ST. IGNACE (AP) In 31 years of trekking across the Mackinac Bridge on Labor Day, George and Veronica Matarwe had seen some rotten weather. But Monday”s winds, so fierce they cut the walk short, were a first.
“I”ve seen it cold, I”ve seen it rainy, but I”ve never seen anything like this,” George Matarwe said midway across the 5-mile-long span linking Michigan”s two peninsulas, straining to be heard over the roar.
Neither had Hank Lotoszinski, executive secretary of the Mackinac Bridge Authority. With gusts at times exceeding 40 mph, he delayed the scheduled 7 a.m. start by 50 minutes, then closed the bridge to new walkers at 9 a.m. Vehicular traffic continued.
Lotoszinski estimated that more than 30,000 people got across roughly half as many as usual. Walkers usually can start as late as 11 a.m.
“I”m guessing this is the shortest we”ve ever had by far,” Lotoszinski said.
He said he knew of no other occasion when weather had forced a late start since the yearly ritual began after the bridge”s completion in 1957. It has been stopped early before, however.
“I know there were some unhappy people, but everybody got across safely, and that has to be our primary concern,” Lotoszinski said.
Among those who missed out was Christine Young, who stood with a group of fellow Unionville residents near the toll booth just north of the bridge. “We”ve lived here all our lives and never walked the bridge,” Young said. “Our sons finally got old enough to decide they wanted to, so we decide to do it, and now here we are. It”s very disappointing.”
Those who did make it clutched hats and jackets under a gray sky as they trudged along the roadway, which rises 200 feet above the Straits of Mackinac at midpoint. “I figure if I can make it across the bridge, I”m in pretty good physical condition,” said Matarwe, 54, of Clinton Township.
Linda Ketchapaw of Grand Rapids, striding briskly with husband John, was resigned to making poor time: “We”ve done this in an hour flat, but I don”t think we will today.”
Police boats heaved up and down in the choppy waters of the straits, where lakes Huron and Michigan converge. A courageous pilot flew overhead, his plane pulling a sign advertising a vacation home sale.
Gov. John Engler, who has led the walk 11 consecutive years, wisely kept it short as he addressed the restless crowd after the go-ahead was finally issued. “You”d think Congress was in session or something, with all that wind,” he joked.
As usual, he was joined by wife Michelle and 6-year-old daughters Hannah, Madeleine and Margaret. Engler noted proudly that Margaret walked the entire distance for the first time her sisters rode part way. “It”s a historic day,” Engler said.
Lt. Gov. Dick Posthumus joined the walk for the first time, yet another sign if any was needed that he”ll run for governor next year. He has yet to formally declare his candidacy but is widely seen as front-runner for the GOP nomination. “Actually, I kind of like the wind. Keeps it cool and comfortable,” said Posthumus, wearing khaki trousers and a dark blue windbreaker. “I look forward to coming back again.”