’t help but pour myself a small one. 

Before the surgery, I told the attending nurse that spicy food and alcohol would be easy for me to give up, but I’d be drinking coffee as soon as the catheter came out. I didn’t last that long. The surgery was on a Wednesday, and I was back to three cups by Saturday. 

Steven Simpson