Lake Michigan Fall 2009

Pentwater to Grand Haven:

It is a grey day outside for our trip to Grand Haven. I guess it is sort of fitting as we are feeling a little sad also. This is our last day of cruising for the year. IT will spend the next seven months nestled between many other boats in a heated storage shed. The seas are again calm for our final day of travel. Lake Michigan has been very kind to us over the past few weeks. We have not seen more than three foot seas while traveling down the lake and most days the seas have been one foot or less. Our timing could not have been better. The forecast for next week is quite different. A cold front is headed this way and seas are predicted to be 5-8 foot on Sunday. Monday is calling for a NW gale with forty five knot wind and seas 10-14 feet.

As we exit the breakwater at Pentwater, we see lots of fishermen along the pier.

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Just past the breakwater we pass several marked ship wrecks. The 20 mile span from Little Point Sable to Big Point Sable has earned a reputation as the “Graveyard of Ships”. Nearly 70 vessels have gone down in these treacherous waters over the years.

Just before reaching Grand Haven, we spot a weather buoy floating a few miles offshore.

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The seas remain calm with overcast skies. 10 miles south of Muskegon we see the inlet into Grand Haven. At the entrance, there is a little red house on the starboard side and a lighthouse marking the port side.

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We have an easy trip up the inlet and are soon to our new home of North Shore Marina.

Our first impressions with North Shore Marina are not too good.

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We hail them several times on the VHF, but no one answers our call. We finally resort to calling on the cell phone. The girl who answers says that someone must have turned down the VHF radio. She does have our reservation and gives us our slip assignment. I then ask if someone can meet us on the dock to help with our lines. She replies that no one is available right now. No problem, we should be able to handle the docking by ourselves. After winding our way through the narrow channels, we soon spot our slip and things look relatively easy for docking. We get about half way into our slip and IT comes to an abrupt halt. She is wedged between the two outer poles. We are too wide for the slip! This is the first time we have ever experienced this. We quickly get on the phone and call the marina back. The same girl answers and we tell her of our predicament. The slip next to this one looks wider. I ask the girl if it is in fact wider and if so, can we dock there. She doesn’t know how wide any of the slips are but says we can give it a try. We ease IT into this slip and we do fit. However, as we continue backing into the slip, we start to notice a lot of mud kicking up from our prop. We are now questioning if this slip is deep enough for us. We decide not to go any further into the slip. IT is only half way in the slip but this is as far as we dare go. It turns out that our suspicion was correct about the depths. One of the workers comes out and tells us that no one ever backs into these slips as they are not deep enough. It would have been nice if someone had mentioned this ahead of time. Oh well. IT is secure and we are happy to be here.

The folks at North Shore quickly redeem themselves. The service manager comes by promptly as scheduled and seems very efficient. Over the next few days, we watch as Chris, the owner, lifts many different boats out of the water. Chris does all of the haul outs himself as he wants to make sure it is done right. We can see that he is very conscientious and hard working. The marina is spotless and everyone works very hard. We feel good about leaving IT here over the winter.

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Getting IT ready for storage is no easy task. We spend several days preparing the boat for her long winter storage. Jeff changes main engine oil, generator oil, and transmission oil along with all the oil and fuel filters. The boat is cleaned inside and out. Just our luck, a huge Great Lakes storm hits Grand Haven the next day.

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We have winds up to 40 knots with seas out in the Lake of 14 feet. Even inside the protected breakwater, seas are eight foot.

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We are happy to be in this secure basin as IT strains against her dock lines. Unfortunately, much of the sand from the high dunes which are protecting us from these winds ends up on IT. After two days of gale force winds, she is covered with sand and needs yet another washing.

Oh no! Just after getting IT clean for a second time, another storm system is approaching. We decide to haul IT out of the water a few days early before this second storm hits. Chris adds two extra lifting straps to his travel lift as additional security.

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IT weighs 55,000 pounds and is heavier than many of the boats he lifts. This additional step is comforting to us. We always worry when IT comes out of the water. Although it doesn’t happen often, we have heard several horror stories of boats being dropped to the ground during this vulnerable moment. Chris is very cautious and does a great job of handling IT.

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She is soon asleep in the storage shed where she will stay until our return next May.

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Our rental car is filled to the brim with food, clothes, and boat supplies not to mention two dogs, two parrots, and a hermit crab.

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We are soon saying goodbye to IT and beginning our 800 mile journey south to Chattanooga.

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Traveled Pentwater to Grand Haven: 63
Total Miles Traveled Year to Date: 3238

Frankfort to Pentwater:

The fog is really thick inside the harbor this morning. Luckily it lifts just before we pull away from the docks. As we near the breakwaters, we see a dredge heading out to the yellow contraption at the entrance. That was a dredge head that we saw when we came in the other day.

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The forecast was for calm seas today but it is really lumpy as we exit the harbor.

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Lake Michigan has some really deep water. We are traveling about five miles offshore and are in 440 feet of water. Just a mile to our starboard, the depths go to 800+ feet.

We have another easy day of cruising and soon spot the Pentwater breakwater. It is just starting to rain as we enter this long breakwater leading to Pentwater Lake. The state of Michigan has done an excellent job with their harbors. On the eastern shore of Lake Michigan, there is a “Safe Harbor” every 20 miles for boaters to escape the ravages of Lake Michigan, should she turn ugly.

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We have heard that conditions on the water can change quickly here. The Snug Harbor Marina will be our home for the next two days. Again, we are the only transient here at the docks. It seems all the boats on Lake Michigan have packed up for the winter. The rain continues all evening and we spend some quiet time on the boat. We enjoy a great pizza from the local pizza shop for dinner.

The skies clear the next morning, and we enjoy a walk through this charming lakeshore town. There are lots of nice shops and restaurants along the one main street. Like in Frankfort, many have closed for the season. The beach area is also very nice with long stretches of unobstructed shore line. Michigan has really impressed us. We never realized she has so much to offer.

This afternoon we get the bikes out and go exploring. Ludington, just a few miles north, is one of the towns which we bypassed on our way south. We ride our bikes along the shore and around another beautiful lake, Bass Lake, up to Ludington. We have a great ride over some hilly terrain passing several apple orchards. Ludington is much bigger than Pentwater, but it too seems like a nice stop with a good marina. Ludington is home to “ The SS Badger” which is a huge car and passenger ferry taking people across Lake Michigan to the Wisconsin shore.

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We make note to stop in Ludington next year. We arrive back to the boat after almost 40 miles of riding with some tired legs. We spend another quiet evening aboard.

Total Miles Traveled Frankfort to Pentwater: 63
Total Miles Traveled Year to Date: 3175

Leland to Frankfort:

Flies, flies, and more flies. We wake up this morning to find our boat invaded by thousands upon thousands of small harmless fruit flies. Where did they all come from? Is it something with the fishing boats here in the harbor? Before heading out, we get out the vacuum and suck up as many as possible. We have never seen so many fruit flies.

It is another beautiful day, so we decide to continue south to Frankfort. We once again find a calm Lake Michigan with only one foot seas.

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The trip to Frankfort is very scenic as we pass the Sleeping Bear National Lakeshore Park. With its 480 foot tall sand dunes and white beaches, the views from Lake Michigan are breathtaking.

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As we start to enter Frankfort’s outer breakwater, we notice yellow buoys strung across the channel. What is going on? As we get closer, we see a small channel through the maze of buoys. There is also a big yellow contraption floating between the buoys.

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We can only guess that this is some sort of dredge. In addition to the outer breakwater, there is a second breakwater leading into Betsie Bay and the town of Frankfort. Like many of the harbors along the eastern shore of Michigan, two breakwaters are needed for times when Lake Michigan is really ugly.

There are plenty of docks available at the Frankfort City Marina. We are one of only two boats here. There is a nice park which runs along the marina along with a bike path. We quickly get the bikes down to explore. The Betsie Valley Trail takes us out of town to a beautiful lake called Crystal Lake. In talking with another cyclist, we learn that from here we can bicycle around the lake and back into Frankfort. We decide to take advantage of the nice weather and have a wonderful 30 mile ride around this shimmering lake.

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We wake up the next morning to the sound of rain on the decks. We decide to stay in Frankfort for another day. The town is small with several shops and restaurants along the one main street. Most of the shops have already closed for the season. This evening, two other loopers, Splendido and Destrier, join us at the docks. They have just started their loop earlier this month having left from Georgian Bay. We had thought we were the last loopers but I guess not. The sun finally comes out this evening and we take the dogs for a nice walk around town. The weather should be good for travel tomorrow.

Total Miles Traveled Leland to Frankfort: 42
Total Miles Traveled Year to Date: 3112

Charlevoix to Leland:

Fall is in the air. This morning we turned on our heaters for the first time. The seasons certainly change quickly up here. Sebastian says Burr!! The second annual Octoberfest is being held in downtown Charlevoix this weekend. The tents are already in place for the event. We would like to stay another day for this but the lake is calm and we need to keep moving south. We have decided to winter our boat in Grand Haven. Our original plans were to finish the loop this year and bring IT back home to Chattanooga this fall. We have really enjoyed the Great Lakes and would like to spend more time exploring some of these areas so we have decided to leave the boat here over the winter. It is just too hard to get here from TN.

We time our departure from Charlevoix to coordinate with the 8:00 AM bridge opening

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and are soon out in Lake Michigan on our way south. Lots of fishermen are out trying to catch salmon. We have 1-2 foot seas but nothing major. We soon pass Grand Traverse Bay. This area has lots of interesting towns that we would like to visit next year. The seas are lumpy through this section and we have a two to three foot short period chop. Once past Grand Traverse, the seas calm down nicely and we have a smooth ride. We are now seeing high sand dune banks along the shore.

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We arrive in Leland to find a brand new state marina. The town is packed today. There is an antique boat and car show going on here. We enjoy looking at all the cars and boats and see many fine examples of transportation from yesteryear.

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Leland is known as “Fish town”. Along the river are a collection of quaint shanty shacks that were once fish houses.

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Today they house small boutique shops. This area is now a National Landmark District and is home to an authentic Great Lakes fishing tug.

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We purchase some great smoked fish and fish sausage in one of the little shops. Leland is another great stop along the eastern shores of Lake Michigan. We have really been impressed with this shoreline and its many quaint stops along the way.

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After a very relaxing day of exploring Leland we are treated to a magnificent sunset over Lake Michigan.

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Total Miles Traveled Charlevoix to Leland: 34
Total Miles Traveled Year to Date: 3070

Mackinac Island to Charlevoix:

Good bye Mackinac Island.

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Mackinac Island has quickly become our favorite as far as towns we have visited this year. We could easily stay here several more days but need to keep moving south. The weather seems good for our trip into Lake Michigan today.

The fog rolls in this morning just before we pull away from the docks.

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Just past the breakwater, we see the two light houses marking each side of the channel.

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The four mile long Mackinac Island Bridge is barely visible through the fog. We are now traveling in a section called “The Straits of Mackinac”. The Great Lakes system is a series of steps from Lake Superior, 602 feet above sea level, through successively lower lakes and into the sea. The dividing line between Lake Huron and Lake Michigan are these straits. Lake Michigan and Lake Huron share the same water level, 577 feet above sea level. This strait was at one time a narrow river bed. It has been widened over time by water and ice. Today this passage is almost four miles wide. Mackinac is an Indian word meaning “the Turtle”. It supposedly referred to “the turtle whose back supports the world”.

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As we cross under the Mackinac Bridge, we enter Lake Michigan waters for the first time on our Great Loop trip. The fog is really thick and we can’t see a thing in front of us. A target appears on the radar. A few minutes later we hear a freighter giving a security call. Jeff radios him to advise that we are headed his way but are tracking him on the radar. He confirms and asks that we pass on “the two whistle”. This is boat language for “port to port”. We confirm and alter our course and pass within a few hundred feet of each other. Just past this freighter, we have another target on AIS and hear him give a security call. We again make radio contact and advise him that we should pass well to his port.

The fog lifts just before we enter a section of Lake Michigan called “Grey’s Reef”. This area is a graveyard full of sunken ships on Lake Michigan.

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The channel is well buoyed and we have no problems traveling through this area. Here you just need to make sure that you are in the channel. The shallow reefs litter the waterway just outside the channel.

Lake Michigan is like a lake today. This is not always the case. At times the southwest winds funnel up the lake and can create a very treacherous body of water. We are very pleased to be enjoying the nice calm seas. We soon see the breakwater and lighthouse marking our entrance into Charlevoix. Once inside the breakwater, we have a five minute wait on the bridge to open. This bridge opens only on the half hour and hour.

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Our timing worked out really well. Once inside the bridge, we see the beautiful little pond known as Round Pond. The Charlevoix City Marina is just to our starboard. The marina is offering a fall special of two night’s dockage for the price of one. We decide to spend four nights here.

Charlevoix is delightful small town. This is primarily a summer town with lots of tourist visiting. There are several nice shops and restaurants along the main street. During the winter the town shrinks to about 3000 full time residents. Just outside of town is a neighborhood of “Fairy Houses” and “Mushroom Houses”, built in the early 1900’s by Earl Young.

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These irregular stone houses with wave-like roofs, resemble storybook fantasies. From downtown we are able to pick up the bike path. This path takes us along the shoreline for 30 miles through the town of Petoskey to Harbor Springs. It is a beautiful ride along the shores of Lake Michigan. We wanted to see Harbor Springs since we did not stop there in the boat. Like Charlevoix, it is a nice summer resort town. We enjoy a delicious lunch here at one of the local restaurants before pedaling another 30 miles back to the boat. This evening the Villager Pub has a special of all you can eat spaghetti for $7.50. Just what we need after a 60 mile bike ride. Jeff questions the waitress to make sure she has plenty of spaghetti. She warns him that most people can not finish the first plate full. She doesn’t know Jeff. After three heaping plates, he decides to call it quits. The spaghetti was really good.

Our friends and owners of Alizann, a new 48 ft. Krogen, have a cottage on Lake Charlevoix. They graciously invite us to their cottage one evening. After a nice tour around Lake Charlevoix by boat, we enjoy a great dinner and good company. We look forward to cruising with them more next season. Our time spent in Charlevoix has been very pleasurable and this will certainly be a stop for us in the future.

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Total Miles Traveled Mackinac Island to Charlevoix: 63
Total Miles Traveled Year to Date: 3036

Mackinac Island:

Clippity Clop, Clippity Clop, those are the sounds of Mackinac Island.

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There are no cars allowed on the island. The only modes of transportation are bicycles and horses. We spend four days here enjoying this magical place.

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Once you arrive on the island and walk down Main Street, you feel that you have stepped back in time. Horse carriages line the streets. There are taxi carriages, luggage carriages, hotel shuttle carriages, garbage carriages, freight carriages, along with private carriages belonging to some of the local residents.

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Most are drawn by huge draft horses.

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Bicycles carrying people, mail, packages, luggage, dogs, and anything else you can think of are constantly weaving in and out of the horse traffic. Even UPS delivers by bicycle and horse. What a special island it is.

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When arriving in a new place, we always check to see what events are going on. There just happens to be an 8 mile road race here tomorrow. Not having run even one mile in the last few months, we immediately decide that we can run this race (crazy or what). This is the 39th year for the run and almost 2000 runners turn out for the event. We have a beautiful run along the water. The course makes a complete loop around the island. Luckily for us, it is relatively flat. We both manage to finish without too much damage to our bodies. Not my best time ( 68 min./ 8:30 mile) but considering we have had absolutely zero training, I was pretty happy with my 11th place finish in my age group, until the next day that is. I could barely walk for two days after the run. Ouch!!

Mackinac Island is interwoven by a wide variety of hiking and biking trails. We set off early one morning to explore the island by bicycle. These paths take us to places most of the tourists never see.

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We enjoy cycling through the lush cedar forest and open fields. Hidden amongst the trees are “Cottages” with their beautiful horse barns next door. Anywhere else these huge estates would be called mansions.

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These are all summer residences used only thee months per year. Most have been owned by the same families for decades.

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As we wind our way along the trails, we come to the magnificent Grand Hotel.

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This opulent hotel of yesteryear sits high atop a western hill overlooking the Straits of Mackinac. It is rated as one of the top 25 hotels in the world and features the world’s longest veranda.

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Here we enjoy a great buffet lunch. We spend the remainder of the afternoon enjoying the fabulous view from the porch. Non guest are charged $10.00 just to tour the grounds and sit on the porch. Because we had lunch here, this fee was refunded. The Grand Hotel operates their own fleet of carriages which are constantly coming and going from town with guest of the hotel.

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These horses, harnesses, and carriages stand out from all the others.

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They are very ornate and beautifully maintained along with the stately drivers dressed in their red coat tails and white gloves.

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Back on Main Street, the town is alive with tourist. The high speed ferries are constantly bringing people to the main wharf. Most choose to rent bicycles for several hours while touring the island. The streets are lined with parked bicycles while tourists visit the many shops.

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There are more fudge shops on this one street than one could imagine. We counted at least 15 different fudge shops within three blocks. Of course there are also the many t-shirt and souvenir shops. The last ferry leaves at 7:00 PM taking all of the tourist back to the mainland. The town immediately reverts to a quiet charming village. We enjoy our evening walks with the dogs around town during this time. The locals seem to also enjoy the town during this time and we enjoy meeting several of the local business owners who reside here year round. At 2:00 AM we can hear the hoof beats of “the street cleaning crew”. A special horse drawn carriage with water tanks hoses down the streets during the early morning hours while everyone is sleeping. The streets are clean and dry when the first ferry arrives the next morning. Just like Disneyland! Mackinac is truly a unique experience and should be on everyone’s to do list.

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Sault Saint Marie to Mackinac Island:

Sault Saint Marie to Harbor Island:

Jeff makes a quick trip this morning to the computer store and returns with our computer in hand. Boy do we feel lucky that we didn’t loose all of our data and the great folks at National Office Supply were able to repair it. We are now good to go.

As we pull out into the St. Mary’s River, we check our AIS system for any laker boats coming through the area. It is a beautiful clear day. We feel fortunate. Just yesterday the river was fogged in and closed to all traffic for several hours. Due to the commercial traffic here in the Soo, the Coast Guard closes the river to all traffic when the visibility gets too bad. Today we follow the down bound channel around the west side of St. Joseph Island. We keep an eye for any freighters behind us but none appear. This down bound channel follows a very narrow man made channel dredged to a depth of 26 feet for the large laker boats. After about 10 miles, we rejoin the up bound channel. We have a laker boat just ahead heading for the Soo.

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We move over to the side of the channel and stay well clear of him. These laker boats are very impressive. We stop for the evening at a nice anchorage off Harbor Island which is now a wildlife preserve.

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Total Miles Traveled Sault Saint Marie to Harbor Island: 49
Total Miles Traveled Year to Date: 2926

Harbor Island to Mackinac Island:

We are up early this morning for our trip to Mackinac Island. It is another beautiful day. Summer seems to have finally arrived in September. Mackinac Island is a popular destination. We made reservations over a month ago to ensure a dock space. During the summer months, it is almost impossible to get a slip here.

The island soon comes into view with the Grand Hotel perched high up on the hill.

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We soon see the breakwater marking the entrance into the harbor. Coming into a strange dock is always a little stressful. Over the last hour, we have heard boat after boat calling the harbor master on the VHF for slip assignment. It is a busy place for sure. Once through the breakwater, we radio for our slip assignment. As we work our way around docks, we notice yacht after yacht in each of the slips. The docks are full of spectators as Jeff begins to back IT into her narrow slip. He does a perfect job navigating between the poles with inches to spare. As I hand the line to someone on the docks, I recognize a familiar voice. It is Pat, owner of the computer store who just fixed our computer in Sault Saint Marie. He is docked just next to us on his boat, Paper Doll. What a small world. Two other looper boats are here at the marina also. We learned today that the Chicago electronic fish barrier has been opened on a limited basis. With Coast Guard approval, boats should now be able to transit that area. I know this makes a lot of the loopers happy.

Total Miles Traveled Harbor Island to Mackinac Island: 47
Total Miles Traveled Year to Date: 2973

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