Shortly after Traverse City, we round the bay. The road bends north, and Michigan’s Highway 31 takes us through storybook small towns nestled along the shores of Lake Michigan. When we pass the occasional fruit stand at the end of someone’s driveway, Ashton is somewhat perplexed by the sight.
I begin to explain how we’re in Cherry country. Actually, Michigan is a growing mecca for all kinds of berries, fruits, greens, and of course cherries. The state offers rich soil and plenty of moisture making it easy to grow just about anything. Quite often folks grow more than they can consume and choose to set up a stand at the end of their driveway.
Since tourism is huge in this part of the state, locals or folks like ourselves who are traveling through will stop and purchase freshly picked items. It works on an honor system. We take just enough fresh goodies for our needs of whatever they’re selling and leave behind money placed in a container that they’ve provided. Small town America at its finest.
Time for Lunch
With our tummies growling (Hmm, maybe we should’ve stopped at one of those fruit stands), we stop for lunch in the beautiful town of Petoskey. This is definitely a wealthy town filled with architecturally attractive second homes and a harbor filled with high-end Cabin Cruisers, Sailboats, and Yachts. We admire our surroundings and enjoy a nice meal at an outdoor cafe.
The Mighty Mac
Our drive continues. Highway 31 eventually merges onto Interstate 75. It won’t be long now! I can feel my palms on the steering wheel begin to sweat. The Mackinac Bridge connects Lower Michigan to Upper Michigan and is currently the fifth-longest suspension bridge in the world. It’s approximately 5 miles long and at its center sits around 200 feet above the water.
All suspension bridges are designed to move to accommodate wind, change in temperature, and weight. It’s possible that the deck at the center span of the Mackinac Bridge could move as much as 35 feet from side to side during high winds. It’s a four-lane toll bridge with only the outer lanes paved. Wind warnings should be checked prior to crossing with a high profile vehicle such as an RV.
August 2011 – Fortunately, we’re traveling in a car and it’s a beautiful August day with manageable winds … but that doesn’t make me any less nervous. The open metal grate road has my steering wheel vibrating from side to side. I hang on tight. The paved right lane is closed just ahead and therefore not an option. It’s a beautiful bridge and a remarkable feat of engineering that I prefer to admire from shore.
With the bridge portion of our drive behind us, we navigate through the town of St. Ignace in search of our hotel. Over lunch, Ashton convinced me to book a hotel room instead of pitching the tent at the Straits State Park. I have very fond childhood memories of our family of five camping at that state park, and I wanted to share the experience with Ashton.
But alas, the comfort of a hotel room with the ability for a long hot shower did sound rather appealing, especially since I could still feel myself covered in sandy grit from our morning escapades, but I didn’t let Ashton know that. I let her think she won! Besides, it was already a long day with another long day planned for the following day. The thought of having to set up camp just sounded like way more work than I was interested in doing. Hotel it is!
After settling into the room, we catch the next ferry to Mackinac Island to grab dinner and give Ashton a quick overview of what the next day’s plans would entail.
By the way, during this entire trip, we never used a GPS nor did either one of us own a Smart Phone at the time. We also didn’t use the internet during this entire excursion. We used a good old-fashioned Atlas for navigation, and I had a notebook with handwritten information listing possible places to stay and things to do along our travel route … notes that were researched at home, back in Colorado. During lunch, I made a hotel reservation for that evening via a phone call from my flip-phone.
No cars. Just horses and bicycles. No chain hotels. Just one of a kind lodging accommodations. No chain restaurants. Just unique tasty eateries. And more fudge than any normal person could possibly consume.
“Come on mom. Let’s go”, Ashton urges. Who’s doing the nudging now? “Okay, okay! Just one more phone call”, I respond. I was still running a business after all. There was still a responsible adult lingering within no matter how hard I tried to escape. My goal was to make sure the day was free of business matters so I could focus on mother/daughter time and enjoy our day.
9:00 a.m. – We catch the ferry about an hour later than planned. Ashton is eager to explore this island that she’s heard so much about from her mother, me. The previous evening’s short visit had merely intrigued her further.
The romantic 1980s movie, Somewhere in Time, introduced the country to the Grand Hotel and Mackinac Island. During the summer of 1981, I planned my first romantic getaway here with my then-new boyfriend. Although we couldn’t afford to stay at the Grand Hotel, we did find a quaint spot in town for a couple of nights. Apparently, our relationship blossomed because forty years and two kids later, Al is still dealing with my surprise travel planning.
Ashton and I were some of the first few folks to exit the ferry. Ashton was on a mission to get to a bicycle rental shop before the crowd and persuaded me to keep moving and not stop at the restroom. (Note to self – don’t listen to your 21-year-old child.) There are multiple bike rental shops to choose from, and considering this was late August and the economy was still struggling, the crowds were at a minimum. Her concerns were unfounded.
With waivers signed, we were given a quick demo on the bikes we had chosen. “Yeah, yeah, yeah”, I think to myself when the only thing I’m interested in is the location of the nearest restroom. Finally, the young man hands over the bike and I walk it over to the curb where I proceed to fling one leg to the other side of the bike and get ready to hop on.
I’m not sure how or why it happened. It seemed to occur in slow motion. One minute I was upright and the next I was falling to the ground. The bicycle and I literally toppled over on our sides to the ground. Folks rushed to my aid. Oh no, I’m so embarrassed. I jump up, quickly grab my bottle of water, noting the wet spot on the sidewalk, and with a flushed red face laughingly say, “I’m fine. Yes, seriously, I’m fine”, and before anyone could say another word, including my daughter, I’m pedaling down the road to the public restroom.
Feeling renewed and ready to tackle the day, I exit the restroom and quickly spot Ashton who whispers, “Mom, did you pee your pants”, Ashton asks in a concerned tone? “Of course I didn’t. My water bottled leaked”. She looks at me again and says, “Oh my gosh! You did pee your pants. I am so sorry. We really should’ve stopped here first before grabbing the bikes”. I adamantly exclaim, ” I did not! It was the water bottle that leaked. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it”. We both bust out laughing as I remind Ashton that I’m thirty years older than her. We jump on the bikes still chuckling and begin our eight-mile circumference ride around the exterior of the island.
Mackinac Island was once a national park, the second in the United States. However, in 1895 it was turned over to the state of Michigan and today over eighty percent of the island is State Park property and most of the land remains in its natural condition. There are over seventy miles of signed roads and marked trails, some of which are paved and some which are not and all are assessable to the public.
We weren’t even halfway through our bike ride when Ashton and I realized one day on this picturesque island is not enough. We should’ve booked an overnight on the island. There’s so much to see, explore, and enjoy especially when visiting during the off-season.
After our one-hour bike ride around the exterior of the island, we returned the bikes and set off on foot.
Of course, a visit to the historical landmark, the Grand Hotel, was a must. We tour the grounds, step inside for a quick peek and sample the Grand Hotel fudge, some of the grainiest I’ve ever tasted … no thank you. Moving on, we opt for a late lunch at a Sports Bar near the Stone Church followed by shopping and fudge tasting.
Ashton and I wore the Mackinac title of fudgie proudly as we made our way around the fudge capital of the world doing our best to sample and determine which shop makes the best fudge. There are around 13 fudge shops on the Island, and between them, they make so much fudge that the island imports 10 tons of sugar per week. Sampling fudge remains one of the favorite activities of Mackinac visitors, thus visitors are affectionately called fudgies. Chocolate is the most popular fudge. Of course!
By late afternoon, Ashton and I were getting kind of tired, but we had one more must-do thing on our list to accomplish. Take a cab ride!
It was a brisk fall day in September of 1982 when I booked another romantic getaway for Al and me on Mackinac Island. We walked, we explored, we attended a reenactment at the historic Fort Mackinac, but my most memorable moment from that trip was the evening carriage ride to the Inn at Stonecliff.
It was a two bench carriage. The driver gave us a blanket to lay across our lap to help ward off the cold chill in the autumn air. We rode in silence. The only thing we heard was the rhythmic sound of hoofs clippity clapping on the paved road and the rustling of fall leaves. At the restaurant inside the Stonecliff Inn, we were seated near a huge stone fireplace that had been freshly stoked with wood. Al and I enjoyed a wonderful dinner while discussing future plans.
Less than a year later, Al and I exchanged our marriage vows at our turn of the twentieth century themed wedding inspired by our Mackinac Island visits. It was a very romantic wedding, and we were blessed with perfect weather … not an easy feat during the month of June in the Chicago suburbs.
Ah, memories! During this visit with Ashton, I wanted to return to the Inn and since it was a relatively long cab ride, long being relative when you’re on a small island, the Stonecliff Inn would make a great carriage ride destination. We toured the grounds of the inn and then stepped inside. Disappointment waved over me as it didn’t seem the same. Perhaps I missed something or young love had tainted my memory. Regardless, it’s still a beautiful property that served as a great way for my daughter and me to relax and take in another Mackinac experience.
We took the ferry back to the mainland as the sun was setting. We had a fantastic and memorable visit. It was time to get a good night’s sleep considering the long drive in front of us.
Time to Go
We checked out of our hotel room in St. Ignace as the sun was rising over Lake Huron. We had a nice lakefront room with a beautiful view. The Adirondack chairs placed on the beach near the water’s edge were beckoning to be sat upon. However tempting, my thoughts were broken by the realities of the day. We had a long drive ahead of us.
From the town of St. Ignace, we take Highway 2 west through Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. The scenery along this northern edge of Lake Michigan was nothing all that memorable. The land is flat and covered with thick forest. Ashton remains intrigued by the dense lush forests.
That kind of thick forest landscape would continue for most of our day with the occasional break in trees as we passed through small towns. Near the Michigan – Wisconsin border, we pick up Highway 8 and take it west all the way through Wisconsin to the Mississippi River. We cross the river into Minnesota and then head south traveling along the Mississippi River. The change in scenery was a welcome sight! We enjoyed the drive and cute river towns along the way.
Once we hit Interstate 94, we navigated around Minneapolis and checked into a hotel in Bloomington. We were exhausted. What I thought would be an eight hour driving day, turned into ten. A miscalculation on my part, for sure. Thank goodness Ashton and I took turns driving.
The next morning, we enjoyed waking up slowly and taking our time to get ready for the day. The mall wouldn’t open until 10:00, thus no need to rush. This break was more than needed, and we felt refreshed after the leisurely morning.
By the time 10:00 a.m. rolled around, we were ready to check out of our room and visit Mall of America, America’s largest indoor shopping mall and one of the largest in the world. The structure offers an abundance of stores as well as an amusement park, aquarium, theaters, and restaurants. I had been curious about this place for years and considering it was practically on our route home, this was the perfect opportunity to stop and quench my curiosity.
Architecturally I found the mall somewhat stark, cold, colorless and lacking personality. It was huge, I’ll give it that, but it felt perhaps a little sad. The occasional empty storefronts were clear signs of a struggling economy. I’m not sure what I was expecting, but we were both disappointed and after buying a “Minnesota” T-shirt and grabbing a quick bite to eat at the food court, we were well on our way and entering Iowa. We overnighted somewhere in Nebraska, and the next day, we were back in Colorado.
Once in Colorado, we exited Interstate 76 at the town of Brush and headed south on Highway 71, a two-lane less than scenic country road, and eventually angled our way home. St. Ignace, Michigan to Pueblo West, Colorado – Three days and 1,500 miles later, I was exhausted. I’ll need a lot of rest before I plan my next getaway.
Pronunciation – Whether it’s Mackinac or Mackinaw, the pronunciation is the same: Mack-i-naw. The mainland area was first named Michilimackinac by the Native Americans. By 1715 the French established a strong presence in the area and shortened the name to Mackinac which was more fitting to their own language and while spelled with an “ac” the sound is “aw.” The British took control of the area in 1761, and in 1857 they changed the spelling of the city to the way it sounded, Mackinaw City but left the Island spelling Mackinac Island. In short, the French pronounced it “aw” but spelled it “ac”. The British heard it pronounced “aw” so they spelled it that way. Whichever way you see it spelled, it is always pronounced “aw”. 🧐