I moved back to the Traverse City area almost ten years ago (giant gulp at how time flies). I quickly realized that the things that once occupied my time in Chicago would need to change. Over those ten years, I have lost, on average, a pair of high heels every year and picked up a new outdoor activity in their place. Four years ago it was cross-country skis (this year I think I actually skied faster than walking). Two years ago, it was the road bike. Last year, the clip-on pedals for the road bike (SCARY addition that deserved its own year and that luckily only resulted in one near-death experience). And this year, after borrowing everyone else’s kayak way too much, I purchased my very own. We picked up a few of these Michigan-made recreational kayaks on sale at K-Mart, of all places, for $180 apiece. “K-Mart is still open?” you ask, followed by, “Does it float?”. The answer to both questions is yes.
Mind you, I am no expert and far from a gear snob (goes without saying after mentioning K-Mart, huh?), but I have been really pleased with the boat. It is steady enough for my totally ungraceful launches, paddles smoothly, and, most importantly, lets me get out on all the Northern Michigan fresh water we are so lucky to live near.
For this weekend’s outing, we headed west from the Coast Guard Station at Glen Haven, on the forecast of 0-2 mph winds. Given my assessment of Michigan weather forecasts’ accuracy at 50%, seems about right that we had 0-2 mph winds for half the trip and a bit of choppy waves for the other half. Spring paddles have the amazing benefit of crystal clear waters but come with the added risk of a hypothermia-inducing tip! We stayed as close to shore as we could, while still avoiding the gnats, and cut our original plans short as soon as the waves picked up.
Turns out blue light specials do alright maneuvering around a sleeping bear. I’m forecasting plenty of return trips to paddle this route and I can guarantee my forecast will have an accuracy well-above the Weather Channel’s.
For those who follow this blog, it’s apparent…I am a Leelanau County girl. I require serious navigational help to get most anywhere beyond county lines in Northern Michigan. But I’ve been introduced to a new spot in Antrim County, Grass River Natural Area. This little gem, outside of Bellaire, is well worth expanding one’s boundaries, especially this time of year!
I first visited Grass River late last October, when the area was covered in a golden carpet of downed Tamarack needles. There was a magical feel to it, more intimate than most of the wide-open dunescapes I frequent in Leelanau County. The 1,443 acres of protected land offer sedges, bogs, boardwalks, and opportunity aplenty to encounter nature up close and personal. Below is one of the many viewing platforms you’ll find.
Since going last fall, I have returned twice. In the spring, I witnessed all kinds of green wonders emerging to showcase the results of 40 years plus of preservation. And this last weekend, our crew visited just in time to witness the orange and gold hues of autumn ablaze in the setting sun’s rays. The Sedge Meadow trail is a must see, with several viewing platforms and a chance to take in some of the flora and fauna the area along the section of the Grass River near Clam Lake offers. The loop is less than a mile and offers boardwalks that make for a fun running track for children. If you have more time, add on the Fern and Woodland Trail, for a nice 2.5-mile hike that takes you through both wetlands and uplands.
The next couple weeks will make for prime times to visit Grass River. The fall color there is like nowhere else. Suffice it to say, my Siri will be hearing the request, “Please show me directions to Grass River Natural Area” almost as much as she hears “Hey Siri, please show me pictures of cute baby owls,” from my 9-year-old. With 147 species of birds, I have a lot more to see!
Check in here for a schedule of events and classes offered and plan your hike with the map at the end of this post! Enjoy!
Steps from where the annual polka fest occurs each year in Cedar lies the Cedar River, a
hidden treasure that couldn’t be more different than the rambuctious, crowd-filled festival we tend to associate with its namesake town.
The kayak from Cedar to Lake Leelanau has been on my bucket list for over a year. I had been on the river once before and had seen first-hand that the spot not only offered serenity for an evening, but hold onto your shorts…BIRD SIGHTINGS. So I was determined to go again and make it all the way to Lake Leelanau this time, a 7-mile kayak round trip that includes a section preserved by the Leelanau Conservancy.
Paddling on this river is different than the better-known Platte or Crystal outings for a couple of reasons. One, the river is deep enough to accommodate motorized boats, so while you won’t see many people at all on this paddle, the folks you do see can vary from fellow paddlers to fishermen who may take out their frustration of an unsuccessful evening by full-throttling it past you, leaving a wake of waves and gasoline fumes. Two, while you may have to avoid some wake, there are significantly fewer obstacles of Dorito-eating tourists and floating, beer-laden coolers. Don’t get us wrong, we love Doritos, beer, and tourists; just not kayaking around the them tied together en masse.
The night we were out, we ran into several herons, cedar waxwings, muskrats, and some nice folks out for a sunset cruise that kindly offered us both a tow back to the boat launch and some adult beverages. Although we decided we preferred the self-propelled route, we did graciously accept a glass of wine and a bottle of beer for the return trip. Thank you pontoon booze fairies!
Our parting tips:
1. This trip can take up to three hours and you will work up an appetite. Bring snacks (Doritos come to mind).
2. Once you have passed the age of twelve, it is no longer acceptable to yell at your companions for scaring off the blue herons before you have a chance to snap a photo. Don’t do it.
3. Watch out for stumps lurking under the water. Stumps are to your kayak what icebergs were to the Titanic…or something a little less dramatic.
4. If this isn’t on your bucket list, ADD IT. Then be sure to make it happen. You will be amazed at the solitude, serenity, and truly unique experience that lies hidden behind the softball fields, polka tent, and meat markets of Cedar, Michigan.
I received a text from a friend this past weekend asking if Cora and I would like to fly to Mackinac Island for the day. My response? Does anyone seriously answer that question with a no? I didn’t think so… We met Jon and his Cessna at bustling Empire airport, where we (a.k.a. Jon) managed to fit the pieces of three bikes, our smiling faces, and my camera into the plane.
After an epic flight that included aerial views of Glen Lake, Suttons Bay, Old Mission, Lake Charlevoix, and the mighty Mac, we arrived on the island. By my estimation (or slight exaggeration), the flight took less time than waiting in line to buy a ticket on the ferry.
After a quick reassembly of the bikes and a mile-and-a-half ride to Main Street, we were enjoying the truly unique experiences of the island: amazing history, architecture, the most fun/chaotic streets around, and fudge (duh). We also enjoyed a visit to the butterfly conservatory, which was surprisingly enjoyable for adults too!
If you haven’t been to the island since your middle school field trip, we think it’s time you consider going again. And if you have an opportunity to visit the island via air, it is a no-brainer, go! It will be a once in a lifetime experience. Mackinac is a little island in time (literally, the entire island is listed as a national historic monument). Leaving with our tourist trinkets in hand was a little bittersweet, but at least we had the views on the way home (and fudge) to distract us!
As Michiganders, we have learned to live with unpredictable weather. On the up side, we can head out to the beach under overcast skies with a forecast for storms, and end up enjoying a magnificent (dry) sunset once the clouds break. Below are some photos of an evening’s progression at North Bar in Leelanau County from earlier this week.