Sunday, August 31, 2008

Backpacking Grand Island National Recreation Area

Prologue: The Journey from Metro Detroit to Munising

Earlier this month Craig and I spent 4 days hiking the perimeter of Grand Island – a mostly wilderness island in Lake Superior just offshore from the town of Munising. The island is part of Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore and is reached via ferry just west of town on M-28. I was so looking forward to my first overnight/multi-day hiking trip that I failed to achieve a decent night's sleep for several days beforehand. I packed, unpacked, and repacked my backpack, and checked and rechecked my list of gear, food, and first aid supplies until I had it memorized. Our dogs undoubtedly thought that we were all going on some kind of fantastic journey based on the constant packing and perpetual nervous energy I was giving off. Though dogs are allowed on Grand Island, Zoe and Rodney would not be going with us. Instead, the dogs would be spending the week at their favorite neighborhood boarding facility - a place they love so much that my car is in danger of being destroyed in their frenzy to get out once we pull into the parking lot and they recognize where they are going. Neither of them would miss us one bit and we would find ourselves disappointed later in their obvious lack of enthusiasm when we showed up to bring them home.

We left our home in Berkley around 8:30 am Saturday to drive to Munising in the Upper Peninsula. Munising is one of our favorite towns and a place we like to pretend we will live someday. For fun we sometimes look up homes for sale in the area and discuss the topic as if it's something we could seriously consider. Maybe in a few years...

The first 4 hours of this drive are extremely boring; however, a surprise severe thunderstorm just north of Bay City livened things up by providing a bit of white-knuckled adventure. We emerged unscathed and stopped for lunch at Tony's Tacos: an authentic Mexican taco stand inexplicably located by the side of the road in the northern part of Michigan's lower peninsula near the town of Standish. It's a short detour (and very much worth it) off I-75 by taking the US-23 exit at Standish and driving 3 miles or so off the highway. Look for it on the left side of the road!

Two hours later we were crossing the Mackinac Bridge which is exciting no matter how many times I've done it. Once on the other side, the drive becomes much more enjoyable and I never tire of seeing the north shore of Lake Michigan along the stretch of US-2 heading west. We stopped in Epoufette at Cut River Store for some excellent beef jerky which is smoked just behind the store. Its aroma was so strong that we were actually afraid to take it with us on the island for fear of attracting every bear within a 5-mile radius. We decided we would just have to eat it all on the first day to get it out of the way.At Blaney Park we turned north on M-77 to Seney where we would again head west along the notoriously dull “Seney Stretch” of M-28 to Munising. This monotonous stretch of road borders the north side of Seney National Wildlife Refuge and, although flat and desolate, it still provides a better driving experience than any of the decimated excuses for roads in Metro Detroit so I never complain. Eventually M-28 enters Hiawatha National Forest and becomes more enjoyable.

The town of Munising is on Lake Superior where it forms Munising Bay at the western end of Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore. Grand Island sits just north of town beyond the bay. Various restaurants in town offer fresh Lake Superior whitefish, excellent pasties are made all day long at Muldoon's Pasties, and a good strong cappuccino is served at Falling Rock Cafe where you can also shop their bookstore, buy locally made hand crafted items, and use their wifi connection. Our destination for the evening was the Sunset Motel on Munising Bay. We had stayed there several years ago and enjoyed the simple rooms (all overlooking the bay), quiet setting, and very cheap rates. Now it is under new ownership and improvements have been made to the rooms so it is therefore more expensive but very much worth the nightly rate (still only around $75-$85/night). We checked in and immediately drove to Muldoon's for beef pasties with gravy which we'd been looking forward to all day. Back at the motel we took the last showers we would have for a while and watched the sun set over the bay before turning in. I was still too excited about the following morning's trip to the island and didn't sleep much despite the room's comfortable king size bed and huge fluffy pillows.

To be continued in Grand Island: Day One