Over Memorial Day weekend we paid a visit to eastern Wisconsin to visit my mother. One evening, we took her to a popular restaurant for a belated Mother’s Day dinner. Normally packed at 7 p.m. on a Saturday, the place was less than half full. Why?
Cabin season. That’s why.
In the two upper Midwest states in which I’ve resided for most of my life, it can seem as if almost everyone has a cabin. From early May through late September, cabin season is in full swing. After work on Friday, people pack up their cars, abandon their primary homes, and often endure hours-long drives and maddening traffic jams to go “up north,” all in the name of spending the weekend – for some, nearly every weekend – at the cabin.
Whether people choose to call their secondary residence a cabin, cottage, or lake home (some people will correct you with barely-disguised disdain if you don’t call it by their preferred term, and yeah, it’s usually the people who call it a lake home), they can range from glorified shacks to log mini-mansions. What these places have in common is that they are almost always located deep in the woods and on a lake.
My family was an anomaly. It’s not that we didn’t have a cabin. We did. Only it wasn’t called a cabin. It was called a “ski house.” And it wasn’t on a lake or used in summer. Situated in a tiny town in the upper peninsula of Michigan, it enabled us to downhill ski at the region’s resorts all winter long. Every other weekend, for a good four months each year, we drove four hours, mostly in the dark, and sometimes in sketchy conditions and on questionable road surfaces, so that my family could spend all day Saturday and most of the day Sunday shushing down (the Midwestern version of) a mountain for fun. Then, mid-Sunday afternoon we abandoned the hill, drove back to the ski house to clean and pack up, and made the four hour journey home.
As an adult, owning a cabin, cottage, or whatever you want to call it, has never appealed to me (or, thankfully, the husband). There are many, many reasons for this.
- Cost. Two mortgages – not to mention everything you need to outfit a second home – means a lot less money for travel.
- Upkeep. Good grief. It’s hard enough keeping up with the general care, maintenance, and cleaning of our regular house, yard, and garden. Now throw in the upkeep of a second residence? No thanks. Besides, aren’t you supposed to go there to relax?
- Traffic. As I mentioned above, the traffic can be horrendous, both leaving on Friday and returning on Sunday. I have enough of that with my work commute.
- Stress. I love to travel, but getting ready for it stresses me out. The husband will attest to my prickly demeanor in the hours leading up to our departure to pretty much anywhere, be it a lengthy trip abroad or a quick weekend getaway. Do I really want to make that a regular part of my life? Frankly, I’d need a super relaxing weekend to combat the Friday prep and traffic stress. And unlike some people (cabin owners, perhaps?) I’m perfectly capable of relaxing at home.
- Boredom. Now, cabin lovers would clearly argue against this one, but for me, going to the same place over and over and over all summer long would be about as fun as watching the same episode of a TV program again and again and again.
- The bunny. Our choices would be to schlep him back and forth, which we do 2-3 times a year when we visit my mom, and which he tolerates but doesn’t love, or to arrange either a) people to come and look in on him, which means he’s cruelly trapped in a cage all weekend, or b) arrange a petsitter with our new membership, which is kind of a hassle for just a weekend and there’s no guarantee we’d get one.
- Obligation. This is probably the biggest reason we’ll never have a cabin. People often sacrifice traveling to new destinations because they feel they’d better use the additional real estate investment they’ve sunk all their money, time, and effort into.
No disrespect to cabin owners intended – “to each their own” is a phrase I try to live by – but I can safely say that, except for the occasional invitation to a friend’s cabin, regular trips “up north” are not in our future. And if I have a sudden urge to coat myself in bug spray, swim in a weedy, leech-filled lake, and do daily full-body tick inspections? There are always rentals.
So what’s your story? I have a sneaking suspicion that most of you, being travel fanatics as I am, would find cabin-ownership too restrictive. But did your family have one growing up? Do other regions have a cabin culture, or is this a Midwestern idiosyncrasy? (Actually, I know New York has one. You can learn a lot by watching Seinfeld.)