Jul 302010

Yesterday we did another one of those long days on the road that I always tell everybody else not to do. I never take my own advice. We were up at 7 a.m. (I really need to break that nasty habit), and on the road by 8. We started our day in northern Wisconsin, and by the time I backed the Winnebago into my cousin Terry Cook’s driveway in Traverse City, Michigan that evening, we had rolled up 480 miles for the day.

We drove north out of Wausau, Wisconsin on U.S. Highway 51, hooked up with U.S. Highway 8, and followed it east across Wisconsin. This is hilly country, and while the road was a nice two lane most of the way, with a few passing zones on the steeper hills, in some places it was like riding a roller coaster.

US 8 Wisconsin hilly 2

 Roller Coaster road

It is amazing how lush the foliage is in this part of the country. Dense forests and thick underbrush lined both sides of the highway. We passed through a few small settlements, but there isn’t much in the way of city life way up there.

US 8 Wisconsin 3

We crossed into the Upper Peninsula of Michigan at the charming little town of Norway, where we got onto U.S. Highway 2 and followed it to Escanaba, and then along the Lake Michigan shoreline for 145 miles. The water is incredibly blue here, and in some places the roadway is just feet from the shoreline.

Lake Michigan 2

Lake Michigan beach

There are plenty of marked pullouts where you can stop to admire the water and play in the sand.

Lake Michigan pullout lighthouse

In other places, people park on the shoulder of the highway to access the lake shore.

Lake Michigan kites

They call the hardy folks who live here Yoopers, for the initials of the Upper Peninsula, UP. It’s a beautiful place in the summertime, but in the winter, I want no part of it.

Lake Michigan bay

If you heard a high pitched wailing coming from the Midwest yesterday afternoon, don’t worry, Tiny Tim didn’t break a fingernail. That was me driving across the Mackinac Bridge.

I have a real phobia about driving over bridges, and in the last couple of years, I have been working very hard to conquer it. But as I wrote in yesterday’s blog, the very high, five mile long Mackinac Bridge that connects the Upper Peninsula with the rest of Michigan, scares the hell out of me. I’ve driven it a couple of times in the past, and found it absolutely terrifying. So ever since, when we have come this way, it was just easier to have Miss Terry drive while I sniveled, because I am not very good at multitasking.

Mackinac Bridge approach

But I believe we have to face our fears head on if we ever hope to overcome them. All the way to the bridge, I was debating with myself whether I was going to keep driving, or chicken out again. Terry is very understanding of my many shortcomings, and she let me know that she would be happy to drive if I wanted her to, or to talk me across the bridge if I needed that.

We rolled up to the toll booth, paid our $12.50 for the motorhome and van we tow behind us, and I was committed. Up, up, and away! The bridge is four lanes wide, the two outside lanes being paved, and the center lanes are paved part of the way, and then grated steel on the higher portions of the bridge. Trucks and RVs are supposed to stay in the outside lanes.

Mackinac Bridge 5

Did I mention that it is very high? Giant Great Lakes freighters look like tiny toys from the bridge. Not that I was looking down to see any!

Mackinac Bridge up high 2

Don’t I look like I’m having fun? If I seem taller in this picture, it is due to a phenomena known as the pucker factor. Cops, pilots and anybody who has ever been in combat are very familiar with the term.

Nick on Mackinac Bridge 2

It didn’t help that when we approached the very top of the bridge, we had to change lanes not once, but twice, for construction zones. I was having a hard enough time just following the truck ahead of me in a straight line, let alone changing lanes back and forth!

Mackinac Bridge construction zone 5

Mackinac Bridge construction zone

I’m not too proud to say that I did a lot of whimpering as we crossed the bridge, but Miss Terry kept calmly assuring me that it was okay, that I could do this, and that everything was fine. If it wasn’t for her, I may have just stopped right there in the middle of the roadway and ran back to the bedroom and covered up my head. But, like everything else we do in our life, we got through it together, and I made it to the other side. Thanks, baby, for your strength when I have none of my own.

Some people may think it’s pretty silly to be so afraid of a simple thing like driving over a bridge. But what can I say? I didn’t choose this dumb phobia, it chose me.

So I drove the damned bridge. And I’m in no hurry to go back and do it again. We were halfway to Traverse City before the above mentioned pucker factor eased up and I could sit all the way back down in my seat!

Thought For The Day – I plan on living forever. So far, so good.

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Nick Russell

World-Famous, New York Times Best Selling Author, and All-Around Nice Guy!

  38 Responses to “Yoopers And Bridges”

  1. Jesus man, grow a pair and quit acting like such a little girl! If I were that afraid of everything in life I’d sell the RV and get a nice safe apartment someplace. Are you for real? I’ve never known anybody afraid of a bridge. They’re made to drive over, you know? Are you afraid of dust bunnies too? Grow up!

  2. I must admit that some bridges give me the heebie-jeebies as well. I’ve had to drive the Tacoma Narrows bridge a number of times and it’s not comfortable…but at least the approach is reasonably conservative.

    On the other hand, this past summer I got a taste of the Astoria Megler Bridge that crosses between Oregon and Washington on Highway 101.

    Link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Astoria-Megler_Bridge

    Oh my heavens…the SLOPE on the Washington side is just too much to bear…and the bridge is only TWO LANE!

  3. We people are funny animals. Nick took on a crook with a gun who was half his age & twice his size empty-handed but is afraid of bridges. Until last year I installed & serviced radio station towers & think nothing of working all day a couple hundred feet in the air. But if I had walked in on that robber I’d have wet myself. The very thought of being in violent physical confrontation like that makes me sick to my stomach. Go figure.

  4. Make sure you end that kind of a drive with a big stiff drink. It’s the most effective antidote for polyvinyl poisoning…. You know … from when your backside takes a bite out of the seat!

  5. Yea Team! What one person may or may not do a Tem will do very well.
    How are you with elevated roadways? Around Wichita we have a lot of them. I guess out here in overcrouded South Central Kansas land was scarce and they had to design roads on stilts to save space.
    24 days to freedom. 8-23-10 the day the Eagle flies. Then we hear Hit The Road Jack or in this case LeROY & Anne.

  6. Way to go, Nick! You did it!

    Walt, we all, everyone of us, has idiosyncratic fears of some sort. I am uncomfortable climbing tall ladders, yet often have hung out the door of small airplanes without a thought to create aerial photographs. Wonder what yours is? Lighten up on my friend!!!

    Doug, I am glad the malady of “heebie-jeebies” was not just only of my mother’s reaction to uncomfortable situations. She had some sever cases over her years.

    Stephen, you guys have always amazed me. Pictures of steel workers eating lunch on an I-beam of a skyscraper under construction, or even napping, sphincterize me. We all are put together differently, yet all with characteristics all over the pucker scale.

    Bill, polyvinyl poisening is quite prevelant. I like your prescription. In fact, I might go have a snort now for the opportunities I have missed in the past.

    Back to Nick, thanks for sharing. It is what places you on the top of the hill!!!!!

  7. Goog Job Nick! Gee I’m looking at a Motorhome on eBay to purchase and I think your very close to it. If you get close to Harbor Springs, MI. Let me know and maybe you could take a quick look at this class C Gulfstream Endure. I have the phone no. It ends today…..I sure wish I was up there, we have never been in that area…. Travel Safe!

  8. Nick, I agree about have to face ones fears. I have always been afraid of having sex. All my life I have forced myself to have sex as much as possible so I could overcome this phobia. Glad you made it across the bridge.

  9. I’m so glad you posted the pictures of the bridge. We go over it tomorrow and I’d do anything to avoid it. A different reason than yours altogether. I have a dog who is terrified of going over rumble strips or cattle guards. I can’t imagine 5 miles of metal grates on the bridge. My legs will be hamburger and she is so scared you can’t keep her off your lap.

  10. I’m proud of you, Nick! I’ve driven over that bridge a couple of times, too. I was the *only* driver the first time, but flanked by friends in motorhomes leading and following me. They probably would have pushed my motorhome over the bridge if I’d gone to the bedroom and covered my head!

    Stephen, well said!

  11. We have been over the bridge several times. We absolutely love the UP in spring summer and fall. Wouldn’t want to be there in the winter either. The bridge is no big deal for us as we don’t have the bridge fear. But as we all know each of us has something that just makes us afraid. For me it is the drop off of cliffs, etc without a rail. If you put a railing or fence there I am OK but without a rail I won’t go near the edge.

    When we were in Scotland, Peter and his dad walked right up to the edge of the cliff to see the Puffins. There I was about 10 feet from the edge sitting down on the rocks and refusing to get any closer. If there had been a fence, I would have walked right up and looked. Go figure!

    Jesse. Loved you line. How many girls believed it? No need to answer I think I know!!!!

  12. Was it windy though? When we went over it Thursday it was WINDY and the white caps were rolling through the Straits. The wind would hit the side of the coach and you would bob like a cork.

    Marilyn, most of the way you are in the outside lane where it is paved. The road construction is between the two towers and that is where you have to move over to the open grate lane.

    I don’t like it either, but it is a beautiful drive. One year we talked with a guy from around there and he had studied the bridge history. He said it is designed to withstand 60 mph winds with loaded semi’s on it. It will flex so many feet. . . .yeh well, TMI.

  13. Can I breathe now?

  14. I’m glad to hear there are others out there like us! I hate going over bridges, too. My husband does most of the driving, but I remember one time when I drove over a bridge in Indiana that had those cement barriers on both sides of the lane. My husband had to pry my fingers from the steering wheel when we got to the other side. Thanks for the photos of the bridge. I got queasy just looking at them and will definitely avoid going to that part of the US!

  15. GREAT job guys! That is one heck of a bridge to cross for someone who has second thoughts about high places.
    Your story reminds me about several motorcycle trips my wife and I have taken in the UP. Those metal grate bridges are like driving on ice as it feels like the bikes just vibrated their way across the structures with us holding on to our bikes for dear life. The scenery in that area is something everyone should experience…except in the winter when they get twenty feet of snow!

  16. Good job Nick! Glad you were able to drive over that bridge with Miss Terry’s assistance. Nothing wrong with admitting one’s fears. “Walt” needs to grow a heart!

  17. WALT!?!?!! How dare you mock Nick in that way. I guess that means you have absolutely no fears of any kind, huh? Well, I’m happy for you. I hope that you never end up on the receiving end of someone else’s scorn because I don’t think you’d handle it very well.

    My mother used to tell me “If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.” You might want to think about that.

  18. A great way to get used to the Bridge is to be there on Labor Day when they close the outer lane to all vehicles and you can walk across with thousands of your best friends. Been going on ever since the bridge opened. As a youngster I always enjoyed the ferry rides when you were boated across before the bridge was built in the 50s and the lines waiting for a ferry were a great social happening with food vendors walking about selling smoked fish and other treats to all who were waiting and wandering in the lines.

  19. The photos of the bridge reminded me too of the Astoria bridge between Oregon and Washington. It’s long, it’s steep and it’s high over water. Way to go, Nick. Most of us certainly understand about those inner fears.

    And, Walt Fraser is an absolute jerk! We all have our own fears we must conquer. The difference is that you share them. I’m sure Walt hides his.

    Sorry, Connie, I disagree about Jesse’s comment. It wasn’t cute at all. I guess he thinks that’s manly too.

    Again, good job, Nick.

  20. We’ll be crossing her around Aug 19 for a few weeks of “camping” in the UP.
    Crossed many times, but this will be the first in our motor home.

    To get in practice, we have to cross our own bridge here on Grosse Ile., Mich.
    The lanes are 12′ wide, that’s 24′ total, our bus is 8′ plus 1′ each side for the mirrors. That leaves just 1′ between the superstructure and the right mirror and 1′ for the center lane. Every thing is good UNLESS something like us, semis, or a landscaping truck with things sticking out everywhere is coming the other way. Then that 1′ clearance between us and them gets very small! The steel curb is also a “real tire getter”.

    Link: http://www.historicbridges.org/truss/grosseile/

    Our toll bridge is even tighter.

  21. Good for you, Nick, for doing the thing you fear! And thank you for sharing.

  22. Back when I was a kid, we lived in a “trailer house” that we towed with the family car. I was with dad in the 51 Hudson Hornet pulling the 40 ft New Moon one night late. We were in either Wyoming or Colorado. Pulling the hills was not a lot of fun. Came to a sign that said “Caution Hill”. Dad said oh darn, that last hill was hard to get up, so he increased speed. Then, down we go. And I mean down. As we all know, electric brakes get hot and quit helping. Last time I looked, we were over 80, the brake controller was hard down, a truck was meeting us, and the sign said, “Narrow Bridge Ahead”.
    GULP!!! Man, it was many years before I could cross a bridge unless I was in the middle of it. I finally got over it, but my poor little psyche was hurted.

  23. Don’t worry Nick you’re not alone!!! I know exactly where I’ll be when the time comes to cross the same bridge…in the bedroom having a panic attack!

    Thanks for posting pics of the roadway. I absolutely love these types of pics. They really make me feel like I’m at the wheel.


  24. We are so proud of you, it took courage to drive that bridge. some people just do not understand phobia’s and what they can do to a person. I have the same fear of bridges especially the Bay Bridge in San Fransisco. I do not care what people say about not having a phobia, they just will not admit to them. You did good Nick

  25. it is our phobias that keep us alive. We all have them and most of them align with the rest of society so we don’t notice them. Phobias about things like Speeding, standing on the edge of a tall building, sticking a stick into a hornets nest, poking at a cobra. Most of us don’t do those things because we fear the consequences. once in awhile, we anticipate a danger and the fear gets a step ahead of the rationale and it won’t go back into its box.

    Those phobias just stick out there for all to see because they are not a commonly shared phobia that can be covered up as risk management. So what? I know a guy that is afraid of his underwear. no kidding. he can’t tell me why or even how .. just that he does not wear underwear because it causes him to get locked into an ever escalating panic attack.

    Be glad that this “hangnail” of a phobia about crossing bridges is nothing more than that. Avoid them when you can and tackle them when you can’t. Should not be much worse than facing a gun wielding assailant in the middle of the night and at least the risk is nowhere nearly as bad.

    Maybe, now that you have crossed it, you should notch your belt, gun stock or steering column to commemorate the event.

  26. Walt,

    You sound like an idiot to me. You probably think you are a big, tough guy, but I’d like to see you in Nick’s shoes earlier this year when Nick faced a loaded gun and took care of the situation. Nick’s shoes were filled by a MAN. Your shoes would be filled with what ran down your legs.

    Get real.

  27. My husband and I were across that bridge this past June. We made a trip up through Wisconsin. Spent time with those Yoopers. Did you find out who the Trools are? That area is really beautiful. Really enjoyed your pictures.

  28. What I love about this post is that it shows how a couple can overcome so much if they work together, have the ability to communicate, and care. Nick, you showed a lot of courage crossing the bridge with Miss Terry’s help, but to me, you showed even more by acknowledging the problem and asking her to help you. You two are such a success in life and business because of that teamwork and love you share, not just between you, but with the rest of the world.

  29. Having lived in MI all my life, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve crossed that bridge — in a car, pulling a popup, in a motorhome, pulling snowmobiles in January — and I still get butterflies in my stomach when we approach it! Loved your pictures of the bridge — really makes it look intimidating!

    Good job on conquering your fear!

  30. We have crossed the Mackinac bridge a few times, but the last time was really something to write about. My husband and I were driving our cycles and there was a fierce wind kicking up whitecaps and we debated about whether we should cross. My husband was towing a small utility trailer that we used for camping supplies. The higher we got on that mean old bridge, the wind relentlessly beat on us and it actually was lifting the wheels of the trailer right off the bridge surface. When we got to the other side, we pulled over where there was a resting spot with a picnic table and we talked about our sanity..or was it insanity…at crossing in such high winds! Then a policeman stopped and said the bridge closed just as we got off it as it was too dangerous even for the heavy semis. He couldn’t believe we had just made it across. Yes, the pucker factor was overwhelming for sure!!

  31. Re: Lela’s question “Did you find out who the Trools are?”

    Actually, we heard it as Trolls. It’s what the Youpers call the people who live in the Mitten part of Michigan. And why are they called trolls?

    Because they live below the bridge:)

    We’ve asked many people who live in the mitten, and none of them had ever heard it. Must be an inside joke in the U.P.!

  32. Congrats Nick!!! Takes a true man to admit his fears, and then take them head on. Miss Terry will always be there for you……
    Thanks for sharing your travels.
    Safe Journeys!!

    Mary and Frank

  33. Nick,
    Do like I do— JUST CLOSE YOUR EYES—

  34. Nick, my grandfather used to say (for pucker power) “if you’ll give me a hose I’ll cut you some washers.” Thanks for bringing back good memories of a very special man.
    We all have our phobias so don’t let anyone bug you about it.
    Enjoyed your bridge adventure!

  35. Nick, Did you not write a few months ago about finding out that your grandfather had jumped off a bridge at age 16? Perhaps that is where your fear originates. I also noticed that your hat was shaped so you could only look straight ahead. I would suggest that you avoid Whigby Island and Deception Pass bridge. It is only 2 lanes wide and very high.


  36. Windy. Northbound, wind warnings puliing double. Two quads,two kayaks on custom tall rack on single axle snowmobile trailer. Giant gust of wind hit us on the down slope north side. Looked in the mirror in time to see the double trailer tire land back on the pavement!
    My Dad went across 2 hrs before the Yugo lady blew over years ago. In typical Dad understatement ” Yeah, it was windy…”
    Hoping too de-troll in late September/early October ( now with 39′ 5er/dually Ford). Love the bridge!

  37. Nick,

    We just drove over the Confederation Bridge from Prince Edward Island to New Brunswick. When you think all your fear is gone try that one. It is 8 miles lonr a 120 feet high with low concrete sides. Great views.

  38. Congratulations on crossing the bridge. My wife and I each fear different types of bridges so sometimes I’m happy & she’s terrified and sometimes vice versa.

    My worst bridge was the Bay Bridge across the mouth of Tampa Bay. Many years ago a freighter hit the bridge and knocked part of it down. They promptly built a new bridge a couple hundred feet north of the old one BUT for the longest time the left the old one there. Here you are driving up this humped bridge with another in your peripheral vision; when the other one just ended! That’s a weird feeling for sure. Nowdays the old one has been taken down but I still drive in the center lanes of the bridge. Let them give me a ticket!

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