Downbound on Huron

Sunset from my camp on Drummond Island

I woke up at 1 am this morning because the truck was rocking from side to side.  In an otherwise deserted camping spot on the edge of Lake Huron on an island, this is not something that seemed the slightest bit normal.  I’d watched a nice sunset, eaten a passable dinner and thought more than once about how still and warm it was for a mid October day on the northern end of Lake Huron.  And now the truck was rocking.  It took only a moment to realize that the weather had changed markedly. Winds were steady at 30 mph, according to the weather app, with gusts to 45. These winds were catching the truck and rooftop tent broadside, hence the rocking.  

Sometimes out here when weather happens suddenly I have to do something — put the awning in, turn the truck around, clean up the stove and equipment I’ve left out for breakfast.  But I’d already done all that before I went to bed since I had an early start planned.  So I just sat there in the tent, deafened by the wind, and tried to think of something else. Eventually, unable to sleep, I got up and took a walk around.  It was still warm and there wasn’t any danger associated with the wind, just the unstopping noise of the water being pushed against the shore and the trees fighting to hold onto their leaves.  After a moonlight walkabout, I crawled in the backseat of the truck which was considerably quieter and fell fast asleep until about 6.  The sun came up, the wind kept blowing and I got on the road.  This meant getting on the ferry for the short ride to the mainland.  Whereas yesterday the ferry was a short straight ride, this morning we made a big long arc up and out into the channel and then back down the other side for a wind-assisted docking.

All day, for the entire length of the western shore of Lake Huron, the wind blew.  But the sun was bright and the ride was great.  I followed the lake across the short southeastern edge of the UP and paid the $4 it costs to use the bridge over the straits of Mackinac just south of St. Ignace.  The bridge over the straits is iconic, and it is beautiful.  It too, however, was broadside to today’s steady west wind.  I was glad to get to the southern side and didn’t realize until I got there how tightly I’d been holding the wheel.

The sandy shores of Lake Huron along the eastern edge of The Mitten

From there I just had to hold fast to the shoreline through Cheboygan and Alpena and Au Sable and Bay City and around the thumb of the mitten to Detroit.  The lower part of Michigan — the mitten — was a poor sibling to the UP. I wish it were otherwise, but the ground is sandier, the trees are duller and the tourism thicker.  Through it all though, is Huron.  No sooner would I grow weary on the wheel than I’d come right onto the shore as the road circled one of the many bays and see the crystal — literally gin clear — water from that edge as far as I could see to the east.  Lake Huron covers over 23,000 square miles and has almost 4,000 miles of shoreline.  It is the third largest fresh water lake in the world.  By water volume, though, it is only the third largest of the Great Lakes, because it is shallower. Itss average depth is 195 feet and its deepest point is 750 or so feet. But my goodness is it clear.  And it made my day today over and over again.  

In the middle of one of the long sandy beaches was a small area of nothing but these rocks. I thought they looked cool.

The closer I got to Huron’s drain at the St. Clair river, the more America’s industrial heart was evident.  From Saginaw Bay south, you can feel the machines that make the machines, and the factories and men that use the machines.  Sometimes it feels vibrant and busy, and sometimes it feels old and tired and obsolete. It is an area in the midst of re-forming.  Up north in their retirement homes, the old-timers are playing Euchre at the cafe and clipping the coupons from their heyday on the line, but down here people are trying to find a way.  I have no doubt that Huron will play a role.  As a resource, it and Superior are simply too magnificent, too overwhelming, too inviting.  Tourism and other industry will replace the ore carriers and the deep shaft copper mines and the timber logging.  Or something else entirely.  Because the people here are not going to stop making a life on the edge.  They are not going to stop striving — any more than these Great Lakes are going to stop collecting and purifying the watersheds they serve, or the abandon the shores they kiss in the crisp fall sunlight.

I got to the northern suburbs of Detroit to see an old friend and his wife for dinner.  Among the many opportunities on the edge are those that involve reconnection with people you love who live far away. Seeing their home, catching up on their children’s activities, feeling the warmth of a family doing just what we all try to do in a place I never would have been if not for the edge. It was yet another dividend for backing out of the driveway in Atlanta and deciding to take a lap.

Tomorrow I will follow the shores of yet another Great Lake — Erie.  I will go as far as Toledo before turning the old 100 series for home.  As usual, I will have many hours of interstate (though only one interstate — I-75 the whole way) to process this segment on the edge and think about the next one.  I will have more thoughts on the total trek this trip and some conclusions, but I will wait to write them for a day or so.  To let this sink in a little.  Each trip to and around each different section of the edge inspires me for the next and teaches me about the last ones.  This one will as well and, despite the quest-like obsession of this entire exercise, it is first and foremost an exercise in discovery and learning.  We can all use more of those.  I’ve got a few more left before I have to come up with another crazy idea.  Thanks for riding along.

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