I was married in Michigan. But aside from 24 hours once spent in Ann Arbor, a late-night drive through on the way to Canada, and a few annual weeks in August and at Christmas in our little tip of the Keweenaw, it’s a state I have little experience with. So when Fresh and I realized we had a glorious few weeks to kill this summer, I started dreaming up a Michigan road trip—inspired in no small part by those commercials from when I was a kid: “Yes, Michigan! The feeling’s forever…”
Yes! Michigan! And we were off.
For a week, I studied the Michigan map in the guest bedroom at the in-law’s. Where should our adventure take us? While the lure and proximity of Isle Royale was tempting, my imagination kept jumping to the storied lakeshores and woods of the Eastern UP, to the places where the Great Lakes meet, to the names I’d heard of but had never been: The Soo Locks. Tahquamenon Falls. Mackinac Island. Pictured Rocks. Sleeping Bear Dunes. Leelenau. Grand Traverse Bay. The Manitou Islands. Whitefish Bay. The Mighty Mac bridge. I am, after all, a Great Lakes girl, having spent endless scorching days tiptoeing into the frigid waters of Lake Michigan and choosing an adult home just a few blocks from her sandy and surf-pounded beaches—even marrying into a Lake Superior family. So the pull of a Great Lakes tour was strong.
But there seemed something so unglamorous about a Michigan vacation. My experiences outside the Keweenaw were less than spectacular. Driving through lower Michigan on the way to Canada was almost as bad as driving across Northwest Indiana—maybe even worse, since it seemed to stretch on forever. And I remembered the pot-hole ridden highways, the radio stations that only played Bob Seger or Tim McGraw, the economic depression that weighed heavy in the air. Maybe we’d be better off heading west, to Glacier or some other exotic locale, or north to Isle Royale, which we’d been talking about backpacking forever. Maybe a Michigan roadtrip was a bad idea.
The thing is, the Great Lakes and the North Woods get under your skin. A few weeks in Eagle Harbor spent berry picking and jam making and hiking and canoeing and star gazing and four-wheeling and rock climbing and swimming…you don’t want to give her up so easily. You want to hang on to those perfect summer days, those storied vacation moments, those swims and vistas and hikes and bonfires just a little bit longer. So despite the potholes and the recession and the drone of the Lower Peninsula, we headed deep into the heart of Michigan.
What a delight.
The secret sandy beaches, three miles through the woods, where crystalline waters tickle your feet. The variegated rocks that tower over the depths of Superior. The birches and beeches that whistle and flutter in light winds—and that rattle and creak above in heavier winds. The pounding Lake Michigan surf in a rain storm. The whitewashed and grassy shores of Huron, lapped by the clearest waters. The orchards growing on old sand dunes, with blueberries and peaches and cherries nourished by the waters and sands of Leelenau’s Peninsula. The highways that hug the coasts and shores of the Great Lakes—hugging closer and lower than any oceanside drive ever could. The powdery dunes that tempt you to walk just a little further, a little higher, for that perfect vista. The sun-bleached towns frozen in time—and the beachside surf villages that have popped up just down the road. The ice cream parlors and fudge shops and pasty shacks and smoked whitefish stands. The twinkling lights of the Mackinac Bridge by night, and her white towers flanked by clouds at day. The old family-run motels, a stone’s skip from perfectly sandy beaches, and the campgrounds filled with multi-generational campers, enjoying nights under the Milky Way. And the beaches….from the volcanic rocks of Superior to limestone-washed Huron to the sandy, sandy shores of Lake Michigan. Ah, the beaches. And the cool waters, sometimes lapping, sometimes pounding. The lakes are what get me the most—daily swims, running from the car to stick my toes in at the first sight of a new lake or shoreline. And the comfort of coming home to Lake Michigan.
What a delight.
We didn’t quite make it everywhere we hoped. We lingered a little too long at Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, soaking in the afternoon’s last rays at our forest-hidden beach. And the Straits-side campsite at St. Ignace begged just another picture, another walk through the grasslands to the shore, another glimpse of Mama loon and her million babies. And Leelenau and Sleeeping Bear Dunes—there was always another dune to climb, another ice cream cone to be enjoyed, another farmstand to frequent, another beach for swimming and strolling. And even that first morning just down the road at Great Sand Bay—another skinny dip begged to be had. So we didn’t quite make it everywhere we hoped. That dinner cruise on the Soo, the moose lurking at Tahquamenon, the lakeside family motels on Lake Michigan, the hiking around the Manitou Islands—they’ll have to wait until next time.
I guess those old commercials were right: The feeling really is forever.
While living in Mexico, I joked that speaking Spanish forced me to be far more Zen about life: Since I could only speak in the present tense, I was forced to just live in that present tense.
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