Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Sarah Visits (aka The Great Michigan Mini-Road Trip)

My former college roommate Sarah came up from Pensacola, FL to visit me last week, and it was the highlight of my summer! We had both worried that the close connection we had once had as friends and roomies had been severed by years apart and loss of contact (mostly since I was across the world for a year). However, five minutes showed us that we were just the same together as we had been before. Isn't it great to have friends like that? After the fantastic week we had, we agreed that this is one friendship that needs to last, and that both of us need to communicate more and travel together more. In the spirit of this decision, we are now formulating plans for me to drive down to Florida next year during my spring break (it is good to be a teacher). Here are some highlights from our week:

On Sunday, I took Sarah on a walking tour (with me as guide) of downtown Kalamazoo. Sadly, my favorite places, like Sarkozy's Bakery, were all closed. There was the additional sadness of seeing how the current recession/depression (depending on which economist you listen to) has begun to slowly kill off the once vibrant city. Once-bustling shops are now vacant, and streets that used to teem with people on weekends are now abandoned and forgotten. Even the park lacked the usual throng of children playing on the statues (although we did see a few homeless people napping on benches). Either I just picked the wrong weekend, or downtown Kalamazoo is headed for the grave (I'm hoping it's just hibernating). Despite the alarming change in a once-charming location, we still had a pleasant walk, and were able to admire the murals and architecture that harken back to more prosperous days.

On Monday, Sarah and I enjoyed a beach BBQ at Tiscornia Park (lovely beach in St. Joseph, MI) with two other friends of mine. Although it was only in the sixties temperature-wise, I made the bold decision to dive right into the freezing waters of Lake Michigan for a swim. I wound up being the only swimmer on the entire beach! No one else was brave/stupid enough to want to enjoy the hypothermia-inducing lake.

Wednesday morning was the beginning of the mini-road trip. We left my parents' house at 6:00 in the morning and headed up the highway towards the top of the state. Just before 11:00, we reached Mackinaw City, where we checked into our adorable and affordable hotel (the Budget Host American Boutique Inn gets high marks from me). After dropping off our belongings, we drove down to Shepler's and took the ferry to Mackinac Island, one of my favorite spots in Michigan. Sarah had never been, so I was hoping for sunshine, but instead Michigan treated us to cold weather and rain for the entire day. We bought hooded sweatshirts for a surprisingly reasonable price, yanked them over the sweaters we were already wearing, and set off to sample some yummy Mackinac fudge. Mmmm! After that, we walked off our excess calories with a nine+ mile hike (we went all the way around the island, which is eight miles, and also hiked around the middle a bit). Despite the weather, we had a splendid time!

On Thursday I took Sarah across the bridge to the Upper Peninsula (known to us Michiganders as simply "the UP"). We drove up to Sault Ste. Marie (pronounced "Soo Saint Marie") and watched a freighter and a tugboat enter and leave the Soo Locks. We meandered through the well-done visitors center and read all the exhibits, shared a sympathetic giggle as we watched two teachers corralling their over-excited students, and then headed on to Paradise.

Paradise, MI is near the tip of the UP and is a delightful town with a very welcoming feel to it. We ate a mouth-watering lunch of pasties (pronounced "pass-tees" - old-fashioned Michigan pies filled with meat, potatoes, and such, which were popular with the fur traders and lumberjacks who first settled in this state) at an adorable restaurant called the Berry Patch. The owner had to have been one of the sweetest and friendliest women I have ever seen. Anyone who claims that mid-westerners aren't friendly just isn't hitting the right spots!

After lunch, we went a little further up to Whitefish Point, which is also known as the graveyard of ships, owing to the large number of shipwrecks there. Lake Superior was in a rather dreary, foggy mood, so we got to watch a thousand-foot freighter being guided by the light and foghorn from the lighthouse there. Also in Whitefish Point is the Shipwreck Museum, which I have wanted to visit for several years. It was well worth the price of admission and the long drive. We got to see exhibits on about twenty shipwrecks, including the Edmund Fitzgerald. In addition, there is a lighthouse with re-created keepers' quarters from both the 1880's and the 1920's. The people working there were further evidence of the extremely amusing and kind people that one can find in Michigan (if you know where to look).

On the way back to Mackinaw City we stopped off at Tahquamenon Falls, where a battle squadron of mosquitos chased us off after only a few moments. We ran back to the car and decided that we would rather enjoy a scenic drive through Hiawatha National Forest than be consumed. The elusive sun had finally fought its way victoriously through the clouds and rain, so the drive was ripe with fetching views of trees, water, and blue skies. It was the perfect end to a marvelous day.....until the cop pulled me over and gave me a ticket (I never noticed that the speed limit had changed...).

Friday was a cloudy day again at first. When I walked out to start loading my little yellow Aveo5, I discovered that the First Reformed Church of Mosquitoes was having their revival service on the passenger side of my car, apparently with the intention of making whoever opened it their dinner for the event. I backed the car out of the parking lot and made a few circles to shake off the critters, then had Sarah make a fast leap inside. With no further mishaps, we headed for home.

Rather than take the main highway, which is faster, I decided to take a more pleasant scenic route home. So, I took 31, which goes around the coast of Michigan and goes through such gorgeous locations as Bay Harbor, Traverse City, Charlevoix, Luddington, Grand Haven, Holland, and South Haven. Along the way, I stopped off at any places that looked particularly lovely (the sun had fought its way out again) or interesting, and Sarah and I were able to walk around in sheer delight, snapping pictures as fast as we could. I think the award for cutest location probably goes to Bay Harbor, although their mosquitoes were a little too overwhelming of a welcoming committee for our tastes. Grand Haven was, as always, a cute-as-a-button delight.

We made it safely home and collapsed, completely exhausted, in front of an enthralling episode of NCIS. With three dogs in my lap and a very dear friend at my side, I felt about as content as any person ever has the chance to be. The world may seem like it's falling down around me, but at least there are still moments like these to treasure. I guess things just aren't so bad after all, once you start to stack up and number your blessings! I hope my readers will take the time this summer to reach and experience the same conclusion for themselves.

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"Passage—immediate passage! the blood burns in my veins! Away, O soul! hoist instantly the anchor!
Cut the hawsers—haul out—shake out every sail!
Have we not stood here like trees in the ground long enough?
Have we not grovell’d here long enough, eating and drinking like mere brutes?
Have we not darken’d and dazed ourselves with books long enough?

Sail forth! steer for the deep waters only!
Reckless, O soul, exploring, I with thee, and thou with me;
For we are bound where mariner has not yet dared to go, And we will risk the ship, ourselves and all.

O my brave soul!
O farther, farther sail!
O daring joy, but safe! Are they not all the seas of God?
O farther, farther, farther sail!"

~Walt Whitman, "Passage to India"