Tuesday, September 23, 2008

'Twas The Night Before Autumn Equinox *

At Crosswinds Marina,
Autumn Equinox.
All boaters were stirring ...
A party at the docks!

(OK, that's not what this poem is about. But it definitely describes "A" Dock.)

The lines were all tied
To the cleats with care,
As summer cruise memories
Danced in the air.

Meridian was nestled
All snug at her slip.
She was dreaming of summer
Gone by in a blip.

She thought of Chicago,
The cruise soon to wrap.
But what she really wanted
Was a long winter's nap.

When all of a sudden
There arose such a clatter!
It was Dockmaster Eric ...
What could be the matter?

"Meridian's sleepy",
He said with a wink.
"I've cheap indoor storage.
Now what do you think?"

Phil's eyes how they twinkled,
His dimples how merry.
"Sounds quite good to us,
September wind's scary!"

"Cheap indoor storage?
This is great, don't you know?"
Meridian cheered,
"No more sleeping in snow!"

A fam'ly owned bus'ness
For twenty odd years
Soon gave us to know
We would have no fears.

A blank storage contract
Appeared in his hand,
So we filled in the blanks
While standing on land

The storage is heated
Year 'round, fifty-five
They'll charge up our batt'ries
To keep them alive

Meridian's happy
She'll be cozy through Spring
Phil and Bernie now have to
Unload everything

Meridian exclaimed
As they drove off with some gear

"Happy Cruising to All

We'll see you next year!"

* With apologies to Clement Moore

White Lake, Michigan

September 18 - 20, 2007

We left Ludington early (for us that means around 10:30am) because we knew it would be a long trip to White Lake, Michigan. Earlier in the trip, in Leland and in Canada, we had met Bill and Evelyn on their sailboat Inua. They were at White Lake waiting to get hauled. We got a slip at Crosswinds Marine at White Lake.

We had a very nice visit with them (and the rest of the people on our dock at Crosswinds) on Saturday night. We provided cookies for the Saturday dockside gathering. Thus making up for tormenting the whole dock on Friday night when Bernie baked chocolate chip and peanut butter cookies. She didn't realize that all the people from the neighboring boats were relaxing on the dock and could smell the cookies baking. She didn't hear them begging for cookies because she had the stereo cranked pretty loud. We also rode in a car to go to dinner at Hobo's Tavern in Muskegon. This was the first car trip for us since Drummond Island (before that, our last car trip was June 11.)

White Lake is right by the Hart-Montague Bicycle Trail. Hart-Montague is a 22 mile (44, round trip) bike trail and is notable as the first Michigan rail trail. It's a great trail - paved all the way with grades instead of steep hills. It runs through several towns including New Era, Rothbury, Shelby, and Mears. Each town has a small rest area for bikers (and there are many benches and picnic tables along the way).

New Era's stop is by their Elm Tree Project. One of their schools is maintaining young elm trees that are resistant to dutch elm disease in an attempt to reintroduce the trees to the area.

Shelby has an exercise station route off the bicycle path. We learned from this section that Bernie can't do chin-ups, cheats at push-ups and the horizontal ladder, and is a humorous sight to see doing the parallel bars. While Phil has her beat, hands up, at the horizontal ladder, she wins at all the flexibility and stretching stations. (No Phil, it doesn't count if you bend your knees while doing the toe touches.)

And you need to do those exercise stations because Mears has a great little bakery called Morat's Bakery. While they are apparently known for the muffin bread, we found their Turtle Cinnamon Rolls (Cinnamon rolls with cream cheese frosting topped with choc0late, caramel and pecans) well worth the 21 miles it took to bike there (and the 21 miles back).

There's also a large dairy, with ice cream, just off the trail near New Era. So, when you need that last burst of energy to get back to White Lake, just pull in to Country Dairy and get some ice cream. Surely after close to 44 miles, you've worked off more than enough calories to balance the ice cream.

The trail extends into the White Lake area and there are several art statues off the trail here. These metal origami swans are called Lake Spirits.

Montague has a farmer's market on Saturdays in the summer. Of course Bernie ran over there bright and early. She got late season raspberries and blueberries, peaches and plums, and, much to her surprise, acorn and butternut squash. She's always thought of those as autumn vegetables. It can;t be autumn already, can it?

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Manistee, Michigan, then on to Ludington and White Lake

September 15-17, 2008

We were a little worried when we started down the Manistee River and the Coast Guard blocked our path. Had they read our blog? Did they know that we had escaped from their blockade in Traverse City? Not to worry -- they were just returning from some maneuvers and not really stopping us from coming into Manistee.

And we were grateful for that because it was getting a little rough out there. Not anything Meridian couldn't handle. But the waves were picking up and being able to duck into Manistee was nice.

We hadn't been to Manistee since last year. One thing we knew for sure was that we were NOT going to visit the Manistee Historical Museum. Don't get us wrong. It is a GREAT museum. It's just that it has a lot of exhibits and artifacts about Great Lakes ship wrecks like the Carl S. Bradley, The Edmund Fitzgerald, and the Pere Marquette 18. The last time we went there, we read all those accounts of wrecks. Then headed out into a very windy Lake Michigan. All we kept thinking about were the wrecks in storms and suddenly being out on the lake in rough conditions got very uncomfortable and we had to duck into Portage Lake. So, no more maritime museum visits during windy conditions. But, if you're not going to be boating on Lake Michigan in stormy weather, definitely check out the museum.

But there is plenty more to do in Manistee. They have a great river walk that runs the length of the river/town. It gets quite a bit of use from joggers, runners, walkers, and strollers. Along the path they have pictures and stories about the history of Manistee. One of our favorites concerns a sand dune called Creeping Joe. In the late 1800s, Creeping Joe was a large stable sand dune. Stable, that is, until one of the political parties had a huge bonfire to celebrate an unexpected election win in 1884. The bonfire disrupted the plants that had stabilized Creeping Joe. So Joe started creeping, swallowed a couple of houses and threatened the whole town of Manistee. The town was saved when the railroad hauled away all the sand for construction, or cement, or some other such purpose.

We also took a kayak trip down the river into Manistee Lake, which is home to a very large, parked ship named the City of Milwaukee. There is a swing bridge right before Manistee Lake that only closes for train traffic. And there is also a very nice veteran's memorial park along the river.

For some reason that we've never figured out, Meridian seems to inspire people to recreate the "I'm King of the World" scene from the movie Titanic. It happens a lot. And Manistee was no different. A group of women were visiting Manistee and strolling down the river walk. They complimented us on Meridian. We got to talking and they asked if they could have their picture taken on Meridian. Only one of them, Marilyn, was brave enough to go through with it and here she is doing her version of "I'm King of the World". It's cute. We enjoy people having fun on Meridian.

And Meridian loves to get compliments and have her picture taken.

So a few blog posts ago (OK, way back in the East Jordan post), we mentioned that Bernie had stumbled upon a book called A Supremely Bad Idea, which is about a New Yorker who gets hooked on birdwatching as a hobby and his adventures while doing birding trips. It got Bernie interested in figuring out what kind of birds we're seeing and taking bird pictures through the binoculars (although that technique still hasn't been perfected yet). Then Phil read it and he got interested in birdwatching, too. Now he's tracking "life birds" (and debating whether or not he is allowed to retroactively count the ibis and roseated spoonbill we saw in Florida, which was before we even knew what a "life bird" was) and trying to study each bird's jizz (a shortened way of saying "general impression of size and shape"). He's poked around the Cornell Lab of Ornithology website, which has a wealth of birding related information as well as recordings of bird calls. We've a long way to go but it's a start.

So on this beach in Manistee, this poor turkey vulture was just trying to have a washed-up salmon snack. Not only did he have to contend with a seagull who was just waiting for an opening (no pun intended), but the poor bird suddenly had an audience of three people watching and documenting his every nibble. He just wanted to eat in peace.

A Supremely Bad Idea is a neat book to read. But be forewarned: It may unlock a deeply hidden "birder" tendency you didn't know you had.

It's kind of hard to imagine but we've been cruising for 4 moons now. Well, this is the 4th full moon we've seen on the cruise.

We had a weather window on September 17 that let us move down to Ludington for a night. But first we had to let the Freighter Calumet pass by. (This is a different Calumet than the one that was scrapped in December 2007.)

Hmmmm ... These freighters don't get much wiggle room on the Manistee River. Guess we've got no business commenting on narrow slips when we see the passages these guys have to maneuver.

We weren't in Ludington very long this time, so no bike rides to the state park like we had done earlier this summer. But we did eat at the Jamesport Brewing Company. We'd eaten there last year and Bernie located her tasting notes from the flight of beers we sampled last year. Their Hefeweizen (summer in a glass) and Nitro Stout (creamy and chocolaty) brews are still our favorites.

Another weather window on September 18 let us move down to White Lake, Michigan.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Northport to Leland to Frankfort

September 8 - 14, 2008

We've visited Northport, Leland (this year and last year) and Frankfort (this year and last year) a few times so we'll just cover new activities and information in each place.

Northport, Michigan
(September 8-9)

Northport is a great community with a friendly and helpful marina staff. They also have great bakery called Barb's Bakery. Barb's is known for delicious cinnamon twists and as a local gathering spot for a lively exchange of opinions. On one of the mornings that we were there, the subject was nuclear power. Until someone got tired of that topic and changed it, rather abruptly, to the weekend's big college football game. Nuclear Power and Big Ten Standings all in one morning.

Earlier this summer, we biked over to Northport from Leland and were taken in by the painted doors that the area students had done. They were still on display so here are a few more of them.

We also took a bicycle ride out to the Grand Traverse Light. Grand Traverse Light is one of the finalists in an annual event sponsored by Jeld-Wen windows. Each year, Jeld-Wen selects a lighthouse and gives them new windows and doors. The effort is intended to prove how reliable their product is and in the process help preserve historic lighthouses. Good Luck Grand Traverse Light! (We also bought peaches from a roadside stand on the way to the lighthouse. We had to buy more peaches on the way back as we ate all the ones we bought on the way up. They were good!)

Leland, Michigan
(September 10-11)

Like many of the towns in this area, Leland is a big sky town. Meaning that you get an incredible view of the wide open big sky. Makes for great sunsets, sunrises, and every view in between.

We were able to go to one of the last of Leland's farmers markets. Bernie was happy to see that they were holding it at the high school and that the high schoolers were there tasting, talking to the farmers, and buying. OK, it's not like they were buying the carrots and the acorn squash. They were mostly buying cinnamon rolls from the Stonehouse Bakery but that's a start! (That's how Bernie got Phil interested in Farmer's Markets -- lure them in with the pastries and soon they'll be buying the beets and squash.)

Leland is a bit on the hilly side when it comes to biking so we opted for a hike along the shore instead.

All the hurricane activity in the gulf is sure playing havoc with the September weather. (Bernie, will you just give up and admit that September is cold and windy and not part of Summer?) Luckily we caught a half-day weather window and moved down to Frankfort before the winds picked up too badly. Trying to plan a trip around the weather and the Taste the Local Difference Guide to Northwest Michigan farmers markets is a challenge. But an enjoyable one.

Frankfort, Michigan
(September 12-14)

After last year's trip to Frankfort, we really wanted a nice relaxing trip. (If you don't want to follow the link to read last year's account of Meridian's trip from Leland to Frankfort in September, we'll sum it up:

Big Waves
Huge Waves
Gigantic Waves
Kite Boarders?!?
More Big Crashing Waves

Here's a nice fairly straight picture of the Point Betsie Lighthouse. It makes up for the horribly crooked one that we included in last year's blog. You can take a much better picture when the waves aren't knocking you all over the place.
We got into Frankfort about 7:30pm and went to Dinghy's for dinner. The next morning, Saturday, was the Frankfort Farmer's Market (coincidence? Nah!)

Even though it was a little rainy, we really needed some good exercise. Donning what all fashionable bikers are wearing nowadays, we headed off down the Betsie Valley Trail. The Betsie Valley Trail is a 22.5 mile path that runs from Frankfort to Elberta, through Beulah, through part of Pere Marquette National Forest and ends in Thompsonville. It's a beautiful, flat and winding trail over crushed limestone. Last year when we took it, we saw salmon meandering around in the Betsie River near Thomsponville. Apparently they never made it any further up the river because they were STILL there. Still meandering around in almost the same place. ;)

After a bike ride like that, we had no guilty feelings about taking advantage of The Cool Spot's end-of-season ice cream and fudge sale and enjoying the fried cinnamon rolls and cherry fritters at Crescent Bakery.

We think Hurricane Ike cause it to rain all day Sunday. But after a 45 mile bike ride, we could use a lazy day.

On Monday, the weather cleared up and Lake Michigan calmed down enough for us to run down to Manistee.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Petoskey, Michigan

September 4-8, 2008

We spent several days in Petoskey last year bicycling, watching the weather, watching the salmon run, documenting the results of weather, and waiting for a weather break. Even though it was a bit stressful last year, we really enjoyed Petoskey and had to visit it again.

Now, on our way over we heard a little one-sided radio chatter. Specifically, a boater was calling into the Petoskey Marina requesting a slip but wondering about the "fire truck spraying water". We couldn't hear the response and didn't think much of it until we pulled into the Petoskey Marina and saw a fire engine shooting water into the lake. Well. Guess that explains why the lake levels are higher now. Darn nice of Petoskey to make that contribution to the lake. Of course, curiosity did get the better of us when we saw a different truck later in the day also spraying water. We had to ask. Turns out, they were testing the volume and pressure performance of the equipment for their annual certification.

We got the chance to go to the Petoskey Farmers Market. A few of Bernie's favorite vendors are there: Pond Hill Farms and Friske's Orchards.

We also visited some of our favorite retailers in Petoskey: Roast and Toast (while they don't have a Lake Effect, they do have Autumn Sunset and an Accidental Tourist coffee drinks that could give a Lake Effect a run for its money) and McLean & Eakin Booksellers. Petoskey now has a Life is Good store. We really didn't know how much Life is Good merchandise was out there. Until now.

Add to that, the Little Traverse Wheelway, a great bike path that links Petoskey with Charlevoix and Harbor Springs (both Woolly Bugger towns) and really, what more do you need?

Nice restaurants and friendly people, you say?

Well they have that, too. In fact, our waiter at Chandler's took time out of his busy night to talk to us about life in Petoskey. By the end of the evening, we were convinced that we should consider moving here.

So the next day, we got a list of properties for sale and wandered the neighborhoods.

So we talked to a real estate agent.

And, while it would have made for a great blog about us buying a house in Petoskey while on this cruise, we didn't find the right house.


But we'll be back.

New Charlevoix Marina

September 3-4, 2008

Hello. My name is Bernie and I am a Woolly Bugger addi - I mean, "fan" -- especially their Lake Effect. But Phil exaggerated in that last post. I did give the guy the stern line before I ran to the coffee shop.

Last year when we were in Charlevoix, the marina and park were under major construction. So we were curious how it had turned out.

It turned out beautifully. We think they did a great job on the marina building and the park around it. The marina building plays homage to some of the distinctive Earl Young "mushroom houses" that are scattered throughout Charlevoix. The harbormaster said that it was designed by Peter Pollock and mentioned that it took 27 masons to do the marina house and that they needed a little retraining to get them to make the curvy design. They were having trouble with the concept of someone actually wanting the edges not to be straight.

The park is also beautiful. You'd never know that about a year ago it was all torn up. It does make us wonder what progress has been made on the DuSable Marina building and bike path in Chicago in our absence.

They've also put in a shooting water fountain that, at night, puts on a colorful water display. It doesn't speak in first person like the one in Grand Haven. The boater's lounge is quite nice and comfortable, too. It has wi-fi for boaters, a television, nice laundry facilities ($1/wash; $1/dry) and a telescope for night time stargazing -- or just scoping out the boats in Lake Charlevoix.

Really a great job and a great marina staff.

It was easy for the harbormaster to direct us to our slip. This large boat, a 172 foot mega yacht names the Battered Bull, was parked at the end of the dock that we were to pull into. We heard a rumor that it was Kevin Costner's - batter, Bull Durham, makes sense - and that he, too, had stopped in Charlevoix to get a Lake Effect at the Woolly Bugger. (OK, so we just heard it was Kevin Costner's. We also heard speculation that it was Scotty Pippen's - now there's a battered (former) Bull - or maybe just someone who's been beaten down in the stock market - hey, does that make it ours?)

Phil feels the need to point out that it is now September. He knows this because it is very windy. All the time. As evidenced by these views of Lake Michigan from the Charlevoix breakwater. Bernie calls it a little breezy. There's plenty of summer left!

The next morning we went to the Charlevoix Farmer's Market. It is great to be back in the land of farmer's markets. Especially when one of the vendor's, Friske's Orchards, still has some late season raspberries, cherries, blueberries, peaches and cherry cobblers.

Now, our next stop may surprise some people who are familiar with this area. We're heading for Petoskey. Yes, we know that is north. Yes, we know we're supposed to be going back to Chicago. But we really like Petoskey and we missed it on the way up and skipped it on the way down. It didn't feel right to skip it. So we're going to go there next. And, what a coincidence, we'll be there in time for their Farmer's Market.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Bernie Goes to Charlevoix

Ok, so in our last post we were leaving East Jordan for Charlevoix.

We had planned to stay in East Jordan for two nights, but suddenly Bernie asked to cut that to one night. She claimed it was because we had seen everything there was to see in East Jordan and she wanted to see the new marina and park in Charlevoix.

Phil didn't quite understand that. Sure, we'd seen all of East Jordan in about an hour or so, but that's the case with a number of these small harbor towns. What was so special about Charlevoix that caused her to suddenly want to drop her new hobby of photographing wildlife through the binocular lenses and rush out of town like a traveling salesman chased by the farmer who's unhappy about that little "sales meeting" with his daughter?

Like always, Phil just shrugged and said "sure, let's go."

And it was a nice cruise up Lake Charlevoix. The Labor Day traffic was gone now, so we mostly had the lake to ourselves. We made our way up the lake past all the unusual, quaint, pretty and, sometimes, grotesquely huge, boathouses. This is Lake Charlevoix after all.

All along, though, it just felt different. Bernie seemed almost giddy with expectation (and I don't think I've ever used the words "Bernie" and "giddy" in the same sentence before), as though she was REALLY looking forward to Charlevoix, and kept urging Phil to "hurry up, we'll never get there". Which is a bit unusual because, what with current gas prices, she's usually telling him to slow down. And she really unnerved him when she reached over and goosed the throttle. He would have pulled out his "I'm the captain" speech but she'd have just laughed at him (loudly and in a humiliatingly mocking manner) like she always does when he tries that.

So, anyway, we made it to Round Lake and the Charlevoix Marina in record time. Before Phil could reach for the VHF mike, she pulled out the little handheld radio and was calling the marina. Upon receiving the slip number, she looked at Phil and asked "Got that?"

Without actually receiving confirmation, she said "Good" then mumbled something about getting money and went below. She reappeared as we were easing down the fairway to the slip. Phil was busy manuevering Meridian into the slip and didn't really pay attention as she dashed out to the bow to handle the lines.

That's when it got a little weird. As we moved into the slip, she grabbed the bow line and tossed it to the dock hand. Then, in one lighting-fast motion, she vaulted over the bow railing onto the dock with a display of agility and athleticism Phil had never witnessed before. Thinking she was going for the stern line or maybe the spring line, he smiled to himself and said "Now she's really becoming a boat person".

But apparently she had other plans. Instead of getting the other lines, she just yelled over her shoulder to the dock hand as she sprinted up the dock "Don't forget the stern line! And, Phil, please try not to hit other boats this time."

Then she disappeared into town.

As Phil and the dock hand looked at each other with puzzled expressions on their faces, she returned, strolling down the dock with a big smile and a Woolly Bugger Lake Effect (white chocolate mocha coffee drink) in her hand.

She REALLY likes her Lake Effects.

Monday, September 8, 2008

East Jordan, Michigan

September 2, 2008

After word got around Boyne City about the goofy kayakers, and word does get around in a small town, we had to leave. People kept pointing, exclaiming "there's those KAYAKERS" and snickering uncontrollably.

Well, we had wanted to check out East Jordan anyway. So we headed over to the south arm of Lake Charlevoix. On the, way we passed through the Ironton Ferry route, a pleasant memory from a few days ago.

The south arm of Lake Charlevoix, which goes to East Jordan, is narrower than the north arm (which goes to Boyne City). So you get a closer view of some of the houses and boat houses. The Charlevoix area has been a resort area for a very long time. The history museum speaks of the trains and ferries coming up from Chicago for as long as people can remember and the Michigan auto barons all had huge houses up here. Along the lake, you see all sorts of houses and boat houses.

Classic (with wooden boats)

Stately (with a fine example of local stonemanship)

And, of course, Exaggerated Excess (complete with a boathouse for a ... SAILBOAT?)


We continued down the river until we reached East Jordan.

You can't miss the marina. It's right next to East Jordan Iron Works. We had gotten the impression from the ports guides that East Jordan was more of an arts community. Not quite. It's actually one of the few towns we've encountered that have a non-tourism focus since they have the ironworks industry. There really isn't a lot for a boater to do here. (They do have a lot of nature-related activities but most are located more than a bike ride away from the marina.) Almost all the restaurants were closed for the season. There is an Arts Center but it seems to be open only for specific art compilations (and we were between shows). You can watch glass artisans at Jordan Valley Glassworks.

Sportsman's Park, across from the marina, is part of a wildlife sanctuary in the area (that includes the Jordan River and the Jordan River Pathway) and Bernie got to experiment with a digital camera technique she read about in a book called "A Supremely Bad Idea" (it's about a guy and his two friends who get deep into a Birdwatching Hobby).

She set up binoculars and took pictures through the lens. Now, in the book, they took pictures through a bird sighting scope which is very different from binoculars but this was just an experiment (one that needs a bit more perfecting). They're a little fuzzy but she insists they have a watercolor painting quality to them. Phil shudders to think what it would have been like up in the North Channel had Bernie read this book before encountering the taunting loons. Sometimes just the plain old zoom works well enough, as it did for this flying egret.
The East Jordan Iron Works makes, among other things, manhole covers. Along the sidewalk leading to the factory, they have embedded some of their more notable covers. Here are two we thought were very detailed and interesting. We got the impression that EJIW tries to be a good neighbor. They've done a bit of landscaping that, from the main street side, completely hides their operations and muffles the sound of the 24 hour operations (from the street. not from the marina).

Having seen East Jordan, we decided to re-visit Charlevoix. Last year, when we were there, they were in the middle of constructing their new marina buildings and park. We wanted to see the result. So off we went to Charlevoix.