Upper Peninsula Connections
Basing in northern Michigan for the week created an opportunity to reconnect with Tiff, a high school friend now living in Escanaba. We have not seen each other since graduation. I wondered if she had changed much. Did she speaker like a Yooper now?
I offered to stop in for a visit while exploring the Upper Peninsula and our plans escalated from there. When she expressed interest in flying, I offered a ride if she had the time to spare. When she made plenty of time by taking a vacation day, I offered that she could join me on what would have otherwise been a solo trip to Mackinac Island. We struck the traditional deal that I would fly and she would buy lunch.
With good weather still somehow dominating the area, I launched from Cherry Capital on Thursday morning bound for "da UP".
The Beauty of Northern Michigan
|Mackinac Island photographed on our first visit in 2009.|
My last time flying in northern Michigan was a 2012 family trip to the Sleeping Bear National Lakeshore and Mackinac Island. I knew from that experience that the numerous lakes, from the Great ones to the little ones, made for stunning aerial views over this portion of my home state. Because I missed out on a planned UP sightseeing flight the day before, I looked forward to compensating during the flight to Escanaba.
|Date||Aircraft||Route of Flight||Time (hrs)||Total (hrs)|
|11 May 2023||N21481||TVC (Traverse City, MI) - N98 (Boyne City, MI) - ESC (Escanaba, MI)||2.5||2631.7|
As we experienced in 2012, Cherry Capital Airport is remarkably busy due to a mix of commercial, Coast Guard, flight training, and general aviation traffic. I have found myself waiting in line with every departure.
I launched that morning from runway 18 behind a pair of Cessnas who conducted their departure preparations with excruciating lethargy. I assumed that both must have been students.
|Traverse City Cherry Capital Airport. TVC.|
Escanaba is 86 nautical miles northwest of Traverse City. The direct route covers 86 miles of extremely cold Lake Michigan water. Instead of going direct, I departed on a northeast heading to reach Escanaba via the Straits of Mackinac to avoid flying too far from shore.
|Grand Traverse Bay with the west and east arms separated by Old Mission Peninsula.|
|Grand Traverse Bay and Old Mission Peninsula.|
|Grand Traverse Bay and Old Mission Peninsula.|
As I climbed away from Traverse City, I had a beautiful view of the east and west arms of Grand Traverse Bay. The water was still and clear, allowing me to see the ghostly outlines of submerged topography everywhere I went.
|Grand Traverse Bay (left) and Elk Lake (right).|
Below, numerous cherry orchards were in full bloom, looking like little puffs of cotton laid out in precisely arranged rows.
|Early morning sun reflected in Torch Lake.|
Old Timey Transactions
|South Arm of Lake Charlevoix.|
|South Arm of Lake Charlevoix and the city of East Jordan.|
|Lake Charlevoix and Boyne City.|
Advertising aviation fuel at $5.89/gal, Boyne City Municipal was one of the lowest cost options for gas in the entire region. I stopped there before reaching the Straits of Mackinac.
|Boyne City Municipal Airport (N98), airport #252.|
Set in a valley, the airport is difficult to find when approaching from the southwest because terrain hides the runway. As I flew overhead to maneuver into the traffic pattern for runway 9, a student pilot taxied out for take-off in a Cessna 150.
|Warrior 481 at Boyne City Muni with the terminal building in the background.|
When I shut down in front of the fuel farm I was momentarily confused. Though the pump was conventionally configured, the usual self service credit card kiosk was absent. Instead, a sign directed me to the terminal building for fueling instructions. That door was locked, but opened using the same code commonly used state-wide for after hours terminal building access.
Inside, an electrical wall switch and rotary timer supplied power to the fuel pump. Those taking on fuel simply switched on the pump and filled out a form capturing their contact information and fuel quantity taken. An invoice would be sent at a later date. They were using the honor system to dispense aviation fuel! I have landed at 250+ airports in 28 states and 2 Canadian provinces and have never encountered fuel sold by the honor system. Remarkable! Considering that I was raised to always lock everything -- which fosters a certain level of suspicion for others -- it was hard to conceive of such a unguarded approach. But it obviously works here. I departed Boyne City with an improved outlook on the human race that lasted right up until the next headline I saw containing the word "Ukraine".
Straits of Mackinac
The surface of Lake Walloon seemed like a window into an alternate Earth, as though I could dive through it and find myself in some other sky. As convincing as the illusion was, I resisted the temptation.
After becoming instrument rated, I found that I looked at clouds with a more discerning eye. As I pondered the mirror-like surface below, the need for a glassy water landing technique came to mind. Every new training experience causes us to view the world just a little differently than before and this is why they are worthwhile. That week's seaplane training was no different.
The Straits of Mackinac is a nexus point, the place where the upper and lower peninsulas of Michigan are at their closest and where Lake Michigan transitions to Lake Huron. The five mile wide straits are spanned by the mighty Mackinac Bridge. Opened in 1957, it is still the longest suspension bridge between anchorages in the Western Hemisphere. (The "between anchorages" qualifier is super important in that ranking.)
To the east, Bois Blanc Island was visible in Lake Huron.
I remember when a speeding Yugo plunged over the side of the bridge on a windy day in 1989. Michigan State Police divers needed five days to locate the wreckage and remains of the driver. While speeding was deemed a significant factor in the accident, the notion that a Yugo simply "blew off" the bridge became the primary narrative. It did not bode well for Yugo's reputation in Michigan thereafter.
I have always been fascinated by this bridge. When I was a kid, my grandparents regularly participated in the Labor Day bridge walk. When I finally got my chance to join them, I was horrified to discover that the bridge surface was a grating. Being afraid of heights, my solution was to run the length of the bridge to minimize the amount of time spent staring between my feet at the water far below.
Distinctive bridge towers stand 552 feet above the surface of the water. Sustained winds can deflect the bridge deck up to 35 feet laterally and wind above 65 mph will close the bridge to traffic. Traversing the bridge can be so nerve wracking for some motorists that it is possible to hire someone to drive your car across for you.
|My favorite shot of the morning.|
|Mackinac Island in the morning haze.|
Though I would be returning with Tiff later that morning, I took a moment to survey Mackinac Island from the air. The resort island was Michigan's first state park and is famous for the massive Grand Hotel (featured in movies like Somewhere in Time) as well as the island's prohibition on motor vehicles. Thus, the primary modes of transportation on the island are bicycles and horses. Secondarily, the island is famous for fudge. Main Street is overendowed with fudge emporia.
As I flew overhead around 8:45 am, ferries from the mainland were arriving en masse with tourists. Owing to the ubiquity of fudge shops on the island, locals refer to these visitors as "Fudgies". I do not think this is meant as a compliment.
The iconic Grand Hotel is so massive that I spotted it from roughly twenty miles away as a white bar standing out against the island's vegetation. Getting a decent photograph required flying a bit closer. Constructed in 1887, the Grand Hotel boasts a porch 660 feet in length claimed to be longest in the world. Whether this is true or not, I cannot say, but it is undeniably one heck of a porch.
Set high above town and accessed by a long, sloping rampart, Fort Mackinac overlooks the harbor (top center of frame). Originally built by the British in 1780 and later ceded to the United States in 1791 (well after the conclusion of the Revolutionary War), it was the site of the first land battle in the War of 1812. We lost. I guess the British were really fond of Mackinac.
We may not have reached formal tourist season yet, but we had Fudgies inbound!
I circled Mackinac, noting the glassy water on the eastern shore (suggesting a westerly wind) and the airport tucked away in the middle of the island. The island foliage was not quite so green as it was when Kristy and I first visited in July of 2009. Mackinac Island was in a state of tenuous spring.
|Mackinac Island, the Mackinac Island Airport, and the Mackinac Bridge in the distance.|
Exploring a New Shore
From the Straits of Mackinac, I continued westbound along the north shore of Lake Michigan for the first time.
The next thing that caught my eye was this small port near Brevort, MI.
Zooming in on the stern of the ship docked there revealed it to be the Mark W. Barker. The freighter, launched in 2022, was the first American-made lake freighter constructed since the early 1980s. She was designed for low environmental impact and with enhancements to improve negotiating the challenging Cuyahoga River near Cleveland, OH. Six days after I took this photo, the ship made the news for briefly running aground in the Detroit River near Belle Isle.
|Epoufette Bay. (No relation to Boba.)|
|Little Hog Island and US-2, the highway that follows the southern UP shore.|
Trees appear to be formed into lines parallel to shore throughout this region. I wondered if these were planted as part of a reforestation effort after extensive logging operations.
|Port Inland, MI with more of those tree lines apparent.|
|Port Inland, MI.|
Here, the Great Republic appeared to be taking on a load of lime (my best guess) produced from locally mined limestone. Like the Mark W. Barker, the Great Republic was designed to navigate challenging waterways. Designed with the pilothouse positioned aft and six stories above the main deck, the crew could easily see the entire deck, propellers, and rudder while negotiating tight spaces.
I arrived at a remote spit of land projecting out into Lake Michigan called Seul Choix ("sis-shwa") Pointe. The name is French for "only choice", purportedly bestowed on the bay by early fur trappers that took refuge there from a ferocious storm.
According to some sources, the Seul Choix Lighthouse is one of the most haunted places in Michigan. Some claim to have observed the specter of Captain Joseph Willie Townsend roaming the grounds. Townsend died on site of tuberculosis in 1910. His affinity for cigars well-documented, some visitors report smelling cigar smoke in places where no one is smoking. Originally from England, the mischievous poltergeist is known to rearrange American place settings to reflect proper British utensil placement.
|Giant coffee spill?!|
That morning's flight along the northern Lake Michigan shore was the most idyllic of my vacation. The air was smooth, the navigation easy (as it is along any Great Lake shoreline), and the sights both lovely and interesting.
I arrived over Escanaba, MI and landed at Delta County Airport (#253) at 10:00 am and just few minutes behind a commercial airliner. Because ground crews tend to get nervous about non-airline folk wandering the ramp near airliners, I parked some distance away from the commercial terminal and set off on foot to find an FBO or GA terminal. But I was quickly flummoxed. Where was it?
High School Reunion in Miniature
It was Tiff who saved the day by calling my cell and describing where she was. The general aviation terminal was located on the western end of the commercial terminal building. I was unable to see it because the regional jet blocked my view.
|Date||Aircraft||Route of Flight||Time (hrs)||Total (hrs)|
|11 May 2023||N21481||ESC (Escanaba, MI) - MCD (Mackinac Island, M) - ESC||2.6||2634.3|
|Tiff and me preparing to taxi for departure at Delta County Airport. Photo by Tiff.|
We caught up briefly in Delta County's pilot lounge, then walked outside to Warrior 481 taking a path that gave the airliner some space. I delivered my usual safety spiel and we climbed aboard for Tiff's first flight in a light aircraft. I really hoped that she enjoyed the experience because, otherwise, it was going to be a long trip to Mackinac Island and back! As it turned out, she settled in just fine. It probably helped that it was an absolutely perfect day that was smooth, warm, and bright; ideal for a first ride.
The ride back to Mackinac Island passed quickly. I entered the airport traffic pattern offshore at 1900 feet as directed in the Chart Supplement to keep my noise footprint from offending residents and Fudgies alike. On final for runway 26, I spotted Arch Rock that Kristy and I visited in 2009.
|Final approach, runway 26, Mackinac Island. Photo by Tiff.|
Unlike previous visits to the island, the normally crowded aircraft parking area was mostly empty. But some things never change and true to form, the westerly wind burbling over the island created some squirrely eddy currents on the way to touching down.
It was good to be back after more than a decade away.
With a prohibition on motor vehicles, horse-drawn taxis are a way of life on the island. Although a taxi was already at the airport, Tiff and I opted to walk into town. If was nice to stretch my legs after all the flying (sitting) I did that morning and we had plenty to talk about along the way. Besides, it is downhill to town and I reasoned that hailing a taxi for the uphill return trip to the airport would be more value added.
I think Tiff doubted my sense of direction, but we followed the correct roads and eventually strolled down the broad avenue next to the Grand Hotel.
We paused to read menus at a couple of restaurants on our way into town, but were most intrigued by the Jamaican-themed Kingston Kitchen. It was not exactly the kind of "island food" I expected to sample on Mackinac, but my coconut curry chicken was outstanding. The day was warmer than expected and we enjoyed our lunch outside on the porch. It was no Grand Hotel porch, of course, but it was at least a porch on Mackinac Island.
There is something about Main Street Mackinac Island that reminds me of Lake Placid, NY. Surely, part of it is the touristy T-shirt shop vibe. But it is also that the vintage buildings give the place a feeling of being carried over from another era. The latter point is particularly true for Mackinac considering the lack of cars. We even saw FedEx parcels being delivered from a horse-drawn buckboard.
We went into a few of the shops, indulging both our tourist instincts and sarcastic natures. I bought The Bear a sweatshirt in her favorite color, Tiff bought shirts for her daughters, but we still mocked some of the nonsense souvenirs being hawked. Tiff also went the traditional route and bought fudge for her family. I abstained, even as Penny lobbed "buy fudge" text messages at me from Florida.
Who told her about FlightAware, anyway?! Oh, it was me? 'Doh!
The Main Street Inn is where Kristy and I stayed during our ten year anniversary trip in 2009. We had a cozy room with a street view. I snapped a quick photo and messaged it to her. "Remember this place?"
Even though tourist season was not in full swing, there were bicycles everywhere. In Traverse City, Tom and I had a debate about whether electric bikes were allowed on the island. Sure, they were "powered", but not with internal combustion engines. When we saw them available from a bicycle rental shop, I took that as a definitive answer to the question.
|Not our taxi.|
Deciding that we had done enough touristy things, we called for a taxi to take us back to the airport. The wait was longer than expected, but our taxi finally arrived.
The first stop was at the Grand Hotel where we let off several hotel guests. The hotel has a fantastic view of the Mackinac Bridge standing about four miles away. As we admired the Lake Huron vista, one of the horses blasted out a nasty, wet-sounding fart. Simultaneously, I received another text message from Penny. "Is it warm?" Thankfully, I was not sitting close enough to the horse to know the answer. (She was actually asking about the weather.)
We proceeded into a neighborhood on the west side of the hotel that I was not aware existed. We saw some beautiful homes and some even more beautiful barns nestled among the trees on the southwest face of the island.
Our driver was a young Jamaican who had never experienced a real winter until spending the previous season on Mackinac Island. I do not think that he enjoyed the experience. Because most of the trek from town to the airport is uphill, he periodically rested the horses before continuing on.
|Arrival at the Mackinac Island Airport and its quaint terminal building.|
|Thirsty horse! This is the only airport I have ever visited with a water trough.|
|Pre-flight. Photo by Tiff.|
The day was a success! Mackinac Island was wonderful, lunch was great (thanks, Tiff!), and the weather was perfect for a first time flight in a light aircraft. I could hardly believe how well everything worked out.
FBO Treats at "Home"
Back at Delta County Airport, a lineman offered directions to the general aviation terminal entrance, suggesting that I am not the only transient pilot that has struggled to find it. I walked Tiff back to the pilot's lounge and we said our goodbyes. It was great to see her after all these years!
|Date||Aircraft||Route of Flight||Time (hrs)||Total (hrs)|
|11 May 2023||N21481||ESC (Escanaba, MI) - SLH (Cheboygan, MI) - TVC (Traverse City, MI)||2.1||2636.4|
|My ramp buddy at Delta County Airport needed some TLC.|
|Freight operations at Delta County Airport.|
Settled back into the Warrior's left seat, I planned my next move. I decided to target Cheboygan County Airport (KSLH) for fuel due to a low $5.85/gal price. This may seem high to non-pilots, but for context, fuel at Delta County Airport (Escanaba) and Cherry Capital Airport (Traverse City) was priced at $7.69/gal and $6.90/gal, respectively. Considering that, a minor detour to Cheboygan was a great idea.
|Seul Choix Pointe's supposedly haunted Lighthouse.|
|St Helena Island near the Straits of Mackinac.|
|St Helena Island Light Station.|
|A last look at the Mackinac Bridge and Mackinac Island.|
Cheboygan County Airport (#254) was deserted when I arrived, but the self serve fuel was priced as advertised. I filled up for the first time since Boyne City, let myself into the locked terminal building (same code as everywhere else), and planned my next move. I had heard great things about Charlevoix, MI for dining, but saw that the popular restaurants would close for the evening before I could reach them. I decided to head back to Traverse City for dinner.
There is no mistaking one's proximity to Traverse City when the terrain below is adorned with cherry blossoms.
|N21481 back on the AvFlight ramp at Cherry Capital Airport.|
I returned "home" to Cherry Capital Airport during golden hour. By now, the AvFlight FBO staff knew me by name.
"So, you're just taking day trips to explore the area from here?" asked the AvFlight staffer whose name I did not catch.
"Yep!" I responded.
"That's really cool," she answered. I had no idea if it was "really cool" or not, but in the moment, I realized that this has been a mode I've adopted on recent vacation trips. While I could have been more nomadic on this trip, it was nice to have a single home base without needing to arrange lodging and ground transportation in different places.
"Have you had any ice cream yet?" she asked. I frowned at the seeming non-sequitur. Seeing my confusion, she explained, "We have free Moomers ice cream in the back, you should help yourself! They're a local dairy, but have won some national awards for best ice cream."
FBO treats are the best! I paused, thinking through the logistics of dining versus having ice cream. The only reasonable approach was enjoying dessert before dinner that night. Adulthood has its privileges. Considering that I had already refueled with AvFlight once at $6.90/gal, some complimentary award winning ice cream would take a bit of the sting out of the fuel purchase. (If only a bit.)
Sure enough, there was a dedicated freezer in the FBO kitchenette filled with single serving containers of Moomers ice cream. I picked through until I found a variety that appealed most. I may have passed on Mackinac fudge, but simply cannot say no to ice cream.
It was every bit as good as promised. I followed that up with a couple of sushi rolls for dinner. Contrary to what mom always threatened, having dessert first did not spoil my dinner.