GT-30 Mackinaw City, MI USA

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Dash Plaque

Success! After 10 years and 30,000 miles, PRNCZ was finally able to complete a GT trip without a single mechanical mishap. Well, OK, the gas gauge stuck at empty, and Steven had to tap it a bit — but only once. We even took a walk on the wild side, leaving the spare tyre at home because we were the registrars for this event and needed space for the registration material and laptop.

We left early Saturday morning to make our reservation for the S.S. Badger: a car ferry that runs between Manitowoc, WI, and Ludington, MI. This ferry has been a staple on Lake Michigan for the last fifty years. It is the only coal-fired ship operating on the Great Lakes, and until recently, it was the only car ferry plying its trade on Lake Michigan. Before interstate highways in the Midwest, the Badger was one of the quickest ways to get from one side of Lake Michigan to the other. It's a four hour cruise and a bit of nostalgia to many a baby-boomer who has (or had) relatives on either side of the lake.

The Badger
Loading PRNCZ on the S.S. Badger
 

We arrived at the docks a bit early and were directed to park in the area where pets wait to be boarded. Diane thought this was because she had Steven with her.

PRNCZ is a real people-magnet. Besides the usual "nice car" comments, we met a man who claims to have driven an MGA on the Sebring track in the 1960s; a man who was bicycling through the Midwest and had an MGA Coupe at home in his garage (if you're reading this article: join NAMGAR!); a police officer who alleged that the TSA (Transportation Security Administration) needed him to drive the vehicle to ensure it wasn't part of local terrorist activity (NOT!). Although we were boarded last, this enabled us to drive PRNCZ on-board, and she was amongst the first off at the other end.

After we boarded and the ship made weigh, we sought out the dining room and had a bite: the food and selection were better than anticipated, but not four-star. A quick tour of the boat, including the gift shop for Diane's benefit, and we quickly discovered that rising at 4:00AM was not compatible with the drone of a ship on the water. After locating the "quiet room", we napped.

On awakening to sounds of someone playing a hammered dulcimer, we discovered we were only about an hour out of Ludington. We located a nice spot at the railing to watch the docking process. And once docked, we made our way back into the bowels of the ship to reclaim PRNCZ and head off to Manistee, MI, where we'd made reservations for the first night.

Interlochen Concert
Interlochen Concert

Sunday morning we were on our way to Mackinaw City. Steven planned a route that took us through the hinterlands and via Interlochen, where he spent some time at the Interlochen Fine Arts Academy. Between Manistee and Interlochen, we saw one-room migrant shacks from the times when Michigan was a prime producer of fruits and vegetables. Many still looked like they might be in use today. And, we saw those venerable outbuildings that in summer are fifty feet too close and in winter fifty feet too far from the back door.

We arrived at Interlochen just in time to attend a non-denominational service featuring an Interlochen choral group, instructors, and students from the writing arts program presenting their work. This was quite a nostalgic trip for Steven, bringing back memories of simpler times. The campus had added many new buildings over the years, but after traipsing around for an hour, Steven was able to locate his haunts: the student cabin, the practice rooms and melody lane (need more be said?). Interlochen is a fine arts oasis amid a very rural environment.

GT31 Postcard GT30 Postcard
On The Back

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We were the first to arrive and register at the Ramada, followed just minutes later by Dave & Chari Smith, who'd snuck up behind us in the last couple of miles to the hotel. As the afternoon passed, more Rowdies began to arrive.

Daine Chats with Mike Jacobson
Diane Chats with Mike
 

Monday morning was the first meeting of the Rowdie GT workers. The Rowdie team met to finalize the activities, divvy up responsibilities and start the work. Envelope and plastic bag stuffing were the order of the morning in preparation for registration bright and early Tuesday. The rest of the day, the Rowdies went off and worked on their areas of expertise and responsibilities. Although we'd been experiencing mid-ninety temperatures at home, we were anticipating the mild days and cool evenings of Northern Michigan. It was the start of a very hot week in Northern Michigan. The constant sun and temperatures in the mid-nineties kept everyone near hotels, pubs and shops.

Mackinaw Bridge View
1500s on the Show Field

Tuesday, for us, Mark & Marji Barnhart, and Bruce & Robin Nichols was spent behind the Registration desk, meeting, greeting, answering questions, and resolving registration issues.

After registration ended that day, Diane and Steven had dinner with Ken & Mary Ellen Doris, whom we'd met at the Watkins Glen Vintage Races the previous fall. Ken & Mary Ellen are in the throes of completing a restoration on a Mk II they'd owned since the 1970s. After dinner we all visited the shops (after all, this is a tourist destination) and stopped for a night-cap before returning to the hotel. Nice people and nice conversation. The first half of Wednesday was spent again at the Registration table. A few walk-ins and some last minute registrants. Steven closed his part of the operation early and headed over to the car show to deliver messages and take pictures.

The car show was held at a small park near the docks on Lake Huron: a very nice location except for the dearth of shade. The venue had the vague reminiscence of a drive-in theater. Only this time it was the cars watching the participants as they walked among the cars for a bit, then spent time huddled in the band shell out of the sun: a cycle repeated many times over the course of the afternoon. We met and talked with many people whom we hadn't seen at a GT in a number of years. Among them, the Scholanders with their orange 1500; Pat & Dick Newman, one of the earliest couples in the NAMGAR movement; Mike Jacobsen from San Francisco: the distance award winner with over 2500 driven miles.

That evening we were searching for a nice place to have dinner and perhaps catch a sunset on Lake Michigan. Rifling through the local literature, we noticed a place called Leggs, featuring “good” Polish food. Polish food isn't particularly hard to come by around Chicago. But for us, good Polish food requires a trip into the city, which is a trek not taken lightly: off we drove.

Mackinaw Bridge View
Steve, Diane, Linda & Don
 

It took about 15 minutes to get there. There might have been twelve buildings in the town, so Leggs wasn't difficult to find. Just as we were pulling into the parking lot from one direction, Don & Linda Holle were pulling in from the other: it was a foursome for dinner. The restaurant met all the requirements: bar, good Polish food, and a great view of Lake Michigan. I don't think we talked MGs much, once we found out Linda was a good Slovenian girl, learning to play the accordion. Between Ukrainian Steve and his accordion, Lithuanian Diane, and Slovenian Linda, most of the evening was spent talking about ethnic experiences and food. Poor Don, truly the odd man out in this conversation, was a really good sport. We finished dining just as the sun started its dip into Lake Michigan. You had to be there to appreciate it. Afterwards, we were back in the cars, following a lakeside route back to Mackinaw City: a two lane, wooded, quiet country road that for some time hugged the shoreline — no radio, no traffic and lots of moonlight.

Mackinaw Bridge View
Posing with the Mackinaw Bridge

Thursday was a free day, so we decided to head North to the Upper Peninsula. Our goal was the Shipwreck Museum at Whitefish Point on Lake Superior. The Upper Peninsula is still quite rural. It's possible to drive for twenty minutes on a state route and not see another vehicle. The U.P. was as dry as we'd ever seen it. One local said it hadn't rained significantly in over three months: the landscape showed it. At one point, we saw locals on the side of the road beating out small fires with blankets to prevent the fire from reaching the tree line.

The Shipwreck Museum was small, noting great ships that had gone down in Lake Superior, including the infamous Edmund Fitzgerald. After touring the exhibits, we ventured out onto the sands of Lake Superior to dip our tootsies in the water. If you've never swum in Lake Superior, the deepest and most northerly of the Great Lakes, the water can be quite warm — for about the top six inches! Before heading to our next stop, we visited the museum diner and picked up a couple of pasties for lunch — yum! Never turn down an opportunity to eat a Cornish pasty.

Upper Tahquamenon Falls
Upper Tahquamenon Falls 

Our next stop was Tahquamenon Falls. Diane had never seen them (upper or lower), so it was a must on her things-to-do list. Commonly referred to as the root beer falls, the upper Tahquamenon's water looks like root beer flowing over the rim in the spring and fall when the water's at its highest levels. This was July and the level was down significantly. Steven, having not seen them in thirty years, was surprised that there were now visitors' centers and proper cement or wooden walk-ways. Ah — tourism. It was here we crossed paths with the Peter Alberda clan from Zeeland, MI.

Newberry, MI, is not too far from the falls, so we detoured a bit and drove through it. Steven worked in Newberry on one of his first assignments for Michigan Bell. Michigan Bell was changing service type. It was going from where you picked up the telephone handset and an operator placed your call (manual), to where you had to dial your own call using a dial on the face of the telephone (rotary). Ask Steven about the Finns and the Indians he met; you're liable to hear one or two interesting stories. The town is a bit bigger now, but there was hardly any activity. It seemed like a ghost town, not nearly as vibrant as Steven remembered: thirty years - duh. We headed back to Mackinaw City.

Castle Rock
Castle Rock
 

We decided to eat in St. Ignace, just across the bridge from Mackinaw City. But before driving into town, we stopped at Castle Rock. This is truly one of the last “great” tourist stops in the country. It has been in continuous operation for over seventy years. When you enter the building, the great odors of the 1950’s shops assaults your senses — the smell of laminated cedar boxes, silk-screened with a picture and "Castle Rock" in black script, cheap Indian tom-toms, polished rocks and other associated tchotchkes. Diane was hoping to replace her cedar frame and picture of the Rock from the 1950s since the hook was broken, but it appears that she has an antique, with none available for purchase (another good reason to scavenge antique shops and flea markets). For fifty cents a head you can climb to the top of the rock, one hundred and forty-four steps, to overlook the Straits of Mackinaw. Paul Bunyan and Babe, The Blue Ox, are there to start you on your climb.

Grand Hotel
Veranda of the Grand Hotel

Friday we cruised to Mackinaw Island. It also had changed in the last thirty years — less quaint. But we'd come to see the restoration of the Grand Hotel. During our visit in the 1970s, it was showing its age, but one could just walk up to, and on, the great promenade porch. Now it's ten bucks to put your foot on the first step.

We wandered though the place, shopping at the up-scale stores and wandering the art galleries. We stopped for a drink at the Geranium Bar and sat on the porch overlooking the Straits. We thought about having lunch there, too, but the staff said that there was so much great food that we wouldn't be able to eat the rest of the day: we had the GT banquet that night. Maybe next trip. If you're interested in the Grand Hotel experience, talk with Mike & Jennifer Ash. They spent a night there after the GT. Wandering around the town, popping in and out of shops, was the extent of our activities on the Island. If you've never been, there is quite a bit to see and do. We recommend that you take, or rent, a bike and ride around the island. It's only five miles and worth the trip.

The GT banquet was truly unique this year. It was held inside of the local skating rink. Of course, they removed the ice for the occasion, but the Zamboni was there for the viewing. I think we were sitting on the opposing blue line. The obligatory speeches, awards and trips to the bar. A good meal. Other than the firehouse at GT-1 we think this is the most unusual place for a banquet we've been in. The 100,000th MGA was wheeled in for display at the back. George Merryweather introduced the next two GTs: an all MG event in Gatlinburg, Tennessee, and GT-32 in Whistler, British Colombia, Canada. Peter and Anne Tilbury gave a great presentation on the Whistler event. We've already started planning!

Saturday morning, we awoke early and headed down to the hospitality room for coffee, rolls, cereal and ice cream. After shaking hands, hugging, saying good-bye... yes, we will be in Gatlinburg next year... we loaded up PRNCZ and headed out.

Steven Swiming
Steven Swimming in Lake Michigan

Our return trip took us across the southern part of the Upper Peninsula along U.S. Route 2 and into Wisconsin. The roads were great, but it was hot. One of the hottest days of the trip. By eleven, it was already in the low 90s. We wandered on and off side roads that we hoped would route us along the water's edge.

By one o'clock, the sun was near its zenith, and we'd had enough open road. How could it be this hot when we're half-way to the Arctic Circle? We found a small county park on the edge of Lake Michigan and pulled in amongst the trees. Once out of the sun and the car, Steven began to empty his pockets into the car's side pocket. Diane asked what he was doing. His response was "watch." Steven walked out across the sand into the water, fully clothed, and continued until all you could see was his head sticking up above the small waves. It took Diane about thirty minutes to get him out and another hour to get him dry enough to travel.

Our goal that day was Door County, WI. We heard it was "the" place to go in Wisconsin. At 6:00PM, when we passed through Green Bay, it was ninety-nine degrees. We made it to Sturgeon Bay and stopped. We ate dinner on the bank of the Sturgeon River and watched boaters and a lone amphicar motoring up and down the river from the air-conditioned comfort of a very nice restaurant.

The next morning we decided to quickly tour the county and head home. According to the weather reports, the heat wasn't going to let up for the next several days. We traveled along the lake shore of the peninsula, in and out of many small towns with lots of boutique shops — OK, enough of that. Door County may be great for some Wisconsin folks, but we're partial to places like Nova Scotia, the New England coast and the Michigan Riviera for small towns and boutique shops. We were back home by late evening.

Although we'd cut the trip short by a couple of days, it ended up being the right decision. When we walked in the door, we noticed the answering machine was signaling a message. A good friend of ours had passed away that afternoon. Her condition was grave, but we weren’t expecting anything to happen that soon. We got a good night's sleep. The next day we made calls and repacked for a marathon drive to a small town the other side of Cleveland. This time it was in the SAAB.

Diane has already made reservations for MG2006, and the planning is underway. We hope to see you in the Smokies!End Column