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Eating Cherry Pie on the Way to Sleeping Bear

When radio producers Dan Collision and Elizabeth Meister decided to get married five years ago, they did it in a style that fit their mutual passion for roadside attractions and a diner pie: They hit the road and tied the knot in Teddy Roosevelt National Park in North Dakota.

Since then, they've pledged to spend every wedding anniversary burning up a little highway from their base in Three Oaks, Mich. This year, the car was pointed toward Lake Michigan:

Elizabeth Meister: So on a dewy summer morning, the day before our big fifth anniversary, we headed out from our home in the southwest part of the state, with kayaks perched atop our Subaru Outback.

Dan Collison: The goal: 48 whirlwind hours of hiking and kayaking along the monstrous sand dunes of the Sleeping Bear National Lakeshore. [It's] 35 miles of undeveloped Lake Michigan coastline, five hours due north.

Elizabeth: I make it a whole hour before I need a bathroom break. So we take advantage of the stop -– and a shiny-clean restroom -– to gas up at the Fennville, Mich., Shell Station. A tank of gas costs 44 bucks.

Dan: Then we do a little border-crossing. [And] 170 miles and a half-tank of gas later, we reach Beulah, Mich., just outside Sleeping Bear, and we pull to a screeching halt at the site of a smiley face.

Elizabeth : It's not just any smiley face. It's a huge, brilliant RED smiley face, pleasingly freaky and definitely not the result of some professional marketing campaign. Smiley's got weird eyes in the shape of an upside-down V, and he's luring us into the Beulah Cherry Hut. They've been making cherry pies since 1922.

I've been lured into a lot of places by a tempting homemade sign, only to be sorely disappointed by the payoff. This is a definite exception. The pie -– which is a whole lot more comforting than the logo -– is worthy of a major gas-guzzling detour any day. Mmmmm.

Dan: A half-hour later we arrive at the dunes. It's almost dusk, so there's not much time for anything other than the scenic drive. Turns out it's even better than the pie.

Elizabeth : At times it looks like the Big Sur coast -– sometimes like the deserts of the Southwest -– and sometimes like an amalgamation of everywhere sandy and hilly and open you've ever seen and loved.

Dan: Then it's on to the Jolli-Lodge, just south of Leland. Just pulling into this place makes us feel jolly -- it sits on the shore of Lake Michigan, snuggled inside good harbor bay, under stately old birch trees – but the inspiration for the name really came from the Jolliffe family, which has run the place since 1955.

Elizabeth: The white-sided, green shuttered lodge has an old-school screened-in porch that faces the lake, and a fireplace inside lined with books. It's the type of lodge that's gotten crushed out by fancy-schmantzy lodges with designer golf courses and pre-programmed fun. This is the kind of place where curious kids amuse themselves by climbing up into the same treehouses their parents did decades before, or dangling on rope swings that hang from trees over crashing waves.

Dan: Swings that would make any respectable insurance underwriter turn over in his or her grave.

We wander in the wrong direction along the lake, get our bearings, and end up scrambling up an enormous dune where we watch a bank of fog roll in. It offers a spectacular 360-degree view of the entire area and, strangely, reminds us of the place in western North Dakota where we were married -- except instead of plains, there's water.

Elizabeth: Lake Michigan stretches to the horizon, rising and falling like a living, breathing thing. And with the exception of a brief encounter with a big sister chaperoning a very happy brood, we're alone. We nap on a mound of sand, listen to the birds, and feel the sun and grains of sand nuzzling against our legs. It's a pretty great way to spend our fifth anniversary.

Dan: On Day 3, we finally throw our kayaks into Lake Michigan in front of the Jolli-Lodge and paddle north. Thirty feet from the shore, and we're in another world entirely. Icy-blue water, refracted by the bright sun, sets off the white gulls cruising around for their lunch, and we're lulled by the rising and falling waves, the quiet, and the smell of the Midwest's little sea.

The waves kick up to three feet, and we roll into shore, wind at our back -- for a change. The town's harbormaster hooks us up with a local high school kid who gives us a ride back to the Jolli-Lodge to fetch our car.

Elizabeth: We head for home, gassing up at the Marathon Station in the little town of Cedar. It brings our total to 88 dollars in gas, which should get us home with a quarter-tank to spare. [And] like a car needs gas, a girl needs pie.

Dan: So on the way out of Sleeping Bear, we again pay homage to the red smiley face lurking over the Cherry Hut in Beaulah.

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