Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Midwest Memories IV: Ahhhhh, Mackinac Island

Mom and Tom have been talking about taking us to Mackinac Island since Meg was quite small, but this was the summer we finally made it there. And the Lord reserved the most perfect, breathtakingly beautiful day for our visit. Wow. I can still see the glistening, deep blue lake meeting the cloudless, intensely blue sky.

Mackinac (mysteriously pronounced MAK-in-AW) Island is a little speck right in between Lake Michigan and Lake Huron. It is notable in part because there are no cars allowed on the island. At all! There are bikes and there are horses, who pull various carts and carriages. (And in the winter, I'm told there are snow mobiles.) There is an historical military fort, and there are stunning old Victorian homes, gorgeously maintained. Oh, and there is fudge. Reeeeeeeal fudge. More about that later.

Dave grew up going fairly often with his family to bike around the island. He has great memories of their times there. A highlight of the day was seeing a bit of the kid in him return as he got to show our little people around. One particular image saved in my mind is of Dave hoisting Esme up onto this boulder near the shoreline and then climbing up himself, long legs and all.

To back up, we drove to the Upper Peninsula (about a three-hour drive from Mom and Tom's home) and took a ferry to the island. I remember trying to rub sunscreen all over every kid within my reach while the boat bounced us over the water. The sun was hot, but there was a strong breeze. Perfect day for a boat ride. Ahhhh.

We got to the island, and I was quite surprised to find that we landed right in the midst of a downtown crawling with tourists and crammed with restaurants, hotels, shops and confectionaries of every kind. Funny: Dave and his folks had talked about the bike riding and the idyllic scenery so much that I had never realized there was a downtown, let alone one that would remind me of a beachside boardwalk. I guess I never stopped to picture a town at all! (Note: the downtown is way cuter than a boardwalk. It's more like Main Street, USA circa 1902, with all the buildings painted in cheerful pastels. But the volume of people and the feel of the place were a bit like a boardwalk. Except with horse piles everywhere.)

Anyway, we went to the green near the fort and ate our picnic lunch. Then we went to get bikes. Mom and Tom had brought theirs along, as well as one carriage/trailer thing. The rest of us needed rentals. We ended up with quite the entourage. Four adult bikes, two with tagalongs and two with trailers.

I started out riding in front of Meg on a tagalong. It was not an auspicious beginning. First I failed to yield to a turning horse cart when I should have. The cart driver was not very impressed with me and let that be known publicly. We started again. Meg was so nervous and shaky behind me that I could barely keep my balance at all. We went wobbling into the street, trying to dodge other riders and carriages and horse piles, Meg loudly moaning, "Mommy, are you sure you know how to ride a bike?" Mature, forbearing adult that I am, I responded by threatening through clenched teeth to pitch her off and leave her behind. Dave rode up next to me and talked us both through the remainder of the crowded part of town. We stopped and regrouped just beyond the tourist district. I asked my daughter's forgiveness for my unkind words and gave her a few riding tips.

We started off again, much more smoothly this time. In just a few moments, we had left the town behind, and the beauty had begun. I can't do it justice, but it was lovely. Rocky beaches, miles and miles of water, never-ending sky. Breeze, sun, motion, bliss. Meg was delighted and repeatedly pronounced Mackinac Island "paradise" and "the most beautiful place in the world, tied with Rose Hill Manor." Matthew rode alone behind Dave like the happiest boy in the world, which he was. Tom heroically hauled Esme and the cooler in his trailer. And Mom, towing Graham, fell further and further behind. When we made our first stop to wade along the shoreline, we found out why. Her rental trailer, which was kept unzipped and open so that Graham could breathe (always a good idea), was acting like a parachute as we rode into the wind the first leg of the ride. She was getting so much drag that she was probably working three times as hard as any of us. After that stop, we shuffled the adults, but Mom had already borne the brunt, as the wind direction was more in our favor for the rest of the trip.

The ride around the island is about 8 miles, if I recall correctly. There was really only one hill. It was a great distance and set-up for a family with little kids. I would go back and do it again right now if I knew the weather would be good there! We took it easy, stopping whenever we felt like exploring something (a bit of shoreline, the school playground) or cooling down with water bottles and wading. I'm not sure exactly how long it took us to complete the circle... maybe three hours? It was such a glorious memory-making day.

(You've probably guessed by now that I don't have any pictures. Minor tragedy, but in trying last minute to pare down what we were carrying onto the island, I accidentally left my camera in the car, which, of course meant that it stayed on the mainland. I'm sorry.)

Back in town, we rewarded ourselves for the bike ride with ice cream. While we ate it, we had another encounter with a rude horse cart driver. Bad day for those guys, I guess. My kids were quite shocked by how disrespectful the driver was to their grandpa. I was quite impressed that Grandpa held his tongue and mildly moved on with life. I was grateful to have my kids witness that moment of strength and self-control and dignity.

Before we caught the ferry back to the mainland, I had to stop and get some fudge. I hadn't had any real fudge since my last stay in Ocean City, N.J. when I was 18. We got to take the kids into a shop where they were just finishing making a fresh batch. Then: the choices. Aaaargh, so hard. Except for maple. That was a nonnegotiable must, and definitely the best decision I made there. Ohhhhhhhh, fudge. You were real good, real fudge. And I'm so glad I don't have any place to purchase you near my home.

I can't leave out the fact that I ended up in the very front row of the top deck on the ferry homeward. This would have been no problem except that I was with a very tired, hungry and willful Graham. He wanted to get down and roam around the boat, and with that privilege denied, he threw a rip-roaring fit, complete with screaming, flailing, lunging and hitting. This lasted for the entire final 10 minutes of our ride. Did I mention I was in the front row of a very full boat? Did I mention that my husband was on the lower deck with the other kids? The lake was very choppy by this time of day, and the wind was right in our faces, so I was struggling not only to keep my baby from pitching himself overboard and scratching out my eyes, but also to keep my hair out of my mouth and to keep my wind-whipped clothes from creating indecent exposure scenarios. Meanwhile, I was sure I could feel the eyes of every. single. passenger. on me the whole time, Grandpa being the lone exception. (By the way, if you ever ride a ferry--or train, or plane, or bus--with a mother whose toddler is pitching a huge fit in front of everyone, do her a favor: if you have the opportunity, meet her eyes and smile kindly. Do NOT avoid her gaze as if you think her situation might be a contagious plague. Just... show a little compassion. She will remember it thankfully, as I do the two ladies--the ONLY two ladies out of the whole crowd--who smiled graciously at me as I bolted for the boat's exit.)

After surviving the ferry, we went and ate dinner (my fish sandwich was sooo yum) at the very cute Darrow's Family Restaurant. Then we drove home, marveling that our then-three year old didn't fall asleep or even come close for the whole three hours! (7 to 10 pm after a long day!)

OK, OK, last thing, I promise! The trip to Mackinac Island did require us to cross the Mackinac Bridge, which connects the upper and lower peninsulas of Michigan. It was also the longest suspension bridge in the world when it was built. I mention this because I am not a big fan of bridges. My mild gephyrophobia (I just looked it up!), which kicked in after I started having kids, has its roots in the old PBS show Square One (remember?). It used to feature images of poorly engineered bridges (I suppose they were just models, but they looked real) collapsing. Add to that the bridge disaster in Minneapolis a few years ago, and well, let's just say that I never drive over a bridge without praying. Mackinac Bridge is high and long, and the pace across is slow. They're also doing construction on it. I clenched my jaw and talked to the Lord all the way over both ways. My husband laughed at me.

And I would just like to note that, the VERY NEXT DAY, we saw in the news that, due to high winds, a tractor trailer had been knocked over onto its side while crossing the bridge.

See? I told you God chose us the perfect day.


Lena said...

Ah Car, I love the way your write. :) I can picture all your adventures so well! Love to you all!

Shannon said...

Well spoken Lena. I couldn't have said it better