Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Day Two: Mackinac Island (Pt. 1)

We couldn't travel to the state of Michigan without seeing Mackinac Island. For those that haven't heard of it, the entire island of Mackinac is a National Historic Landmark located in Lake Huron. All forms of motorized transportation have been banned on the island. It's a small island, measuring only 3.8 square miles, and can be traveled easily by foot, bicycle, or horse-drawn carriage.

We hopped aboard the 9:00 am Star Line Ferry, whose dock was directly across the street from our hotel, because it was the only ferry that detoured slightly so to take us underneath the Mighty Mack Bridge on our way to the island. Driving over the bridge at dusk, we didn't feel like we could soak in how impressive it is. In the morning light, with the bright blue water below it, the bridge is really incredible. It is only 400 feet shorter than the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, CA.

I kind of went overboard taking pictures of it. It was so cool.

We sat on the right side of the open-air second deck of our triple-decker ferry so we could have good views. It was a brisk morning and I felt unprepared (though I didn't admit this to Kelli) as the only member of our foursome without a sweatshirt. Our ferry captain came over the speaker system and told us that due to the cooler-than-average temperatures and the wind, there was a good chance people in the second and third decks could get splashed. Kelli and I quickly calculated the wind direction and thought we should be okay. We were. We felt a little spray as the entire opposite side of the ferry got wet and crammed over onto our side, but it wasn't bad. 

Charly was fascinated by the boat ride!


Hayes fell asleep.

We could not believe how blue and clear the water of Lake Huron was. The waves were a little wilder than usual but combined with the blue sky and numerous clouds, it all made for a rather picturesque ferry ride.

The above picture shows Mackinac Island's two lighthouses, the Round Island Lighthouse (far right) and Round Island Passage Light (far left). The lighthouse was built in the 1890's because Mackinac Island often got in the way of ships traveling in Lake Huron. The island itself was a hazard so the lighthouse was built to warn vessels it was there. It looks more like an old schoolhouse than it does a lighthouse, but it has awesome character nonetheless.

This strange feeling came over both of us, the closer we came to the island. It's hard to describe but it's a feeling that never really left us the entire day. We felt like we were being transported to some strange place that didn't really exist. Suddenly, home felt very, very, very far away. Even though we were just in Michigan!

There are three different ferry companies that shuttle tourists to Mackinac Island and all run on similar schedules. So when we docked on the island, so did literally, thousands of other people. We thought maybe being a Tuesday, the island wouldn't feel so crowded. That was not the case. It was packed. We discovered that the Bayview Yacht Club's "Race to Mackinac" sailboat race had just concluded. The island was crawling with racers, racers' families, and fans.

We used Trip Advisor to do a lot of our research and it sounded like renting bikes was the thing to do. While pricey, we found many testimonials suggesting renting bikes and riding around the island to sightsee. We thought the kids would love tooling around in a Burley so our first stop off the ferry was one of many bike rental places on Mackinac's Main Street. For $8 and hour, we rented bikes and a trailer and started out.

The island's "Main Street" actually leads to the shore and follows the perimeter of the island. It is precisely 8.3 miles around. We were feeling ambitious!

The kids were not as big of a fan of the Burley as we thought they would be! Hayes couldn't quite get comfortable and Charly demanded the cover closed! We stopped about a mile down the road to let them stretch and throw rocks into Lake Huron. Charly is obsessed with rocks lately, and we were worried that we wouldn't be able to get her back in the Burley!

We eventually did get them back in the trailer and hit the road again. Another mile down the road we found Arch Rock, a famous rock on the island that is eroding from the inside out. It is believed that within 5 years the rock will be gone.

Along the side of the road we noticed all these stacks of stones. Apparently a popular thing for visitors to the island to do is see how high they can stack stones on the shore. We tried our hand at it but Hayes ended up knocking more down than we could stack up, so we gave up!

Another mile down the road (3 total now) and my ambition turned to exhaustion. Charly and Hayes still weren't really fans of the Burley, the temperature was mid-to-high 60's, and a good 10-15 mph wind was blowing directly in my face! We really wanted to say we biked the full 8.3 miles around the island, but I couldn't pull the nearly 60 lb. trailer behind me in midst of all the obstacles. I wussed out.

Of course as soon as we turned around to bike back to downtown, the kids fell asleep and the temperature rose! Figures . . .

The bicycles proved hard to maneuver downtown amidst all the people, so we turned them in for the day and decided to explore downtown on foot. Our research had turned up a number of shops and restaurants we wanted to check out and we didn't think it was fair to keep the kids confined to a bicycle trailer any longer.

To Be Continued . . .

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Day One: On the Road

When Kelli first suggested Michigan as a summer vacation destination this year, I was a little skeptical. Since Spring Break, she had been stuck on the idea of Myrtle Beach, SC and her idea of Michigan seemed out of left field to me. She talked about sandy beaches and clear blue water and my mind was registering an error. Michigan?

We had a one-week window of opportunity, the week after my summer classes ended. We began planning and I began researching and was pleasantly shocked. Come to find out, Michigan has a lot to offer!

Itinerary in hand, hotels booked, Denny and Carol's Honda Pilot locked and loaded, we set out north for Michigan at 8:30 am last Monday morning.

These are two of the few shots of Charly and Hayes sleeping on the 10 1/2 hour drive to Mackinaw City, MI. Denny and Carol's Pilot has a DVD player and they graciously offered to let us drive the vehicle. They were thinking of the storage and of keeping Charly entertained. It paid off huge in the end! However in 10 1/2 hours of driving, Charly slept for maybe an hour and watched 6 of the 8 movies we had packed! We need to upgrade vehicles now, because Charly won't know how to travel without a DVD player.

Hayes was a trooper! For a kid who can't sit still, he was an incredible traveler. We only had to really stop twice. He watched movies along with Charly. He took short naps. He played with toys and crayons. He dropped things on purpose and yelled until Kelli picked them up!

We swung off the interstate through Green Bay to catch a glimpse of historic Lambeau Field. Lambeau was a weird site. It's an impressively large NFL stadium, home of one of the most popular teams in the NFL, in a community of only 100,000 people, easily accessed right off an interstate, surrounded by nothing but parking lots and small houses. If the Patriots play in Lambeau sometime soon, I now know how easy it is to get to the stadium!

We supplied the kids with new snacks and drinks, put in a new movie, and hit the road out of Green Bay. The rest of the drive was awesome! I always envisioned driving south out of Cedar Falls, through Chicago, under Lake Michigan, and then up to the northern part of Michigan. But Mapquest and our GPS (named "Mandy") suggested starting north through Wisconsin and Michigan. This route was almost entirely along Lake Michigan. From Green Bay onward, Lake Michigan was just 20 feet or so outside Kelli's passenger-side window. Charly loved seeing the water. Iowa was all cornfield. Wisconsin all hills. Michigan was proving to be all trees and water.

We were excited to see some lighthouses on our trip and planned on seeing a few specific ones, but about an hour and a half away from Mackinaw City, we came upon the very small town of Manistique, MI and this site . . .

I really wanted to keep driving. But the kiddos were in desperate need of energy-release. So we stopped and let them run wild. The view was great, the sand was soft, but the weather was cold and windy! And the waves were crashing so hard we had to practically shout at each other!

Hayes found a stick (his favorite thing) and plenty of birds to point at (his second favorite thing) and Charly found plenty of rocks (her favorite things) so the kids thought the beach in Manistique was the coolest rest stop ever! We let them run and dig and we snapped some photos and before long, we hit the road again. The sun had shone itself and we wanted to cross The Mighty Mack before dusk. 

We pulled a nice couple aside and asked them to snap a photo of us. If it wasn't for the wind and Charly's Rapunzel-like hair, it would have been a great shot. In fact, most of the family pictures we asked strangers to snap for us turned out great over the course of the week!

We weren't thinking about a time-zone switch, so when we made it to The Mighty Mack before it was completely dark, we thought we were doing good. Once we crossed the 5-mile long beast of a suspension bridge, we realized we lost an hour of time traveling east! Instead of 8:30, it was 9:30 in Mackinaw City.

The Mackinac Bridge is the 10th longest suspension bridge in the world. In the US, it only trails the Lower New York Bay Bridge and the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco be a matter of mere feet. The total length of the bridge over water is 5 miles while the length of the longest span of suspended part (the part held up by suspension cable), is over 1.25 miles. We were excited and anxious to cross the bridge since it took us directly into Mackinaw City, the first stop of our vacation and was suspended over so much water. To tell the truth, the bridge wasn't the least bit scary, even though there was road construction taking place. With four lanes, you could hardly tell you were even going over water, but the two massive towers took our breath away as we passed under them. It was rather impressive.

We arrived at our hotel and gave the kids baths before bed. We ordered a ridiculously overpriced pizza as a late-night snack and hit the hay. Day one, over 11 hours on the road (including stops), in the books.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

The First Annual Henrichs Family Vacation

It is probably apparent to anyone who ever cared to check in, that Kelli and I gave up blogging a long time ago. Hayes came along and life became busier. I started working on my Masters Degree. Free time no longer exists.

However, last week we went on a vacation! Our first big vacation as a family of four! And we needed a place to process our thoughts. So over the next week or so, we will be posting many pictures and memories from our trip. It is more for our own pleasure and enjoyment than anything else, but as I said, this seemed as good a place as any to gather our thoughts.