That’s a question we ask ourselves every so often. We ask it literally and figuratively. Sometimes we’re lost, sometimes we’re just not there, yet; sometimes we’re right where we should be. Sometimes we’re in the middle of nowhere. Sometimes there’s a sign to tell us just where we are.

I was driving along through Michigan’s Upper Peninsula recently when suddenly there I was — right smack dab between the equator and the North Pole. Yep, I was on the 45th parallel and didn’t even know it until I saw the sign. That sign let me know that we, here on the Bayfield peninsula, live closer to the North Pole than to the equator — if there was ever any doubt. It’s pretty cold up here, so that’s what I guess I would assume — even without the sign. What’s the 45th parallel, you say? The 45th parallel (north, in our case) is a line of latitude that is 45 degrees north of the earth’s equator.

Michigan’s U.P. is a place where many folks in the United States never venture to. I understand why; it’s a bit out of the way. Of course we northerners may need to head that way occasionally for fun and for other good reasons. Life sometimes takes you places that are out of the way. In this case, I was heading back from visiting a college student of mine in Traverse City and so I was about to drive through the entire U.P. for the second time in three days. Do you do that often? Me neither. There are some good reasons for that. One of them is that it was snowing in Christmas. Hard. In May. Christmas, Michigan, that is. Nowhere else, just Christmas. Which seems really appropriate, given the name. And weird.

Another reason is that it’s a whole different world in the UP. ’Nuff said. You’ll just have to go there yourself. If you’ve been there, nod with me. But go we do. We go because it’s beautiful. We go because it’s wild. And we go because we have to go that way to get to the Lower Peninsula, and to get back home. We go because we don’t own one of those “Ducks” — half boat and half truck. If we did, we could cut through, “angle” so to speak, as you often do when you travel. Angling saves time and cuts down on mileage. Well, not so with the Great Lakes. They’re big, they’re wet, they’re cold and they’re deep. You really need a good bridge, a good ferry, a good boat, a good icebreaker, or to just go around. So we go around.

Of course we also go over the Mackinac Bridge, which is a wonderful experience. I admit, the five-dollar toll is not a wonderful experience, but it’s worth it. That cash pays to keep the bridge safe and smooth and touch up the pretty yellows and greens that it is painted. I love that bridge. It’s worth the five bucks. ’Nuff said, again. And what a great feeling to pass over and into the Lower Peninsula. It’s that feeling of getting back to civilization, and that of maybe looking forward to a little heat.

Now, if you’re a Yooper, don’t get me wrong, eh. Because as for the U.P., when you have enough snacks, enough gas in your tank, and someone to search for radio stations —you’re good. You’ve got loads of prettiness surrounding you and ribbons of road ahead of you, and you can go fast. In fact, you can speed over the 45th parallel, and when you’re heading south, that means that in a little while you can take off your sweatshirt. Hooray!

And the best part? Soon, you can go back and do it all over again. Unless you want to take a shortcut through Chicago. ’Nuff said.

“I sat down on a boulder and checked the driver’s license: I was indisputably fifty years of age…the boulder had a comfortably sculpted backrest and I couldn’t think of a single reason to continue a life of movement. Perhaps I’d sit there until my expiration date, a novel impulse.”

Julip, Jim Harrison

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