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It was a beautiful October weekend Up North. Bright red and yellow leaves painted the trees and earthy scents of Fall filled the crisp air. As we geared up for our last kite trip of the decade there was only one thing missing. Wind! The only free weekend I had available for our annual Fall kiteboarding trip was the last weekend in October. That left us with nothing but a hope and a prayer for good kiting conditions, but October in Michigan rarely disappoints.
Our plan was to kite from Thursday through Sunday anywhere in Michigan where we could find wind. We started monitoring the wind 10 days out and the forecast was terrible. As the weekend approached some signs of life emerged with the wind forecast. Thursday was looking barely kiteable in Frankfort out of the Southwest and Friday was looking similar. Saturday was shaping up for a 20-knot day out of the South, so we booked lodging in Frankfort, the wave capital of Northern Michigan.
We were dreaming of conditions like we had in Frankfort for 2018 but it wasn’t happening this year.
Enter Thursday morning. The wind forecast was getting worse and our options were so dire that Matt and I decided to bring mountain bikes 😱. We made a game-time decision to cancel our Frankfort reservations in favor of heading further north. The Northern lower peninsula and upper peninsula were now looking like our only chance to ride.
There wasn’t much in the forecast for Thursday but there was a slight WSW breeze, so we settled on checking out Charlevoix and Fisherman’s Island State Park. I arrived at Fisherman’s Island park in mid-afternoon. My first look at Lake Michigan showed some ripples and looked promising for a big kite session. Unfortunately, the access road to the main beach at Fisherman’s Island was closed for the season. I wasn’t about to hike in 2 miles for a marginal kite sesh, so I called Matt and told him to meet me at the main beach in Charlevoix.
We pumped up the biggest kites we had and proceeded to the water. It was light but seemed good enough for “El Duke” surfboard. I felt nice and powered up on the outward tack but there was a significant current on the tack towards shore and I ended up a couple of hundred feet downwind. On a normal day, I probably would have packed it in but not this day, not for the Fall kite trip! I did the walk of shame many times that evening but was glad to get out and get wet.
We wrapped up at the beach and hit a restaurant across from our hotel for dinner and some brews. We downed a few IPAs and checked the wind forecast for Friday. It was looking dismal. After studying the maps, we finally settled on making the trip to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan the next morning.
We got up early on Friday and packed the Subaru from floor to ceiling with kites and boards. We provided entertainment for people checking out of their hotels, wondering what the hell we were doing in near-freezing weather with a surfboard and a car full of kite gear. It was overcast, a little rainy, and cold but the Fall colors through the Petoskey area were spectacular. They were especially pretty near the historic summer cottages which now had their porches all covered in plastic wrap for the winter. Before leaving town, we stopped at Petoskey State Park just to check things out and it was dead calm. Yet there was a small swell that at times looked large enough that you could have gotten a little action on a stand-up paddleboard. We had bigger plans though and needed to hit the road.
A couple of hours later arrived at the Mackinac bridge. The sun was coming out and the wind meters were starting to climb, slightly. We were hungry and found a nice little bar, the Country Girl Diner, in Naubinway to have pasties. What would a trip to the UP be without a pastie? We were the only ones in the restaurant and the bar was decked out for Halloween. The bartender invited us to their Halloween party on Saturday night. Worst case scenario if we didn’t find any wind we could come back tomorrow and drink away our sorrows.
The plan for the afternoon was to check out Port Inland which was about an hour drive from Nabinway. From the map it looked like a great setup. Nice break wall and the wind meter there was reading in the high teens. We arrived near the inlet and quickly found out that due to the limestone factory there was no way to get access to the lake. We decided to keep on trekking to our 2nd choice which was Seul Choix Point.
Matt and I had read about Seul Choix and how it can be a nice surf spot given the right conditions. We were excited to check out the beach and surf at the point. We arrived near the lighthouse and were bummed to find that due to high water levels there was absolutely no beach. In fact, there were mounds of zebra mussel shells from the lake that were pushed up at least 10 feet back into the tree line by the shore. It would have been near impossible to setup and launch from the point so we went back down the road to see if we could find better access.
One of the things we found out during this trip is that while there is a ton of shoreline in the UP much of it is private. The public access points are very limited, especially right now with the Lake Michigan water level being so high. There just isn’t much useable beach. We rode up and down the Seoul Choix peninsula trying to find access to the Big Lake and finally found a parting in the trees that opened to a wide sand-covered limestone beach.
The sun shined down through the forest as we excitedly got on our wetsuits and geared up. The wind was light, so we pumped the big kites and trekked to the water with our surfboards.
It was barely enough wind to ride so it was a short sesh. I drifted downwind on my last tack towards shore and realized there are some additional hazards to be wary of on the northern shore of Lake Michigan. The bottom of the lake is limestone rock and there are crevices large enough for you to get a foot stuck into if you’re not careful. I can only imagine what it would be like to catch a foot in the limestone and get yanked by your kite. Regardless of our short sesh, the location was beautiful, and we celebrated on the shoreline with a couple of local brews.
The next destination was the Motor Inn Lodge in Manistique, right across the street from Lake Michigan. We were both looking forward to staying in Manistique because we grew up in Manistee and our hometown had often been mistaken for Manistique. It felt like it should be our 2nd home. It was Saturday night and we were pumped to check out our sister city to the North.
We went downtown to Tap 21 brewery based on the recommendation of the owner at the Motor Inn. The brewery was newly remodeled with a large bar, seating against the wall, and vintage tin roof. We saddled up to a couple beers and looked over the menu. The only thing I was craving more than pasties in the UP was whitefish and it was on the menu. Twenty minutes later the waitress brought the biggest filet of fish and chips that I’ve ever seen. The music in the bar was good and loud and the beers were going down easy. It was a great start to the evening after a day of exploring and kiting.
We finished up dinner and went looking for a bar to have a nightcap. We stepped out of the brewery, onto the sidewalk. It was getting cold and dark. People celebrating Halloween dressed up in 80s outfits and ghost costumes were headed into the bar just down the street, so we followed suit. Matt ordered up a couple whiskey’s and we started talking about where to ride tomorrow. The main beach in Manistique might work but the Garden Peninsula and Fairport also looked intriguing. We finished up our drinks, called it a night, and figured we’d let the wind guide us where to go in the morning…
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