Going there can be better than getting there. In these long days of COVID-19, there are times when a person needs a break from the routine. For some, there are many options; for others, there are only a few choices available. One thing that is available if you have access to a car and a confident driver is a Roadtrip. (Note: I have spelled it as one word that is capitalized, to distinguish this activity from a road trip.)
A Roadtrip can be a solo adventure, or if you can find one, a single passenger. Just one. That should be the rule. Next, there must be a destination. Now, here is the tricky part. The destination need not be the reason for the trip. In many cases, merely getting on the road is the reason and the destination is more of an excuse—a turning around point and nothing more! Most Roadtrips are completed in one day but they can be longer. Oh, and your passenger can be your dog. It doesn’t have to be a person!
On an overcast Saturday in August, I decided to take a Roadtrip. The idea struck me in bed. Either just before falling asleep or just after awakening, I thought, Let’s Annie and I go for a ride. (Annie is a 9-year-old Havanese my daughter gave me several years ago.) Where should we go? How about the UP (Upper Peninsula) to look at the Soo Locks and maybe the port at Grand Marais. I had nothing to do at either location. I would look around, that is all. And if we didn’t look around much when we got there, that would be OK too. That is all the planning I needed for a Roadtrip.
The drive to Sault Ste. Marie from Harbor Springs is about 90 miles straight north, and from there to Grand Marais, the farthest point, is about another 100 miles west. Four hundred miles in one day is long for a Roadtrip, and I spent not more than a half hour out of the car. Most of the day, I was behind the wheel. The radio was on for less than an hour during the trip, and there was lots of time to think.
The wind was gusting over 25 mph at the Straits of Mackinac Bridge, which meant trucks and vans had a 20-mph speed limit. In my passenger car, I could go 40 mph in the center lane. The Bridge is 155 feet above the water and the steel barrier at the edge is only a few feet high. Since its opening more than 40 years ago, only one car has been driven off the bridge. It was a Yugo (useless fact, but true nonetheless). The toll for me to drive the Bridge was $4.00.
There are three rest stops between the bridge and Sault Ste. Marie. Curiously, one is at the bridge entrance for southbound traffic and two are near the end for the northbound. There are none in the middle. At one rest stop, a sign says that the rapids at Sault Ste. Marie were named in 1641 and became a city in 1668, making it one of the oldest towns in the Midwest.
It was about noon and I decided to eat the small cheese sandwich I had made. Oops, Annie had already eaten it after undoing the foil wrapping.
The Soo was packed with tourists eager to see the locks that eased 750-foot ore boats down 21 feet from the level of Lake Superior to the St. Mary’s River. I stopped at the City Marina, named after George Kemp, to inquire about the availability for transient docking in about two weeks. I also took a free boating magazine from the rack.
Back on the road, Annie and I headed west to Grand Marais. The rain came down in sheets for an hour and a half. The town of Grand Marais is a small collection of mostly wood buildings selling food and drink. The rain had stopped and there was a line formed at the entrance of a bar on the main street.
The spacious harbor in Grand Marias was sheltered by slag break walls and there were a dozen boats, mostly sailboats, on moorings. There were no finger slips, only a wall with room to tie up a half dozen boats. The public bathrooms were new and spotless. The gas dock had a tiny hut and a message to call for assistance. A sign that was barely readable because of rain that had gotten behind the glass carried a dire warning: “Weather can change suddenly in Lake Superior and can be a hazard to any vessel during a storm …” This made me think. If I were 20 years younger and my boat were 20 feet longer, I might try but …
The roads were excellent in the eastern UP and luckily the heavy traffic was always in the other direction. The two-lane roads had ample extra right lanes at left turn points and signage told how many passing lanes were available in the next 40 to 60 miles and their intervals. This would cut down the number of reckless two-lane passing attempts. This is the kind of thing Roadtrippers appreciate.
Along the way, I saw a herd of bison, hundreds of hay rolls (grass seemed to be the only crop), a warning to not pick up hitchhikers in a prison area, and a number of “low-rent” roadside attractions.
It was good to be home—and it was equally good to have been gone.
By Savvy Senior
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