For the past few years now, Heather and I have always made it a priority to spend the week of America’s Independence Day in the northern regions of Michigan. It’s kind of our little summer getaway. For us, not only is this a time for celebrating freedom with beer and explosives (something our founding fathers would be proud of) but it is also a calling to make our yearly migration north for an important event: Heather’s family reunion.
Yes, this is about a third of us dressed up as pirates at a public beach in Atlanta, Michigan. Every year there’s a theme, and every year we hang out at the same beach for most of the day as an extravagant costume party. In the past, there has been a Disney theme, a Medieval theme, and a wild west theme, among others. I’ve learned that her family is always willing to go all out in order to make this gathering a special time. Most of these people we only really get to see about once a year, but they’re the sort of people that make you feel like you’ve known them for a lifetime. If anyone has been to Clear Lake around the Fourth, you probably know who we are. If you don’t, stop by next time to say hello.
Usually however, the costumes take place a few days after Independence Day, on the Seventh or Eighth. When Heather and I head up north on the Fourth of July, our first stop is Mackinaw City to see the fireworks. Most of the time, the rest of her family is already there, waving sparklers, preparing brats and hotdogs, and lounging out on a strategically placed floor of blankets. The fireworks in Mackinaw are always magnificent, I highly recommend catching them at least once if you’re within a few hours drive. There are bands that play, plenty of restaurants to eat at, and the whole place is pretty family-friendly. And above all, the best part is the plentiful varieties of fudge (we chose cherry walnut this year).
In the interim, between the Fourth and the actual costume party, we find a number of smaller adventures to supplant our time with. This year, we were fortunate enough to have had inside information on a secret spot to check out on the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore along Lake Superior. There’s something truly nurturing about Mother Superior’s waters. They’re chilly all year round, but when we used to live in Marquette (about an hour drive from this location) we would go to sit on the beach of Superior, and almost immediately it seemed that our stresses would be eased. Although the water was frigid and choppy this day, and we couldn’t quite pull ourselves to jumping in, just sitting on the rocks by the water was comforting enough.
The day after our pirate costume party, Heather and I drove up to Whitefish Point, a peninsula approximately 1.5 hours north of the Mackinaw Bridge. Just outside of Paradise, Michigan, Whitefish Point is surrounded by beautiful beaches with these huge trees that appear to have been drifting for months, if not years before they washed up. Heather and I had a field day as well picking from the millions of colorful rocks that washed up there. There’s a lighthouse that you can climb to the top of to look out over the bay and some large sand dunes to hike. Heather and I topped off our night with some barbecue at The Inn Gastropub & Smokehouse and then watched a freighter from the beach as the sun set. It was certainly a good way to cap off an excellent trip.
As a word of wisdom to those who like to go camping often, make sure you have proper insulation from the outside when trying to go to sleep. We learned this the hard way. After leaving Whitefish Point, we went back to our campground to sleep and prepare for the following day. In present, we currently sleep in the back of a Ford Ranger pickup truck with a camper shell on it. Surprisingly, all the way up in the U.P. during the middle of the summer, while camping in the deep woods, there turns out to be a whole lot of mosquitoes. These savages will do anything, finding any hole there is to get into your shelter and feast on your sweet blood. What may seem like a small price to pay for such valuable experiences during the day, but believe me, with a little preparation ahead of time, you can save yourself a lot of sleepless hours trying to fend off a multitude of blood-thirsty bugs. They were so bad, in fact, that Heather and I decided to drive six hours all the way back home just to sleep in a comfortable bed, something we’ve never done before. I may or may not have additionally spilled a beer in bed too (but that’s another story).