Remember when those Tim Allen commercials were new? Remember when people heard that Cider House Rules track and took to the interwebs to find out just who owned that comforting voice that stood out as a calming force in between other obnoxious radio ads? I do. I remember those days well, and I’m guessing that many, many people have followed the advice espoused in those ads. I know I did. Those commercials garnered all sorts of praise, and today, this morning, when I heard the newest iteration of that Michigan formula I decided that now is the time to declare those ads tired and mostly dead. The Pure Michigan vacation spots are getting old.
This morning I heard about the Wilds of Michigan. A mythical sounding place where snow falls as powder and ski hills are made out of sweet sugar. Where it never rains, except when it does and it rains small bits of diamonds except for when it thunderstorms and the diamonds turn to delicious red skittles. The Wilds sounds like such a nice place, assuming you’ve never been and you take Tim’s silky word for it. But Michigan wasn’t counting on something when it mixed and then aired that commercial. Michigan didn’t know that I’ve been to the Upper Peninsula.
I’ve gone to fish, to wade the streams as Hemingway, without the crickets for bait. I went to find isolation and wilderness, and I went because I had a craving to see blue tarps covering all sorts of things along the sides of the roads. But that’s not fair, because the upper peninsula of Michigan isn’t all blue tarps and wilderness, it’s also chock full of pasties, which is like a pastry except that pastries taste delicious. I ate one of these concoctions on my first trip to fly fish the UP, and in the three visits since that first time I’ve never stopped for another, even if the next pastie shop always has Michigan’s Best.
The thing about the Upper Peninsula, aside from its unfortunate geographic location that makes it an impossible weekend trip for all but the most dedicated oddballs, is that it’s a dangerous place. When I’ve gone fly fishing there, my fishing companion brings a gun with a fancy shoulder mount holster, and when we leave the car we strap on our bear mace, which is like regular mace except it’s sold by the gallon and it has a picture of a bear on it. We pack these things because we’re afraid. Afraid of bears and of mountain lions and of wolfs. Our fishing guide one year told us that he isn’t afraid of the bears. It’s the wolves he fears, because he says they don’t give a #**%.
That’s the one thing about the wilderness that people don’t like to talk about. It’s the wilderness that’s full of wild things, and it’s wild things that don’t care who you are or where you work. Wild things find it easiest to eat things that aren’t wild, particularly things that aren’t wild and aren’t lugging around jugs of bear mace. Tim’s new commercial paints the Wilds with his typical utopic brush, but what part of 17 feet of snow sounds like an easy thing to navigate? Sure it’d be fun on a snowmobile, but that’s a weekend trip to take once a winter, not some habit forming exercise.
The snow shoeing sounds like fun, for about five minutes. Snow shoes are cool looking. Clearwater Outdoor in Lake Geneva sells them, in case you’re curious. But these snow shoes make it incredibly hard to walk at a fast rate of speed. Let alone walk quickly, have you ever tried to run from a bear when wearing them? I haven’t either. And forget about outrunning a wolf or a mountain lion, that’s just not something you’re going to be able to do in those things. So snowshoeing down some old logging road sounds like fun until you think about the bears and wolves and mountain lions following you. Hemingway spent some of his youth in the UP, but even he had the good sense to go in the summer.
The Wilds of Michigan isn’t all that unlike the Wilds of Walworth County. We have ski hills and we have snow, sometimes. We also have a great big lake that warms enough to swim in it before August, and we have regular stores and shops that sell pastries and not pasties. We have snow showing sometimes too, and the only thing you’ll have to outrun here is your spouse or your kid or your friends, because there’s nothing in our woods or water that desires so badly to eat you. Pure Michigan? Skip it. It’s dangerous.