Return to da U.P: Over the Mighty Mac and Through the Wood

The Houghton-Hancock Lift Bridge, which turns 60 in 2019, is still going strong

The Houghton-Hancock Lift Bridge, which turns 60 in 2019, is still going strong

8:31 AM — "No Future" by Blink-182 blares in my ear. For the umpteenth time, I remind myself that I need to pick a less abrasive song to wake me up in the mornings. By the time I'm out of the shower and dressed, the thought has already slipped my mind.

In how many of the United States can you get in the car, drive in one general direction, and still be in the same state after seven hours? Well, probably more than a few of them actually. Alaska, California, Texas, and Florida come to mind, for instance.

But we're not here to talk about those places; we're here to talk about driving from the middle of Michigan's Lower Peninsula all the way to the upper reaches of its Upper Peninsula —

You're not feeling this opening either, are you? Okay, glad we're on the same page. I'll start over again after this next little bit.

10:25 AM — After surviving with a cold for the past few days, I manage to lose my voice temporarily. We stop at the 7-Eleven in Mount Pleasant to fill up before we make our way out of town. The guy at the register inside probably thinks I smoke a pack a day.

Two years after we made the initial trek to Michigan Tech for Winter Carnival and three nights of general debauchery, it seemed a return trip to the frigid U.P. was in order. So, on a Thursday morning with mostly clear skies, we set out from Mount Pleasant in the heart of the Mitten to do just that.

I'm not sure there is any way you can make a seven-hour drive feel like less than seven hours — unless you have the luxury of swallowing an Ambien and passing out for most of the trip, I suppose — but the fact that I had work to get done on my laptop did help the first few hours fly by. As we passed by Harrison, Houghton Lake, Grayling and other locales along U.S.-127/I-75, I was lost in thought about Kentwood sidewalk repairs.

12:17 PM — Nearing the Mackinac Bridge, Miley Cyrus' "Party in the U.S.A." comes on the radio. Coincidence? I think not.

1:46 PM — Verizon service fails us near the U.S.-2/M-77 junction. Life as we know it ceases to exist.

Michigan Tech students take their ice sculpting contest pretty seriously during Winter Carnival

Michigan Tech students take their ice sculpting contest pretty seriously during Winter Carnival

No matter how many times I drive over the Mackinac Bridge, I think I will always consider it a cool experience. It still amazes me that that sucker is five miles long — like, I don't even run that far on the treadmill at Planet Fitness.

Driving through the U.P. in general is always a wonder. Because up here, things just feel a little different, like you're in Canada almost but it's still Michigan. Nature becomes amplified in a way: the trees, especially as you come off the Mighty Mac, have a different look to them; rocks jut out of hillsides as you drive by, as if you were passing through mountain country down south; and, once you get up there far enough, say by like Munising and Marquette, Lake Superior has got some sweet views.

Passing through tiny communities like Christmas and Naubinway carries its own kind of charm, as well, and all the snowmobilers you're inevitably going to see in the wintertime makes you want to jump on your own and join them.

3:59 PM — After passing through Marquette, we stop for some gas on the edge of Humboldt. Armed with a 99¢ French vanilla cappucino, I take over behind the wheel.

5:11 PM — We pull up to the Sigma Pi fraternity house on Michigan Tech's campus. Temperatures are hovering in the single digits. The neighboring fraternity is building a wall of snow. Our host later tells us they intend to make Sig Pi pay for it.

Soon after we'd arrived in Houghton, home of Michigan Technological University and (allegedly) the birthplace of professional hockey, a pair of downtown establishments were calling our names. First up was Pizza Works. Take a wild guess at what we ordered there.

But for real, the Mediterranean and pepperoni and ham pizzas we had were pretty delish, though I wasn't super crazy about paying $14.25 for a 10-inch speciality pizza. That price-to-size ratio is a tad unsexy, you feel me?

Next, we needed to wash those pies down with a few pints. So we strolled next door to Keweenaw Brewing Company, which serves nothing — and I mean nothing — other than its glorious brews. Having never really tried any beer from Keweenaw before, I figured I'd go for a flight so I could taste a good selection. Of the nine or ten beers they had on tap, I went for the Pegasus Porter, the Borealis Broo (a coffee beer), Widow Maker Black (a deceivingly-dark ale), Red Jacket Amber Ale, and the Bavarian Lager.

Mont Ripley stares back at us from across the Portage

Mont Ripley stares back at us from across the Portage

7:13 PM — Darkness has fallen on the twin cities, Houghton and Hancock. We make our way to Jim's Food Mart where I buy a pastie because this is the U.P. My attempt to save it for later does not pan out; it is somehow swallowed by the Sig Pi house.

The only Winter Carnival thing we happened to do all day — and pretty much during the whole trip, unless you count consuming alcohol — was check out a couple of the ice statues. The fraternities and other groups build these impressive displays of ice and snow every year during carnival. The theme this year was "Myths and Tales of the Past In Our Frigid Forecast." Accordingly, the first and second place winners, Tau Kappa Epsilon and Phi Kappa Tau, went for Thor and Sword in the Stone motifs, respectively.

There are a lot of other things going on during carnival, though, including broomball, cross-country skiing, human dog sled races, ice bowling, and snow volleyball, to name a few. And even if you're not participating in the Yooper Sprint, where racers strap a snowshoe to one foot and a cross-country ski to the other, it's gotta be quite the spectacle to behold.

Alas, those events were not on our itinerary. Days two and three in the U.P. did see us to a few new sites that we hadn't visited the first time around, however. And if you'll be bear with me for a little here — just long enough for me to write another post, that is — I'll tell you all about it.