|Midland in da Moonlight: view of the Tridge at the confluence of the Chippewa and Tittabawassee Rivers|
Prior to leaving last week, Ms. B. prefaced our trip by showing me the 2001 Jeff Daniels movie, Escanaba in da Moonlight, which is about as authentic a filmic excursion one might experience into Michigan's upper peninsula (a.k.a. da UP, which is populated by Yoopers). On Friday, 9/26, we flew out of Raleigh/Durham bound for Flint, MI, and ultimately to Kimberly's hometown of Midland, which is located just about the middle of the mitten — known to Yoopers as the Land of the Trolls, since they live "under the (Mackinac) bridge." I've been to many places in the United States, especially during the 80s, when I had to travel all over the country for business, but I had never made it into Michigan before. For me, this trip was a first.
Midland is a beautiful, relatively small town, quite prosperous, the Dow chemical corporation being its primary employer. On their numerous visits to NC, Kimberly's folks, Del and Fern, had welcomed me into their family with open arms, and they were better than perfect hosts during our few days' stay with them. I'm pretty sure Fern would as soon die as see anyone in her home with an even slightly empty stomach, so there was good food aplenty, available most any time of day. That first evening, Kimberly drove me around Midland to visit some of her old stomping grounds, such as the local Center for the Arts, where she had performed in numerous shows, including The Rocky Horror Picture Show and The Pirates of Penzance. Much to my satisfaction, there was a geocache on the premises, so my moniker soon adorned its logsheet. In fact, Midland is a veritable goldmine for cachers, and over the course of our trip, between the upper and lower peninsulas, I managed to claim over 50; not too shabby for a trip for which geocaching wasn't really its primary purpose.
The next morning, we set out on Kimberly's parents' bicycles for a riding tour around the neighborhood, including the nearby Plymouth Park (caches). The fall foliage was just reaching its peak, and since Midland has largely and wisely decided to eschew the horrid clear-cutting of forests and planting of generic subdivisions that so dominate our area in NC, the settings for our ride were nothing short of stunning. Michigan is loaded with birches, ironwoods, and maples, interspersed with more blue spruce and hemlock than I've ever seen anywhere (hemlocks in the south have gone virtually extinct because of the Asian Woody Adelgid parasite). If you're not looking for too strenuous a workout, the terrain in Midland is perfect for bicycling — though that one grade near Chateau Brugger that reached an incline of about 0.005 degrees damn near did me in. One of the most entertaining things I discovered was that many of the squirrels that call Midland home are black. Solid, shiny black. I'd only once before ever seen a black squirrel, and I quite enjoyed watching them play in the Bruggers' backyard.
Cafe Zinc, a classy little establishment at the Hotel H; and took a nighttime stroll down to the Tridge, a three-span footbridge at the confluence of the Chippewa and Tittabawassee rivers (see the photo at the top of the page).
|Ms. B. beneath a massive weeping willow at Dow Gardens|
|Old dude marring the view at Dow Gardens|
|Hanging with The Family, near the Tridge|
Come Tuesday, it was time to depart Midland and head for the UP. It's about a three-hour but very easy drive up I-75, and the foliage in the mostly rural part of the mitten was beyond brilliant. Caches, yes. Then we came to the Mackinac Bridge — at five miles long, the longest suspension bridge in the western hemisphere. Lengthy, very high bridges occasionally bring on a mild case of acrophobia, usually if they're very narrow, but the Mackinac didn't faze me at all, and it hardly seemed like a five-mile trip across the strait where Lake Michigan and Lake Huron come together. Once actually in the UP, on Highway 2 heading west, we stopped for a picnic lunch at a little overlook from which we had a gorgeous view of the bridge. A couple of hours later, we took a side trip up Lake Manistique Road, to an area that used to be a resort where Kimberly and her family vacationed regularly back in her checkered youth. It's now private property, the resort long-since closed. From there, though, we did get a nice view of one of the three scenic Manistique lakes.
Our final destination for the day was Munising, a little community on the UP's northern coast along Lake Superior. Munising, I swear to god, is Michigan's answer to Twin Peaks — a picturesque, forested area into which the little town is carved out, with a tiny business district; a paper mill; a handful of shops, restaurants, and motels; and some possibly eccentric if personable locals who were a joy to meet. Our lodgings were at the rustic little Terrace Motel, whose proprietor — a friendly, slightly garrulous fellow named Larry — gave us a most helpful introduction to Munising's landmarks and amenities. The nearby Falling Rock Cafe and Bookstore proved to be our go-to place for breakfast and coffee each morning. I can tell you their toasted English muffins and cinnamon rolls can't be beat. That first night, we went to Muldoon's for pasties (pronounced with a short a), a regular UP staple. They're baked pastries filled with beef or chicken, diced potatoes, rutabagas, carrots, and onions — kind of like pot pies to folks in other areas. Surprisingly, I preferred the chicken to the beef, as it had a more intense savory flavor. Over the next few days, we tried a couple of the other restaurants in town, which were decent enough: Sydney's, a seafood place with, of all things, an Australian theme, where I enjoyed the golden fried Lake Superior whitefish, another of the area's most notable specialties; and Dogpatch, whose Lil Abner theme was almost too overwhelming to take. Their burgers pretty well rocked, though. We ended our first evening by taking a late-night walk along Lake Superior near Sand Point, a few miles northeast of Munising. Well, we had to, didn't we? There was a cache out there.
|"Yes!" to the Terrace Motel in Munising|
|Still life with wine at the Terrace Motel. Yes, it's art.|
|Glow-in-the-dark Damned Rodan and some driftwood along the Lake Superior shoreline near Sand Point|
|Chapel Falls, seen from the trail in the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore forest|
|Hemlock roots on the cliffside along the trail to Chapel Rock|
|Ms. B. at Chapel Rock with Lake Superior in the background|
|From our picnic area: Chapel Rock in the distance, the mouth of Chapel Creek in the foreground|
|A very small person in the gorge beneath MNA Memorial Falls|
|Laughing Whitefish Falls seen from the bottom. Alas, there's no Brugger in the picture|
to provide a sense of scale. It's big. BIG.
|Laughing Whitefish Falls seen from the top. It's a loooong way down.|
|Old iron ore dock in Marquette|
|Upper Tahquamenon Falls|
|Bell from the Edmund Fitzgerald, raised|
from the wreck in 1995
My most sobering experience came at the Shipwreck Museum at Whitefish Point. It has on display myriads of artifacts from the literally hundreds of shipwrecks from the nearby Great Lakes, including the bell from the S.S. Edmund Fitzgerald, which went down in Lake Superior 15 miles north of Whitefish Point, November 10, 1975. Needless to say, the Gordon Lightfoot song went running nonstop through my head all day, but the museum's in-depth narrative of that event, along with so many others from the area, made a real emotional impact on me. The lighthouse at the point, built in 1861, still functions and remains a crucial beacon for ships in this frigid, storm-racked location. Over 200 ships lie at the bottom of the lake within just a few miles of Whitefish Point, dating back to the early 1800s.
At last, it was time to leave the UP and return to the Land of the Trolls — not that this was much of a source of pain for either Kimberly or I. We got back to Midland early in the evening and spent a last enjoyable night with Del and Fern, who I really hope do not end up catching my cold (it may be too late for Kimberly, alas). Then it was up bright and early on Saturday morning to catch our flight(s) back to the south land — Raleigh/Durham via Atlanta. A long layover and a slight delay leaving Atlanta made for a full, tiring day of travel, but eventually, we got back home to Greensboro. I have to thank my good friend Suzy Albanese for house-sitting and looking after the catses while dad was away — that was a major load off my mind while on the biggest trip away from home I've taken in many, many years. The welcoming committee was ferocious, enthusiastic, and relentless. I haven't had a moment in the last 18 hours without a cat on top of me. And today I even got the predawn good-morning-welcome-back urp to let me know how greatly I had been missed.
I'd hate to do it to the cats, but I do believe I'd return to Michigan for another extended stay at the drop of a hat. I'll be anxiously awaiting the opportunity.