June, 2013 Archives

Muskegon Summer Luge

June 30th, 2013

Nestled incongruously in the Muskegon State Park, a wheeled luge track sits at the “bottom” of a world-class winter training run.

Our summer vacation didn’t have enough adrenaline mixed in. Sure, sunsets are beautiful, but they don’t really get your heart pounding. Eating too much ice cream can get your heart pounding, but in totally the wrong way. The same thing’s true with bread pudding, cherry turnovers or those incredible homemade caramels we bought again and again at the local farm market. We needed some exercise. We needed it badly. So it was only fitting that a quiet week at a rented cottage on Lake Michigan turned into an Olympic luge time trial. Spoiler Alert: I didn’t win.

My cousins and brothers and I turn everything into a competition. Chris — pictured above — is famous for constructing makeshift championship brackets on vacation and subsequently filling them in with a strange series of “teams” playing each other. We’ve had “Who’s Next to Marry” brackets filled in at family weddings, “Best Experience” brackets during mini reunions or, my favorite, “What Was Our Best Meal?” bracket. Spoiler Alert: Sonic breakfast burrito lost in the finals to a fancy schmancy steak house.

I found the Muskegon Winter Sports Complex online and instantly knew it would be our next conquest. Only four winter luge tracks exist in the United States. But you can’t really practice luging during the heat of the summer. Sun and ice don’t especially go together. So the friendly team in Muskegon built the only accessible wheeled luge track in North America. Using sleds just like Olympians practice with — except with wheels instead of blades — you can fly down their training track for a modest $10 fee.


My brother Scott got the bright idea of timing us to see who smacked into the giant pillow at the bottom first. By the way, the sleds have no brakes. Now that a stopwatch was involved, we were no longer content to be just push-started by the nine-year-old twins at the top. “What are those handles in the starting block,” we asked.

“Oh, we can push start ourselves!”

Did I mention the sleds don’t have any brakes?

10.8 seconds down the track was the time to beat. It stood for what seemed like an ice age. Then the record was 10.4 seconds. Finally, cousin Chris clocked in at a staggering 10.1 from peak to pillow. No one could beat that. Besides, we were all too tired from lugging the luges back up the hill to the top.

Skye came in third; Chris came in first and I pulled a solid second.

Not pictured in this blog: Taylor who won the ribbon for the loudest, longest scream of the summer.

Puns not used in this blog: Slippery slope, I’m on a roll, my particular slant — and last, but not least — it’s all downhill from here.

Several Sunsets

June 27th, 2013

A blog where the writer shuts off his brain and lets his pictures do the talking.

Over the past several evenings, Lake Michigan has entertained us with the whole gamut of sunsets: subtle, awesome, and foggy. Here are some of my favorite snaps from the previous week.







Rural Spelunking

June 25th, 2013

What you may find along Scenic Drive.

Some of my photographer friends enjoy urban spelunking, the art of entering old, abandoned buildings and finding beauty in the breakdown. That’s always scared me. The old Packard Plant in Detroit or the derelict Michigan Central Station are best viewed at a distance for me. I think I found my stride, though, when my wife and daughters were taking some fashion photos out in the countryside, about a half hour north of Muskegon.

Frontier Village was never much more than a dive. The gas station and convenience store on the outskirts of Stony Lake never seemed to catch on with the local population or summer visitors. I didn’t feel bad walking around, snapping photos of the old, discarded gaskets and spark plugs or the broken down gas pump with its belts and hoses exposed. I loved seeing the price at the pump frozen at 2.49 a gallon. That was a bit of nostalgia I yearned for.

My wife, daughters and a boyfriend snapped glamorous, well-lit pictures amongst the ruins and they looked quite stunning (the photos and my girls). Something about the abandonment kept me pointing and shooting. I don’t exactly know why I focused on the ugly while they concentrated on beauty. And I really want to say something poetic or meaningful about the abandonment. Maybe there’s something profound to be said about progress and decay. But maybe I was just taking pictures because I like taking pictures.

So go ahead and click on any or all of the photos for a larger view, if you’d like:

Goodbye Judy

June 23rd, 2013

A personal tribute to Pastor Judy Borchardt.

Metro Detroit lost a wonderful minister and a dear friend this week. Judy Borchardt, a former pastor at Northminster Presbyterian Church in Troy, died from complications of a debilitating heart ailment. She was 75. A memorial service is planned for next Saturday, June 29, at 2 p.m. at Northminster.

Judy was a devoted follower of this blog and her comments have graced many, many entries throughout the years. Back in the 1950s, when Judy was just a teen, she had radiation on her chest to combat thyroid cancer. The radiation caused permanent, long-term damage. I wrote to Judy recently telling her how mad I was that she would be leaving us sooner than we all hoped. With characteristic love and level-headed common sense, she responded, “Even though I have to deal with a failing heart, I still am thankful that the radiation I had at age 14 allowed me to live an additional 60 years, wonderful years.  So I’m counting that as the biggest blessing I could have received– next to my wonderful children who wouldn’t be here either if I hadn’t gotten the radiation way back then.”

Our family has been friends with Judy and her family since the 1960s. My earliest memory of them was visiting their temporary home, “The Manse,” while her then-husband was a minister at Drayton Avenue Presbyterian Church in Ferndale. We all loved hanging out with her three kids, Brit, Vicky and Alicia; we even went on vacation with them Up North several times.

I was standing in that exact same house — as coincidences go in my life — the evening she died this past week. It doesn’t belong to Judy or the church anymore, but is owned by the family we’re renting a cottage Up North from. As I chatted with the current owners, my mind inevitably wandered back, thinking about the fun I had with Judy’s family: a dancer-daughter, a genius son and my buddy “Waleesha” with whom I spied on the other two.

My mother, Joanne Curtis, says that one of her favorite memories of Judy also involves a trip Up North. “We used to get together with our friends on Lake Michigan. We were always laughing; we’d set each other off. We just couldn’t stop laughing. We felt like little kindergarteners but of course, we were old ladies.”

Another friend of Judy’s, Jennifer Lorimer Kondak, misses just being with Judy and her husband Hank, a retired minister, himself. “I will miss their back deck and sitting there baking in the sun just listening to them talk to each other; I can recall being SO HOT but not wanting to break the spell of their conversations.”

Judy helped me through the years as well. As an 18-year-old boy I had to register for the draft, but I didn’t believe in killing for a cause. She taught me how to become a Conscientious Objector, reminding me that I would still have to fulfill my duty to the country if called. She was a powerful, wonderful woman.

Christa Brelin Gainor, a congregant at Northminster agreed, “The stories people have told describe a lovely woman and a force to be reckoned with.”

Judy’s life was about many things, certainly not the least of which was giving. With incredible love and support she wrote these words to me last month: “We’ll both keep on fighting the good fight, as they say, and I’d give you any remaining years I have if I could.  You have so many more gifts to give to this world so keep on making me laugh.”

Judy, I’m sorry I’m not making you laugh with this particular posting. You’ll have to forgive me my sentimental streak. I’ll do my best the next time around. In the meantime, I hope you’re having a hearty and heartfelt laugh as you enjoy your new life Up North.