A photo I took of the Mackinac Bridge on a day when there wasn’t a Walk.
I spent three Labor Day weekends in Mackinaw City, Michigan with my old boyfriend, his mother, sister, and brother-in-law. Michael’s sister and BIL had a summer home up there.
FYI: “Mackinaw” in Mackinaw City is pronounced the same as the “Mackinac” in Mackinac Bridge and Island. If I remember right, they decided to spell Mackinaw City with a W so that people would know how to pronounce it.
Mackinaw City is at the top of Lake Michigan. It’s touristy with lots of pasty-places,1 and fudge and souvenir shops where you can purchase candy-colored stickers, pins, and magnets emblazoned with the labels, “Mackinaw City” “Mackinac Island” and “Mackinac Bridge”.
The Mackinac Bridge opened on November 1, 1957 and my post today is about my experience of “walking the bridge” on Labor Day.
What does the Bridge do?
The Bridge connects the “tip of the mitt” of Michigan’s Lower Peninsula (most of the state of Michigan is shaped like a mitten) and its Upper Peninsula (a.k.a: the U.P.2).
It is 5 miles (8 km) long from one end to the other and is:
“currently the fifth longest suspension bridge in the world….” and “the longest suspension bridge in the western hemisphere.“
Just so you know:
Mackinac Island is the island on Lake Huron between the Upper and Lower Peninsula of Michigan that doesn’t allow cars. It was used in the movie, Somewhere in Time. That’s the movie that starred Christopher Reeve and Jane Seymour and came out in 1980.
Michiganders are incredibly proud of their bridge, which crosses the Mackinac Straits (the meeting place of Lakes Huron and Michigan).
In fact, Michiganders are so proud of their bridge that they shut down one side of it every Labor Day to allow people to walk across it.
The Bridge Walk
And it’s not just a walk. It’s an event.
Since everyone has to walk in the same direction, probably more then half of the walkers assemble in Mackinaw City (in the UP) at around 5 a.m. (dark that time of year) to catch buses that drive across that bridge to St. Ignace on the Lower Peninsula, where the walk will start.
On the morning of the second year I went with my then-boyfriend, he gave us a pep talk before we left the house at 5 a.m.:
welcome to [his mother’s] Boot Camp.
pedal-locomotion – across water.
Under your own power.”
That was better than he was at 4:30 a.m. that morning, when we woke up at “Stupid-o’clock.”
with all these other nutty people to the starting point where we got on to 1 of 6 waiting buses.
The buses took us across the bridge to St. Ignace where we once again waited… to walk back across the bridge.
There are so many people who want to do the Bridge Walk that there are, like, 120 school buses commandeered to go to St. Ignace from Mackinaw City. The buses, in groups of 6, fill up and take off across the bridge, followed by the next 6.
These buses run from about 5 a.m. to around 7:30 (or later) to shuttle thousands of people across the bridge to St. Ignace.
The first year I did it I remember seeing all those insane people waiting at St. Ignace.
“Who!” I thought.
“In their right minds!
“Would be insane enough to go—early enough!!—to stand!
“In the DARK!
“Waiting to walk a bridge?!”
For several years, apparently I was one of those people.
After your 5-mile walk across the bridge you get a certificate.
One year, I was #1400-something. Hey, I did Nanowrimo for about 5 years. That got me a certificate when I’d “win” by writing a 50,000 word novel in a month. I don’t think I have the Walk certificates,3 but I’ve got a couple of Nanowrimo certificates.
Most who finished the Walk had driven to Mackinaw City for the event, so they were now close to their cars. And on the way back to them, they could eat a hearty breakfast… and pick up fudge.
while I make fun of this whole thing, “Walking the Bridge” is a pretty cool event.
The bridge is so massive that the mid-section has only metal air-flow grating on the road surface. This grating lets air move through the bridge and prevents oscillations on its large span.
The first time I Walked the Bridge, as I looked down to the grating, I saw hundreds of feet below to the water in the Straits of Mackinac between Lake Michigan and Lake Huron. I was so disoriented by this I almost walked into oncoming traffic.
But once you come back to being vertical, you look past the sea of humanity and watch the early-morning sun on your left, and see the beautiful sky on either side of you.
As you might understand
I like the oddness that the Bridge Walk demonstrates in humanity.
Here we are, good and bad, selfish and selfless. Yet somehow we can still rejoice in our goofiness of waking up at Stupid O’Clock and walking across a 5-mile-long engineering feat for almost no reason at all.4
If you’re interested, here’s where you can read up about the Labor Day Bridge Walk on their website: https://www.mackinacbridge.org/events/walk/
First published September 1, 2023
I took the photo at the top of this post in late spring 2006.
1. Pasty: “the balanced meal in a crust“. Not “pasties“: the tassels worn by Burlesque dancers.
2. The Upper Peninsula, or “the UP” is pronounced “You-pea”. Which explains why sometimes people from there are called “Yoopers“.
3. Because… you know.
4. My old boyfriend grew up outside of Grand Rapids, MI. After he had moved out, one night before Labor Day, his dad said to his mom, “You know, I think if we leave at” like, 2 a.m., “we should be able to get there in time for the walk.” And that’s what John and Mary did.