(c) Norman Sperling
visited July 11, 2013
A wonderful way to spend a day! The weather was perfect. The little island is famous for banning motor vehicles (since 1898!). It has other quaintnesses and individualities too.
I took the ferry from St. Ignace. I was looking forward to the lack of cars, but my mind’s ear extrapolated that into a near-silence. Not quite quiet. Lawn mowers were in full throttle, ferry boats came and went frequently, and noisy airplanes landed at the airport. But all that is only in town. Away, on the bike loop, silence is golden. The world sure could use a lot more havens like this.
This island was the site of a bad injury with fortunate consequences. An unlucky man, Alexis St. Martin, was shot, leaving a hole from his stomach to the outside, The fort surgeon, the only doctor around, William Beaumont, brought him back to health, and then researched digestion, running a whole lot of experiments over many years with this unfortunate victim. He wrote a book describing his findings about digestion, many results of which advanced anatomical understanding.
I expected all those horses, but had forgotten how bad their manure smells. Those droppings litter the town. Outside of town, on the 8-mile-long shoreline loop road, I only noticed about 2 piles per mile. The book “The Good Old Days: They Were Terrible” by Otto Bettman points out the selective blindness of nostalgia. Horses were hardly a great mode, and as soon as people had a viable alternative, they stopped using their horses.
Bicycles are Mackinac Island’s major mode by far. Many visitors bring their own, but most rent from numerous shops near the ferry slips. Rental bikes include a lot of retro-style cruisers, and a huge number of tandems for couples and parent/child pairs. No racers. My Brompton got less attention than usual for such an odd folder. I rode the entire circumferential road, stopping to take in sights and to snack. There are a few gentle rises but the road is almost all flat and extremely easy to bike. The route is very peaceful and scenic, a joy to stroll through. As long as I was on my bike, things were fine. But I was nervous every time I had to chain it to a stand. A local policeman said they had 3 or 4 bike thefts a day in tourist season.
Without motor vehicles, porters need some alternative to carry baggage between hotels and ferries. I saw a few improvised wheelbarrows-for-luggage, using bike wheels. Some trikes were clumsily refitted for cargo, and a couple bikes pulled small trailers. What I expected and did NOT see were the many types of cargo and work bikes I saw throughout China. They featured husky frames, huge cargo capacity, and very low gearing. Maybe the hotels just haven’t heard about them.
This island has a thing for cairns. These piles of rocks are found everywhere along the shore where suitable rocks can be found. A lot of angular riprap stabilizes beaches, and those rocks stack very well. My bike map brochure says cairns mark trails, memorialize having been somewhere, or are simply art. No mention of newage hocus pocus. I noticed only a few cairns that I could call artistic. Facilitating and suggesting cairns is another good idea that other locales should adopt.
Up at the fort, built by the British, and then American for a century, seasonal performers ran through a long series of short tours, demonstrations, and narratives. They fired a cannon, shot muskets, sang songs, and told the fort’s story in the fur trade, the War of 1812, and regional development. In most roles, the performers did fine. With musical instruments, the snare drummer was quite adequate, in contrast to the fifer and bugler.
Fudge is the most popular local product, famous for over a century. I bought a slice, and it is indeed very good. It’s also dangerously loaded with lactose from a whole lot of milk and butter.
A great many of the tourists are over 50.