Midweek beach getaway good for the soul

Midweek beach getaway good for the soul

Summer has just started (by the school calendar if not the actual calendar) and we’ve already checked one item off my daughter’s vacation bucket list: a beach road trip.

It wasn’t a drive-two-days-to-get-to-the-ocean beach vacation, although I am always open to that possibility. It wasn’t even a weekend getaway.

This was more of a mini, midweek beach trip.

A little over two hours from Champaign is the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, and Blog Photowe are lucky enough to be related to someone who knows someone who owns a house right on the beach.

My sister-in-law was able to reserve it last week. But we had to squeeze in our trip between the end of school on Tuesday and a doctor’s appointment, play audition and baseball games on Friday and Saturday. And work, of course.

So we drove up Wednesday and drove back home Thursday night. It may not sound like much. But the weather was sunny, the company was great, and we made every minute count.

The lake house is nothing fancy. It’s more of a cabin, really, started in the early 1900s by a family patriarch who dragged the building materials a half-mile up the beach from the only road then available. He left it to his eight children, who in turn had lots of children, and they all take turns using it during the summer months. The rustic wood walls are covered with paintings and old photos of the house over the years.

The location can’t be beat. On a clear day you can see the Chicago skyline. The Indiana Dunes State Park, where you can climb the giant sand hills formed by ancient glacial lakes, is a short walk down the beach. And the view is breathtaking (as long as you blot out the steel mill and power plant in the distance).

I remember the first time I saw the dunes as a young adult and thought, “What are these doing here?” Huge mounds of sand that look like they should be on a beach in North Carolina, sitting just miles from Gary, Ind.

During our first trip to the lake house a couple of years ago, my kids had no idea whatBlog Photo to expect. They’d been to Hilton Head the previous summer, and when we came up over a ridge and suddenly saw the dunes and Lake Michigan stretching out before us, they thought they were back at the ocean.

We did all the usual beach things on our short trip. We took an evening walk on the cool sand, raced each other up the dunes (some of us needed to pause a time or two), tested out the boogie boards and kayaks, skimmed rocks on the water and built the obligatory sand castle and moat to capture the tide.

Rather than shells, we hunted for rocks along the shore, an interesting mix of scarlet, green, blue-gray and gold pebbles and bits of beach glass. Mixed in with them were tiny, Cheerio-shaped beads, the fossils of crinoids, plant-like marine animals that thrived in the Midwest hundreds of millions of years ago.

We traded the big-screen TV at home for a 13-inch portable that was turned on only once, for the Blackhawks’ playoff game. We put our phones down (mostly) and played poker and blitz and crazy card games our relatives invented.

And we hit our favorite restaurant in Porter, Ind., appropriately named The Port, a drive-in/dine-in joint known for its creamy homemade root beer, coleslaw, chili dogs, milkshakes and fried CLAMS (in all caps). And fried corn.

To me, nothing is more relaxing than spending a week at the ocean with family, Blog Photodigging my toes into the warm sand and falling asleep to the whoosh of the waves against the shore. But the ocean is far away.

This is as good as it gets in the Midwest. Even this short jaunt was enough to make us forget life’s stresses for a little while. Medicine for the soul.

I used to wait for the weekend or scheduled vacations for these escapes. My husband, a sports writer who was often busy on weekends, has taught me not to wait to have fun.

So here’s to midweek getaways and a busy summer bucket list.

More old house info

After writing a column two weeks ago about Weiss Lancaster’s futile efforts to save the house he grew up in at 403 W. University Ave., C, I heard from Realtor Andrea Poling, the listing agent for the house. She wanted to add a few details and correct a few others.

Poling said the house was rehabbed some years ago by contractor Ron Meister, who sold it to another buyer for $203,000 in 2004. The house was rented by students, who apparently didn’t treat it well, and later went into foreclosure, she said. It fell into disrepair when a hole in the roof went unrepaired and “it rained inside the house for two years,” she said.

Poling said the sale was handled by Fannie Mae, not the Department of Housing and Urban Development. She initially received four to six offers for the house, including Lancaster’s, but a Fannie Mae official pulled the listing temporarily because it had been put on the market before it was cleaned out, not because of the mold, she said.

A crew was brought in to remove the debris, and it was listed again. She received four offers the second time, including the winning bid of $100,000.

Aside from Lancaster, “every single person who looked at it was going to tear it down,” said Poling, who has extensive photos of mold-covered walls and holes in the walls and floors.


Julie Wurth blogs about kids and families and covers the University of Illinois for The News-Gazette. Leave a comment below, or contact her at 217-351-5226, jwurth@news-gazette.com or Twitter.com/jawurth.


Top: Lake Michigan's southern shore, with Porter Beach in the background, on June 4, 2015..

Middle: The view from the road above the dunes in Porter, Ind.

Bottom: A message scrawled in the sand.

Photos by Julie Wurth

Sections (1):Living
Topics (3):Housing, People, Travel


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Meadowbrook wrote on June 12, 2015 at 11:06 pm

What a neat story, Julie!  I grew up in this part of Indiana and know exactly where you stayed...For those who don't have a friend's cabin to stay in, there's a decent hotel nearby in Porter (Spring House Inn) as well as tent camping at the IN Dunes State Park. You can also visit the free public beach at the IN Dunes National Lakeshore which has (limited) free parking and public bathrooms. The towns of Porter, Chesterton, and nearby Valparaiso (aka "Valpo") are also great to visit.