July 2002

Here Today, Gone Tomorrow

As you can see, a Midwestern summer was not a treat for us.  We’re fair-weather California folk, and think that ocean breezes and 72-76 degree temperatures are just about right for the good ole’ summertime.  Hoping Michigan would have more breezes, we moved north out of Indiana. We swung by Traverse City – and ran into a brick wall.  Unfortunately, the day we arrived was the start of the week-long Cherry Festival.  The 76th annual festival, to be exact, with 500,000 people (plus the Blue Angels) expected in attendance.  We had to make our way in to pick up our mail, but after that we sort of caromed  off the edges of the big event and continued on our way.

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And came on a couple of real small-town treats.  One of the rewards of staying off the major highways is that every once in awhile you find some really good local food.  When on the interstates, about all you find are the national or regional franchises, but on secondary roads, who knows.  In the past few days we’ve had a very nice breakfast at the Chit Chat Diner in Glennie, and then a truly sensational one at Sparks Eatery in Mesick.  We found Sparks while sitting at a red light preparing to turn onto another road to head for a larger town to find lunch.  Rick glanced over to the sign saying “Eats” and “Breakfast served all day” and said “Why not, it’s hot and we’re hungry -- let’s check it out.”  Sensational does not do the place justice.  After eating literally the finest breakfast either of us can remember, complete with a sampler tray of about seven different homemade jams and jellies, we bought bread, syrup, jam, and pie to go.  Wow, what a find.

In rural northern Michigan, $2.79 gets ya 18 of Virg’s finest crawlers.

We spent more time in Michigan, continually moving north.  We found that once we’d left the central part of the state behind, the weather was not as muggy, although still pretty hot.  We stopped for a bit in Cheboygan (not to be confused with Sheboygan, Wisconsin), at a state park right on Lake Huron.  Northern Michigan is mostly pretty, and wooded, although you don’t have to get too far south (into central Michigan) to be disappointed in the kind of grubbiness of the areas.  And we’ve been surprised to see oil wells every now and then.  But mostly forests, often tree farms; and many of them have a forest floor of ferns.  That was a real surprise.  Haven’t seen ferns like that since we left Florida.

And then on up to the Upper Peninsula, crossing the “Mighty Mac” bridge over the Mackinac Straights. We made a stop in Mackinaw City (finally, someone who knows how to spell this word properly!) for lunch at Mamma-Mia’s-Pizza-Parlor-and-free-bridge-museum-upstairs.  I suppose it’s conceivable you could just visit the museum, but you’d have to run the gauntlet of people eating their pizza (which was yummy) and all the workers.  Wasn’t worth it.  The museum was as funky as anticipated, and truly a gas.  It had been put together by the owners of the pizza parlor; he had been a worker on the bridge; the museum is dedicated to the workers and is full of trivia, including hard hats, workers’ union books, hammers and picks; stuff like that.  All old and kind of low key tacky. 

Our first layover after getting into the UP was in a pretty, small township (read: municipal) park along the Fox River.  The UP is filled with small community parks that are set up for camping as well as picnicking; they are mostly used by Michiganders, apparently, as we’ve seen very few out-of-state plates.  The electricity can be a little spotty, and there aren’t a lot of amenities, but just fine.  And we finally figured out that the reason why everybody has fires going in the evenings -- smudge fires really, because they are mostly smoke -- is to keep the mosquitoes down.  They are whoppers!  And the flies are huge too. 

After leaving Seney and the Fox River, we kept moving west, traveling through Marquette, where we stopped at the local library. They have a new addition that has only been open for a short time, and it’s a stunning place.  We went in the new entrance, and you really feel you’ve entered Frank Lloyd Wright country.  Lovely, cool wood, with lots of light painted walls, many prairie elements, etc., and huge skylights giving the whole the feel of an enormous atrium.  Quite lovely.  And there are many stuffed wild animals of the area -- bears, small foxes, martens, etc. -- on top of the bookcases; birds hang down from the high ceilings.  All very realistic.  The place was a treat.  And they had a big map where they invited guests to put in a pin showing where they were from.  We were from the spot the farthest away from Marquette in the United States.  Way cool!

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We also paused at the Marquette Maritime Museum, which has 3 Fresnel lenses; more than we’ve seen in any one place before.  And are they lovely!

Our destination after leaving Marquette was the small town of L’Anse (“lawnts” in the local dialect), outside of Bovine (really!) where we camped in the prettiest little park we’ve seen yet.  As a municipal park it has the others beat all to hell.  It sits on a bluff overlooking a bay off Lake Superior, with tremendous sunsets; lots of grass and trees.  We know that it is de rigeur to watch the sunset at Key West in Florida; we’d rather do it right here in the UP.  Happens later at night, that’s for sure, around 9:30 pm, with darkness around 10:00.  If you put on enough bug repellent, you can have a grand time sitting out; this park had swings for adults; very cozy and romantic. 

While in L’Anse we took a ride up to Copper Harbor, the end of the road at the top end of Michigan, the very top end of Route 41, which starts down at the tail end of Florida.  Not sure I’d want to take it all the way; it’s very slow.  But it’s fun to be able to say you rode both “tails.”  The Copper Harbor area is, not surprisingly, where a tremendous amount of that ore was removed in the mid-to-late 1800’s.  There has been a large Finnish presence in the area.  You can really see it in the architecture; there’s a real sense of Northern Europe here.

Michigan sightings:  Da Yoopers Tourist Trap outside Negaunee; they say they have everything you could possibly want.  No entrance fee!  (Yooper seems to be the local interpretation of UP.)  Oh yes, and U.P. Chuck’s (a bar and restaurant, evidently).  And you can buy sweetgrass for $5.00.  What’s sweetgrass?  Do you eat it or smoke it?

The further north you get, the more flowers you see: on city streets, in front of people’s houses, hanging in baskets from light stands.  People who live where there are cold, dark winters want light and color when they can get it.  Petunias mostly; and delphiniums right now.   You also see more and more logging trucks.  There is plenty of logging going on here; what interested us was that the logs are shorter than in the Sierras.  In California, they lay the length of the truck, and there are probably 4-6 per vehicle.  Here, they are much smaller, run the width of the truck bed, and there are probably 30-40 per truck.  The trucks are “downbound”, as they say.

The Upper Peninsula is too remote for us to want to stay here long, but it’s great to visit.  The countryside is mostly green and lovely, with roads going along the lakes and streams.  Unfortunately, many of the roads continue to bolster Michigan’s hard-earned reputation as the bad road capital of the nation – at least so far. But, the wildflowers are abundant and the berries are beginning to ripen.  The locals talk like they were in the movie “Fargo,” and the waitresses say “youse”, as in “Can I get youse anything more?” and “How are youse all today?”  All is joyous; we awaken each morning to the sensation of our mosquito bites saying hello. 

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By now we were making a beeline for Canada; having a chance to meet some California friends in Ontario Province.  But we made a couple more stops along the way.  The first was in Whitefish, the northeasterly-most spot in Michigan, along Lake Superior.  It was very quiet and remote, and contained both a lighthouse and the Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum, a real jewel.  This spot is well worth checking out.  We really enjoyed our visit to the museum, the lightkeeper’s cottage, etc.  A great area to explore.

And then we arrived in Soult Ste. Marie, and crossed into Canada, on our way to Lake Catchacoma, near Peterborough.  Our border crossing was near the Soo Locks.  They are really neat.  We got to see a ship go through, and it was fun.  Locks are such a simple concept, and so efficient.  There’s a good information center here, and an interesting film.  On the American side, a tremendous amount of shipping passes through these locks; the Canadian side is only for pleasure boats these days.  Another great spot.  And then we went over the bridge into Canada! 

It was the 40th anniversary of the opening of the bridge, and Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario was having a parade.  Very home town, with low- key floats pulled by local trucks; we managed to see the tail end of it.  Not long after we left town, moving east along the Trans-Canada Highway, we came to a sign saying construction for the next 27.8 km.  Go figure; just how long is that, anyway? (17.2 miles, says Rick)  At least you’re entertained figuring out the change back to miles.  In French, of course, it was an “amelioration de la route.”  Still just as rough and bumpy, but it sounded better in French; doesn’t everything?  Question:  if the distance is in kilometers, and the money is goofy too, do you count the people like in the US?  Or do you multiply by .62?  Are a thousand Canadian people really only the same as 620 Americans?  How about calories?

We enjoyed this quick first visit.  Listening to the CBC is a treat.  There are great programs and great music.  We did, however, have to change the station once -- the program coming on was a call in show on the topic “Who Taught you to Canoe?”  We turned thumbs down on that! 

Blueberries are just coming on; also raspberries and some corn -- and wildflowers everywhere.  One particularly beautiful flower is a bright purple spike. We spent one night camping in a charming provincial park; the only real difference we noticed was they asked us if we wanted “hydro”; it turns out that means electricity!   More adventure:  leaving the park, we knew we were low on fuel, but thought we’d be heading towards an urban area and could easily remedy the problem then.  NOT A CHANCE!  The road took a turn for the rural, and off we went, keeping our fingers crossed.  ‘Twas a lovely road, indeed, with rolling hills and beautiful lakes lined with cottages, but nary a pump in sight.  ‘Arvey started to cough; Kathy started calculating the distance back to the nearest town; Rick eased off on the pedal, turned the next corner, and we floated into a Shell station.  Heavy sighs of relief all around (except the cats; still asleep).  We filled up, and headed on down the road to our destination, a visit with our California friends who had rented a house on a lovely lake not far from Peterborough.

Leaving, we headed south, back into the U.S., by way of the interesting Kingston area, going over the 1000 Islands Bridge into New York.  This is undoubtedly the nicest border crossing in the east, at least from what we’ve seen so far.  The bridge goes high over the St. Lawrence Seaway; the view is incredible. 

Re-entering the United States in northern New York, we faced eastward, anxious to get back into Canada and head toward Nova Scotia.  On the way, we rode once again through the Adirondacks, always a beautiful trip.  Our route took us through Lake Placid, with an Ironman Triathlon about to take place; the joint was mobbed.  We were happy to just get out of town in one piece!  Then over a lovely, low, friendly bridge across Lake Champlain and into Vermont, an incredibly lovely state. 

Have you ever been to Vermont?  If not, run, do not walk, and go there immediately.  The entire state is beautiful, and we really enjoyed ourselves.  Within a 100-miles we had the opportunity to stop at a working cider mill, Ben & Jerry’s ice cream headquarters, Cabot creamery, and a working grist mill.  What more could you want?  Ben and Jerry’s was fun.  We had been there in 1994, and surprisingly the place looks just like it did then.  Very low key, with cows around, places to park in the gravel, no tour because it was a weekend (but a video instead), loudspeaker music from 20-25 years ago, a display about “Compost Happens”, very hippie and fun.  And, of course, all the ice cream you could ever want to buy. 

We spent a fair amount of time comparing New York and Vermont.  They are both lovely states, but we found New York to be somewhat neater.  Vermont still allows a lot of trailers parked beside the road, often with several junk cars parked in front.  On the other hand, we drove through Stowe, a lovely skiing town, and were struck by the difference between it and Lake Placid.  Stowe is very low key (see above).  We realize that all the activity in Lake Placid was unusual, but nonetheless, if we were picking a place to go skiing during the winter, it would be Stowe.  So there!  We also went through two other beautiful little Vermont towns:  St. Johnsbury and Waterbury.  As pretty as we have seen anywhere, and there are tons of lovely villages in New York.  So they are both great places to visit.

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Our route very quickly crossed Vermont, and even more quickly passed through New Hampshire, also very lush and green, with plenty of hills (they call them mountains) to enjoy.  And the wildflowers are just to die for.  A wonderful variety of colors, and usually three or more varieties blooming at once along the highway at any given point.  Vermont has the Passumpsic Bank; New Hampshire the Siwooganoc Bank.  Would you put your money in a bank whose name you couldn’t pronounce?  New Hampshire also has signs saying “Brake for Moose: It could save your life.  HUNDREDS of Collisions.”  And somewhere we saw a highway sign at the top of a steep grade saying “Sortie D’urgence Pour Camions;” this is French for runaway truck lane.  But on to Maine. 

At this time in the summer, we were anxious to get back into Canada and to head out to the Maritime Provinces.  So we quickly swung through Bangor and on up to Calais, pronounced like callous we think, where we crossed the border again.  We considered this quick trip through New England to be a prelude to a return visit later on.  When we come out of Canada after Labor Day we plan to spend several weeks enjoying New England in the fall, working our way south as the leaves begin to turn.  We were enjoying our summer very much.  But then, to us every day of the year is “summer.”   Rick says he feels as if “we are in a perpetual state of grace.”  Kathy, who tends to have a different take on things, says she’s “waiting for the other shoe to drop.”  In any case, we are happy as could be.

Best wishes to all from ‘Arvey’s Gang

 See more photos from the US & Canada in 2001 to 2003

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