we walked that bridge

My family has been looking forward to Labor Day 2010 for about a year. Last fall we decided we were taking the kids to Mackinaw City to experience a Northern Michigan, Barb-style vacation. And somehow we even convinced my in-laws to come along for the trip. What exactly do I mean by Barb-style vacation? Oh, I mean that there was lots of moving & shaking on this trip. This was no lounge-by-the-beach vacation. This was an exploring, hiking, bike riding, bridge walking vacation! This was the kind of vacation that makes my middle-child convinced that she was born into the wrong family. I joke of course but this child hates a lot of physical activity and well… there was a lot of physical activity on this excursion.

We started our trip by driving across the U.P. (that’s Upper Penninsula) to see lovely Lake Superior. It didn’t disappoint on this very windy day, huge waves let us know instantly that this was indeed the largest of the Great Lakes. We visited Whitefish Point and learned about some of the shipwrecks on the Great Lakes. We hiked to the lower Taquahmenon Falls – a series of five, rushing waterfalls along a very pretty boardwalk trail. And we visited a cranberry farm… but that part of the trip will get its own post tomorrow.

We spent the next day all over Mackinac Island – literally. We rented bikes, a must-do if you go to Mackinac, and rode the entire perimeter. It’s just 8 miles so it made for a fun morning. We made plenty of stops to explore some of the Island’s special spots – Arch Rock and British Landing where the British landed and made a sneak attack on American forces. We toured Fort Mackinac, bought some fudge and dodged horse poop – it was a perfect day on an Island where the only way to get around is by foot, bike or horse.

But the highlight of the trip – the entire reason we came – the focus of this post in fact… happened Monday morning. We walked Mackinac Bridge. Mighty Mac is 5 miles long, making it the 3rd longest suspension bridge in the world. It spans the Straits of Mackinac with Lake Michigan to the west and Lake Huron to the east and connects the lower penninsula of Michigan to the upper penninsula. The road is 200 feet above the water at the middle of the bridge and the towers holding the whole thing together are more than twice that distance from the surface of the water – water that is approx 300 feet deep in the middle. The bridge opened in 1957 and ever since they’ve closed half of the bridge on Labor Day morning so people can walk across the water.

It’s a very cool experience. Literally – it’s not usually warm up there and it can get a little breezy when you’re that high above the Great Lakes. If you’re lucky a freighter goes under the bridge while you’re on it – that didn’t happen this year though we saw a freighter coming through the straits. There are National Guards stationed every 25 feet or so to make sure no one tries to make a jump for it 😉 and from the middle of the bridge to the finish line, J gave every one of them a high five. There are thousands of people each year who bundle up and trudge across the bridge. Some families with little ones in strollers. Some older couples wearing shirts with a patch for each crossing – and their shirts were covered. I talked to one woman who’s done it 20 consecutive years, and I have a feeling she’s nowhere near the record. We saw one elderly woman who walked it pushing a wheelchair with her oxygen tank in it! You literally see people with all sorts of physical abilities, all there relishing the somewhat unique experience of this five mile walk.

I’ve done it a handful of times, twice as an adult with my husband and we knew this was an experience the kids would always remember. We had been trying to psych up the middle-child for months. The other two kids were raring to go – well as raring as they could be after their mother dragged them out of bed at 6am when they’d spent the last two days hiking and biking all over the place. Really, if you take away the initial 5 minutes with K, no one was too grouchy in the morning. Until we started walking that is. After the excitement of getting started wore off, little Miss E was anything but cheerful…
The wind hurt her face,
her feet were tired,
her legs hurt,
she had a stitch in her side,
why in the world do people do this sort of thing and think it’s fun??
And who came up with this stupid idea anyway?!?!?

Her grandma and I tried to be calm. We tried to be funny. We tried to be strict but all to no avail. E was not happy we were making her do this walk and she was not giving in. I’m not sure what turned her around but (thankfully) about halfway thru the walk she cheered up and was actually quite pleasant for the rest of the time. As long as we remembered to hold her hand when she walked across the expansion joints that is 🙂

Put it in the record books. My kids’ first Mackinac Bridge Walk was in 2010 and I don’t think it will be our last!

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