Friday, August 18, 2006

Where I'm At.

I don't mean where I'm at in my life right now. Well I do, but not in the usual vague philosophical way that the phrase is often used.

I'm in America and more specifically, I'm in Houghton Lake, Michigan. That's in Mish-a-gyn. Not Mitch-a-gyn. There is no 't' in Michigan. They're more into coffee and Bud Light !

No seriously, I just get so fed up with people - well ok by people I really mean Brits - who ask where I go in America and when I tell them Michigan, they always repeat it back to me but stick a 't' in it. I've no idea why and when pressed, neither do they ! It's one of life's little mysteries - like Ulster people calling movies, filims (note the extra 'i' ). Weird.

There are over 11,000 lakes in Michigan which would make one think that a good pair of wellies would be high on the list of items to pack as the state must be one, large, squelchy bog. Not so, and often we've driven several hundred feet before seeing more water !! Only joking.

Anyhoooo, I'm here in Houghton Lake and what a delightful place it is. The town is on the edge of the lake of the same name which makes it a VERY delightful place. The lake is the largest in the state at 22,000 acres and is 8 miles long by 4 wide. With an average depth of only 8.5 feet and a deepest point of 20 feet, it's not likely to be hiding any monsters of Nessy proportions. There might be a few fishing shacks, supermarket trolleys and even the odd 4x4 which fell through the winter ice, but no monsters.

The town is slightly harder to give statistics for. It's not even easy to know where it starts and ends. This is because there are really 3 built up and populated areas which merge together along this part of M-55 and for many years I thought of it as all being.....Houghton Lake. These are Prudenville, Houghton Lake and Houghton Lake Heights - sometimes just called The Heights. The total community full time population is close to 11,000 if you can believe some web sites but this number could be as low as 6,000 if you try other sites. What they all agree on is that the population increases three fold in summer when vacation visitors arrive to enjoy the amenities.

Another reason for the difficulty in tying down the population figures is that Houghton Lake is a resort area and many of the houses are vacation homes only used at weekends or for weeks at a time in the summer. In fact 47% of houses are vacant in Houghton Lake which kinda proves this point.

I've mentioned before that my daily walk takes me along the shores of the lake and is a wonderful route to follow. Last week I rode my bike on one occasion for a change of pace and today I decided to do it again........this time with my camera. I really wanted to get to an area a mile or so past my turn around point (when walking) as it is almost like a small Fort Lauderdale with various waterways, canals, inlets or whatever you care to call them.

These all lead to the lake of course but the homes along their edges are some of the most beautiful and well cared for houses I've ever seen and being on the water, they are also some of the most expensive houses in the county.

Now this doesn't tie in with another census statistic about the area - that the per capita annual income is only $27,000. This would certainly give the impression that most houses are little more than shacks as that is all the population should be able to afford. As usual with this area and statistics, there is a lot more below the surface.

There are a lot of retired people who have wonderful waterfront homes and I may be totally off beam here but my guess would be their pensions, and certainly their savings, would not be classed as income. This would explain the hundreds of stunning homes I've seen when exploring all the little roads around the lake.

Being lakefront properties, just about every one has a water craft of some sort docked and ready to enjoy right in the water at the end of their lawns.

I'm not really a water person but that might be due to living inland in the UK and having no use for a boat. When I rode by and saw all the pontoon boats, motorboats and jet-ski's lined up close to these homes, it sure seemed like the 'good life' to me.

As usual, the owners were very friendly and not 'snooty' at all. Many homes had the owners names on little wooden signs outside and the word 'welcome' was everywhere.

If I wanted some views from the end of their properties, I was never refused or even questioned when I asked if I could wander down to the waters edge. No one stood over me while I walked about and the only time the owner did accompany me, it was to chat with me when he knew I was from England. Ok I know I wasn't on some exclusive property like in some parts of America but even so, it was refreshing to not be 'greeted' with the cool reception I'm sure I'd get back home if I ever asked permission to walk onto someone's back lawn !!

I do love these pontoon boats. They can be 16-22ft long and can easily be towed from home to water, can carry a ton of people (ok usually 6-12) and are often called party boats. They are not suitable for open sea water as a decent wave would cause major problems but they are very popular on the lake as it is calm and shallow and so suits these craft.

They remind me of glorified WW2 landing craft but they take their occupants to a more peaceful type of beach. Needless to say, they can be as luxurious (or as basic) as you want and prices range accordingly. A cheap basic 2nd hand one would be about $1500 (£850) but a new deluxe model could be as much as $30,000 (£16,500).

They glide by almost noiselessly as the water laws on the canals here state no wakes. To achieve this, water craft have to REALLY go slowly. Given their size and the number of occupants, pontoon boats are not designed for speed - so even when they hit the more open waters of the main lake, they don't suddenly rear up like a speedboat and shoot off like a startled deer. No, they gracefully pick up some speed and never allow the party goers onboard to get a drop of spray on them. Although too wide for our UK canal system, I quite fancy one for Lake Windermere .

They are not confined to home owners along the canals of course and many are docked all around the lake. They can be rented by the hour and due to the number of passengers they carry, the per person price isn't bad at all for a day out on the lake.

Anyway, enough publicity for the pontoon industry !!

I clocked up 18 miles on this bike ride around and along the numerous inlets which lead off the lake. The views were wonderful and it never felt like hard work as there was so much to keep me distracted from the partial numbness and growing pains in my nether regions. Have I ever mentioned my amazement (and disappointment) that no one seems to have invented a comfortable bike saddle yet ??? Ok I probably have !!

My last view of the canal area was when I got back onto my walking road and came to a little bridge which spanned one of the inlets. I took a rest and photographed the scene before me as it seemed I had the whole place to myself. Being a weekday, most of the craft were docked at home and so there wasn't even a single ripple to disturb the scerenity of the calm waters.

The sun was out, the sky was blue and the birds were a twittering. If it wasn't for the discomfort in my ass and the realisation that I'd a 6 mile ride back home, I'd have been a happy bunny.

I think I'll only cycle once a week as it's still a constant battle to keep my heart rate at a reasonably steady pace. It only takes a slight incline to get it shooting up 15% or more and that's not good for me. It's much easier to keep a steady pace when walking but it can be frustrating as I can only cover 5.5 miles in 90 minutes - and on the bike I can cover 3 times that distance and see so much more.

When the 5.5 miles takes in scenery as I've described here, it's not so bad. I'd certainly think twice about doing it in an inner city as any benefits from being out in the fresh air (???) would be offfset by the chances of getting severe lead poisoning (via bullet or knife).

Yes both at home in the UK (see earlier posts) and here on holiday in the US, I'm blessed that I have beautiful walking routes right on both doorsteps. My part in all this is to actually get out there most days and take advantage of it all. I'd normally be concerned about what to do here when winter comes and the roads get covered in snow for months at a time - but this November we're off to Florida so 'summer' should continue until I leave at the end of January. Woohoooo.

1 comment:

Linda said...

Ian - I have just skimmed through the text here, but taken a quick look at the photos. They are very good indeed :-) It certainly looks a beautiful place and very relaxing by the water. If these photos are anything to go by, you will produce some stunning shots with your new gear.

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