Mac, Soo, and Pasties

The rain had stopped and the roads were mostly dry by the time I closed the last few miles to the Mackinac Bridge.  What is it with me and bridges?! 

Four lanes of suspension bridge spanning 5-miles, one of the longest in the world, that connect the lower and upper Michigan Peninsulas.  After towing my camper across bridges over the Mississippi River in 35 mph gusting winds in April, and then across the Ohio River over a solid mile of narrow-lane steel grating in July, I felt like I was prepared for the challenge of the “Mighty Mac.”  I looked it up online a couple of days before the crossing to see what was in store for me when I would tow across the waters where Lakes Huron and Michigan meet and winds usually clash in violent gusts. Thankfully, only one lane in each direction is steel grate (inner lane), the other is solid pavement (outer lane), so at least the road surface would be favorable, as long as I could get in the outer lane.  I heard that the only time the solid pavement lane wasn’t open was during road construction, so I silently cursed the constant road construction I had been experiencing in Michigan and hoped for the best.

Two miles before I hit the Mighty Mac, the road and alert signs started.   

ROAD CONSTRUCTION ON BRIDGE AHEAD

Well hell, is it the steel grate lane or the solid pavement lane?  For the whole length of the bridge, or just one section?

STRONG WIND ADVISORY, REDUCE SPEED

I’m getting tossed around quite a bit, but just how strong are the winds?  Is it worse than what I experienced going over the Mississippi?

LAST EXIT BEFORE BRIDGE, 1 MILE AHEAD

Damn, I need to make a decision, and make it quickly!  

I rolled off the throttle for half a second as I approached my last chance to bail on the crossing.  

Nope, don’t hesitate, it won’t be any better in an hour or even two, so just get it over with.  Surely, they will alert me at the toll booth before crossing if it’s unsafe for a motorcycle to pass.

I get back on the throttle and look ahead for the inevitable toll booth bottleneck.  

There is none.  Apparently, you pay after you cross this bridge, not before!

Oh well, here we go.  I drop down to 35 mph and stake my spot in the outer, solid pavement lane.  Vehicles begin passing me, but as soon as I cross the first span, traffic quickly slows and the 18-wheeler that just advanced ahead of me puts on its hazard lights and merges into the lane in front of me.  I tuck in behind the big rig and hunch over to make myself as small as possible, even though I know my profile is not what is catching the majority of the wind and tossing my bike and camper around.

I have no idea how fast we were actually going because I was so scope-locked on the rear bumper of the truck in front of me, and leaning into the wind to stay in my lane, that I never looked down at the speedometer.  I felt like it wasn’t more than 20 mph, but only one or two cars passed me the whole 5-mile length of the bridge, so I was surprised when I finally looked into my rear-view mirror about halfway across and saw a huge gap between me and the next vehicle behind me.  It was nerve wracking, but by the second half of the crossing, I had gotten the hang of leaning into the gusting winds and anticipating the braking of the truck in front of me.  As the end of the bridge loomed large, I realized there would be no road construction in my lane… yay for me!!! 

I breathed a huge sigh of relief as I stopped at the toll booth on the north side of the bridge, pulled up my visor, and handed the attendant my $6 toll. She looked at me a bit shocked, but smiled and said, “Girl, you are absolutely crazy, but that’s so cool”  I was so euphoric with relief to have the crossing behind me, I just laughed and agreed that it was one of the craziest things I’ve ever done and continued on my way 🙂 

The Mighty Mac from the north side (St. Ignace)

With the Mighty Mac behind me, I had now officially crossed into Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, or just the UP for short.  I checked into a hotel in St. Ignace so I could get an early start to sightseeing and the scenic journey north up the coast of Lake Huron the next day.  As I was getting coffee in the hotel lobby the next morning, I spotted a couple wearing CVMA gear, so of course, I had to introduce myself.  Top and Mongo are in the Michigan 35-7 chapter and were also at Nationals a few weeks ago in Louisville.  Such a small world!  We hit it off immediately and chatted for a while before we parted ways for the day.   We were heading in the same general direction, so we were looking forward to running into each other again down the road at some point.

I didn’t build in enough time in my itinerary to go to Mackinac Island, so I just visited a few St. Ignace sites as I made my way towards the Mackinac Trail for the journey north to Sault St. Marie. 

Fairly new to the scene in 2004, the Wawatam Lighthouse in St. Ignace has already become an iconic symbol of the city.
The Museum of Ojibwe Culture in St. Ignace is a fascinating fusion of indiginous and missionary culture. The indigenous people of this area, the Anishinaabe, which translates as “first people,” typically refer to themselves as Ojibwe, which the Europeans labeled as Chippewa.  The sculpture park illustrates the clan system and traditional ways of life, while the mission park provides the final resting place for Father Jacques Marquette, a French Jesuit missionary who founded Michigan’s first European settlement.
Fisherman sculpture in the Anishinaabe Sculpture Park at the Museum of Ojibwe Culture.  The sign states:  “Fishing in Lake Huron and Lake Michigan for the fisherman was vital to the Anishinaabe survival.  During warm seasons these large lakes required nets made of bark fiber cord and nettle-stalk twine which were dipped in a liquid made of sumac leaves in order to kill any odor on the cord.  The net floats were made of wood and the net weights were made of stone.  Whitefish were popular fish on these lakes.  Cold seasons brought ice to the lakes so fishing spears were needed in place of nets.”

At the extreme north-east point of the UP is Sault St. Marie, which translates to the “rapids of St. Marie.”  Before the locks, there was a waterfall that required boats and supplies to be carried overland, a portage, that delayed timely movement of people and goods.  I learned very quickly that “sault” is not pronounced like it sounds, i.e., salt, but rather like sue.  That’s why the locks are called the “Soo Locks.”

The “Soo Locks” are quite the sight and I spent well over an hour on the observation deck just watching boats and ships transfer through the locks. With roots dating back to the mid 1800s, the locks now in operation were built between 1914-1968 (there are four).  The locks use no pumps, it all works through gravity!  According to the Pure Michigan website, 90% of the U.S.’s iron ore moves through the Soo Locks.  The Poe Lock requires 22 million gallons of water to lift/lower a ship!  Click HERE to see an animation of how the locks work.

Sault St. Marie is chock full of native and colonization history.  I took a self-guided walking tour of the historic Water Street Homes, a row of historic buildings with period accurate furnishings depicting the lives of early fur traders and settlers in the area.  The John Johnston house, the office of Henry Rowe Schoolcraft, and the Bishop Frederick Baraga house were filled with artifacts and information about trapping, trading, and missionary work in the 1700s and 1800s.  The Kemp Coal Dock Office illustrates the industrial history of Sault St. Marie.  As in previous stops on my journey, I was struck by how much these exhibits are enhanced by the dedicated volunteers who staff these sites.  I spent a couple of hours enthralled by the history and fun facts effortlessly told by the docents at each stop.

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Historic home of John Johnston, fur trapper and businessman, built in 1795-96.

Most of my meals in the Soo involved white fish (oh so good here!), but since I was in the UP, I had to try their specialty, a pasty (the locals pronounced it as păs tē).  It’s a crust filled with ground beef, ground pork, rutabaga, onions, potatoes, and carrots and is only seasoned with salt and pepper.  It’s typically served with a sauce on the side, purists say only gravy, but some like ketchup.  It’s kind of like a hand-held pot pie.  It’s a bit bland, but hearty- I can see how this would be a definite on-the-go comfort food in the winter.

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Pasty from the Lock View Restaurant with cole slaw and gravy on the side.
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Pasty from the Lock View Restaurant.

With Sault St. Marie, Ontario just across the St. Mary River from Sault St. Marie, Michigan, it truly is a town so big that it spans two countries! Satisfied with my visit to this picturesque border town, I shifted my focus west and prepared for my trek across the UP.

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