Fun times with fungi!

Another blissful day–

I had the day off and decided to try out some bike trails I’d heard about near Bliss. The trails begin in Wilderness State Park and run along the shore of Lake Michigan by Cecil Bay. I’m usually more of a single track mountain bike fan– level surfaces require too much effort put in for the amount of fun gotten out of the activity in my opinion. But, sometimes it is nice to just leisurely tour around an area by bicycle, no adrenaline rush necessary.

Through my work, I’ve recently become aware of the impressive efforts being made by organizations in the area to create an extensive trail system in the northern lower peninsula. Top of Michigan Trails Council and local governments have expanded the already existing trail system to include routes stretching from Gaylord all the way up to Mackinac, east to Alpena and on the west coast from Harbor Springs all the way to Charlevoix (soon perhaps to be connected with Boyne City). The possibilities for non-motorized recreation and transportation are remarkable and in the process of expanding!

It was warm and sunny. One of those days in September where you’re aware there may not be another day like this again until Spring. We parked our car at Cecil Bay park. I’d never been there before. It has a picnic table under a gazebo structure in front of a tall, stone fireplace. The location would be amazing for an evening grill-out and bonfire.

We started our ride at the Nebo trail head and found another of the stone fireplaces by a lean-to for campers/hikers on the trails. It reminded me of the ones I had seen (and used) when hiking the Appalachian Trail late February one year in college. It occurred to me: I’ve lived in Michigan for more than two decades and every week I’m still able to discover something new. Could I live here another six or even seven decades and still be able to discover new things? I’m confident there will always be something to inspire and excite me and to amaze me with its novelty. Northern Michigan is layered, exciting and because of the variety in the wilderness, people and businesses I can’t imagine it ever getting old.

The trails were wide, essentially two tracks. They were slightly wet in some areas, with cedar swamp off to the side and sandy in other areas. They were overall flat and easy to ride. We stopped to pick wild blueberries along the side of the trail for a snack.

We found this mushroom near the Cecil Bay campground. After reviewing "Mushrooms Demystified", I do believe it might be a King Bolita.

We stopped at the Bliss store on the way back home from our bike ride. I remember getting amazing honey and beeswax  at the store several years ago from a guy who lived nearby. I was sad to discover they no longer had it. Supposedly the store recently changed owners. It still had interesting vintage decorations like it used to, but the variety of items inside was lacking a bit. I looked around for some good food and didn’t find anything exciting. I think I remember it being a much cooler place a few years ago than it is now.

Great Lakes State song of the week–

I can’t stop listening to Chris Bathgate right now. The Illinois native currently lives in Ann Arbor and is prominent in the Ann Arbor/Ypsilanti folk music scene. His music has been featured on NPR and he will be playing a benefit concert this Saturday, September 24 at Martha Wagbo Farm and Education Center in Ellsworth.

Chris Bathgate- Buffalo Girl

Chilling danger! Deep space adventure! A picnic like you’ve never had before…

Could I have prepared myself adequately?

Perhaps not, but I think I did a pretty good job. Planning for this week’s adventure began early in the day on Monday. I had been in Petoskey for work and decided a picnic sounded nice. I had plans later that evening to photograph the night sky at the Headlands in Mackinaw City with a friend from work. I believe that every outing can be made better with food. So, I set a goal for myself: gather a picnic-style meal that includes only products made in northern Michigan.

Hunting down dinner–

My first stop to find local food was Toski Sands Plaza on M-119 between Petoskey and Harbor Springs. There, I found a bottle of Chateau Grand Traverse Riesling at Toski Sands Market. The store was fun to walk through, as it had a host of interesting cheeses, meats, wine and spices.

I found the CGT Whole Cluster Riesling among a selection of over 700 varieties of wine, about 30 of which were Michigan varieties. After making my purchase, I walked over to Crooked Tree Bread Works (in the same plaza). The smell of fresh baked bread was intoxicating. They had just set out their “3 p.m. baguettes” and I didn’t hesitate, beginning to formulate an idea for what I might prepare for the picnic. Anything on a baguette sounded good. I also bought a couple giant cookies and ate one as soon as I got back to the car. It was dark colored, molasses/ginger and coated in a dusting of unrefined, granulated sugar. I was very hungry, so my opinion might have been biased, but it was one of the best cookies I’ve ever eaten. There were chunks of chewy ginger inside which made it especially good.

My next destination was Bill’s Farm Market just outside Petoskey on East Mitchell Rd. for some locally grown fruits and veggies. On the way, I passed Plath’s Meats, another key landmark when it comes to local food and had to stop. Plath’s began in 1913 when Emil Plath Sr., a German immigrant who knew little English, settled and opened a store on Rogers City’s main street. Plath brought with him from Stettin, Germany, skills as a butcher, sausage maker and his recipe for “Kasseler Rippchen”, or Smoked Loin. He was 23 years old. The BBQ pulled pork I bought for my picnic was processed in Rogers City and made in Petoskey at their storefront on the corner of Mitchell and Division. Now I had baguette and BBQ pork- everything needed for an amazing sub-style sandwich. Bill’s was bustling. I got green beans that had been grown on their nearby fields and watermelon grown in Midland. My shopping was complete. I had more than enough for the perfect local foods picnic.

It was a dark and stormy night–

My friend, Ryan and I packed up the car and headed up to Mackinaw City to capture a few photos of the stars and planets at the recently designated dark sky park at the Headlands. The weather had called for clear skies, but a few ominous clouds began to creep onto the horizon. The moon was mostly full. A very long and winding drive through the woods led us to the dark sky property and past the bizarre 1950s modernist mansion built by Chicago architect R. Hinkley which is rented out by the county. Local lore about the building is that the spice tycoon, Roger McCormick commissioned for the house to be built so he could escape to the north to engage in his swinging, playboy lifestyle with friends.

We parked by the entrance to the dark sky viewing area and ventured cautiously outside the car. It was dark. A trail through the woods led to the lake shore and we looked up and down for a sign describing what the park was or informational material on astronomy. We couldn’t find either. I don’t know if it just isn’t available, or if we couldn’t find it. The shore was very uneven and rocky and the lights from Mackinaw City were visible, so we decided to drive up along the coast to Wilderness State Park to find a better, more remote area to set up the telescope.

About 10 miles further we found a wonderful spot. Not to say it wasn’t unbelievably spooky. We ventured out through the dark among thick cedar swamp with waves thundering against the shore. I remembered a few years back when a fugitive suspected of killing and dismembering his wife was found hiding under a fallen tree in Wilderness State Park after a bitterly cold night on the run. A police posse tracked down the man about 225 miles north of the suburban Detroit community where body parts believed to be those of his wife were discovered. The man was wearing only slacks, a shirt and socks when captured — nearly 10 hours after he abandoned the truck he had driven and set out on foot in the park. I told the story to Ryan and the air around us seemed to grow a little colder and quiet. A couple jokes lightened the mood, though and we set up camp on a lovely sandy area of the beach.

The weather did not cooperate and clouds remained fairly heavy for the next two hours. We sat and enjoyed our picnic, the lake and the fresh, crisp night air. Photos were not going to be a possibility, but I considered our adventure a success. Ryan has a degree in Astronomy and freely offered up interesting information on the topic. It was a fun, out-of-the-ordinary way to spend the late night hours- outdoors and learning something new.

Budget for this week’s adventure–

Riesling at Toski Sands + baguette + pulled pork + green beans + watermelon + gas = $35

Great Lakes State Song of the Week–

My song this week is from a band I hadn’t heard until recently: Greensky Bluegrass. They’re from Kalamazoo and play beautiful, original bluegrass music and have garnered a good deal of recognition nationally. I also love their song, Radio Blues.

Greensky Bluegrass- Against the Days

Our journey began in Ponshewaing and ended under the Milky Way…

A good place to start–

It was 85 degrees and sunny. No humidity. Cool breeze. I may have gone crazy if I was forced to stay indoors watching my brother, Ezra play video games another minute. We finally hit the road. First stop: The Fort in Ponshewaing, between Alanson and Petoskey on U.S. 31. This little store is in an odd location, but has the best selection of craft beer I have found anywhere in Michigan.  They have over 300 varieties of beer from all over the world, many of which are Michigan brews. Their website advertises, “beer for everyone”- hop lovers, stout enthusiasts, those who usually drink domestic, or anyone looking for something new.  The main reason Ezra and I love to go there is because they offer a mix-your-own-6-pack option. This is somewhat expensive (ours cost $14), but is a really fun way to try out new beer without having to suffer through five extra bottles after the realization you don’t like the first one.

Arbor Brewing Company Mackinac Island Fudge Stout- one of our purchases at The Fort, staying cool in the sand on Sturgeon Bay.

The Arbor Brewing Company Mackinac Island Fudge Stout we bought has a nice, dark color and I expected much more from it. Dark usually = thick, heavy and creamy. This beer ended up being slightly watery with one-dimensional flavor. There are notes of chocolate and burnt marshmallows, but I expected to be wowed with natural vanilla and buttery aromas– components of fudge. It wasn’t bad by any stretch of the imagination, but I don’t think I would buy it again. If you’re big on chocolate and don’t mind a lighter stout, this might be a good beer for you.

Polish Feast–

We left Ponshewaing with a 6-pack and went disc golfing at River Road in Petoskey to waste time before Ezra’s girlfriend, Aubrey got out of work. By the time she was out, we were pretty hungry  and decided to go to the Polish Kitchen in the harbor plaza by the Harbor Springs airport on our way out to Sturgeon Bay.

I’d never eaten there, but heard good things from several friends. Their recommendation: the pierogi reuben platter. I decided to be a cheapskate and get six meat pierogis off the kids menu (only $4.50!). It was really good, but I was still hungry and ate the rest of Aubrey’s pierogi reuben platter. It was amazing- sauerkraut, corned beef, swiss cheese and thousand island dressing on top of the grilled pierogis.

Nowhere else I’d rather be–

Sturgeon Bay is about a 30 minute drive north of Harbor Springs just outside Cross Village on Lake Shore Drive. It is a wild, beautiful place with sand dunes on one side of the desolate road and mile after mile of uninhabited beach on the other. It can be surprisingly popular, despite the “hidden” location, with many Emmet County residents choosing to spend the day at Sturgeon Bay instead of the numerous other beaches available closer by. But even on the busiest days, there is still plenty of space and it doesn’t feel crowded. The beach is sandy, the water is cold and the sunsets are unforgettable.

We got there at around 7 p.m. and stayed until the sun set.

Milky Way down yonder–

My last stop of the day was Leg’s Inn in Cross Village. I had been there for dinner, but hadn’t been late at night. I thought it would be quiet, with an older crowd. As it turns out, Sunday nights at Leg’s are a lot of fun with a wonderfully blended demographic. The Jelly Roll Blues Band was playing danceable blues and rock and the atmosphere was extremely friendly and open. People were milling around and open to striking up a friendly conversation with complete strangers (not always the case in northern Michigan).  We hung out and listened to the band, then headed outside to the patio to relax at a table and talk.

The history of Leg’s Inn is a long and fascinating one. Here is a short description courtesy of their website: “Located in historic Cross Village, Michigan, Legs Inn is a ‘monument to nature.’ Built on a high bluff overlooking Lake Michigan, it is unique and mysterious as seen in its architecture and decor. The fantasy-like atmosphere of this medieval looking stone, timber and driftwood landmark was created by one man, Polish immigrant, Stanley Smolak. He fell in love with Northern Michigan and its people, many of them Ottawa and Chippewa Indians and decided to settle in Cross Village in 1921.

Entry to Leg's Inn in Cross Village

A blend of Old World European and Indian cultures creates a memorable atmosphere. The entry foyer, tavern, game and dining rooms are all filled with an intriguing collection of nature and hand carved furniture — whimsical creations made of tree stumps, twisted limbs and roots, driftwood sculptures and massive field stone fireplaces.” (Source: legsinn.com)

At 2 a.m. we left the bar and walked down to the lake for one last swim. The sky was clear and the stars lit up and overwhelmed the expanse of dark water that surrounded us. The Milky Way put on a show and we sat in silence admiring the night. The water felt warm below the cool air and I was content. It was a perfect end to a perfect day. I was tired and satisfied and drunk on the beauty of life.

Budget–

3 bottles of beer in Ponshewaing+ dinner at the Polish Kitchen+ gas@3.83/gal.+ $5 cover for Legs Inn and a bottle of beer there = $40

Great Lake State song of the week–

Breathe Owl Breathe- Water’s Edge