Friday, September 2, 2005

Mackinac Strait

We are parked at the Straits State Park, on the north side of Mackinac Strait (map). As with our experience last night, this park is more like a commercial park than the public parks with which we are more familiar (and comfortable). However, it is ideally located for a jaunt over to Mackinac Island.

We started our day with a visit to the Soo Locks, arriving just in time to see the freighter Indiana Harbor, one of thirteen "thousand footer" bulk ore carriers plying the great lakes, locking through in the down water direction. She was just nosing in to the canal when we arrived, and she was just slipping out of the lock when we departed a full hour later. Lowering the huge ship 21 feet in the lock itself took a mere ten minutes.

From Sault-Ste.-Marie we blasted across the U.P. on I-75 to St. Ignace and this park. We made camp, broke out the bicycles, and headed down to the ferry dock, where we boarded the hydro-jet powered ferry Nicolet for the roughly 16 minute trip to Mackinac Island. These ferries are very fast, making the whole run on-plane. Older, full-displacement boats used to take 45 minutes to make the trip, and in today's need-it-right-now culture, that's just too slow -- fuel consumption be damned. Ironic, considering the purportedly slower pace of life on the island itself. The piper must be paid, of course, and they raised the fares today due to Katrina-induced fuel price hikes.

Nevertheless, we are very glad we made the trip. The downtown area of Mackinac Island is chock-a-block with cheesy tourist trap shops and eateries, historic though their quarters may be. Also, plenty of horse droppings from the numerous horse-drawn jitneys and carriages on this motor-vehicle-less island. However, in just a few minutes we left that all behind as we rode the 8-mile perimeter road around the island, much of which is now a state park.

After completing our circuit of the island, we headed to the 118-year-old Grand Hotel for dinner. The hotel is a local institution and the grand dame of the region, and we thought dinner and cocktails would be an excellent way to experience it and get the flavor of the hotel without checking in as overnight guests. We did come to the island prepared, bringing appropriate evening attire as required in all public areas of the hotel after 6pm.

We are very glad we did this, because the Grand Hotel is a piece of history that begs to be experienced. However, at $75 p.p. prix fixe, dinner and the attendent service thereof was nothing to write home about. (Apparently, though, it needed blogging.) The buffalo flank steak, I will admit, was quite good, and nicely prepared, but everything else was merely adequate.

To be fair, outside walk-ins for dinner are uncommon, and dinner service is included, as all guest rooms are on the Modified American Plan. (By dining at the hotel, we did avoid the $10 per person charge for non-registered-guests to even enter the premises. Keeping the tourist riff-raff out, I suppose. If you want to see the Grand Hotel, show up in a jacket and tie and tell them you are there for dinner.)

Before dinner we had a round of cocktails in the appropriately-named Cuppola Bar at the very top of the hotel, with a magnificent view of the strait and its suspension bridge.

We caught the last boat off the island, at 9pm, and returned to the comfort of our own home (much to the dog's relief, so to speak), after the not-insignificant uphill pedal from the dock.

Tomorrow we will cross over the Mackinac Bridge and blast down to Ann Arbor, to catch up with a former business associate of Louise before his office closes for the long weekend.

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