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A Long Ride North

On Friday Mom and I left at 10:30am on the way to Hayward, Wisconsin for the wedding of my cousin, Marc. We had really good weather in the lower peninsula of the state, then we crossed the Mackinac Bridge into the Upper Peninsula, where we eventually met up with some steady rain. It was a pleasant drive, all in all. Our state is so big, that we drove until after 11:30 pm our time, about a thirteen hour drive, and all in Michigan. We passed Michigamme, which is where my dance friend Marie is from. In the end we stayed in a lovely family-owned motel in Ironwood, right on the border of Wisconsin at the very far west reaches of the Upper Peninsula (known as the U.P. around here).

It’s funny, but I’ve found a way to feel comfortable being myself and dressing sort of funky and full of color, in Lansing… a not very colorful city. I also tend to compare Lansing to Chicago and Toronto and Boston… so I think of Lansing as a small town for the most part. But when we got to the U.P., the perspective changed a good deal.

The U.P. is green and is just as beautiful as nature can be. Much of the commerce and business in the U.P. is tourist-driven, which means that the folks up there live on slim incomes much of the time. There are a few good jobs working for the National Forestry services or the Michigan Department of Transportation. However, much of the business here is family-owned, doing their best to make things work out. I actually love that… I love eating in restaurants and sleeping in motels, where I know who gets my money. I love meeting other businesspeople, since I’m self-employed, too. In Lansing, I eat at Altus and Aladdins… on the road I like to find little diners and the like, where I like to buy my meals if at all possible (this is harder now that I am unable to eat so many foods, but I try to at least buy my cups of tea or soda pop at these little independently-owned businesses.

Friday it was funny… we got into the U.P. and I was wearing my typical wildly-colored skirt, a tuquoise blouse, and a hot fuschia/pink rayon scarf around my neck. Oh… and very large, dangly blue star earrings. So we started looking for a place to buy a soda pop. We drove for miles where it was just the road, and our car, and trees. Then we found ourself at a settled area which we found later called Strongs, on the map. In Strongs we found a little bar with two gas pumps in front of it, and in front of that there was a rack, like a clothing rack in a mall, but on it was hung all sorts of animal pelts for sale. There were pelts labeled XXL weasel, silver/blue/red fox, beaver, possum, raccoon, coyote, skunk and one bear. The skunk pelts were $25 and the fox were $80 or $85 if I remember right. Since I don’t really know anyone well who hunts, this was a sort of surreal thing for me.

I went into the bar while mom took a look at the pelts. Let me tell you, I looked like an alien I was so out of place in there! It was a large square room. In the front left corner, there was a cash register where you could pay for your gasoline. On the right wall, was a bar with a glass-doored cooler behind it full of soda pop. There appeared to be one person working there, a strong and sturdy woman who was behind the bar.

As I walked in, I noticed there were a good number of men at the bar, and a handful of men at tables, all the men at tables sitting alone with a drink. It was not smoky but it was a bit dark, and the juke box began playing “Louie Louie” so I started to dance to myself. The men would slowly turn to see who had walked in, and then they looked away pretending that I was nothing unusual.

Truthfully, I’m not comfy in a bar, especially when I’m the only female customer… I stood tall and proceeded to the bar, and asked the woman there if I could get a soda pop to go. She said yes, to go behind the bar there and get out whatever bottle I wanted from the cooler. Hmmm… in Lansing there is no place I have been that would let you behind the bar, but this was a lot like Hanksa, MN where my mom grew up, so it was not totally unfamiliar. I proceeded and picked my bottle. I asked for a glass of ice (I really prefer my soda pop to come from a fountain, with lots of ice to water it down a bit) and she got me a small plastic glass full. I then joined her at the other side of the room to pay for my soda after a guy paid for his gasoline.

I did enjoy dancing to the jukebox while I was waiting my turn to pay. I wonder if I gave the guys something to talk about when I left… I mean, even in Lansing my colors and my tendency to dance alone while waiting in line, makes me noteworthy… here, I was just plain a boat out of water. However, the bartender was very nice to me. I commented she had a lot of running to do today (between bar and gas sales) but she said that “this is nothing” and went back to her post at the bar.

When I came out, Mom said that she had just been watching a dozen or so men who rode in and parked across the road, all driving ATV three-and-four-wheelers, which are typically only off-road vehicles where I live. In this part of the country, you see folks driving these all times there is not a lot of snow, and during the winter people drive snowmobiles all over. We saw folks driving the ATVs in town, crossing a “main” street in one of the smaller towns. It’s part of the lifestyle here. By the time I got out of the bar, the ATV’s were roaring away to their next destination.

We proceeded to Ironwood. Ironwood is on the border of Michigan and Wisconsin, the very very western tip of the U.P. By then we had some pretty heavy rain but we were in very unpopulated areas and had to keep going to a town before finding a motel. We asked around, many of the spots were full, but were referred to the Sandpiper Motel, a mom-and-pop type operation which was very clean and very pleasant. Best of all, the rain had stopped and we got to park right outside our room door. It was simple to unload and we slept like babies. I want to write more about Sandpiper but will do that another day. I’m typing this on the road and I pay by the minute when I’m dialing long distance.

Photos: Mom in front of a family-owned burger restaurant, only 5 tables and one employee, the cook/waitress. View of Mackinac bridge just before the center point. Mom inspecting a skunk pelt. Strongs Bar and gasoline station.

2 Responses to “A Long Ride North”

  1. Annette Says:

    Pelts … I lived 15 years in Alaska (10 in Fairbanks, 5 in Anchorage) while working for the U.S. Govt… and this is to say that I had plenty of friends who trapped during the winter and who sold pelts, such as fox, wolf, wolverine, beaver, lynx and others. In that area, trapping can provide subsistence income… it is a way and necessity of life. (No skunk pelts tho!) I would love to visit the U.P. … in high school I traveled with my parents a little in that area… I remember going over the bridge to the Canadian Sault St. Marie, then around in a westerly direction. There is an author, Steve Hamilton, whose books I enjoy… the place setting is always Paradise MI, the Soo, and other sites north in Ontario.

  2. Todd Says:

    You know a lot of people that hunt. Dad,Dayle,Marc,Scott,Vickie,and me.

    Love Todd

    oh, yea. Eric joined us a few years back. We had fun but did’t see any of the estimated 1.5 million
    deer in Georgia.