June 10, 2015
St. Ignace, MI at the Quality Inn near the Mackinac Bridge
Although I only rode anemic 184 miles today, it was full of good surprises and wonderful views of Lake Michigan. I left my hideaway at the Lakeside Motel in Harrison and buzzed up Rte. 127 which offered scenery not unlike Maine.
There were bogs and ponds, tall conifers, and lovely white birches—a rarity on the east coast. The road runs arrow straight with a 70 mph speed limit that everyone but me enthusiastically exceeded. It was a relaxing ride; very few cars and wilderness with a lake here and there.
One poor soul had a really bad day…ran off the road and flipped his car just a short time before I came by. Police on the scene, then not long after the EMTs were speeding from the next town to get to the accident.
About 25 miles past the point where 127 meets I-75 I rode west from Gaylord toward the eastern shore of Lake Michigan. My destination was Charlevoix on the coast. At one point while cruising along Rte. 127, I passed a sign that told me I was at Latitude 45, halfway between the North and South Poles.
As I made my way toward The Big Waters, I had serious misgivings about the whole idea. The wind was howling from the west and angry dark clouds drifted over head. But all I encountered was some wet pavement in a few areas. The real treat was a series of 10 or so twisties that the map couldn’t capture. It was an exciting departure from the many interstates and freeways I endured to get to this part of Michigan.
I arrived in Charlevoix ready for lunch and, thanks to a local at the gas station I stopped at on the edge of town, found Kelsey’s. In fact, when I asked the man gassing up his pickup about a good lunch place, he had me follow him to it! Nice guy. Here I got my first view of Lake Michigan. The weather had cleared perfectly and I had a satisfying lunch while soaking in the majesty of the lake. For some reason I was in the mood for a BLT and the menu offered it. The sandwich was a monster, but I managed to finish it.
I got talking to a couple seated next to me and they told there are two kinds of people who visit Charlevoix: “Trunk Slammers” and “Fuggies.”The former are people to live elsewhere, usually downstate, and have a weekend/vacation place in the area. The latter are day trippers to come to Charlevoix to sightsee and visit the fudge shops in town.
After walking around near the lakefront after lunch, I rode into the main part of town and sure enough, it was a handsome but definitely touristy place with…yup, fudge shops, ice creams parlors, and candy emporiums. I didn’t stop and continued north and was treated to more views of Lake Michigan.
The grand moment came when I rejoined I-75 and approach the Mighty Mackinac Bridge. Before the 5-mile span opened in 1957, commerce and travel went by ferry across the straights between Lake Huron, to the east and Lake Michigan to the west. At times ice blocked the docking area and travelers went by foot from the ferry to the shore across about 100 yards of the frozen lake.
But I had my own exciting adventure getting across; the unsettling westerly winds I ran into earlier had picked up speed and trucks and RV had to creep across the bridge at 20 mph. I managed about 40 mph myself trying to stay upright and not freak out when I had use the lane with the metal grating. The wobbling effect of the grating combined with the steady buffeting of the wind gave me more than a few anxious moments.
With great relief I got to the other side, found a delightful park that hosted a seagull colony…hundreds of white dots along the shore line. There I got my obligatory photos and it was on to St. Ignace where I staying.
By a happy mistake, I thought I’d booked a Quality Inn in town, not out on the highway as was actually the case, and puttered along the main street that follows the curve of the Lake Huron shore line. I passed a church re-purposed as the Museum of Ojibwa Culture. I made a quick u-turn to check it out and found a building full of Native crafts (the real stuff—there’s still a thriving native population in the area), displays and historic artifacts.
On the grounds is the grave of Fr. Marquette, the famous explorer and Jesuit missionary. Over 300 years ago, this was the site of the “Huron Mission” established by Fr. Marquette and was the subject of the 1991 movie Black Robe—a film I had just viewed last week with John and Ray. I was stunned that I was standing on the very spot that the Black Robe protagonist endured so many hardships to reach.
Happy mistakes—that’s the enchanting thing about travel. They happen and when it all works out, all you can do it step back and appreciate the wonder of it.
Next stop on Thursday: Munising and perhaps a quick glimpse of the storied Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore and Lake Superior.