The 2010 Lawrence A. Rubin Memorial Bridge Walk is the highlight of the summer in Saint Ignace, Michigan, and signals the close of the most popular seasonal events in the Mackinac Straits Area. Our governor and a group of 400 lottery-picked runners led the pack across the straits joining Lake Huron and Lake Michigan atop the 5 mile stretch of suspension bridge to the lower peninsula and Mackinaw City. Approximately 43,000 people braved the elements and walked the Mighty Mackinac Bridge this year, facing dark skies and a steady, early morning rain. Join us in this unique and exciting event that took place on Monday, September 6th, 2010.
At the start of the Seventh Annual Mackinac Bridge Labor Day Run, an event she founded shortly after taking office on January 1st, 2003, term-limited Governor Jennifer Granholm gave a brief, motivational address, which underscored her hopes that she can participate again, as a regular citizen. This year, interesting people included handicapped and disabled, a special group of Michigan Fitness Council participants, the 400 runners who won their spots through participation in fitness events and a lottery, babies, kids in wheelchairs and even a blind man who walked alongside me through the entrance gates.
I’ve never enjoyed the earliest hours of the Bridge Walk before. I’m usually home in bed or up early preparing for one of the busier days in the summer season. I have to admit, it’s worth doing and I plan on being there again. Since our family friend Corey Baker was running, the main goal was getting him ready for his “Fun Run” with the governor. The runners had to be in place far ahead of the walking masses, but we were rewarded with a good spot in line and a fairly decent view of the “pre-game” festivities.
Before the race and walk starts, TV news reporters broadcast the event and a local radio personality gave us all a pep talk and motivational speeches began. The crowd seemed to wait anxiously. Shannon Baker, a first-time Mackinac Bridge Walker got to raise her hand a few times and received applause with a myriad of other “virgin” pedestrians. Three folks in our little area admitted to being afraid of heights and even I was a bit concerned about being under-dressed in shorts and a t-shirt. During my last walk, thirteen years ago in 1997, the heat was stifling. Now I was more afraid of hypothermia than the very mild sunburn I suffered back then. We watched a few groups start ahead of us and applauded Shannon’s husband Corey as he warmed up along the short tract of land between us and the rocky shores of Lake Huron. The Mackinac Bridge winked its own welcome in lights, but it was a very dark hour just before dawn.
The last bit of advice was to try and calm the crowd down before the gates opened. Honestly, I felt more like a head of beef being shunted around towards the branding iron than I did a Bridge Walker; however, the words of caution were effective. We spotted a few pushers and a small amount of shoving, but the bulk of the citizenry shuffled smoothly into place and we picked up speed as we meandered up the small incline and onto the Mighty Mack. This is one day when you don’t have to pay the $3.50 toll to cross! My morning cup of coffee was finished and I had a spare bottle of water in the old backpack, as well as a pair of “track pants,” in case I really needed them. Being a post-menopausal woman of a thicker sort of waist, I tend to feel warmer as long as I’m moving, so I dressed lightly. Most people, other than the racers, were clad in track suits and long pants, with light jackets and long sleeved shirts. A few carried umbrellas, but the rain remained light and sporadic.
This year, we were exceptionally lucky and the race numbers were down slightly. We found a wonderful pair … a married couple with the perfect pace to match. The woman wore a bright red cap and we followed them the entire 5 miles. The sun started to peek around at the edges of the east and the crowd thinned a bit as we climbed. My blind friend and his aide made it safely onto their section. Shannon and I edged around the slower paced and we even saw one of the two older folks who were walking the span for the 50th and 51st time, respectively. They had been specifically cited and “toasted” by our MC in the opening ceremony. One petite older lady had a handsome vest with many patches from earlier bridge walks sewn along its face. We also saw a few Elvis Impersonators. One pair of Elvis “guys” followed me (or we followed them) all the way over the Bridge, onto the same bus and back to Saint Ignace!) Be sure to review my photos for a closer look!
Our little crowd noticed the bevy of ships surrounding the Mackinac Bridge, including US Coast Guard, Mackinac County Sheriff, and Michigan State Police rescue watercraft. Apparently the area surrounding the Mackinac Bridge is off-limits to boat traffic during the Bridge Walk, and the rescue craft are in the area in case of accidents. Shannon and I also observed a few “casualties,” walkers who “punked out” along the sidelines. A few looked like a few minutes rest would solve their problems, others warranted the attention of the National Guard and other military service members who stood ready to offer an encouraging smile and kind word along the way.
Shannon phoned our mutual friend Kim Swanson, back in DeWitt, at the top of the Mackinac Bridge and I noticed many walkers doing the same. The mood of the crowd was positively electric at this point, and we began the long 2.5 mile length to the base of the Bridge. This is the time to get your best photos, and we were surprised when Shannon’s husband made an illegal entry and met us halfway down, weaving through the walkers. Wearing a kilt, he had become a bit tired of answering questions during the day, but braved a few more for our little group. “What are you wearing down there” and “You’re going the wrong way” were heard all along his trek up the span of concrete and metal. Lucky for him, the crowd was a bit thinner and more jovial than usual this year. Be sure to spot Corey in my pictures. I felt honored to have hosted him and Shannon, especially since it was their first Bridge Walk, and his first time in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula!
Eventually we all emerged into the sunshine at the end of five miles of pedestrian traffic heading south and received our commemorative certificates. If you decide to join us on a future Bridge Walk, remember that there’s no toilet facilities on the Bridge, so plan accordingly. We were also welcomed by a host of port-a-potties, but the line was too long for your humble reporter. The Bakers and I parted company at the next corner, and I had to search through Mackinaw City for my bus ride home. Lucky for the Bakers, their car was parked on the south side of the Bridge, with easy access to the interstate highway. If you live in the Lower Peninsula and walk the Mackinac Bridge, your best bet is to park in Mackinaw City and ride from there. The Labor Day Traffic Jam in and around the Mackinac Bridge is legendary. Large numbers of area school buses stand by to ferry people over to Saint Ignace, starting as early as 5:30 a.m. Shannon and Corey got the executive treatment, and enjoyed a free night at my house, with personalized limo service during their stay. Although I can’t promise all that, I do guarantee a wonderful time in Saint Ignace. Join us next year!