The Wind Turns

We woke on Sunday morning a bit tired and decided to spend the morning relaxing at the trailer. Jim had the Sunday crossword to do and I am always happy knitting and reading. It was a delightfully sunny morning and it felt deliciously lazy to just hang out.

After lunch we walked over to the Ranger Station to rent kayaks for the afternoon. We always intend to go kayaking, but on previous trips were hampered by lack of a life vest for Dakota. This time we had brought his and the Tahquamenon River was much too alluring to resist.

Kayaks on order, we decided to walk the rustic campground at Rivermouth. This campground did not loop as most do, but ran alongside the Tahquamenon River. Heavily wooded, the campsites were generously spaced and had views of the river through the trees. I would definitely forego electric hook ups to stay here if we ever were to return.

As we walked, I began to feel an uncommon disturbance in my tummy. When we got back to the trailer, our kayaks were there, but I needed to lay down for a moment. I went back to the bedroom and just kept feeling worse and worse. I was increasingly in distress, sweat began pouring down my face and body and I couldn’t even lie down I was so uncomfortable. Indigestion? Flu? With alarming speed, the pain increased until I finally realized this was something I could not deal with on my own.

Jim headed to the Ranger Station to find out options for medical intervention. The ranger said we could drive to Sault Ste Marie, an hour and a half to the east, or we could head west to Newberry. She recommended Newberry as it was her own home hospital and she thought they were good.

We chose the latter and by the time we got in the truck all I could do was writhe in pain and moan. My thoughts, my whole being was just consumed by pain. Jim made the trip in about 45 minutes and I have only brief recollections of trees flying by and passing many cars as he sped as quickly as possible to the hospital.

Newberry coalesced as a collection of streets and buildings. The blue sign with the H was a beacon. We pulled up and I staggered into the Emergency Room. They rushed me back and I was never so thankful to be anywhere. When the morphine failed to quell the pain, they switched to something called Dilaudid. It took multiple doses and then finally the all-consuming pain was under control. At this point I had no idea what was wrong, but they ordered a CT scan. The CT scan revealed my small intestine was obstructed. They ordered an ambulance to take me to Marquette, which was over two hours away, and where they had the facilities to perform surgery.

Poor Jim had been most of this time in the waiting room, but he was on hand to say goodbye as I was loaded into the ambulance. It would be left to him to head back to the trailer and Dakota and the next day hitch up all by himself and follow me to Marquette. It had to have been a lonely and dismal night.

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My surgery was scheduled for the next morning. At the same time, Jim was hitching the trailer. He texted his sister, Linda, to bring her up to speed. Enter the goddess/saint Linda. She called him immediately and said she was jumping in the car. It was about a seven-hour drive, but she would meet Jim in Marquette to provide much needed and desired moral support. Linda would stay with us several days and, while we may have managed without her, it made all the difference in the world to us.

As terrifying as this whole episode had been, we were incredibly fortunate to have been not too distant from care. The Helen Newberry Joy Hospital in Newberry did a great job of stabilizing my pain and diagnosing my problem. We were again fortunate that they have a close working relationship with the UP Health System–Marquette Hospital. The transport they arranged arrived instantaneously and we began the two hours plus trip.

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The UP Health System—Marquette Hospital turned out to have just opened in June. It is a gorgeous state-of-the-art facility. I had arrived at the hospital Sunday night and my surgery was scheduled for the next morning. Any concerns I had about who my surgeon would be were irrelevant. I was grateful to be there and hoped for the best outcome.

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All went well with the surgery. They removed 19 inches of small intestine, but that’s okay because there is plenty left. The eight inch incision did in all likelihood put an end to my bikini modeling career, but it was a small price to pay.

Jim arrived to visit in the late afternoon. Linda was on hand and they were busy scouring the area for appropriate places for my recovery when I got out. The average stay after my procedure is 5-7 days. My recovery was an upward trajectory. I rejoiced each time a tube was removed and by Thursday, my happiness was transcendent as I surveyed my first meal.

Jim and Linda had found the perfect place for us to recover. The Country Village RV Park in Ishpeming is about 20 minutes up the road from the hospital. Abutting the campground is the pet-friendly, Jasper Ridge Inn. We would have the trailer on hand and the comfort of a hotel room within a few hundred yards.

Linda drove me from the hospital and Jim followed in the truck. It was great to be out and floral tribute greeted me at the hotel. Linda left shortly thereafter having taken incomparable care of both Jim and Dakota. This was the end of the trip we thought we were taking and the beginning of a homeward voyage. We would take our time convalescing and, when it was time, hit the road back east. It was a little sad, but mostly we were grateful that everything worked out so incredibly well.

Day Two in Paradise

We wanted to give Dakota an opportunity to rest up a bit after yesterday’s hike. Even though he didn’t seem over-stressed by the hike, one month post-surgery, he needed to come back slowly.

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The solution was a delightful day exploring the eastern peninsula of the UP in a graceful loop from Paradise to Whitefish Point, back south and then east to Sault Ste Marie and back to the park.

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We were really excited to visit the Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum at Whitefish Point. The Shipwreck Museum is co-located with the Whitefish Point Lighthouse Tower. The later is the oldest operating lighthouse on Lake Superior. The shipwreck museum does a fantastic job of documenting the fury of Lake Superior, which really should be classified as a sea, and the thousands of wrecks resting at the bottom of its depths.

Happily, the collection of buildings comprising the complex are all dog-friendly. While we strolled the exhibits in the museum, Dakota lounged in my arms. Of course, the star of the museum is the bell from the Edmund Fitzgerald, but there were plenty of other breathtaking wrecks to discover. You can bet Gordon Lightfoot’s song runs throughout the exhibits and was an earworm for me as well.

The exhibits were really well curated and gave an unwavering portrait both of the importance of the shipping pathway around Whitefish Point and the tremendous dangers presented. Lake Superior is unforgiving and only the essential economics of shipping cargo, mostly iron ore, around that treacherous point could overcome any trepidation sailors might have felt.

Thousands of wrecks lie below the surface of Lake Superior and this was a theme we would encounter throughout our travels through the UP.

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After the museum, we wandered over to another building to watch the 15-minute movie, The Mystery of the Edmund Fitzgerald, chronicling both the story of its sinking as well as the effort to raise its bell. This was no mean feat as the Edmund Fitzgerald had come to rest over 500 feet below the surface of the water. The original bell is on display at the shipwreck museum and was replaced in situ with a duplicate bell featuring the names of all who perished on that terrible night.

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Equally compelling was the awesomely restored Lighthouse Keepers Quarters. Life tending a lighthouse was not easy. In addition to keeping the enormous lights in good working order, fueled with trimmed wicks, lighthouse keepers lived in semi-isolation. They needed to grow their own food and be very self-sufficient. This looked to be a comparatively comfortable living quarters, but one could easily imagine how difficult life could be in the winter as the lake threw storm after storm against its coasts. With fifteen feet of snow the norm, this was a tough life in the UP.

We opted not to climb the tower, but walked out onto the deck by the beach. The beach was inviting and off the coast we could see an enormous freighter off the shore. That freighter would accompany us all day as we made our way towards Sault Ste Marie and the Soo Locks.

We had gotten to the museum right when it opened which was a good thing. By the time we left, the parking lot was packed. We retraced our path down past Paradise and took a left on to the 33-mile scenic Curley Lewis Memorial Highway.

The highway ran along the coast of Lake Superior sometimes close by and at other times separated from the water by trees and houses. On the left were woods with more remote cabins often grouped in small settlements. Partway along the drive we found the Point Iroquois Lighthouse Tower. At 155 years old, this is one of the oldest lighthouses on Lake Superior.

Dakota remained in the car as we toured the grounds. One exhibit featured the lighthouse keeper’s quarters as it was in the 1950’s. Pretty grim actually.

We did climb the tower to enjoy the view and there was that freighter again inexorably heading to the locks in Ste Sault Marie.

Tummies were rumbling as we reached Brimley and passed a driveway leading to a gravel parking lot and signed “Pickles.” Dimly, I remembered the school teacher from Newberry telling some fellow passengers about a little known gem of a restaurant on the scenic highway to Sault Ste Marie.

We pulled in and Pickles was indeed quite a hidden gem. We sat on the deck overlooking Lake Superior and had marvelous meals. I enjoyed beautifully spiced White Fish tacos and Jim had a fried Lake Perch basket.

After seeing so many beautiful miles of coastline, lighthouses and other curiosities, Sault Ste Marie was an abrupt change of pace. The land around the city was flat and unattractive. That isn’t totally fair, it was clearly agricultural and, therefore, very different from what we had previously seen in the UP. The town was pretty unattractive as well crammed with tourist trap shops and sidewalks packed with tourists.

We made our way to the famous Soo Locks. We stood at the gates to the park and inspected the crowds watching the locks. We were un-enthused and the park was not dog-friendly and that was as far as we wanted to take it.

We drove around Sault Ste Marie a bit just to confirm our first impressions and then headed back out of town south on I-75 and then M-28 back to Paradise. It was clear that this far eastern outpost of the UP was agricultural flat land and we were ready to immerse ourselves in the forests further west. We arrived back at our Airstream tired, but having had a really excellent tour of this part of the UP. We had done our tourist bit and tomorrow we had great plans to kayak the Tahquamenon River.

Five Days in Paradise

We motored along two-lane highways through piney woods and marshlands. Traffic was sparse. Cars were outnumbered by rv’s. Tahquamenon Falls State Park is an enormous piece of land. It is almost 50,000 acres of wilderness punctuated by few roads and little else. This is the stomping ground of Hiawatha and the Chippewa Indians.  The Tahquamenon River runs through the park down to Whitefish Bay. The river is 89 miles running though woodland with the Upper and Lower Falls punctuating along its length.

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The park features four campgrounds. There are two campgrounds at the Lower Falls and two campgrounds where the river empties into Lake Superior. We were staying at Rivermouth Campground which has both a modern campground as well as a rustic loop.

This park books up early in the season and we considered ourselves fortunate once again to have gotten a site. In our case, our site was in the modern loop (electric hookups) right next to the bathhouse. While many people would love the proximity to the bathhouse, we prefer to be further away, but, hey, we had a site!

With a five day stay, Jim let it all hang out and broke out all of his bling. We had the palm tree, the glowey flowers, the pineapple, the flamingo, the flip flop/flamingo lights along the awning and my five American flags. One thing about being next to the bathhouse, you get good visitor traffic. We like to think we brightened a few people’s evening trip to brush their teeth.

Despite weeks on the road, we had yet to enjoy a real hike and that was first up on the agenda. The most exciting hike runs along the Tahquamenon from the Lower Falls to the Upper Falls. The beginning and ends of the trail are paved for accessibility, but the middle is a lovely run through the woods and along the river. Signage warned of rough going and roots along the trail in addition to elevation changes.

It was a really nice run. The weather was delightful. The sunlight filtered through the woods and clouds skidded across the skies. It was easily five degrees cooler under the leafy canopy. At exactly the right moment, a rough wooden bench appeared with a prospect of the river below. We broke out our sandwiches and enjoyed lunch.

Dakota showed no signs of his recent surgery. He was hot to trot along the trail. Trails are his favorite and we like to imagine all the scents he picks up as we walk along. There were plenty of wet spots along the trail. Dakota can be relied upon to head for the muddiest bits. I carried him over those parts. He does, after all, sleep on our bed. At a bantam weight 24 pounds, I didn’t want him to lose any more weight. To his delight a lunch was served and would be moving forward each time we hit a trail.

We emerged from the trail to an unpleasant scrum at the Upper Falls. Now I understand why the DNR claims 600,000 people visit Tahquamenon Falls State Park each year. They all park at the Upper Falls and walk the pavement to the viewing stations. After our extremely pleasant hike, we couldn’t get out of there fast enough.

An enterprising social studies teacher from Newberry runs a summer season shuttle back and forth from the Upper to the Lower Falls ferrying hikers back to their starting point. Dogs are free. We arrived back at the Airstream dreaming of hikes to come.

Big Mac

To reach Paradise, we needed to cross the Mackinac Bridge. We had been eyeing its graceful spans for the past day and were anxious to see it up close.

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But first, a little sustenance was in order and we had just the place. After all, when you see something called Wienerlicious, how can you resist?

And, I must say Wienerlicious was delicious. Jim opted for a foot-long Coney Dog replete with chili and I went with the eponymous dog of my birthplace, a Chicago Dog. With great virtue, I can say I skipped the waffle fries. Can’t imagine why we aren’t losing weight on this trip.

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On to the bridge…Big Mac was completed in 1957 after years of discussion and planning. The bridge connects the towns of Mackinaw City and St. Ignace and the lower to the upper peninsula. The suspension bridge is one of the longest in the world clocking in at 4.995 miles. It soars high above the Mackinac Straits and is 200 feet above the water at mid-span. It was years in the making.

Back in the late 1800’s the conversation began. As industry and commerce grew in the region, the only way to move goods from the Mitten to the Up or back, was to ferry. Railroad service was a big part of the process and ferries carried freight cars across the Mackinac Straits at great cost of time and efficiency. But fate continually intervened, the Great Depression and WWII both put any real planning on hold. Finally, after WWII earnest planning began and construction of the bridge began in 1954.

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What surprised us most about the bridge today is the incredibly inefficient tolling system. Considering the constant traffic over the span, tolls are still mostly coin-based, not electronic. They introduced credit card processing in 2017 and seem really proud of that, but look at the rest of the country! Why not have the electronic tolls? The first half of our crossing proceeded quickly and then all traffic came to a halt. We crossed mid-day on a Thursday and it took almost 30 minutes to get through the toll.

 

 

 

Well, it did give us ample time to savor the scenery. Off to the right was Mackinac Island and the shining white Grand Hotel. To the left, the open waters of Lake Michigan.

We finally crossed and we were in the UP! The beginning of two weeks of exploration that would take us from Sault Ste. Marie in the east to the wilds of the Porcupine Mountains. Bring it on!

 

Top of the Mitten

We only had one full day in Mackinaw City and we had a very full roster of things which needed doing and sights which needed seeing. With some strategic planning and tactical implementation, we felt we could get it all done.

We were fortunate to have been able to book a much-coveted lakeside campsite at Mackinaw Mill Creek Camping. Lake Huron was just across the campground road and a span of grass. This may have been a large commercial campground, but it sure had curb appeal.

First and most important on our list was a vet appointment in Cheboygan for Dakota. Over a month post-surgery, Dakota seemed to be feeling well and doing fine. But his vets back home wanted a reading on his liver levels, so I had found the Animal Medical Clinic in Cheboygan.

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Cheboygan is a really sweet little town. The Cheboygan River runs through the town and the downtown is unusual in that it hasn’t been gutted by the local WalMart. It had a nice proliferation of shops, restaurants and some pretty parkland along the water. It is not a wealthy town. Median family income is $38,000 annually. The population dropped about 7% from 2000 to 2010 down to 4,800. But all that said, it seems to be holding its own.

We have been fortunate to encounter many good veterinary practices on our travels. The Animal Medical Clinic is yet another. Dr. Jason Ward gave Dakota a thorough exam and we had a good conversation about his health and care. Unfortunately, his liver levels are still high, but not off the charts.

Before going to the vet, I had dropped Jim at the laundromat in town. It was quite a good laundromat and we really needed it. This was part of our careful strategization. We would get our chores done quickly and early so the fun could begin.

The fun part starts. We dropped our laundry at the trailer and headed to Mackinaw City for some pasties. This is a food, not something worn by exotic dancers. Pasties were invented in England as a portable lunch for miners. Their wives would make a meat pie wrapped in flaky pastry and wrap it up for their menfolk to enjoy midday. Pasties made their way across the Atlantic and became popular with miners in the Upper Peninsula and Northern Michigan.

The Mackinaw Pastie & Cookie Company got top ratings for their pasties. Deservedly so. My pastie was Beef Stroganoff and, despite its size, I ate the whole thing! Jim seemed pretty happy with his #1 classic beef pastie (with peanut butter cookie!) as well. One can take frozen pasties with them at this establishment, but we’re hoping to sample more pasties when we cross Big Mac to the UP.

Next up:  the ferry to Mackinac Island. We hustled over to the Star Line pier and caught the 1:30 ferry to the island. This has been a dream destination of mine for years. Yes, of course, I saw the movie Somewhere in Time, but it has always held romance.

Happily, the ferry is dog-friendly and Dakota enjoyed his ride across the Straits of Mackinac.

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While both Jim and I knew there were no cars on the island, we had forgotten Dakota’s insistence on barking at every horse he sees. There were a lot of horses on the island. Horses were pulling taxis and touring carriages. Horses were available to rent for riding and with carriages. In fact, even the UPS guy delivers packages with two draft horses hooked to a wagon loaded with Amazon Prime boxes. Between the horses and the dogs, Dakota was the barkiest dog ever. I wasn’t sure if Jim or Dakota were going to lose their minds first.

The island is, of course, beautiful. The streets and shops near the piers were packed with tourists. We left that area quickly and began the pilgrimage to the Grand Hotel.

It is very grand. It is expansive and gracious. The grounds are lush with flowers and feature tennis courts, a glass house, a pool, croquet court and café. The hotel is beautifully maintained outside and in the lobby. My desire to see the place may have been sated, but my desire to actually stay there as a guest has only grown.

We walked around and viewed the other lovely homes and inns on the island. The views of Lake Huron are breathtaking. Everywhere the gardens were indescribably lush. Perhaps it is all that horse manure? We threaded our way back through the crowds to the pier and caught the ferry back to the mainland.

But the fun wasn’t over…we set up at a fire pit across from our site and enjoyed the late afternoon on the shore. The wind was fresh, the sky and clouds picturesque. Jim built one of his signature fires and we relaxed into the evening.  To our left was Mackinaw City and the graceful spans of the Mackinac Bridge. Across the water in front of us we could see the green slopes of Mackinac Island and the great white shape of the Grand Hotel. Now we felt we knew it a bit. It was a long, but satisfying day. One could say we felt like we had died and gone to heaven, but, no, that was our next stop…Paradise, Michigan, and the Tahquamenon Falls State Park.

 

 

The Tunnel of Trees

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Photo by Connor Gray + Rachel Haggerty

From Indian River to Mackinaw City is a pretty straight shot across the top of the mitten. But adventure beckoned and, at Jim’s urging, we decided to detour and experience what some have called “the most beautiful drive in Michigan.”

Beginning at Harbor Springs and running 20 miles to the Wilderness State Park, M-119 is known as “the tunnel of trees.” Hugging the Lake Michigan coast and riding the top of the bluffs, this is a very narrow and twisty-turny highway with jaw-dropping vistas on one side, our left as we were heading north, and wooded domiciles on the right. These spanned various styles with a smattering of log cabins, cottages, a few impressive homes and some that were definitely less impressive. All along the woods to the right were signs marking forest areas belonging to families. They were taking care of their wooded lands.

There are no pictures with this post because both my hands were busy gripping various parts of the truck. Jim drove with great confidence and easily negotiated the hairpin turns, dips and swoops of the road. One particularly tight hairpin turn is known as the Devil’s Elbow. We had to wonder how many of the oncoming cars wondered what possessed those people in the blue truck towing an Airstream to take the drive.

We probably added a good hour and a half to the trip, but it was definitely not something to miss. And, despite bouts of terror, I am so glad we did it.

The Thunder Rolls and So Do We

The next day thunderstorms were predicted. Their time of arrival seemed to shift each time we checked the weather. Noon, then late afternoon and then back to noon. We hitched as the skies suddenly darkened and were happy to be road-ready by the time the thunder began.

Our next stop was Burt Lake State Park. This park shared much with our previous Michigan state park stops. Once again, this is an older park. The campground is studded with mature growth oak and maple trees making it both shady and attractive. Unlike Interlochen, the sites at Burt Lake were large and well-spaced. Overall this park was a bit smaller with about 300 sites, still pretty big.

Burt Lake is one of Michigan’s largest inland lakes. Formed over 25,000 years ago as glaciers carved a series of lakes across the north, it is a vast and lovely lake. The campground has extensive beach and this makes it another great place for families to frolic. I was tempted to swim myself.

Our intent while here was to visit Charlevoix and Petoskey. And that we did. Charlevoix was the most distant and we headed there first. Unlike Frankfort and the Crystal Lake area, both Charlevoix and Petoskey were quite developed. Too developed really for our taste.

We sauntered through Charlevoix’s downtown lined with shops and down to the marina. The marina waterfront was nicely built out as a park with an amphitheater, benches, picnic tables and a lovely promenade. We walked its length and then turned back to the main street. It was lunchtime and a little gourmet deli shop was just what we needed. Dakota and I waited outside the shop and were treated to the drawbridge opening.

The waterway to Lake Michigan beckoned and we strolled out towards a red lighthouse. Next to the lighthouse was a very nice beach and park. We enjoyed our sandwiches watching children splash in the waves.

Heading back to our truck, we passed some lovely old houses in excellent condition.

We headed back north towards Petoskey and stopped off at a beautifully maintained rest stop. People were combing the beach for Petoskey stones and there was a memorial to seven Air Force personnel based out of Westfield AFB in Massachusetts who lost their lives during a training exercise in 1971.

Charlevoix had fulfilled our desire for traffic and downtown shopping so we headed back to our campground. Dakota and I reconnoitered the beach area while Jim took a nap.