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Why we love going 'up north'

Boat on Northport Bay, Lake Michigan
Mark Brush
Michigan Radio
Boat on Northport Bay in Lake Michigan

A lot of us in Michigan are passionate about going up north.

“I remember the good old days when my dad would pack us up in the station wagon and head up north. It was 80 acres in the middle of nowhere … I’m heading to Petoskey on Wednesday and on Thursday or Friday to Whitefish Point and Tahquamenon Falls… Tomorrow, I’m making my annual pilgrimage to Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore.”

Those are comments from Michigan Radio's Facebook fans, answering the question, “Anyone headed up north this weekend?”

But where is up north, and why do we love going?

The definition of “up north” is incredibly personal. It has to do with where you’re from and where you’re headed.  But there seems to be a general consensus, of where it begins, at least for people in the Lower Peninsula.

“In Michigan, I think the north begins right about halfway across the mitten—or you can be a little more exact and say Highway 10. Somewhere between Clare & Ludington," said nature writer Keith Taylor.  He says the world around you begins to change quickly once you cross that line.

“You suddenly start seeing white pines and white birches," he said. "So the trees change.”

Taylor says people have always craved a landscape that’s different from the hustle and bustle of their everyday lives.  For people who lived in Detroit in the '20s and '30s, going “up north” just meant traveling one county over.  These days, “up north” usually means driving a couple of hours in the car.

Taylor says we’re lucky that in Michigan there are a lot of places close by.

“It’s the interesting thing about our state: there’s the major industries to the south employing all those people and we’re so close to the edge of the wilderness," he said.

Denise and David Frick have a little cottage near Kalkaska. They love going up north because of the beauty and peacefulness.

Denise: "Even when you’re up there, the air is even cleaner, you can feel the difference as soon as you arrive. Of course it’s a vacation property—so there’s no mail up there, there’s no work, there’s no desk, you go up there to relax."

David: "And we have a TV up there that gets like two-and-a-half stations, with rabbit ears."

When the Fricks get ready to go up north from their home in Ann Arbor, it’s a low-key affair.

David: "We can look in the cooler right now."

KN: "Yeah, I want to know what’s in the cooler. So it doesn’t necessarily have to be cold to be in the cooler?"

David: "No. The cooler contains black pepper which we ran out of. Hershey Bars, for making ‘smores, some belts for a drill press and an extension cord."

The Fricks say their idea of a good time up north is sitting around and looking at the lake.

Writer Keith Taylor says being outside is another appealing aspect.

“One could be confronted by things that appear just a little more wild, a little bit around the edge," he said. "You could get lost in the woods, although probably not forever. You might run into a bear. And that would change things, that would add a little bit of excitement without really, really threatening your life.”

Although the concept of going “up north” is not unique to Michigan or even to America, we have the Great Lakes. And as Keith Taylor says, there’s nothing like all that fresh water, anywhere in the world.

*This story was originally published on July 17, 2012.