Ever since 1958, people have been gathering in St Ignace and Mackinaw City on Labor Day for the rare opportunity to walk across the magnificent 5-mile span of the Mackinac Bridge. This year, it was a privilege to be among those who took the trek, and the experience truly underscored what is so special about this state.
First, you cannot help but marvel at the ingenuity. Crossing the bridge at any time, by any means, one typically contemplates how incredible it is, but by foot, that really comes to light. As you head toward the center of the span, you feel more of the sway, in a good way. You are aware of the air that comes up through the grates, making it possible for it to withstand the strong winds often prevalent throughout the Straights. You see the twisted thickness of the cables. All of that alluding to the inconceivable strength, not only of the bridge itself, but of the brave souls who built it. It seems apropos that the crossing should take place on Labor Day. In fact, five workers died during the construction of this modern marvel, we now frequently take for granted. It’s hard to imagine that it was not that long ago that it didn’t exist.
Mighty Mac adjoins the two peninsulas of our state, each with its own virtues, attractions, and resources. Together they are an unparalleled combination of beauty and commerce. Too often, we think of them separately, but when you stand on the bridge, surrounded by people who live in each, it is a great reminder of how much more impressive our state is when both its upper and lower gems are considered together. The state motto, “If you seek a pleasant peninsula, look about you,” certainly applies to either side of the bridge.
That pleasantness is displayed in the stunning scenery that changes with each step. Whether it’s the moment when Mackinac Island first comes into view, the sun rising, the change in water color and different depths, the boats sailing by, or simply the sight of either shore, it’s breathtaking.
The pleasantry also comes across in the plentiful conversations with others embarking on the journey. Long lines to catch a ride to the starting line, or from the finish line, are inevitable. The walk goes from St Ignace to Mackinaw City, so at some point you must traverse the bridge by vehicle in one direction in order to partake, or take ferries through Mackinac Island. Regardless of which method is chosen, long lines are a reality. For that matter, restaurants and stores are packed too, as these hamlets of under a thousand permanent residents welcome anywhere between 30,000-50,000 visitors. Yet, all we encountered were pleasant, happy people anxious to enjoy the adventure. Many were willing to share their experiences.
The two most frequently asked questions seem to be, “how many times have you walked the bridge?” and “where are you from?” While the answer to the latter is often a town in Michigan, it’s also exciting to hear so many other responses like Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Canada, just to name a few that I encountered.
Whenever the response was from out of state, there was inevitably some form of welcome offered up by the Michigan native. It seems we have all become proud ambassadors of our state in recent times. Similarly, veterans of the walk, are quick to offer up a welcome, and when asked, tips for how to make the most of the experience, especially in advance. There are lots of strategies with regard to what is the best time to start the walk, and what non-walking method is simplest for getting to, or returning from, the other peninsula.
Multiple generations take part in this annual tradition, which is another of the sweetest aspects. Great stories and cute sights abound. If you get tired, look to the right or left for inspiration. You will likely find someone more senior than you, making their way across without complaint, or even a parent carrying a child on her back. One of my favorite encounters was with a grandpa who always brought his kids, and now takes the grandkids as well. I noticed he was carrying a bag of fudge. He laughed and noted it’s important to have a snack along the way. His daughter added, “Leave it to a Michigander to bring dessert to a workout.”
As the walk winds down, the sights of yesteryear appear on the horizon. There is a lot of wilderness, and along the shore, remnants from forts that once protected the area. If you concentrate, you can picture these peninsulas sans all the people. You can see them in the splendor of fall, and the frozen grips of winter. You can imagine how rugged all those who came before you had to have been, and a swell of gratitude kicks in, for the experience, for the people, for the bridge, and for this magnificent state. Not bad, for a morning stroll, eh?
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