Mackinaw City, Michigan
Mackinaw Mill Creek Campground
July 13th through July 20th, 2011
Wednesday, July 13th, 2011 - 72/52°, Mostly Sunny
Since this wasn’t our first camping trip of the year, there wasn’t quite as much to do to get the camper ready for this trip. I left work early to take care of a few last minute things, like stopping at Meijer for a dual screen DVD player (Note: We ended up returning this after the trip because the second screen quit before we even left to come home) for the trip as well as a pepperoni stick for roasting over the campfire (which I couldn’t locate in the store – Tara wound up getting this in town on her way home from work). Once I made it home, the kids helped me finish loading the camper with our personal items and fill the truck with firewood for all of the campfires we were planning on having. We did as much work as we could so that we would be able to leave shortly after Tara got home from work.
We managed to get hooked up and on the road just a little before 3:00pm this afternoon. We took I-75 north with the campground address plugged into the GPS. We made what was supposed to be a quick stop in Birch Run to look for a pair of sandals for myself (a pair that I had picked out and should have bought a month or so ago, I might add, but had second thoughts). Unfortunately, we didn’t have any luck at any of the stores we checked at, so we departed once again for our destination.
Even though we got a head start on my Dad & Mom today, they managed to pass us as we shopped. We ended up connecting with them at a rest area along I-75, and we drove together the rest of the way.
For some reason Dad & Mom could have made it all the way to Mackinaw City on a single tank of fuel, while I was getting extremely low by the time we reached Gaylord. We pulled off at exit 282 to fill up. Since we were both stopped, we both filled up our tanks (although they went to a different station than we did). We probably could have ate dinner here too, but the gas stations were on the opposite side of the expressway as the restaurants, and from what I could see coming down the ramp, the fast food places didn’t look like they were set up for easy in and out with the trailers behind us.
Once we were back on the expressway we followed each other to the Indian River exit (#310) so that we could pick up dinner at McDonalds. This is where Dad & Mom usually get gas, and while we might have been able to make it this far too, it would have been pushing it for us to actually do so. The parking here wasn’t ideal for campers, but we managed to block a few spots long enough to go inside and get our order to go. Once we had all of the food, we loaded back into the trucks to finish the ride north.
As the Mackinac Bridge became visible ahead of us, we pulled off I-75 at exit 337 to make the short drive southeast along US-23 to the Mackinaw Mill Creek Campground. We managed to check in a little before 8:00pm tonight, which isn’t too bad considering all of the stops we made (especially the unsuccessful trip to Birch Run). We spent the rest of our time setting up camp before calling it a night around 11:30pm.
Thursday, July 14th, 2011 - 70/52°, Mostly Sunny
We tried our best to get some extra rest this morning, sleeping in until 10:00am. Since we were getting up so late, we scrounged around for breakfast this morning, with Tara & I settling on bagels while the kids all opted for donut holes. In between taking turns showering we also finished up the process of getting the trailer organized for the week. I also took a moment to repair a hatch on the side of the camper that was coming loose due to a screw that was coming loose and reattached one of Samantha’s bike pedals (it had fallen off this morning while the kids were playing outside).
Before we knew it lunch time had arrived. We didn’t make anything fancy today, settling for a hodge-podge meal. I ate a sub sandwich, Tara dined on ham & cheese with some crackers, and the kids all ate microwave mac-n-cheese.
After our family had finished eating, and Dad & Mom had as well, we thought it would be a good idea to take a bike ride into Mackinaw City. We left the campground sometime between 2:00 and 2:30pm; heading to town on the Midland to Mackinac Trail. This was a 2 ½ mile ride, but it didn’t really feel that long as it was on a nicely maintained trail that used to be an old railroad track. On our way we stopped into the Big Stone Bay Fishery to check on the price of perch with the thought that we might return later to purchase a couple pounds for a dinner later on during our trip.
We made our way into town, where our first stop was at Bell’s Fishery, again to check on the price of perch (it was cheaper at our previous stop). We then chose to wander through the Mackinaw Crossings outdoor mall for a bit. While we browsed the shops, Dad & Mom opted to stay behind to watch the bikes, since none of us had remembered to grab our bike locks before we left. Also, some really weird guy was eyeing them very closely as he walked passed while we were parking them in the bike rack. Since we had coincidentally parked our bikes near an ice cream stand, they couldn’t help it and wound up treating themselves. Neither Tara nor I found anything that we had to have, so we made our way back to the bikes.
The kids had asked for ice cream as well, and we came close to buying each one of them a cone in one of the fudge shops, but we decided to head into the old section of town to stop at the Dairy Queen, thinking it would have been cheaper to do so. Turns out we probably could have gotten the ice cream from one of the other shops in the mall for the same price. We stayed outside to eat our ice cream, sitting on a bench basking in the warm sun.
Once we finished eating, we decided that it would be a good opportunity to ride down to Colonial Michilimackinac Park to take in the sights. The kids thought it would be a good idea to wade into the water, and Tyler and Sam took this opportunity to the extreme, getting wet from head to toe. The only problem was that Tyler had his cell phone in pocket when he went in. Thankfully I caught him (I was off taking pictures when he first went in) and we managed to get it from him before it completely quit on us. Dad & Mom were kind enough to ride back into town to the IGA to buy a bag of rice into which we could put the phone, with the hope that it would dry out enough to continue working (the phone still works, but some buttons no longer do – like the volume and the number 8 key… tough to use a phone like that). We decided to let the kids swim for a bit longer and then we would all meet up in town, near the Shepler’s Ferry dock.
We finally managed to get the kids out of the water, just in time to meet up once again with Dad & Mom, who were on their way back to the park already. We then decided that it was time to ride back to the campground. While we were on our way we started to have some bike trouble. My bike started to have the peddle arm loosen up, so I repeatedly had to stop and hand tighten the nut holding it on to make it back. Tyler also had his bike chain come off, which actually provided us with a good viewing opportunity. As we were stopped to put his chain back on, a deer wandered onto the trail ahead of us. It stood there for a while, but just as I got my camera out and powered on it headed off into the woods. Just my luck…
We managed to make it back to the campground around 6:00pm. For the day we totaled about 9 miles of biking/walking. Not too bad; although I think each and every one of the adults had a pretty sore saddle when we were done!
Safely back at the campground, Tyler, Sam, and Drew decided to go on another bike ride. The energy of kids! Drew hopped on his own bike, but Tyler and Sam thought it would be a good idea to ride on Donovan’s bike – one on the seat, and the other standing on the pegs. On their way back to the campsite they somehow managed to hit a loose spot in the gravel and wiped out. Neither of them were smart enough to wear their bike helmets (Drew was), and they came down pretty hard. Tyler had some scrapes and bruises on his knees, shoulders, and head. Sam had the same ailments, but she managed to keep her head safe.
Drew rushed back to let us know about the crash, and he and I took off to find them. There was only was small problem… instead of taking me to them the way he came back, to took me all the way around the campground, following the exact same path that they had taken to get to the crash site. By the time we got there they were gone.
Somehow they had hobbled their way back to the campsite, and Grandma Terry and Tara were already working on cleaning them up. Thankfully there was no long term damage done, and Donovan’s bike showed no signs of damage.
Once the kids were fully covered in bandages, we went about making dinner. Tonight’s menu consisted of hot-dogs or hamburgers, depending on what your preference was, along with macaroni-n-cheese and a variety of chips. We sat down to eat around 7:30pm, shortly after Dwayne, Erica, Donovan, and Marissa arrived.
Samantha was unable to swallow any pain relievers, so after dinner Tara & I headed off to the Wal-Mart in Cheboygan with Jayden. Despite being filled with air before Dad & Mom brought them up, a couple of Erica’s bike tires were already flat, so we picked up a couple of tubes for her as well.
When we got back to the campground we started gathering up the kids to get them ready for bed. While doing so we inquired with Erica about their plans for their time up north, since they would be going home Sunday evening or possibly Monday morning. After having this discussion with her, we returned to our camper to get ready for bed. It was about 10:30pm when we headed inside, but it was around 11:30 before things finally settled down enough to call it lights out for the night.
Friday, July 15th, 2011 - 70/55°, Sunny
We set the alarm for 8:00am this morning, allowing ourselves time to get ready for the big day we had ahead of us. Our plan was to spend the day cycling on and around Mackinac Island, and that was going to require some preparation. Tara & I took turns showering, while also trying to make sure that everyone ate a decent breakfast before we left. Tara also worked on packing lunches for the entire family while I spent my time prepping the bikes for the ride and assembling the bike trailer for Jayden to ride in (she isn’t ready for 8 miles on her bike without training wheels quite yet). After yesterday’s bike troubles, we couldn’t take it for granted that they would be ok.
Shortly after 10:00am, once everyone in the two trailers was awake and moving, all twelve of us climbed onto our bikes to repeat yesterday’s 2 ½ mile trek on the trail into town, with the ultimate destination being the Arnold Transit Co. dock. Thank goodness this was the first ferry dock we came too, because after all of the riding we did yesterday and all of the riding we had ahead of us, I’m not sure my butt could have taken much more!
After buying our tickets and getting our bikes tagged, we managed to get onto the 11:30am ferry to the island. We had a smooth, uneventful ride over, which was a nice way to start our day. We opted to sit on the top level of the boat, which afforded us the opportunity to get great views from both the front and the back of the boat.
A little before noon we arrived at the dock on the island. Our plan was to ride the entire way around the island, while attempting to find the Crack-in-the-Island in the process. We headed west around the island first, riding along M-185 (who knew that any of the roads on the island were state highways…?).
We came across some interesting sights while riding along. We made our way through town, passing all of the fudge shops along the way. We passed by the library as well as the Mackinac Island Public School. When we reached Devil’s Kitchen, we decided that would be a good spot to stop and take some family pictures. Once we were back on our bikes, we rode all the way around to British Landing before choosing to stop again. There was a few reasons for stopping here… one was to look at a map so that we could see if we were on the right path to the Crack-in-the-Island (we were). Another was that there were bathrooms here!
Since we were all stopped and stretching our legs, we decided that this would be a good time to eat our packed lunches. We managed to find an open picnic table to settle in at. We just had to be careful not to stray too far from the table, as the ground nearby was littered with poison ivy. As far as I know, nobody was itching at the end of the day!
While eating lunch we spent a few moments studying the map. It turns out that British Landing was the perfect spot to be at in order to find the crack. It appeared that we just needed to take British Landing Road inland before turning onto State Road. Unfortunately for us, the map warns cyclists not to take British Landing Road since it contains some steep hills. Fortunately for us, we would only be riding on it a short distance before making the turn onto State Road and then onto the short trail that leads to the Crack-in-the-Island.
We climbed back onto our bikes and headed inland on British Landing Road. We quickly encountered another road, but there were no signs identifying what it was. Looking at the map, it appeared to be too short a distance from M-185 to actually be the road we were looking for, but thankfully there was some people outside in the yard of a house nearby. Mom walked her bike over to ask them if that was indeed the road we needed to take, and she was assured that it was indeed. She was also warned that there were some pretty large hills on this road as well.
So advised, we decided to move forward with our search. There were indeed a couple of large hills, but none that we couldn’t handle. We did end up walking up one of the hills (or two for some of us), but overall it wasn’t too bad of a trek. Before we knew it we had found the trail that heads into the woods and leads to the crack. Again, like the road, the trail did not have any signage.
We walked our bikes down the trail, but it may have been smarter to park them out at the road and walk in by ourselves. Our first find on the trail wasn’t actually the Crack-in-the-Woods, but instead was the Cave of the Woods, which none of us had ever seen before. It wasn’t really too exciting, but was nonetheless an interesting photo opportunity. Walking on, we found that the crack was just a little further down the trail. From here we got to take some pictures of the kids down in the crack, as well as get some up close views of the Mackinac Island Airport.
We made our way back out to State Road by riding down the trail this time as opposed to walking them. There were plenty of roots, rocks, and other assorted things on the trail that made it a tough ride. Poor Jayden, sitting in the trailer behind my bike, had a lot of jostling around to deal with. While riding out she even came up with a song to sing. Think the blues as you read the lyrics…
“My bones are bumpy!”
And on and on the song went, the entire way down the trail. I can’t say I blame her, as she surely felt these bumps on her bottom more than once (there were even times that the wheels of the trailer were no longer touching the ground!), and hit her head on the side of the trailer at least one time as well!
Once we were back out on the relatively smooth State Road (it was a dirt road, so there were bumps along the way as well) we made our way back to the British Landing intersection, where we once again stopped for a brief water and bathroom break.
We then continued on M-185 in our attempt to ride all the way around the island. We rode along without major issues, with the exception of Tyler’s bike chain falling off once again and Drew’s foot slipping off his peddle, scraping his shin and knee a little.
Our next stop was at Arch Rock. We took some pictures from the bottom, as we didn’t see the way to the top from where we had stopped. Riding on a little further, the steps to the top became obviously clear. Once again we stopped, this time parking our bikes and making the walk up the 180 or so steps to the top (all of us except Mom, that is, whose knees were bothering her). The view from the top is very impressive, of course, and we even managed to spot a few rock formations while we were up there. Looking off of the viewing platform, the word “HELP” was clearly visible in the water. Slightly blocked by bushes, the words “MARRY ME” were also visible, although these were spelled out on the rocky beach area near the water. Finally, there was the “I ♥ GEAN” that was visible through Arch Rock itself. After taking in all of the views and taking all of the pictures I could, we headed back down the stairs to the bottom.
I must admit, not being a drinker, that I don’t know what it feels like to be drunk. I have to think though, that walking down these stairs gives a pretty good representation of what that feeling is. I felt like I was leaning towards the road the whole time I was on them… certainly not the easiest set of steps to climb, that much is for certain.
Also, on our way up Tara & I had commented about how wet the hillside was at the bottom of the stairs. On our way down we spotted why: out of nowhere, there was water falling off of a rock, like a mini waterfall. As we walked down the steps we were able to follow this water all the way to the bottom. This might be explained by the natural spring that was located just a short distance away from the stairs. I took the kids down to the spring, which had a small structure built for it, similar to a drinking fountain or a small sink, to wash their hands (and I took a small drink… the water was very cold and refreshing!).
While Mom was waiting for us down at road level, she had wandered around a bit and found a spot that she thought would make a good picture spot. Mom, Erica, and I took the kids down to where this spot was and took some photos of the kids. The pictures from the spot that she picked out turned out very nice, as did some that we took of the kids sitting on a large rock nearby.
With the picture taking complete, we got back onto our bikes to finish the rest of our ride around the island. We got into town, stopping at the entrance of the Mackinac Island State Harbor so that a few of us could use the restroom. After the necessary business was taken care of we moved further into town. We found a spot (or should I say spots) to park our bikes so that we could spend some time walking through town. We wandered in and out of a variety of shops, but the kids definitely targeted all the fudge shops, seeking out samples. We didn’t buy any souvenirs today, because we knew that we would be coming back (without bikes), providing us the opportunity to shop some more, but Dwayne, Erica, Donovan, and Marissa took advantage of their time in town to seek out their souvenirs.
While we had originally intended to head back to the campers to eat dinner, time had passed quicker than we thought it would and we found ourselves wandering down Main Street hungry. Drew was feeling especially weary, seeming like he would be unable to make it the rest of the day. We had passed the Murray Hotel on our walk through town, and they had a lady standing outside advertising their pizza and salad bar buffet. We checked out the prices at a couple of other restaurants, but decided that the hotel would provide the best bang for the buck, so we headed back there to eat. Although the pizza wasn’t exactly terrible, it wasn’t Red Devil quality either. We did all manage to get enough to eat, though. Even Tara, who doesn’t eat pizza any more, managed to get a full meal. Getting some food into our bellies really helped, and Drew perked right up and became a ball of energy.
After we ate we decided that it was time to head back to the boat dock to catch the next ride back to Mackinaw City. We got there at 7:00pm, figuring that we would be able to catch the 7:30pm boat back. I guess we should have paid a little better attention to the schedule they gave us when we came over, because as it turned out the 6:30pm boat was the last one to leave on the half hour. It seems that we would be having some time to kill now… We ended up spending most of this time wandering in and out of a few more shops, but we also spent some time relaxing on the park benches in front of the dock. Tyler and Drew even hopped back onto their bikes and cruised up and down Main Street for a while.
We finally managed to board the 8:00pm boat for the 20 minute, 7.8 mile ride back to Mackinaw City. The ride back was much more subdued than the ride over, as everyone was pretty wore out after spending most of the day on our bikes. It was a good thing that we had the opportunity to get some rest, because once we got off the boat at the dock we still had to ride another 2 ½ miles back to the campground!
The bike ride back was pretty uneventful, except, like last time, we saw a deer wander across our paths. Again, I was late with the camera and missed my chance at this picture. We finally returned to the campground around 9:00pm. Thankfully the sun sets late up here, and we still had plenty of light to see. That and nobody remembered to bring a flashlight with us!
Once we had all settled in around the campsites, Dad got the first campfire of our vacation going. Tyler, Donovan, and Drew joined Dad by the fire, making themselves some s’mores to eat. Once I finished washing our dishes I stepped outside to join them. We were unable to convince any of the girls to come out and join us, as they opted to instead hang out inside Dad & Mom’s camper. Tara did attempt to come hang out with us for a bit, but she didn’t make it out until the kids were done with their s’mores and the fire was dying down.
By 10:30pm everyone had headed to the campers. Once we were all inside, Tyler decided it was a good time to take a shower, which was fine. Sam would have done so too, but by the time Tyler had finished there was no hot water left in our tiny little water heater. Unfortunately for her she would have to wait, as it was getting too late to wait for the water to warm up again. We were all in bed with the lights out a little after 11:00pm after our long, busy day.
Saturday, July 16th, 2011 - 81/64°, Mostly Sunny
We had another busy day planned, so once again we woke up to an 8:00am alarm calling our name. Once we had crawled out of bed, we followed the same routine as yesterday: taking showers, making lunches, eating breakfast. The only thing missing was the bikes. Those would be staying home today, giving most of us a chance to rest out sore bums just a bit.
The big plan in store for today was a trek into U.P. territory. We would be stopping briefly in St. Ignace to take some pictures in front of the bridge, and then heading up to Sault Ste. Marie and the Tahquamenon Falls. The idea was to get out of the campground around 10:00am, but when 12 people are trying to get ready at once in two campers, things tend to take a little longer than planned. Finally, at 11:00am, we managed to get out of the campground, all in two vehicles. We took our truck, of course, and Dad & Mom rode with Dwayne, Erica, and their kids.
As we had planned, our first stop was at the Bridge View Park in St. Ignace. Normally we stop here over the Labor Day weekend to take pictures of me hoisting the kids over my head (well, those that I can lift anymore… Tyler has certainly gotten too big for me to safely lift that high, and Drew freaks out about being that high in the air) as well as some family photos, but we aren’t 100% certain that we will be making that trip this year due to a wedding scheduled for that weekend. While we are trying our best to get a hotel for a night so that we can participate in the annual bridge walk (the kids were really disappointed when we told them we wouldn’t be making this camping trip this year – so much so that Tara really wanted to skip the wedding altogether), there are no guarantees that we will indeed be back.
While we were at the park, we managed to get all of the pictures that we wanted. Me with each of the kids, family photos for us, as well as Dwayne & Erica, and Dad & Mom as well. We even managed to get a picture of all twelve of us together, thanks to the timer on my camera and me actually remembering to bring my tripod. The best part was that the big family photo actually turned out quite nicely.
Once we had taken all of the necessary pictures we jumped back into our vehicles and pointed them north on I-75 once again. We had decided to head to Sault Ste. Marie first this year so that we could check the schedule of ships coming in. While we had gone to the Tahquamenon Falls first in the past, we decided this would be the smarter way to do it just in case there would be no ships scheduled to come through until later in the day. If that was the case we could drive to the falls and return here later.
Thankfully for us, we arrived about 15 minutes before three freighters were scheduled to arrive at 1:00 and shortly thereafter. Although we had a few minutes to kill, we decided it would be a good idea to head out to the viewing platform to check things out and stake out a spot. It turned out that the first of the three ships was just about ready to enter the first lock headed southbound, and the second one was close behind it. The third ship was heading northbound, and was just barely visible above the trees while looking to the south.
We managed to catch a glimpse of all three freighters making their way through the locks. Most of us watched the whole time the first freighter, a 730 foot long ship, locked through. By the time that was done, most of the kids and even the adults had seen enough. Dad, Drew, and I stayed around a little longer, though, catching the next freighter, a 1,000 foot long behemoth, enter the second lock while the first ship made its way out.
While the three of us stood on the platform taking in the (slow moving) action unfolding in front of us, the rest of the family opted to start lunch down in the park area, picking a nice shaded spot in the grass to settle down and eat. Drew headed down once lunch got started, while Dad and I joined them a bit later, after the first ship had completely cleared the lock and the second one was just starting to be lowered. By this point my camera batteries had completely died on me anyway, and my spares had made it down with everyone else to the picnic spot. From where we were seated we watched as the final ship of our visit entered the first lock headed to Lake Superior. It really is amazing how gigantic these things are when you see them up close.
As it approached 2:30pm we returned to our cars and began the trek to Paradise and the Tahquamenon Falls. We had to swing into the K-Mart on our way back to I-75, as Samantha’s flip-flop had given up the ghost at the locks, and she would be needing a replacement. We also took advantage of being in town to top off the fuel in both vehicles. We then made the short drive down I-75, taking M-28 west to M-123, which got us to our destination.
Although our kids were really only interested in going to the Lower Falls, I thought we should at least stop at the Upper Falls as well, and since I was the lead vehicle today I got the final say! I wasn’t sure if Dwayne, Erica, Donovan, and Marissa would ever get back here, and they should at least have the opportunity to see it. Besides, it doesn’t really take that long to make the walk to the falls and take in the sights. Once we had done just that, it was time to head back downstream to the lower falls. While there is a trail that runs between the two sets of falls, it is a 4 mile walk, and we really just didn’t have the time to do that. One of these days I will make that walk, but it will have to be another trip…
My kid’s fascination with the Lower Falls began in 2009, during our first visit to the falls. We had visited during our weekend camping trip over Labor Day, and didn’t really realize that you could actually swim in the lower falls. The kids did wade out into the water during that trip, but we weren’t really prepared for them to ride home in wet clothes, so that was as far as we let them go – knee deep. Well, ever since that trip the kids (especially Tyler and Sam, as they are the two who probably remember it best) have been dying to go back and really do some falls exploration.
We came prepared this time, however. Swim suits were on. Beach towels were brought. We were all set. We made the walk to the same spot that we let the kids wade into during our last trip and kind of set up our base there.
I wore my suit just in case someone needed to help the kids out, and I am glad that I did. Not that anything bad happened, but I sort of led the way in taking the kids across the river, and on occasion I managed to get a little wet. My first attempt at getting across was with Jayden and Samantha. About halfway across Jay decided that she had gone far enough, as the rush of water around her legs was strong enough to make walking difficult for her. In reality, walking was hard for all of the kids. As we crossed, they clung tightly to my hands (and I to theirs – if they lost their footing I didn’t want them heading downstream on their own!). We turned around and headed back. I next took Tyler and Sam with me, and this time we made it clear across the river. From the opposite side, heading downstream was a much simpler process. While I wasn’t initially planning on making my way down the falls, alone or with the kids, we would up doing just that. Tyler, Sam, and I managed to make our way down several falls, clear to the first big viewing platform along the trail. Although we could have gone further, we decided to turn around and check on the others. While we were making our trek down and back, Dwayne had taken Donovan and Marissa across the river as well. They didn’t join us downstream, however. In fact, I didn’t even realize that they had crossed until later, when I was able to check out the pictures on the camera!
Once the three of us made it back, the kids played around in the water for a few minutes. It was then decided that more of the kids wanted to head downstream too. I took Sam and Marissa across first, leaving them on the opposite shore to head back to get Tyler and Jayden, who had decided to give it another try. We still couldn’t convince Drew to try it – he just isn’t our adventurous one (he gets that from his Dad!). Erica followed us across with Donovan in tow. Once everyone who was going had successfully crossed, we assembled for a group picture (thank goodness for our waterproof camera!) before heading down the falls. We followed the same path that Tyler, Sam, and I had taken earlier, making it to the same spot. I took lots of pictures, even some with us standing in some of the bigger, faster moving falls. Tyler and Sam were even brave enough to stick their heads into one of these bigger falls! Tara and Mom had also made the walk to the viewing platform to check us out and take pictures of us as well.
At some point we decided that it was time to make the walk back up to the rest of the group. Once we got back onto land, we dried ourselves off. We got our shoes and shirts back on and assembled on the same downed tree that we used two years ago for family pictures. The tree lies across the ground, giving everyone room to sit on it, while also providing a nice view of the river in the background. I was really impressed with the pictures last time, and was excited about taking more pictures this time.
When we had taken each family’s picture, we made our way back to the cars via the trail. We wound up leaving the Tahquamenon Falls around 7:00pm. Most of our drive back was spent on M-123, which reconnects with I-75 not too far north of St. Ignace. From there it was just a short drive across the Mackinac Bridge, and we were able to make it back to the campground by 8:30pm. Well, we did in the truck, anyway. Erica had passed me on I-75 (I drive too slowly for her, apparently) and while we got off the expressway when we needed to, Dad somehow had convinced Erica and Mom that they needed to go one exit further. Oops! They weren’t too far behind us in returning to the campsites, though.
Tara had put a turkey in the crockpot this morning before we left so that we could eat dinner when we got back to the campsite, although I don’t think any of us thought it would be quite this late. We boiled some potatoes and cooked up some rice to go along with the turkey, and sat down to eat at 9:15pm – a prime dining hour! At least it was still light out!
After dinner the adults cleaned up our dishes while the kids played. Something seems wrong with that picture, but that’s how things went down. By 10:30pm we managed to gather up all the kids so that we could head inside to get ready for bed. It was 11:00pm when it was lights out tonight, as two long, busy days had taken their toll on our energy level.
Sunday, July 17th, 2011 - 81/68°, Mostly Sunny
We woke up at 9:00am this morning, this time alarm free. I must admit that I had a fairly restless night of sleep, although I am not really sure why. I think that at least part of it is due to the fact that the mattress we use in the camper was the old one we used at home. Even though it isn’t the best, it is still better than the thin thing that was called a mattress that came with the camper!
Once again today we ate a hodge-podge collection of breakfast foods, scrounging up what we could find to eat. Tara & I settled for bagels, while Sam ate donut holes, Tyler helped himself to eight (yes, 8!) pieces of toast, Jay had a Pop-Tart, and Drew joined Tyler on the toast brigade, although he didn’t come close to approaching the amount Tyler ate!
Pie-iron pizza was on the menu for lunch today, but we didn’t have enough crescent rolls with us to make enough for all twelve of us to eat, so after eating breakfast I volunteered to go to the IGA in town to get some. While the kids headed outside to play I hopped on my bike and rode the trail into town once again. I headed into the IGA, and was surprised at how small this store was. I am not sure if there are any other grocery stores in Mackinaw City or if everyone just goes down US-23 into Cheboygan, but this store is no Glenn’s in St. Ignace, that’s for sure! I picked up three tubes of crescent rolls, and after paying for them I tossed them into my backpack and headed out on my bike once again.
I was having a nice ride so far, making good time into town and getting out again. I noticed that something didn’t feel quite right as I was about a third of the way down the trail, however. I pulled off to the side of the trail to check things out, only to have the entire peddle arm fall completely off my bike. It wasn’t just loose this time – it was on the ground! Now what to do…? I walked back a little ways looking for the nut, but decided that could be a pointless endeavor since I had no idea when it had actually come loose. I got back on the bike and started pushing myself down the trail. I had second thoughts about looking for the nut (and being unable to find a replacement) so I opted to go back the opposite direction once again to look for it. On the only bright note of this fiasco, I actually managed to find it! With few choices available to me, I turned around and started footing it, Flintstone-style, on my bike. While I could have actually made it the entire remaining mile plus back to the campground, I realized that this would take me way, way too long. My lunch time would quickly turn into dinner! As I approached the Stimpson Road crossroad on the trail I called Tara, told her what happened, and asked her to come get me. When she (finally) arrived with Jayden in tow, we loaded the bike onto the back of the truck (on top of the tonneau cover) and slowly made our way back to the campground.
Once we returned, Dad started the charcoal to cook lunch on. I was beyond hot and sweaty from the bike ride, so I headed in to take a shower. Really, it wasn’t the bike ride itself as much as the bike-pushing that was causing me to break out into a sweat, but either way I needed to get cleaned up. Plus, my hands were covered in grease from the bike parts…
When I got out of the shower the pizza making process was underway in full force. The reality is that Tara did the majority of the pizza making grunt work, while Dad and I spent most of our time cooking them. As you can imagine, making individual pizzas over coals in a tiny fire pan can be a time consuming process. Once we got our timing down after burning the first couple of pizzas, we were able to develop a better rhythm and increase our success rate. Everybody eventually got enough to eat, even though it took a little bit of time to get it done.
After lunch, sometime around 2:00pm, Tara took the kids to the pool with Dwayne, Erica, Donovan, and Marissa. I stayed behind with the intention of doing one of two things (or possibly both): working on the journal from our last camping trip, which I had yet to touch, or taking a nap, which is probably what I should have done. I wound up working on the journal, even managing to complete it. While I couldn’t post it to the website yet (the connection that you have to pay extra for here is still much to slow to upload the website) it felt good just to get it completed before I completely forgot about all that we had done.
Tara had been planning on going back to Colonial Michilimackinac Park this evening, hoping to see the sailboats passing through on their way to Mackinac Island for the Chicago to Mackinac race that was taking place this weekend. Because of this, she was back from the pool with the kids fairly early today. By 5:00pm, Tara, Tyler, Samantha, Donovan, and I had headed off into town to see if any boats were visible. Plus, we had promised Tyler that he could do some fishing…
The boys came prepared to wade out into the water in their swimsuits to do their fishing, but Sam wore regular clothes and was going to stay on shore making sand castles. Of course that isn’t exactly how things worked out, as she ended up deep out in the water as well. Unfortunately for Tara, we only really saw one boat pass through the straights. It turned out to be a little early to see almost all but the quickest boats. It was more bad news too, as Tyler and Donovan had no luck with the fish.
After I took some pictures of the three kids, one of them standing in the Lake Huron, one under the bridge, and one standing in Lake Michigan, we headed back to the campground, leaving around 7:15pm.
Although Mom and Erica had started dinner, we made it back just in time to help finish things up. Tonight was taco night, one of my favorites!
In the past when we have gone on our week long family trips I have typically brought out my computer to listen to music as we ate, but tonight was the first time I did that on this trip. Once they had finished eating, Samantha and Marissa went nuts breaking out into song after song, entertaining the entire family.
Dwayne, Erica, Donovan, and Marissa were heading back home tonight, as Donovan had a basketball game to play in tomorrow. I used this as an excuse to get Jayden back on her bike for the first time in a couple of days, telling her that she needed to show them what she could do and how she was becoming such a big girl. She made it up and down our stretch of road a few times before saying she had enough. At 8:30pm we said our goodbyes and waved to Dwayne, Erica, and the kids as they pulled away. It was sad to see them have to go, as our kids really enjoy having Donovan and Marissa around, and it was nice with Dwayne and Erica being there.
Once they were gone we headed inside to do some cleanup from dinner as well as some extra tidying up from the mess that has been caused by being in confined quarters for such a long time.
It was close to 9:30pm when we were able to settle in around our second campfire of the trip, making more s’mores and roasting some pepperoni. We should have done this while Donovan was here, as this is one of his favorites, but the situation and timing just didn’t really work out for us to do that with him. As much as we were enjoying ourselves outside by the campfire, the bugs were just too much for us to handle, even with a fresh coating of bug spray on. By 10:15pm we were all nestled safely inside our campers.
While everyone was making themselves busy watching TV, I spent some time working on my trip journal. Tara also did some reading about possible campgrounds to stay at in the future and Jayden did some coloring.
Around 10:45pm, while sitting at the table, I noticed a couple flashes of lightning in the sky. A little bit of rain could also be heard falling on the roof of the camper too, so I stepped outside to check on our stuff. As I was outside the lighting and rain both picked up their intensity quite drastically. I worked on picking up all of our stuff, and Dad came over to give me a hand with putting up the awning and making sure everything was put away.
Dad headed back across to his camper after the awning was put up, and I headed inside too. Tara & I tucked the kids into bed, and thankfully there was a bit of a lull in the storm at this time. Thank goodness we caught this break; otherwise they may never have gone to sleep! This didn’t work out quite as well for Tara & I as we had the great fortune of lying in bed listening to the loud claps of thunder and rain falling, as well as watching the lightning flashes out of our windows as the trees blew all around us. There were even a few occasions where we could feel the trailer shake, sometimes from the gusts of wind and sometimes from the lightning strikes. While Tara & I turned out lights out around midnight to try and get some sleep, we didn’t have much success in that regard. The storm didn’t let up until close to 1:00am, and I don’t think that either of us managed to fall asleep a whole lot sooner than that.
Monday, July 18th, 2011 - 81/68°, Mostly Cloudy
Most of us managed to wake up around 9:00am this morning, which is a little surprising considering the long night we endured listening to the storms blow through. The sad part was that we learned that a sailboat named WingNuts, from Saginaw, Michigan, had capsized during the storm. Two of the eight sailors aboard had died due to head injuries. Some research showed that these were the first two weather related deaths in the 103 year history of the race. This knowledge makes it all the more sad and shocking to hear the news that this occurred.
This was the morning that we had planned our big breakfast for, but the still falling rain put a small damper on things. We managed to cook our breakfast as planned, but we had to move inside to enjoy it. We wound up eating inside Dad & Mom’s camper… the kids at the table and the adults in lawn chairs around a small foldable table.
In addition to our plans for a big family breakfast, we had also intended to go to Fort Michilimackinac and to the Historic Mill Creek Discovery Park today. Once again the rain put a bit of a damper on those plans. The rain let up, but it was too late in the day for us to make it to both places. We opted for the discovery park, as it was only about a ½ mile from the campground. Plus, Tyler was really excited to go here because they now have a zip line (it wasn’t part of his school trip, so he figured he would get a chance this time).
Sometime around 2:00pm we loaded into our trucks to make the short drive to the park. When we first arrived at the campground we were planning on biking here, seeing as it was so close, but we figured the rain would have made the trail too messy to bother with today.
When we arrived at the park we weighed our ticket options. While I had planned on buying the combo pass, which lets you into 3 of the area parks, we found out that they also offer a yearly pass that actually turned out to be a much cheaper option for us. We wouldn’t actually need to use it at any other time this year, but it did wind up saving us quite a bit of money in the end. Gee, sometimes I do catch a break! We still have to pay the $7.00 extra for Tara, Tyler, Samantha, and I to do the adventure tour (more on that later), but we would have had to pay for that anyway.
Our first stop once inside the park was at the sawpit demonstration, where they used an axe and a pit saw to make planks just like they would have at the time the fort was built. From there we moved over to the saw mill to see how much that invention saved in terms of time and labor. Mom and Tara even got a front row view of this demonstration, getting to stand inside while everyone else stood outside watching. All because they stood at the back and said their view was good enough when the fellow giving the demonstration asked for everyone to move in closer. Ladies… when will you learn? While the kids weren’t particularly interested in either of these demonstrations, it did give them an opportunity to see how much life has changed over the course of the past 200 years.
After the demonstrations were complete the four of us who signed up for the Guided Adventure Tour went to get geared up in our harnesses and helmets while Dad & Mom took Drew and Jayden to find a spot to watch. The tour has three “adventure” aspects to it: the Forest Canopy Bridge, the Eagles Flight Zip Line, and the Nature Trail Climbing Wall. In between we were guided through the woods with occasional stops to educate us about the different plants and animals that inhabit the forest.
The first adventure we embarked on was the bridge, which really wasn’t too adventurous. We were tethered to a cable that was over our heads, and we walked across the creek high in the air on a suspended bridge that was basically a 10” wide plank. None of our group got too nervous making this crossing, and most of us actually felt that being tethered was only necessary for legal reasons.
Next up was the zip line, which is what we were looking forward to most anyway. I have to say, from my perspective, that the zip line was a little bit of a letdown. It wasn’t nearly as high as I thought it would be, nor was it as fast as I thought it would be. Regardless of my thoughts, it was still enjoyable. I know that Tyler and Sam certainly had fun on it.
Our final adventure was the climbing wall, which really was no different than any other climbing wall that you may have seen. It was 40’ high at the top, and Tyler and Sam went first. Both of them managed to make it to the top. Although we thought Sam beat Tyler as it was happening, looking at the photos shows a near dead heat. I was up next and, because Tara had initially opted to skip climbing up the wall, I was paired with some random kid with way too big work boots on his feet. He didn’t make it up very far. I must admit that I was about ready to call it quits about halfway up, but somehow managed to find the strength to make it all the way up. I have to say, it isn’t as easy as it looks. My fingers were very sore when I was done! Tara changed her mind at some point while I was on the wall, so she was the final person to climb. While she didn’t make it to the top, we were all very proud of how far she did go. Like I said, it takes a lot of finger and upper body strength, and that is something that both her & I could stand to work on.
The last time we visited Mill Creek we spent some time on the walking trails that go throughout the entire park. This time we were a bit neglectful in our planning, however, as we failed to bring any bug spray with us or allot enough time to actually make the walk. While we would have liked to do some walking, it was already nearing 5:00pm, and we had plans for this evening as well. We made our way from the rock climb towards the exit, stopping briefly at the spot that Drew & Jay hung out with Dad & Mom while the rest of us were on our tour. There was a variety of different water wheels for the kids to try out here, and this is how the little two passed the time while we were gone. We also stopped at the playground before leaving, but only for a brief moment.
When we left the Historic Mill Creek Discovery Park we headed straight to the campground to make dinner. We didn’t have much time if we were going to make it to our evening activity on time, so we settled on the easy to make meal of hamburgers and hot-dogs. Dad did the cooking on his grill, while most of the extras were left over from other meals.
By the time we finished cooking, eating, and cleaning up from dinner, it was time for Dad, Mom, Tara, the kids, and myself to head across the Mackinac Bridge into St. Ignace for our trip on the Star Line Sunset Cruise. We packed some snacks to bring with us on the boat (snacks and beverages were allowed, as long as there were no glass containers) and headed out. Things were going good for us – we saw a freighter going under the bridge, lots of sailboats, the sun was shining, and the water was as smooth as glass – until we hit the halfway point of the bridge. Something I’ve never experienced on the bridge happened… we got stuck in traffic. A complete stop on the Mackinac Bridge! We later learned that stopping on the bridge is now a U.S. felony, although I doubt stopping for construction would count. We got a little nervous about being late to the dock, as we were approaching the time we were told to show up on our letter (7:15pm), so I called to make sure that wouldn’t be an issue. I asked what was the latest we could show up, and the answer basically was 7:59, although we would be ensured a bad seat if we did that.
Even though we wound up being slightly late, it wasn’t late enough to cause us to be at the end of the line. In fact, we were definitely towards the front when it came time to board. We found ourselves a seat on the second level, right in the middle, which afforded us a great view all around. After a brief wait while the rest of the passengers boarded, the boat left the dock at 8:00pm promptly (give or take a minute or two). We did have to make a second stop before our trip could begin, and that was at Mackinac Island, where we picked up a few more passengers for the evening.
Before our cruise officially began in earnest, our captain was gracious enough to idle through the marina so that all of the passengers could get a chance to get a closer look at the sailboats that were moored here after completing the Chicago to Mackinac race. As I said, it was a very impressive sight, seeing all of these boats in one place, sometime three or four to a slip. We also had a narrator aboard our boat, and he did a nice job telling the story of the lost sailors aboard the capsized boat I mentioned earlier.
Once we left the island we headed across the Straights towards Mackinaw City, where we had the opportunity to see two U.S. Coast Guard cutters, both named Mackinaw. The newer ship is usually stationed in Cheboygan, but had stopped here on its way back from its somber rescue mission during last night’s storms, looking for the two sailors from the capsized WingNuts boat that I mentioned previously. The second Mackinaw is a retired ship that is permanently stationed in Mackinaw City now and serves as a museum. There is quite a contrast between the styles of the two boats, even though they serve the same purpose of clearing ice from the lakes to keep the shipping lanes open year round.
Leaving Mackinaw City, we headed towards the Mackinaw Bridge, which we crossed under approximately six times, hearing stories about the history of the bridge from the construction to the recent past from our ship’s narrator. This was quite an experience, being able to see through the grating and watch as semis and cars passed over us. Taking place at the same time as we were cruising under and around the bridge was a wonderful sunset. We watched as a bright red sun disappeared into Lake Michigan.
While we were making our way back to Mackinac Island to drop off our extra passengers the captain put out a call for all of the kids who were interested to come into the pilot house and take a turn steering the boat. Tyler, Samantha, and Drew all took him up on the offer, but Jay wasn’t having anything to do with driving. She did climb up into the captain’s chair with Tyler, but she just wouldn’t reach out and grab the wheel.
After our kids had taken their turn behind the wheel our boat passed the first of two freighters we saw tonight. This ship was a 1,000 foot long beast, heading off to Lake Michigan. We passed this boat very closely, giving us a very good view of the wall of water formed by the bow of the boat. As we approached the island we neared our second freighter of the night, this one was smaller than the first at 629 feet long, but it is still a gigantic vessel.
We also got a great look at the Mackinac Island and Round Island lighthouses during our trips to and from the island. It was interesting to hear that the Mackinac Island lighthouse was originally on the island but was moved to its current location not all that long ago. The Round Island lighthouse was in near ruins but was saved from certain demolition and restored. We also got another look at the sailboats in the harbor as we left the island on our way back to St. Ignace.
At 10:20pm we disembarked from the ship, making the cruise that was scheduled to be 90 minutes actually last 2 hours and 20 minutes. I don’t think that you would get one word of complaint from any of us about the extra time that we spent on the water! Back on dry land, we climbed into the truck for the ride across the bridge to Mackinaw City. Once we were back at the campground we headed to bed, tired from our rough night and day full of fun and memorable activities.
Tuesday, July 19th, 2011 - 77/64°, Foggy
This is our last full day in Mackinaw City, and we still have lots of activities to accomplish. Today was going to be our second day on the island, and our first without our bikes. We had a few things on the schedule, so that meant that we needed a head start. Once again we set our alarm for 8:00am, giving us a chance to get showered and eat some breakfast before we needed to leave the campground.
All eight of us loaded into our trucks and headed off to the Arnold Transit Co. dock, arriving there at 10:30am. This was a break in our favor, as it allowed us to be near the front of an extremely long line of people waiting to board the boat. Being at the front of the line allowed us to get our pick of seats today, and we chose the very first row on the first level, right at the front of the boat. This afforded a nice view forward – too bad it was too foggy to see anything beyond the front of the boat for most of the ride!
When we made it to the island we crossed Main Street to stop at the ticket office of the Mackinac Island Carriage Tour Company. We could see that the lines were pretty long, and we didn’t want to risk them selling out today before we got a chance to take our tour. It turns out that we really didn’t have much to worry about – our tickets were for a tour starting about 40 minutes after we bought them (I was afraid we would wind up on a tour sometime in the afternoon).
Since we had a bit of time to waste before our tour would begin, we opted to take a stroll through the Mackinac Island State Harbor to get an up close and personal look at the sailboats that were still docked there. Many of the boats would remain for another day or two before heading home, and still more would head to Port Huron for the Port Huron to Mackinac race that would begin next weekend. We got a chance to see the overall winning boat, the Princess M docked, as well as lots of other impressive boats. Most were from Chicago, with several from Michigan here as well. The boat that traveled the furthest, at least from what we saw, was based in Norman, Oklahoma. I didn’t know that city was a sailing hotbed!
While we were walking along the docks I heard someone scream out “Dennis!” followed by “Peters!” I knew they weren’t yelling at me, so I hollered to Dad. He recognized the person yelling, who got the right last name but missed the first name by a few years. Apparently it was some distant relative, but not one I was aware of. I just found it odd to be on vacation and run into someone who we were related to that had just completed a sailboat race from Chicago. I mean, what are the odds?
As it approached noon, our time slot for the carriage ride neared. We made our way back towards town, boarding our carriage right on Main Street, across from the Arnold dock. We headed down Main Street in the direction of the fort, making the turn onto Fort Street before heading down Market Street. We then went up the hill on Cadotte Avenue, past the oldest lilac bush on the island, as well as the Mackinac Island Public School, and of course, the Grand Hotel. We came to a stop at Surrey Hill, where we were let off our carriage to briefly wander through the museum located there. We then boarded another carriage, this time a bigger three horse carriage, to complete the rest of our tour. Most of the remainder of the tour took place in the state park, taking us past the St. Anne’s Cemetery, the Island Cemetery, the Post Cemetery (the military cemetery on the island), and Skull Cave. We made a stop at Arch Rock again, but since we had been here on our last trip to the island many of us chose not to get out of the carriage. Once we got back underway, we stopped at the back side of the fort, where we could have chosen to get off if we were planning on visiting there next. We decided to eat lunch before going inside the fort, so we rode a little further, getting dropped off at the end of Fort Street.
We made our way down the steep Fort Street to Main Street, where we immediately began checking menus for an affordable place to eat. Tyler really wanted to eat at Fred’s Burgers, which is where we ate on his class trip, but Tara decided that we could get a better price. It seems that most of the places on the island are about the same price, however (i.e. expensive), but we managed to find a burger place that we thought was relatively affordable: Mighty Mac Hamburgers. Samantha, Drew, and Jayden all wound up ordering hot dogs, while Tara, Tyler, and I all had hamburgers. We all split two larger orders of fries. The food wasn’t too bad, but they charged us full price (and gave us) adult hot dogs versus charging us for the smaller kids hot dogs. Oh well, the kids ate them so I guess we couldn’t really complain.
We split up after lunch, with Tara taking Samantha to go souvenir shopping, while the rest of wandered through town. Mom wound up taking Jayden with her, while Dad & I took Tyler and Drew. We figured we owed Sam the opportunity to pick out family souvenirs from her trip to the island without pestering from her brothers and sister, just like Tyler was able to do on his class trip.
After the girls had completed their shopping we met back up at the Sanders store to buy ice cream. This had been promised to the kids for completing the long bike ride on the island last Friday, but we held off on the payoff until today. Everyone had an ice cream cone except for Drew, who chose to get salt water taffy instead.
With ice cream (and taffy) in hand, we made our way back to the boat dock. Although it was close to 5:00pm when we got there, we were prepared to sit down and enjoy our treats while waiting for the next boat. As we made our way to the dock we saw other people get let on, even though the ramp had already been pulled up. We were able to board as well, although we had to stay off of the carpeted areas of the boat with our food. Being able to get on the boat worked out quite well in our favor, as it wound up saving us 30 minutes of waiting time.
Once we reached the dock in Mackinaw City and left the boat for the final time, Tara, the kids, and I headed off to Big Stone Bay Fishery to buy perch for our dinner tonight. Dad & Mom went into town to stop at the IGA to get supplies for fresh cole-slaw. We also stopped at the campground office to inquire about a late checkout time, since we are required to be off our site at 11:00am tomorrow. Their answer? Pay for another night. Gee, what great customer service you have. I understand if somebody is checking into our site the day we leave, but if not why not offer a couple extra hours for free?
With everyone back at the campsites, we began to prepare dinner. Dad and I started to warm up the oil in the turkey fryers, one each for fish and french-fries (both regular and sweet potato – we are a very diverse bunch!). Mom and Tara worked on the rest of dinner inside their respective trailers.
Tyler had been begging to go fishing during our entire trip each time we had a moment of down time, and aside from our one experience at Colonial Michilimackinac Park earlier, we hadn’t really given him many opportunities to actually get out and try. With that in mind, after we had finished dinner Mom volunteered to take him, Samantha, and Drew up to the beach area of the playground so that he could finally try again. Dad, Tara, and I stayed behind to work on cleaning up from dinner as well as prepping our campsites for our early morning departure tomorrow. We worked on picking up our outdoor items, packing away the picnic table cloths, and whatever else we could do so that in the morning we just had the basic items left to take care of. Mom returned with the kids while we were working, and we did manage to get them to give us a hand at a couple of odd jobs as well.
Once we had finished cleaning up, Tara & I left the kids with Dad & Mom so that we could take a short bike ride up to the entrance of the campground, to the only spot where there are dumpsters located, to drop off our trash. Once we returned, we all headed inside to our respective trailers for the night, pretty much wiped out from a long week of enjoyment. We managed to get some downtime watching TV and talking about our favorite activities thus far before heading to bed around 11:00pm.
Wednesday, July 20th, 2011 - 86/64°, Mostly Cloudy
Since we knew we needed to be checked out on time or risk paying for an extra night’s stay, we set our alarm for 8:30am this morning. While getting dressed and taking care of the usual morning items (like breakfast) we also took the time to work on picking up and putting away all of the items that get stored inside the camper during transportation. Some of these things have to wait until the last minute, like the refrigerator and bikes, but others can be worked around while we are still trying to use the camper. Since I typically take care of the outside and heavier items when packing up, Tara volunteered to head into Mackinaw City to top off the truck with gas before we hooked up for the ride home.
We wound up leaving the campground just shortly after 11:00am, with the look of a storm moving in. We could have been out on time, but a motorhome with a tow vehicle was blocking our road just as we were attempting to leave. We figured the campground would just have to live with our tardiness in this case.
Despite the look of storms, the occasional flash of lightning, and some raindrops falling from the sky, we headed to Colonial Michilimackinac to complete the last part of our journey. We found a spot to park (Mom had staked out a spot when she came into town while filling up her truck this morning as well) and made our way inside.
We wandered in and out of the various buildings inside as well as took in some demonstrations. Samantha was given the chance to help with the wool during a yarn spinning demo as well as churn some butter while the boys were told about how they would have had to carry water in from the lake and hunt to feed their family. It was about this time that Tara had to head out to the camper for a moment with Jayden, and they brought Tinkerbell back in with them (we didn’t realize it, but leashed dogs are allowed inside the fort area, but not the buildings).
We then moved outside the fort’s walls for an opportunity to see the cannon get fired. Maybe it was just the weather conditions or something else like that, but it sure did seem to me like this cannon was louder than the one over at Fort Mackinac. Once we were back inside of the fort I sat down with Tinkerbell while the rest of our family headed over to the church to view the wedding ceremony. I stayed behind after the wedding was completed as they toured the final two buildings.
Around 2:00pm we left the fort, loaded into our trucks, and made our way southbound on I-75. We wound up stopping in Gaylord for lunch at KFC, but as it turns out it was the West Branch exit that we really wanted (they have a KFC & Wendy’s side by side that is easy access and has parking for RV’s in the back), but the problem was that no one could remember with certainty if that was where we had stopped during a previous trip to St. Ignace or not.
Once we got to the Pinconning exit we left the freeway, making our second stop of the trip, this time at Northwoods Wholesale Outlet. Thanks to our friends Jeff & Becky, we have grown fond of this store and were anxious to take Dad & Mom through it (I’d also love to take my grandmother someday… I think it would be right up her alley!). We each made a couple of purchases before leaving.
When it was time to finally head home, we headed south on M-13. We stopped for gas along this road as well. We decided to avoid the construction on I-75 that had traffic down to one lane in the southbound direction, instead choosing to follow the route that Jeff & Becky showed us during our last camping trip with them, through Saginaw heading home along M-15.
We finally managed to arrive home around 8:00pm, which was a long time in the truck overall, but with our stops figured in wasn’t too bad. Even though Tara & I had to work the next day, neither one of us was really in a big rush to get home and officially end this wonderful vacation. We unloaded a few essential items from the camper before we headed inside to get ourselves ready for bed and what was surely to be a long day tomorrow, with what we hoped was to be a good night of sleep ahead of us.
What can I really say about this trip…? In my mind it has to rank as one of our best vacations ever! We had beautiful scenery all around us, great weather with the exception of one night, and family to spend it all with. Heck, as Tara pointed out, even the kids were pleasant to be around. Although we could never truly replicate the school trip experience that Tyler got during his trip to Mackinac Island, in many ways this was so much better. It was nice to be able replicate all that his class did for Samantha, but without the rushed feeling that comes from doing it all in three days (with the ride to and from included in that time frame).
Of course, not all was perfect. I have lots of complaints about the campground, which to me was the one really big downer about the whole vacation. Even though my complaints weren’t enough to cause me not to have a good time, they are enough to remind me not to stay here again, unless it is an absolute emergency. While we normally stay at the St. Ignace KOA, especially during the Labor Day Bridge Walk, I thought that this would be an acceptable and cheaper alternative to stay at, especially since they added in the larger campsites (our previous stay here was in 2004 on a site barely large enough for Dad & Mom’s camper).
Unfortunately the cheaper price comes with less “extras,” which they nickel and dime you to death over. Want a campfire? You can have one, but only in the fire pan that you have to pick up at the front office or the campground store. At least this is free. So far, not too big of a deal, right? Well, the campfire pan is only about 16” across (think big pie pan)… not much room for a roaring campfire to cook over or to roast marshmallows in. Need firewood? Don’t bother bringing your own (even though that is legal in the lower peninsula) or buying some outside of the campground – you have to use their firewood only.
You would think that, for a campground this large, that they would at least spray for bugs. Think again. Even if you had a fire pan and bought their firewood and were able to get a fire going, you couldn’t sit beside it for long as the mosquitos and flies were atrocious! Not even a healthy coating of bug spray and a citronella candle were enough to chase them away.
Want to use the internet? Head up to the store and use their dial-up for free! What a bargain. Or, you can use their wi-fi, but only if you pay for it in 24 hour chunks, good for one device only – forget about using the same code on a laptop and a cell phone, for example. When I can go to McDonald’s or Sam’s Club and get wireless for free, this process seems a bit ridiculous.
Want to watch TV? Be prepared to catch your favorite shows on… one of three channels, and only if you have a TV with a digital receiver or a converter box. No cable here.
Want a specific site? Check in as early as possible, because while your reservation type is held, sites are given out on a first come first serve basis. This makes it hard to ensure you can camp side by side with your family as we wanted to do (but couldn’t because they placed us across from each other instead). You also can’t ensure you are by a specific place in the park, such as the playground or pool. Speaking of site locations, you would think, once again, that a place this large would have multiples of certain things. Dumpsters, for example. Wrong. The only one is across from the office at the front of the park.
One last thing… Need an extra hour before checking out? Be prepared to pay for another night, even if your site is going to be vacant. At least that is what we were told – maybe a different employee would have said “no problem.” Based on the rest of our experiences, however, I doubt that would be the case.
The worst part? All of the “extras” here are included for free at the KOA in St. Ignace (I can’t vouch for the Mackinaw City KOA as we’ve never been there). So while we would have paid more per night, much more is included.
On a positive note, Tara said the pool was decent. It certainly doesn’t compare to the pool at River Ridge Resort in Stanwood, where we stayed last summer. The pool here was 5 feet deep at its deepest point and 3 feet in the shallow end.
Another thing we enjoyed was the actual location of the campground. The bike trail located across US-23 was certainly convenient, and it went all the way from Mackinaw City to Midland. The view of the Mackinac Bridge and Lake Huron was certainly enjoyable, although we had to make an effort to see them because of how far inside the campground we were situated.
Back to more positive news… as I said, we had a really great time for the entire 7 days of our vacation. Tara & I really enjoyed everything that we did, and with a few exceptions it was the kids who made that happen. Listening to directions, helping out without being yelled at to do so, and being able to do things with them without it becoming a major hassle was a nice change of pace that both of us truly enjoyed from them.
If I was forced to pick one thing that was my absolute favorite part of the week, I would have to say the Star Line Sunset Cruise. The magnificent views were enough to make me want to do it again, but all the breaks that we caught on this particular cruise really sealed the deal for me. The sailboats in the harbor on the island, the two Mackinaw ice breakers, the Mackinac Bridge, and the freighters just pushed this boat ride way beyond what we did when Tyler and I took the sunset cruise with his class. The graciousness of the captain and the narrator topped it all off. Of course, the trip to the Tahquamenon Falls was a very close second!
Tara didn’t really pick one thing in particular as her favorite, but the thing she enjoyed most was being around all of the sailboats. Whether that was up close and personal on the island as we walked the docks, seeing them from the sunset cruise boat, or seeing them from the mainland, she was in absolute heaven. Someday I hope to be able to let her experience that feeling on a boat of her own.
Tyler’s favorite thing from this trip was our time spent riding our bikes on Mackinac Island. Although we rented bikes when he and I went with his class, we only had them long enough to ride from town to the Crack-in-the-Island and back. This time we not only made it to the crack, but also all the way around the island as well. This was certainly an opportunity that he (nor any of the rest of us) will ever forget.
Samantha’s favorite part? She definitely is a girl, because she chose shopping as her favorite activity. In particular, her shopping experience on Mackinac Island was the favorite part of her trip. I think that she really enjoyed being able to shop for souvenirs for her brothers and sister as well as her parents.
Drew sided with me when it came time to pick a favorite, choosing the boat ride under the bridge. He too was enamored with all of the different things that we got to see on this trip.
Perhaps Jayden said it best, however: “I liked everything while we were camping!”