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On Thursday, June 17, 2010, my wife Jeanine and I had the rare opportunity to visit the top of the Mackinac Bridge. Each year, the Mackinac Bridge Authority awards a few non-profit organizations around the state with Tower Tour Certificates, which they use for fund-raising. Our certificate came from an auction that benefitted special programs in the Pinconning (MI) School District.
We initially chose June 15th as the day for the tour, but with the weather looking like it could rain, we were able to change the date to June 17th, which turned out to be a picture perfect day. We departed Mackinac Island on the 9:00AM ferry and passed iconic Round Island Lighthouse on our way to Mackinaw City, where our car was parked.
We crossed the Mackinac Bridge and entered the Upper Peninsula of Michigan where we paid our toll and then made an immediate right turn into the bridge authority parking lot.
After signing the releases, we were escorted by Loren to an authority van that he drove to the south tower, where the outside lanes in each direction were closed to traffic due to construction work on the bridge deck. We waited for traffic to clear before crossing the lanes to the east side of the bridge deck.
We were then shown the small hatch we needed to squeeze through to enter the tower superstructure.
After entering the tower, we made our way to an even smaller space...an elevator. I'm not joking when I say an airplane lavatory is larger! Both the north and south tower each have one elevator so workers can quickly go up and down the superstructure as necessary. It can stop anywhere for maintanence purposes and a ladder parallels the elevator should it break down.
Once you reach the top of the elevator ride, it's a walk to the center of the span, then up a ladder about 30 feet. Someone wrote directions exiting the elevator just in case you get lost.
At the top of the ladder (which passes through tiny holes every 6-8 feet), you emerge through another small hatch on the top of the tower.
The trip to the top challenges several fears; the fear of tight spaces, fear of darkness and fear of heights. But once on the top, those fears quickly subside as the gorgeous view of the bridge, straits, the UP, the lower peninsula and Mackinac Island quickly absorb your senses. The view below is looking north toward the UP.
I have caught the episode of 'Dirty Jobs' several times when host Mike Rowe visits the Mackinac Bridge. He also visited the south tower and the images I saw on TV were now in front of me. If you've ever seen the Grand Canyon in person, then you know how poorly pictures capture the real beauty and scale. I'd apply that same analogy here.
The paperwork stated we would spend 'a maximum of 10 minutes' at the top of the bridge. We must have been lucky as we spent nearly 30 minutes, allowing me to shoot digital stills and HD video to my heart's content. We even managed to get our guide to take a picture of the two of us!
Here's a short video I cut together last night from the trip up!
It was a memorable day! Our thanks to the Pinconning School District and the Mackinac Bridge Authority for making it all possible.