Sorry for the absence of the blog last night. The reasons will become apparent as we go along, so let’s get started!
We started off on Saturday morning wanting to reach the U.P., or Upper Peninsula of Michigan. Before we got too far, though, a familiar name popped up on the highway ahead of us: Cadillac, Michigan. If you’re a KISS fan, I need say no more. If not, a little explanation might be needed. (Also, for people who haven’t read my first book, Feels Like the First Time, I was in a KISS tribute band called KISS II, both in high school, and in 2010-2012.)
Here’s what happened when KISS went to Cadillac. In 1974, the Cadillac High football team started the season 0-2. One of the assistant coaches got an idea to loosen the players up by playing KISS music. The team went on to win seven games in a row and a district championship. Word of this reached KISS, and they volunteered to go to Cadillac for the the 1975 Homecoming game.
Picture the scene: a Western Michigan town of 10,000 people, with one of the biggest rock bands in the world dropped right in the middle of them. KISS met the mayor, the principal, the high school students, and the cheerleaders. They gave a full-blown KISS concert in the Cadillac High School gym. (Yes, I would give anything to have been there.) They had breakfast with everyone the next day. Then, rock stars that they are, they had a huge helicopter drop down in the middle of the football field and whisk them away, dropping thousands of leaflets that said, “Cadillac High – KISS Loves You!” They knew how to make both an entrance and a departure.
Those few days have now become the stuff of legend. Last year, on the 40th anniversary of the event, the town of Cadillac erected an eight foot memorial of the event – located at the corner of the football field. How could I not go?
Of course I did:
Beyond being legendary in the world of rock, it’s been an event that has lived in my mind ever since I first read about it in the mid-seventies. Cadillac is largely unchanged, it appears from the old video footage I saw when KISS invaded the city 41 years ago. It’s nice to see the city elders commemorating the event all these years later. By the way, it was 82 degrees on Friday. On Saturday morning, it was 45 degrees. Things change quickly around here.
I’ve never been to the U.P. before, but I’ve always been interested in going. I love regions that have a strong cultural identity of their own, and the U.P. definitely has that. The people who live there often refer to themselves as Yoopers (U.P. = yoo pee = yoo-pers) and are as different from the rest of Michigan as night and day. They even have their own language, of a sort, which some call Yooper English, but I prefer Yoopernese. That’s got a ring to it, don’t you think?
Michigan is a long state, top to bottom, so even starting from the middle, it took us until mid-afternoon to cross the Mackinac Bridge. It’s an awe-inspiring sight, the longest suspension bridge in the Western Hemisphere. I didn’t tell Dawn this, because she was driving, and can get a little nervous about crossing long bridges, but in high winds (which we were experiencing yesterday) the bridge can move as much as 35 feet from side to side.
In addition to all that, you can see two Great Lakes, as you cross it – Michigan on one side, Huron on the other. We’ve been over some epic bridges on this trip, but this was my favorite.
As soon as you get on the northern end of the bridge, you are officially in the U.P. We started feeling like Yoopers immediately. Okay, not really, but we were glad to be there. The U.P. is large, but sparsely populated. It contains 29% of the land mass of Michigan, but only 3% of its population. I didn’t take into account how hard the small towns would make it to find a hotel room on a Saturday night.
Unfortunately, just after we crossed the bridge, I got the signs of an impending migraine headache. I know that people who suffer from migraines get irritated when people use the term “migraine” as being equal to a “really bad headache,” but sadly, I suffer from the real deal. As we were driving, I told Dawn I saw a lightning strike. She correctly told me that the conditions weren’t right for lightning. A few minutes later, I saw another. Dawn did not. Then, I got the telltale buzzing in my ears – the sound of a thousand locusts nearby.
I’ve gotten migraines about twice a year for almost twenty years now. Luckily, the older I’ve gotten, the less severe they’ve become. When I first got them, in my mid-thirties, each one was debilitating. A dark room and complete silence for about 24 hours was the only thing that helped. These days, I get the buzzing, the flashes, and an intense headache, but if I really focus, I can push through it.
So, headache and all, we pushed on up the U.P. Our destination was The Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum. Being a Pacific Northwesterner, I will admit to total ignorance about The Great Lakes. Here’s something I learned recently: if the five Great Lakes were emptied out, it would cover the entire continental United States with 9 1/2 feet of water. I also had no clue, despite playing The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald several thousand times, how many shipwrecks had occurred on those lakes. It’s a lot, and the museum does a wonderful job of educating and memorializing them. I could tell that the people who put the museum together were mindful of the sacrifices so many made in the name of moving cargo.
The most famous wreck, of course, is the aforementioned Edmund Fitzgerald, thanks to folk singer Gordon Lightfoot. At 730′, “Big Fitz,” as the boat was nicknamed, was the largest boat on any of the Great Lakes. Forty-one years after the sinking, no one knows exactly what sank the ship on that stormy November night.
It was found very quickly – resting in over 500 feet of water, but that was the extent of things until 1995, when a crew descended the inky depths and pulled up the bell, which is now on display in the museum.
Something that raised a lump in my throat was that, with the aid of the friends and family of the 29 men lost in the sinking, a new bell was placed at the wreck, with the names of all hands who were lost. It’s a fitting tribute,
In addition to the main museum, you can also tour the Whitefish Point Light Tower and its keeper’s house.
I typically think of lighthouse keeper’s quarters as being pretty spartan, but this house is really nice. Lots of wood, a comfy cozy feeling. Dawn said that if they’ll offer us the job, we’ll move in there and watch the light for free. I like the way she thinks.
Dawn has made a point out of putting her feet in the water in the Pacific, the Gulf of Mexico, and the Atlantic on this trip. She wanted to do the same with Lake Superior, but this is what it looked like yesterday, with temps in the mid-40s and howling winds:
Yowsah. Her bare tootsies were not going in that. I did witness her reach down and touch it, at least. I even got a smile out of her, when she finally heard me over the howling wind.
My friend Al Kunz told me that he thought that we should have gone clockwise on our Lap Around America, instead of counter-clockwise, as we did. His idea was that we would get the cold weather states out of the way early, when it was still summer. He and I have talked that the U.P. is one of the places we might run into snow. We didn’t, but according to this picture, I can see that it was a possibility.
After we left the museum, things got interesting for us. As I mentioned, the U.P. is thinly populated. About ten miles from the museum is a small town called Paradise. We knew that if we wanted to find dinner, it would have to be there, and we could only find one place open. Lots of tourists, one place open = a long wait for dinner. No problem. We met nice people in line, chatted until our table was ready, then ate and left.
Unfortunately, by then, it was getting dark, and it turned out that all the hotels and motels in Paradise were booked. In fact, according to Hotels.com, Expedia, Trivago, etc., every hotel and motel in the whole upper part of Michigan was booked. So, we started driving. Every time we checked on a place, we were told that they had given their last room away thirty minutes before That 30 minute wait for a table came back to haunt us.
Finally, we arrived in a town called Newberry. It was dark, cold and windy. Every place we stopped and inquired was booked. Finally, we hit our last hope. If they were booked, we were going to have to make a long, dark drive.
As usual, they said we were too late, but then dangled this: “Our regular hotel is all booked up, but we do have an ancillary building that has a vacancy.”
“How is it?”
He was honest. “The hallway is gross, but the room is okay.”
He was at least half right. The hallway was gross. The place appeared to be a halfway house for people working their way back into society. It was also, according to the innkeeper, the absolute last room available in the U.P. I believed him. We took it. Oh, in addition to everything else, it had no internet, so no blog update last night.
So, as you can imagine, between the migraine and the condition of the room, we did not have a good night’s rest. We woke up anxious to put the whole place in our rear view mirror.
Happily, we had a nice day today. Our first stop was the Upper Falls of Tahquamenon Falls. None of the falls are spectacular like Niagara, but they have such a peaceful, wonderful setting that they are special. Here’s a shot of the Upper Falls.
You’ll notice that the water is brown. It almost looks like coffee going over the falls. The reason for that is the tannins that leach from cedar swamps, which the river drains. It makes for an interesting palette as it falls.
The lower falls are smaller, but there are five of them altogether.
Our final falls for the day were on the western part of the U.P. – Wagner Falls. Again, they were smaller falls, but the greenery and turning foliage, along with the lovely sound of rushing water, made for a wonderful stop.
The falls are a great way to spend an afternoon in Upper Michigan – especially on a sunny Sunday afternoon in mid-October, when all the colors were coming out in full force.
I mentioned earlier that the U.P. is a culture of its own, and it really is, and I’m pretty sure that the people who live here like it that way and take pride in it. If you’re an outdoorsy type, I think you would be in heaven here. They also have a sense of humor.
I don’t know if you’ve ever heard of a band called Da Yoopers, but they are a comedy band that I used to play when I was on the radio, including songs like The Second Week of Deer Camp. As we were driving, we drove through Ishpeming, and saw Da Yoopers Tourist Trap on the side of the road. Of course, we had to stop.
In front of the Tourist Trap, was a pretty good sized gun:
When we went inside, I asked the lady that was running the place if Da Yoopers still have anything to do with recording. She looked sad and said, “Well, the band is kind of a thing of the past.” She lowered her voice, then added, “And, some of them are dead, too.”
Yeah, I can see where that would put a bit of dent in band morale. Too bad. I love Da Yoopers.
Also, I loved the U.P.
Tomorrow – Wisconsin.
Cheers, and safe travels!