Lake Trip 2000
by Mike Cobb
You ask, what did you do last summer? Would you believe a ten day camping trip in a forty-seven year old MG, while driving 1350 miles around Lake Michigan. What, are you nuts? Well three of us did just that during the first week of August last summer. It was a great trip and an experience worth sharing on a cold winter day when the snow is piled high against the garage door.
I suppose it all started a few years ago when I first became comfortable driving my TD and started to think about making some kind of extended trip in it. We had been going to various MG events for years but that was in a B and it was always just to and from an event. We eagerly drove to and from Grand Rapids and John Twist’s events every summer and now it seemed like time to try something different, an adventure. After years of suggesting the trip to friends, the timing was finally right and with two fellow MG owners we began to plan a trip around Lake Michigan. Our basic plan was that there was to be “no plan” and no schedule. We wanted to be free to go as far as we wanted and stop where ever we could. With plans like these camping was a must, so I began collecting gear and trying to remember how much fun sleeping on the ground had been in the Army. I must admit that modern camping gear has improved the experience a great deal.
After several meetings, that were really as an excuse to have a few beers, we began to formulate a plan. No, not really a “plan” but more a route. After all, the first rule was there was “no plan”. We all had enough of driving around the south end of Lake Michigan so we decided to drive north into Wisconsin and take the ferry across to Michigan, drive up to Mackinac, across the bridge, through the UP, back down along the Wisconsin shore and back to Chicago. In short, that was as detailed as the “plan” ever got with the exception of the scheduled ferry trip on Sunday. These were the only reservations we had on the trip, although as I packed the car I wondered briefly if I really was nuts. So with two 1948 TCs and a 1953 TD, here we go.
We met just north of the Chicago and drove through a threatening sky into Southern Wisconsin and headed straight for lunch. Did I mention that our criteria for restaurants was only to stop at places where the cars looked good parked in front. As you might imagine, this meant local places rather than drive throughs and this added much to the colorful nature of the trip. Anyway, the day turned sunny after lunch (great burgers at Fred’s in Burlington) and off we rolled to finish the day in Two Rivers. We drove on the beautiful roads of Southern Wisconsin’s Kettle Moraine and felt we were off to a good start. We camped 100 feet from Lake Michigan that first night and sipped a few beers to celebrate the oncoming trip.
The sun comes up early, about 5:30 actually, when you are on the Western Shore of the lake and we were up and packing early. Breakfast at the diner across from our marina campground, then down to the Maritime Museum in Manitowoc. We spent the morning touring a WWII submarine and met the incoming ferry about noon. This ferry is a story in itself. It was built in 1952 as a railroad car ferry. In 1992 it was rebuilt as a car ferry and today is the only coal burning ferry operating on the Great Lakes. It’s big too, with room for about 400 cars and their passengers. The trip across takes about four hours so there was plenty of time to visit the snack bars, look at our maps and jot a few early post cards to those left behind. Our wives were happily left behind as their definition of roughing it and ours was significantly different, as you might imagine. The sky grew darker the farther east we went and by the time we docked in Ludington it was raining steadily. A quick fire-drill with the tops and side curtains assured that the cars and contents were relatively dry and we were wet. We found our expected campground, set up the tents in between showers, shook ourselves off and went off to dinner. Dinner was a violation of our no franchise dining rule as the first dry place we saw was a Big Boy and we were there. Early to bed with rain steadily drumming on the tents.
Still raining! Hum…back to the Big Boy for breakfast and an attitude adjustment. Actually, the hot coffee helped a lot. With our spirits revived by breakfast and coffee, we considered staying in the Ludington area rather than driving further north into the rain. We stopped in the local tourist office and checked the radar on their Internet connection. After seeing green blobs in every direction, we decided that sticking around Ludington was a good idea. So, we discovered the small harbor town of Pentwater, just south of Ludington, and the Antler Bar in the center of town. Hot chowder, a beer, OK a couple, and all the stories we could hold from the bartender were all we needed to chase away the rain and give us time to dry out.
It was in Pentwater where we first met the bikers. There were 458 bicyclists riding from Holland to Mackinaw. They too, were enjoying lunch in the town and drying off. I guess we had nothing to complain about, at least we had side curtains. We were to share the roads with the bikes and their bedraggled riders for the next two days.
It finally stopped raining in the early afternoon and we found some quiet roads, put the tops down and did what we came for…enjoyed the cars. We visited an old brick lighthouse and a unique reservoir and electrical generating plant to add interest to the roads along the lake shore.
It dawned sunny and bright and our spirits rose as the sun climbed in the sky. Coffee brewed over the camp stove gave us the boost we needed to pack the gear and still soaking tents into the waiting MGs. You might imagine that it is no big deal to pack if you have the trunk space of a 1962 Chevy but these MGs don’t have a trunk. If you have never tried it believe me everything has its place or all of it won’t fit. MG T types, even with luggage racks, are not notably spacious, are they? Creative packing helped us find all sorts of little spaces where things would fit safely.
After breakfast, with the sun climbing to our right, we were off North. We made our way out of Ludington and found nice empty roads and with the tops down and the wind coursing over the windscreens, we encountered our bicyclists from Pentwater. They were also moving north and were on the same roads. We passed big cyclists, small ones, and tandems. All were coasting down a hill or struggling to get up another. We were happy to have four cylinders to zoom us past the sometimes struggling cyclists as they waved us on.
The weather was great but every once in a while near the shore we would crest a hill and drive straight into a cold cloud. Sun and warm, fog and chill all in a matter of a few miles, it was an interesting experience to say the least. The roads were great with little traffic and just enough twists and turns to make them interesting. As we ventured further north, we passed the Sleeping Bear Dunes and while we saw lots of people enjoying the sand there were no giant worms to be seen anywhere. Thanks to Frank Herbert and “Dune” for that thought.
We paused to visit an old Coast Guard Life Boat Station at Glen Haven. It was full of interesting history and artifacts. The best story was of the local pirates who would light false signal fires to draw lumber boats into the shallows. After the boat ran aground and the crew abandoned ship, the ship and cargo was fair salvage. The pirates, actually local farmers, were only too happy to salvage the lumber cargo for their own use. It’s now a much tamer spot and the resident docents were full of information and stories.
A little further on and inland a bit, we found a campground on Lake Leelanau. It was a nice spot but really packed with campers and RVs. Our campsite was bordered by a small crying child on one side and a family with three energetic children on the other side. We expected a long night. We set up camp and escaped to Leeland for dinner. Leeland is an old sailing town and harbor but rather too fancy for our MG dining tastes. We opted for the local grocery and something to eat around our home campfire. The result was one of the best nights we had along the way, helped as it was by a bottle of Gin that appeared from one of my companions bags. The Gin bottle was emptied as the fire dwindled and we all slept like babies. Our expected long night was actually one of the best of the trip. No, I am not going to spin any tales here about the Gin but if you ever see me with beer in my hand.
Sun, coffee and camp stove toast got us off to a good start as we packed the cars. Now in our fourth attempt, this packing thing was getting easier, although many bits don’t seem to find the same spot for two consecutive days. Anyway, it all fit. The day was one of those top down, top up, jacket on, jacket off, top down affairs but beautiful clear roads seemed to lessen any chill the weather offered.
We were merrily cruising down a road too well traveled when we crossed an intriguing side road. Some testing of brakes and a quick turn put us on a county road. We crested a little rise and found ourselves surrounded by thousands of sunflowers. The fields on both sides of the road for as far as you could see were bordered by sunflowers in glorious full bloom. Over the radio I hear, “photo op” and off to the roadside we go. Out came the cameras as we tried to capture the experience. No matter what the rest of the day held for us, we knew it would be a good day.
I must pause to mention one of the best pieces of gear we carried. We had three hand held Motorola Talkabout radios. These little radios are good up to a mile or two and helped us stay together and keep each other laughing for the whole trip. We could exchange stories, warn of traffic or sudden turns and generally keep in touch. They are well worth the investment if you are planning a trip with more than one car.
We continued north and east on our journey towards Mackinaw and found ourselves entering the trendy little town of Charlevoix. It must be a pretty nice tourist town, but with a drawbridge and a squadron of sail boats disturbing the traffic flow, it was less enjoyable for our clutches. Forty minutes later we exited the three miles of congestion called Charlevoix. A little clear air through the radiators helped cool the cars and some speed cleaned the plugs and we were off. The miles between Charlevoix and Petosky must be the Rivera of Michigan as we passed many yacht clubs, equestrian compounds, resorts and gated communities. Wouldn’t an MG look good in one of those drives next to the yacht?
Petosky provided lunch and then back to some lonely blacktop. We were traveling on a lonesome road along the shore of Lake Michigan when out of the tree tops poked the towers of “The Bridge”. What a sight, the towers of this great bridge peeking out of the pines. As we got closer more of the bridge revealed itself as it got bigger and bigger in our view. It really dominates the landscape for miles around.
We found a big campground on the shore of Lake Huron and picked some wooded sites. We were almost alone in the forest as we unpacked the cars. After the tents were up we walked down to stick our toes in the second Great Lake of our trip. After dinner in town, we started a fire and opened the beer. It was a beautiful cool night and there were stars by the millions. It’s amazing to a city boy that these stars are always there but it just too bright in the city to see them. As the fire crackled between the tents and shooting stars twinkled through the trees, we put a great day behind us and looked forward to our trip to Mackinac Island. I will never forget those sunflowers or the bridge tops poking through the trees.
(This report to be continued next month.)