Saturday, our final day of exploring, we wake up before the alarm goes off and before the sky has completely brightened. We soon have our gear packed and loaded in the car. It is another chilly morning, but we have had no rain during the three days we have been here meaning we have been able to keep our car at the cabin without fear of getting stuck in mud. Otherwise, we would have had to walk the distance carrying heavy items twice a day.
We are soon on the way north on M31 and I75 towards Sault Ste. Marie just across from the Canadian border. Our goal this morning is to stop at Castle Rock, a rock outcropping high above the landscape just a short distance north of the Mackinaw Bridge. Like everything else it seems these days, it is commercialized, and the sign says $1 per person to climb. We are early as the entry doesn’t open until 9 a.m. so we have about forty minutes to wait. Finally, after collecting our two dollars, the proprietor directs us towards a set of concrete steps at the far end of the fenced in enclosure. We climb and stumble and climb the multitude of ill proportioned steps that we never count. I am guessing there are about 200 steps followed by a narrow ramp and concrete walkway that leads to the edge of the rock. We are 183 feet above I75. Visible in the distance is Lake Huron, downtown St. Ignace, and acres of trees. After a few pictures, Dave and I clomp our way carefully back down to the bottom.
Our next destination is to be the Soo Locks at Sault Ste Marie. We plug the address into the GPS and are able to locate the locks with no trouble. Our end goal is the observation deck that overlooks the locks. Amazingly, we are hardly situated along the observation deck rail before a huge Canadian freighter, the Captain Henry Jack, approaches the lock. She slowly inches into the lock until the gates can be closed and then the water, and the ship, rises slowly from the level of the St Mary’s River to meet the level of Lake Superior. Within an hour, she is slowly sliding out of the lock and is continuing on her way. We managed to hit it just right today.
We were told by the entry gate attendant that a mile down the road is the Tower of History. This structure is about 186 feet tall and provides a view of the city, the locks, and the Canadian shoreline. There does not seem to be massive crowds of people today and we find a parking spot there easily. This time, we take the elevator most of the way up. There are just a few steps to the top two tiers of the structure which sports an outdoor observation area. It does offer a spectacular view of the surrounding area and the trans-international bridge to Canada. We even spy a picnic table just a block away below us. We know exactly where we will have our picnic lunch on this warm sunny day.
All too soon, it is time to head for Escanaba, Michigan where we plan to spend our last night at a hotel. There we spend an enjoyable evening visiting the Sandy Point Lighthouse and splurging on Kentucky Fried Chicken in the park by Lake Michigan. All good things much come to an end and our Sunday is occupied with driving home to Minnesota.
We both slept much better last night but were awake by 5:30 on this Friday morning, July 15, 2022. We decide we might as well get up and start the day. We are hoping to get to Mackinac Island before the crowds hit. The air is crisp and cool. My phone says the temperature is 51 degrees. The wind, though, is calm making for a peaceful enjoyable morning. Since we have an LP burner stove here, Dave makes the last of the pancake mix even though it takes longer than our dehydrated meals to make. We eat our pancakes while the sun is awakening.
We leave the little cabin at 7 a.m. for the drive to Mackinaw City where we hope to catch the 8:30 a.m. boat shuttle to the island. After a pleasant drive, we are there in plenty of time. “All Aboard” is soon sounded and today, we choose the indoor seats for the 16-minute ride across the straits. Round Island lighthouse greets us off to the right just before we enter the dock area. Even though we are fairly early, the crowds are already arriving. People are pressed together with luggage, dogs in backpacks, bicycles, and every manner of items potentially needed for a day trip, or an overnight stay, on the island. On Mackinac Island, no cars are allowed so one has to walk, ride a bike, or take a horse (or horse drawn wagon). We find out later that several motorized vehicles are allowed – an ambulance and firetrucks. The main street is clogged with horses, and bicycles going all different directions. Dave shocks me by saying that he is willing to try riding a bicycle on this island. Therefore, we stop and rent two- two wheelers. They are wide-tired, large seated, multispeed vehicles. Dave has not ridden for at least five to ten years or more and he is worried about balance most of all but also about a butt ache, knee aches, and a neck ache. The trail around the island is 8.2 miles. It turns out to be fairly easy riding, though, with only one area where we need to work at pedaling. I let Dave take the lead and I think I can honestly say, I never am really working. We make frequent rest stops.
Our first stop is at The Arch, a section of limestone rock that has worn away in the middle leaving a huge arch. Two hundred seven steps greet us on our way to the top of the arch which stands 146 feet above the waters of Lake Huron. After slowly puffing our way up and spending a few minutes enjoying the view, it is time to test the knees and legs for the journey back down. We peddle a way further along this shoreside road and stop by the beach. It is then that Dave realizes that, unfortunately, he has forgotten his spare camera battery in the car. He is hugely disappointed because the current one has taken its last snapshot. We can’t just run back to the car so there will be no more picture taking on this venture. I do press my cell phone into service, but its pictures are not nearly of the quality of the camera. As we ride on, we ride past some bicycles parked along the side of the road. The humans must be off exploring somewhere. In the basket of one of the bikes is a squirrel who is busily chewing on the crackers the rider has left there for later. He is taking advantage of the situation. The trail follows the coastline for majority of the way and provides a spectacular view of the lake. Our total ride takes about 2 ½ hours and almost results in a stroke when I learn the cost is $75 for that ride.
Once the bikes are returned, we splurge on a goodie each. I have milk and a large chocolate chip cookie covered in chocolate. Dave has a gluten free sugar cookie and some popcorn. A decision is made to walk to the butterfly house on Surrey Hill. As we start up Front Street, the grade increases acutely and by the time we hit Huron Street, it is difficult to walk it without significant huffing and puffing. I am tempted to jump on the back of one of the horse- drawn wagons toting people around. Eventually, we make it to the top and take a short cut through the horse stable and carriage museum to avoid walking around the circle drive.
The butterfly house is populated with many colored butterflies twitting around from place to place. I love the butterfly house, but it is soon time to begin our trek back down the steep street. I have to laugh at the sign at the top of the hill, “Walk your bikes down the hill.” Really? Hills are made for flying down on a bicycle. I think it will be easier, too, to walk downhill than up but it puts a different angle of pressure on Dave’s bad knee. We end up stepping very slowly. We do arrive back at the docks in time for the 3 p.m. ferry and are shuttled back to the mainland.
On our drive back to Petosky, we stop at the fish hatchery in Oden that we discovered by accident the other day while waiting for our guest to meet us at the restaurant. The evening has grown cloudy, and the air is heavy with moisture. We don’t walk to the actual hatchery because of the distance involved but do make the trek to the big fishpond about .3 miles in. Large trout frolic in the waters and leap into the air when I throw in food I had purchased at the entrance for such purposes. Finally, we return to the car for the final drive back to the cabin. We prepare and eat our supper outdoors, then read by the evening light. We do not light a fire on this last night as we have run out of wood and have no ax or hatchet to cut anymore into burnable lengths. The wind is calm, and in the distance, I hear a rooster crowing, some dogs barking, and a multitude of speeding cars and motorcycles on the nearby hardtop road. It is never really quiet anywhere, it seems.
We set the alarm for 5 a.m. on Thursday, July 14. The GPS says it will take almost an hour to get to Mackinaw City and our boat for the “Western Lighthouses Cruise” leaves at 7:30. The sky is just beginning to lighten, and a full moon shines its beams over our little cabin. I slept very little last night as I never do when I have to get up early to meet some appointment. The jitters about getting there on time is just enough to chase away the sleepy man. We have our breakfast in the car as we drive; Dave spooning the yogurt into my mouth so I can keep my hands on the wheel and my eyes on the road. Our GPS guides us expertly this time and we soon pull into a mostly empty parking lot. A shuttle awaits to take us to the dock where we will board the boat.
The sky is clear and bright, and the early morning sun is just ascending over the lake. It is a chilly morning, about fifty degrees and the sun struggles to apply warmth to our backs. By, 7 a.m., we are stepping onto the boarding platform and climbing the stairs to the upper outside deck. We have worn all of our meager amount of winter gear we have brought along. Both of us wonder if this choice is a mistake. Soon we are skimming over the totally calm surface of Lake Huron headed toward the 5-mile-long Mackinac Bridge. It is the longest suspension bridge in the Western Hemisphere with 1.4 miles of it suspended in the air over the straits of Mackinac. Even without a wind, the breeze created by the boat is bone numbing cold. Our first slow down is to view the Old Mackinaw Point Lighthouse that sits just at the south end of the bridge. Then we swing around and head under the magnificent bridge for a splendid view from beneath. We tuck our coats around ourselves as we then cruise west on Lake Michigan at 35 miles per hour to St Helena Island Lighthouse near St. Ignace. This lighthouse sits on a small island and is currently being renovated and restored. One can camp on the island if so desired. Our last three lighthouses are built in the middle of Lake Michigan. A wooded platform was built on land and once floated out to the chosen spot, was filled with concrete and rocks for the bases. The white shoal lighthouse, north of Beaver Island, is being restored to be used as a bed and breakfast. It will only be accessible by boat. A team of workers are busy and stop long enough to wave to us. After the captain spins around the light for all to take pictures, we are off across the lake to Gray’s Reef Lighthouse. It sits alone in this massive expanse of water. In the distance, we spot a freighter steaming towards Mackinaw Bridge and a port beyond for loading. Our last stop is Waugoshance Point Lighthouse. It stands forlorn and alone, having been abandoned to the elements.
Soon we are blowing a huge wake as we speed back towards Mackinaw. The wind has warmed somewhat but it is still quite chilly, and the cold has reached deep into our bones. Most people have gone below by now. The sun warms our backs as we debark at the dock.
I plug the address for Mackinaw Point Lighthouse into the GPS and we cruise a few blocks to a park complete with a beach on Lake Huron and sporting shaded picnic tables. Here we enjoy our lunch before walking to the lighthouse for a tour. Climbing the 51 steps to the light chamber is the highlight. The platform offers a spectacular view of Lake Huron, Lake Michigan, and the Mackinaw Bridge. By now, it is 2 p.m. and we are both tired from getting up early so we head back down M31 to our cabin in the woods. A couple of stops are made to buy ice, a camera card, some drinks, and chips. That is followed by a slow drive along the winding path to the cabin. Time for some naps before supper and a lazy evening by the campfire.
Wednesday morning, July 13, we awaken to a bright sunny clear day. It is time to pack up and move on. Our breakfast is made with boiling hot water, again done in the campground office microwave. Then we head east on M28, south on 66, and east again on US 2 towards Mackinaw and the small town of Oden. There is where we are to meet our friend at a restaurant around 1:30 p.m. While we dine on delicious food, we spend 2 ½ hours catching up on our lives. All too soon, it is time to move on and say Good-bye.
We need to travel just a few more miles to Petoskey to locate our home for the next three days. It is to be a rustic cabin deep in the Michigan woods complete with an outhouse. The proprietor is waiting with a gator to haul our possessions back a minimally maintained field drive through the woods. To me, it looks a lot like the trail we took back to the yurt in northern Minnesota last year. A sign at the opening declares, “Emergency Camp vehicles only beyond this point.” The lady tells us that it is just a five-minute walk back to the cabin, but Dave and I really are not interested in walking in and out each day with supplies and other items. My car will become a “Emergency camp vehicle” once we are alone.
The little cabin sits amongst shady trees with the Bear River meandering by. It has a king size bed, a wood stove for heat if needed, and an outdoor cooking area replete with a gas cooking grill and all the utensils needed to cook. But where is the water? There is no running water and no coolers or receptacles storing water ready for our use like at our prior summer yurt. I am a little confused as to why you would supply every other necessary essential but no water. We certainly aren’t going to drink water out of the river. The situation calls for some planning. We finally decide to make a trip to town to purchase gas, water, and cold items that can be eaten on our drive to Mackinaw City tomorrow for the 7:30 a.m. lighthouse boat tour we have scheduled. It is a good thing I have an “EV” for delivering the jugs of water through the woods to our little home. The evening is filled with a quiet supper and reading by a crackling fire.
There is no set time on Monday, July 11 for getting up. It is so nice to just relax. Amazingly, the constant road traffic ceases during the night and all is quiet. We arise around 7 a.m. after a fairly comfortable night. Our first task is making breakfast. The plan is to have pancakes made over the tiny camp stove. We now have fuel to put in it but realize it will be a challenge to pour fuel from a 12×6 can into a ½” diameter hole without pouring most of it on the ground. Dave fashions a makeshift funnel out of tin foil. Even with our fabricated tool, we spill a good portion into the fire pit before we get the stove full. But the next challenge, in spite of the stove working for us last evening, is that it will not hold pressure. The only “oil” we have is butter so Dave tries lubricating the plunger with our “I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter.” But in spite of pumping and pumping, it will not maintain a seal. As a last resort, he is forced to build a fire with wood in the cooking grill to crispy burn our pancakes. They are rubbery on the outside and not quite done on the inside. It turns out to be a very meager sad breakfast.
A search of the hardware store later that morning for 3-in-1 oil for the stove plunger yields, “We haven’t been able to get that for over six months.” What is this shortage of strange and random things here lately? We resort to 10W30 car oil which I carry around in my trunk. Dave is able to light the stove one more time after returning to the campground but then it again refuses to hold any pressure. Time to hold a memorial service for this 20 + year old piece of camping equipment.
Our next item on the itinerary today is to drive to three separate falls around Munising. The Munising Falls is right in town just a short distance off H58 so our plan is to stop there first. I need to spy Washington Ave and have Dave follow it to the hospital and the parking lot should be right across from the hospital. I do catch a glimpse of Washington Ave but the sign runs parallel with the road we are on, so I assume that H58 switched over to Washington Ave there. But we drive and drive with no sign of a hospital or Munising Falls. After many miles have passed, I realize we are almost to Chapel Falls which was to be our last stop of the day. Oh well, might as well start backwards.
Chapel Falls are a 1.4-mile hike in along a wide, well kept, obviously well-traveled trail. The path slowly winds through the heavily tree populated forest. The breeze is cool on this cloudy day making for a pleasant walk. Here there are no steps to the base of the falls but a viewing area above which allows a visual through the trees. Just a little further upstream, a bridge crosses over the rocky river above the cascading water.
Yesterday, I had said that I was surprised at the lack of people at these sites. Today is a different story. The crowds have appeared and the peaceful stride through the forest alone is gone. Dave is starting to limp on the way back due to his knee, but we take it slow on this easy path.
We decide to see if we can find a picnic table for a lunch of chicken salad on sandwiches and chips before we tackle the next falls. We drive down the road to Miner’s Falls and beach thinking that certainly there will be a table somewhere near the beach. There is not a table to be found. I had seen a spot in passing where there were five huge rocks marking the boundary to a parking area. That, I decide will be our picnic banquet spot. One large rock becomes our table for the spread. Soon we are revived and ready to attempt the walk to Miner’s Falls.
The parking lot to the falls area is jammed with cars and people but we are able to secure an unmarked spot for ourselves. We set off down the slightly sloping path. Our pace is slow, and we sidestep frequently to allow others to pass. It is soon evident that a “herd” is following us. They seem to be young college students together in a group accompanied by a priest in robes. They laugh and talk, and one plays a boombox loudly. It is almost impossible to get any pictures at the falls that are devoid of humans. We rest on a bench waiting for all the students to come back up the 77 steps from the viewing platform. But they never come back. Eventually, I leave Dave on the bench and walk down the steps to the viewing platform. That’s weird, I think, the students have all vanished. There is no trail, but they have descended by sliding 50 feet further down the side of the cliff to the base of the falls. I can tell Dave is exhausted by the time we get back to the parking lot, but we decide to make the one last stop at Munising Falls anyway as it is just a short walk.
The parking lot to Munising Falls is packed and overflowing when we arrive and there also seems to be a charge to visit here. Too many people and needing to pay finalizes our decision to head back to the campground and the yurt. We never do make a trip to this fall.
Once we are relaxing back at the yurt, I decide to look up the ferry schedule from Muskegon to Milwaukee for our return trip on Sunday, July 17. Our plan is to drive to Traverse City on Saturday to visit a friend from my younger Mennonite days and then take the ferry on Sunday morning to get back to Wisconsin. I have brought along my computer for such a purpose, and we do have WiFi access here. The ferry website now offers a place to book a spot. When I booked this trip in February, the ferry wasn’t even running and therefore, I didn’t make any reservations. I thought we could just drive up at 10 a.m. on Sunday and get a birth. But now, when I click on “Reserve a Ticket,” the only choice I am offered is 11 p. m. Sunday night. That won’t work at all. I suspect that the other times are all booked but I call the phone number listed just in case.
“Do you have a vehicle,” the answering lady enquires.
“We have no more room for vehicles, but you can buy a ticket.”
Well, that’s not a help if we have to leave our car behind. Dave and I are in a panic. Now what do we do? And how many hours does it take to drive around Lake Michigan. Google and MapQuest both say the shortest way home from Traverse City, MI is south around Lake Michigan through Chicago. Who wants to drive through Chicago? Not us. And even then, it is a 10-hour drive home. Going north around that end of Lake Michigan does not seem to be much different. After an hour of analyzing every angle, we decide we will have to leave early around 5 a.m. on Sunday taking the northern route with the hopes we will be home in 12 hours.
I then text my friend to make sure she is still expecting us on Saturday.
“Oh, I have to work until 8 p.m. on Saturday evening,” she says, “But you guys are welcome to hang out here if you like or visit some of Traverse City.”
Well, that is a frickin bummer! Why do we want to drive to Traverse City with the just discovered travel issue if the person we want to see isn’t going to be home anyway? I am totally frustrated and disappointed. I thought we had this planned months ago. I wonder if we could go down there on Friday.
“Do you work on Friday?” I question.
“I work Thursday thru Saturday,” is the response. “Would it work if I would meet you in Petoskey on Wednesday? We could at least get to visit for a bit.
That might actually work, I think. We will need to figure out something different for Saturday night but that solves our problem of how to get around Lake Michigan for the drive home.
After all this brain racking, it is time for supper before our sunset cruise along the Pictured Rocks National shoreline tonight. Our little cooking stove continues to be uncooperative, so we finally resort to asking again to boil a cup of water in the campground office microwave in order to rehydrate our dehydrated meal. One cup of boiling water is all we need. These Mountain House dehydrated food packets are actually working quite well in our situation, and they are even pretty tasty.
The sun has peeked out and is shining brightly by the time we park in Munising and take our spot in the growing queue for the boat ride at 8 p.m. Maybe there will be a nice sunset after all. We have brought our coats as the air contains a chill. Two busloads of Amish people soon unload and join the waiting throng. Shortly before 7:45, the boat steams toward the dock and ties up. It is a triple decker with just enough room to accommodate the passenger count of 300 tonight, the captain informs us. Dave and I choose the upper open deck in the chairs along the rail hoping to get some good pictures.
As we start across the bay, the wind blasts our faces and insists we put our jackets on. Brrr… It is going to be chilly on the water. Our journey is to take us 15 miles out into Lake Superior along the shoreline and back, a two-hour trip. We see a couple of waterfalls, Spray Falls and Bridal Falls. Much of the cliff line along the shore is covered with colored rocks from the minerals contained in the water as it runs into the lake. It makes them look like someone has reached down and painted them with a huge paintbrush. Also, evident are sandstone arches that have developed over time. At one point, as a unique treat, the captain pulls the boat up into a rock encircled bay that is just big enough to accommodate his boat. All too soon, it is time to head back. The sunset we were hoping to see is soon obscured by clouds. In the distance, the sky grows dark and angry. A few flashes of lightning streak across the sky. Just as we are about to return into the harbor bay, a bright full moon peeks out and throws its reflection for a few minutes on the calm surface of the lake. Then it is gone.
Sunday morning, July 10, we wake up at 7:30 a.m. in our room at the bed and breakfast after a restful night. The proprietor had predicted a 40-degree temperature this morning, but we are hit with a blast of warm breeze when we step out into the garden for a morning explore before breakfast. I am guessing it is closer to seventy. The world is peaceful, and we lounge in the strategically placed lawn chairs while we gaze out at the waveless blue expanse of Lake Superior. Breakfast is to be served at 8:30 so we head back in to see what delicacies await us. The tray is embellished with fruit in yogurt, blueberry sconces, egg muffins, sausages, and a cup of cereal. We take our tray back outside to enjoy the beautiful sunny morning while we dine on the treats. After our leisurely meal, we gather our possessions together and set out on the next leg of our journey.
Our plan is to drive south on County Road 510 along which we are searching for two waterfalls. Yellow Dog River Falls is supposed to come first followed by Big Pup Creek Falls about 2 miles further on. Following the map, we turn directly south where County AA divides from County 510 and continue driving. It shouldn’t be far from here. We look intently for the signs we are sure we should be seeing soon. But we drive and drive and there are no signs anywhere. Could we have missed them?
“But there were no signs,” we alternately declare to each other.
“Well, I guess we are taking a drive through the enchanted forest if nothing else.” The potholed gravel road is enclosed by trees that reach for each other above.
We finally come to a road marked 310 but 510 seems to have disappeared. There is no 310 on the map we have but we have to go one way or the other, so we turn to the right. It soon becomes a “road less traveled” and I insist that we turn around.
“I think 310 is a snowmobile trail marker and not a route number,” Dave declares.
Maybe he is right. This is getting really frustrating. We go back to the main track and continue south on the dirt path we previously were following. We ask the GPS for help, but she directs us to turn several times where there are no roads in this vast no man’s land. No wonder people end up on railroad tracks and in lakes. After driving for miles, we finally come out on US 41 just west of Marquette. Apparently, finding waterfalls is supposed to be intuitive for Michigan folks. They don’t believe in marking them. We give up on the waterfall hunt and head to our next destination, the Marquette Maritime Museum.
It is 11:30 a.m. when we park in the lot outside the museum. We have just missed the 11:30 lighthouse tour group. Oh well… We buy combined tickets for the museum and the lighthouse. Senior citizens are cheaper here.
“What is a senior citizen,” I ask
“65,” she replies.
“I just signed up for Medicare….?” I hint. “Is that good enough? I’m just a couple of months short.” I am thinking she might give me the discount, but she doesn’t.
Dave and I tour the museum, but our lighthouse tour is not until 1:30 p.m. so we go looking for a picnic spot to enjoy our lunch while we wait. Down the road by the marina, we spot some picnic tables. As we park and gather our food, an older man gloms onto the one and just stands there. As we head for the second table, a family stops and sits down to enjoy their meal. We finally secure a table 100 feet away that rests in the sun. We haul it into the shade. There we enjoy tuna salad sandwiches with chips and a trail mix while a light breeze blows off the lake. Soon, it is back to the museum for our tour. The temperature has climbed into the mid-eighties and the sun is beating down with vigor. We hike about 1/3 of a mile to Marquette Harbor Lighthouse and climb the 45 steps to the entrance. I am hot and my legs are protesting from the many steps we have climbed in the last two days. The building does provide a spectacular view of Lake Superior. We end the tour with a stroll along the catwalk to the steps that used to run to the fog house. It is high above the cliffs and only about three feet wide. Off in the distance, the Coast Guard boat plies the waves. Before we leave the site, we walk out onto the rocks and sit on one that teeters back and forth with our weight.
We head out around 2:30 p.m. on the drive to Au Train Beach Campground where a yurt awaits us for the next three nights. We don’t understand this lack of signage in upper Michigan as we fly by our destination. Even the GPS doesn’t recognize the address. I see some Teepees out of the corner of my eye.
“I bet that is the place,” I announce.
We swing around for the hundredth time this trip.
The check-in lady at the campground greets me with some good news, “The yurt you reserved has been wired since you signed up and now has electricity. It is also $20 more per night now so you got a good deal.”
That solves our problem for the first 3 nights of our vacation on how to run Dave’s CPAP machine on two batteries. Each one only lasts about 2 ½ nights and needs 8 hours of charging before using again.
The yurt is fairly new and very clean. However, we soon discover that there are no cooking facilities in it like the one we used in northern MN. I really was counting on some. So now we have two choices: cook the old-fashioned way over a campfire or dig out the small gas cookstove somewhere in the bottom of our camping gear bag that I brought along. It hasn’t been used in ten years or more, I am guessing. And we brought along no fuel for it. After much effort, Dave gets it started and is able to heat the water to reconstitute our supper. Then it is off to Munising to look for camping fuel. We finish out the day with a stroll along the Lake Superior beach and a campfire outside our yurt. The raindrops that threatened the evening fad away and the evening slips into night without drenching us.
Today, we embark on our trip through the upper peninsula of Michigan. We left home yesterday on Dave’s 67th birthday, July 8, and spent the first night in a hotel in Ladysmith, Wisconsin. Neither of us slept well so we decide to crawl out of bed at 6 a.m. and get moving. Our goal for today is to reach Big Bay, Michigan between 4 and 6 p.m. “eastern time.” My brain is struggling to calculate that. Is that Eastern Standard Time? Or Eastern Daylight Savings Time? And how does that correlate to our Central Time? I have determined that it should take us about 2 ½ hours to drive to Bessemer, MI where I am hoping to deviate off toward the Black River Recreational Area which sports several waterfalls on the Black River’s course to Lake Superior.
We have gassed the car and are cruising north on County Rd 513 by 9:30 a.m. That should give us 2 ½ hours, according to my calculations, to drive fifteen miles, stop and see a few waterfalls and drive back to US 2 by noon. Sandstone Falls is our first stop, and it is only a ½ mile hike in. Within just a few hundred yards, we come upon a staircase that descends the side of the cliff to the river. Apparently, our ½ mile hike is straight down the steps. Dave and I look at each other. Do we really want to do this? Finally, resolve takes over and we begin the downward trek. The view at the bottom is spectacular. The water cascades between two chiseled out outcroppings as it flows toward the lake. The spray creates a mist that rises around us. After enjoying the beauty for a bit, we begin our climb back up the hundreds of steps out of the gorge. Time for a rest as we drive south to our next stop.
Just a few more miles further down the road, we pull into the parking area for the dual falls, Gorge Falls and Potawatomi Falls. Gorge Falls is also “only” a ¼ mile walk but if we thought this would be easier, the steps descending out of view informs us differently. Again, we question, should we do this? But this time, there are fewer steps as we descend all the way to the valley. The river runs between a narrow gorge of volcanic rock at this point. Looking down at the magnificent chasm with the water thundering into it and over the falls is a glorious sight. After spending a few minutes there, we follow the well-worn trail upstream through the woods along and above the river to the Potawatomi Falls. Potawatomi Falls drops over two domes of sloping volcanic rock making it a unique fall. We can only see this waterfall from above from a viewing platform. By now, it is slightly after 11 a.m. and since we have a considerable distance to go with a stated hard stop deadline or we lose our reservation, we continue south back to US 2.
We had turned north on 511 just west of Bessemer and were overjoyed that we had missed the US 2 detour coming up. As we come back into town on 513 further east, we are hoping that we have bypassed the detour. It is soon evident that this is not the case. We run smack into the road closed sign. We turn right onto the only road that seems to run parallel with US 2 but soon realize it is a one-way street going west, the wrong way. Every street we turn on ends up meeting the road closed sign for US 2. Arrrrh! How frustrating!! How are we supposed to get around the closed road? We soon realize that the detour going east is on the other side of US 2 and the detour going west is on our side. Who thought up this scenario? After wasting ten to fifteen minutes of precious time, we finally find a street that takes us east beyond the construction zone and allows us to re-enter the state highway. From there we turn onto MI 28 to Marquette. Maybe, we will have smooth sailing now.
But navigating route 28 becomes our most difficult challenge yet. We are using a GPS (the modern device), Google Maps, and an old-fashioned map and none of them agree as to which direction we should go. GPS lady keeps trying to make us turn left onto obscure and unpaved roads while Google Maps tells me to follow MI 28 to just before Marquette. Unhelpfully, the paper map does not contain any of the roads GPS keeps spouting out. I do not trust the GPS so we keep ignoring it and just keep driving. Finally, about ten miles from Marquette, GPS gives me an instruction that matches Google. Hurrah!!
The matching instructions do finally place us at 3 Lighthouse Road, the address for the Big Bay Lighthouse Bed & Breakfast where we will be staying for the night. It sits high above Lake Superior on a cliff and still watches over ship traffic on the great lake lest they be dashed against the rocks. The building belongs to a private individual, but the light is rented out to the Coast Guard. The gardens are filled with blooming flowers and shrubs. In the quiet of the lawn overlooking Lake Superior, the birds twitter and a chipmunk scurries around. Later, we will climb the winding steps to the top of the tower and look out over God’s creation from its open-air balcony. We finish off the day with a good meal at the Thunder Bay Inn in Big Bay, MI.
“We invite you to participate in the Tapestry study, whose goal is to understand how patient care may be impacted when results from DNA sequencing are in the medical record,” states the message that appears with my downloading e-mail. “The Tapestry study is a screening test. It looks at 11 genes associated with BRCA-related hereditary breast and ovarian cancer, Lynch syndrome and familial hypercholesterolemia. It is not a diagnostic test, nor does it look at all of the genes associated with hereditary ovarian cancer,” continues the dialogue.
Hmmmm…. My attention has been captured. Should I consider a genetic study or is this a really bad idea? I did have ovarian cancer when I was 38 years old. But that was 25 years ago, and nothing has happened since. I am pretty sure I don’t have any genetic mutations for cancer. I have no family history of breast or ovarian cancer. But still . . . I do have a daughter who has become concerned here lately as to her risk of ovarian cancer. If all this testing were to come back negative, it would provide her with peace of mind.
Three days later on October 23, 2020, I respond to the e-mail and join Mayo Clinic’s Health Tapestry Genomic Sequencing in Clinical Practice study. I am sent a kit into which I am to collect a specific amount of sputum. I spit into the collection container and mail it off to the lab in the pre-addressed box. Then I wait. The information given me was that the test results would take up to twelve weeks to be reported. That was simple.
Several months go by and I do receive the fun results for the ancestry and genetic traits part of the study. I am 95% of European ancestry with 5% of Middle Eastern and African heritage. Mixed in there is a 0.8% Ashkenazi Jewish. I find out later this is important as 2% of those of Ashkenazi Jewish descent have a BRCA mutation. The results say I am not lactose intolerant (knew that). I have not adapted to be able to avoid malaria (Oh really!). I do not have the adaptation to be able to thrive in lower-oxygen environments at high altitudes (guess I’ll stay on the plains). I do have a genotype associated with the ability to adapt in cold climates (Brr… doesn’t seem like it some days in this cold MN climate). Along with lots of other useless tidbits, I learn I have brown eyes, tend towards curly hair, am taller, and tend to tan rather than sunburn; all things I have somehow managed to figure out after being on earth for 63 years. But what I really want to know, do I have a gene coding for cancer, is suspended in the health results that only say, “pending.” I think this very strange.
Towards the end of January 2021, my husband is also invited to join this same study. He signs up on February 2, 2021, and submits his saliva sample a few days later. Ten weeks later, on April 19, 2021, his results are flashed to us as “ready.” He is negative for all eleven of the genes they are testing for that code for cancer. Hurrah, at least our daughter has a fighting chance!
Puzzled as to why he has received his results and I have not, I send an e-mail to Helix, the company being used by Mayo for this study, “I signed up for the Helix genetic study back in October 2020. The information originally stated that we would receive results by twelve weeks. It has now been 5 months and there are still no medical results. I did get the basic genetic characteristics results, but I am just curious why I still haven’t gotten my medical results…?” Helix does promptly respond, “Our systems indicate that your sequencing has been sent out for interpretation. At this time, I cannot give you a time frame … Your Health results are taking longer to sequence than previously stated. We are unfortunately back logged due to Covid 19.” I find this all very confusing. Yes, maybe Covid is slowing down their results but that doesn’t explain how someone who signed up after me has already received their results and I haven’t. I am convinced that they have lost my sample and/or my results and are finding it convenient to blame it on Covid. It doesn’t occur to me until later that they are simply not telling me the truth; that they do know the results and because they are positive, they are not ready to tell me. If I could read between the lines, it would say, “Your results were positive. Therefore, we sent them to be confirmed by a second company.”
Three more months go by. I send several more e-mails to this company and each time I am told that my results, “are delayed due to supply chain issues” or “covid testing taking priority.” Finally, on July 26, they report that “it looks like your results are in a recent batch that should be released by Helix any day now.” Coincidently, Mayo sends an email three days later that says “you will receive an email from Helix very soon, with instructions on how to access your results on the Helix website. As a participant in this study, a Mayo Clinic genetic counselor would like to review your results with you over the phone.” This should have been my clue that Mayo has already known the results for some time, and they are not good. Afterall, they never requested to talk to my hubby by phone to discuss his results.
It isn’t until July 31, 2021, 9 months after signing up for this study that I get the results. “You were found to have an actionable* variant in the BRCA2 gene that is associated with a genetic condition called Hereditary Breast and Ovarian Cancer (HBOC). Individuals with HBOC have an increased risk for certain types of cancer, including breast, ovarian, prostate, and others.”
A numbness spreads over me. Why did I think joining this study was a good idea? I would have been better off never knowing. What I had hoped would provide peace of mind to my daughter has opened a yawning pit of anguish and anxiety. I am now 63 years old and have lived 25 years without any cancer reoccurrence. I have no desire to make any “might be possible cancer” a focus of my life. I can’t live that way. But the question remains, should I ignore what was better unknown or try to pursue some interventions, some of which are of a huge magnitude in order attempt to prevent what might happen? The medical community seems to be in a huge rush now to push me down this path towards interventions. No one seemed to care much before, and my cancer diagnosis 25 years ago has pretty much been forgotten. When I think about it later, the whole process of the genetic testing makes me angry. Helix and Mayo have known for at least 6 months but kept trying to pretend they didn’t by blaming other issues and now, it is all a big rush for me to respond.
I take a breath and step back. There is no emergency here. I don’t have cancer. The first intervention I request is to be retested by another reputable company to make sure this is an accurate result and can be used to drive any decisions made going forward and will be accepted by health insurance companies. After being led along for 9 months, I do not trust the results I am being given. And it is not the first time such a test result has been wrong. I decide to give a blood sample this time as it has a higher rate of reliability than saliva and proceed to do so in early August. But if I was hoping for a different result, I will be disappointed. This test confirms the original finding of a “pathogenic variant (mutation) in the BRCA2 gene associated with Hereditary Breast and Ovarian Cancer syndrome.”
So what is the big deal with this genetic mutation and what are it’s implications? BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes code for proteins that work to suppress cancer cells, mostly in breast tissue, and help to repair any DNA damage that occurs in the course of normal life. If they are missing or damaged, the cells cannot repair themselves and they go on to grow unchecked and become cancerous. BRCA2 is found on chromosome 13 while BRCA1 is found on chromosome 17 so they have slightly different cancer type expressions when missing. BRCA2 is associated with a 45 -83% lifetime risk, according to Mayo genetics, of developing breast cancer by age 70 (the average risk for the general population is 12%), a 27% risk of developing ovarian cancer by age 80 (the general population has a 1-2% risk). I think I have that one covered already. BRCA2 mutations also are associated with a higher risk of pancreatic cancers and melanoma than the general population.
Well, if that isn’t all depressing. And how is one even supposed to begin to deal with statistics like that? My first reaction is to have a double mastectomy without reconstruction and get it over with. I don’t want to be thinking about breast cancer every moment for the rest of my life. But after doing significant research on double mastectomies, I realize that they are not benign surgeries either. Many women have chronic pain afterward. Others have numbness and upper body muscle weakness. I am a fairly healthy 64-year-old by now. I run a chainsaw. I lift weights. I’m active. I do not want a life where I am cancer free but simply existing because I am debilitated and in pain constantly. And finally, having my breasts removed will remove any chance of having a meaningful intimate relationship with my husband. I am distressed to say the least about the dismal statistics but can’t decide what I want to do.
In October, I meet with a doctor from the breast clinic at Mayo. We go through my options: 1. Do nothing (that is not encouraged at all) 2. Have a double mastectomy (see reservations above) 3. Start taking aromatase inhibitors to help prevent cancer and/or 4. Monitor with alternating mammograms and breast MRIs every 6 months. I groan at each of them. I hate visiting medical facilities and doctors and have no desire to visit there constantly. Taking aromatase inhibitors sounds interesting but it is mostly a “hit and miss, maybe” approach. No one knows if I will actually get the kind of cancer that is prevented by drugs that block estrogen production and uptake. So there is a chance that I’m taking a toxic drug that is providing no benefit to me personally. I lean heavily away from their use after I read the side effects: hot flashes, night sweats, join pain by 50% of those taking it, muscle pain, and bone loss. I am back to the same issues of decreased quality of life to treat what currently doesn’t exist. I don’t know what to do.
Before I leave my breast appointment, I am offered the opportunity to join another study, “GENetic Risk Estimation of Breast Cancer Prior to decisions on preventative therapy uptake, risk reduction surgery, or intensive imaging surveillance: A study to determine if a polygenic risk score influences the decision-making options among high-risk women.” The polygenic risk score will take into account genetic risk factors, known as single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) for breast cancer. While individually, these SNP risk factors are of little clinical value, when combined as a polygenic risk score (PRS), they yield a strong risk factor for breast cancer and can be used to personalize breast cancer risk. In other words, the polygenic risk score is an analyzing of 30 or more genes that influence whether a person develops cancer and coming up with a projection for any one particular person as to what their personal chances are of developing breast cancer. At first, I reject the idea of joining another study. I am already overwhelmed by all the information and decisions being thrown at me but the more I think about it, I wonder if it could provide me with the information to make a definitive choice as to the direction I should go. And so I sign up for one more genetic study. While I wait for the results, I try to go about life as normally as possible.
This time, I do not have as long to wait. Within 8 weeks, the results are back. “I have good news,” are the first words from the doctor’s mouth when I sit down with her. “You are in the lowest 7th percentile on the polygenic risk scoring. Because you had a hysterectomy at age 38,” she says, “I assess that you have a 9% risk of developing breast cancer in 5 years, an 18% risk in 10 years, and a lifetime risk of 27%.” That figure is still high compared to the general population, but I now know which direction I am going. At least for the present time, I will alternate the mammogram and breast MRI every six months. If any abnormality ever shows up, I will opt immediately for a double mastectomy without reconstruction. Now that I have made this decision, we have to come up with a plan for safely performing the MRI as I am allergic to the gadolinium dye that they use. This will be my biggest roadblock to following through on this decision.
In November of 2021, after loading up on methylprednisolone and Zyrtec, an anti-histamine, I successfully traverse the breast MRI. All findings are negative. I can breathe a sigh of relief, at least for six months. I begin to move on with life and focus on the future. And then, “your Cologuard test is positive.” Is there no end to this craziness? Is this what old age is all about? Waiting for the cancer shoe to drop? I reject that premise. I choose to live my life in freedom from such fear, God willing – to treasure each day for what it is.
One day while idly scrolling through my Facebook account I came upon a post by a Facebook friend. “Is God unfair in not choosing to save everyone?” it questioned, “‘Fair’ would send everyone to hell. You don’t want fair. You want mercy.” John MacArthur.
I can feel the heated anger rising. I want to scream against this heretical insinuation. What is this statement actually saying? If you are a die-hard Calvinist of which John MacArthur is, there are certain beliefs that lie behind that declaration. First off, I should say, that I do believe we are all sinners and probably all deserve hell. But I have been taught all my life that Jesus (and God by inference) loves us and gave his life so that ALL individuals would have the opportunity to accept him as their Savior and obtain eternal life (heaven).
So back to the beliefs that underlie this statement that trigger my anger. The first thing the statement is saying is that God “choose” not to save everyone. As a Calvinist, one believes that God actually created man to sin. I had a young preacher sit across from me in his office and declare, “they (Adam and Eve) could not have done otherwise.” I am still shocked by that assertion. After that comes the belief that God has also determined (chosen) before he even created human beings who would be chosen to serve him and go to heaven. Conversely, this also means he choose those who would go to hell. So the statement that you don’t want God to be fair strikes me as totally hypocritical. Yes, I want God to be fair AND I want God to be merciful. I don’t think it is an either/or. If He set up this world as the Calvinist insists, then there is no mercy and giving people no choice in their final destiny is not only unfair, but also cruel and unloving. Holding someone responsible by sending them to hell for behavior they have no control over and has been pre-planned is irrational and heartless. Would I then expect mercy from such a God? Does the Bible really teach this?
My question is, is this the kind of God you believe in? Is God fair if he pre-determined before the world began which souls would be chosen for heaven? Is God merciful if that belief is true? To me the answer seems obvious. The comeback always is “God is God so he can do whatever he wants.” That is true but that doesn’t mean these conclusions are true as to God’s intentions and desires for man. The Bible does not say any of those things, but these teachings have become accepted by the majority of evangelical professing Christians today. In the seminaries and in the pulpits, the meanings of words used in the Bible have been changed to make this systemic theology seem to fit together. How do you invite anyone to love Jesus if you carry such underlying beliefs? There is no point in doing so.
I often wonder, does no one think about and question what they are being taught. Why do so many Christians I know blindly follow this theology. They sit mesmerized under the teachings at church and in Bible studies and no one speaks up. It surprises and saddens me that there is only silence when I write something like I have presented here. There is no negative response and no positive response. It is simply ignored. It is like people think if they just ignore what they know is not right but can’t explain, it doesn’t exist. The great wall of silence allows these teachings to continue on unchecked – with no one to defend the true Biblical reputation of God and His love for his creation. “For God so Loved the World, that he gave His only begotten Son, that WHOSOEVER believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” John 3:16 This is what Christmas is all about.
Rrrarf…RRRARF…RRRARF… I am met by drawn back lips, a large yapping jaw, and jagged teeth as I peek through the crack I have created in the doorway. I have come here at the request of the owner of this large totally black male German Shepherd to let him out to go potty since she will be gone for about twelve hours. I visited this home just a couple of days ago to meet Jay, a 7-year-old recently adopted dog. He barked at me initially but then was happy and approachable. He rubbed his head on me and delighted in my ear rubs and sociable pats. He seemed like a friendly fellow.
I am always cautious with animals that do not know me, and I am not surprised at this fairly normal response to my invading his territory. I have come prepared with a couple of dog treats. I extend my hand with the treat to Jay through the crack in the door. He takes one look at what I have to offer, turns tail, and sprints off through the kitchen, continuing the hair-raising barking as he goes. Then all is silent.
I fully push open the door and slowly tread through the lighted kitchen and into the living room. I peer into the darkened bedroom where Jay has fled. Two bright shining circles reflect back at me. I flip on the light switch. Grrr… a low growl emits from the trembling animal perched on the bed.
“Jay, it’s OK. I’m not going to hurt you,” I speak kindly and softly while tossing another of my treats his way and taking a few steps in his direction. He continues to stare at me and send that little rumbling growl my way. We repeat this a few times over the next ten minutes with little progress.
“Do you want me to take over?” It’s the voice of my hubby behind me who has followed me after hearing the initial greeting.
“He’s all yours.”
“It’s OK, Jay. Do you want to go out?
The ears perk up and Jay jumps off the bed, heading for the door Dave holds open for him. In a flash he is gone. I am not sure this was a good idea. I am thinking we should have left him for tonight and hoped for the best. My biggest fear now is that he is out, and we will not be able to corral him. He does have an e-collar on that his owner told me that, if pressed, he would return right away. I pace on the porch holding the remote control to the collar while Dave tries to keep a sight line on the dog’s hurried strides around the yard. I am anxious and worried. I think he has gone far enough into the dark, so I push the button, “Jay, come here,” I call. He bounds up the step then back through the door I am holding open. But I am too slow and whatever fear overwhelms him takes over again and all his power is applied to the door as he makes a determined escape.
“Jay, come here,” I demand but I am ignored. He paces a few times in the southern yard than disappears around the house. Dave follows. I wait, hoping that they will reappear but as the minutes tick by, no dark shadows re-appear. In the distance, coyotes howl. I finally walk around the house. There is no one in sight. “Where are you?” I call into the stillness. There is no reply.
Now I am really worried and desperate. Did Jay run off into the field and Dave follow? I dig out the flashlight, shining it into the deepening darkness while I stride out into the field to the west of the house. Where could they have gone? How can they have totally disappeared so fast?
“Dave, where are you?” I call over and over into the blackness. No voice drifts back to me. Now I am panicked. Finally, the light bulb goes on in my head. Use your phone and call him. Dah! As I am preparing to dial, I hear my name being called.
“Where have you been?” I demand
“Jay came around the house right to the other door, so I let him in.”
All this time, I have been desperately searching, he and the dog have been safely inside the house.
“I thought I should let him in if that’s what he wanted even if it wasn’t the right door. I don’t think he peed but that’s the way it is. I was able to get him to eat the treats. He let me rub his ears and his belly and I got his e-collar off.”
Well, Dave gets the prize for being the dog whisperer. Not sure we accomplished what we set out to do but at least the doggie is safely back in the house.