The Adventure Continues–Remembering KI Sawyer AFB, My Window of Opportunity

The girls and I once again are in Northern Indiana back at my dad’s and my grandma’s. I hated rolling out of Marquette, MI once again yesterday. There were just a swirl of emotions clinging to me as we drove south on US Highway 41.

I spent a good part of my childhood in the Upper Peninsula. I never became a “Yupper” but at a young age I fell in love with the protected world in which I roamed the trails and woods without fear of weirdos, poisonous snakes or things that would have been a bad influence.

My Window of Opportunity

Times before, I’ve mentioned sitting at a particular downstairs window in our home at 208 Fortress on what was KI Sawyer AFB and writing. When I was in second and third grade, I would use a kid’s typewriter and wrote much like I do now.

One of my most vivid memories of writing came from sitting on the other side of the window you see to the right. I sat there at the now very antique kidney bean-shaped desk I have in my Texas living room. This was my creative space, even before the age of 10. Outside the window, was where I acted out those dreams. Thoughts of being a bomber pilot like my dad. Thoughts of being a fireman, like Randolph Mantooth, one of the first TV paramedics.

This was my window of opportunity. This is where I dreamed of what could be and didn’t worry about the things that were.

We played baseball in our tiny front yard, with each corner of the yard being a base. That meant I pitched from the middle of the yard, and yes, if thrown the right way and hard enough, the baseball did go through the bathroom window.

That bathroom, mom once painted yellow. For some reason, which neither of us understand, even to this day, I once wrote the word “elephant” in ink pen on the freshly painted wall.

The garage you see wasn’t there when I was a kid. The air force put them in later. I don’t think I’ve ever mentioned this before, but I always heard as a kid that KI’s base housing, located in Northern Michigan, was designed by someone who lived in Florida. Yeah, government in action.

The point of all of this is that this is where my imagination and my quests for adventure came to be. We’d get up in the morning, head out into the woods behind our house, build tree forts, climb hills, and out the hole in the fence, past the two ski hills and off to the south east was a lake I only made it to three times. We had a great name for it, too, “The Lost Lake.” And the name was fitting because there was no path to it. And for what it was, it was indeed, lost.

My suspicion of it being lost today remains. between the garage and the garage on the other side of the parking lot, once was a well-traveled trail right into the heart of the woods. Thursday, that trail was overgrown. Even the trail that ran parallel to our house a good 50 yards back was overgrown.

I’ve heard the quote before that “the past is like a foreign country, they do things different there.” Today, that has new meaning for me.

What’s Left of KI Sawyer AFB

And different is what KI is today. The BRAC at the end of the Cold War closed it all down. The 644th Bomb Squadron building, the Tanker Alert Facility, the gym, BX and commissary all stand empty today with no use. My old school, Leo P. McDonald Elementary School, has been taken over by a company that’s ripped many of the walls out and put in garage doors. The windows of the classrooms I learned to read and write in are now boarded up. Some of the windows have had rocks thrown into them. It was painful to see.

Half of what was a robust area of base housing is now in ruins. I took a picture of the house my friends Michelle and Renee lived in. I took a photo of Kim Casey and Kevin Casey’s. I’ve tried to find them since we were kids, but have never heard from them since they took off for the Air Force Academy in Colorado with their dad, an F-106 pilot.

We couldn’t get out to the Alert Facility where the B-52s on alert used to park. Thursday what appeared to be Michigan State Trooper cars were doing reverse J-turns and obstacle courses where once there were guards who would have shot you on the spot for trying to get to.

We were going to spend another day in the UP yesterday, but by noon it was clear it was going to rain all day and we knew we didn’t want to sit around in a hotel room. So we headed back south.

Before leaving Marquette, we took the girls down to Presque Isle. It was raining lightly on and off. I initially gave up and began heading off the isle. But then it stopped raining and I decided we were going to go back and try again. As though an answer to a prayer, it did. We got out and I got new video of the twins playing in the same spot where I also have video of my brother Richard and I doing the same back in 1970. To me, it was almost critical to get that video. A once in a lifetime sort of moment.

So when I get the chance to sit still, I’m going to build the next video featuring then and now.

More Adventures to Come

Okay, time to wrap up the thoughts from today’s adventures. The 2010 Chevy Traverse has been a great car for this trip. It rides so smoothly. I’ve been highly impressed with it’s comfort and yesterday, driving south, I let dad drive for a couple hours and I got in the third row and laid down side ways so I could take a nap. Yes, a big guy like me can get his body in a comfy enough position to be able to sleep.

The 2010 Traverse in the woods of Northern Michigan

Today’s post about the 2010 Chevy Traverse highlights are these: The car rides smoothly on the road.  It’s hard to tell the difference in being off the road.

We drove toward Ishpeming, Michigan this morning toward our land just a few miles from Lake Superior.  Dad bought our 40 acres back in 1976 for a whopping $7,500.  It was in the middle of nowhere then, and it remains there even today.  Just about 10 miles off Highway 41 into the woods our land, which even has freezing cold fresh springs, sits in the middle of trees, trees and more trees. 

We drove the Traverse into the road leading from the “main” road and deeper into the forest.  The all-wheel-drive worked like a dream and there wasn’t an instant that I felt like I might get stuck.  Even as the grass in the middle of the road grew higher and the puddles from recent rains got deeper.

We parked the car and then began our hike into the heart of the woods. (A post about what my girls did today is over on

Later we drove back out of the woods toward “civilization.”  We then got lunch at a local Jimmy John’s, then headed to what’s left of KI Sawyer AFB, where my dad was stationed in 1969, 1973-75, 1975-1978, and again from 1989-1992.  We took the car down a series of closed roads.  We tried to take it back into many of the trails I traveled on bike as a kid, and then we went out what was the back gate of KI, and drove down the back road toward the Highway 41 gate.  The car did well on the dirt roads.  It’s a bumpy road, and there were some times when we hit some good bumps, but all in all, it was a good ride through the woods.

Later we drove back into Marquette to round out the day and then took the girls down to a beach area.  Now, in 1973 when I tried to swim in Lake Superior, all I remember was that it was darn cold.  My girls soon had their shoes and socks off, hiked up their pant legs and began wading in the lake hunting rocks and throwing some into the lake as well.  My girls now have a Lake Superior rock collection as well. Last year it was Yosemite, in 2010 it’s Lake Superior.

After returning to our hotel tonight for a nap and the twins to be able to go swimming, we got back in the car and drove over to the local Bonanza off Highway 41 in Marquette for dinner.  Returning here to hotel, the kids and my dad piled out of the car.  As I was getting out, too, I began checking my pockets for what I’d done with the keys.  Well, two things.

I hadn’t done anything with them.  They were still in the ignition and the car was running.  I don’t know if it was more of a matter of my being tired or the fact that the car idles so quietly that I couldn’t even tell that I’d left it running!

And so that ends our adventure in the woods today.  Dad, the girls and I all agreed that we’re not going to head south toward Indiana tomorrow and will do so Saturday instead.  There’s too much else we want to do that getting on the road tomorrow just seemed unreasonable.

And so, tomorrow’s a new adventure.  My eldest daughter and I got up first this morning and while everyone else was sleeping, we escaped down to Presque Isle, what’s been a cool park at the edge of Lake Superior since I first began coming up here in the late 60s.  The lake waters were rushing ashore this morning and the wind strong and steady.  Just as the winds today out at the land were telling me a story.  And for the joy of it all, in between all of the activities, I stood still and listened.  What I heard I’ll tell over on

After three days of driving, we’ve made it to Marquette, MI

Wow.  Three days in a 2010 Chevrolet Traverse, three daughters, almost 1,000 or more miles, visits with my one remaining grandma, and time with my dad.  It’s been a great time, and I absolutely recommend the Traverse for travel.

If’ you’ve not been to a Chevrolet dealership lately, you need to get there.

The Traverse is a great car for traveling with kids.  The ride is like being on air.  The road noise is almost nonexistent.  And if you don’t keep an eye on the speedometer, you’ll find you’re going fast.

With the three row setup and three daughters, each can claim their own row.  With a DVD player and wireless headphones, they can watch the Twilight New Moon and I not have to be a part of the experience.  When I want to listen to talk radio up front, the girls can plug in a third set of wired headphones along with the two wireless headphones and listen to the Disney stations.

With the extra space in the back of the car, when I need to put my suitcases, the girls’ suitcases, my dad’s suitcases and even his .22 that we’re going to use out on our land here in Northern Michigan tomorrow, well, there’s room for all of that so that we still have 2-2-1 sitting in the car.  (The third row will hold three if I dared put anyone else in the car, say, like my third-cousin who we picked up for lunch in Milwaukee and went down to the waterfront.)

And look, as we drove through Illinois, we passed a Red Jewel Traverse just like the one we’re in.  

Okay, it’s bed time.  Big day tomorrow.  We’re going out to our land.  We’re going to the remnants of KI Sawyer AFB.  We’re going to Presq Isle in Marquette.  And who knows after that.