Tahquamenon Riverboat Tour

As a much needed getaway from elder care, we drove west to Soo Junction and indulged ourselves in a totally touristy train and riverboat tour to Tahquamenon Falls, courtesy of Tahquamenon Falls Riverboat Tours. I’ve been vacationing up here for decades and have done all of the usual tourist stuff around here and Anne has been coming even longer, but somehow this attraction has eluded us. Yesterday, after a forty minute drive, we arrived at the parking lot. Before we got there though, we stopped first at Sugar Daddy, the new Brimley bakery, for a little something and at a popup roadside craft stand, at the corner of M-28 and M-123 that was selling birch-bark baskets. Anne bought a nice one for me.

The total tour runs 6 ½ hours and travels through the wilderness swamps and forests around Tahquamenon. It begins with a 35 minute narrow gauge train ride, along the “longest 24″ gauge railroad in the country” (5 ½ miles). Called the Toonerville Trolley, this train was first built for logging in 1910. In 1927 in converted from hauling logs in the winter to hauling tourists in the summer. We sat in the third car, the “party car” that was comprised almost exclusively of people from Ann Arbor. It was sunny, warm, bug free and an enjoyable ride.

The train ride is followed by a 2 hour, 21 mile, riverboat cruise. The Hiawatha offers two decks, with enclosed and open seating, food service and restrooms. If you save some room until the last hour of the return trip, hotdogs are a dollar. This boat is the latest in a sequence of tour boats that have been plying the river. In the dead of winter, water trucks sprayed water for a month, making an ice road 18″ thick. The boat was hauled to the river in five sections by truck and welded together on the frozen river. When spring came, it launched itself.

During the cruise, the captain provided excellent narration on the area’s logging history, Native American history and Michigan’s plant and animal life. After reaching the rapids above the falls, he docked the riverboat for a little over an hour, allowing for a 1¼ mile roundtrip nature hike to a private viewing area for the upper falls. The normal view from across the river is better, but this one was different and different is usually good just for being so. After the stopover, the riverboat and train retraced their routes back to Soo Junction.

It rained on the return boat trip and after a couple of nearby lighting strikes and the captain’s admonition, the outside decks were cleared. It turned cool and we were missing our raincoats that we had left in the car, so we snuggled, just to keep warm, don’t you know. It was still a pleasant ride. The return train trip was not so nice. We both got massacred by mosquitoes. On the way out, we were heading northwest into a northwest wind, giving us a combined air speed of between 10-20 MPH. So, no bugs, but on the way back, we were heading the opposite direction and what with the wind still out of the northwest, the motion of the train was effectively cancelled by the wind. We used Off!, but almost every spot that we had missed with it got bitten.

Still, the expedition was a lot of fun. We saw Sandhill cranes, a Golden and Bald eagle and “Harry” the woodchuck, but no wolves, bear or moose. Maybe next time? We dined at Pickles, which on a Saturday night was slammed. For having spent almost all day sitting, we were both very tired and Bubs had to go to bed early, because no one else was still going to be up much longer.

Sailboat Wanted

We got a text from Dan. He found a sailboat for sale on Craig’s List. The seller, who lives near Marquette, about 3+ hours away, is asking $500 or best offer. This is an “old” 13.5′ wooden sailboat, the hull was originally manufactured by the Old Town Canoe Company in 1950. It is a similar model to the sailboat Robert Manry famously used in 1965 to cross the Atlantic Ocean. He set the record for an Atlantic crossing in the smallest boat with that voyage. He called his boat the Tinkerbelle. This boat was refashioned in a similar way as Manry refashioned his (with cabin) and was last sailed 12 years ago. Comes with sails, rigging, and trailer. The seller rates its condition as fair. 

In 1971, while I was in high school, I too bought a sailboat for $500. It was a Snipe, a 15.5′ dinghy. I just Googled its class number and discovered that it was built during World War II. Likely in 1943-45. I didn’t have Craig’s List back then. I think I saw the ad on the school’s bulletin board. I bought it from a classmate. It too included sails, rigging, and trailer and I would rate its condition as fair. After about another $500, a whole lot of sweat equity and my father’s help, it was ready for the water. I sailed it for a few years. First taking the family out on Portage Lake, near Ann Arbor. Then I courted Anne with it. Eventually, what with college, I grew tired of it and sold it again for $500.

My father taught me how to sail, as I taught Dan. There was a boat up here that he loved to sail, a Whaler. It was kind of a pig of a boat, but he loved it and was quite good at handling it. One summer there was a beach wedding and some of the other guest took it out, when they shouldn’t. They nearly drowned and Dan had to help in the rescue. He saved the boat, but no good deed goes unpunished though, because next summer he discovered that someone had wrecked the boat, by destroying its rigging. 

Dan has pined for a new sailboat ever since. He’s in Brooklyn now and when last we visited him, Anne and I took a turn through Central Park. At one of the ponds there (Back east every nonflowing body of water bigger than a puddle and smaller than the Atlantic is a pond.), there was this pictured boathouse for model sailboats. I asked the caretaker about them and she told me that they sell for up to $5,000. I’m thinking now that maybe more than $500 is a better offer.

Hot! Hot! Hot!

Sundown Salty at Anchor

Much of the country, from the Midwest to Eastern Seaboard is in the grip of a scorching heatwave. Today, NYC is expecting a high temperature of 100 °F, while Saint Louis is looking at a heat index of 110 °F. It is high summer, mid-July and as such, a single weather event such as this is not all that exceptional, but it is not just an isolated occurrence. It is part of a increasingly clearer pattern of climate change that in this case has been also aptly dubbed global warming.

NPR had an article on this heatwave and how it is affecting people in northern latitudes more adversely, than individuals who live further south. Basically, this is because northerners are not as well prepared to deal with this kind of heat, as are American who live further south and have had to deal with it on a regular basis. In Brooklyn, our son Dan does not have air-conditioning, while in Saint Louis, our friend Joanie fortunately does. It is certainly hotter in Saint Louis than New York, but having the means to deal with the heat makes a difference.

In 1980, when Anne and I first moved to Saint Louis from Michigan, we were ill prepared for what turned out to be an exceptionally hot summer, even by Saint Louis standards. Neither our apartment nor our black car had air-conditioning. We were young then though and lived in a nice enough neighborhood that we could safely leave our windows open at night. We survived. 112 fellow Saint Louisans were not so fortunate and died heat related deaths. Their deaths did serve to spur city officials to take corrective measures, so that during the heat wave of 1995 only 31 people died from heat in Saint Louis. That same year, in Chicago, almost 700 Americans died from the heat.