Hitch-itch had set-in, time to hookup the fifth wheel and take off for the next leg of this 2700 mile summer drive. Planning started months ago to include reading friend’s blog pages for ideas of what to see and where to stay. Every state has multiple routes that take you by great stops, no wonder so many maps of where we have traveled look like ant trails separated by a few hundred miles. Up one highway and down another never fails to reveal places we could have missed depending on what road we decided to take. In the case of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula the route would include driving over “the bridge” then across US Highway 2 in the south and up to Michigan 28 in the north.
St. Ignace – Just North of the Bridge
Weeks ago locals asked “have you been over the bridge before.” I said no, wondering to myself what’s the big deal with a bridge. I’m more worried about the condition of roads given the Upper Peninsula is 30% of the states landmass with only 3% of its population. Surely the ice of its Canadian winters destroys roads and the budget to fix them would be small as is the number of vehicles that travel through the wilderness. Just before leaving across two lane state highways east from Traverse City, our Michigan neighbor commented his wife was crying by the time they got over “the bridge.” But, according to him, we would be okay as long as there is little wind. He drove it during a winter storm – at night. I pushed thoughts of “the bridge” to the back of my mind. I’ve been over bridges on I-10 along the Gulf Coast that looked like rollercoaster rides as you approach them at a distance. Never has been a problem. But I’ve also never heard of a state offering a service where highway employees drive customer vehicles over a bridge if requested.
The Travel Gods were with us once again. A fine day to move our home, sunny with little wind. As we approached the point of no return, interstate signs became more frequent, ticking down the miles until we would cross over the Straits of Mackinac, a five mile wide waterway joining Lakes Michigan and Huron, traversed by the Mackinac Bridge. All 24,000 pounds of RV, truck and passengers would be 20 stories above the water while perhaps boats loaded with iron ore from the west traveled beneath us. We set the radio to a local FM station providing up to the minute bridge conditions. “No stopping on the Mackinac Bridge. In the event of a flat tire or motor failure, please remain in your vehicle. Bridge personnel on duty will investigate and assist.” Of the four lanes (two in each direction), one would be closed for construction at some point. Maximum speed is 45 miles per hour and we could drive twenty behind the semi trucks with our emergency flashers on.
We come around the corner and there it is the bridge. Fortunately my mind processes hazardous situations quickly. I also ate a sandwich before we began this trip so hunger could not possibly add to any form of anxiety or light-headiness 🙂 This trip across the bridge was going to end as quickly as this paragraph. Lower roadways over water lead to and from the main bridge spans. I could see it’s only the center of the bridge that has the real height. At the top of the ride, with Karen taking photos, I decided this is a good time to relax and go with the flow. At 45 miles an hour, driving the lane with the steel grates that provide a view through to the surface of the water, I felt safe. Looking left and right was wide open water. This was a Why Moment! Meaning this is Why we travel fulltime in an RV. “The bridge” turned out to be a fascinating opportunity. We would discover well maintained roads beyond it.
We had three nights booked at Lakeshore RV Park and Campground. Wow – management assigned us spot 108. What a view of Lake Michigan we have outside the living room window. The folks next to us are in a motorhome, parked facing the lake. They have been coming here for 10 years and finally managed to secure the best view. Utilities are located on both sides of the camper so visitors along the lake view can park in whatever direction they want. You can see the walkway down to the water leading to the campground’s private beach. Thirty-eight dollars a night on full hookups! Great price on the north side of the bridge in Saint Ignace. Our time is limited so I utilize the best sources of tourist information which will be campground management and those parked around us with Michigan license plates.
Outside the campground office is a poster with information regarding Shepler’s ferry boat service to arguably one of the Midwest’s main attractions – Historic Mackinac Island. What – Shepler’s has a free shuttle service from the campground to their boats! Then they will bring us home! I told management we had been delayed and unfortunately don’t have time in the schedule to camp near the Soo Locks at Sault Ste Marie to watch the ships go through on their way to the Atlantic Ocean. No worries, they say it’s only a short 54 mile drive up to the northeast corner of the Peninsula to Soo Locks in our truck. No time for the day trip which would have included visiting a nearby shipwreck museum. There was no way we were going to miss visiting Mackinac Island.
Karen and I celebrated a wedding anniversary while in Saint Ignace (population 2,450). The shore-lined town had quite a few restaurants that were shutdown. While later shuttling us to the boat ferry the driver said a few of the restaurants were already on their way out prior to the pandemic. The hot spot restaurant was a drive-in just outside the RV park. We were disappointed the parking lot was full. I suppose not eating at a restaurant on our anniversary was in the cards. I picked up some local food, a bottle of Champaign and local chocolate. We dragged our campground picnic table to the rear of the RV and had our meal together, looking out over Lake Michigan. I personally will remember this one. I suspect the south side of the bridge, in Mackinaw City may have better restaurant options.
The Shepler’s Ferry Boat Shuttle arrived 15 minutes after I phoned them. The driver was a wealth of information as he was a long time resident. Rain was in the forecast the next day so the island would be crowded on this sunny day. The company was transporting 500 people every 45 minutes to the island, with boats leaving from Saint Ignace and Mackinaw City. The 20 minute ferry ride was over choppy water and worth the price to see the lake from another view. Had we left earlier in the day we could have taken the no-extra-charge tour under the bridge.
We stepped off the ferry onto Mackinac Island, following the hordes of people already on Main Street. I figured this must be what it was like for the immigrants arriving in New York. Both Karen and I quickly scanned for any nearby green space, weaving our way through the crowds. Most of the island is a state park and people do live here fulltime. It’s a small community where in 1898 they outlawed motorized vehicles. Horses, bikes and your feet are the only way to cover the four and a half square mile landmass. In 1670 a Jesuit priest wintered here. The British in 1781 made it a military post while the Americans took over in 1796. The island was also involved during the War of 1812. During the peak of fur trade Market Street was full of activity where each July and August Indians, traders and trappers came here from the northwest. In 1817 American Fur Company was headquartered here, by 1834 the fur trade moved westward and the island was already becoming a popular resort area. Lots to see to include two forts, scenic views from hillsides, the original island landing location for the British Army, walks through tree-lined streets to old graveyards and more. On a shady hillside we found a relatively quite place for lunch. Karen walked downtown to shop for our meal while I stayed behind with the dog. We ate while watching the harbor activity. Back in lower Michigan, Karen’s mom’s house has many photos of this area hanging from the walls. Her father was a fine photographer. I felt closer to the family having walked within the same views where her parents spent vacation time.
We are currently parked off I-94 in Jamestown North Dakota, on our way to Roosevelt National Park. My next post will wrap-up our stay in Michigan and the trip here.