Gorgonzola does America in a Month

Day 3: Mackinaw City to Madison: Jerky and flyboys

(Day 2)

Similar to other days of my journey, (poor) timing played a part in making this day less fun than it should have been.

You see, I have a problem. By the time I started looking for hotel rooms, the beginning and the end of the trip were locked in. I hadn't realized this overlapped the immense EAA Air show in Oshkosh, and every hotel room in eastern Wisconsin was booked. EVERY room. Green Bay, no luck. Forget about the Door Peninsula, with weddings and all. Oshkosh, Appleton, Fond du lac, it's all the same story. I briefly considered Wausau BUT IT WAS BOOKED TOO. Finally, a Best Western in Madison has a vacancy. So no matter what, I've got a long day ahead of me, and litle time to spare for sightseeing.

There's not much more to say about Mackinaw City except fueling up and getting across the Mackinaw Bridge into the Upper Peninsula. I skip the Mystery Spot, signs for which I'd seen all the way up the Lower peninsula the day before. For about half an hour I drive US 2 along the northern shore of Lake Michigan. Along about Naubinway I look at my gas gauge, and it's reading 1/4 tank. I think to myself, "My, distances are long up here" and pull into the Hog Island Country Store. First time I ever paid $1.97 a gallon for gas. It comes to $4 total, and I realize I've got a gas gauge problem. Also a low tire. I go into the store to pay for the gas and ask for an air hose. Inside, there are about half a dozen people line up in front of big display cases containing nothing but various types of jerky:

(All right, I made that last one up.)

Unfortunately, those scallops the night before had put me off my feed, so no jerky for me. I try to make up for it by buying a map and a refrigerator magnet shaped like the Upper Peninsula. Didn't help. But I got the air hose, backed up to the garage, and filled the tire. Back in the store, I had to wait another 15 minutes while various jerky customers made their jerky purchases, just to return the hose.

Back on the road, Michigan 117. The scenery resembles (unsurpisingly) Northern Maine, but flatter. I never notice the Niagara Escarpment. The crossroads with Michigan 28 has a small sign with "Musining 45" pointing to the left and "Newberry 25" to the right.

The big attraction of this part of the Upper Peninsula is Pictured Rocks National Seashore, and Musining is the gateway to it. In the Visitor's center, I get the bad news: The only way to Truly Experience the Pictured Rocks is by Boat.

Although I've no time for a boat trip, I invest two hours visiting the sights accessible by car: Miner's Castle, a peculiar rock formation on Lake Superior, and Miner's Falls, accessible down a narrow 1 1/2 mile winding road and another 1 1/2 mile hiking trail. But finally, I'm out walking around and taking pictures. At Musining Falls I witness stupid teenagers illegally walking under the falls.

In Musining I do postcards and take a GPS reading. It's lunchtime by now, but I figure I should make up some time, and push on for Marquette. The drive along Lake Superior is worth all the day's frustrations. The junction with US 41 is just east of Marquette. It's a road I'm eventually supposed to take, so I take it.

That was a mistake; I really should have gone up to Marquette for something to eat. US 41 is miles of tree-lined road with nothing else. Northern Maine all over again. I'm beginning to alternately doze off and suddenly come awake, but there's nowhere to turn around, turn off, or even pull over. I risk death for 45 miles until I finally reach a convenience store in Rapid River at the junction with US 2. Cappucino, even out of a vending machine, is like nectar in these circumstances.

The northern shore of Green Bay is a bit more developed than the rest of the Upper Peninsula. Escanaba is a sizeable town, and as you get down towards Menominee development gets thicker and thicker.

The last touristy thing I do this day is stop at the Wisconsin Welcome center in Marinette, Wisconsin, just over the Menominee River bridge from Michigan. It's 5:00 and the attendant is locking up, but grudgingly gives me a map.

So, now it's a long slog down US 41 through all those cities that wouldn't give me hotel rooms. Traffic is bad the whole way down to Fond-du-Lac, which you might expect when all of the small plane owners in the country are gathered in one place. But I had one more task: A former coworker was attending the air show. There was no chance of tracking him down, but I felt should mail him a postcard from Oshkosh, just so he'd do a double-take when he got home.

It gets dark on the drive down US 151 from Fond-du-Lac to Madison. The scenery is more like the Wisconsin you'd expect, with corn fields and dairy farms lining the road. It also begins to rain just as it gets dark.

I'm completely knackered by the time I pull into the Best Western parking lot just past I-94. And now the punch line: After all that heartache getting a room, THEY'VE NEVER HEARD OF ME. It turns out my room was at the "Inn Towner" in downtown Madison. So it's another half hour of driving the streets of an unfamiliar city before I can get into a room and collapse on the bed.

(Day 4)