Thumb’s down, we’re heading north

After Lake Huron beat us up for a few hours on Monday, we pulled into the welcoming safety of Lexington, where the British efforts to disarm the American colonists in 1775 sparked the Revolutionary War.  What’s that?  Wrong Lexington?  That was Lexington, Massachusetts?

Okay then, Monday afternoon we pulled into Lexington, where the world’s largest such factory churns out peanut butter and where inveterate whiner John Calipari is just the latest in a long line of dirtbag Wildcat basketball coaches.  What?  That’s Lexington, Kentucky?

Lexington, Michigan, may be the best of them all.  This Lexington is famous as the home of Gielow Pickles, which unfortunately was closed on Monday.

But we were able to buy some dill Cool Crisps at Jeff’s Market, and the village is dang cute.

The sign outside the Village Pub said Ted Nugent was playing Monday night.  We confirmed it.  Ted Nugent.  “Cat Scratch Fever.”  The Motor City Madman himself.

This would seem to break our lengthy streak of always missing out on the cool stuff, except, you know, it’s Ted Nugent.  First, we don’t like his music.  Second, the dude hasn’t been relevant since 1977, as confirmed by the fact that he’s playing bar gigs in Lexington, Michigan, (population 1,180), on a Monday night.  Third, we have no interest in joining Michigan militia types on an FBI watch list.  So no, we didn’t go.

We also didn’t join the kiteboarders who came out to enjoy the wind that whipped up the waves that we didn’t enjoy.

We actually wanted to join the kiteboarders, but quickly remembered that we have no kites.  Or boards.  Or wetsuits.  Or core strength.

Anyway, we enjoyed a fun chat with Bruce and Jan—Michiganders aboard Family Times—who kindly shared their anti-spider secrets and their anti-spider spray with us.  Bruce follows the blog so knew we were coming and waited on the dock to help us in.  Which was quite handy in the perpendicular wind that threatened to overpower our thrusters.  Very nice folks.

Tuesday sucked for kiteboarders.  Which was great for us, and frankly, it’s all about us, so we got in a decently-nice run up to Harbor Beach. What a difference a day makes, indeed.   Bruce’s advice for avoiding fish nets was spot on.  We didn’t see a one.

The entrance to Harbor Beach harbor is marked by a lighthouse that has been lighthousing since 1885.  That makes it nearly as old as Ted Nugent, and, given the advent of electronic navigation tools, nearly as useless.  Regardless, we’d put it in the top tier on our list of picturesque lighthouses.

Harbor Beach is a bit hardscrabble, with essentially one place to eat on a Tuesday afternoon.

At 3:30, the bar part of the bar & grill was filled with folks who were “born to ride,” if their shirts are to be trusted.  There’s absolutely nothing wrong with any of that, of course, but it really isn’t our vibe.  Plus, we’re pretty sure those good folks would sneer at pickleball and Dana’s Acura MDX.  The hike to and from town, however, was as pretty as the dockmaster described it.

Apart from the lighthouse, Harbor Beach’s only attraction seems to be Grice House, a small local-artifact museum that was closed.

The brick portion is one of the few structures in these parts that survived the “Thumb Fire” of 1881.  That cataclysm—which we’d never heard of until we started researching Grice House—burned over a million acres of Michigan’s “thumb” in just one day.  Hence the name “Thumb Fire.”  Duh.  The following day smoke from the fire blanketed New England, leading the more fervent in those states to proclaim the arrival of Armageddon.

That sums up our report on Harbor Beach.  Except we also had a most excellent time aboard Dutch Treat with Kevin and Pam and Bentley.

Wednesday brought an early morning, because Wednesday also brought a long day.  Fortunately it was the best of our small sampling of Lake Huron this year.

Heck, for a good part of it we even forgot to activate the stabilizers.

Most of the route was spent crossing Saginaw Bay.  If Saginaw Bay sounds familiar, it’s probably because that’s where the great Lefty Frizzell grew up in a house and loved a rich girl and then duped his greedy fool of a father-in-law into buying a worthless claim on cold, cold ground in Alaska.

People talk about crossing Saginaw Bay in the same trembling way people talk about crossing the Albemarle Sound and the Bay of Chaleur.  Meh.  Our luck held the whole way.

Eight hours of smooth cruising got us past the thumb and past the bay.

As evidence of how slow we travel, a bat sized us up and then stuck a landing on the starboard pilothouse doorjamb some ten miles from shore.  Dana insisted on a port tie in Harrisville so as to not disturb the little freeloader.  We  counted on him paying us back by gorging on the spiders and midges his presence prevented us from hosing off.

But he mostly just hung there upside down until we decided to have a marina guy take us and Dutch Treat to the only restaurant in this town of four hundred people and it looked like rain so we needed to close the door so we shooed him off and when we got back he was gone.  Apart from all that excitement and chatting with Loopers Darin and Susan—who live aboard Sea Gem—our Harrisville stop wasn’t much noteworthy.  In fact, We didn’t take a single picture to remind us of the place until we were heading out.

Next stop, Alpena Marina.  Mostly we stopped at Alpena Marina because Dana enjoys saying “Alpena Marina.”  And if we’re going to be someplace for two days because of forecasted weather, we might as well be someplace with a name that makes Dana giggle.

Alpena is at the edge of Thunder Bay.  Michigan, not Ontario.  And it turns out we were lucky to make it in safely, and will be even more lucky to make it out safely.  Because the cool shipwreck exhibits at the maritime museum suggest that about half the boats that travel around here, sink around here.  Heck, there are so many well-preserved shipwrecks that they actually created the Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary to protect them from looters.

The museum is loaded with tidbits and artifacts, some of which were repossessed from said looters.  Very cool museum.

Just to confirm the perils of our chosen path, the museum even offers glass-bottom boat tours to see sunken boats.  Which means there are a bunch of them.  And means they’re in very shallow water.

Although Thursday was a gloomy rainy day and our navigational future still looks grim, this morning brought the promise of at least a smattering of sun.

And, in fact, things slowly cleared up enough for some outdoorsy activities.

Alpena understandably is proud of its eighteen miles of designated bike path.  We’re pretty confident that by “bike path” they meant “electric scooter path,” although the dude on the bicycle we zoomed past gave us a look suggesting that he hadn’t read the memo.  Anyway, lots of cool stuff along the electric scooter path.

Alpena also is proud of its murals.  There are a bunch of them scattered throughout town.  Frankly, most of them are just okay.  The one with the 3D fish, however, is dang worthy of noting.

More importantly, Alpena opened brand new pickleball courts just a couple of months ago.  Good times with Kevin and Pam.  We haven’t known them long and we’re heading to different places starting tomorrow, but we really enjoy them so hopefully we’ll meet up again next year someplace.  By then maybe they’ll have scooters.  And boat cards.

Hudson was just down the dock as well.  We last saw Debbie and Shane in the shadow of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, but this time it was Debbie’s birthday.  Turning birthday convention on its head, Debbie brought us a present of delicious cookies.  Safe travels, Hudson.

In a couple of days we’ll be back to the Straits of Mackinac.  We’re looking forward to Deb and Sam and Lea staying with us for a night or two, while poor Tom is left with 109° highs at home in Scottsdale.

4 thoughts on “Thumb’s down, we’re heading north”

  1. Hi guys…. We met you and talked with you in Detroit. (M/V Sunshine State of Mind) Linda and Craig. You should share what they use for spiders. Also… we are looking for our options next summer and as we discussed… thinking about LAKE Ontario to Montreal to Lake Champlain…. But looking at the height problem.
    Pool says 15.5 ft. Not sure we can get that short even if we hinge our radar arch. How low did you get? You mentioned you called the lock people? How far in advance did you call them to ask for more room/height? I see you are almost to Green Bay…. Enjoy! Remember…Uber to the stadium and do a tour… if they still do tours during the season. It is open though so you can still get in the mezzanine area.

    1. Hi Linda! There are some charts that show the 15’ low steel bridge clearance on the Champlain route, but the official New York Canal System info has it at 17’, which is consistent with what we saw both trips through. We got down to 17’4” and the lock guys lowered the necessary pools to give us a minimum of 18’4”. I’d suggest calling Mike at 518-491-2478 to discuss your plans and get peace of mind. He’ll tell you when to call on your actual trip. You’ll love it.

      Sadly, the spider solution was to spray the lines and fenders, which hasn’t really done the trick. Safe travels.

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