Great Lakes Road Trip Day 16: Bay City to Mackinaw City

Quick trivia quiz. Which popular music act had their upbringing in the lakeside town of Bay City, MI?

No – not the obvious Bay City Rollers, who were a Scottish act arbitrarily choosing Bay City for their name; nor was it Eminem, though he lives just a stone’s throw away in Rochester Hills, MI. In fact, it’s Madonna. So as the sun rises today (Monday) we head into Bay City in search of a) Madonna evidence, and more importantly b) breakfast.

The latter we find in “Morning at Maggie’s Omelette Shop“, which more or less does what it says on the tin. There’s Maggie (in a picture at least), there are omelettes, and there are lots of happy customers tucking into their frittata.

As for Madonna, there’s not a peep of evidence. Even the dress shop is called “Uptown Girl” rather than the more obvious “Material Girl”. Missed a trick there, peeps. (And before you start thinking that maybe Mr. Joel had his roots in Bay City too, think again: he hails from Hicksville, NY. Really.)

Still, Bay City is a pleasant enough town with an old world charm and pretty deserted streets for a Monday morning. There’s your usual scattering of mid-American buildings, diners and hotels, and other run-of-the-mill offerings like a huge planetarium and a helicopter on a pole.


But we’re only passing through, so we pay up at Maggie’s and head on our way, skirting the rest of lower Michigan’s peninsula en route for Mackinaw City.

The journey is much the same as yesterday – perhaps unsurprisingly. There are plenty more lighthouses, plenty more holiday cottages with stunning views over the lake, and from time to time a statue celebrating the fictional lumberjack Paul Bunyan.

Eventually, we find ourselves on a long stretch of forested road, and (not very) soon we reach our motel. It’s the Clearwater Lakeshore Motel, and although we don’t have a lakeshore room ourselves, it’s fair to say that this complex is right on the lakeside. At night, we find, they light log pits for the residents to sit out on the beach watching the sun set.

Heading into the town of Mackinaw City for dinner, we discover a local band playing live in the town’s bandstand, so we have a couple of beers and listen to the Springsteen Brothers playing covers of Eagles and Van Morrison songs – they’re really good. It was also great to see some of the Amish community out enjoying the music too. The town of Mackinaw is just on the right side of a stylish resort town – it’s clearly set up for the tourist trade with chintzy shops and a marina hugging the coast; but it’s relaxed and quite pretty.

Overcome with festival fever we skip into a tarot reader’s to have our fortunes told. We’re both going to live long and fruitful lives with great success just around the corner. Hoorah. Well worth $35 each for that, then. Must learn not to get trigger happy when we’ve had a beer or two. Later on, we eat at the Keyhole Bar and Grill, which begins to get a bit rowdy. Not really our cup of tea. More like Karen’s bowl of fiery chicken wings (she’s just gotta; Dom just doesn’t).

Most tourists seem to use Mackinaw as a stopping off point to visit Mackinac Island, which we don’t have time for. It sounds appealing – there are no cars, and just a handful of hotels; on the other hand, day trippers seem to throng over in ferries, and everyone we talk to assumes that the Island is where we’re headed. Maybe next time.

Of course, we do head to the beach and the fire pits before turning in, and chat with a chap from downstate who’s weekending here. It was nice to meet someone, though strangely, it was so dark that we couldn’t really see him, and we didn’t even exchange names. Just a conversation between passing strangers…


Great Lakes Road Trip Day 15: Michigan’s thumb

It’s time for a change of pace. Up to now we have been driving towards destinations: Wooster, Cleveland, Niagara, Toronto, Detroit. The drives themselves have been a means to an end and the cities we’ve been visiting have been the highpoints. But now, as we head up into rural Michigan, it will be the journeys that we start to relish.

Today’s takes in the “thumb” (so called because if you hold up your left hand it looks like lower Michigan, and hey: we’re driving around the thumb).


This takes us up the shoreline of Lake Huron, which we first glimpsed crossing over from Canada. And on this route, there are plenty of opportunities to enjoy the lakeside views. This has to be the most picturesque lake yet, not just for the scenery but also for the forested avenues we drive down, the hundreds of lakeside cottages that line the route, the small towns that are straight out of the 1950s, and the dozens of garage sales, yard sales, and driveway sales that make the M25 (yes, really) a thriving marketplace. It’s like Michigan’s car boot bonanza.

We stop off several times, enjoying Pointe aux Barques in particular. Here stands one of Michigan’s many lighthouses (they’re really important: some estimates reckon there are up to 10,000 wrecked ships in the Great Lakes!).

And as luck would have it, a little bit further down the road, we find the Caseville Cheeseburger Festival in full swing. We’d heard about this last night when a delightful lady in Nemo’s bar in Detroit told us about it. Well, you have to partake, don’t you? So we grabbed a $3 burger along with the hundreds of locals who had found their way to the tiny village.


It’s been a great day – and we’ve been kept company by bikers all along the route (perhaps they fancied a cheeseburger).


Towards evening we finally make it to Bay City, our stop for the night, to find a great riverview from our hotel window, and a lovely sunset approaching.