Getting Around The Lake

01 lake michiganLinda Burton posting from Lansing, Michigan – Now I know why early settlers liked winter. When the lakes freeze over it’s easier to get around. And let me tell you, there are a lot of lakes, and other bodies of water, to get around. Like Lake Michigan, which I had to get around to take the Journey from Madison, Wisconsin to Lansing, Michigan, Capital City #38. Lake Express ferry runs from Milwaukee to Muskegon, Michigan and on the map that looked like a straight shot, so that was Plan 1. Until they told me I’d have to leave The Cats locked up for almost three hours without checking on them. “Three hours locked in a car in the summertime? No way!” 01 chicago skyway toll 2They told me it was for “passenger safety” that people are not allowed to walk back and forth to their cars during the trip across the lake. And that passengers cannot stay in their car; I’d have to leave my vehicle and buy a separate ticket to sit in a reserved seat upstairs. Sure, it’s my fault I made a reservation without asking questions FIRST; but after those astonishing disclosures, when I canceled the reservation I’d just made they charged me $30 to “unprocess” my credit card. That began my “around the lake” tab. Add to that at least five toll stops in Illinois, which 01 indiana industrytotaled more than $10; room charges for an extra overnight stop along the way to avoid driver fatigue (mine); and gas costing $4.09 a gallon at the Des Plaines Oasis, one of the controlled stops along the toll roads (it’s averaging $3.59 elsewhere). But it wasn’t the money, it was the sheer ugliness of the trip that got me down. My advice – get around the lake some other way; avoid Lake Michigan’s tip!

01 indiana tollWhen I say “the tip of Lake Michigan” I am referring to the area from just north of Chicago around the bottom through Indiana and north again into Michigan. There is unending road construction because there are so many people driving so many cars. There are toll roads because the existing roads are wearing out because they are overused, and are inadequate for increasing traffic; and the powers that be can’t figure out any other way to pay for them. There is industry because people need jobs, and consumer goods, and food, and they have all 01 power lines ind 2glommed up near the lake, for obvious reasons. There are power lines because that industry, and those people, need electricity to operate their businesses, and households. There are oil refineries because all those cars need fuel; and coal trains because all those power plants need something to make steam to drive the turbines that make electricity for all those people and all that industry. That’s what’s happening at the tip of Lake Michigan. As I drove from Illinois past the Indiana welcome sign, I spotted two 01 fishermenfisherman on a pond to my right. The poor fellows sat in the middle of air polluted by smog and soot; the shoreline strung with power lines. I hope they found some peace, out there on their boat. After all, they live in Gary, Indiana and I couldn’t help it; the hummable lyrics from that cute little ditty in Music Man ran through my mind.

Gary, Indiana, as a Shakespeare would say, trips along softly on the tongue this way– Gary, Indiana, Gary, Indiana, Gary, Indiana, let me say it once again. Gary, Indiana, Gary, Indiana, Gary, Indiana, that’s the town that “knew me when”….there is just one place, that can light my face…not Louisiana, Paris, France, New York, or Rome, but –  Gary, Indiana, Gary, Indiana, Gary Indiana…home sweet home.

“Getting around the lake” started out well; sweet goodbyes from the wonderful staff at the 01 michael leaving madisonMadison hotel; cool weather for an easy load; the first 50 miles headed south in Wisconsin gave me mile after mile of corn fields with edges rowed so perfectly they appeared to be laser trimmed; tall corn now and dark green; great sweeps of golden tassels stretched across the hills. The ugly road construction began with the Illinois state sign and a warning that the “welcome” center was closed. Certainly nothing was welcoming; traffic was funneled between menacing concrete barriers for the next 35 miles. 01 entering illinoisThere were no shoulders and no outs, but periodic flashing signs advised “YOUR SPEED” as the limit switched back and forth from 55 to 45. I intended to go through downtown Chicago because my memories of the city were good from previous visits; the stunning Sears Tower (now renamed); the John Hancock Building; the shining waters of the lake. But yesterday’s drive-through was a bust; smog was thick and the top of the Tower was obscured; everything looked gray, and dull. I caught a passing glimpse 01 chicago 1of a sign to Wrigley Field and passed the home of the White Sox; I passed several of the 144 stations for the “L” and even spotted a few trains pulling in; they looked gray and dull  too.

More toll stops; more smog; more power lines; through a few miles of Indiana (and Gary); till finally, Michigan, and the promise of “pure” – is that referring to the water, or the environment, or what, I wondered. The New Buffalo Welcome Center was adorned with a decorative lighthouse; the 01 lighthouse and car“mitten” state was referring to its vast resources of water, I decided. I learned that even the name “Michigan” means “large water” – it’s the French form of an Ojibwa word. Michigan has the longest freshwater coastline of any political subdivision in the world, and, to go with that, more lighthouses than any other state! Besides being bounded by four of the five Great Lakes (Superior, Michigan, Huron and Erie, of course), there is Lake Saint Clair and 64,980 inland lakes and ponds. The claim is made that a person in the state is never more than six miles from a natural water source, and never more than 85 miles from the shoreline of one of the “Great” lakes.

I spent last night only three miles from the shoreline of Lake Michigan, thankful to catch a breath and thankful for the greenery. I was in Stevensville, near St Joseph and Benton 01 michigan welcome center brochuresHarbor and between Warren Dunes and Grand Mere State Parks. Tourists were swarming; all hotels were full to the brim. As I checked in (thankful also that I’d planned ahead), the desk clerk was speaking to someone desperately searching for a room; when he hung up he looked at me in exasperation; “She said she had to attend a wedding this weekend and I’m thinking why are you just NOW looking for a room!” We laughed.

The skies had blued this morning so I headed for Lookout Park and a clear-across view of Lake Michigan, at last; wishing I could spend a week on its shores; remembering a long-ago visit to the lonely Upper Peninsula and both the US and Canadian sides of Sault Ste Marie; remembering the day I stood with one foot in Lake Michigan and one in Lake Huron; yes, you can do that at Mackinac Straits. Today I stayed on the path to Lansing however; the scene beside the freeway no longer cornfields but grape vineyards and apple orchards. I passed signs advertising Winery Tours, and signs for exits to Paw Paw and Kalamazoo and Battle Creek. I-94 continued east to Ann Arbor and Detroit; I cut north on I-69 for Lansing.

Lansing, Michigan, the Journey’s Capital City #38, population 114,297 (US 2010 Census); the 31st largest capital city (Springfield, Illinois and Hartford, Connecticut are similar in size); home of state government and Michigan State; and home to the cats and me for the next few weeks. “Whew!” I said to Alex and Jack after we settled in. “We finally made it around the lake. Chalk that up to experience, and don’t ever forget.”

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