The Great American Road Trip
Destination: The Great Lakes, Middle America (U.S. and Canada)
Book: [amazon_link id="1556527217" target="_blank" ]The Third Coast: [/amazon_link]Sailors, Strippers, Fishermen, Folksingers, Long-Haired Ojibway Painters, and God-Save-the-Queen Monarchists of the GREAT LAKES (2008) by Ted McClelland
In the grand tradition of road trips–where people drive miles to see the largest ball of twine or the oldest carving, the largest Lumberjack statue or the longest yard sale– we join Ted McClelland as he visits the superlative lakes of Middle America.( For more about road trip oddities, see Go BIG or Go HOME, which blog I learned about from a guest post at Nerd’s Eye View.)
We are talking about the Great Lakes, The Third Coast (as he calls his book), the inland waterway which contributes as much as fertile soil does to the success of American agriculture, providing easy access to world-wide transportation.
It certainly would be possible to write an article (or a book) about the Great Lakes without launching it with a set of statistics, but when the stats are so stupendous, why bother?
Ted McClelland says in the Introduction to The Third Coast:
- Only the polar ice caps hold more freshwater.
- Drained they would cover the continental United States to a depth of nine-and-a-half feet.
- Because they’re as deep and broad as seas, they allow saltwater ships to sail a third of the way across North America.
- Since they contain a fifth of the world’s drinking water, they’d be much harder to live without than the Himalayas, or the Sahara Desert, or even the Amazon rain forest.
So he went on a 9,600-mile journey, taking 106 days, and you can tag along by reading The Third Coast.
Here’s where I wax nostalgic again, so you can skip down if you get tired of hearing about my Ohio childhood. Summers meant a trip to Lake Erie. Sometimes just a long day jaunt up to East Harbor Park for a picnic and swimming at the 1500-foot long beautiful sand beach; sometimes it meant renting a cottage where the grown-ups would stay up late playing poker and drinking “highballs” and we kids would spend days on sandy beaches.
We even rented a place at Lakeside one summer. Lakeside is a village by the lake that runs like a Chatauqua. We could walk the leafy streets, swim at the beach, and in the evening go to the lecture hall for a concert or to hear from some famous speaker of the day. The antithesis of peaceful Lakeside must be Cedar Point, the venerable amusement park along the lake, where my mother listened to Guy Lombardo’s band in the 1920′s.
Sometimes a trip to Lake Erie meant fishing, and usually it meant swimming. Often it involved a few history lessons as we took a ferry boat from Marblehead– where we visited the historic lighthouse– out to see the Admiral Perry Monument at Put-in-Bay.Long before I saw an ocean, I saw the power of the sea at Lake Erie as I watched waves crash on rocky cliffs on stormy days.
The Third Coast makes an interesting travelogue around both the U.S. and the Canadian shores of ALL of the Great Lakes, but spends quite a bit of time in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. (I visited there earlier this year, and wrote about Hemingway, a mystery in Paradise, and Hiawatha.) To McClelland, that’s where the history begins–with the French fur traders who crossed the rapids connecting Lake Suprior and Lake Huron and Lake Michigan. Now boats cross easily through canals at Sault Ste. Marie and continue the long trek that starts at the eastern seaboard and follows the St. Lawrence seaway.
While McClelland manages to squeeze in quite a bit of this kind of economic history and some geography of the area, there is nothing dry and lifeless about the book. Instead, he finds interesting people at each stop and tells their stories. That leads to a book that reflects the lakefront and the life of the sailor to a much larger extent than it reflects the lives of the people in the neighboring states and provinces that enjoy the lakes for various other purposes,and I hope that no one will be misled to believe that all life along the lakes is as blue collar and gritty as the selections here indicate.
Ted McClellan is a humorous story teller and the book is worthwhile. Your own road trip around the Great Lakes will be greatly enhanced by taking a look at The Third Coast.
The photos come from Flickr and are used under Creative Commons license. Click on the photo to learn more.
Do you have a Great Lakes story in your past? Tell us which lake you have loved.