Gorgonzola does America in a Month

Day 2: to South Bass Island to Mackinaw City: Long portage through Michigan

(Day 1)

So the alarm goes off, it's 8:00 AM and I'm in a strange hotel room, a little threadbare. I look out the window and see open water, across a drained swimming pool. But not familiar water. It hits me: I'm in Ohio. That's Lake Erie out there. The glaciers from the last Ice Age forgot to replace a big divot and it filled up with rainwater. Later some people came along and nearly killed everything in it. The hotel's threadbare because they're about to tear it down.

Fortunately, my room in this doomed hotel comes with a critical amenity: A coffee-maker, capable of brewing up the stuff that lets me stop thinking of the world in those terms. But I still want off the island. Properly cleaned and caffeinated, I pay my bill (probably the last person to ever do so), catch the bus to the ferry,

OK, ok, I see I took pictures on the ferry ride back, so I must not have been that grumpy two years ago today. Getting back to my car in the ferry parking lot, I see it didn't have a window smashed in, as one of the previous occupants of the spot did. Stop at grocery store, get stamps and something to eat, and mail postcards.

Oh, I forgot to tell you about the postcards. One ritual I tried to maintain throughout the trip was to mail postcards from interesting places such as Put-in-Bay. Recipients included immediate family members (i.e. parents), relatives I would stay with on the trip, plus a noder or two.

In my greaat wisdom, I decided to avoid the Ohio Turnpike toll on the last 20 miles to Toledo. This involved taking Ohio 58 to US 20, to the bottom of Interstate 280 just southeast of Toledo. Surprisingly, Northwestern Ohio reminded me of Maryland's Eastern Shore: flat farmland with occasional woods and run-down gas stations. All in all, I probably drove an extra half-hour to save $1.50.

Toledo presented me with my first taste of serious road construction on the trip. I-280 was being rebuilt, with a high cable-stayed bridge over the Maumee River, the largest highway project in Ohio history. (A search of Web archives indicates that the bridge is still under construction as of this writing, because ODOT had to abandon a complicated gantry system of feeding bridge sections across the river). Construction made for breathtaking road diversions and more than one backup as three lanes funneled into one. Driving I-93 through Boston in the middle of the Big Dig was easier. Eventually, I exited onto US 23 and headed on up into Michigan.

About halfway to Ann Arbor, Michigan presented me with another taste of heavy road construction. MDOT had decided to repave US 23 by alternately closing northbound and southbound lanes an hour at a time. So, I sat for an hour with a couple of thousand other cars, waiting my turn.

Moving again, it was interesting to watch the entire paving process spread out over several miles: demolition, re-grading, rebar, and the use of giant paving machines to pour the concrete. I was behind schedule, so I skipped the delights of Ann Arbor, Flint, Saginaw, and Bay City. I stopped only for fuel in KawKawlin just north of Bay City. The Northern Michigan accent is striking, almost like the accent foisted on the faux Minnesotans in the movie Fargo.

The only other stop before Mackinac City was a scenic overlook from which you could see Lake Michigan. This was also the last place I had any reception on my cell phone for quite some time.

Mackinaw City is at the extreme northern tip of Michigan's Lower Peninsula and has three reasons for existence:

  1. The Mackinaw Bridge, gateway to the Upper Peninsula.
  2. A park dedicated to the first European settlement in the area, Michilimackinac, complete with a reconstructed fort.
  3. A staging point for tourists taking the ferry to Mackinaw Island, tourist trap extraordinaire.

I had a good time wandering around the reconstructed fort and buying books about it and the bridge, but as you already know, I'm always ready for a boat ride.

My first impression of Mackinaw Island was: Horseshit. Literally. There are no automobiles on the island, and a lot of newlyweds who enjoy being carried in horse-drawn carriages. And so the pungent aroma of equine leavings was the first thing to hit me when I stepped off the ferry.

Dinner consisted of overpriced scallops past their prime at the Chippewa Hotel (the wine didn't help any). I headed right for the ferry afterwards. The last impression I had of Mackinaw Island was...you guessed it.

I felt a bit more human after a few minutes on the water, and got an excellent shot of the bridge just before the boat reached the mainland.

(Day 3)