Michigan’s Best Kept Secret

"I think having land and not ruining it is the most beautiful

art that anybody could ever want to own."

Andy Warhol

State 9: Michigan - July 27, 2017

We woke up in Gaylord, MI and ready for an exciting day. Today we would take a ferry to explore Mackinac Island, and then upon returning to the Michigan mainland, cross the Mackinac Bridge to the Michigan’s Upper Peninsula!

Have you ever heard of Mackinac Island? Don’t feel too bad, because neither had we. Unless you are a Michigan native, you most likely never know of it's existence. Two years ago, when we were researching state specific attractions, Mackinac Island constantly topped every single list as the number 1# thing to do in Michigan. However, we could not pin down the exact reason for its high ratings, and were still not convinced if this stop was worth the time and expense. However, we had confidence in our research, and the reviews of those who had gone before us. Therefore, we mutually agreed to give Mackinac Island the highly coveted Cross Country Couple distinction of being a “Can’t Miss Attraction”. Two years had since elapsed, and the time to actually visit the island was now at hand. We once again began to second guess ourselves as we added up the expenses related to traveling to, and exploring an island we had little knowledge of. We reminded ourselves, we had previously done our due diligence, and Mackinac Island had surely been labeled a “Can’t Miss Attraction” for a good reason. We just were not exactly sure at that moment in time what the reason was.

We parked Rosie in the parking lot of the ferry service, and purchased our 2 round trip tickets for $19.00 each for a 15-minute ride to the island. The price was steep, and the customer service left much to be desired, but it was the most economic option for transport to and from the island. We frequently try to go to “Can’t Miss Attractions” during off peak times for better prices, and to avoid the crowds. Our departure time was Thursday at 10:30 am, which is not exactly prime travel time. The ship was absolutely packed, so apparently hundreds of others had a similar idea as us. We have occasionally found ourselves among jam-packed crowds during traditionally off peak travel times, and they have always resulted in amazing experiences on our trip. This gave us confidence in our decision to discover Mackinac Island.

It was a hot day, so we decided to seek refuge in the air conditioned central room on the ferry. We sat in a seating arrangement resembling a booth at a fast food restaurant. Lori and I sat on opposing sides of the table, so we could both look out the window and take in the beautiful seascape of this crystal clear summer day. We were soon joined by a mother and daughter at our booth who were in need of a seat. Lori and I got very good energy from them, so we welcomed them to share our booth for the duration of the trip. The daughters name was Britney. Britney was a brunette with a average build in her thirties, and like myself, she was also a nurse. She also possessed a Starbucks beverage, and kept it closely guarded. When her mother attempted to sneak a sip, she quickly reasserted her control over her coffee. As a nurse myself, I could not help but laugh, because I understood her reaction. Since our patients needs always come first, nurses willfully work long shifts and crazy hours with empty stomachs, and full bladders. However, caffeine is our lifeline! This is where we draw a line in the sand! To everyone reading this, back the hell away from the nurse’s coffee!

Britney's mother’s name was Carol. Carol was lady with a slender build with silver shoulder length hair appearing to be in her early 60’s. She had a high energy, was very outgoing. She spoke openly and proudly of her missions and pilgrimages around the world spreading the gospel, which included Israel and Zimbabwe. She was clearly passionate and proud of her accomplishments and her family. We definitely sensed they had a loving mother/daughter relationship, and genuinely enjoyed each other’s company. We also shared with them our cross country journey, and gave them our blog so they could follow us. We learned both mother and daughter were recovering from their own respective medical conditions. However, they both exemplified that an illness does not have to define who you are. We each must make a conscious choice every day to live and enjoy life to whatever our fullest capability may be. We enjoyed sharing our ferry trip together, and you both are an inspiration!

After disembarking the ferry, we looked around and quickly learned the first thing that made Mackinac Island a very unique place. There were no motorized vehicles anywhere. No cars! No trucks! Mo mopeds! No motorcycles! No Segway’s! Nothing! Nada! As it turns out, there is a local ordinance on the island from 1895 prohibiting any form of transportation on the island involving a motor and wheels. The law is strictly enforced, but there are two exceptions. The first is the Island does have an ambulance, and the second is electric scooters are allowed for the disabled. Mackinac island is the only place in the entire United Stated having such a law, and subsequently, M-185 is the only paved road in the US where it is illegal to drive a car! There are 3 primary ways people get around the island; horse drawn carriage, bike, and on foot. The island is only 4 miles long, and the ferry dropped us off on main street of the island so we elected to get around by foot. It was surreal to cross the street, look both ways and wait for an opening between horse drawn carriages and dozens of bicyclists. The preferred method of travel on the island was clearly via peddle power, and I have never seen such a mass assembly of bicycles in one location ever in my entire life! The lack of motorized transportation essentially preserved what life was like in a bygone era. Judging by the hundreds of others that were packed onto this tiny island, we all found it refreshing. There were no exhaust fumes! No traffic jams! No traffic lights! No horns honking! No looking for parking spaces! It was a primitive, yet peaceful existence!

It was time to learn more about the history of this unique island. Rising above the main street of the island was the Fort Mackinac. This fort has an extremely rich history, that predates the founding of our country. To fully appreciate why, you must understand the islands location, which is between Lake Huron, and the mouth of Lake Michigan.

There were not many roads in the area during colonial times, so supplies were transported via the water. Therefore, the island was an extremely strategic military stronghold. It should be no surprise the fort was involved in the Revolutionary War, the site of the first land battle in the War of 1812, and the site of 2 battles during the American Civil War. The fort also has the unique distinction of being the 2nd national park in the entire country, with only Yellowstone Park predating it by 2 years. In 1895 control of the park was turned back over to the state, and Fort Mackinac became the first State Park in Michigan. The fort also houses the oldest building in the entire state of Michigan: The Officers Stone Barracks built in 1780 and pictured below. The fort also features the oldest hospital in the Michigan, which has since been turned into a museum. It was at this hospital back in 1823 when Doctor William Beaumont received worldwide acclaim for being the first Physician to understand and correctly explain the role of the stomach in human digestion. The fort had been expertly restored to it's 1890 appearance. There are 14 buildings including period furnishings, and the fort is surrounded with its original stone wall. There are dozens of boy scouts throughout the park serving as volunteers, and re-enactors in period appropriate dress and character to interact with.

They give a live demonstration of firing a cannon every hour on the hour. The re-enactors also drafted us in to the 1890 US Military and marched us throughout the fort. It was a fun, enjoyable and memorable experience. Please see the pictures below. We then caught the next ferry back to the mainland and reunited with Rosie.

We departed Mackinac City enroute to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula via the Mackinac Bridge. You must understand that The Mackinac Bridge is not just any bridge. At over 5 miles in length, it is the longest steel suspension bridge in the entire Western Hemisphere! It is so big the bridge has been lovingly nicknamed by the locals as “Big Mac”. The bridge was built in 1957, has one level, and has two lanes in each direction. Big Mac is regretfully not open to pedestrian traffic with one special exception by Gubernatorial Executive Order. The year the bridge opened on Labor day 1957, the Governor of Michigan lead a celebratory walk across the entire length of the bridge with all in attendance who were willing to participate.

Each year on Labor Day, the traffic on the bridge is temporally shut down in both directions while the Governor leads a walk across the bridge to commemorate the completion of its construction with all willing to join him. It is too bad we were not visiting on Labor Day, because we would have loved to partaken in this time honored state tradition. It cost $4.00 for us to cross “Big Mac”, and the view from the bridge was breathtaking; please see the pictures below. After safely arriving at Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, we drove due north through 53 miles of beautiful Michigan wilderness to Sault Ste Marie, MI, and found a Walmart to spend the night. Sault Ste Marie, MI, literally sits right on the Canadian and US/Michigan border, and is our northernmost point on our entire Cross Country Trip. Tomorrow we go west across Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.

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