Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Pure Michigan

You know how sometimes you get together with friends and fantasize about an amazing trip you all want to take? Everyone is gung-ho, and the anticipation and excitement spreads like wildfire, with a culmination of someone proclaiming, "Yes! Let's really do this!"

And so everyone stands up, and the party dissolves as people chatter about the plans they're going to make and they put on their coats and shoes and proceed to the door.

Unfortunately, however, as the evening air fills their lungs and they proceed down the porch steps, the Real World with jobs and school and lack of funds knowingly smirks at them. After giving them a few last moments to relish and revel in their dreams and high hopes, it maliciously pounces, feeding ravenously on their eager enthusiasm, until, by the time they turn the key in the car's ignition and pull out of the driveway, all that is left of the original spark is a small ember of a memory of a discussion that was...well...what was all that insensible talk about, anyhow?

Days, weeks--even months--pass by.

Time and again, another gathering comes, another gathering goes. The vicious cycle repeats.


No matter how hard the Real World tries, there seems to always be that tiny remaining ember in the back corner that is left smoldering, threatening to flare up at any instant.

Simply awaiting the perfect moment to catch fire.


This past weekend, I and three lovely ladies took quite a fabulous vacation to northern Michigan and the Upper Peninsula (known amongst Michiganders and other in-the-loop folk as the "U" "P"). 

File:Map of USA MI.svg
(Remember when I discovered that Michigan had another whole landmass aside from the mitten? hehe)
Three pianists, one speech pathologist, and nearly zero camping experience--what could possibly go wrong, thought we. 

Early Friday morning, we packed up the Honda CRV. With 296,273 miles on it, our trusty periwinkle automobile had more than enough experience to make up for our lack thereof.

We packed it up with just enough equipment to survive an apocalypse,

and off we went. 

After four hours of driving and a couple of bathroom breaks, we arrived at our first destination: Mackinac City (pronounced and sometimes spelled "Mackinaw"). We bought our ferry tickets to Mackinac Island, and then decided to grab some lunch. We proceeded to find a parking spot downtown and then visited a small restaurant where everyone but myself tried the famous Michigan "pasties," a northern Michigan/UP delicacy very much akin to shepherd's pie. (I went with a nice cheesy pizza instead, party pooper that I am.)

We then visited a small shop across the street, run by a group of newly-immigrated Russians, which had every flavor of popcorn imaginable, and then some:

I even found a shoutout to BYU on the top shelf:

After being offered enough popcorn and ice cream samples to feed a third-world country, we paused a moment to watch the art of fudge-making before exiting the store: 

We walked around town a bit, admiring the beautiful architecture and often feeling like we were exploring a city full of life-sized dollhouses.

After a few minutes, we headed back to the dock to wait for our ferry.

Our ferry was a Cadillac, because, yeah, we're awesome like that.

We rode on the semi-open-air level of the ferry so we could see the views and get the full ferry-riding experience. It was definitely a bit windy.

The ferry spurted out quite an incredible tail of water.

We got a pretty expansive view of the five-mile long Mackinac Bridge, which connects mainland Michigan to the UP.

We also got a nice view of Mackinac Island as we drew closer: the long white building is the Grand Hotel--a pricey place where they expect you to don formals for dinner, and where the movie "Somewhere in Time" was filmed.

There are two reasons Mackinac Island is famous:

1) No automobiles are allowed on the island. Everyone who lives there gets around by foot, bike, or horse-drawn carriage (no kidding). Hence, all the pedestrians in the streets:

 2) The fudge. Oooooh, the fudge.

We bought five kinds to try: german chocolate, chocolate walnut, chocolate cherry, chocolate chip vanilla, and butter pecan. Drooling yet? Pretty much everyone who walked past us did an envious double-take. ;)

As we walked around town, we decided to be adventurous. What better way to explore than by...tandem bikes?

We decided to pedal around the 8-mile perimeter of the island. It is safe to say that this was the most enjoyable, beautiful path I have ever had the pleasure of riding. Unfortunately, I didn't take many pictures at the beginning of the ride because I was too busy drinking it all in. Gorgeous greenery, old houses, cottages, lakeside mansions, the rocky shore...

We stopped about three-quarters of the way around the island at a beautiful, rocky beach and dipped our feet in Lake Huron. It was the cleanest, clearest lake I had ever seen in my life:

The 8-mile ride ended all too soon, and before we knew it, we were back downtown where we had started. We returned our beloved tandem bikes and did some more exploring as pedestrians.

The harbor

Inside the church

How many little boys must this sign tempt? ;)

Stilettos made of chocolate
After having our fill of Mackinac Island, we boarded the ferry for a return trip to Mackinac City on the mainland. We then hopped in the trusty Honda and drove to our campsite.

Our first night of camping was quite an enormous success, if I do say so myself. Our tent was pitched in no time flat, our fire was lit without a hitch, and our hotdogs, baked beans, and s'mores were eaten with a satisfaction that only food cooked over a campfire can give.

After dinner, we visited the beach near our campsite and did some relaxing and meditating.


Saturday morning, our alarms went off at the ripe old hour of 5am, and we drug ourselves out of our sleeping bags, knowing that we had a three-and-a-half hour drive ahead before arriving at our kayaking destination on Lake Superior in the Upper Peninsula. I got ready in true camping style, pumping water to wash my face. However, I then succumbed and walked to the bathrooms to use a toilet. In the bathroom, minding my own business, a lady with purple hair suddenly interjected as I was at the sink: "Are you Mormon?" Completely taken aback, I replied that yes, I was. She said, "Me too!" and explained that she had guessed that I was such from the "We are Honor" BYU shirt I was wearing. We proceeded to have a lovely conversation--she was a convert of approximately one year from Saginaw, Michigan, and a hairstylist (hence the choice of hair color, I suppose?). After finishing my conversation detour, I hurried back to the campsite and hopped in the waiting car, after which we officially began Day 2.

Of course, the three-and-a-half hour drive was so beautiful, we hardly noticed the length of time at all. Our timing was perfect, so we crossed Mackinac Bridge just as the sun was rising.

As soon as we entered the UP, we were surprised by how different the scenery suddenly became--many new kinds of vegetation and particularly an abundance of spruce trees.

We found our destination, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, with little difficulty and with time to spare, so, after checking in with one of the kayak guides, we packed our lunches and then broke out the fudge and sunscreen, helping ourselves to gobs of both (one ingested, the other absorbed--I'll leave you to decide which was which).

After receiving some brief paddle training on the beach and being shown how to don our classy spray skirts, we each claimed a kayak (my group continuing our tandem theme), and pushed off into the water, ready for our 12-mile adventure. We were paddling in Lake Superior, which holds an astonishing 2% of the world's fresh water! In some places, it is more than 300 feet deep. Because of its depth and sheer enormity in size, the water temperature is never warm. Right now, it is approximately 49 degrees Fahrenheit. The water is extremely clean and clear--because of this, we were able to paddle a little way out from the cliffs and see a shipwreck on the lake bottom, which has been there since the 1800s, preserved due to the cold temperature of the water.

Kissing Rock--the only place it actually touches is in the middle.

Though it looks like paint, the rocks are actually colored by sediments and minerals. The white is calcium.

Look how clear the water is! We could see right down to the bottom.

Bucketlist: kayak in a cave. Check.

The cliffs are constantly eroding, crumbling, and changing. The most recent collapse happened in February.

The water here is much deeper than it looks. So clear!

After kayaking, which was an all-day venture (we stopped halfway through to have lunch on a beach, which was invaded by a billion nasty black flies that bit us endlessly. Most of us ended up wading out into the water and carrying our lunch with us to eat standing there. My legs are now covered in a bunch of tiny black bruises where I was bitten...), we headed to our next campsite, owned by a Native American family headed by a woman with the longest hair I have ever seen (almost to her ankles, and it was braided). With one night already under our belt, we practically felt like pros setting up camp and making a fire.

After cooking our soup and devouring another delicious dinner, we went out on the lake next to where we were camped (Otter Lake) in paddleboats.

We had a little race.

Yeah, I'm pretty sure ours was broken... ;)

There was a small playground.

And we even played croquet.

Sarah made friends with a nice Sri Lankan family near our campsite who gave us some sort of spicy coconut pancake.

After dark, we lit the lanterns and climbed into the tent. Michal put on a shadow puppet show for us, and then we fell asleep to the persistent call of a whippoorwill.

The next morning, we slept in and leisurely made breakfast. The girls made coffee for themselves (I of course stuck with water):

We had an incredibly beautiful campsite.

After packing up camp, we decided to visit a nearby waterfall. Once again, the drive was incredibly gorgeous. I felt like a hobbit:

We arrived at Laughing Whitefish Falls and, after hiking a small portion of the North Country National Scenic Trail through a forest with the ground covered in ferns, we arrived at the actual 100-foot waterfall.

After exploring the waterfall, we took a long drive (Michal chose some excellent Sunday music--hymns--some I was familiar with, some not--improvised upon by a pianist) back to mainland Michigan and headed to a place on the western side of the state called Traverse City. After eating dinner, we explored the town a bit and then took a lovely walk along the beach of Lake Michigan. We met a woman with a three-legged dog named Snowball who was from Germany but has spent the past 23 years living in Kentucky. Imagine a German Southern accent. Yup.

That night, we camped just outside of Traverse City. Jong Sun and Sarah did a little firedance:

The next day, we woke in the wee hours of the morning to drive to Sleeping Bear Dunes. Just after we left our campsite, it began to rain, with accompanying lightning and thunder. It was quite a splendid show. After a half hour's drive, we arrived at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Park, amidst quite the downpour. We entered the park and drove through a scenic route that made us feel like we were in the middle of Jurassic Park and that dinosaurs might burst out of the woods in front of or behind our vehicle at any moment. The woods grew darker as we got further in and reminded me of a dark, enchanted forest.

When we arrived at the scenic overlooks, I decided to get out of the car and see the views, even though I had to fight the pouring rain and the highspeed winds. I was very glad I did:

At a different overlook, the storm was beginning to clear. I felt like I was standing at the edge of the world, just like CS Lewis described it in the Chronicles of Narnia:

At another overlook, we thought we could see the Platte River (which it turned out not to be, but oh well), so we decided to drive and try and find it:

Instead of the Platte River, what we did find was an unbelievably warm lake, just off the beach of Lake Michigan (in fact, I wouldn't be surprised if the two connect at high tide).

Lake Michigan beach

One last stop at a different beach, and then it was time to head home to Ann Arbor.

With a total of approximately 1200 miles and $221, I must say: I had a pretty spanking good vacation. My ember is officially an undying flame.


Doug said...

Good for you. I think people under appreciate the beauty there is to be found in "their own backyard" so-to-speak.

Elizabeth Downie said...

How fun! I'm so glad you got to explore "up north" :) !

Myrna said...

That was a most awesome travel tale. Thanks for sharing!

BUSNINJA said...

Wait . . . you ate the fudge, right?

Courtney said...

What a fun vacation! I love "Somewhere in Time," and I even thought that hotel in the picture looked like it. How fun you got to see it! it's a beautiful place. And such awesome adventures you went on!