I love America. Or rather, I like lots of things about America: the food, the friendly people I’ve met, the kitsch of small northern towns.
I have to fight the urge to stop into every small community grocery store I see to find out what local specialties they’ll either stock or recommend.
I’ve been putting off writing about our recent Lake Michigan Circle Tour because I didn’t know where to start. After much debate and reminiscing about everything we ate along the way, I decided to take the easiest route and start at the beginning.
This post will cover the route from Sudbury west to Sault Ste Marie, down to Traverse City for dinner, and then up to Leelanau County to camp out.
Last year, Brady and I drove around Lake Superior on the May long weekend because: 1) I hadn’t been to Thunder Bay since I was still in a booster seat; 2) because it would include a stop in Houghton, Michigan where my Grandad taught engineering for years in the ’60s, and my mother spent her early years; and 3) because we just bought a new/old car so why not?
It was a blast (even if there was still ice when we camped in Thunder Bay) so we decided to tackle Lake Michigan this year. Maybe I’ll write up Lake Superior after all this seeing how I’ve got plenty of pictures and memories. Since last year, I’ve discovered that Great Lakes Circle Tours are actual things people do, so I guess that’s what we did, unintentionally at first. That said, our approach is very “us”: we do the drive very quickly (in four or five days), eat every local specialty we can possibly fit in our stomachs or cooler along the way, and camp out every night.
We started this trip in Sudbury (obviously), which is actually pretty well situated when it comes to doing all the circle tours. We spent the morning driving west along the north channel to Sault Ste Marie, stopping along the way to see the sights (I’m writing a tourism blog post for someone about the route).
Imagine our joy when before we even left the country, we found our first snacks of the trip: a whole valley full of fiddleheads in their prime.
We snagged a few and stuck them in our cooler to eat later and continued on our merry way. Our goal was to hit Traverse City around dinner time, so we didn’t make too many stops once we got into Michigan, although we did stop in Charlevoix for some iced coffee. It was cute but super touristy.
We got to Traverse City around 5 p.m. and drove down the main drag, eyeing up places to stop for dinner. I’d heard o a great joint that had homemade veggie burgers and figured we’d go there, or somewhere for a vegetarian pasty. Well, the pasty joint was out of vegetarian options and before we’d made it too far, a gathering of food trucks caught my eye.
In an extremely uncharacteristic move: I went off-itinerary. It was swelteringly hot but we marched on up to the trucks — called The Little Fleet it tuns out — and after a quick scan of the offerings (this is a joke, I take forever to make decisions) we parted ways to order some grub.
Brady ordered a veggie burger, fries, and hush puppies (at my request) from a truck called Anchor Station, and I opted for tacos from Happy’s Taco Shop. I grabbed a lemonade and tied up the dog while we waited, and we regrouped after relatively short wait to chow down together on some bleachers.
The tacos were nice, but nothing to write home about, so I won’t. Brady’s burger and fries on the other hand? While the burger was great on it’s own, the fries must be some of the best I’ve ever had, top three at least. The hush puppies were tender, corny, and the dip was plentiful; I couldn’t ask for much more than that.
We left satiated and happy, although I ate so much I had a stomach ache for the rest of the night.
As we drove a short way west and the north up to Leelanau County to stay at the campground near The Grand Traverse Lighthouse, we struck more foraging gold when we spied wild leeks (aka ramps) peeking out from between the trees.
We were careful to take no more than five per cent of what we found (we probably took closer to one per cent… there were a lot), and we only snagged the greens and left the bulbs since ramps take a long time to seed and we didn’t want to damage the local population.
We spent the rest of the evening winding our way up to the lighthouse. Once we found it, we set up shop pretty quickly on a quaint and quiet site and headed over to the lighthouse to watch the sunset.
We followed the sunset with a small campfire and some cherry-flavoured barbecue chips that I wasn’t not sold on (Traverse City is the cherry capital of the world, so we knew we had to sample a few cherry-flavoured things).
And thus ended our first day of the Lake Michigan Circle Tour, we headed to bed and woke up to tackle day two, which I’ll tackle in another post.