I recently took a vacation to Mackinac Island (official motto: That last C is silent), which is right above Michigan in Lake Huron. If you ever ask a Michigander where that is, they’ll hold up their right hand and point with their left hand to the appropriate spot. This is because Michigan is shaped like a right hand wearing a mitten.
As a result, all Michiganders have the annoying habit of showing where they live by holding up their right hand and pointing to the location with their left hand.
I really hate it when they do this.
I’m from Indiana, which is shaped like a painfully-pointed boot. So when Michiganders show me where they live, I point to the part of my state that will kick them in their Florida if they don’t stop.
Originally called “Michilimackinac” by French missionaries in the 1600s, the name was later shortened to Mackinac. However, because the French never spell things the way they sound, Mackinac is actually pronounced “Mackinaw.”
This is something the island residents take very seriously. It’s a major faux pas (pronounced “foe pah” — see how that works?) to mispronounce the name of their home, and they get very annoyed whenever anyone is crass enough to call it “Mackinack.”
Although Mackinac Island has a rich and colorful history, a relaxed, friendly atmosphere, and is known for its world-class fudge, the thing that sticks out in everyone’s mind is the lack of cars on the island.
“How’s come there’s no cars on this here island?!” first-time visitors gawk.
With the exception of a couple emergency and maintenance vehicles, there are no electric or gasoline powered vehicles anywhere. Anyone who wants to get around the island does so on foot, by bicycle, or on horseback. But you will see dozens of teams of horses pulling carts or taxis throughout the day. This also means the horses will stop in the middle of the street, and treat it like a paved toilet.
“What is that SMELL?!” the first-time visitors shout, wrinkling their noses.
Although horse deposits make crossing the street an adventure in itself, it adds an extra level of excitement during high-speed bicycle police pursuits.
Walking is free, of course, but in the true spirit of island entrepreneurship, visitors can rent bicycles for the day or horses by the hour. When my wife and I visited Mackinac Island a few years ago, we went horseback riding for the first time. We loved it so much, we decided to try it again on this trip.
I’d like to point out that I will not name the stable we used. While I only had a couple extremely minor complaints on this trip, I don’t want them to read this column and assign me a horse named Thundering Death the next time we’re there.
We chose Western style riding over English style, since English saddles don’t have a horn, which is useful for holding on (the horn is also useful for beeping at other riders when they’re being jerks). A couple stablehands brought our horses out, and gave us some important information about them. The horses, not themselves. Stablehands are very private about their own lives.
“Sandy is a good leader, so you ride in front,” they told my wife. They brought my horse to me. “Jake just likes to stop and eat.”
“Sounds like Jake and I have a lot in common,” I said.
“No, you can’t let him do that. If you don’t control him, he’ll think he can boss you around. Just pull his reins if he tries it.”
Although we chose the unguided tour, a guide rode out with us to show us the way to the trails. As we headed out of town, she told my wife, “Make sure you keep Sandy on the right side of the road.”
I couldn’t resist. “If we were riding English style, would we ride on the left side of the road?”
My wife laughed, but our guide just stared blankly at me.
“No, you would still ride on the right.”
I tried to explain, so she wouldn’t think I was a complete moron. “I meant that in England, they drive on the left side, so English style riding would have the same–”
“Yes, I know.” Too late. She thought I was a moron.
It’s been my experience that horse people are members of some kind of fanatical cult. They love their animals, tolerate humans, but despise morons who crack horse jokes. And apparently I had just offended their queen. I was sure she was sending telepathic messages to Jake to throw me off and trample me.
I didn’t crack another joke the whole time our guide was with us, but the damage had been done. Jake didn’t appreciate my humor either, and abused me for the rest of the trip. I discovered he had an annoying habit of falling way behind Sandy and then trotting to catch up with her.
He did this because he realized I had foolishly asked for my stirrups to be lengthened, thus insuring I couldn’t raise myself out of the saddle far enough to relieve any of the . . . painful bouncing . . . I felt when he trotted.
“Jake, go catch up with Sandy,” I told him the first time he fell behind. “Let’s go.”
“Tell him giddyup,” my wife hollered to me.
“That’s stupid. They only say giddyup in Westerns,” I hollered back.
I felt like a goober saying “Giddyup,” and thought it was one of the least macho things I could actually tell a horse, short of discussing my feelings with it. Besides, real cowboys say things like “Onward ho!” or “Yoiks and away!” or something equally cool.
“Move it,” I cried. “Run, Jake! Run like the wind!”
Jake continued moseying along at his usual pace, waiting for me to drop my guard so he could eat everything in sight. I sighed and looked around for any cowboys who might laugh at me.
Jake’s ears perked up, so I said it louder.
“Giddyup Jake.” He trotted up to Sandy, bouncing me the entire way. Once he caught up, he backed off again. She had “used the island” during the trip, so I couldn’t blame him for wanting to keep a safe distance.
“Get up!” I tried. It was less silly than giddyup, and he actually responded to it. “Get up, Jake.” It wasn’t “Yoiks and away!” but at least it wasn’t “Giddyup.”
“I think I’m getting the hang of this,” I called to my wife, three miles ahead of me.
And it was true! I was growing more confident with each painful bounce. I was one dusty trail ride from becoming a true “Yoiks and away!” cowboy, and was positive I would soon become an expert at riding horseback.
Or is that riding horsebaw?