Tuesday, September 16, 2008

An Island In Time

Sept 16, 2008

We got up late today--slept until 8:30! By the time we showered, dressed, ate, walked the dog, etc., we had already missed the chance to catch the 10:30 ferry to Mackinac Island. Oh well, we are lazy! The ferry service sent a car to pick us up right here at the campground (free!) at 11:00 and we took the 11:30 ferry over to the Island.

I have to confess that althought I had heard lots of wonderful things from people who love Mackinac Island, I was feeling sort of ho-hum about it. I guess the whole concept didn't really grab me in the abstract. But as the ferry approached, I could see not only the Grand Hotel from the water, but some very intense Victorian houses lined up on the bluff near it, and the picture was lovely.

Mackinac Island is isolated in time--it is a little Victorian island where motor vehicles are prohibited, and where everything has to be sent over via boat. There is no bridge or any way other than boat or a small plane to get there. We arrived on the dock and Joe's first reaction was that it was like Main Street in Disney World--horse-drawn carriages awaited us, and there were bicycles everywhere. The town was very clean, the only thing was that as in Victorian times, the streets had the obvious evidence that horses had been there. However we did see people with pushcarts or bikes, with large containers and shovels and rakes, and they drove down the street cleaning up, so it was by no means offensive or difficult to avoid horse "evidence".

The shops were all very cute, albeit touristy--the t-shirt and souvenir places were liberally interspersed with fudge shops. I think there were three or four main fudge "chains", and each had probably 4-5 stores, plus there were a number of independents. On the "inside" of the street (front porches facing the water) were a number of beautiful small hotels with verandas and picturesque columns, flowers, etc., and of course there were restaurants everywhere too.

We sort of vaguely walked up the block, not quite sure where to start with ourselves. We'd been advised to go horseback riding; bike riding; take a carriage tour; visit the butterfly conservatory; etc. We had about 5-1/2 hours; the last ferry back to St. Ignace left at 5:30. So we took stock as we walked, and the delicious smell of rotisserie chickens is what hooked us first. We decided to first eat lunch at the restaurant with the chicken, and then go for a bicycle ride.

Lunch was very good--only our second meal eaten "out" since our trip began. And after that, we stopped at the first bicycle rental place we came to (there were a dozen of those, also.) Joey decided we should rent a tandem bike because we'd never done that before, and then drive it around the perimeter of the island. The lady who rented it gave us a map, which showed us that many of the historical things to see were a few blocks "inland", but the road around the island, which was 8.2 miles, was flat, and just our speed for biking.

Well, we had only gone a few blocks before we were totally enchanted. (Of course, it's easy to be enchanted when the gentleman on the bike in front of you is singing "Daisy, Daisy".) The only "traffic" on the road once we passed the downtown area was other bicycles, although we passed a lot of horse droppings, which told us that we might encounter some equine traffic as well. At first we passed some very nice houses right along the road, but soon they stopped and we simply biked along a two-lane road with trees on our left and the Lake Huron shoreline on our right. It was about 65 degrees, the sun was shining and glinting off the water, and it was absolutely gorgeous!!

It is amazing what it's like to be in a place with NO motor traffic. We often saw no one but ourselves, and the only sound was our bike pedalling. Because we were riding tandem, we ended up chatting as we rode, about all kinds of subjects that popped into our heads. It was simply delicious. Sometimes we'd pass other bikers coming the opposite way on the road, and we'd greet each other, and occasionally people would pass us on faster bikes. But otherwise we simply rode and admired the view out onto the water. At first the water was very calm, and we saw lots of seagulls simply standing there in water only a few inches deep. We could see the stones under their feet. The water was completely clear, green at the shoreline and deepening to a beautiful blue.

We passed lots of places where we could have stopped and simply sat and looked at the water, and I made mental notes. Next time, we should come with sandwiches, earlier in the day, and bathing suits if it is hotter, and bike more slowly, stopping often, picnic and nap on the shore, etc (although mostly the shoreline was rocky, so napping might have been trickier.) I was sorry we'd gotten there so late. We'd sometimes pass private homes tucked into the trees, but mostly it was pretty empty and secluded. We turned a corner about 1/2 of the way, and the wind picked up. The shoreline was less warm and inviting, although it was still beautiful, and we could see the Mackinaw Bridge in the distance. The water washed up in little wavelets, and became a bit rougher.

About half-way around the island is a rest area with bathrooms, a refreshment stand, and picnic tables. We stopped for a quick bathroom break, and then kept going. Soon after that, we started meeting the occasional horse-drawn carriage, and we felt we might be getting back to civilization. We passed more houses, and then the public school--there is a year-round community that lives on the island. I don't know the population, but the school looked surprisingly large--I imagine it houses kindergarten through high school (or maybe 8th grade?) And suddenly we were passing the edge of the town again, and we were back where we had started from! We'd biked around the entire island in just over an hour.

We returned our tandem bike and looked for what we felt were well-earned refreshments! Joe got a coke, and i got ice cream--I felt I'd already biked off the calories (do NOT tell me differently, LOL!) We sat and ate and people watched for a little while, and then decided to walk up some of the streets and see what lay beyond the main street and all the fudge.

We discovered a little picturesque town with more bed-and-breakfasts and small hotels, as well as the little historic post office. More horse-drawn carriages passed us, and we saw one group of horseback riders come out of a stable and head down the street.

We wandered up the hill (all the streets coming off the main perimeter road went UP!) and soon we saw ahead of us the Grand Hotel, the signature building of Mackinac Island. A sign warned us as we began to approach that it would cost $10 for anyone who is not registered at the hotel to go inside! Humnph.... pretty high handed, especially since one of their own carriage horses made a BIG poop right in front of the buildling! We were able to get a good idea of their spectacular view, however, and appreciate the elegance of a bygone era.

We didn't want to offend their sensibilities (another sign announced that "Proper attire was REQUIRED at night--gentlemen must wear jackets and ties, and ladies MAY NOT wear pants"). So we continued up the hill, walking past a large stable and yard where the carriage horses are kept, past a small golf course, past the Governor's House, and on to Fort Mackinac. At that point, we headed back down the very steep hill to the main street again. As we walked down, we got a nice view of the harbor below us. We by no means had seen all the sights, but I guess that just means we need to come back again some day.

We were tired by this time, but before we could leave we had an important task--buying fudge! The person taking care of my cats likes chocolate even more than I do, and I felt he deserved some Mackinac Island Fudge. I had already decided that Joann's was my Fudge Of Choice, and I spent some time determining what flavors to indulge in. After that, we made our way to the dock, and at 5:00 we boarded our ferry back to St. Ignace. We sat on the top deck in the sun, and it was warm and breezy as we sped across the water back to the mainland. I snapped a few last photos of the beautiful waterfront houses as we pulled out of the small harbor.

We were back at the campground quickly, and it has occurred to me that I am REALLY TIRED. I guess that's what a day in the sun, a long bicycle ride, lots of Lake Huron breezes, and a Major Fudge Encounter will do to a person. I am quite sure we'll be sleeping soundly tonight.

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