Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Good Bye UP, Hello LP?

What do they call the rest of the state of Michigan? The Lower Peninsula? Which would be odd since it is not very peninsula-like.

I am having a hard time believing that we have really made it this far. When we look at the state maps we have I don't really get a sense of distance since we are looking at only a small slice of our entire route. Back in Minnesota we stayed at a motel that had a map of the US in the foyer showing locations of motels in the chain across the US. I showed Sonia where we were. We both kind of stood there in shock for a moment. Last week in the UP we saw a similar map. I was again amazed.

I thought back to when we were planning the trip. I can remember looking at maps for the route, studying the town names, looking for clues to what we might see. When planning, every day is 70 degrees, the wind is at your back, and the cars give you a wide berth on the road. And the town names can sound romantic and mysterious. At times while planning, I will admit, I was somewhat apprehensive about what we might encounter and how we would handle adversity. What if we had a mechanical issue we couldn't solve and were far from a bike shop? What if one of the kids got hurt or sick (although that one we should have covered with a pediatrician in the group!). What if we just hated every minute of it and wanted to go home? Those fears seem to fade once I was on the bike. So far we have managed to deal with issues as they have come up. We have been flexible enough to change plans when necessary. We have taken the time to wade in Lake Michigan at an empty beach even though we had miles to make that day. We have made sure to take the time to try the local restaurants, staying away from most chains when possible. And we have made sure to sample as much ice cream as possible. I keep thinking of something I read once: the worst day on the bike is better than the best day at work. I count myself very lucky to have a job I love and still be able to have an adventure like this.

The Ride

Two days ago we rode to Epoufette, Michigan and stayed in a small "motor court". These motels seem to have come about as part of the car culture in the United States in the 1950s. These small, one story motels are iconic: neon signs, vibrant colors (often pink),room doors facing the parking lot, chairs sitting under an overhang so people can sit outside and visit after a day of travel. The motor courts are mostly gone in cities (although you can sometimes find a few hanging on in between mega-hotels). They can still be found on the back highways of America, however. We have stayed in several. I find them charming. It hearkens to a time when people traveled not on super-highways (since there were none) that cut the most direct line between big cities by passing all the small towns along the way, but on the interstates of the time: two-lane black top that snaked from small town to small town, luring weary drivers with bright neon and catchy names. The interstates all but killed these motor courts. But some are still out there if you get off the main roads and look around.

Our motor court, the Wonderland Motel, had a great view of Lake Michigan. We fell asleep to the glow of the pink neon shining through the curtains. What more could a tired traveler ask for?

Yesterday we rode from Epoufette to Mackinaw City via Mackinac Island. We were all looking forward to visiting the island. We had read that it had a quaint charm to it: no cars were allowed. Bikes and horse drawn carriages ruled the road. But when we got off the ferry and rolled our bikes out to the main street we found ourselves in the middle of tourist trap hell! I'm sure that Mackinac Island has its charms, but at that moment we were in a swarm of people, all going from one store to the next, trying to fill voids in their lives by purchasing cheap t-shirts and over-priced fudge. We stood there for a few minutes and watched as the boats disgorged their tourist loads and like zombies, they made their way to the street, themselves overwhelmed with all the shops and restaurants trying to draw them in. You could almost see a hypnotic trance come over them as they went from one store to the next.

Needless to say, we did not stay long. In fact, only long enough to get the bikes from the main street back to the dock for the ferry to Mackinaw City. I'm not against tourism (we are, after all, tourists ourselves). I'm also not opposed to entrepreneurs taking cash from people who have more money then they know what to do with. What does bother me is the taking of a place and reinventing it for the sake of drawing in visitors. I don't think you can have an "authentic' experience of a place if the place is portrayed and marketed in a way that draws in tens of thousands of visitors each year. To be honest, I would rather visit the "Mystery Spot" that we passed up before getting to Mackinac Island than a Potemkin Village like Mackinac Island (unfortunately we did not stop at the Mystery Spot -- something I regret as I write this!).

After escaping Mackinac Island with our bikes, lives, and wallets intact, we found a motel in Mackinaw City and watched the day come to an end over Lake Huron from our balcony.


Terri said...

Eloquent as always. I hope you will put all of these into a book when you get back, or some sort of album you can keep. This is a great part of the Kirby-Calzaretta family history. Your kids are SOO lucky! Not every family could do this. It takes a special kind.

Safe travels with delicious ice cream! Terri G. from WW

Beverly Titus said...

I have a poster on my office wall showing Odie (the dog in the Garfield comics) sitting on the limb of a tree and Garfield is saying:
"It's amazing what you can accomplish when you don't know what you can't do."

Anonymous said...

I was checking out gas prices at Gas Buddy for some of the areas you have passed through.Many are under the $4.00 mark.Lucky you all, you can just thumb your nose at all of them.Food on the other hand enjoy all the high cal. goodies you can hold.Take a check on the compass each morning,East is where the Golden Ring is.Many bright sunrises remain.Bob & Joyce.

Anonymous said...

You guys are amazing!!! Very inspiring. I am so happy that the four of you are making a dream come true, seeing the country, and bonding as a family. Who knows, the Hall 6 might have to get out there and try this sometime....do they make tandems that big?
Seriously, I am in awe of you and I love reading all about your travels. I will say, I am now intensely curious about the mystery spot. And so disappointed that you can't tell me about it! Why leave a gal in suspense! Now I am going to have to visit the UP just to figure out what is in there!!! Chandra

Cathy Clementz said...

Being a Yooper (Newberry, Mi) I enjoyed your thoughts on our neck of the woods. We own a campground and lodging so it is always of interest to us how "non-Yoopers" perceive the area. It sounds like you had a great time. I hope you CAN get back to the Island some time when it isn't so hectic. There is a LOT of history and beauty there.

I do believe that the town you were referring to was Epoufette (in case any of your readers would try to find it on the map). I believe you were spelling it Etoufette.

Enjoy the rest of your summer!

Elaine said...

Xela just told me she needed to go out, so I opened the door for her. The last two months, we've been having our gorgeous summer weather here in the upper Hood River Valley. I'm amazed that most of your photos show a very cloudy sky. Maybe it's just the photos over the lakes. On the other hand, those overcast skies might make the bike riding easier on the eyes = no bright, glaring sun to contend with.
I got some apples the other day. Jim just peeled and sliced them, and I'm about half finished with two apple pies. I wish we could share them with you!!
Just a month to go. Glad to read that you are all having some great experiences. The photos all show four happy faces! Stay safe. We love you. Mom and Dad

Jane Kaminsky said...

Hi Guys -

Jane and Eddie here. We have enjoyed catching up on the last few weeks of your travel. What interesting things you are seeing and adventures you are having. I am so happy that you guys are doing this. You will have memories for a lifetime.

However, I am hoping and praying that Jake doesn't get any bright ideas from your travels. I am definitely a fair-weather biker. Give me 70 degrees, no hills, no sun in the eyes, and no wind or rain and I'm good. The bugs up the nose and the mosquitos would also do me in. Keep up the good work. We can't wait to see you when you return! Alison, Jen and I are thinking Jane Austen for the fall.


Becky said...

I totally agree with your assessment of Mackinac Island. And other places like it, actually. I'd rather have an authentic experience any day!