Living on a different continent than most of our American family members has meant that we haven’t seen most of them for the past three years. We chose this summer to begin catching up. Our first traveling vacation of the summer was to the upper peninsula of Michigan, better known as the U.P.
Life is different in the U.P. The residents call themselves yoopers. They have their very own accent and vocabulary. The opening day of deer hunting season is a holiday, closing down schools. They have learned to peacefully coexist with endless winters but, when summer does arrive, they hold on with two hands, enjoying every last minute before the sun goes down, extremely late in the day. Being so far north and as the furthest west that you can go and still be in the Eastern time zone, sunset in late June is just before 10:00.
Ben’s grandmother lives in Escanaba, a small town to most but a bustling metropolis by U.P. standards. It’s the town where his mother grew up and one of the only American towns he regularly visited when coming to the States as a child. Escanaba was Ben’s America.
Visiting with Ben’s grandmother was a part of every day but we also squeezed in some other U.P activities. Strawberry picking season, while over for weeks in our part of Ohio, was just beginning in Escanaba so we herded Granny Gran into the car and off we went to the fields.
Ben’s family owns a little parcel of land right on Lake Michigan. While no house currently stands on it, it’s the perfect spot for sunbathing and splashing around in the lake, and bonfires and fireworks once the sun finally goes down. And drinking beer, from a can, wrapped in a Green Bay Packers coozie. (Belgians would be mortified. And then they would laugh and laugh because there’s nothing more American.)
We also got to spend a day at a good friend’s “camp”. Camp, in yooper-speak, is a house in the woods, generally used as home base for deer hunting. Though, of course, a house in a large area of northern Michigan woods can be used for lots of fun stuff, not just shooting things. Four-wheeling, turkey-spotting, kite-flying, chatting and drinking were the activities of the day. (Thank you, LaBonte’s! I’ve been hearing about your camp for years. So glad I finally got to visit!)
We chose to break up our ride home with a visit to Mackinac Island. The island, accessible by various ferries, is car free. To get around you walk, bike or horse and carriage it. The smell of horse manure can be intense on the main street but, otherwise? Totally quaint.
After a quick ice cream break, we visited Fort Mackinac. Definitely stop for a visit if you’ve got history fans with you (I always travel with a few) but also for the views. Then we rented a few bikes and off we went to explore. There is an eight mile, paved loop around the whole island or you can do part flat, paved road then follow your husband up and up and up, on dirt and gravel paths through the woods, on the three speed cruiser that you rented which you get to walk up the steepest parts. Then, just when you think you’ve reached the top because, just how tall is this island anyway, you start going up again. THEN you hit pavement at last and get to speed down past everyone going the other direction, hopping off their bikes to push them up. And you get to see the Grand Hotel, with the longest porch in the world (really) as you zip past, hair flying out behind you because, who rents a helmet when you’re going to be pushing your bike half the time anyway?
And now we’re home again, but not for long, because Summer Travel, part two is just around the corner.