Friday, August 19, 2011


Macinac Ferry
On our first trip across Canada we decided to be 'Patriotic” Canadians and do the entire trip in our own country. Big mistake; we hated the drive across the top of the Great Lakes. It seemed to be nothing but logging trucks, crummy hotels and road construction. No one argued when I suggested on the return trip that we duck down and come through the US. We found nicer hotels, more interesting scenery, and cheaper gas.

Now the worst place we stopped on the way out was Ignace in Ontario. The hotel was terrible and we are pretty sure that the case of head lice that we picked up was from there. When It appeared that the timing would put us in a place called St. Ignace in Michigan, we were not too keen, but as we pulled into the town it looked like a nice place so we stopped. We were only there overnight, and only had time to explore a bit of the town, but we were intrigued by the waterfront area full of competing ferrys wanting to take you to Mackinak Island. Each company had a gimmick; one was fastest, one was smoothest, one used Hydroplanes, one was jet boats. We picked up some information on the Island and it sounded like an interesting place to visit, and got put on a wish list.
Stately Macinac House

Years later we did the same trip this time in our “Motorhome from Hell”, this time coming across the US on the way out, and the way back. Mackinak was definitely on the list of places we wanted to stop.
This trip we had all our bicycles and the campground had a free shuttle that could transport our bikes to the ferry. We rode all over the island, and took the eight mile perimeter road all the way around.

This year we came back with Dad and Sharon, parking in the same KOA and taking the same convenient shuttle to the ferry. The island hasn't changed much, and this time Regis & I rented a Tandem bicycle (That's another blog).

No Cars or Trucks either
The island is very interesting in that there are almost no motorized vehicles allowed on it. They have a fire department with Trucks, and there are police cars, but they are only used in emergencies. The police patrol on foot or on bicycle. There are no other cars, trucks or even motor-scooters. I notice that they have allowed a few of the motorized chairs used by handicapped folk, but that is the only concession I can see. The many big fancy hotels and resorts pick up their guests in fancy horse drawn wagons, and all the materials and supplies delivered on the island are carried by large utility wagons drawn by big work horses. I saw one woman being chauffeured somewhere in a very fancy horse & buggy, but the main form of transportation is the bicycle. Every house has three or four bicycles parked out front, and hotels have huge bike racks instead of parking lots. There are hundreds of rental bikes from old fashioned looking ones to fancy multi-speed mountain bikes or the “Bicycle built for two”. The bikes owned by the locals are instantly differentiated from the rentals by the handle bar carriers on them. I discovered in China when I relied on a bike for my transport, that a front carrier is much better than a rear one, and the bigger the better. Many of the bicycles on Mackinac have large newspaper carrier sized boxes made of wire attached to the front handlebars, and they were often individualized with flags, or foam padding and bungee cords to protect and hold cargo. I also noticed many Island natives had adapted those nice “Yuppy” baby trailers to cargo trailers outfitted with big Tupperware bins to carry lots of “Stuff”. When a bicycle is your only way to transport things you take it seriously and make it work best for you.

The island itself is beautiful. It was once the vacation playland of the rich and fabulous of the area, and there remain many stately homes and “Summer” residences with big “Private” signs, but many of the old houses have been turned into beautiful Bed & Breakfasts or country inns. There are also numerous big resorts and large hotels, but they are all old styled and there were none of the big chains at all. There was one area of new development where beautiful new houses were being built, but these were being constructed so that once finished you would not realize they was not 200 years old.

The “downtown” is like a 200 year old town with the only traffic jam being three horse & wagons trying to navigate the same corner at once. There are many Fudge shops, something the island is famous for, a number of little pubs and taverns, and many restaurants in the hotels and inns. Of course there are the obligatory souvenir shops with T-Shirts and tacky stuff made in China, but there are also nice places selling local art & crafts or cute shops selling unique products. There was no McDonalds, no KFC, and no Walmart. There was a Starbucks, but it wasn't really a Starbucks, it just advertized they served “Starbucks” coffee with a big round 'Starbucks” sign, but actually had another name. I suspect this will not fit into the revised zoning bylaws after the next council meeting.

There is an airport somewhere on the island, but I never saw an airplane. The most common way to visit the Island is to take one of the ferries. The wild competition I saw the first trip by has gone, and I suspect one company has purchased everything, but it was a comfortable fast trip running every hour.

If you are ever in this area of Michigan, Mackinac is one place I recommend spending a day or two.

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