At the north end of the Mackinac Bridge Dad brings the wagon to a stop hands over the $1.50 toll to the keeper, Upper Peninsula here we are! Now above the bridge our troll status is left under it as we leave I-75 connecting with U.S. Route 2 (which begins near Everett, Washington by Seattle and terminates at St. Ignace) west bypassing St. Ignace which was founded by French explorer/priest Jacques Marquette naming it after St. Ignatius of Loyola founder of the Jesuit religious order. It is the second oldest city in the new world established by Europeans however Native Americans have traversed the area for centuries. Britain took control of the region from France in 1763 when they won the Seven Years War and in turn America took possession after the Revolutionary War. Once a major fur trading port the village declined but in 1882 with its incorporation the railroad connected St. Ignace to Detroit and today it is a major tourist attraction.
The Mackinac Bridge fades in the distance the further we travel along U.S. 2 and across the northern tip of Lake Michigan; this part of the highway designated scenic and rightfully so with sandy beaches on one-side and maple, pine, and birch trees on the other. The steady lake breeze rustle the trees, their shadows dance and capture my imagination invoking images of Jesuit priests and French voyageurs befriending Indian tribes, of British invading in the name of expansion, and of eventual conquest by the Americans, car bingo and harassing each other no longer fun. Waves break on the sandy shoreline of Lake Michigan as Dad steers us along the southern edge of the Hiawatha National Forest named after Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s celebrated poem, The Song of Hiawatha, and past villages of Epoufette and Naubinway founded by French voyageurs. Dad turns onto U.S. Route 77 heading north at Blaney Park and Lake Michigan passes from view but will welcome us on the return trip.
Blaney Park also once a lumber town now summer cottages invite the weary traveler to stay the night. My unencumbered mind wonders what life is like here as there are no malls, no movie theaters, restaurants, or bars nothing but one-room cabins surrounded by woods, no life, not even a cat. There is a saying that all good things must come to an end and my trip within a trip screeched to a halt as Dad steers into the town of Seney and onto U.S. Route 28. Seney once boosted 21 saloons, 10 hotels, and various other businesses supported by a population of 3000 and a booming lumber industry; however after just 15 years with the forest consumed people began moving on to other regions in search of work. Today, fishing, hiking, and canoeing enthusiasts are the dominant industry but our minds are on what lay beyond an “S” curve a mile ahead. I don’t know about the others, I never ask, but the 25 miles of “straight as a pin” roadway bisecting the marshland and forested Seney Wildlife Refuge known to travelers as The Seney Stretch is boring and confining. On one side the drive is carefree, enjoyable, eyes wander everywhere and then you are funneled onto the strip and the eyes are forward.
Immediately, we are the last of six slow-moving, parade of cars lined up behind a freight hauling truck. As I mentioned this is 25 miles of straight, two-lane roadway with no curves to ponder what’s around them, nothing to distract from the monotony not even the optical illusion of distant cars floating on summer heat keep us from boredom. Running parallel to Route 28 is the Detroit, Mackinaw, and Marquette railroad but no trains pass to break up the flatness so it is, by default, narrowed down to watching drivers leapfrog slower cars. Dad wanting to get back to open road opts to join the game, “to shoot the rocket” but Mom flashes him the “no you’re not” look as oncoming traffic, passing cars, and merging safely back is a concern for her, makes her nervous. Still, Dad prepares checking the side and rearview mirrors, waits for the opportune time, then lays heavy on the accelerator the powerful eight-cylinder engine roars, and the Chevy’s automatic transmission downshifts into passing gear pushing us back into our seats, LIFTOFF. Dad eventually passes the truck relaxing Mom but a short distance down the road, guess what, another string of cars behind a slower moving vehicle and as we approach the game of leapfrog has already began. Mom can hardly wait until off this strip we are excited knowing blast-off will again happen. Near Seney author Ernest Hemingway, while recuperating from an injury in World War I, went on a fishing expedition to “get away from it all” and this journey became the story, Big Two-Hearted River.
Wait a minute those floating cars are disappearing into the woods, could it be? YES, the former lumber town Shingleton a welcome sight like an air conditioner on a hot summer day comes into view, we bubble with excitement! Now delegated to the back of our minds the Seney Stretch waits our return. From here a short 21-mile drive northwest on U.S. Route 28 to Munising where the rugged, thought-provoking beauty of Lake Superior becomes a companion. The city’s name derived from the Ojibwa language means “near the island” referring to Grand Island one half mile off the coast on Lake Superior,Munising is also the jumping off point for the spectacular Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore. Just like so many other towns in the Upper Peninsula lumber was the main industry and when that petered out travel and tourism became the new gold mines. The highway takes us straight through downtown where up on a hill is an old wooden ski jump about three stories high and if this jump were still active it would land skiers right on the roadway! Amazing! Now nine hours into the trip and three since leaving Mackinaw City Dad pulls into a rest stop at Au Train on the shores of “Gichigami” Ojibwa for Lake Superior. Au Train once was a transit and stop over for French voyageurs, dabbled in timber and fishing industries in the late 19th century and now, yep, tourism and recreation fill the coffers.
Mom and Dad unpack some food items while Linda, Tad, David, and I climb some nearby rocks along the shoreline. Laying out a blanket on the sun-drenched beach Mom and Dad dig their feet into the sand and leaning back on their arms relax for the first time today for they know the journey is almost over, downhill from here. Each lighting a cigarette Mom says in a voice barely audible over Superior’s roar, “I am looking forward to your mother’s Pasties.” “Oh yes,” replies Dad the sun and cigarette rejuvenate as they watch us climb those rocks. This break, about one hour, comes and goes fast as Mom and Dad stand up and to get our attention wave, just when we were having fun time to get back on the road. Leaving Au Train behind U.S. Route 28 follows 30 miles of scenic drive that showcases the largest freshwater lake in the world. With clear skies sunlight twinkle across the lake and captures my eye sending thoughts back again to those French voyageurs paddling canoes along the shoreline singing, Indians, and other ships of wind power plying the lake.
Less than one hour after leaving Au Train we come upon the city of Marquette but we don’t stop and it is here that we also leave U.S. Route 28 and connect with U.S. Route 41 that will take us to our destination. This is the same U.S. 41 that begins in Miami, Florida and ends in Copper Harbor, Michigan on the Keweenaw Peninsula. In the early 19th century the area is full of French missionaries and trappers first named New Worcester after founders from Massachusetts formed an iron mining company to extract iron ore found in the region later changing the name to Marquette in honor of the Jesuit missionary Jacques Marquette. The Iron ore mines are still open though on a lesser scale today but it is a great place to retire with plenty of sports and recreation. Here at Marquette we say a temporary goodbye to “Gichigami” as just outside of town the signpost up ahead Houghton 99 miles but just like the last half hour of work this is the longest part of the trip to the Hinterland.