Ever since we started this cruising thing back in 2017, our friends Tom and Deb have been pushing us to meet them in Houghton-Hancock. We’ve now spent a week here. Check that bad boy off the master to-do list.
First, however, we had to leave Marquette. It was cold, wet, and smoky at 6 a.m. when we got up. It was cold, wet, and smoky at 6:45 a.m. when we pulled out of Cinder Pond and hooked around the possibly-haunted Marquette Harbor Light.
Mostly it was cold, wet, and smoky for nine hours, although brief windows of sort of sunlight broke through now and then.
According to the author of Scott Bakran’s Field Guide to the Upper Peninsula, Big Bay Point Lighthouse is a worthy attraction in these parts. It’s now the Big Bay Point Lighthouse Bed and Breakfast. According to the website, the inn is “A great place for adults in search of a secluded retreat from modern life” — which we figure is code for “We don’t have Wi-Fi.” Regardless, the grounds presumably are more impressive when it’s not cold, wet, and smoky.
Without a doubt, the best lighthouse of the trip was the Keweenaw Waterway Lower Entry Light. That’s because (1) Lake Superior was a bit lumpier than we like and the waterway promised to be smoother and (2) it meant we were less than two hours from stopping.
The Keweenaw Peninsula sticks out into Lake Superior like a witch’s crooked finger would look if she was casting an evil spell on Ontario. The waterway bisects the finger at roughly the second knuckle, creating “Copper Island” out of the top half, so named because it was home to the country’s first copper boom. Apparently it’s a thing to kayak or canoe around the circumference, but it takes a week or two, so na.
Anyway, we enjoyed the nice ride on up to the Houghton County Marina. Which is on the Hancock side of the canal, across from Houghton. Yoopers. Go figure.
Now the following photo requires a comment. It’s not the pretty sailboat that’s interesting here. It’s not the rusting crane. It’s the little hill behind them.
That’s right, that’s Mont Ripley—believe it or not—boasting “112 challenging acres of skiable terrain” and a whopping 440’ of vertical drop. Anyone thinking of mocking Mont Ripley, of course, would do well to remember that it’s nearly twice the size of Mount Holly, which is a dirt pile/ski resort in the mitten part of Michigan. Deb grew up skiing on both of these, er, mountains, however, so that’s about all we can say without being offensive.
The marina guy told us a dockhand would be waiting on the dock for us, and sure enough from way off we could see a very enthusiastic girl waving white flags. Now that’s a great idea. All marinas should do that. No more trying to spot a guy who blends in with the boats. We’ll just head for where the helpful girl is waving us in.
Wait! That’s Deb welcoming us to Hancock! Never mind that we almost went in to the wrong slip. And those aren’t white flags, those are Finland flags. Fins to the left, Fins to the right.
The southern of the twins cities is Houghton, “Birthplace of Professional Hockey.” Turns out the first professional hockey actually may have been played in Pennsylvania two years earlier, but up here they’ve been so proud of the claim that they should just keep the signs up.
Regardless of the whole professional hockey thing, Houghton is a nice place to live. We know that because it’s the town motto.
Over on the Hancock side, it’s not quite so nice, at least if you want to ride your snowmobile on the sidewalk.
As an aside, we’d never want to live full-time in a place that has an ordinance banning snowmobiles on sidewalks. Not because we think it’s a bad ordinance, but because the conditions make it physically possible to ride a snowmobile on the sidewalk.*
Hancock is famous as the home of Finlandia University. Seriously, the name is “Finlandia University.”
This isn’t one of those fly-by-night online schools either. Founded in 1896, Finlandia’s collection of Finnish-American stuff is the world’s largest. Except two months ago financial mismanagement and dropping enrollment led the Board of Trustees to shutter the place for good. The press release announcing the closure did not specify a disposal plan for the cafeteria’s large supply of lutefisk pasties.**
Thanks to our shrewd planning, we encountered no snow. In fact, even the smoke and haze blew east, giving Deb and Tom some some gorgeous days to show us around. Very cool towns. Great restaurants.
“The opulent High Victorian design of the Houghton County Courthouse testifies to the prosperity that the copper boom brought to the area in the late nineteenth century,” says the sign. It’s pretty ornate alright, but as far as we can tell no famous Jimmy Stewart movies were filmed here.
Friday evening we sat out on the Sydenhams’ awesome dock. Deb’s family history in the area goes back multiple generations, which is why they have a very cool summer house on a lake. That’s also why she can point to just about every building for miles around and tell a story.
Our adventure day took us on a hike and foggy beach visit over on the west side of Copper Island.
On the way back, we passed through Calumet. Calumet is famous as the place where Deb’s mom once lived, and for the tragic deaths of striking copper miners and their families who were trampled in a stampede caused by some dude falsely shouting “fire” during a Christmas party. Seventy-three people died. Nobody ever officially identified the culprit, although Woody Guthrie had no qualms about fingering “copper boss’ thugs” in his not-great ballad “1913 Massacre.” Calumet is a cool little town, although the place we stopped to get pie didn’t have pie.
Back in Hancock, we went up the hill for the Quincy Mine tour. These mines were all over the area during the copper years, but at nearly two miles the #2 Quincy mine shaft was the deepest.
What at the time was the world’s largest steam engine powered the world’s largest hoist, which allowed Mr. Quincy to make a fortune in copper while sending hundreds of poor slobs down to their death.
Regardless, the tour—much of which was slogging through a dark wet tunnel—was fabulous, despite the “Big Bad John” lyrics playing on loop in Doug’s head.
One evening, Deb’s Uncle Ray and Auntie Claire joined us for dinner at the Mexican place and drinks on the flybridge. Lots of drinks. Too many drinks. Ray summoned his buddy Skeeter to do a Coast Guard inspection for us but Skeeter preferred vodka and tonic, with lemon. No sticker for Tumbleweed.
While enjoying Yooper wit and wisdom we watched some dude driving his car around in the water. We couldn’t tell if the girls in the back were hitchhikers he picked up, but if so he might end up in the pokey with the scofflaws who ride snowmobiles on the sidewalks.
After some traditional Fourth of July pickleball, we popped back to Dollar Bay for the traditional small town parade. These always are fun, although this is the first time we’ve seen Santa Claus in one of them. Yoopers. Go figure.
This is as far north as we’ll get this summer and as far west as we’ll get this summer. Much more importantly, we had a great time with Tom and Deb.
So what’s with the Victoria reference? And why are we turning around rather than exploring the Apostle Islands, Isle Royale, Duluth, and Thunder Bay? Well—shockingly—we changed our plan. Now we’re heading east through Ontario, down the east coast, loading Tumbleweed on the deck of a cargo ship, and then meeting her in British Columbia. We’ll see what a few summers in the San Juans, Inside Passage, and Alaska do for us. So we’re hustling to make Fort Lauderdale by the end of November. That should be doable unless a hurricane sinks us, but we’ve got to pick up the pace.
*Also, we’d never choose to live in a place with a snowmometer.
**Dana luckily found a shop with a few remaining “FU” shirts for sale, so Finlandia University’s name will live on aboard Tumbleweed.