We like Lake Michigan, but enough is enough, plus it’s lonely around here

Up and out of Escanaba after delicious Swedish pancakes and some boat chores.  Among other glorious successes, we identified and resolved the small leak that caused the fresh water pump to cycle on periodically throughout the night.  That left only two Bays de Noc—Little and Big—between us and our Sunday destination.

In the mid-nineteenth century, this part of upper Michigan was a hotbed of iron smelting*, with the resulting product supporting much of the Union war machine.  Post-war, a Johnson Iron Company bigwig named Fayette Brown ordered a huge smelting operation and a supporting town to be built around Snail Shell Harbor on Michigan’s Garden Peninsula.  He named the town Fayette.  Fayette Brown was not a humble man.**

The entrance to the harbor is lined with huge dolomite cliffs.  Very cool.

Cedar trees along the cliffs have adapted to the crappy conditions by slowing their growth rate, which also allows them to live a long time.   One is over 1,414 years old, rendering our series of posts about the wondrous old trees along the Atlantic coast even more embarrassing.

At its peak, Fayette boasted five hundred hardy residents.  Most of them lived in what looks like poverty.  This “middle-class” house, for example, is smaller than Miss Lily.

The pig iron market kept the town booming for about twenty-five years, during which Johnson Iron produced 225,000 tons of the stuff. This would be a great place for a reference to the Marty Robbins classic song about the Arizona Ranger with the pig iron on his ship, but sadly we used it in a Mississippi River post several years ago.  Oh well.

Because we stayed for two days and had time to kill, Doug dropped the drone down into the roofless remains of the company store to get an artsy shot of Tumbleweed in the fading light.

The sign outside says that customers referred to the operation as a “pluck me,” which was a “term commonly used to emphasize exploitative company stores.”  We find “pluck me” to be a pleasingly apt description of price gouging.  “Pluck me” also is a close cousin to what one of us yells every time he carelessly gashes his head when retrieving something from the lazarette.

The big white house behind the little white house on the hill behind Tumbleweed in the photo was “the finest home in the harbor.”  Not surprisingly, the top company executive lived there.  Somewhat surprisingly, however, the superintendent lived about thirty yards from the little white house—this house—where the folks restoring it found a secret compartment with vials containing nine thousand doses of morphine.  We have no idea about the daily intake of morphine junkies, but nine thousand doses sounds like a lot.

The visitor center has an awesome diorama showing the town and harbor as it appeared in the late 1800s.

We assume a dad helped design and construct the project, because if the kid did it on her own it would’ve just been a shoebox with cotton balls and glitter, a few Lego houses, and glue everywhere.***

The last house we’ll include belonged to Dr. Bellows, the town doctor.

We note this only because years after he lived in this house, Dr. Bellows became a NASA psychiatrist who was dutifully skeptical every time Major Tony Nelson reported seeing paranormal activity around his house.  Unless that was a different Dr. Bellows.

Folks who follow us know that when we visit a new stop, we look for local places to eat.  In a ghost town like Fayette that’s not too easy.  A hike out to the road and then down it a fair piece, however, led us to the only restaurant to be found within a distance we’d walk without sniveling: Sherry’s Port Bar, “serving fresh whitefish (when it’s available.)”  Fun and quirky little place.  We hope it survives.

Anyway, Fayette was an awesome place to stay for a couple of days.

Not much going on between Fayette and Manistique.  Since we’re done with Lake Michigan, however, here’s a photo of an unremarkable stretch of desolate shoreline we passed as we rounded the southern tip of Summer Island.

There’s also not much going on in Manistique, and what little we might muster for the blog we already used last fall.  The Manistique East Breakwater Light, however, is still right where it’s been since 1916.  In 2013, a dude from Ohio named Bill Collins bought it for $15,000.  Apparently he now has a collection of at least four lighthouses for his kids to sell the moment he dies.

Once again, Tumbleweed was about the only boat around.  Even the dredges were gone from the middle of the narrow river channel, which helpfully dropped the degree of docking difficulty to zero.

A solitary swan did drift by, carrying a big guy who sometime earlier proclaimed that his back hurt too much pedal and a cheerful woman who was voted “Most Likely to Drown in the Event of Capsize” by her swanmates, who called dibs on the only two life available jackets.

Otherwise, not much to Manistique.  Manistique feels like a town that once was thriving so they built stuff and then people left and now there’s a St. Vincent De Paul service center on the main downtown street.

But Dana enjoyed running on the boardwalk, and we did find a quite solid breakfast joint.  Perfectly acceptable as an overnight pit stop on our way to Lake Superior.

Wednesday took us to Naubinway.  Before reaching Naubinway, however, we made a detour to retrieve balloons that some jackass somewhere released without a second thought, prompting the earliest of our annual rants.  Stop with the helium balloons!  Just because they’re pretty and go up and out of sight doesn’t mean it’s not littering!  Grrrrr.  Mylar and latex balloons break down into micro particles that harm plant and animal life. Foil balloons are not biodegradable at all.  What the hell is wrong with people?

Seul Choix (confusingly pronounced Sis-shwa) Point Light is the last of the fabulous Lake Michigan lighthouses we’ll document in this blog.  “Many people” believe it’s haunted by the ghosts of keepers past, but we think it at least equally likely that the museum people make up the stories to attract tourist dollars.  Back in the day the Seul Choix Point Light was dang useful though, because there’s a hidden boat-sinking limestone reef that reaches out beneath the surface almost as far out as we were.

Naubinway is famous as the northernmost point on Lake Michigan, although technically the actual northernmost point is one cove to the east.

Naubinway even more importantly is sort of near a cabin owned by our friend Erin’s father.  In fact, we’d never heard of Naubinway until Erin mentioned it.  Now, “Naubinway” is one of our favorite words to say.****

When Dana called the dockmaster at the tiny marina a few days ago, his wife answered their home phone.  Earlier in the day her husband had been restocking the toilet paper at the marina bathroom because the cabin folk used it instead of buying their own, she said, while adding that he had left his phone when doing so, which she attributed to the fact that “after he retired he turned into a putz.”   Dockmaster Brent later called to confirm the water depth, and when we met him at the dock he seemed pretty normal to us.

But once again, we were all alone.

Well, alone except for the billions of newly-hatched midges that joined us.  Those seat covers aren’t supposed to be fuzzy.  This may explain why we’re the only people boating on Lake Michigan right now.

The must-stop stop in Naubinway, of course, is the Top of The Lake Snowmobile Museum.  This place ranks right up there with the Navy Seal Museum as the coolest we’ve visited.

The term “snowmobile” was coined by a New Hampshire dude who modified early Fords for wintry weather.  Here’s a 1926 Model T wearing the gear.

Lots of vintage machines, clothing, and associated whatnots to be found in this incredible place.  Here’s one that Mario Andretti commissioned and raced.

Dana even found one specially made for girls.  Seriously.  It’s the pink one, because, you know, girls back then were too girly to ride non-pink snowmobiles.

Lots of snowmobiles.

Speaking of midges, thanks to Starlink we spent the evening sheltered aboard, watching the final episode of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.  We doubled up on final episodes by also watching the end of Ted Lasso.  Now those are shows we’re gonna miss.

After Dana did her best to rid Tumbleweed of midges and midge carcasses with the help of the leaf blower that Dockmaster Brent (the putz) loaned us, we crossed down to Mackinaw City.  Back under Mighty Mac for the third time, but the first from west to east.  Looks just about the same.

In prior posts we’ve wrung everything possible out of t-shirt and fudge shops and the history of Mackinaw City, so we won’t even try.  Off for a few days tending to some unfun non-boating stuff—so no blog post for a week or so—but back soon enough, excited to see what Lake Superior is all about.


*In an etymological twist, smelts also are small fish found in these latitudes.  The British Columbians call the smelts on Canada’s western shore “Ooligans.”  Go figure.

**On a smaller scale but in the same name-stuff-after-oneself vein that seems to run through the Brown family tree, Richardson’s is an iconic restaurant in Phoenix with an unsavory history but delicious food.  Richardson Brown also is not a humble man.

***Every dad worth a damn intuitively understands that his child absolutely cannot submit the lamest diorama in the class, even if it means a trip to Home Depot for more power tools and lumber and even if all the moms of the loser kids with their shoeboxes think it’s cheating.

****We really wanted to eat at Moofinfries in Naubinway, mostly because “Moofinfries in Naubinway” is double fun to say.  Unfortunately Moofinfries in Naubinway was closed on Wednesday.  So we ate at Shirley’s Cove Bar, which—particularly inside—is eerily similar to Sherry’s Port Bar.

Here’s a map of Tumbleweed’s current journey, which will lead us in a roundabout way to Victoria, British Columbia.  Clicking the red balloon thingys will pull up links to the blog posts from each stop.


To see the good stuff from other travels, just click on the menu.  We really can’t make it any easier.

If you want to find out what’s going on without having to remember to track us down, you can follow us to get updates by email.  Woo Hoo!

Tonight the Super Yooper lights are gonna find us*

First things first.  We left Green Bay on Thursday, and made it as far as Egg Harbor.  This time through we found Green Bay a bit more inviting, which probably says more about our attitude last fall than it does about Green Bay.  We confirmed that—with the notable exception of University of Wisconsin Medical Center ophthalmologists—everyone in Wisconsin is good natured and helpful.  South Bay Marina completed most of the stuff we needed done.  So let the summer commence.

Door County currently is in full Spring mode, which differs significantly from our stop there seven months ago.

Last year the autumn gales prevented drone flying.  This year?  Calm and gorgeous.

We ate, walked around town, bought delicious butter crisps, blah, blah, blah.  For none of those reasons, this Sister Bay stop was life-changing.  Some folks look back on wedding days, the birth of children, or a religious epiphany, as the most significant events they’ve experienced.  Meh.  We’ve enjoyed our nearly thirty-year marriage and our kids and all, but Sister Bay gave us something even better: Starlink.

Discerning observers immediately will spot the dishy—seriously, Starlink named it “Dishy McFlatface”—temporarily mounted on a deck railing.  Here’s a better view of this bad boy.

Boom!  Just like that we’re done fretting over crappy Verizon service and hit-or-mostly-miss marina Wi-Fi.  No more scrambling around tiny villages looking for someplace to watch Doug’s mighty Volunteers.  Indeed, those same Volunteers are battling Dana’s Longhorns in the NCAA super-regionals and we get to watch every minute.  Without breaking a sweat.  Like we said, life-changing.**

Lest anybody think all we’ll do now is bask in Tumbleweed’s bounty of streaming goodness, we also walked around Sister Bay to see if anything changed in the last six months.  Al’s goats are still eating the roof, although we had to look hard to find them.

The shrub people are still in place, and look much happier in spring hats than they did when dressed as Packer fans.

We also hiked up the road with the 15% grade to buy some of the delicious local cherry cider Doug discovered at lunch.  It was available at the shop that shares a parking lot with the Piggly Wiggly.  A Piggly Wiggly in Wisconsin still seems odd.  It’s like finding a Krystal on the moon.  Some things should just stay in the South.

Despite an evening of softball on TV, we pulled away long enough to watch our first awesome sunset of the summer.  Tennessee Orange.  Vols beat Horns in game one.

Our plan was to cruise directly from Sister Bay to Fayette, which basically is an historic village and state park in Michigan.  Then a reader named Scott commented on our last post with a recommendation that we visit Escanaba, Michigan, and that we watch a movie—which he described as a cross between Fargo and Rocky Horror Picture Show—filmed in Escanaba.  We may or may not get around to Escanaba in da Moonlight, but mostly based on his description and his slick reference to our Sturgeon Bay post we decided to take a chance.  For non-Yoopers, during our crossing we punched up a little geography aid.

Escanaba—“Esky” to the locals—welcomed us with one of those old-fashioned welcome signs.   We know the sign was for us because almost nobody else was around.

When the summer season kicks off, of course, Yoopers will be out and about in force, making sure Escanaba knows wassup.

Our five-mile hike around town took us past a few other points of interest.  That lighthouse on the welcome sign?  It’s the Sand Point Light, built in 1867.  They don’t make up for the abomination that is Jim Harbaugh, of course, but the numerous lighthouses Michigan gave the world are damn cool.

Here’s Rosy’s Diner, which was featured in the beginning of the movie Scott wants us to watch.

Scott and several others identified Stonehouse Restaurant as the place to eat, but they don’t take reservations and don’t open until 5:00.  So to kill time we walked around to the high school, which also apparently made an appearance in the movie that made Escanaba famous.

Eskymos.  Oh you funny, funny, politically-incorrect Yoopers.  Most importantly, dinner at Stonehouse indeed was delicious.

Our route back home took us past House of Ludington, a grand establishment dating to 1864.  Advertisements in 1893 proclaimed that it was the only hotel in the city with, among other things, “baths and steam heat.”  Pretty gross was Esky back in the day.

When we returned home from dinner, we still were all alone on the municipal marina’s long wall.  Which was just fine by us.

Escanaba may not make the list of top places we’ve visited, but we’re happy we made the stop.  No bashing Scott for recommending Escanaba.  We do reserve the right, however, to challenge his movie taste if we watch Escanaba in da Moonlight.  And in the very unlikely event tomorrow’s breakfast at the goatless Swedish place sucks, he’ll hear from us.***

Our first three days underway were perfect.  Cool temperatures.  Smooth water.  Slight breeze.  No clouds.  Few boats in our way.  Just the way we like it, and no, we’re not embarrassed about being wussies.  Unfortunately, based on our experience it seems unlikely that this will continue all summer.

Oh yeah.  Lady Vols win game two and are heading back to the WCWS.  And we were able to watch every pitch.  Starlink, baby, Starlink.

Next stop, Fayette.


*Sincerest apologies to ABBA, and best of luck on your virtual reality tour.

**In no way should this post be viewed as endorsing Elon Musk, a megalomaniacal evil genius whose intentions to control and then destroy the world are foiled only by his own hubris.  Basically Elon Musk is Heinz Doofenshmirtz, but less funny and without a secret-agent platypus nemesis.  Tesla paint peels and Twitter is a cesspool, but by golly so far Starlink is awesome.

***None of this should scare anybody off.  We’ll take local knowledge whenever it’s available.

“Gotta get away to where the boat leaves from”

Long-time followers know our affinity for old country songs and for dead or close-to-dead country singers.  Zac Brown is neither dead nor dying and barely is country, but Dana was right: this line makes a great post title.  Because a week ago we left the Scottsdale blast furnace, heading back to Green Bay, brimming with hope that the ice was gone and that the yard had completed the winter maintenance.  Green Bay is where the boat will leave from.

We’ll not detail the entire two-thousand mile trek, but a couple of quick notes.  Remember that time almost exactly a year ago when our horrible experience with Hertz ultimately yielded a too-small car that required a car-top carrier, rather than the cargo van we reserved, such that at every nightly stop we had to load and unload stuff in rain and snow as we crossed this great country, which required excessive profanity?  This year we went with Avis.  Avis delivered the exact minivan we requested.  No drama.  Beautiful.

Of course, not everything was smooth.  The first two hours got us north of Payson, but then we had to bounce back to Goodyear for an unexpected last-minute doctor visit.  This is important only because of the absurdly ambiguous cul-de-sac we observed when we were trying to leave.

Anyway, we ultimately did get away.  Which leads to an observation about the middle part of this vast country.  We allow for the remote possibility that states like Kansas have redeeming qualities that for some reason they decided to keep hidden from the rest of us.  Based on our experiences, however, there’s only one place that justifies stopping in Kansas: the Kansas City Chuy’s.*  That’s it.  Just Chuy’s.**  And the Kansas City Chuy’s isn’t even in Kansas, it’s in Missouri.

Out of necessity we did spend a night in Dodge City, Kansas, whose history of assorted gunfighters and lawmen like Wyatt Earp and Bat Masterson would make it cool if its coolness wasn’t more than offset by the bogus claim of Boot Hill Cemetery.  Everybody knows the real one is in Tombstone.  Arizona, not Kansas.  Also, Bill Self rivals John Calipari in lying, cheating, basketball dirtbaggery.

Ok, that’s way more attention than Kansas deserves.  Onward across Iowa.  Even if Iowa wasn’t significantly more scenic than Kansas, we wouldn’t belittle it out of deference to all the famous and important people from there—people like John Wayne, Radar O’Reilly, and our good friends Sharon and Angie.  Plus, John Dutton planted a baseball diamond in his Iowa cornfield just so he could show it off to Elmer Gantry and Mufasa and have a catch with his dead father.***  Now that’s cool.

Our other noteworthy stop was in Madison, Wisconsin, mostly because we met Peter and Yvonne for dinner.  Peter and Doug worked at the same law firm before Peter left to become a bigwig in the Justice Department.  It was great to catch up some twenty-five years later.  Next year, pickleball in Wickenburg.

In the days since leaving Peter and Yvonne, we’ve encountered a series of unfortunate events that put Lemony Snicket to shame; events so numerous and so unfortunate that—to steal the line faithfully submitted by Sergeant-at-Arms Douglas C. Neidermeyer—“decorum prohibits listing them here.”  But Tumbleweed was waiting in the water, and we’re planning to get underway tomorrow.  Hopefully the quality of blog posts will pick up from here.


*In fairness, one of us thinks going out of the way to see the still-standing house in Holcomb where Herb and Bonnie Clutter and two of their kids were slaughtered In Cold Blood would be worthwhile.  Dana?  Not so much.  Dana would rather gargle with battery acid.

**Only one thing on God’s green Earth dresses a tortilla chip better than Chuy’s salsa, and that one thing is Chuy’s Creamy Jalapeño Cilantro Dip.  Fact.

***Are we the only ones who find it odd that Kevin Costner’s dad in Field of Dreams looked nothing at all like his dad in Yellowstone, who looked exactly like Dabney Coleman, because he was Dabney Coleman?