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Cheryl Lewis: The chilly reception for 60th birthday was great

Cheryl Lewis enjoys a birthday sail with friends on Lake Michigan. SUBMITTED

I love surprises!

As my milestone birthday kept creeping closer, I began to wonder whether there would be another big experience to celebrate. After all, my last decade bash was a humdinger:  backpacking in Peru!


I spent plenty of time pondering how I wanted to welcome a new era of “being old” and began to live vicariously through the vacations of my acquaintances. A friend went to Greece, chartered a sailboat with its own chef and boy did that sound fun! I knew it was too “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous” for our budget, of course, but a girl can dream.

I began to drop hints … making sure my husband knew the contact information of my friends in the Caribbean, who could host us for free.

As the last days of my 50s neared their end, Jim let me know he was, indeed, making plans. He just wouldn’t tell me what they were!

“I’ll pack for you,” he said. “Just leave out some clothes for cooler weather and be prepared for hiking.”


Uh oh, this was not sounding very Greek and I was DEFINITELY too outta shape for anything super physical. Still, it was exciting and mysterious and I began to prepare.

On the day of our scheduled trip, as he was loading our suitcases into the car, I snuck into the file where we store our passports, just to see if they were missing.

They weren’t.

Well now I was really stumped. Where could we even go in the U.S. that it would be chilly in July? Alaska??

Hmm, actually that would be cool!

When we got to the airport, the mystery continued. He wouldn’t let me be the one to check in our bags because then I’d know our destination. Even the security checkpoint gave me no clues, as the TSA agent briefly scrutinized our IDs and waved us through.

Because I didn’t know where to stop, I just kept walking through the airport, gate by gate, wondering which destination would be ours. Finally, we reached the end and the very last gate.

Confused, I kept looking at the sign:

It said Detroit.

OK y’all know I’m flawed, so I can let you into my head in that moment. In my defense, I didn’t say it out loud:

“There is nothing in Michigan that is 60th-birthday worthy!”

No offense intended for anyone from Motor City, but news we were headed there didn’t give me warm fuzzies. To make matters worse, the jetway wasn’t functioning upon our arrival and we were stuck on the plane until midnight waiting for the crew to solve the problem.

From there, my husband told me, we’d have a three-hour drive north to our Airbnb and another three hours after that in the morning to meet our kayaking guide for an aggressive 16-mile paddling tour along the upper-peninsula coastline of Lake Superior.

Oh lawd. My inner diva was waking up.

Fast forward to meeting our guide, who told us we may well have foot-high swells on the water that day, so to be prepared. We were welcome to fasten down the waterproof-skirt in advance if we liked.


As we began to paddle from the bank, I swiftly made my way solo; I needed time alone. Truth be told, what I really needed was an attitude adjustment.

Begrudgingly, I conceded that the water WAS beautiful. You could see clear through the depths and as we approached waterfall after waterfall, I began to actually believe the smile I’d forced onto my face. We were at a place called Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore and the wild shoreline began to work its spell on me; before long, I realized I was having fun. There was definitely effort required for our paddling route, but I was doing awesome!

I was glad and secretly relieved.

That day was just the beginning of my husband’s surprises. From there we made our way to an island that is surrounded by the most-Caribbean-looking waters I’ve ever seen outside the actual sea. For days, we relaxed, rode bikes and explored. As icing on the cake, friends who saw we were staying nearby invited us to spend our final day with them on their massive sailboat.

I couldn’t believe my luck; I got my sailing adventure, after all!

Wanna hear something crazy?

My husband told me that he’d planned all along to still schedule an international trip for us later but wanted my input before booking.

The irony? I told him all I really want now is to go back to Michigan.

No one is more surprised than me.

Cheryl Lewis is a writer for Main Street Media of Tennessee. She can be reached at

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