Monday, July 11, 2005

Neys Provincial Park, Ontario to Michigan

The Mackinac Bridge connects Michigan's Upper and Lower Peninsulas.

Long trains passing in the night, not far away. First westbound, then east, then west again. A busy track and a restless night.

Leaving camp, I crossed the railroad tracks. Why didn’t their significance register on the way in?

Inland from the lake it grew hot and muggy, but the landscape was improving.

Back on the highway, a sign says "Welcome to Marathon. 25 minutes ahead." Canadians are very considerate; they give you plenty of warning.

In Marathon, I looked around for the breakfast spot recommended by Christine, “Chez (something)”, but couldn't find it. Another mill town, their mill much smaller than Thunder Bay's. Stopped at "Robin’s Donuts" for a bagel and donut. All the other customers gathered in a glass-encased smoking room.

In Wawa, a giant talking Wawa goose greets you, Wawa being the name the Indians gave to the local geese. Looked up and down the main street for an advertised jewelry store, but couldn’t find it. Went into a grocery, and just walked the aisles, unsure of what I was there for. Wanted some peanuts in the shell, but they only had 3-pound bags.

At the Trading Post bought an Inukshuk, “an Inuit symbol of our dependence on each other and the value of a strong relationship.”

Next door an elderly couple served food from a trailer. A small order of fries took “forever”, but they were fresh cut, and a huge helping (customer’s laughed and joked when they saw the portions.) Everyone applied vinegar to their fries, using a spray bottle.

I sat outside with my fries, watching motorcycles come and go, many roaring through town. I'm so tired of all the Harleys, “full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.” I just don't get it. "How could one care so little about other people's 'space'? How can people be so self-centered?"

No interest in stopping, no photo ops – just keep moving. Too hazy for anything interesting. The heat was stifling, especially when standing still. Gotta get to the shoreline again, where there’s some cool air. I set my sights on Sault Ste. Marie. "There I'll log in and get some work done."

Approaching the border, progress slowed as the highway dumped us onto (Canadian) Sault Ste. Marie's city streets. The heat was starting to make me a bit dizzy, light-headed. The border back-up was not long; still I thought I might have to break out of the line and find shade. Visions of Mexico?

Over on the American side, I found the Chamber of Commerce building and stepped into the air conditioned space, pouring sweat. Asked about the library – “it’s closed Mondays.” Took my time, allowing a little cool-down. They told me of two coffee shops with wi-fi downtown. Asked to use their restroom and took the opportunity to thoroughly soak my head.

The bank downtown showed a temperature of 101°. “This is nuts!”

Went to the first coffee shop I came to. Ordered a cool fruit smoothie. Checked in on my e-mail. On the wall, a “Small Business for Bush” sign caught my attention. Then I noticed the radio program – a right wing talk show (Sean Hannity?)

“I’m in hostile territory. Just TRY to remain calm! Be polite.” The owner was closing the shop soon; he said I could still access their wi-fi outside, but I wasn't inspired to write anything under these conditions. Drove up by the Soo Locks; a laden freighter coming off Lake Superior was just creeping up to a lock (you could walk as fast). Too hot to stick around and watch. "Gotta keep moving!"

Took the interstate south toward the Mackinac Bridge. Just before the crossing, exited to "Bridge View Park." Wandered into a visitor's center. It was luxurious: air-conditioned to the point of being chilly, big clean restrooms, water fountains. And I had it all to myself (though the cameras overhead reminded me I wasn't necessarily alone.)

"What a waste."

Quickly banished the thought and washed up in the bathroom, leisurely re-hydrated at the fountain, then casually explored the exhibits around the perimeter, allowing time for my temperature to drop below the boiling point.

Took some photos of the bridge; I remember it from a 1957 (I think) postage stamp. The bridge crosses the Straits of Mackinac, which connect Lake Michigan and Lake Huron.

Back on the road, crossing the bridge, construction forced us to use the center lanes which were steel-grated. I was not too comfortable taking in the view, as the tires danced around on the rails.

At the far end of the bridge, Mackinaw City looked like a destination town. Lots of hotels and restaurants, with people strolling the sidewalks. I wanted to get back off the interstate, rather take U.S. 23 on a leisurely shoreside ramble toward Detroit. Passed through Sheboygan, a much more blue-collar town than the resorts back up the highway. Much of the population appeared to be down at the ball parks along the river bank.

My map showed only one state campground along this stretch of road, the Cheboygan State Park. I followed a dirt road for about 3 miles, arrived at the lakeshore campground. It was certainly far from the highway, a good sign. Checking in at the office I was shocked at the price: $26. When I complained that I've haven't even seen private campgrounds this expensive, the fellows sympathized. One took out a map and said that if I didn't need facilities, there were numerous unimproved State Forest campgrounds in the interior, and pointed out various locations.

Their eagerness to assist me was certainly refreshing, but I didn't want to venture far from the shore - believing, probably incorrectly, that it MUST be cooler along the lake. I kept driving, camping opportunities fading with the light, the risk of deer increasing. "This might have been a mistake..."

On the left, the shoreline was inaccessible, a continual stretch of private properties and homes. The forest on the right, less developed, but still clearly private property, many dwellings tucked into clearings. I was becoming desperate enough to just drive off into "the bush" and lay my sleeping bag in the foliage.

In one particularly dense section of forest, I noticed access roads going into undeveloped properties. Turned onto one of these unpaved roads, went up a few hundred yards, found a faint track leading off into the woods on the right. It appeared not to have been used recently.Crept along this path for another couple hundred yards.

Finally, just in case someone actually came down this path, I drove off perpendicular through the brush and downed branches until I felt I was concealed from the path. After killing the engine, I just stood by the bike for a long time, listening for any activity in the area. Somewhat assured I was not followed, I set up the tent in the twilight.

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