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An unpredictable vacation roaming Michigan reveals beauty on land and among its people

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Call this my tribute to “Pure Michigan.” Maybe this blog is just a glorified Letter to the Editor. Perhaps it is a love note to long vacations. Regardless…

3 bridgeHere’s what happens when you decide to explore Michigan without a single hotel reservation, campground spot secured or even a remote idea of where you’ll be in 24 hours: To borrow a phrase, you end up depending on the kindness of strangers.

And there may be no kinder strangers than the kind folks in the Upper Peninsula. In my meager number of days traveling the fine state of Michigan, I have come across some friendly people. Yet this most recent sojourn into St. Ignace, across the bridge into Mackinac Island, cruising on red-colored highways and roadways, running along Escanaba and into Menominee gave my family and me an excellent view of this part of the state.

Long story short: We intended to camp across the Upper Peninsula for five days. It rained non-stop for the first two of those days. So we gave up, called the tourist bureau on Mackinac Island and found one of the last hotel rooms available there. Renewed by dry clothing and a hot shower, we motored forth to our ultimate destination – Grandma’s house in Wisconsin.

Then came the car troubles. At first, it seemed like just a strange noise. Then the cruise control that no longer worked. And when the “Service Engine Now” light lit up, we knew it was time for a serious pit stop. The light, which went solid and stayed that way, became a nagging reminder that even if we had planned everything perfectly, there is nothing perfect about man-made machines.

1 CarLuckily, we limped the car along to Menominee and began desperately looking for somewhere to safely stop. Then came the familiar cry from the backseat: “Mom, I need to use the bathroom!” In another stroke of dumb luck, we found the North Shore Golf Club. It seemed like an oasis, a haven. And no one gave me the stink eye for carrying a 5-year-old girl into the basement bar, asking desperately if they would allow us to use the facilities.

No one minded. In fact, the Club members circled the golf carts literally when they saw our car hood raised and a desperate looking family standing in their parking lot. A bunch of these kind-hearted gentlemen gathered outside our car, musing about what might be the trouble. Two in particular, Pat and Charlie, stuck around throughout the whole escapade.

They hypothesized, checked liquids, quizzed me on my maintenance record and generally chewed the fat in such an endearing way that we practically forgot our troubles. One of them came up with some extra transmission fluid, and with some support from the Menominee-area Chevy dealer, we were able to get the car started again.

4 peteAmazingly, the dealership got us in that afternoon, fixed the minor computer problem that had lit our engine light and sent us on our way with a ridiculously small bill. It seems ridiculous, I’ll say, because we expected it to be hundreds of dollars or even thousands if the transmission was involved. Oddly enough, there are both kind golfers and reasonable automotive-repair shops alike.

In the past, I’ve rah-rah’ed about how much I love Mackinac Island. I’ve waxed poetic about the glories of camping near Port Austin. You’ve been patient enough with me to hear these tales. I had planned on writing this time about the immense beauty of our Upper Peninsula: the painted rocks, the waterfalls, the quiet islets and the impressive scenery along the lakes.

This time, we saw less but experienced more. We experienced good, old-fashioned human kindness and compassion. Granted, that’s found outside of Michigan. But it sure feels good to be reminded that it is here, and it is plentiful.

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