By Charles Chandler
ROAD TRIP! Time for a road trip, those are magical summertime words around our house. Our family definition of a road trip is driving more than an hour to see something interesting or to do something fun, with at least one “I may have missed the turn” and or a u-turn. And, if you can throw in a stop along the way for a delicious meal or small bite so much the better.
On Friday afternoon we lashed the kayaks in the pickup and headed north. Our destination was the small park alongside the Platte River at the corner of Lake Michigan HW 708 and Scenic HY 22. The joyful reason for this road trip was to meet up with about 30 or so members of the West Michigan Kayaking Club for a leisurely evening paddle down the Platte to Lake Michigan to play in the waves and watch the sunset. We were to meet up with our fellow paddlers at 6:30 PM so about 3:30 we pulled out of White Cloud and headed up M 37 giving us plenty of time for chatting, seeing the sights and a much-anticipated dinner at the world famous Mary’s roadside Asian diner in Beulah, Michigan ( more on this tasteful treasure later). We love the drive up to the Platte because we travel along M 37, M 155, US 31 and the ever-scenicM22 to see the sights. These sights include our favorite fishing rivers the famous Pere Marquette, the two Manistees, the Betsie and finally the Platte.
Our first point of interest was the world’s largest Brown Trout sculpture in the village of Baldwin. The 25 foot 1000 pound trout sculpture was commissioned by the Village DDA created by artist Ivan Iler of St. Johns Michigan and raised in recognition of the first place in North America where the wily brown trout were introduced. If this sculpture doesn’t impress you, then drop back a block on main street and go in Jones’s Ice Cream Parlor and try one of theirs. They have been serving their homemade ice-cream creations since 1942.
Next up and in my opinion one of the best roadside convenience stops in Michigan. It is on the left a few minutes before you arrive at Mushroom Mesick. This rest stop has everything you could ask for, clean restrooms, a viewing platform for a vista of Hodenpyl Pond, a maple tree that is breathtakingly beautiful in the fall, and an old fashioned hand operated water pump that provides water for whatever. After this stop, it is down M 115 slowing for our first look at the Betsie River and Crystal Mountain and soon it’s a right turn on M 31. Be sure to follow the speed limit up over the hill in Benzonia and down the hill into Beulah, Michigan population 342. Beulah is our dinner destination because it is the location of Mary’s big yellow Asian Cuisine Trailer.
We are off again after a dinner of Mary’s delicious and unique food all washed down with a giant hand-squeezed lemonade. In about a hundred yards we make a quick left turn on M 704 driving slowly so as to admire the lovely homes, boats and quaint lodges along the Crystal Lakeshore. A couple of quick turns to Platte Road, on to Scenic M 22, over the Platte River, and a quick left at the Lake County Township Hall and we are there. The meet up with the West Michigan Kayaking Club was at the small park on the left.
It is 6:30 PM on the dot and everyone is busy unloading and staging their kayaks for the evening paddle. We spot our vehicles down the road at Platte River Beach parking lot and shuttle back to the put in. At 7:00 PM our paddle host Steve, give a quick overview of the evening paddle and a safety briefing and off we go down river to the big lake.
For those that are not familiar with the West Michigan Kayaking Club it is an open public club with no dues or fees and only a few simple rules; Wear your safety equipment, respect the river, the environment and your fellow paddlers, and don’t drink while on the water and, of course, just be nice.
There are about 1700 members in the Club and their published goals are to “bring together friends and fellow kayakers to enjoy and explore Michigan's beautiful rivers and help you become a better paddler.” This weekend the Club members were camping out at the Interlochen Campground and had paddles scheduled for other area rivers including the Boardman, Manistee and the Betsie. You can find more about this group and their next scheduled events by clicking on https://www.meetup.com/West-Michigan-Kayaking-and-Canoeing-Meetup-Group/.
The paddle from Scenic M22 to Lake Michigan is just plain fun; the current is slow, no rocky runs, boulders, log jams, sweepers or portages to navigate. I like it because I can see all the different types of Kayaks and talk to the owners about the features and functions of their specific piece of plastic. The current slows a little bit as you enter the shallow end of Loon Lake and as Dianne my paddling partner puts it “it’s an arm crawl” but soon you are back into the main river. No loons, but some Mute Swans were available for viewing. This paddle is a social event with folks floating along in colorful kayaks giving first and old timers the opportunity to reconnect after a long winter or introduce themselves to other members of the Club.
The paddlers soon coalesce into pairs or small groups and chat as they move down the river, you can hear, what did you do over the winter, how is the family, are you new to the club, how long have you been paddling and so on conservations. One young swain appeared to be smitten by an attractive paddler behind him so not to be rude turned his kayak around and paddle backward as the talked to her. You just never know when or where a Hallmark moment will take place.
Too soon we heard the waves of Lake Michigan and the pretend Coureurs des Bois picked up their paces eager to round the last bend and catch that first thrilling glimpse of the big lake and snoozing bears lying off the coast. A few paddlers pulled out on the lakeside sandbar to watch sunset and others paddled on down and played in the transition zone where river meets the lake. The more experienced and a few brave newbie’s paddled out into the rolling waves of the big lake, waited for a flat spot, turned and with a little skill surfed, accented by a few sequels and woo hoos, back to the sandy beach.
All too soon it was twilight and time to help each other haul out and load the Kayaks. With a few hugs and handshakes, it was off to the camping grounds or to the long ride home. A word of caution from the road, it is a dessert desert from the Platte back to White Cloud, no malt, shake, gelatos, or homemade ice cream from Jones’s in Baldwin, sadly all closed. But you do have plenty to plan your next Michigan summertime ROAD TRIP!!!!!.
Recreational kayaking has become the hot summertime activity in Michigan and it appears that every other vehicle heading north on M 37 or west on M 20 has kayaks strapped on. We Michiganders are blessed with over 3000 miles of blue water trails that can meet every skill level or family’s pleasure. Now there is a section of the White River near White Cloud designated as a Michigan Blue Water Trail. Click on the following line for more details. http://www.michiganwatertrails.org/
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