Towed Across the Mighty Mackinac
The only Michigan I know is Detroit, the icon of the auto industry with a reputation for urban decline. Though it has its charms, the landscape is defined by crumbling buildings, damaged roads, and abandonment. After five months of living and working in the area, I needed time away.
I asked friends and coworkers about weekend getaways and chose Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, promising waterfalls, forests, beaches, scenic drives, and the stunning Mackinac Bridge (pronounced “Mack-in-aw”).
Unfortunately, what began as a 4-hour adventure quickly went sour. I left Saturday afternoon and ran into heavy rainfall up north, disrupting what was intended to be a top-down scenic drive. According to my map I went through dense national forests and crossed the Mackinac Bridge to St Ignace, though all I saw were darkness and precipitation.
I figured on Sunday I’d see the bridge in the daylight and drive the Tunnel of Trees, a narrow winding road along the coast of Lake Michigan where large deciduous trees on each side arched together to form a tunnel. I checked into the Huron Inn, a small motor lodge, and received a warm welcome with clean and comfortable beds. The beagle approved.
St Ignace is an exceedingly polite, scenic town, the kind of place that could serve as a backdrop for a horror film where teenagers on a road trip discover that all is not what it seems and get murdered one by one.
Though I never encountered any chainsaw-wielding psychopaths, my bad luck continued as I walked out of the motor lodge to find a flat tire. I knew I was nearing the end of life with these old, hard Kumho Ecstas but a nail accelerated their demise.
I drove slowly to a hardware store in St Ignace to buy a can of fix-a-flat. I emptied the can but had little luck as the problem was caused by a large puncture rather than a slow leak. Additionally, the tire had come off the bead, likely as I drove on the flat, allowing air and white slime to ooze out the side.
I checked my phone for shops open on Sunday but all of them were closed. So, I caved in and called Geico for a tow. Fortunately, I was across the street from a park with a view of the water so I took the dog for a walk and snapped some photos.
That killed about 20 minutes so I grabbed a snack at the gas station (hey, Surge!).
Realizing that I wasn’t driving, I walked across the street to the Mackinac Grille. There, I ordered a flight of Michigan beers featuring brews from Cheboygan, Traverse City, and Kalamazoo.
I was only halfway done when I got the call from the tow truck telling me they had arrived. So, I chugged what was left and walked out the door with a nice beer buzz.
My original plan was to cross the bridge with the top down, enjoying an open-air view of the structure and the water below. Instead, I saw it from the passenger seat of the tow truck with my dog on the floor between my legs.
Fortunately, that made it possible to take photos during the crossing.
Trucks with boats and trailers had to cross behind a lead vehicle due to high winds. Fortunately, we were heavy enough to go on our own.
The Mackinac enjoys reverence in art, photography, and Michigan vanity plates due to its symbolism of man’s dominance over nature. At five miles from end to end it’s the longest suspension bridge in the Western hemisphere with the strength to support more than 38,000 tons. When the winds blow (and they do, hard), it’s capable of shifting 35 feet.
This was accomplished in the 1950s, long before access to CAD and 3D modeling.
These freshwater lakes are so… vast. Normally when you look across a lake, you can see the other side. Lake Michigan and Lake Huron have an ocean-like sense of endlessness but unlike the Atlantic, Pacific, or Gulf of Mexico it doesn’t have the consistency of soup, as Kurt Vonnegut once described.
Some jackass in a Miata was tailgating us.
Eventually after an hour long drive and a conversation about Detroit crime and winter survival we arrived at Wal-Mart in Cheboygan, the only tire shop open on Sunday within a couple hours and not exactly the kind of place you’d find reputable Michelin Pilot Sports.
The clerks and mechanics were exceedingly friendly but because of liability reasons, I couldn’t replace just one of my directional Kumhos. They all had to match unless I wanted to take off the wheel myself and roll it in.
I was cold, tired and this was supposed to be a leisure trip so I purchased a set of four $50 Douglas GTH Performance tires on clearance (normally $80).
Yes, I’m running Wal-Mart tires on a sports car. I also bought a blanket for the four-legged complainer since the top was staying down the rest of the night.
Sadly, because so much time was spent getting towed and waiting for tires, I didn’t have enough daylight to enjoy the tunnel of trees. And because of the wind and rain the night before, the locals informed me that most of the foliage had likely been blown off.
They did, however, suggest taking the eastern coast home along Lake Huron, so I did.
Most of the route along US-23 through Michigan was sparsely populated with a smattering of small towns and few services. The rest of 23 wanders through Ohio, Kentucky, Tennessee, North Carolina, Georgia, and Florida, terminating in Jacksonville.
There’s a strong correlation between US-23 and American music, wandering through the hometowns of Billy Ray Cyrus, Dwight Yoakam, Patty Loveless, and The Judds, highlighted by a museum in Paintsville, Kentucky.
But up here, it’s more twigs than twang.
Eventually I found my way to a scenic view with a beach and a lighthouse. Naturally, my dog determined it to be an ideal place to drop a load.
It was a mostly uneventful but spectacularly scenic drive home from there, wandering through Rogers City, Alpena, Grand Lake, and Long Lake. Unfortunately, this being a Sunday evening, opportunities for cheese, wine, and beer were unavailable.
That’s fine, because I had little time to get home before it quickly got dark.
From Alpena I headed west, wandering through dense forest toward Grayling with an unnerving quantity of deer. It wasn’t my car I was worried about; I had full coverage. Rather, my concerns focused mostly on the injuries I’d endure upon slamming into one of Bambi’s asshole relatives and the absence of wireless coverage that would leave me stranded until I could find help. This was territory more suited to a Cherokee with bull bars.
Eventually I made it to I-75 where it dawned on me that signs for Detroit were starting to feel like signs for home.