Thursday, June 7, 2012

The Lake

Sometimes, we live so close to something, we don’t really see it. Proximity breeds a false sense of familiarity and in the end, leads to an unintended ignorance.  And it is with THAT sentiment that I came to cross Lake Michigan on the SS Badger.

I had heard about the last surviving car ferry across the Lake years ago and had even visited both Manitowoc, Wisconsin, and Ludington, Michigan, the embarking and disembarking ports. It’s easy enough to drive around the lake these days, other than Chicago traffic frustrations, so using a car ferry seemed superfluous. The lake trip takes four hours and I can get to either location in that time on a good day in my Chevy Cobalt on less than a tank of gas.

But having lived near Lake Michigan for ten years now, the one thing I could NOT say I had ever done was to actually cross it.  My kayaking skill is not up to the challenge. I do not know how to ‘trim a sail’ and despite the fact that the Dennis family has a nice boat in Kenosha and have graciously offered for me to step on board, they haven’t ONCE asked me to zoom all the way across Lake Michigan on her!

So, for my ‘birthday adventure' this year, we booked passage, drove to Manitowoc, and took to the historical high seas of the Lake on the SS Badger. I will let you read, if you so desire, more about the ship itself, the history of ferries on the Great Lakes and the ports of destination at  But if you are interested in taking the trip, and I think you SHOULD be, it was disheartening to find out that this may be the last year for the passage. The Badger is coal-fired.  Federal regulations prohibit coal burning vessels on the Lakes after December of 2012.  Unless an extension is granted, or a very cost-prohibitive conversion to natural gas or other source becomes feasible, the SS Badger will sail no more. 
I offered my wife a shovel.  She declined.

The reason the SS Badger may not last
By the way, it’s a rather expensive trip, $75 per vehicle AND per person. But in a gallant effort to economize, I offered to let Colleen shovel coal to reduce our fare, but neither she nor the company thought it a good idea. 

By the way #2: Lake Michigan is big, deep, beautiful, like the ocean without the salty smell.  It’s an impressive feeling to be out in the middle, and seeing no land whatsoever to imagine the ships and explorers, from fur trappers to barges that have crossed those waters.  The trip was dampered a little by a cool wind and some rain, but it satisfied an urge -- to get to know the famous Lake beyond it's shoreline and to take in its majesty from the center.

But I was probably irritating the other passengers (and Gordon Lightfoot, if he’s still alive) by humming that dang “Edmund Fitzgerald” song all afternoon.  

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