Heather's Hangout

Sharing the people, places & little moments that make a difference.

20 of my favorite activities May 28, 2017

Filed under: Life Lessons — Heather @ 12:56 pm
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trails

Ready to explore?

One of my favorite pieces of the start of spring and summer weather is the opportunity to sit outside on the deck, at the park, or anywhere outdoors and enjoy good conversations with family and friends. I’ve been doing that recently and several of our conversations have drifted to what we’d do if we didn’t have to be at the office every day, whether we won the Lotto, retired or some other plan arose to keep us financially independent. It makes me think about all the activities that I would love to do more regularly if I had more time. I don’t think I would get bored!

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Here are 20 of my favorite activities (in no particular order):

    1. Hike
    2. Bike
    3. Read
    4. Garden
    5. Dance
    6. Sing
    7. Write
    8. Make candles
    9. Photography
    10. Geocache
    11. Camp
    12. Wine tasting
    13. DIY craft projects
    14. Relaxing with good people
    15. Beer tasting
    16. Puzzles
    17. Golf
    18. Volunteer
    19. Try new food recipes
    20. Road trips
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What activities keep you busy? What would you try if you had more free time?

 

5 favorite activities that spring brings May 7, 2017

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Love hiking in the woods!

The spring weather is slowly trying to make a steady presence in Michigan. The temps have been a sporadic but I’m grateful for the days filled with sunshine and mild temperatures. I’m loving that the days are staying lighter longer. More time to play outside after work and on the weekends!

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With spring comes opportunities to participate in some of my favorite activities. Here are few that I enjoy. What are some of your favorite spring/nice weather activities?

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Biking. I love being on a bike. Whether it’s my road bike or mountain bike, I enjoy the ability to explore the area on a bike. From the physical rush to the mental clearing of my mind to great views to the simple joy of feeling the strength of my legs, biking is definitely a favorite activity. Our mild winter let me get several rides in even during traditional winter months, but it’s much nicer to bike in sunshine and warming temps!

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Hiking. Nothing chills me out faster than spending time on the trails, surrounded by trees, plants and friendly animals. It’s such great physical exercise and mental relaxation, but rarely feels like either since I’m usually enjoying myself so much.

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Logged this geocache find!

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Geocaching. This GPS outdoor scavenger hunt is a fun past time to do with friends, family, or alone when I have some time to spare. I especially love taking my nieces and nephew on this treasure hunt and also logging a cache when I visit new places.

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Gardening. It’s not quite warm enough to plant flowers but it’s soooo close! I’m getting excited to plant bright flowers in my new pots and put them on the porch and deck. Flowers always bring a smile to my face.

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Grilling. Yes, I know that many people grill year-round, even in the snow and cold. But…..I don’t! I have a great new grill that will be often used to make yummy vegetables, burgers, chicken, and much more to enjoy while eating on the deck.

 

A weekend of hiking and biking November 13, 2016

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Hiking in fall is the best!

Another good weekend for the outdoors is in the books! I spent quite a bit of time in the woods hiking at the local nature center trails, and then biking through one of my favorite parks (if you missed my recent post on my new road bike, check it out here). We were fortunate to have two nice days land on the weekend!

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Last week was a long one. Between some friends fighting cancer, another diagnosed with the stupid disease, work projects going awry and the presidential election results, my head was filled with emotions and thoughts that were leaving me weary. When I need to clear my head, my go-to places are outdoors in nature.

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I’m so tickled that Michigan’s mild temps continue to let me play outdoors. I’m usually forced indoors for activity once the weather gets crappy due to the titanium rod in my left leg. Can’t risk falling and injuring the leg. But the weather hasn’t been crappy, so I promise that I am enjoying every minute in the fresh air that I can add to my schedule!

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It’s been a while since I was in the woods. Since I bought my new road bike, I’ve been antsy to ride it to get comfortable. Plus it’s so much fun! But I do love hiking in nature so when I had a small window of time yesterday to get some outdoor exercise, I grabbed it and headed to the local nature trails. It was a bit breezy so my thought was that the tree coverage would block some of the wind. And, yes, that might have been the case…. a few weeks ago when there were leaves on the trees! Duh. The beautifully colored leaves filled the trails, but the wind wasn’t too bad once I got deeper into the woods. I used my hiking poles since the leaves can make the trails a bit slick. The nice thing about hiking this time of year and in the late afternoon when I went is that there weren’t many people on the trails. I saw a few of my deer friends (no pun intended!) and some wild turkeys, but otherwise it was quiet and peaceful. Just what I needed. Since the trail system at this nature center isn’t very extensive, I looped a few times to get some miles. I felt awesome when I left.

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Cheers to sun and fun!

This morning I woke again to sunshine. It was high-40s w hen I left my house for Stony Creek Metropark with my bike, but felt much warmer with the sunshine (and even warmer once I started riding against the wind!). Stony Creek in November is much different than in June. During the summer, the park is filled with people enjoying the beaches, boat rentals, hiking trails, bike routes, picnic tables, golf course and more. In November, the parking lots are sparsely filled and you encounter a fellow cyclist or walker every so often. It’s kind of perfect!

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Today I decided that I wasn’t going to worry about how fast I biked, how far I rode or anything but simply enjoying being on the bike. I didn’t want to set goals. I wanted to relax. And I did. Okay, I admit I turned on my Garmin and glanced at my speed and distance several times, maybe even saved the ride. But since I didn’t have a goal in mind, every mile was an accomplishment and good enough for today. At the end of my ride, I sat for a while in the sunshine, eyes closed, listening to the wind in the trees, feeling thankful for these moments.

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What are your go-to activities to clear your mind?

 

My reminder to appreciate the little things October 5, 2016

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Hiking in Cuyahoga Valley

I tend to be a naturally optimistic person. I like to be happy and enjoy life (don’t you??). I’m going to be frank, though. Every so often I get in a funk and get frustrated with some of my physical limitations, thanks to cancer.

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When I was diagnosed 21 years old with bone cancer in my femur, there was a very real possibility that I might have a leg amputation. It was terrifying. It’s sadly not uncommon with my type of bone cancer diagnosis. Thankfully, I was diagnosed fairly early (it was stunning to know my tumor had been growing for almost a year!) and the horrible chemo did its job by killing the majority of the cancerous tumor in my femur. The tumor shrunk enough to be removed and save my leg. That meant the lower part of my femur, knee and upper tibia were removed and replaced with titanium.

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I work hard to keep my leg in strong shape. I work out at least four times a week, sometimes more. I have always enjoyed exercise and being physical so it makes it less ‘work’ for me (I know many people feel like working out is a chore). During Michigan’s warmer months, I get most of my exercise outdoors hiking, biking, and more.

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The challenge with the titanium rod is that I have to be more cautious than the average person with regard to injury, impact and twisting of my leg. A wrong move or fall could break my remaining bone, the pin, etc. One of the bigger blows that cancer gave me was having to stop riding my beautiful horses (too risky if I fell). I also can’t run (too much impact) or ski (too much twisting), and can only play tennis if my opponent can serve pretty close to me so I don’t have to run (uh, yeah, so I don’t play much; no offense to my family and friends!). Over time, I’ve picked up many other activities that I now love and enjoy. My regular readers know my love of hiking, biking and Zumba. I usually try to shove that caution to the back of my mind and throw myself into enjoying everything I can.

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Sometimes, though, that always present caution and tiny anxiety in the back of my mind get a little louder and cause me to get….well, cranky and frustrated. Because I don’t want to always be cautious and anxious. I want to ride a horse, run a marathon, sky dive, bike without any cares, teach my niece to play tennis and not say no to joining my friends in an activity.

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My annual check up with my oncology surgeon arrived just in time with my blue(ish) mood (this sounds so much better than saying I was feeling sorry for myself) so I decided to express my frustration with my limitations. I am so fortunate to have my cancer care team. My doctors always devote every minute in the room to just me and my concerns. They listen, talk and share. Never have I felt rushed or silly for bringing up a topic.

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Climbing to the top of a sand dune – very rewarding!

My surgeon asked me to share what activities I do or have done since surgery. I listed biking, hiking, Zumba, yoga, rock climbing, weight training, dancing, etc. She kind of chuckled and asked what don’t I do? I started to list some of my ‘restricted’ activities but stopped. I sort of saw where she was going with her questions. Then I recalled a past conversation when I complained that during a hike on a glacier field in Alaska I had to turn back after a few miles because I was worried about falling on the slick footing. “But you hiked a glacier field in Alaska! Even a few miles is an awesome accomplishment that most people won’t or can’t do!” was the reply. I know this is true. From hiking in Montana, Ireland, Oregon, Hawaii and elsewhere to rock climbing in Canada to biking miles and miles without an ache in my knee, I am a fortunate bone cancer survivor. I accomplished these things on my own legs. My healthy body allowed me to push myself physically and enjoy these amazing moments.

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She eased my mind quite a bit about how long my hardware (medical jargon for the titanium rod, plastic knee, etc.) should last and my activity limitations. She reminded me that I know my body best and basically said as long as I pay attention for certain pains, then I could appreciate the many activities I can do. And she’s right.

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I share all this not to brag, because I know most of you can do all these activities and more, but to share the lesson I was reminded of today. Sometimes we all need a reminder of the good in our lives and all that we can do so we focus on the positive rather than allow the the negative to drain too much of our energy. Not every bone cancer survivor has both of their legs. Not every bone cancer survivor who has their two legs can be as physically active due to complications. Some walk with limps. Some are in chronic pain. So, yes, I am fortunate. I can do so much and love every minute that my body is moving. It’s freeing and a reminder that I’m alive. My example is being a bone cancer survivor, yet I am sure that each of you has a circumstance where you can appreciate what you can do.

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Who cares that I sometimes decline an activity because it’s too risky for my leg? So I can’t run anymore. I hike downhill a little slower than others. I stand on the sidelines during a volleyball game. It doesn’t mean I can’t enjoy many, many activities. Or stand on the sideline cheering on my friends, which also brings me joy. I simply embrace the accomplishment in a different way than others. I no longer take for granted that I wake up every day and walk on my own two legs. Neither should you take that for granted because you never know if someday the ease will disappear.

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The fact that I even wake up every day, breathing and cancer-free, is always the biggest blessing I count. And sometimes that’s what I focus on for that day. Because I’m human and have ‘those days’ that I feel a little down and frustrated with myself. But I allow myself those days because it brings me back to these grateful moments.

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On a side note, the really happy news for me is that my surgeon pretty much gave her blessing (with a few caveats) for me to attempt to ride this ‘little’ bike event across Iowa with Team Livestrong next summer. I’m super excited to have something to train and focus on as I think this would be the ultimate accomplishment for me as a bone cancer survivor. Stay tuned for more on my new bike and adventures!

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What are you grateful for today?

 

Exploring outdoor spots in metro Detroit September 5, 2016

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My ‘deer’ friend hiked with me!

It’s always a little amusing to me when so many people complain that Labor Day weekend is the ‘end of summer.’ The end of the summer season doesn’t actually occur until fall starts at the end of September (Sept. 22 this year). And while I understand that teachers and students must return to work and the classroom, those activities do not mean it’s the end of summer for everyone.

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Since the end of summer doesn’t happen for a few more weeks (and Mother Nature appears to agree since Michigan is expecting temps in the upper 80s this week), I have enjoyed being active in the outdoors as much as possible this long holiday weekend, and I plan to continue to be as long as I can through the upcoming weeks.

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It never ceases to amaze me how being outdoors can change one’s mental and physical outlook. I can feel the tension and other stress fall from my shoulders when I step into the woods or pedal on my bike. I soak in the breeze on my skin and listen to the voices of nature. For example, I felt a bit sluggish yesterday when my alarm sounded and I considered enjoying another hour of sleep. But that would mean skipping a hike with a new group of friends. So I kicked the covers off and headed to the trail. And I felt a sudden burst of energy and positive attitude as I stood ready at the trailhead. I was so happy to be outdoors.

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I found all of this fun at local parks and trails. We’re so fortunate to have some great locations throughout metro Detroit. I thought I’d share these recent spots in case you’re looking for a push to get outdoors too.

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Macomb Orchard Trail, Shelby Township: This is one of my favorite biking trails. The 24-mile paved trail has less intersections to stop your pace or distract you with vehicles. It is popular for biking, walking, running and even rollerblading so I like to be on the trail early. I usually pick up the trail at 24 Mile/Dequindre (park at the ice arena), then head east. I love that the further you ride, the more countryside you ride through with trees, orchards, dairy farms and crop fields.

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Maybury State Park, Northville: This almost 1,000-acre state park has some great wooded and gently rolling hiking trails. Some of the bike and horse trails intersect with the hiking trails so do pay attention to trail signs. There also is a paved bike path, fishing pond, and horse stable (you can rent trail horses). Be thoughtful if you encounter horses – no yelling or fast movements to spook these awesome animals. You do need a recreation passport or to purchase a day pass.

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Stage Nature Center, Troy: This 100-acre park is located close to my home so these trails have become my go-to whenever I need a quick ‘nature pick me up’ (read my previous blog post about this location). The trails are relatively short so I usually loop several times to hit any significant distance. But I like this location as it’s rarely busy when I’m there, I often encounter deer and other wildlife, and I feel comfortable hiking alone.

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In my encounters with other people this past weekend, I learned of some new outdoor spots for me to check out so stay tuned! Did you get outdoors this holiday weekend? If so, where did you go?

 

10 things to love about Alaska August 16, 2016

Filed under: Random Travels & Exploring — Heather @ 4:00 pm
Tags: , , , , , , , ,
KenaiGlacierAK_hh2009

Alaska is beautiful!

Over the past few weeks, I’ve encountered several friends and acquaintances who mentioned they are planning to visit Alaska. It brings back memories of my amazing trip several years ago to this great state. I was fortunate to have two friends move to Alaska and extend an invitation to visit. Never one to turn down the chance to travel and create new adventures, I took them up on the invitation (along with my friend, Marie) to visit our biggest state!

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My friends lived in Anchorage so we decided to spend our seven-day trip exploring that area, as well as traveling south to Kenai National Forest and Seward. We weren’t disappointed as this area is breathtaking, full of great places to explore and wonderful people to meet. The natural beauty of Alaska stunned me every time I turned my head.

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As the 49th state of the United States, Alaska has the largest coastline (over 6,600 miles) with more than 3,000 rivers and 3 million lakes! Of the 20 highest peaks in the U.S., 17 are in Alaska (Denali is the tallest in the U.S. at 20,320 feet above sea level). Alaska was always the state that I’d love to visit because I love the outdoors but admittedly it wasn’t high on my list (and I can’t remember why!). Until the opportunity to visit arose and I realized what a great experience this would be! Everything kind of fell into place for our trip and soon we were heading to Anchorage. We traveled to Alaska in mid-August when the weather is fairly mild and daylight extends until close to midnight (which was a bit weird to my body that couldn’t figure when it was time to sleep).

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There were so many moments that I loved. It’s hard to describe the beauty and respect you feel about the land unless you’re standing in front of the water watching a bald eagle catch a fish or a moose eating alongside the road or looking down into a valley from atop a glacier field. Alaska reminds you that the world is so much grander than what we truly know. It reminds you that nature is awesome and should be respected, and man can appreciate it and live in it.

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There is so much to remember about that trip so I thought I’d share some of my favorite things about Alaska:

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Close but not too close!

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1. Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center (Portage): This center offers a permanent home to orphaned and injured animals that can’t be released into the wild. You can see animals, such as bears, moose and eagles in up-close, natural environments. Special programs let you watch certain animals be fed (we watched the black bears eat…..definitely don’t want to encounter a hungry bear!). This center provides a great opportunity to learn about a variety of animals.

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2. Camping in Kenai Fjords National Park (Seward): Alaska hosts more than half of our national park lands with 17 national parks. Kenai is one of the beauties. We started the day with a boat tour. While we didn’t see the whales we were hoping to, we did see a lot of wildlife and a few glaciers. More than 50 percent of this park is covered in glaciers! We pitched our tent along a river with views of glaciers – certainly don’t get those views in Michigan!

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Hiking the glacier field (with my bear bell!).

3. Exit Glacier hike (in Kenai Fjords National Park): It was still light at 8pm when we set up camp in Kenai so we started a hike to Exit Glacier, which is part of the Harding Icefield. A series of trails start at the Exit Glacier Nature Center that allow you to check out different views of the glacier. We were able to get close enough to the glacier to hear it shifting. At one point, we saw cracks forming as the ice shifted (we were safely away; it was so cool!). This was an eye-opening hike as there are signs along the trail that mark the glacier’s recession over the past 120 years. It is glaringly obvious that the ice is quickly melting away.

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4. Flattop Mountain Trail: It’s no surprise that this is Alaska’s most visited peak – the location near Anchorage makes it easy to access and the beautiful views are addicting. We hiked to the top and it was worth the views. The trails are busy though, with some steep drops down the side, so don’t be in a rush (although in a beautiful place like Alaska, you shouldn’t be in a rush!). Some of the trails had an abundance of blueberries but, while we sampled a few fresh fruits, we left the bulk for the bears to eat. Better to let them eat the food way up high rather than wander into the populated towns.

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5. Alaska Native Heritage Center (Anchorage): I love learning about the history of places that I visit so was happy that we found this cultural center and museum focused on Alaska’s indigenous people. There were some great exhibits featuring five different local cultures. We were able to watch some live programs and see hands-on demonstrations.

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6. Alaska SeaLife Center (Seward): This is another great opportunity to see Alaska’s animals up close and personal. We saw lots of marine mammals, fish, birds and invertebrates. You also get to learn about the research and conservation being undertaken in the state. When we visited, there was a fascinating, albeit sad, exhibit on the long-term effects of the Exxon Valdez oil spill. We really need to appreciate and protect our natural habitats more than we do.

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Hiking part of the Iditarod trail!

7. Winner Creek Trail: One of the best parts of this trail in the Chugach Mountains is that you hike through the northernmost rainforest in North America…while in Alaska! The trail begins behind the Hotel Alyeska and is a fun hike because of the cool vegetation and experiences. First, you cross a wooden bridge over the Winner Creek Gorge. Then you get to a hand tram where you get inside a metal cage and pull yourself over Glacier Creek, more than a hundred feet below! I’m not going to lie – this took guts for me to do (I dislike heights, especially in a rickety-feeling metal cage!), but it was awesome (once over!)! This trail is also part of the Iditarod National Historic Trail, Alaska’s only National Historic Trail. At the end of this hike, we stumbled upon a great little coffee and book shop.

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8. Seward Highway: This 125-mile highway goes from Anchorage to Seward and is worth noting because the drive is So.Darn.Beautiful. The highway runs through the Kenai Peninsula, Chugach National Forest, Turnagain Arm and the Kenai Mountains, which caused me to turn my head in pretty much every direction, exclaiming, “oh how beautiful” every 90-seconds. Or hang my mouth open in awe over the views!

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9. Seafood: I wasn’t a big seafood fan until I visited Alaska. I guess it just wasn’t fresh enough. Our friends welcomed us with a delicious scallops dinner, then we were introduced to several friendly Alaskans at a neighbor’s dinner complete with fresh grilled salmon (and Alaskan craft beer!). I indulged a few more times on fresh seafood during my visit. And I haven’t tasted it that good since the trip.

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Portage Glacier field

10. Portage: When the Great Alaska Earthquake occurred in 1964, the ground sank below sea level causing a ‘ghost forest’ of trees. These ghostly looking trees are very eery and amazing. Some of the original buildings can still be seen. Definitely worth a stop to explore the past. The wildlife conservation center and Portage Glacier are popular spots to visit here.

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This trip was also a great reminder that the people you travel with can truly make or break a trip. I had an amazing trip, mostly due to the wonderful friends who shared the experience with me. Even when we hit our exhausted phase due to the time change and busy schedule, we spent most of the day laughing and being silly rather than cranky (who likes to be cranky on vacation?!). We giggled while swapping stories every night before falling asleep. When I got frustrated because my titanium rod forced me to turn around on a slippery glacier trail, my friend soon had me laughing and focused on all that I was accomplishing while I reciprocated in her moments of needed humor.

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Alaska is one of our country’s treasures and I highly recommend you visit!

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How often do you see moose on the side of the road?

 

10 fun facts about Mackinac Island, Michigan July 26, 2016

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Approaching Mackinac Island from the ferry.

During my family’s recent getaway to Mackinaw City, we took a day trip to Mackinac Island. The island is located in Lake Huron between the lower and upper peninsulas of Michigan. This is one of my favorite spots to visit in my home state.

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The 3.8-square mile island once served as home to a Native American tribe, a center for fur trading, then a military post when the British built Fort Mackinac (still available to tour on the island). It became a popular tourist destination in the late 19th century. The primary way to get to the island is via boat so there are several ferry companies that depart from Mackinaw City and St. Ignace. In the winter when the lake freezes, some residents will drive snowmobiles across the ice. There is a small airport that private planes use.

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I love visiting Mackinac Island. It’s relaxing, even during the busy summer season, and beautiful. I love the uniqueness of horses, bikes and walking as the only modes of transportation. I love that it’s like a secluded getaway in the midst of busy civilization.

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Here are 10 things I find fun and interesting about Mackinac Island:

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1. No vehicles: Motor vehicles were banned from the island at the end of the 19th century and the restriction continues today (except for emergency and some construction vehicles). M-185, the country’s only state highway without motored vehicles, goes around the 8-mile circumference. The only modes of transportation are horses, bikes and your own feet. I love this about Mackinac Island. It makes the island unique, and also provides a sense of peace and break from our crazy, honking society.

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2. Mackinac Island State Park: Mackinac Island was the second national park, then the land was given to Michigan in 1895 and became our first state park. The state park comprises 82 percent of the island. There are more than 70 miles of trails for hiking, biking and horseback riding. I’ve hiked the majority of these trails and there is always something interesting and informational to see and learn.

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3. Family time: I love any place that enables my family to relax and spend time together. Mackinac Island is the perfect place to do just that. From the ferry ride over to the horse-drawn wagon tour to fudge sampling to simply wandering the streets of the island, we felt worlds away from ‘regular life.’ We even all agreed to suspend technology use (except for pictures) while on the island (so awesome to me!). It was so fun being on the island with my family, especially for the first time with the younger nieces and nephew. We discussed quite a bit of history, horses and nature.

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Horses are everywhere!

4. Horses: I love visiting Mackinac Island where my favorite animal is pretty much everywhere I look. More than 500 horses are brought to the island every spring, and taken off the island for the winter. Many of the horses are used to pull wagons for guest taxis, maintenance supplies, island tours and business needs. You can also rent saddle horses for tours around the island. I unfortunately never got to ride a horse on the island before my cancer surgery so I’m disappointed that I can’t experience this. However, I was happy that my two older nieces and my niece’s husband took advantage of this fun outing.

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5. Grand Hotel: This 390 room hotel opened in 1887 to summer tourists. It has the world’s largest porch (660 feet) overlooking Lake Huron and the hotel’s beautiful gardens. No two guest rooms are the same, which makes me want to walk through every room to see the decor! There is an evening dress code and non-guests are charged $10 to visit the porch. It’s definitely a pricey hotel, but a pretty one.

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6. Biking: Riding bikes is one of the most popular ways to get around on the island. You can bring your own across the lake on the ferry or rent one of the more the 14,000 available from vendors on the island.

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Beautiful lake waters below Arch Rock

7. Arch Rock: This is one of my favorite spots on the island. The natural limestone rock is 146 feet above sea level. It’s unique in the size and shape. Many legends surround the arch. It’s predicted that it will erode completely in the next few decades so check it out.

 

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8. Population: Approximately 7,000 people live on the island during the summer months as tourist season brings many temporary workers to help at the restaurants, shops, hotels, bed and breakfast inns and elsewhere. During the winter, only 400-500 islanders remain.

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9. Education: I find it fascinating that there is a K-12 school on the island. Of course, the year-round island youth need to be educated but I guess the island size and sort of remote location made me think there wouldn’t be a school. The largest graduating class in recent years had eight students. The 2016 class graduated five students.

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10. Fudge: There are 14 fudge shops on the island! So much fudge is made that more than 10 tons of butter is brought to the island every year. I’m not a huge fudge fan but I admit to some sampling when on the island.

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There is so much more I could share about the island! It truly is a fun, unique, relaxing experience. Have you been to Mackinac Island? If so, what was your favorite experience?

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I love this phone booth next to the Grand Hotel! Phone doesn’t work but I still think you can call a superhero if needed.

 

 
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