The Mackinac Bridge holds many happy memories for me. There have been the bridge crossings to the Upper Peninsula for adventures to Isle Royale, Tahquamenon Falls, Pictured Rocks and the Soo Locks. There have been nights spent on Mackinac Island looking out at the beautifully illuminated bridge. Mostly, there have been many crisp clear days spent in Mackinaw City beside the bridge: chasing seagulls along the shores of the Straits, visiting historic Fort Michilimackinac, and of course, eating too much fudge.
One thing that I had always hoped to do was walk across the bridge as part of the annual Labor Day Bridge Walk. Unfortunately, the Bridge Walk always conflicted with our children’s school schedules so it never happened. This year, Byron and I were planning an end of summer visit to northern Michigan so we decided to schedule it over the Labor Day weekend so we could walk across the bridge.
We arrived in Mackinaw City at 6 a.m. on Labor Day. After parking in the Star Line Ferry parking lot, we followed the crowd to the nearby marina. The marina parking lot was full of hundreds of yellow school buses representing school districts from central Michigan to the Upper Peninsula. We were soon on a bus heading north across the Mackinac Bridge to the starting point in St. Ignace.
The sun was just beginning to rise as we jumped off the bus anxious to start the 7 a.m. walk. Unfortunately, the weather was less than ideal. The temperature hovered around 50 degrees with a gusty north wind. As the morning dawned, the clouds over the Straits of Mackinac looked much more like November than September. No one can question the hardiness of Michiganders though, as many of them were sporting shorts.
Tradition dictates that the governor of Michigan is the first to cross the bridge. As soon as his party was off, we were able to start our 5 mile walk. The walk was very crowded. Over 30,000 walkers participated this year. The Mackinac Bridge Walk is not the venue for a fast pace.
The slow pace does allow for more time for people watching though. The wide variety of folks on the bridge was amazing. There were infants in strollers and a 101 year-old completed the walk. It was obvious that many multi-generational families cross the bridge together each year. The seasoned bridge walkers were sporting numerous arrowhead-shaped patches on their jackets, each patch representing the year of a successful bridge crossing.
The bridge approaches account for more than half of the total distance of the walk. In this area, all of the lanes of the bridge are paved. Once we stepped onto the bridge mainspan, one lane was paved and the other had an open grate allowing the walkers to see the water below. It quickly became apparent which walkers were afraid of heights, myself included, as we congregated in the paved lane and which walkers were unaffected by the heights, including Byron, as they bravely walked on the see-through grates.
While we were on the bridge, a freighter passed directly beneath the bridge and loudly blew its ship’s horn. Also, the cars and buses driving in the two lanes of the bridge still open for traffic were waving and honking at the walkers. On the bridge main span, it was easy to feel the swaying motion of the bridge and those 15-25 mph wind gusts occasionally caused the walkers to stagger like drunken sailors.
Soon, our walk ended on the Mackinaw City side of the bridge. Byron and I added more distance to our walk as we hurried to the west side of town to our favorite restaurant, Darrow’s. Per Urbanspoon, Darrow’s is the highest rated restaurant in town and is known for its affordable home cooking. If you stop at Darrow’s, “Save your fork because there’s sure to be pie.”
By 11 a.m., we had walked across the bridge, eaten a hearty breakfast, purchased our first successful bridge walk commemorative patch, and even picked up a box of fudge for the road. We were headed south happy to have one more check on our bucket list and planning how we can get back to the Mackinac Bridge for next Labor Day. Maybe you can join us.