Marquette makes the list

For the the towns I’ve passed in the U.P. with closed groceries and defunct filling stations, Marquette is an anomaly.  Marquette is located on the shores of Lake Superior, which thrives under summer skies.  The lake, however, would seem a moody neighbor the rest of the year.  I imagine brisk winds and unsettled climes through the spring and fall with revitalizing sunbreaks.  In winter, an icy expanse.  At just over twenty thousand residents, the city offers the features of a larger city, likely because it is the largest on the U.P. (the “yoo-pee”, and the eponymous “yoopers”).  Like so many other post-industrial American towns, Marquette has undergone a renaissance.  It seems timely, well-conceived planning– as opposed to rapid development of slick condominiums and shopping plazas– is to thank for an exceptionally useful system of cycle and pedestrial trails, the Superior Dome (the world’s largest wooden dome) and a bevy of other recreation facilities, a municipal campground within city limits, and public access (via parks and trails) to almost all local waterfront.  The last means Marquette has more sandy beachfront than many more famous beach towns.  I have no complaints of freshwater either. 

Awoken by clear skies and a insistent sun to my eastern aspect, I challenged the day with a swim in Superior.  Surely, this routine is the shower of champions.  Cold and clear– superior.  A lack of mosquitoes allowed me to sleep simply, in only my bag.  It is a real pleasure to pack quickly, without fussing with other gear.  The greatest value of traveling light is not the ability to move quickly or travel far, but to live simply, being arm’s length from eveything I need, and nothing I don’t.  No waste or clutter to pollute the physical sphere, thus challenging clear, organized thinking.  I need water: I have water.  I need a blanket at night: I have a sleeping bag.  Food.  Shelter.  Lights.  Maps.  Internet.  

And the most trouble-free bicycle ever. 

Marquette also features a downtown from the Industrial Age, relics of industry along the waterfront, a thriving culture of restaurants, students (Northern Michigan University), adventures at sea, music, and a brewery– all for a low, low price of 21,000 people.  That’s a winning combination.

All in a day in Marquette: free music at Presque Isle Park, a lone kiteboarder launching off a sand dune amidst the shallows, a $3 concert at the UpFront by the Melismatics, swimming in more than three places; too few hours of sleep, thankfully on the beach; a Saturday morning Farmer’s Market and a bike trail out of town this morning.   

Negaunee and Ishpeming also feature industrial age boom-town architecture, in addition to a massive caved-in iron mine and a perfectly-portioned Carnegie Library.  George the Cyclist is well-travelled in many ways, including the visitation of Carnegie Libraries.  Libraries are a gypsy’s museum: gorgeous, free of charge and rich with offerings from antiquity to modernity.  Libraries are a touring cyclist’s best friend.

Lastly, about Marquette and the U.P.– people like it here, and they’ll be sure to let you know.

post script: The “list” comprises places I’ve been that I like.  Places that are livable and enjoyable, often small to medium sized cities with access to water and woods, and a splash of culture.  The short list: Marquette, MI; Ithaca, NY; State College, PA; San Luis Obisbo, CA; Eugene, OR; Key West, FL; and Savannah, GA.  I expect the mountainous west to offer up some gems.

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