We got up bright and early (in fact, I got up too early, about 5 am, with a
stomachache, but I felt better within the hour) and headed for the earliest
boat to get to Mackinac Island. It was still rather chilly so we sat inside
on the 20-minute trip across. The island is small, with an 8-mile (13 km)
circumference, and it had historic significance during the time of the
French fur trade in the 17th century, but then also in the war of 1812.
Then the tourists came, in the 1850s, and never stopped coming: in the early 19th century, there were multiple hotels and many Victorian board in houses already, and then the island became a national park for a while and it was decided that there shouldn’t be any cars allowed on the island. There still aren’t any, but tourists come in droves (15,000 a day during the high
season), even as the year-round population is only 900 and some. And
because that is so much more unusual than in Germany, where several island are without cars, lots of people check it out–only to either rent a bike at horrendous rates, or take a tour in a horse-drawn carriage, also for lots of money. We opted for the cheap and obvious option–we walked all over he island instead, starting out with the 8-mile loop around the island. With detours, even!
We had to make our way out of the super touristy harbor/city area with its
kitschy fake Victorian saloons etc. first, but then the walk was peaceful
and wonderful. We climbed up a bunch of stairs to a lookout point and arch
formation, but otherwise, the road just circled the island at beach level,
and the views were stunning, with clear water, lots of seagulls, lush
vegetation on the coast side, and many cairns that everyone builds with the
rocks here. It took us about 3 1/2 hours to go around, starting at about 8
am, and we had a wonderful time. We had a small handful of runners and many bicycles pass us, but very few others were walking beyond a mile from
aforementioned trusty city center. So it was very quiet, and all around
fabulous. Toward the last two miles, there were more Victorian buildings
again, and a couple if cool rock formations, plus we finally began to see
the carriages, which tend to stay in the built-up part of the island to talk
about its history and culture.
We then found ourselves some reasonably priced quesadillas for lunch, and
explored the center of the island a little bit more–another lookout, the
cemetery, a shortcut hiking trail, and eventually the historic homes just
behind Tourist Alley, including the absolutely enormous Grand Hotel, which apparently boasts the longest porch ever built–not to mention “guards” that make sure hapless tourists don’t enter the grounds without paying $10 for the privilege of looking at bombastic Victorian resort architecture! Silly. We had walked nearly 12 miles total by the time we were back by the docks, and we dutifully bought a piece of fudge to eat–somehow, the island became famous for its fudge, and several candy stores had people making it on marble-topped counters. It was fun to watch them and the fudge we did buy at JoAnn’s fudge shop was excellent. We then waited for our boat departure at 3 pm, and since it was now gorgeous, we were able to sit on the upper deck of the boat and soak in the views of he straits, the island, the mainland, and the Mackinac bridge, a famous suspension bridge built in 1957 across the straits.
We then got back in our car and drove back into “regular Michigan,” to
Traverse City in the Northwestern corner of the peninsula, where the “little
finger” of the mitten-shaped state is. We saw lots of orchards, for which
the area is famous (tart cherries in particular), and a good bit more lake
shore as well as many smaller lakes. It took about two hours to get to our
hotel in Traverse City, where we’ll be for two nights, and thankfully, there
was a Bob Evans restaurant close by. We try to avoid chain restaurants, but
I have fond memories of my very first meal when coming to BGSU in 1989, with the nice couple that helped me out when I was stranded at the Toledo
airport. We had a nice home-style meal–I still like Bob Evans better than
the comparable Perkins–and walked the half-block back to the motel to call it a day.