Changing tactics submitted for your perusal the following as I skip stones across the reflection pond back to the summer of 1967, some say the summer of Love however, this story is not all about love, nay, it concerns a mind-numbing section of road:
The Seney Stretch
Summer in the southeastern Michigan city of St. Clair Shores is hot the humidity so thick and damp, why if you bat an eye the entire body is enveloped in sweat. The Pykonen Family escaped the suffering by visiting Finnish relatives in Dad’s hometown Atlantic Mine 550 miles and 12 hours to the north-northwest on cool, picturesque Keweenaw Peninsula of
the state’s Upper Peninsula. Ojibwa for portage, the Keweenaw stretches 70 miles into the largest expanse of frigid freshwater in the world, Gitchee Gumee, the Shining Blue Sea Water, Lake Superior; formed in the Precambrian era it is nicknamed The Copper Country for the mass tonnage of native copper mined between 1844 and the 1960’s. The Atlantic Mine was one of those removing mountains of the red metal between 1876 and 1911 before falling prices, labor unrest, and unstable ground forced its closure. At the height of operations the town catered to the people with in and outdoor skating rinks, a saloon, motion picture house, churches, and even a bowling alley. Evidence of mining is reduced to stone foundations and rarely used railroads, just a trifling amount of homes, and a group of pine trees Dad helped plant when a cub scout.
With 1965 Oldsmobile Vista Cruiser station wagon packed tight the journey begins before sunrise at 530 a.m. Dad merging onto Interstate 75 north Mom up front, Dave, Linda, Tad, and myself spread across the backseat bored to sleep by flat countryside and the hum of rubber on road. Mackinaw City, on the northern tip of the Lower Peninsula, is the first major stop where legs are stretched, trinkets bought, body and car refueled, and Mackinac Island fudge then off across the Straits of Mackinaw via the five-mile long Mackinaw Bridge. Suddenly, a time warp into a land of rugged outcroppings, misty mountains, dense forest, Lake Superior, few people, a sense of sanctuary from noisy city life below the bridge. The roadway mimics this going from the six lanes of I-75 speed to two lanes of slower highway US 2 twisting along the battered shoreline of northern Lake Michigan. Sunlight dances through birch, maple, and White pine trees triggering visions of Menominee and Chippewa Indians, Jesuit priests, trappers, lumber camps, of British expansion, American conquest.
Rural communities Brevort, Gros Cap, Epoufette, and Naubinway founded on lumber and fishing industries border the eastern portion of the Hiawatha National Forest we now enter then remote communities of Blaney Park and Germfask where more lumber camps consumed more of a once dense forest in the name of progress. In a clearing next to the highway a cluster of one-room cabins wait for their inevitable demise: white lodges in need of paint, picket-fencing missing pickets, brick chimneys in decay. Further down the road one and two story homes, manicured lawns, windows shuttered under summer sun are reminders of era long gone when Blaney Park was once the premiere tourist mecca in the Midwest, sporting a Dude Ranch, tennis and shuffleboard courts, swimming for young and adult, cocktail lodge, an Inn, an airport, even a nine-hole golf course. Passing through in 1967 the area is a shadow of it’s former self the airport just a concrete runway to nowhere, the golf course one large overgrown fairway, the tennis courts cracked and used only by the ghost of it’s past, the swimming pool drained and now a driveway to one of those summer homes. Eight and half hours on the road, the former lumber town of Seney comes into view; Seney once a raucous den of drink, gambling, and prostitution, Ernest Hemingway’s short story “Big Two-Hearted River” was inspired by trips to the Seney back-country.
Just west of town and around a curve the two lane roadway straightens, like a pin, for 25 miles as it bisects the Seney Wildlife Refuge no rest areas, no curves, no pull-offs, no fun nothing but wetlands and trees, The Seney Stretch. A railroad, the Detroit, Mackinaw, and Marquette
parallels the Stretch yet not a single train or boxcar on sidings, nothing but reflective steel rails. Immediately, Dad is behind six cars impeded by a slow moving freight-hauling truck and impatient drivers cautiously peeking for oncoming traffic then with green-light push hard on the accelerator, engine roars, the transmission drops into a lower, passing gear, vvvaaarrrrooommm off to open road. Impulsively, Dad checks the opposite lane for oncoming traffic then at the right moment pushes heavily on the accelerator igniting the powerful 320 horsepower Rocket V-8 as if shooting the missile-shaped, chrome hood ornament; thrust pushing us back into our seats heart-rates increase like astronauts during blastoff. Casting off the first stage the second ignites, we’re gaining, then at the right moment the third stage fires increasing speed as we fly past the truck. Mom relaxes as Dad glides back into the right lane we in the back seat want the rush of liftoff again.
Leapfrog plays out the entire 25 miles with little ground gained as one slow truck is bypassed another truck or camper takes its place, tedious yet monotony relieving. Heat rising from the pavement creates the mirage of distant vehicles floating, disappearing into the wildlife refuge, could it be, yes! a collective sigh of relief falls upon us for the town of Shingleton is around the bend lancing the cyst of boredom from our minds. A much needed break is taken a few miles away at Au Train, near Munising, see also: something tall in Munising, Mom and Dad bury toes in sand on the shores of Lake Superior while us kids assault the rocky shoreline. We all know the Seney Stretch will have to be tackled on the way home but now was not a time for concern for just three hours away the Keweenaw with it’s promise of pure vitalizing air, our relatives, rock cliffs and ruins of man’s endeavor of copper mining to explore.