Mackinac Island

Today, Wednesday, is our planned resting and get-caught-up day before we leave St. Ignace tomorrow. I've been lazing around this morning -- even made a hot breakfast for my cute long-haired fellow explorer. But now it's time to get this journal post done and published.

We spent yesterday on Mackinac Island. Neither of us had ever been there before and regular questions and comments over the years from fellow explorers finally pushed us to do our part to help out the local tourism-driven economy of the straits area... to finally buy those ferry tickets and get over there. No longer will we have to reply negatively to the query "of course you've been to Mackinac Island, haven't you?"

We caught the 9:05am ferry ($20 each after coupon discount and $8 for each bike) from the Star Line railroad dock just down the road in St. Ignace. After talking with some locals the past couple days we made the decision to take our bikes over with us in lieu of spending as much as $40 each to rent bikes once on the island. And there are other benefits of taking your own bikes... you know the bike, it's quirks, it's feel ... you're comfortable on it... it fits right... you don't have to stand in line to to pick it up or drop it off.  It became obvious this was the right thing to do.

The weather was great, with sunny skies and cool morning air. The first thing we did was to circumnavigate the island on the shoreline path. An enjoyable ride right along the waters edge, it's 8 miles of mostly level asphalt. At that early hour (started about 9:30am), there weren't many people on the trail... we often felt like we had it to ourselves. I enjoyed that ride much more than I thought I would. With stopping here and there to explore things along the way, it took us about two hours to finish the loop.

The next item on the list was the requisite stop at the Grand Hotel. According to local lore, this magnificent place was built in just 93 days in 1887. Probably the main reason I've resisted a trip to the island before this was the fact that the Hotel is now charging the common folk $10/head to get on the grounds and into the building. But, after badgering by the aforementioned fellow explorers, and a "conversation" with Dar ("my next husband won't be such a tight wad!"), I relented and happily released a twenty for the privilege.


We wandered all around, nooks and crannies, with Dar leading the way and snapping picture after picture. We were both surprised at the settling that's occurred over the years. In many places stairways and floors aren't level and walls aren't plumb. According to the concierge (who surprisingly answered our questions without demanding a twenty), the building is built on rock and was plumb and level when constructed, but the ravages of time and weight have taken their toll. It's a constant effort to keep doors from sticking and walls from cracking. But it is a grand place and I'm glad we made the time to explore it.

As noon approached we found a couple rockers on the huge front porch, found someone who would sell us a libation (another twenty for a beer, a glass of wine, and a small tip!), and found some relaxation while looking out over the island, the straits, and the big bridge. You just gotta take time like this to take a deep breath and soak it all in.

The island has about 7,000 residents during the summer... many people supporting the hotel and working the tourist trade... but others, obviously wealthy, who own 5,000 sq. ft. summer "cottages" and who may arrive for their stays by yacht or private plane. During the winter, pretty much everything closes, including the Grand Hotel, and the population drops to about 500 hearty souls.

Because motor vehicles are not permitted on the island, bikes are the most common form of personal transportation. During our stay we rode around the perimeter of the island and then through residential and more rustic wooded areas in the island middle and don't remember seeing even one motorized vehicle... not a Gator, service truck, golf cart, a four-wheeler... nothing. There are a lot of horse drawn wagons and carriages that perform the function of taxi, tourist bus, and truck. Personally, I liked the glimpse into a car-free environment and experiencing what a true walkable community could be.

Later in the day we parked the bikes and walked down the two main streets in the commercial district close to the harbor, Huron Street and Market Street. The place was absolutely packed. We learned that the Chicago-Mac sailboat race had just completed the day before and most of the participants were on the island -- celebrating and relaxing after the big event. Boat slips in the harbor were packed with sailboats, tied gunwale to gunwale, filling every possible mooring spot.

With crowds and congestion starting to detract from our experience we decided it was time to split and head back to the mainland, where we found a little place along the water for dinner. While soaking in the view of the island from the outside restaurant deck we recounted the day and agreed it was time well spent.


Liz said…
There may be 7,000 here in the summer, but there are only 500 of us here all winter. Much quieter...
Thom Hoch said…
Liz, I'll bet everyone takes a big deep breath and really enjoys the winter. What a change! Thanks for checking in.

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