These Last Couple of Weeks in Awkwardness

I’m pretty much ready to register for classes next week, right down to which sections I want, which of course means panicking about other people snapping them up before I can get them.  One is already gone, I’ve got enough options to cover for it but if my whole system breaks down I might completely lose it.

For any of my fellow/future college students who might be reading this, I’ve included some links below.  Anyone who signs up with my links gets themselves and me entries for prize money.

Scholarships.com – $1000

Noet – $500

Fastweb – $500

PowerWallet – $2500 sweepstakes that doesn’t really have anything to do with college.

Since I haven’t written anything interesting lately, I’ll leave you with these two photos from when the American Spirit got stuck on a sandbar in the channel between Mackinac & Round Islands while there was a storm going on off to the south.

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Added to the Travel Map:

Splendid China, Kissimmee, Florida – abandoned theme park.

Bok Tower Gardens, Lake Wales, Florida – a botanical garden with a carillon, which is apparently a musical instrument using huge brass bells.

Great Blasket Island, Kerry, Ireland – abandoned settlement.

Bunker 42, Moscow, Russia – top-secret hideout built for Stalin himself.  Now you can play laser tag there.

HM-69, Everglades National Park, Florida – A decommissioned Nike missile base.

North Rona Island, Scotland – ruins & whatnot.

Dunnottar Castle, Stonehaven, Scotland – ruin on a cliff.

The Worst Mainland Trip of My Life: A Timeline

11:00 am  – I leave my house with an empty duffle bag intending to catch an 11:30 Star Line ferry to Mackinaw City, and from there to the Wal-Mart in Cheboygan to stock up on groceries.  There’s not a lot of options on the island so most residents make these trips occasionally.

11:16 am – I arrive on the dock and join a conglomeration of lines along with a bazillion other people.  It’s pouring rain so even though it only took me a few minutes to walk through town, my duffle and I are both soaked.

11:28 am – We’re supposed to leave in two minutes and the boat hasn’t even arrived from the mainland yet.

11:40 am – The 11:30 part 1 boat departs.  Since there’s 800 gajillion people trying to take this boat and nobody wants to sit on the exposed top decks because of the weather they’ve actually sent a second boat, but it’s not here yet so I’m still standing in the rain.

11:48 am – I finally board the ferry that was supposed to leave eighteen minutes ago.

11:55 am – The 11:30 part 2 boat casts off.

12:00 pm – Some guy starts clapping & singing, trying to get everyone else to join in.  I find myself desperately missing the boats that only have a handful of locals on them, where everyone is basically asleep.

12:33 – I debate briefly how best to reach my car.  Star Line has a shuttle service, but there’s a lot of people who also want to take it so it might be faster just to walk.  In the end the rain & cold win out and I board the van, telling the driver where I’m going.

12:45 – The shuttle driver has dropped off everyone else, I think I must be next but he appears to be driving in circles.  He’s going through all of Star Line’s outlying lots, so I figure he’s looking for other people to pick up as he makes his way to my destination.

12:50 – The driver stops to pick up someone, as he gets back on from bringing in her luggage he turns to me & says “I’m sorry, was I supposed to drop you off somewhere?”

12:55 pm – I reach my car, fully two hours after I first left the house.

2:30 pm – Having finished my shopping, I park my car and call for the shuttle to bring me back to the dock.  I had debated with myself here as well, but I wanted to make the 3:00 boat and it was still raining, so I decided again not to walk.

2:50 pm – I call the shuttle again, as nobody ever came the first time.

2:55 pm – The shuttle finally arrives.  It only takes a couple of minutes to get back through town and since the last boat left so late I figure I’ll probably still make it.  The shuttle stops to pick up someone else; when I ask if we’ll make the 3:00, the driver says we will.

3:02 pm – The shuttle pulls up to the dock right at the moment the boat is pulling away from it.  I watch it disappear into the fog, wondering why they this departure had to be the only one to ever leave on time and if my frozen food will still be frozen by the time I get it home.

3:15 pm – I rescue my cookies from my duffle bag so they won’t be obliterated by having a bunch of other people’s stuff thrown on top of them.

3:45 pm – I board the returning ferry and take a seat next to a window, the sill of which contains a puddle of rainwater and approximately 1,387 dead bugs.  Water keeps dripping on me but at that point I couldn’t get any wetter so I keep my seat.

4:04 pm – After an hour sitting around listening to Star Line employees gossip about Tinder and wondering if my glass jars of spaghetti sauce will still be intact after being manhandled by the luggage crew, I am finally heading back across the Straits.

4:25 pm – Having reached the island I find my bag buried under two others.  It’s not raining anymore but it’s still cold, and rather than park the luggage carts in the shelter they’ve left them out on the wet dock in the wind.  Aside from the couple of hotel porters milling around snagging the handful of pieces going to their respective properties, nobody is doing anything to take the luggage off or see that people get their bags.  I end up chucking the top bags off myself to get my stuff and get out of there.  By some miracle my food is still intact and relatively frozen.

This Week (OK More Like This Month) in Awkwardness

I completed my application to become a student at the University of South Florida in the winter.  o_O   I still have to send them some test scores & transcripts but Phase 1 is out of the way.

Mostly I’ve spent these last couple weeks getting back into the swing of island life.  Recently I’ve realized that crazy weather is one of my favorite things about this place.  Arizona got dull because it was the same every day; blue skies and sunshine get old after a while.  Here, you can wake up in sunshine and walk to work in fog, a wild storm will come out of nowhere followed by an incredible rainbow, it might snow in the morning and then be blazing hot by afternoon.  This time of year is especially rocky.  Every once in a while it decides to be spring for a day, but mostly it’s still winter.  The early trees are just barely budding, and it occasionally bursts out raining with almost no warning.  30 miles south of here it’s summer.  But I love it, and for some reason the tourists keep coming through the wind and fog to spend their money on sweatpants and winter coats once they get here so I guess it’s all good.

A rainbow in a harbor with storm clouds in the background. Mackinac Island, MI, USA. Shutterstock(R): 166408127 R iStock: 31374616 4 Sales

Prints of this photo can now be purchased here.


Book (Re)Finished:

Warriors Don’t Cry, by Melba Patillo Beals.

Melba Patillo was fifteen when she was chosen as one of nine African-American students to be the first to integrate Little Rock Central High School.  I read it a few years ago and picked it up again after I visited Central.  Her first-person account of that year is stunning.  For me, growing up 40 years later in the north, the extreme reaction she describes white citizens having to the very idea of school integration is almost unfathomable.  Racism is alive and well in Michigan, but to think that a whole city could care SO MUCH about someone’s skin color that they would hold riots and call out the National Guard to keep a few teenagers out of school is just bizarre.  Anyway it’s a good book and you should read it.


Added to the Travel Map:

Jiayuguan Fortress, Jiayuguan, China – Guards the western end of the Great Wall.

Reykjadalur, Hveragerði, Iceland – beautiful river valley with steaming geothermal pools.

Rutland State Park, Rutland, Massachusetts – contains the ruins of an abandoned prison.

Appuldurcombe House, Isle of Wight, England – abandoned manor house said to be the most haunted site on the island.

Deutsche Demokratische Republik Museum, Berlin, Germany – dedicated to the communist East German police state.

The Totalitarian Art Gallery, Amsterdam, Netherlands – covers the art & design styles of communist states.

Montemor-o-Novo Castle, Montemor-o-Novo, Portugal – abandoned ruin.

Wistman’s Wood National Nature Reserve, Devon, England – a beautiful wild forest.

Museum of KGB Cells, Tartu, Estonia – original holding rooms in the basement of what was once a KGB headquarters.

Bay of Nouadhibou, Nouadhibou, Mauritania – people just abandon ships here for some reason, so there’s wrecks laying around all over the place.

If you haven’t noticed by now, today’s list should make really obvious my bizarre fascination with all things Communist.  Not that I AM a Communist (although I don’t think it would matter if I was), I just get caught up in things that are so completely different from anything I’m familiar with.  North Korea is my ultimate goal of state-controlled weirdness, although I doubt I’ll ever be brave enough to actually go there.  In lieu of a country where they take your phone on arrival and don’t let you go anywhere without a chaperone, I keep finding European museums centered on the Soviet Union and East Germany, or Cold War sites right here at home.

Mackinac Bridge: 222 Miles

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No road sign can bring a smile to my face quite like that one. It shows up as you head north out of Flint on I-75, which isn’t an especially exciting drive but I love it.  Watching as the urban blight of southern Michigan gives way to rolling hills and then to the wooded paradise above the 45th parallel.  I ended up taking the interstate all the way instead of US 23 like I’d planned.  I had a boat to catch & things to do, plus after two and a half weeks on the road from Arizona I really didn’t feel like another meandering trip. Even a short one.

There’s a little bit of ice still hanging around on Lake Huron.  Not so much on the open lake, but enough of it is still clinging to the harbor that the boat actually struggled to shove it out of the way & get out into the open water.  All the years I’ve been coming here I’ve never had that happen.  At lease the boats are running, so it’s better than last year.

Anyway I made it to Mackinac Island in one piece, and thus ends the journey I started nearly a month ago in Sedona.

This Week (And Last Week) In Awkwardness

I saw two javelina on the side of the road.  I’d never seen any before so that was interesting.

I was all worried about what archaeological field schools would be available at USF, but the adviser said they allow students to transfer field school credits from other universities, so I guess I can pick just about anything.

I haven’t had a whole lot going on lately so I’ll just toss in these progression photos I created from sunset time lapse photos.  One from Mackinac Island in Michigan, one from Gatlinburg in Tennessee.

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Added to the Travel Map:

Ascension Island, Saint Helena – tiny, remote island in the middle of the Atlantic, where some Brits built some stuff once upon a time.

Baikonur Cosmodrome, Baikonur, Kazakhstan – The largest & oldest space flight facility in the world, once a secret Soviet testing site.

Ishak Pasha Palace, Doğubeyazıt, Turkey – abandoned.

Fort Tilden, Breezy Point, New York – abandoned, now part of Gateway National Recreation Area.

Little Curaçao – abandoned island.

Event: The Battle of Mackinac Island

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In one of the earliest battles of the War of 1812, British forces captured Mackinac Island from the Americans.  Fort Mackinac had a highly strategic position in the Straits of Mackinac, controlling the entire trade route from the Western USA to Detroit & New England, and since the Americans didn’t actually know they were supposed to be at war, it was pretty easy for the Brits to take them by surprise.  Landing on the uninhabited north end of Mackinac Island, (a spot referred to as British Landing to this day) they climbed up to the highest point (Fort George) under cover of darkness, pointed their single cannon down at the fort, and fired a single shot.  Badly outnumbered, the 60 Americans realized they would never be able to defend the fort and save the town; they had to surrender to the hundreds of Indians & Redcoats.  What else could they do?

American forces didn’t show back up to retake the fort until 1814, but when they did they used the exact same tactic.  Turned out the British were prepared to defend against the same move they themselves had made two years before.  Who knew.  So, the Americans came tromping up from British Landing only to find themselves face-to-face with British soldiers.  The two armies shot at each other across a field for a while in true 19th century style, with each side trying to outflank the other.  After being ambushed in the woods by Menominee warriors, the Americans were forced to retreat.  Fort Mackinac wouldn’t return to American hands until war’s end.

More details on both battles here. Fort Mackinac ($12 adults/$7 kids) remains intact and along with its recreated mainland neighbor Colonial Michilimackinac ($11/$6.50) open to visitors as a living history museum, telling the story of the Straits of Mackinac and its importance to the many groups who have called the area home.  Their staffs of interpreters along with volunteer reenactors recreated the battle on its bicentennial this past August.

Under American control Fort George was renamed Fort Holmes, after an officer killed in the battle.  The earthen rampart remains, but the single blockhouse burned to the ground.  It was rebuilt for visitors, and burned again.  And rebuilt again, and burned again.  They’re rebuilding it yet again this year, and plan to have it open to visitors for the next summer season. (don’t light any cigarettes while you’re up there, OK?)

Most of the original battlefield now lies under the Wawashkamo golf course on one side of British Landing road, with a historic marker in a small clearing on the other.  The rest is obscured by forest.

The beach at British Landing is always open, although there’s not much there besides a historic marker & a cannon pointed out into Lake Huron.  It’s a good halfway resting/bathroom point on any walking or biking trip around the island; the nearby Cannonball Drive In restaurant offers lunch, ice cream, and drinks.