Monday, February 17, 2014

From The Soo to Marquette and Home

It's kinda funny.  Now that I am an outdoor adventure writer, people want to send me places so I will write about their area.  What a neat way to discover new places and meet new people.

This last week I did a little tour of the Eastern U.P.  When I was asked if I wanted to go on this trip, my first thought was that I already live and experience the U.P. on a daily basis.  But the agenda showed some activities that I haven't done, so I signed up.

Here are the highlights from this Pure Michigan Press Trip.

I spent the first night in Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan.  Did you know it's the oldest city in the Midwest?  While there, I felt more curiosity toward the Soo Locks than I ever have before.  Too bad it was already dark by the time we went out to eat.  I'll have to go back.

We ate at a place called Antlers, on the shore facing Canada.  There I met Linda, a beaming lady who is also the Executive Director of their Convention and Visitor's Bureau.  She was a wealth of passion and knowledge for the area.  If you ever get to the Soo, stop in and say hi to her.  You just might get a hug before you leave.

The lion exhibit at Antlers

The anaconda and giant sea turtle skull

The next morning we drove through Paradise, Michigan to Tahquamenon Falls.  I have heard of both of these places, but it was my first time passing through.  Paradise was blink-and-you'll-miss-it in size, but sitting on Lake Superior's shore, I bet it gets lots of visitors in the summertime.

At Tahquamenon Falls I instantly fell in love with our tour guide, Theresa.  As the Park Interpreter/Education Services spokesperson, she was knowledgeable, excited about the area and full of that magnetic energy.  Plus she instantly knew what trees I was curious about: the beech trees, that hold onto their brown leaves throughout the winter.  

Theresa took me and a couple rookie snowshoers on an adventure through the woods, off the beaten path (cuz that's what real snowshoeing is).  She told us all about the old growth maple and beech forests as we hiked through, mentioned the wildlife habitats and even let us take turns breaking trail.

Theresa explains about the pileated woodpecker's holes in the trees

It really was a beautiful area.  I found myself stricken more than once.  Then we got to the Upper Falls.

Me across the river and above the falls

Afterward we went to Tahquamenon Falls Brewery and Pub.  I'm not going to lie.  A pub in the middle of a state park?  I expected deep fried ski hill cafeteria food.  Instead it was closer to Harbor Haus cuisine.  "I don't like to open packages here," Chef David explained.  We could taste the difference in the food.  The love.  Especially in the secret recipe hot cocoa which we all ordered and probably secretly wet ourselves as we drank it.

Being that it was 2:oo pm and we had to drive to our next activity, we didn't try the beer.  But I hope it's as good as the hot cocoa.

Without a moment to waste, we whisked ourselves over to McMillan where we would learn how to drive a dogsled at Nature's Kennel.  Just a quick note, that if you ever go there (and you should for a bucket list experience) it seems like you're driving to the end of the earth.  The nearly one lane road was not paved and hardly plowed.  We thought we were going the wrong way until a Sysco Food truck bombed down the road behind us.  Whew, we thought.  There is life down here.

When we got to the Kennel itself, we were greeted by two of the most down-to-earth guys that we met on the trip.  It could be partially due to the fact that they live off the grid, cutting their own firewood to stay warm.  And the owners, Ed and Tasha know how to treat the dogs to get maximum love and performance out of them because they race themselves.  Ed has raced the Iditarod multiple times, and Tasha has even won the UP 200 Race out of Marquette.

But the guys, Dave and TJ, were there to teach us about the dogs.  When we approached the kennel, of over 100 Alaskan Huskies, we saw them slowly stretch out of their barrel houses.

The dogs emerge and psyche up for a run

We learned how the dogs from each litter were named according to themes.  We learned all about the parts of the sled itself, and how to control it.  We learned how to harness the dogs onto the lines.  But when TJ said, "Okay, pick up a harness, and there's a name on it.  Find the dog, and hook it up to the sled," I was a bit surprised.  We were actually going to handle these little guys!  They made it easy, by picking up their paw, so we could put it through the loops.  They wanted to cooperate because they wanted to run.  That is why they were born.

I was nervous to drive the sled myself.  In fact, I was going to try to pass my turn off.  But let me tell you, it easily became second nature, and I didn't want my turn to stop!  I got to control the speed of 5 of these beasts for about 5 miles.  It was a transforming 5 miles in my life.

After our run, we were chilly and hungry.  Jasmine, another worker there, spent the day making the chocolatiest chocolate chip cookies we have ever tasted.  Still warm and gooey.  We were having such a nice time chatting by the fire that we reluctantly left to go to dinner.

By then daylight was fading, but we drove to Curtis to have an elegant dinner at Chamberlin's Old Forest Inn overlooking Big Manistique Lake.  Kelly, the owner, was very sweet and came out to talk to us and give us some history on the place.  My appetizer and dinner were really tasty.  I bet they are just slammin' in the summertime.

The classy bar and bartender at Chamberlin's Inn

Now if you think I'm going to die out in Lake Superior while traversing the ice, you should think about this.  I then had to follow the van in my own car for over two hours west on M-28 through a winter snow storm where they actually shut down that road while we were on it.  Thank goodness to my co-pilot from D.C. who encouraged me when I thought I'd be better off pulling off to the side and camping in the car.  When we got to Marquette, I gave our host and driver of the van, Michelle, a big thank-goodness-we-are-alive hug.

Thus begun our Marquette adventures!

That first morning we had a couple more hosts join us.  Man.  I felt like a celebrity with all the official people coming out to meet us.  But we had an agenda, and the next activity was snowmobiling.

We shuttled to Meyer's Yamaha where we sized up for helmets and each got to drive our own snowmobile.  I was less worried about driving one of these 4-stroke beasts than controlling the dogs, but the former proved to be more of a challenge.

Donny, past president of the Hiawatha Trails and continual lover of the sport, was our guide.  For the most part, all six of us were rookies, but we managed not to hurt anyone or break anything.  Greg, the owner at Meyer's would be much relieved.

We started on Trail 8 west out of Ishpeming, and took it to 417 where we climbed to Mount Marquette.  Seven inches of fresh snow and sunshine made the landscape dreamy.  The air was brisk, but the beauty took over any pain we may have felt.  Except for my burning buns from the super-heated seat-warmer.

Snowmobiling Amanda and most of our guide, Donny

We probably rode about 40 miles.  My max speed was 41 mph, and that scared me enough where I felt no need to try to go any faster.  Thank you Donny for being a great guide, and Dale for being our sweep.  We all came out safe.

Then on to the Ore Dock Brewing Company!  We met one of the owners, the general manager and brewmaster -- all enthusiastic about their part in the company. We even got a tour of the brewing vats and the upper level where they often have live music.  "We wanted to create a space where people want to hang out, relax, enjoy a beer and people's company," owner Andrea commented.  

I've heard good things about that place, and after talking with the head honchos, touring the site and tasting the beer, I am as impressed as I thought I would be.

The Ore Dock's current list of brews
Our sample platter

The atmosphere was so comfortable, that it would have been nice to stay, but we had plans.  Time for a nap in the hotel!

The view from my window at the Hampton Inn

The Hampton Inn is Marquette's newest hotel, and the only one situated to overlook Lake Superior.  Can you believe it?  I was on vacation and I still got to stare at the frozen Big Lake!

Rick, the Director of Sales at the Hampton told us about how they upgraded this hotel from the usual Hamptons: more sound-proofing in the walls, 11-foot ceiling on the main floor, salt water pool and more.  We all agreed that the rooms were nice and the staff was always friendly and helpful.  Three nights there were pretty posh.

It was almost time for the start of the UP 200 Dog Sled race beginning in Downtown Marquette.  Our crew shuttled again to the downtown area, and met in the Convention and Visitor's Bureau where we were offered beverages and a place to warm up if the nip got too deep.  There we met Pat, the CVB's Director.  There's a bundle of energy and ideas for you.  She kept things interesting and informative for much of the rest of the trip.

The crowds for the UP 200 were dense.  It was hard for me to even get any good pictures.  Each musher took off 50 seconds after the previous one, and the spectators counted down the last 10 to cheer the dogs and racers on.  Lots of spirit bouncing off between those buildings, I tell ya.  It was neat, but the chill got the best of us just before the last of the 240-mile racers took off.  

Oh, I got to see Tasha, from Nature's Kennel launch.  That was fun because she was the only musher I knew!

Then off to dinner a couple blocks up at the Historic Landmark Inn.  Again, we were V.I.P. on the top room looking over the crowd in the pub.  It was pretty cool.  My Mediterranean Wrap and sweet potato fries were divine.

The Landmark's fried pickles and ranch appetizer
Our group's staple throughout the week

Time for bed.  Allelujia.

Cuz the next morning we went to breakfast at the Sweetwater Cafe.   The fresh-squeezed pink grapefruit juice that morning was one of the highlights of my whole trip.  I could have had 12.  And the omelette with local eggs was killer as well.  When the waitress brought out the real maple syrup, a couple people at the table fainted.  Okay, not really, but it was a unique treat.

All that food was meant to fuel us up for snow biking.  The boys at Sports Rack in downtown Marquette hooked us up with some fat tire bikes, and my friend Peter took us for a cruise around the town.

My rental from Sports Rack for the afternoon

I was chomping to hop on a bike, and often rode ahead of our guide.  He was helping the others and I was off.  The funniest part of our journey was when we came to the finish line of the Dog Sled's Midnight Run.  There we were, just pedaling down the path lined with people waiting for the sleds to come in.  The announcer mentioned us and the crowd cheered and rang their bells.  It was quite a hoot.

We rode to the Marquette Harbor Lighthouse where we got a tour of the building.  Then we walked out down the little suspended boardwalk for a photo op.

My new blogger friend, World Wide Nate,
basking in the lighthouse scene

Our next big adventure for the day was to attend the Downtown Showdown.  It's a rail jam where kids from the area show off their skiing and snowboarding skills.  The city workers actually move the snow that was used to send the sled dogs off, and pack it on Washington Street between Front and Lakeshore.  

Since Marquette is situated on a hill, it worked out nicely for some descent elevation for the spunky ones to hit the rails, jumps and sometimes their bums.

A skier so fast, he's a blur on the rail

They had a decent crowd there as well.  My favorite part was the Double Trouble DJ's who kept the place bumpin' and me dancing by the speaker.  

Before the trip was over, we had one more big to do: a cake tasting with Joe's Cakes.  The cake chef himself was there to describe five of his best-selling cakes for our group to try.  Here's a little teaser for your sweet tooth!

A sampler platter of Joe's Cakes

My personal favorite was the ginger buttercream frosting.  Mmm.  But four members of the group ended up taking a piece of Joe's Mom's recipe apple walnut sour cream pie.  And another lady ate all the remaining cheesecake on the table.  Thank goodness for divers taste buds!

If you don't mind, I've got to teleport back to Copper Harbor.  Oh, here I am.  That's so nice.

Right now, the wind is whipping and the snow is falling heavily.  We're getting system snow from the south since the lake is frozen.  Kinda funny, hey?

Now I look forward to spending some time here.  Yesterday a few friends and I went ice fishing and snowshoeing to the lighthouse.  If I wasn't already writing this blog for 4 hours, I would be more detailed.  Instead, I'll leave you with a picture of the shanty with the CH Lighthouse in the distance.

Aaron's shanty on the harbor

1 comment:

  1. Congratulations on your being invited to participate in the Pure Michigan event. Well deserved for sure. Per the snow bike, it comes as no surprise that you'd find your way to the front of the pack . . good job!! Thanks again for the great stories and updates! John