Notes from the Field: Adventure on the High (Inland) Seas

As reporter Codi Yeager-Kozacek’s trip across Lake Michigan got a little more exciting when she sailed into an October gale, it was a fitting reminder of the difference between reporting from a desk and reporting from the field.

Great Lakes Lake Michigan Muskegon Lake Express ferry Codi Yeager Kozacek Circle of Blue

Photo © Codi Yeager-Kozacek / Circle of Blue
Reporter Codi Yeager-Kozacek was happy to reach the fresh air of the sun deck on the Lake Express ferry after a bumpy, but safe, passage across Lake Michigan. Click image to enlarge.

My recent foray into the field to report for Circle of Blue was a mixed bag of late nights typing up notes, early mornings meeting with scientists and farmers, and privileged glimpses into the lives of those who call the Great Lakes region home. But in between the interviews and the tours, there was also a lot of getting from Point A to Point B. For the most part, this involved long drives past cornfields that were ready for harvest and hardwood forests that were turning from green to yellow and red. However, I also had the chance to cross Lake Michigan on the Lake Express ferry that runs between Muskegon on the Michigan shore and Milwaukee on the Wisconsin side.

Despite having grown up in Michigan, I had never before ridden a ferry across the lake, and I was excited to make my first trip. The Lake Express is a relatively new ferry, shuttling passengers and cars across the lake since 2004. The trip takes about two and a half hours, and it was easy to take a much needed nap aboard the modern catamaran when I set off from Muskegon.

Two days later, with just over a week left before the end of the ferry’s sailing season, the beautiful October weather turned gray. Prior to boarding for my return trip to Michigan, ominous warnings were broadcast through the terminal suggesting that those prone to motion sickness take the proper medication. Though typically blessed with a strong stomach, I heeded the recommendation.

Within minutes of leaving the port in Milwaukee, it was difficult to see the docks through the drizzling rain, and the boat began pitching on the waves. The going got worse as we headed north toward Muskegon — a bearing that, unfortunately, put us nearly parallel to the waves — and the horizon rose and fell through the porthole as the boat rolled from hull to hull. I am sure that two and a half hours never seemed so long for some of the unlucky passengers, and I was glad to climb into the fresh air atop the sun deck as we pulled, at last, into Muskegon’s harbor.

As a reporter in the 21st century, it is sometimes easy to lose touch with the subject of a story. My passage on the ferry, though safe, was a fitting reminder that there is a big difference between the Great Lakes I research from the comfort of my desk and the Great Lakes that can toss a 150-ton boat like a piece of jetsam. And even if it turned me a bit green, it was nice to get out in the field and experience that difference firsthand.

Have any good Great Lakes adventure stories, ferry stories, or experiences with sea sickness?Contact Codi Yeager

–Codi Yeager-Kozacek
Reporter, Circle of Blue

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