Thursday, August 30, 2007

Camp Soldner on Beaufort Lake

August 30, 2007 -- Camp Soldner on Beaufort Lake near Three Lakes, MI

Allow me a paragraph or two to get everyone caught up with our travels. My last post was on ... and got us to Colwell Lake, a National Forest Campground in the Hiawatha National Forest near Shingleton, MI. The reason for being at Colwell was the annual Soldner (Dar's nee) Campout, which involves a lot of family members and their kids and friends... this year, a group of about 25 people. This is where I took the water skiing pictures and where Dar proved she still has her original teeth. Having this much family in one place for over a week, 24/7, can cause stress. But for the most-part the group was well-behaved and there were no fist-fights at all this year.

On Thursday, August 16th, we moved from Colwell Lake to Camp Soldner, Dennis and Laura Soldner's (Dar's brother and sister-in-law) camp on the shores of Beaufort Lake, about a 110 mile drive. Down south, in Wisconsin, we call this a cottage. Here, it's a "camp". I'm sure there are good reasons for this local-ism... maybe a remnant from the past when groups of loggers or hunters called their places "camps". Regardless, the place is unpopulated and unspoiled. The closest well-stocked grocery is 25 miles away. Luckily, the closest bar isn't far, maybe 2 miles away up on Hwy 41. It's called Stump's Bar and we're almost always the only patrons in the place when we stop by for a burger. We can get only two broadcast TV stations... an NBC affiliate and a PBS station, both out of Marquette. However, we have little desire to actually watch any TV. All this isolation and basic living is the charm of the place; it's what makes it unique, what gives it it's character, what makes it the perfect place to unwind and get your head screwed on straight.

Camp Soldner is located on the western shore of the lake, so our view is facing almost due east. Morning sunrise is often an experience as both the direct sun and it's reflection off the lake shine directly through our windshield and into the length of the bus like a searchlight. I would make good use of a welder's helmet when making that first pot of coffee. The property has a very nice house, a separate wood-fired sauna and shower, enough trees to shade most of the property all day long, and plenty of relatively level open space. There's a sandy beach, a dock, and a small armada of boats, including a ski boat, sail boat, pontoon boat, canoe, kayak, paddle boats, and a few others that I can't remember right now. There's no shortage of floating hardware here.

The lake is 460 acres of very clear water surrounded by large hills that add to the feeling of isolation. It's about a mile long and a mile wide, with a peninsula running down the center from the north. Often the surface of the water is like glass, as the high hills surrounding the lake can block breezes. Pontoon and small fishing boats dominate, but this time of year you seldom see one running on the lake. There are about 50 dwellings on the lake and I'd guess most are second homes, so for the most part, they're unoccupied, especially during the week. I don't think there are too many places left in the US where it's possible to be this alone -- at least in this kind of setting. This is such a dramatic change from the congestion and traffic of the Chicago area. Our plan was to spend two weeks here and resume our travels after labor day. If it weren't for the impending severe winter it'd be easy to stay longer.

During our time here at Camp Soldner, we've enjoyed various travels and experiences around the Western U.P. I'll post more detailed accounts of some of these in the next few days. But for much of our time, we've just luxuriated in the peace, beauty, and isolation of this lake setting. I've been reading a long Jeffery Archer tome and the lake has been well-explored by both Dar and me. We've taken hundreds of photos as there always seems to be something new to see. We have both Bald and Golden Eagles on one end of the bird spectrum, and hummingbirds on the other. An array of other wildlife runs throughout this area including coyote, fox, bear, deer, and moose. We've enjoyed some wonderful evenings watching the sun set, often with Bill and Nancy our nearest neighbors at Camp Soldner. They're from Georgia and spend the summers at their lake home here.

Fall colors, at first barely noticeable, are now unmistakable. And the nights have been very cool -- often in the 40's, once in the mid 30's. With the exception of one badly needed rainy day, the weather's been mostly clear with highs in the 70's.

When we leave here next week, we're hoping to see some friends in Northern Wisconsin for a few days as we work our way over to near Burnsville MN., where we'll spend a few days with Jim and Sue, our neighbors when we used to live there. After that, we hope to rendezvous with my brother and sister-in-law at a campground near Devil's Lake WI for a long weekend, and then back to our hometown of Beaver Dam WI, where we'll be for a couple weeks at the end of September.

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Colwell Lake

Thursday, August 9th, 2007 -- Colwell Lake near Steuben, MI

This is going to be a very short update. Internet access is very limited and unreliable. I've become so involved with our website and blogs that my need for the internet is almost an addiction. Maybe the time away from it will be good.

My last post had us prepared to cross the Mackinac Bridge -- August 2nd, I believe. A lot's happened since that day a week ago, but I'll just cover the highlights in this post.

The move across the bridge and up to Munising was uneventful. We checked into the Wandering Wheels Campground near Munising, and while the sites are big and wooded, the dusty road and grounds made for an unpleasant time. Happy to have stayed only three nights, this past Monday, the 6th, we moved 20 miles to Colwell Lake, a National Forest Campground in the Hiawatha National Forest. This place is nearly the ideal campground -- large secluded wooded sites, very private, very clean -- you almost feel like you're the only one in the place. There are only 30 sites and half of them are right on the shore of the small lake. The only negative is the lack of electric, water, and sewer connections -- which, when you consider that if there were full hookups, the place would immediately loose it's charm, quiet, and pressure from other campers, isn't a negative at all. We just made sure we arrived with a full load of freshwater -- 105 gallons -- and that we're really conservative on the use of electric power. We can cook with gas, heat water with gas, and run the fridge on gas -- and we've got more than enough gas for the two weeks.

While staying at Wandering Wheels, we ventured out to Whitefish Point on Lake Superior, and visited nearby Tahquamenon Falls. That was an enjoyable trip! The Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum was one of the highlights as it was educational and had a couple pieces that had a particular interest to us... the ship's bell from the Edmund Fitzgerald, and a 2nd order Fresnel Lens from the White Shoals Lighthouse.

The time spent at Colwell Lake is so un-hurried and relaxing, it's even a vacation for us. We're kayaking, skiing, reading, cooking, having nightly slow pontoon rides around the lake as the sun sets, and telling stories around a big campfire each night. As time and internet access permits, I'll try to get more updates posted during the next couple weeks. Those of you who need to make contact with us know our cell phone numbers -- just leave a voicemail. We try to check those every couple of days.

Really Unwinding...

T

Thursday, August 2, 2007

USCGC Mackinaw

Thursday, August 2, 2007 -- Mackinaw City, MI

We never made it over to Mackinac Island today. The threat of rain and storms was enough to keep us on this side of the straits, and out of the island based tourist traps. I was also put off by the Grand Hotel now restricting passers-by from wandering through this stately old place unless a fee is paid for the privilege. So, let's see, by the time we buy ferry passage, pay another fee for the bikes we wanted to take over in order to get around the island, paid the fee to see the old hotel... we'd be well over $100 before we ordered an over-priced lunch or bought a priceless bric-a-brac in one of the many gift shops that are bound be all over the island. And our sabbatical objective is to see more of the real America and real Americans, not the touristy thing it's so easy to fall into.

After the rains ended, we headed into town to find something to do. We found two things of interest: first, we had our first pasties. I'll write more about these later, but let's just say it's a local and Upper Peninsula food item. The word is pronounced with a short "a" -- like the "a" in candy. For some reason, every time I slip and say the word with the long "a", I get an elbow in the ribs from Dar.

Second, we visited the USCGC Mackinaw, the famous ice-breaker ship that was built in 1944 and was in service around the Great Lakes until last year when a new ship, also called the Mackinaw, entered service. We were led on a tour of the boat by a knowledgeable guide and had very interesting conversations from a small band of locals who keep watch over this treasure. The talk ranged from stories of some of the ships accomplishments to the advantages of retiring in low-pressure places like this. One couple, interested in our sabbatical adventure, even offered a parking place for our camper on property they own when we come through again. We thoroughly enjoyed the two or more hours we spent here.

Tomorrow, we're firing up the bus and heading across the Mackinac Bridge (pronounced "mac-in-aw") on our way to the Munising, MI area. So tune in later to follow the adventures of our intrepid duo as they head into the great northern woods in search of the real America.

T

A few questions

Thursday, August 2, 2007 -- Mackinaw City, MI

Some answers to questions I had about the area... (the first in a series over the next few days or weeks):

Question 1) Is it pronounced "Mackinac" or "Mackinaw"? I grew up with it always being pronounced with the "ac" at the end, never the "aw". But over the years I've run into people, mostly Michiganders, who insist that the correct pronunciation is with the "aw". With our arrival in the area, I thought I'd clear this up for good -- at least for me. There'll always be hard-headed Chicago Bears fans that'll insist on saying it wrong, as they do so many other words, but I wanted to at least understand the issue and make my own decision.

First, I talked with Dave, our waiter in a small pub/restaurant here in town. He grew up in the area and his Mom makes the best pasties (don't ask now, that'll be another post) around, so I felt he should be considered an authority on the subject. Now, to complicate the issue we have at least four things that are named similarily... Mackinaw City, the Mackinac Straits, the Mackinac Bridge, and Mackinac Island. Are they all pronounced the way they're spelled? What's the reason for the difference? It's very confusing and this has got to be cleared up now. So, Dave says the correct pronunciation is with a "w" in all cases. He actually seem a little offended that any intelligent person would consider anything but "with the w" as correct. Ok, that seems like the end of the story, but I started to think that since Dave grew up and lives in Mackinaw City, and his Mom, who makes the best pasties around, still lives in Mackinaw City, and considering that Mackinaw ends with a "w", maybe Dave's part of a conspiracy to get the pronunciation of everything changed to that of his home town. Maybe even Dave's Mom is part of the plot. Unlikely, but nevertheless, a possibility. I needed another authority on the subject.

The second authority was Julie the checkout girl/clerk/person from the IGA market right here in Mackinaw City. I know what you're thinking... Julie's from Mackinaw City too... she could be part of the conspiracy. True, but she had an honest face and was willing to talk with me on the subject, so that alone should be good enough... but she also had documented proof to offer. That proof was in the form of an article in the well-known Mackinaw Today Paper that is issued once each year. Reading from the 2007 edition of the paper, it says...

"The Indian name for the area, Michinnimakinong, was changed to Michillimackinac when the French arrived in 1715." [editorial comment: I had had a suspicion the French were in some way responsible for screwing this up too.] "Even though the French spelled it with an "ac", they still pronounced it "aw". The British arrived and took over the fort in 1761 [without firing a shot I might add] and decided to change the spelling to "aw", and eventually the name was shortened to Mackinaw. The French kept their "ac" though [stubborn little buggers, aren't they?] and everything north of Mackinaw City uses that spelling. Mackinaw City is one of the only references that uses the "aw" ending. So, regardless of the spelling, the pronunciation of "ac" is the same as "aw".

So, there you have it! On good authority we can feel confident in pronouncing everything with the "aw". It's amazing to me just how much you can learn when you put your mind to it.

T

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Mackinaw City

Wednesday, August 1, 2007 -- Mackinaw City, MI

A short post is about all I'm up to tonight. It was a tougher than expected drive today with the heat, a lot of traffic, stupid drivers, and rough roads. After setting up here at Mill Creek Campground near Mackinaw City, we headed into town for a few groceries and a place to cool off with a beer. Finding a friendly little place near the ferry docks, we stayed for dinner too, and enjoyed kibitzing with Dave our waitperson. Since we're only here two nights, we're thinking of taking one of those ferries over to Mackinac Island tomorrow, with our bikes, to explore a place neither of us have seen. Now, as long as the weather cooperates...

The toad seemed to do ok today, but I'm keeping a close eye on it since 4-wheel-down towing can cause problems. Keeping fingers crossed on this one.

We really enjoyed staying at Sleepy Bear the extra two nights. It was close to the camping I remember as a kid, with big trees all around, cool breezes, nightly campfires, and the quiet of the forest. But we're at the other end of the scale here at Mill Creek, where we're enjoying the warm weather packed into one of 600 (yes, 600!) small, nearly treeless sites with a couple thousand of our close friends. While this may be a slight exaggeration (there are a few sickly-looking trees in some areas of the park), we're really learning what we like and what to ask for when making plans.

Sleep well readers! I'm heading for the sack.
T