Sunday, September 12, 2010

Back To The Future

This weekend I did something "new but old" when Tony and I went to the Black River Lodge in Lesterville.  The place has been around since the 1940s. I vacationed there with my parents a couple of times as a kid in the 1960s, and then again with Tony and the boys in the 1980s. Some people have been going to Black River Lodge for decades.  My friend Debbie, who I've known since elementary school,  is one of them. She meets her family and friends there for a week each summer.  This year they added a weekend in the fall, too, and she invited us to join them.  We made the reservations, and for the next few weeks Debbie and I exchanged emails and phone calls to work out the details.

It takes about two hours to get to Lesterville, and it's well worth the drive.  Half of the trip is typical Interstate driving, but once you leave the highway the road curves and dips through rolling terrain, and passes close to Taum Sauk Mountain, the highest point in the state.  After a couple of easy-to-find turns you're ready to cross the bridge over the Black River and enter another world.

That bridge used to be scenic, one-lane (and a bit rickety). You knew you were there when you crossed it. Sadly, a couple of years ago they demolished it and put up a standard-issue concrete and chain link fence model, which was so nondescript I almost missed the Black River Lodge entrance. However, once we made the turn I knew exactly where I was.  Our first stop was the office, where they gave us our cabin name and our table number for meals.  We didn't get a door key, because there are no exterior locks on the doors.  It's that kind of place.

Each of the cabins is named after a bird.  The Finch, where we stayed, was at the far end of the property.  As we made the drive back past the fire ring, the playground, and the pool, I was filled with memories of my previous stays.  Most of the cabins contain multiple units.  Ours was a duplex, although we were the only tenants this weekend.  I think most of the cabins date back to my youth.  They're old and rustic, but the air conditioner worked, the mattress was firm, the pillows were fluffy, and the room was cleaned for us each morning.  What more do you need?

The vast majority of people come with a group.  Even if you don't, you quickly make friends. There are optional planned activities each morning and evening.  We played Bingo (I won a game and split the pot of a cover all),  played in shuffleboard and miniature golf tournaments, and participated in a campfire singalong and wiener roast.  The group we were with also brought games; we played three-hole washers, beanbag toss, and pickleball, a new-to-us game played on a badminton court with a large whiffle ball and wood paddles.  If outdoor games aren't your thing, the lodge-style Rec Hall contains a small selection of video games, ping pong, pool, and air hockey tables.

Although Debbie said it's not always possible to float on the river in mid-September, I was hoping it would happen.  For a while it looked like it wouldn't. Storms earlier in the week had raised the river level, but by lunchtime on Saturday dropped enough to make it safe to go.  We rented inner tubes and joined a group of people for a float.  The river was running fast; the float which usually takes 2 1/2 or 3 hours was over in an hour.  Half of the group chose to go again, but once was enough for me.

Of course it wouldn't be a vacation without food.  Our weekend included three family-style meals on Saturday and two on Sunday. People start gathering outside the dining hall shortly before mealtime waiting for the door to open; when the bell rings they politely line up to file inside and find their table.  The meal experience was a step back in time.  I don't think they've updated the menu in decades (not necessarily a bad thing, unless you are a stickler for healthy eating).  I remembered, and was looking forward t,o the huge, dense biscuits they served at breakfast with bacon and eggs, and the fried chicken we ate for lunch on Sunday.  Our group of 18 sat at two long tables.  The food was served on large communal platters and bowls, and the waitress kept it coming until everyone was full.  Lunch and dinner always included some type of dessert.

The time went too quickly, and after lunch today it was time to pack up the car and head home.  I pulled into our neighborhood almost exactly 48 hours after I left feeling tired but relaxed.


  1. That sounds like fun! I like "old-timey" things like that. Don't you get sick of modern conveniences and trendy stuff? The family style meals sounded great!