RVers aren’t the only ones winding down the season this time of year. So is Mackinac Island, the summer resort island located in the Straits of Mackinac at the tip of the Michigan mitt, right where Lake Michigan meets Lake Huron.
Next weekend, the place shuts down until spring, with only a single hotel, restaurant and bar left open to serve the several hundred fulltime residents and the workmen who come in during the winter to renovate, repair and restore the hotels and shops. Many shops were shutting down this weekend.
Jennifer and I have made it a tradition to visit this special island ever year at this time. Gone are the thousands of summertime tourists who jam the streets and make it difficult to navigate on foot. The stores all have deep discounts and there’s a sort of back-to-nature feel for the place as winter approaches. In fact, snow is in the forecast here for mid next week.
There are no motorized vehicles on the island. You walk, ride a bike or get carted around by a horse. So our Roadtrek was left back across the straits on the mainland, in the parking lot of the ferry boat company that makes the 20-minute crossing a dozen plus times a day. The boats will start cutting back trips next week and, usually by the end of December or early January, have to suspend all service because of ice. Most winters, the only way to the island in the winter is by air or, for the adventurous, by snowmobiles over the ice bridge that forms between the island and St. Ignace, the closest city in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Locals mark the path by sticking Christmas trees along the route and entrepreneurial St. Ignace business owners have been known to set up portable bars and hot dog stand on the ice half way between.
So this week is the last active week here before most everything closes down until late April. At the massive Grand Hotel, where we are staying, the largely Jamaican staff, many of whom have served here season after season, will be leaving a week from Monday. Frederick, one of our waiters at breakfast, is in his 26th year at the Grand.
This weekend, the hotel is featuring a ballroom dancing extravaganza that has brought people in from across the country. Decades ago, we spent a couple of years taking ballroom dance lessons. We like to joke that disco dancing saved our marriage. This weekend saw me not being able to remember a single step. There were beginning and intermediate classes during the day. Friday and Saturday nights, everyone dressed up and danced to a full orchestra, complete with a vocalist. Some of the men wore tuxedos. One guy wore a Scottish kilt. Several wore spats. The women wore fancy shoes and elaborate dresses that ranged from formal to Dancing With the Stars-like costumes, complete with hats and long gloves.
The Grand bills itself as “America’s Summer Place” and has been welcoming guests since 1867. Today, like back then, you still must dress for dinner. No jeans, shorts or casual clothing is allowed after 6 PM.
Whenever we come here, we bring our bikes across on the ferry and try to ride around once or twice each day. It’s 8.4 miles around, all on a paved road along the shoreline that offers great views of the water. We also enjoy riding the interior roads, past natural attractions and the marvelously restored fort on a high bluff above town that was built buy the British during the American Revolution and later became the scene of two strategic battles in the War of 1812.
At night, we walk. Friday night, the temperature was a crisp 38 degrees and there was a beautiful full moon peeking out between the clouds. We strolled the west bluff overlooking the twinkling lights of the Mackinac Bridge that connects Michigan’s two peninsulas. On our right were gigantic Victorian mansions that are summer homes built by turn-of-the-last-century business tycoons. Then we made our way back to the Grand to watch the dancers twirl around the dance floor.
Saturday, it was dancing all day and night. Our first class, the Tango, began at 9 AM. Then came the Rumba. Then East Coast Swing.
At night, everyone danced. Non-stop. The Fox Trot, the Waltz, the Quick Step, Cha-Cha, Rumba, Jitterbug, Swing and variations of them all.
The dancing crowd had a surprising number of young couples, despite the Big Band music from the 40’s.
Jennifer is immensely enjoying the island, the dancing, the old world charm of the Grand. I love having a happy wife.
But two nights of wearing a suit and tie are enough to last me a long time. I’m greatly anticipating being reunited with the Roadtrek tomorrow and finding a place in the woods to boondock before heading home Monday.
Finally…for those of you who asked… here’s video of us dancing during our swing class. No snickers, please: