Michigan – Friday, November 15
I got an email this morning with news I’d been hoping to hear. It came from an officer on the Coast Guard ice-breaker Mackinaw, and it was letting me know they had checked with their legal department and would be able to accept my donation for the Coast Guard Family Christmas Party. My communication with them had started a few days ago – it had occurred to me that despite all my military-based donations, I still hadn’t made one to the Coast Guard. The “Mackinaw” is a heavy-duty Coast Guard ship based in Cheboygan, Michigan and in addition to its ice-breaking duties, the crew also assists with buoy cleaning and repair, search-and-rescue missions, maritime law enforcement and other duties. (This weekend it becomes the Christmas Ship – delivering 1200 Christmas trees to Chicago as part of a maritime tradition that began in the late 1800s, and also dropping a wreath in the water where a Coast Guard ship sank in 1912 during a bad storm.) When the Mackinaw is in port, visitors are welcome to tour the ship, but the weather had delayed the ship’s return to port today so I wouldn’t be able to visit it. In an effort to contact them about making a donation, I had read what I could find on-line, then sent an email to the ombudsman with a short explanation about what I was doing, and why I would like to make a donation to them. They apparently forwarded my email to an officer on the ship, who called me yesterday and told me he thought my journey was really “neat” and that he would have to get legal clearance to be able to accept the donation (kind of the same thing I ran into back in Yorktown, Virginia) and he would do what he could to obtain that. And then I got the email this morning that they could indeed accept it for the Coast Guard family Christmas party, so I was happy about that. I’ll just mail the donation in since I can’t visit the ship, but he gave me the address.
I had another visit to make to start off my day. Taryn had to work til 3, but I had been talking with one of my oldest childhood friends who now works for the Bergmann Center in Charlevoix. The Bergmann Center is a place for adults with developmental disabilities, and many of them run little businesses (making jewelry, dog soap/shampoo, fire starters, rock painting etc) and they sell some of their things at the Bergmann Center thrift store. They had occasionally been following my blog, and my old friend Jan had asked if I could stop by to talk with them for a few minutes and answer some of their questions. So I stopped by and it was fun to meet them – they were an enthusiastic bunch and had a lot of questions. My friend Jan’s mom was also there, and it was fun to see her again after about 30 years! Some of the clients gave me some things to pass on to other organizations, and Tim, one of the employees, actually gave me $56 to forward on to a good organization (a couple days later I gave Tim’s donation to the Kids Food Basket in Muskegon; a worthy organization that my aunt Phyllis often helps with – I wrote a note with the extra donation explaining who had made the donation). Some of them wanted to meet Tula since they had read about her too, but Tula was kind of shy and only met a few of them outside.
When I was finished at the Bergmann Center, Tula and I set out for a walk in Charlevoix. This is such a pretty part of Michigan! We passed a drawbridge that was opening up for the Beaver Island ferry and walked out on the breakwater. After a mile and a half, I put Tula back in the car (one of her legs seems to be bothering her a little and I don’t want to push her), and then set off for another 3+ miles of walking all through town and into some of the historic neighborhoods with grand old houses. The docks were pretty empty – most of the boats were in winter storage, but there was at least one hardy soul who took their sailboat out, and the drawbridge opened again for them to sail out onto Lake Michigan from Lake Charlevoix. Jan and a couple of the clients tracked me down in town near the water so that I could meet one of them who hadn’t been at the center in the morning.
Then I made my way back to Petoskey – Jan had given my name to one of the reporters for the Petoskey paper and we had arranged a time to meet for a short interview. When I was done with that, I met Taryn at the hospital and she gave me a tour of the place, although of course I couldn’t go inside the operating rooms. It was fun to see where she works. After she changed out of her scrubs, we set off for a walk on the Little Traverse Wheelway along Lake Michigan. We walked almost 3 1/2 miles and went out on another breakwater to see the lighthouse. Then we had appointments for pedicures, and after that we drove to the ski lodge in Boyne City to enjoy their Friday night special – an all-you-can-eat prime rib dinner that was absolutely amazing, and I had seconds! It was fun to look around the lodge, and imagine it all full of chilly skiers warming up in front of the fireplaces. It was a nice way to end a very full day!
Michigan – Thursday, November 14
I used some points for a free stay at a motel last night, and that was the final motel stay of the journey – I’ll be with family for the rest of the Michigan week. I ended up in Sault Ste. Marie last night, which is the oldest city in the state, so I wanted to make a donation here. At first I thought I was going to make a donation to Sleepover 2013 – an overnight campout in cardboard boxes (that can be decorated!) to support the local Soup Kitchen Community Center. But I couldn’t find the place even though I drove up and down the street several times. I called them and explained I’d like to make a donation but I couldn’t find the right building, and after a bit of confusion, we realized I was talking to people at the food pantry in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario which is right across a bridge from Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan! That must get confusing for people now and then – 2 towns with the same name right next to each other, but they’re in different countries. I felt bad I couldn’t make a donation to them after all because it sounded like an interesting way to support the soup kitchen, but I needed my donation to stay in Michigan, and they understood. I then found the correct address for the correct food pantry in the correct country, and drove over there. I met one of the volunteers who was sorting food, and she introduced me to Lee Ann, the manager. It was fun to talk with Lee Ann – she showed me around and told me more about the food pantry – she started as a volunteer many years ago, and is now the manager, and they help hundreds of families. She was very supportive of my journey and even gave me a little cooler with a coffee mug and a pen and a couple other things – I felt guilty getting gifts in return for a relatively small donation! It was an interesting stop, and then it was time to head out to do some walking.
Tula and I drove down by the Soo Locks and I got her out for a mile and a half walk along the outside of the park along the locks. There was a freighter in the lock closest to the park, and I felt I could almost reach out and touch it. There’s a 21 foot difference in the level of the lakes, and it’s fun to just watch the freighters rise out of the water. At first glance, the ship didn’t look as big as it was because the most visible part of it was the white “tower” where most of the activity seems to take place. And then as the freighter rose, I could see the massive bulk of the rest of it – they’re soooo long. It’s a wonder they fit in the locks – there’s barely any room to spare on either side of the ship. It doesn’t take all that long for a ship to rise or fall, and then with a blast of the horn, they begin to glide out, with hardly any noise. It was a cold day and I put Tula back in the car, and then went inside the park right next to the locks. Since this was the off season, the visitor center was closed, but I still walked all around, and from one end of the lock system to the other, and watched a couple other freighters go through the locks. There are 4 locks and they can be used simultaneously. I walked through the downtown area too, which was pretty quiet on a cold November day, and covered almost 3 more miles.
Then it was time to head south, and after a while I crossed the Mackinac Bridge back into the lower peninsula of Michigan, which I had left 440 days ago. I’ve crossed the Mackinac Bridge countless times, and I always admire the view! Tula and I got out to walk by the lighthouse on the Mackinac City Historical Pathway along the shore. Then I walked another couple of miles in a very deserted Mackinac City. In the summer the town is literally crawling with shoulder-to-shoulder people and one can hardly drive a car down the street, but at this time of the year most of the shops were closed and only a couple restaurants and hotels were open. I’m pretty sure one of the ferries continues to make a daily run to Mackinac Island though. It still amazes me that these seasonal towns can stay alive with only the summer tourist season to support them.
Then I headed to Petoskey where I met up with my daughter Taryn and she led me to her new home – a cute little log cabin in Walloon Lake that she and her boyfriend Jared bought last summer. Taryn was just getting off work, and Jared had the day off, so he had a yummy venison dinner waiting, and we enjoyed the evening in the cozy cabin.
Michigan – Wednesday, November 13
I fueled up with a good breakfast at the Dogpatch since I wouldn’t be in much civilization for a lot of the day, then Tula and I took a mile and a half walk around the town of Munising on icy sidewalks – the ice and snow slow me down, but doesn’t stop me!
Then we began the ride through the wilderness of the central upper peninsula – through the Seney stretch and past national wildlife refuges and little towns that weren’t much more than a junction of two roads. I headed north through the town of Newberry – the moose capital of Michigan. Newberry was a little bigger than I expected, and we got out to stretch and walk a mile and a half.
I started out my Michigan week of donations ahead of the game – back in August 2012 before I actually left on my journey, I made 2 Michigan donations to kick off the whole expedition. I have the best neighbors anyone could want, and 2 families are looking after my house, yard, horse and mail, and they both have college-age students who are very involved in extra-curricular groups, and I wanted to support those organizations – it seemed to be an appropriate way to kick off the donations since their families were going to be helping me so much. So the first donation went to the flag team at Eastern Michigan University since they were holding their annual Winter Guard Fundraiser a short time before I left, and the other donation went to Crossbow – a talented group of musicians at Grand Valley State University who specialize in Celtic music, and they are invited to perform at numerous events around the state, and my donation went toward gas money for them. I liked being able to make my first donations in Michigan, and my last donations will also be in Michigan.
Then I continued north to Tahquamenon Falls, which I hadn’t seen for decades. I found the State Park, and Tula and I set off for a snowy walk to see the Upper Falls, which are the most scenic ones. The sun was shining so brightly in my eyes that it was hard to get a clear head-on picture of the falls. So I continued walking along the path to descend to the brink of the falls. But the stairs were open-grid metal and Tula was afraid to go down them, so I walked her back to the car, and returned. The steps took me down so close that I could feel the mist of the falls. The water was flowing fast and the falls absolutely thundered over the precipice. It’s very mesmerizing to just stare at them and lose myself in the cascading water -almost hypnotic! After I had soaked up as much of the falls as I wanted, I headed back to the car and drove over to the Lower Falls area. The road was closed down to those falls, so I got out and walked quite a ways to see them. In my opinion, they’re not nearly as spectacular as the Upper Falls, but it was still worth the walk to go see them. The sun was falling lower in the sky as I walked back to the car along the snowy lane, with lots of pine trees and pink sky looming overhead.
I drove to the little town of Paradise, which was pretty small and quiet this time of year. The light was fading and I was tempted to make the drive up to see the lighthouse at Whitefish Bay Point, but I thought it would be too dark. Then one of my daughters called and I began to lose cell phone service so I turned around to stay in Paradise while I was on the phone, and then I decided to make the drive up to Whitefish Point in the moonlight. My daughter had been telling me about their old dog, whose days are sadly coming to an end, and while I was talking with her, I got a text from my friends next door who had just put down one of their dogs earlier in the day, and it was very sad – thinking about my daughter’s dog, and hearing about my friends’ dog, and I decided the pretty stretch of road between Paradise and Whitefish Point would be a good memorial drive for all beloved dogs, and in particular for my friends’ dog Sugar. When I got up to Whitefish Point, the lighthouse and a couple outbuildings looked kind of ghostly in the moonlight, but the light was faithfully beaming out over the water, and it was very peaceful. There’s an old shipwreck museum there (that isn’t open in the winter) and that would be interesting to visit some day.
Then I retraced my steps back to Paradise, and continued around the bay to Sault Ste. Marie, where I stopped for the night.
Michigan – Tuesday, November 12
I was a little slow to get going this morning after my late arrival last night, and the first thing on my agenda was to meet my brother-in-law Greg at his police station, and we were going to go over to Willow Farm – a stable owned by some good friends of his, where I was going to make a donation to their therapeutic horseback riding program. I met Annie, who is one of the therapeutic riding instructors and she told me about their program. They have 4 full-time horses to participate in the program, and are able to lease others when the need arises. I met the horses, and saw the large indoor arena where the sessions take place. They have anywhere from 30-70 students who participate in their various programs during a regular season, and have many dedicated volunteers and sidewalkers to help out. Their big fundraiser was earlier in the year, but they are happy for a donation any time! I’ve driven past this stable many times, and it was fun to be able to go inside and see it.
Then I got a mile of walking in downtown (running across a niece and another brother-in-law along the way!) before taking my mother-in-law Joan out for lunch. Myra, another sister-in-law, joined us for lunch too, and it was really nice to be able to enjoy a hot lunch in the middle of the day overlooking Lake Superior. I took Joan back home and visited for a short while, but I had miles to cover, and Myra had taken the afternoon off work to be able to do some walking with me. We headed out for Presque Isle and walked all the way around. The footing was a bit slippery so we had to watch our step, but the icy beauty of Lake Superior’s shoreline was captivating. We saw entire shrubs and other plants shrouded in ice. And it’s only mid-November! From there, Tula and I walked along the lakeshore path outside of town and covered nearly 2 more miles. We passed a coast guard base, and another lighthouse built out on the rocks, and watched the lights blink on at the ore dock. That was enough for her in the snow and ice. Even though the sun had set, I was game for a little more walking, and covered 3 more miles through some of the old historic neighborhoods with their old lumber baron mansions. I think it was good to have a day in Marquette to help ease the transition back into a more civilized life!
I made the hour drive to Munising in the dark because I was going to be out in the boonies tomorrow, and didn’t want to waste an hour of daylight while making the drive in the morning. I stayed at one more cute little mom-and-pop motel that was kind of empty – I think they’re getting ready to close up for the season!
Minnesota – Monday, November 11
I stayed in Silver Harbor last night and woke up to a sparkling cold, sunny day. Today was Veterans Day, and a couple days ago, I had been happy to discover that one of Minnesota’s Veterans Home was located in this small northern town on Silver Harbor. So I knew that was going to be my donation of the day! They had many different donation opportunities, and I chose the “vets on a lake” program, which is a multi-day trip that a group of vets take once a year out on Lake Superior. The base for their trip is back in Ely, where I had been yesterday. So Tula and I headed over to the veterans home, and most of their administrative staff had the day off since it was a holiday, but I met Ward, who was able to help me with my donation. He was very interested in my story, and we chatted for a while as I wrote out the check, and he told me about the lake trips. The staffs at the Minnesota Veterans Homes consider it an honor to help those veterans who answered the nation’s call. Ward showed me around the facility a bit, and introduced me to some more people, and invited me to stay for their Veterans Day program, which coincidentally was due to start in about 15 minutes. So I took my place among the veterans and visiting families, and enjoyed the short program. He even included my visit in his opening remarks. An Air Force woman did a touching display to honor all the P.O.W./M.I.A. soldiers – she set up a single place setting at a table (the single setting symbolized the frailty of one prisoner alone against his/her oppressors); a white tablecloth (to symbolize the purity of the soldiers’ actions to respond to their country’s call to serve); a single rose ( to remind us of their loved ones awaiting their return); a lemon wedge on the plate (to symbolize their bitter fate); salt (to remind us of their family’s tears); an inverted glass (because the soldier is not able to toast with family); and a candle (burning brightly to portray their strength and endurance while they await liberation). She looked very elegant in her dress uniform with a floor-length skirt. And there were lots of people with flags lining the halls. I was happy to be there.
When the ceremony was over, Tula and I took a short walk in the cold, brisk wind in the little town. Silver Harbor is located on the north shore of Lake Superior, where there is a lot of iron ore mining. The ore is somehow smashed up, and some of the elements are removed, and the remnants are formed into little iron pellets, and that is roughly how the taconite is processed. There is a statue of Rocky Taconite in town. The pellets are shipped in the many freighters that ply the waters of Lake Superior and beyond. Most of the towns along Lake Superior have big ore docks for the freighters. When Tula was back in the car, I took another walk to overlook one of the plants that processes the taconite. It was billowing clouds of white steam – at first I thought it was smoke, but the informational signs say it’s just steam from the processing.
I meandered along the north shore ( a beautiful drive) until I came to Split Rock Lighthouse State Park. Tula and I got out for some more walking and admired the lighthouse, which was perched up on a bluff and we saw the big foghorns on one of the buildings. I think if they went off unexpectedly right by me, I would have fallen right off the bluff – the noise must be overwhelming! But then again, I’m not sure who would be poking around that close in the fog! Then we walked down to the actual shore to see the lighthouse from the water’s edge, and I also walked a bit on the Gitchi-Gami state bike trail.
From there I drove to the little town of Two Harbors, where we walked all the way out on the breakwater and saw another little lighthouse. The water is already icy cold, and some of the metal fittings on the breakwater were covered in ice. It made me think of the “gales of November” on Lake Superior. There were more tall ore docks in town, and although I had seen numerous freighters out on the water, I didn’t see any right at the docks. But I could see the mine cars that come out on railroad tracks along the tops of the docks to load and maybe unload.
I enjoyed watching the sun begin to set as I continued toward Duluth, and once I was there, I found the boardwalk along Lake Superior to finish my last mile of walking in Minnesota. By now it was dark, even though it was barely 5:00, but the boardwalk was well-lit and there were a surprising number of people out jogging in the cold wind. I sort of wished it was daylight and that I could have enjoyed more of the boardwalk, but I’ll just have to come back sometime. There was just too much to see in northern Minnesota!
Duluth was the end of the road as far as my Minnesota week. I had finished all 56 miles of walking, and all 7 donations were done – the Dorothy Day food pantry in Moorhead, the Roses for Rotary literacy fundraiser and the Boys and Girls Club in Detroit Lakes, the Bemidji Soup Kitchen, the First Lutheran Women’s Club in Bemidji that supports several community programs, the International Wolf Center, and the Vets on a Lake program at the Silver Harbor Veterans Home.
From Duluth I drove uneventfully through northern Wisconsin, and entered Michigan, the 56th and final state of my journey. I had very mixed feelings crossing into Michigan – excited to be back in my home state, and sad the big journey was winding down. But I couldn’t stew for long, because almost as soon as I crossed into Michigan, I ran into a lot of snow, and the winds were swirling it all around and covering the road. I had to really concentrate because it was hard to see the road, and I was happy for the rumble strips in the center of the road and at the sides. It was a very long drive into Marquette, but I made it safely, even though it was 2:30am when I arrived!
Minnesota – Sunday, November 10
Before heading out into some more remote parts of Minnesota, I went out for another 2 1/2 mile walk around International Falls. We stopped by Smokey Bear park to admire yet another large 26 foot tall statue! Tula walked part of the way with me but it was kind of slippery so I put her back in the van. Even though I was paying careful attention to where I walked, I still slipped on an icy part of the sidewalk and fell. No harm done though, other than a scraped knee, but it was time to end that walk! As I left International Falls, I passed the rail yard where there were mountains of sawdust and woodchips. Lots of wood comes into this town since it’s the home of the Boise Cascade Paper Mill. I decided to take a relatively short drive out to the end of the road, through the little villages of Ranier and Island View. The road ended at the western entrance to Voyageurs National Park, which I look forward to visiting sometime when the boat tours are running. The town of Ranier had another statue – this one was a 30 foot tall statue of Big Vic, a French-Canadian fur trapper which is also known as a voyageur. The drive out to Island View was gorgeous, even in snow. I drove along part of the shore of Rainy Lake – another giant lake that forms part of the border between Minnesota and Canada. There were little islands in the water; some with just a couple trees on them, and it was wonderfully scenic – just like I had imagined this part of the state.
Then I continued driving southeast. This whole part of the state is either state forest land, national forest land or Boundary Water Canoe Area Wilderness. It’s wild and beautiful and I was headed for the town of Ely. Along the way I stopped in Cook and Tula and I walked a little over a mile. We continued on to Ely, where I had read about the International Wolf Center. The wolf center allows visitors to see wolves in their northwoods habitat, and it is also an educational facility. At different times of the year they offer programs like treks into the forest to howl at wolves, and dog-sledding trips. Their visiting hours are limited this time of year and the information I had indicated the Wolf Center wasn’t open on Sundays. But I drove there anyway, and discovered they were open for a few hours on Sundays, although I had missed it. That was a bit disappointing, but I wanted to make a donation there anyway, because it just seemed like such an appropriate thing to do in this northwoods part of the state. The relationship between wolf life and human life is complicated, and education helps, so I mailed in a donation.
Ely is called the Gateway to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, and the town was fun to walk through – there were lots of places to sign up for canoe trips and fishing trips into the wilderness, and when I look at all the rivers and lakes in the whole area on a map, I don’t know how anyone finds their way back to the exact place they started! This was fur-trading country 200 years ago, and the rivers and lakes were the means of transportation up into the Canadian Northwest. I walked over 3 miles in town in the falling darkness.
I needed to put on some more miles tonight – I had been dawdling and I only had one day left in Minnesota. I made a reservation at a little motel in Silver Bay and I thought I was headed in that direction. But I had missed a turn, and was so mesmerized by the peace and beauty of the snowy evening in the woods that it didn’t occur to me to wonder why the road was kind of narrow and why there was no other traffic. There was an undisturbed layer of snow on the road that shimmered like crystals in the moonlight and I felt like I was in some kind of magical land, or a snow globe. I’m pretty sure it cast a spell on me and I just kept driving through the forest. I was jolted back into reality when I saw a sign that said the road was ending and something else about territorial waters. It dawned on me I was not on the road I thought I was, and I had to backtrack a bit to figure out where I was. It turned out I had driven as far into the Boundary Waters area as one can drive. The only way to have continued in was in a boat! It had been a slow drive because of the snow and I had to retrace all the miles, but I wouldn’t have wanted to miss out on that little drive! I passed a sign that said I was in a moose area and to drive with care, but I didn’t see any moose. I got myself on the correct road, and when I was in phone range again, I called the motel, which was just a small place, to let them know I’d be late, and they just left the key in the door of my room. Most of the remaining drive was still snowy, so it took a while, and when I got to the motel I saw that the wheel wells of the van were caked full of snow, and the back of it it was covered in ice, and none of the other cars that were parked there had any snow on them. The van looked like it had really been on an adventure! The motel was another cute little mom-and-pop place called Whispering Pines, and the rooms were decorated in a northwoods motif that suited the day. I slept like a rock!
Minnesota – Saturday, November 9
I enjoyed some lefse for breakfast, then loaded up in another wet, snowy morning. Tula and I walked almost 2 miles around the town of Warroad, then I found a park by Lake of the Woods with a long trail. Despite the weather, people were out fishing, and I bundled up to take a 3+ mile walk by this huge northern lake. Lots of the shoreline was covered with reeds, grasses and cattails, or maybe some of the vegetation was where the wild rice grows that the Indians used to battle over. The trail I was walking on mostly followed the shoreline of a small bay. When I finished my walk, I went over to look out across the mighty lake, but of course it was too big to see across to the other side.
I finally left Warroad and continued east to the town of Baudette which had another 40 foot statue – this one was Willy the Walleye, because Baudette was the walleye capital of the world. There was also a sign stating Lake of the Woods had the best fishing in the world. The people here take their outdoor activities seriously! Tula and I did a little walking here too – and the sidewalks were still icy and snowy. I was thinking about making a donation to a church youth group that was sponsoring a hunter’s lunch as a fundraiser, because it was opening day of hunting season. The lunch was supposed to last until 2:00, and I got to the community center about 1:50, and there was no one around. The front door was open, and I poked my head in, and even though no one was there, I could smell barbecue and other good smells from a hot meal. I must have just missed them – they sure got out in a hurry! I was still in good shape donation-wise since I had made 2 donations on a couple of consecutive days, and I knew I could always mail them a donation, but I thought I’d wait to see if I ran across any other interesting donation opportunities in the next day or two.
From there I continued east to International Falls, right along the border of Minnesota and Canada on the “Waters of the Dancing Sky Scenic Byway.” It was misting /snowing out, but I still walked 2 1/4 miles throughout the downtown area and a nice neighborhood along the river. Then I used one of my free nights and stayed at a Comfort Inn, which was one of the nicest motels I had stayed in. They had lots of little extra things, including a popcorn cart with good fresh popcorn, and a cute little restaurant called the Chocolate Moose shared the parking lot, so I actually went over there and enjoyed a walleye dinner. I figured I couldn’t be around this northwoods fishing country and not have some fresh fish!