From Mackinac I cut over to the Traverse City area where I began what would be a week of local brewery visits and to experience all things cherry related. It was kind of overcast for most of my visit and it was supposed to rain off and on over the next few days, so it was nice to take advantage of the pre-rain sunshine on my way and visit some roadside attractions. Lucky for me there were many things to see in a small area! I stopped by a quiet church grounds where the biggest wooden crucifix stands overlooking the outdoor pews and glass wall of the church itself. Carving this out of one giant redwood much have been a task for sure. The church is also home to the largest collection of dolls dressed in religious outfits…. but that sounded super creepy so I passed.

Next stop was the Historic Barns Park botanic gardens and paths. The visitor center was closed (maybe for covid or maybe I was just after hours, not sure) and the barns themselves, which have been converted for event space, were being updated so off limits, but the grounds were open and free and provided some lovely sunny walking time. There’s a serene labyrinth, a section of woods filled with fairy villages, a pollinator garden, a vegetable garden, and lots of trails and nice views. The garden is on the former grounds of what was once a big state asylum, and by the entrance is a monument to a beloved cow the patients and staff loved who once grazed here. Weird but true.

A little further down the road behind a school there was also a trail to the hippie tree- a massive tree with branches spreading horizontally over a vast area which you can climb on and over. It’s been painted by generations of locals and has been said to be a spiritual gateway, some channeling mystical energy and others saying it’s haunted by the mad spiritis from the asylum or a gateway to hell, so you know, something in that very specific range. I didn’t get any weird vibes buy maybe the recent spray paint fumes got to me first.

The old asylum has been transformed into retail, dining, and apartment space. I walked around a little and spent some time on the patio of a brewery there and it seemed like a nice spot, though my favorite parts of Traverse City were along the water where I hung out doing computer stuff by a little town beach with some coffee on a drizzly morning before tracking down the pie tin from what was the world’s largest cherry pie! Fittingly on display just outside the Sara Lee factory.

A little loop north from town took me to the cutest little brewery in the woods by Suttons Bay where I treated myself to some tacos under the fairy lights before continuing on to the cutest fishing town of Leland, where a wedding party was just taking a little ride around the bay in some sort of amphibious vehicle that reminded me of the ridiculous moment the car starts flying at the end of Grease. That night I was staying in a campsite in the Sleeping Bear Dunes national lakeshore, another nice site which left me well positioned to spend a full day exploring the park trails and views.

I did a few nice little hikes through the trees and fields up to some overlooks, and later out to the dune trail. I always forget how strenuous walking over sand is, especially up! Ugh. Easier for sure than the massive dunes out in Colorado under the summer sun, but these were deceptive in that I kept telling myself I’d keep going to just the next ridge to spy the lake, but each one hid another dune until the water finally peeked through. Hooray! Going down was fun, though. The scenic drive loop through another area of the park was lovely and almost deservted, which was nice, then off toward Glen Arbor where I hung out for a bit and explored Cherry Republic, home of all things cherry. My favorite part was the olympic sized (what does that even mean??) cherry pit spitting lane. I was too late for fresh cherry time but came away from the shop having tasted some interesting cherry wine and with some dried cherries and chocolate covered cherries from the shop at the lady’s insistence. Yum!

I found what would end up being the last free woodsy campsite for the next stretch of my trip (womp womp, downside of returning to more populated areas) and headed into Grand Rapids with a detour to see the biggest wind vane along the way. I drove past the Gerald Ford presidential museum/library but was too lazy to park and search for the statue of him made of recycled junk my roadside attraction list said was in there somewhere. Instead I did another leg of the Michigan brewery tour and went to some place known for their Belgian style beers (real draw: good fries with dip), and an early morning swing through downtown sans traffic.

Not far down the road I stopped in Marshall where I went for a tiny walk along a boardwalk by some marsh and a reservoir or water treatment place or something, then hung out for the afternoon at Dark Horse brewery on their fabulous outdoor space where I caught up on recording my journey while having some excellent drinks and snacks. When it started to get crowded and I felt bad taking up a whole table by myself in prime business time, I took off reluctantly but had the world’s biggest lug nut to look forward to. While a lot of things traveling on this solo trip have changed with pandemic, one of the most inconvenient is ot being able to sneak into a single chair at a busy place now that every party needs a whole table many places. Oh well. Sorry restaurants for taking up space by myself! Onward into the hazy distance I go now that the western fire smoke has arrived.

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